It seems important to understand how to know the truth; and, when it comes to the issues of "testimony", the matter is much more complex than most Latter-day Saints instinctively think. The following excerpt is taken from my unpublished work A Testimony and an Exhortation, pages 57-65 of the current version. This is the first of four from the section in question, which deals primarily with the role of scripture in determining truth.
What the matter comes down to is that, if the fact of my experiential testimony favoring traditional Christian beliefs doesn't rule out the possibility that those beliefs are wrong, then the same could go for a Latter-day Saint's beliefs in spite of his or her testimony-experience. I have testimonies for traditional Christian beliefs and against LDS beliefs. Either my testimony is of God, or it is not. If it is of God, then God bears witness against LDS beliefs, and so Latter-day Saints should return to traditional Christianity. But if it is not of God, then that still shows that there is nothing about the testimony-experience itself that gives assurance that one's beliefs are right, and so the mere fact of having a testimony cannot be the final word on the matter after all. If the edification and peace I encounter in traditional Christian beliefs, and the exact opposite in LDS beliefs, don't ensure that my beliefs are endorsed by God, then neither can comparable edification or peace found elsewhere - even in LDS beliefs. As far as our experiences are concerned, it seems clear that we are at best on a level playing field, so to speak.
We know, then, that we can't both be right. We know that, in theory, either of us could be mistaken. We know that appealing to the phenomena of our experiences themselves is unlikely to resolve the issue. One common option for dealing with situations of contradictory revelations is for a person to simply throw his hands up and stick with what he believes was revealed to him. That person might do so simply because his own experience is imagined to be more reliable or relevant than someone else's. This assumption is often disguised in an 'agree-to-disagree' or 'live-and-let-live' mentality: "I've got my testimony, maybe you've got yours, but that's between you and God, and while I can't be the judge of what you've experienced, I know what I have felt, and that's all that matters to me, so the conversation ends with that". Sadly, this is a conversation-stopped. It is, unfortunately, intended to be the end of any hope of a productive discussion, and it functions essentially as an easy escape hatch from the challenge of further, deeper dialogue. Even more sadly, sometimes the unfortunate conversation-stopping character of this approach is even considered an asset by some people!1
Some people profess to not wish to dispute with anyone's personal spiritual experience. But in effect, this is tantamount to ignoring all experiences except one's own. This is especially concerning when this attitude appears in those who are quick to base many of their most important beliefs on their own 'personal experience', their own claims of testimony and revelation. If one wants to set all private experiences aside and pursue truth in a different yet equitable way, that's one thing; but it's wholly another to set all private experiences aside except one's own (and perhaps those of others that just happen to confirm one's own), and to pretend wrongly that this is somehow respectful. While couched as tolerant, this approach in fact is as arrogant as they come: the person arrogates to him- or herself the status of having the only experiences that really can ever matter, at least personally if not universally. On the other hand, if the truthfulness of everyone else's experience is somehow relativized, then in fairness, the same must go for one's own experience. The simple truth is that, since the 'personal spiritual experiences' of everyone are a part of the reality in which we live, then if we attach significance to those sorts of phenomena, our outlook on that reality must then grapple with their experiences and the implications thereof and must make progress toward accounting for them. The refusal to do this is only a tacit admission of the limited nature of one's worldview, especially for those worldviews that put a premium on personal spiritual experience.
I've met at least a few people who take an even more extreme version of this approach. Those people teach that truth is best understood through exclusive one-on-one interaction with God without any attempts at discernment by non-internal standards or at seeking any involvement of others. Some of those people have been Latter-day Saints; others were not. Of those who were Latter-day Saints, I have sadly witnessed several of them since take their approach toward its inevitable conclusion by rejecting the prophetic authority of President Thomas S. Monson and by propounding Mormon Fundamentalist teachings - such as that of 'multiple mortal probations', i.e., reincarnation - that are definitely contrary to the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They went astray in that direction precisely because that is where their 'personal spiritual experiences' seemed to point, and that was all that mattered to them. Mainstream Latter-day Saints can bear their testimonies of the Church to these people all they want, but they can respond that they 'know' that multiple mortal probations are real, they 'know' that the Church has gone astray, they 'know' that President Monson is not a prophet, and no one else's experience matters.
Such people tend especially to radically privilege their own unchecked private experience of what they call the 'spiritual' ways of knowing over what they call the 'secular' or 'temporal' ways of knowing. They say that rationally evaluating their private 'inner-witness' experience would be unspiritual and therefore ungodly. But this ignores the wisdom that early LDS apostle Orson Pratt showed when he said that "every truth should be acknowledged as from God. A variety is interesting and not to remain in one channel".2 This 'testimony-only' approach is in fact so feeble that it cannot bear to grapple honestly with what anyone else says. It abuses a 'testimony' as an excuse to not listen to others, to not take into account all of the facts, to not return to scripture and sense as solid standards. It gives dishonest lip-service to the gifts of God - such as having authoritative scripture to consider or having the capacity to intelligently weigh doctrinal issues - while denying the legitimacy of their full and proper use. It speaks to the weakness of the beliefs to which testimony is borne, not their strength - because "you cannot build strong testimonies out of weak doctrine".3 We can do better than this, and our loving God would desire for us to enjoy better than this.
One principal problem with the approach outlined above is that it's difficult to believe that God put us in a community and wants us to live as a community in his Church if the surest way to find truth were to reject dialogue in community in favor of the most individualistic method possible: unchecked private revelation that is allegedly from God. In other words, if God really wanted us to ignore other people as we search for truth, then he wouldn't have given us the gift of other people to help us along our journey. Another major problem is that the scriptures are very clear that we should "test all things; hold on to what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We are exhorted to "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).4 We are to actually put our private revelations - and those of others - on trial. But the test for one's own private revelation-experiences cannot be one's own private revelation-experiences; that would be viciously circular. It seems clear from John's letter that one commanded way to test revelations is by evaluating the content of the message received. In other words, private revelations can be judged valid or invalid by others through an external standard shared in common. Therefore, two people who have opposing revelations are not left at an impasse. They can get together in community and together find out the truth by using other approaches to check what the personal revelations (or spiritual witnesses) have seemed to say. The extreme testimony-only approach, which holds an experience-given testimony to be wholly incorrigible (that is, unable to be corrected) by external or public standards of judgment, is radically and entirely unscriptural - and, furthermore, "to deny the wisdom of a change of mind based on evidence seems to make the human subject infallible in his or her discerning of the Spirit's voice", which is a very arrogant and problematic stance to take.5 Our personal revelation-experiences, our testimonies, our apparent guidance from God - none of these experiences are in and of themselves the final court of appeal. But praise God for not leaving us trapped alone in our private worlds!
This is illustrated by one of Joseph Smith's 1830 revelations, which declared that the revelations received by Book of Mormon witness Hiram Page were in fact evidence that "Satan deceiveth him", and said that the people should have known this because for Hiram Page to receive a message for the whole church would be "contrary to the church covenants" (D&C 28:11-12).6 In short, a given external standard - in this case, the 'church covenants' - should have been sufficient grounds for the other members to evaluate and reject Hiram Page's claim to revelation; and presumably, Hiram Page likewise should have used the same external standard to discount even his own apparently revelatory experiences. The same sort of standard was asserted by Joseph Fielding Smith, who said that "when we find people secretly distributing to the Church what are said to be revelations, or visions, or manifestations, that have not come from nor received the approval of the authorities of the Church, we may put it down that such things are not of God".7 Likewise, LDS apostle John Andreas Widtsoe stressed that the impressions one receives should be tested against an external source.8 So it seems clear that it is very good, wise, and right to consider other means by which we can together examine our beliefs and see which are true. This is in keeping with apostolic counsel.
If we do not do this, then as much as we may couch our refusal in terms of 'sticking to the simplicity of our first testimony' or 'trusting in our heart', what we are really doing is neglecting the commandments of God and exercising less wisdom than Jesus Christ offers us. The simple things of God are good,9 but so are the deeper matters, "the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10). (For that matter, that which seems 'simple' to me may not seem simple to you, and that which seems 'simple' to you may not seem simple to me.) President Howard W. Hunter rightly praised those who would "search holy writ to find answers to what the Apostle Paul called 'the deep things of God'".10 Similarly, Joseph Smith himself strongly encouraged believers to "search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness".11 We can "move beyond the elementary teachings" and go "forward to maturity" (Hebrews 6:1). All too often, the plea to return to the 'simple things' is not a call back to what scripture emphasizes, but rather ends up being an attempt to avoid the discomfort of stretching oneself, confronting questions, wrestling with them, studying the scriptures intently and more and more deeply, and ultimately growing in godliness through the process.
We ought not focus disproportionately on peripheral things over central things, but when it comes to the truly essential things, we should relentlessly raise relevant questions and pursue their answers faithfully down whatever alleys they lead - and, in the context of LDS-Evangelical dialogue, the 'essential things' most certainly include the nature of the divine and of the world, claims about priesthood and about temples (which are crucial because of their pivotal role in LDS belief and because of their relevance from an Evangelical perspective insofar as they pertain to a proper understanding of Jesus Christ, who himself is the center), the narrative of apostasy and restoration, and the validity of LDS leaders' claims to be prophets and apostles. Because these things are essential, we cannot afford to avoid contemplating the relevant questions simply because they might lead to somewhere deeper than we might initially desire to go. Be things simple or complex, be things shallow or deep, our commitment to studying out the central things should allow us to understand them and evaluate them comptently from any relevant angles.
While the Christian life is about much more than the intellectual or cognitive aspects, it is certainly not about less; and it does not give us license to refuse God's command to love him with all our mind,12 or to refuse God's command to test all things, or to refuse God's command to come together to reason things out with him, or to refuse God's command to study the scriptures as the standard whereby we are prepared for holy thought and life. God has created us so that all of our faculties can be involved in every aspect of our life - but just as our strength takes on a newfound importance when serving others, and just as our heart takes on a newfound importance when loving God and others, and just as our spirit takes on a newfound importance when communing experientially with God, so our mind takes on a newfound importance when seeking, testing, and cherishing truth. In doing this, we use our mind and rely on God's revelation in the established scriptures.
Hence, one very wise approach was stated by President Brigham Young: "I say to the whole world, receive the truth, no matter who presents it to you. Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test".13 In other words, both of us should take the Bible as it stands as an authoritative standard of what should be believed. Our beliefs should be tested against it, even those beliefs that seem to be witnessed to us by personal revelation. So, according to Brigham Young, if I examine the Bible carefully and find that the teachings of the "religion of the Latter-day Saints" measures up to it better than my own faith, what should I do? He says that, in that case, the right thing for me to do would be to set my own prior beliefs aside and accept LDS teachings. I agree with his approach. If LDS teachings are found to best match what the Bible teaches, then those LDS teachings should be believed, on the basis of the supreme authority of God's testimonies in the scriptures. On the other hand, if a careful reading of the Bible shows that LDS teachings don't match up to it, then those teachings should be rejected, on the basis of that same proper authority. In that case, they should be rejected even if that would mean also rejecting the claim of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be God's one and only true and living church. (That seems only fair, doesn't it?) After all, LDS periodicals have asserted that Joseph Smith "taught in perfect accordance with scripture, just as a true prophet must do",14 and so surely it is not unfair to take this standard - that is, that the teachings of any true prophet must be in accordance with established scripture - as an appropriate one and so make use of it.
It is of utmost importance, therefore, to "search and ponder the scriptures".15 This is truly essential, because if someone is not willing to be bound to what God's own instruction in the scriptures says, then "even his prayer is an abomination" (Proverbs 28:9). Prayer to learn the truth, when severed from a willingness to diligently search the scriptures and to be bound by what they say, is thus not a godly endeavor. This searching of the scriptures of the Old Testament and the New Testament in order to know the truth for certain is an intensely Spirit-gifted activity, in no way inferior or secondary to the Spirit's work in our hearts. As scripture, the Old Testament and New Testament are "composed wholly and solely of pure, unvarnished, irrefutable, and eternal truth".16 The Bible is the word of God, and "whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish" (1 Nephi 15:24). I know that these scriptures are trustworthy and true,17 and that the Bible can be relied upon as the iron rod that leads us to the Tree of Life that is Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Nephi 8:19-24; 11:25; 15:21-24). It is true that "personal revelation can also come to us through the scriptures",18 so that "we can receive personal revelation through reading and studying the scriptures".19 This is a powerful connection between studying scripture and being led into the truth by the Spirit.
We know that even those things that superficially seem true at first glance may be far removed from the way of truth and life (Proverbs 14:12), particularly where our hearts are involved (cf. Jeremiah 17:9), and so we must be careful to test all things against the standard that has been given, which is that known to be ancient scripture. We know, therefore, that we can safely turn to these anciently written and anciently revealed scriptures to judge even personal revelation and modern writings that purport themselves to be scripture. We are less likely to go wrong if we wisely submit our personal experiences of inspiration or revelation to the sure and agreed-upon cases of revelation recorded in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
We must know that "revelations from God will be in accordance with scripture",20 and so that "God will never give [us] personal revelation that contradicts what has already been revealed in the scriptures".21 If a personal revelation contradicts what has been revealed already in time-tested ancient scripture, so much the worse for that personal revelation! We know that one test for discerning new truth will be that it "fits into the pattern of light known before" and thus will be "in harmony with all other truth".22 Consequently, it would be an error to assume that 'searching the scriptures' in this way is a neglect of the spiritual. (I have seen several Latter-day Saints make this very mistaken leap in reasoning, to their obvious spiritual harm.) Quite to the contrary, it is most spiritual to engage all of our faculties to the uttermost, including the intellect. This is how we truly "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37, cf. Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; Moroni 10:32; D&C 59:5). As President Hugh B. Brown rightly said, we must find truth through "a prayerful study of the Old and the New Testament, and have faith in the God of the Bible".23 As Boyd K. Packer said, we should both "analyze carefully" and "be prayerful".24 President Howard W. Hunter likewise lauded "the scriptures" and "private prayer" as "the two greatest sources of spiritual insight and spiritual impression that are available universally to mankind".25 It is from the scriptures that we learn "how to discern good from evil, truth from error. The scriptures provide the pattern and the basis for correct doctrine".26
1 For example, see Gordon B. Hinckley, "Testimony", address delivered on 5 April 1998 at General Conference, as printed in the April 1998 Conference Report, page 91: "It [Testimony] is something that cannot be refuted. Opponents may quote scripture and argue doctrine endlessly. They can be clever and persuasive. But when one says, 'I know,' there can be no further argument." Contrary to what President Hinckley could be read as saying here, the proper and God-honoring response to a 'clever and persuasive' opponent who appeals to scripture and discourses about doctrine is not to bury one's head in the sand through an appeal to irrefutable private knowledge. Instead, it is to give an even better case that quotes scripture more rightly and 'argues doctrine' more persuasively. One can see throughout LDS history that LDS leaders have not been content to simply stand down whenever confronted by someone prefacing an out-of-line claim with the words 'I know', even if that out-of-line claim comes from a sincere perception of having had a powerful inner experience. This precedent shows us that, with all due respect to President Hinckley, claimed testimony is something that can (and perhaps often should) allow for 'further argument'.
2 Orson Pratt, quoted in Wilford Woodruff, journal entry for 13 September 1846, in Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff's Journals, 1833-1898: Typescript, 9 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1983-1985), 3:77: "There is no truth but what comes from God. It requires A portion of the spirit of God to know what portion of the truth to lay before the people. Some Classes adore the book of Nature & deny a God. Others profess to adore God and are afraid to contempleat Natural things. But evry truth should be acknowledged as from God. A variety is interesting & not always remain in one Channel. One of the most interesting feasts I ever enjoyed was in contemplating the worlds and laws by which they are governed. Men should be learned in order to convince the learned."
3 Joseph Fielding McConkie, "Two Churches Only", talk delivered on 5 November 2005 at the Joseph Smith Symposium in Palmyra, Wayne County, New York, as published by Meridian Magazine at <http://www.ldsmag.com/ldsmag/jsbicentennial/051116vision2.html>. Accessed 28 June 2013.
4 Some Latter-day Saints at the lay level, observing that the particular criterion in 1 John 4:2-3 (cf. 2 John 7) is the confession that "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh", have reasoned that this should be sufficient to declare the acceptability of the LDS message and the true prophetic status of Joseph Smith and his successors - see, for example, Tere Foster, "From Born-Again Christian to Latter-Day Saint", in David E. Smith, Mormons and Evangelicals: Reasons for Faith (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2009), 95-96. But to the contrary, John's actual principle is more general: that the content of the message is the standard for determining the source. Because John was dealing with a Docetist or proto-Gnostic sect that denied the Incarnation, instead contending that Christ did not take upon himself real human flesh (since flesh was regarded as horrendous to those who maintained typical Greek attitudes toward the physical world), John used this particular example for his context - see Georg Strecker, The Johannine Letters: A Commentary on 1, 2, and 3 John, trans. Linda Maloney, Hermeneia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1989 ), 70-71. But it certainly does not follow that anyone who maintains that Jesus was the Messiah who came in the flesh is thereby a prophet of God whose message is to be believed; even Muhammad, the founder of Islam, met that standard. Nor is the simple confession that Jesus is Messiah, Lord, and Son of God sufficient; this was confessed even by the Judaizers, whom Paul excoriated as "false brethren" (Galatians 2:4) who "pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:7) and hence are, so far as he is concerned, to be "accursed" (Galatians 1:8). There were in his day "false apostles" who "preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached" (2 Corinthians 11:4, 13). This is also why Latter-day Saints who attempt to assuage the concerns of traditional Christians by pointing to the definition of 'Christian' in English-language dictionaries often just leave many traditional Christians rather unsatisfied, as the Judaizers and many other groups perilously far removed from the apostolic faith fit those definitions easily, and many traditional Christians prefer to use language in a way that highlights rather than obscures the most crucial salvific issues. The status of being 'of God', for John, is "lacking where sin is dominant and particularly where aberrant christological confession prevails" - see Robert W. Yarbrough, 1-3 John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 221; and, from a traditional Christian perspective, Latter-day Saints do, unfortunately, make 'aberrant christological confession'. Incidentally, LDS apostle Marion G. Romney, following Joseph Smith, also thought that this application of 1 John 4:2 was too simplistic to be used woodenly today, though on the separate ground that a confession of Jesus Christ is no longer a "capital offense" in the Western world - see his untitled address delivered on 8 October 1960 at General Conference, as printed in the October 1960 Conference Report, page 76.5 David E. Smith, Mormons and Evangelicals: Reasons for Faith (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2009), 123.
6 A brief first-hand description of this and other instances of upstart prophecy in the Kirtland period is given by an ex-LDS man named Ezra Booth, in an 1831 letter reprinted in the excessively hostile book by Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed; or, a Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time (Painesville, OH: E. D. Howe, 1834), 215-216. A more balanced description of the Hiram Page false-revelation incident is given by Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 120-121; and by John L. Brooke, The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1994), 185.
7 Joseph Fielding Smith, in Bruce R. McConkie, comp., Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1954-1956), 1:285.
8 John Andreas Widtsoe, "The Principle of Revelation", address delivered on 7 October 1945 at General Conference, as printed in the October 1945 Conference Report, page 144: "The test of truth, given us is very simple, easily understood. When an impression comes, call it inspiration or revelation, compare it with the words that issue from the mouth of the prophet who stands at the head of the Church. Then, if your impression is in harmony with his expressed words, it is from God. If it runs counter to the prophet's teachings, your impression is from an evil source." For Elder Widtsoe, speaking entirely within an LDS context, the teachings of the prophet were that 'external source'. For us, having to dig down a further level, we obviously must use 'external sources' that we can truly share: sound principles of reason, probable facts of history, and the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
9 The irony here is that, from one valid perspective, the traditional Christian view is far more simple than the unnecessary clutter that obscures the gospel in LDS theology. Instead of an elaborate genealogy of infinitely many anthropomorphic deities stretching back into time immemorial, traditional Christianity posits precisely one God who created, governs, and rules all things; and even though this God eternally exists as three persons, this is no more and no less than is needed to underscore both divine self-sufficiency and the gospel truth that "God is love" (1 John 4:8). Instead of a multitude of independent mortal priesthood-holders, there is one High Priest and an earthly community of those who, equally among themselves, share in a royal-and-priestly calling just by being united to him. Instead of a proliferation of many temples, traditional Christianity names one temple: Jesus Christ with his Spirit-indwelt people. Instead of an endless multiplication of requirements and personal worthiness interviews and temple recommend interviews, traditional Christianity asks simply a true commitment of total trust in Jesus Christ, the Crucified-and-Risen Lord, from which trust will properly come godly fruit. In short, instead of the cluttered complexity of the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I would suggest that it is traditional Christianity that really unveils the true simplicity of the true gospel. Moreover, in recent days, many Latter-day Saints - in spite of professing a strong belief in modern-day continuing revelation - have become very reticent to offer firm answers to crucial questions about God, the world, and the very nature of reality (and this reticence is what can all-too-easily create the artificial illusion of simplicity); but traditional Christians - who do not, in fact, deny that God still leads us into truth - have long had firm, clear, well-thought-out answers to many of the important questions that Latter-day Saints raised anew and then left half-answered at best. I say this, not with the intent of offending any members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but with the intent of pointing toward something that I have sincerely come to believe offers more answers, better answers, and a vision that is both simpler and deeper.
10 Howard W. Hunter, "Blessed from on High", address delivered on 2 October 1988 at General Conference, as printed in the October 1988 Conference Report, page 70.
11 Joseph Smith, address delivered on 12 May 1844, as reported by Thomas Bullock and quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 109.
12 For a sustained treatment of this, see J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1997).
13 Brigham Young, address delivered on 18 May 1873 at the Ogden Tabernacle, as printed in Journal of Discourses 16:46. The preface to this sixteenth volume of the Journal of Discourses declares that it contains "sacred writings of inspired men".
14 John Hyde, "A Dialogue, by John Hyde, between a Jew, a Christian, and a Latter-day Saint", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 12/13 (1 July 1850): 201.
15 Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part A, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2000 ), 6.
16 Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1965-1973), 1:55.
17 Some Latter-day Saints are unfortunately hesitant to place much stock in what they read in the Old Testament and New Testament. This reticence is often defended by a reference to the eighth Article of Faith, wherein Latter-day Saints believe that the Bible is the Word of God only "insofar as it is translated correctly". Of course, that statement in itself is unobjectionable - naturally, if the text is translated or transmitted incorrectly, then the errors themselves are not divine revelation. But unfortunately, this statement in the Pearl of Great Price is often taken by Latter-day Saints to imply that there are serious problems with the biblical text. Most troubling, I have seen some Latter-day Saints, when confronted with passages in the Bible that do not fit their personal beliefs (whether LDS doctrine as they understand it, or even their mere personal opinions), instinctively assume that the Bible as we have it must have been corrupted on that point - and this assumption is made without any desire to investigate whether this is in fact the case. I have to say that this reaction is not a godly one: it attempts to submit the scriptures to our (individual or collective) whims, rather than submit our beliefs and desires to God's revelation in the scriptures. (For an LDS study of LDS attitudes toward the Bible, see Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion, updated ed. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012 (1991)].) In point of fact, the text of the Bible is not so unreliable as some LDS writers or anti-Christian popular writers would have us believe. There is a scholarly discipline called textual criticism that focuses on discerning the original text of scripture prior to developments in the transmission process; and textual critics have generally found that, save mostly for minor errors in certain manuscript traditions that are easy to rewind (e.g., clear spelling mistakes, repetition or omission of lines, meaning-neutral changes in word order), the text of the Old and New Testaments has been remarkably stable. Utilizing these methods, scholars have produced excellent reconstructed texts texts to serve as a basis for modern translations of the Bible: the current standard for the Old Testament is the fourth-edition Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, soon to be replaced by the currently-in-progress Biblia Hebraica Quinta; whereas the current standard for the New Testament is NA27, the twenty-seventh edition of the Nestle-Aland text used in the fourth edition of the United Bible Society's (UBS4) critical edition of the Greek New Testament. On the Old Testament, the reader might wish to consult Ellis R. Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994); Ernst Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995 ), especially chapter 16; Mark F. Rooker, "The Transmission and Textual Criticism of the Old Testament", in Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, eds., The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2011), 108-121; Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 3rd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2012). On the New Testament, one might similarly wish to consult Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992 ); ibid., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994 ); J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallce, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2006), chapters 4-8; Daniel B. Wallace, ed., Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2011). Similarly, even the Book of Mormon is subject to questions of textual criticism - see Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Critical Text of the Book of Mormon 4, 6 vols. (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Brigham Young University, 2004-2009); culminating in Skousen's critical edition, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009). Just as this transmission history in and of itself generally does not undermine the faith that Latter-day Saints place in the Book of Mormon text, so the transmission history of the Old and New Testaments should not undermine the faith that Christians of all stripes place in the Bible. As for translation, modern English translations are all done directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, and mainly differ in their approach to translation philosophy, the reading level they aim for, and the stage of the development of the English language that they use (seventeenth-century English is not twenty-first-century English) - on this topic, see Bruce M. Metzger, The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001); Ben Witherington III, The Living Word of God: Rethinking the Theology of the Bible (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007), chapters 6-7; Dave Brunn, One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013). Just as non-English-speaking Latter-day Saints do not have particular anxiety regarding translations of the Book of Mormon into their language (in spite of errors like the infamous 1992 Spanish translation of the Book of Mormon that mistakenly spoke of 'la imposicion de anos', i.e., "the laying on of anuses", rather than "the laying on of hands" [la imposicion de manos]), so English-speaking Christians of all sorts need have no general anxiety regarding human-made translations of the Bible into English, which can always be checked against the Hebrew and Greek texts for fidelity.
18 Preparing for Exaltation: Teacher's Manual (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1998), 82: "Explain that personal revelation can also come to us through the scriptures or another person."
19 Preparing for Exaltation: Teacher's Manual (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1998), 87: "Explain that we can receive personal revelation through reading and studying the scriptures. The scriptures contain counsel from the Lord that applies to us as well as to the people who first received and recorded that counsel."
20 Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1999), 33: "Answers could include that revelations from God will be in accordance with scripture and the counsel of the living prophets. They will be edifying. They will not lead us to do something that is contrary to the principles of righteousness."
21 Preparing for Exaltation: Teacher's Manual (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1998), 85: "Emphasize to class members that God will never give them personal revelation that contradicts what has already been revealed in the scriptures."
22 William E. Berrett, Teachings of the Doctrine and Covenants, Gospel Doctrine Course 27 (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News, 1954), 29.
23 Hugh B. Brown, "The Quest for Truth", address delivered on 6 October 1962 at General Conference, as printed in the October 1962 Conference Report, page 41.
24 Boyd K. Packer, "Do Not Fear", address delivered on 4 April 2004 at General Conference, as printed in the April 2004 Conference Report, page 81: "But analyze carefully and be prayerful (see D&C 9:8-9). Then expect to have inspiration, which is revelation (see D&C 8:2-3)."
25 Howard W. Hunter, "Blessed from on High", address delivered on 2 October 1988 at General Conference, as printed in the October 1988 Conference Report, page 70.
26 Boyd K. Packer, "The Father and the Family", address delivered on 2 April 1994 at General Conference, as printed in the April 1994 Conference Report, page 26.
26 Boyd K. Packer, "The Father and the Family", address delivered on 2 April 1994 at General Conference, as printed in the April 1994 Conference Report, page 26.