Time to Study the Old Testament…Again – Part 5 – “Plain and Precious Things”

Jeff Spector Mormon 13 Comments

“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.”  (Articles of Faith 1:8)

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that they did prosper in the land; and I beheld a book, and it was carried forth among them. And the angel said unto me: Knowest thou the meaning of the book? And I said unto him: I know not. 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.

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. Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God. 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.

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. 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.  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.” (1 Nephi 13:20 – 29)

If you ask most members of the Church whether the Old Testament had “plain and precious things” missing from its pages, I aspect many of them would answer “yes.”  And certainly the passages from 1 Nephi clearly state this.  However, Nephi and Joseph Smith in Article of Faith 8 are referring to the whole Bible and not just the Old Testament.

So the question I ask myself is just when, where and how did this “removal” take place? If it happened, was it deliberate, by accident, lost in translation or just lost? And was it an actually removal of text or just changes in gospel principles?

Here a few ways to think about this topic.

1. Loss of Gospel Truth

Rather than view this situation as a removal of text from the scriptures, one can think of it as a loss of Gospel truth.  Since the death of the Apostles a great apostasy occurred, as Talmage writes, “from the Church and of the Church.” (Great Apostasy, page 23). Not only was priesthood authority lost, but “we find the Church itself apostate, boasting of temporal power, making its own laws, teaching its own dogmas, preserving only a form of godliness, while denying the power thereof.” (page 23)

In this condition, many gospel truths, such as the true nature of God, clearly a plain and precious truth, were lost until the restoration of the Gospel by Joseph Smith.

2. Missing Books

The Old and New Testament and the Book of Mormon all reference books of scriptures not found in the canons.  These books, were deliberately not included, not available at the time of canon creation or just plain lost.  Here are some examples:

Old Testament

The Book of Jasher (whose title fully translated means the Book of the Upright or the Book of the Just) Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18. Several books have claimed to be this lost text, but are widely discounted as pseudepigrapha.
The Book of the Wars of the Lord Numbers 21:14.
Several works of Solomon: 3,000 proverbs; 1,005 songs; and a manual on botany. 1Kings 4:32.
The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and Chronicles of the Kings of Judah 1 Kings 14:19, 14:29).
“The Book of Shemaiah the prophet, and of Iddo the Seer” 2Chr 12:14-15
The Covenant Code Exodus 24:7
The Manner of the Kingdom 1Samuel 10:25.
The Acts of Solomon 1Kings 11:41.
The Annals of King David 1Chronicles 27:24.
The Book of Samuel the Seer 1Chronicles 29:29.
The Book of Nathan the Prophet 1Chronicles 29:29.
The Book of Gad the Seer 1Chronicles 29:29.
The History of Nathan the Prophet 2Chronicles 9:29.
The Prophecy of Ahijah 2Chronicles 9:29.
The Visions of Iddo the Seer 2Chronicles 9:29.
The Book of Shemaiah the Prophet 2Chronicles 12:15.
Iddo Genealogies 2Chronicles 12:15.
The Story of the Prophet Iddo 2Chronicles 13:22.
The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel 2Chronicles 16:11, 2Chronicles 27:7 and 2Chronicles 32:32.
The Book of Jehu 2Chronicles 20:34.
The Story of the Book of Kings 2Chronicles 24:27.
The Acts of Uziah 2Chronicles 26:22.
The Vision of Isaiah 2Chronicles 32:32.
The Acts of the Kings of Israel 2Chronicles 33:18.
The Sayings of the Seer 2Chronicles 33:19.
The Laments for Josiah 2Chronicles 35:25.
The Chronicles of King Ahasuerus Esther 2:23 and Esther 6:1.
The Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia Esther 10:2.

New Testament

The Assumption of Moses Jude 9
The Life of Adam and Eve is 2 Corinthians 11:14
The Apocryphon of Jeremiah Matthew 27:9, Ephesians 5:14 and James 4:5
Sirach James 1:19, Luke 1:52, Mark 4:5,16-17, Matthew 7:16,20 and Matthew 11:28[31]
The Apocalypse of Elijah 1 Corinthians 2:9 according to Origen
The apocryphal book of Moses Galatians 6:15
Apocalypse of Elijah Ephesians 5:14 according to Epiphanius of Salamis.
The Book of the Penitence of Jannes and Mambres 2 Tim 3:8
Lost Pauline letters
The first Epistle to Corinth[26] 1 Corinthians 5:9
The third Epistle to Corinth 2 Corinthians 2:4, 2 Corinthians 7:8-9
The Corinthian letter to Paul 1 Corinthians 7:1
The Earlier Epistle to the Ephesians Ephesians 3:3-4
The Epistle to the Laodiceans Colossians 4:16
An epistle to the Thessalonians forged in Paul’s name 2 Thessalonians 2:2
The Earlier Epistle of John 3John 1:9
Missing Epistle of Jude Jude 1:3

Book of Mormon

Zenos 1 Nephi  19:10, 12 ,16 19; Jacob 5:1; 6:1; Alma 33:3, 13, 15 34:7; Helaman 8:19; 15:11; 2 Nephi 10:16
Zenock 1Nephi  19:10; Alma 33:15; 34:7; Helaman 8:20;3 Nephi 10:16
Neum 1 Nephi 19:10
Ezias Helaman 8:20
Joseph of Egypt 2 Nephi 4:1-4

Now it would naïve to think that these books carried the “fullness of the Gospel” and the exclusion of them is the reason why “plain and precious things” were lost. These books could have carried some of those things, but does not seem to fully explain a total loss.

3. Deliberate Removal of the “Plain and Precious Things”

I suspect a number of folks subscribe to this theory that “…in consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, “(D&C 89:4), some deliberately removed “Plain and Precious Things” from the scriptures in order to promote their own agenda.  Either a. they were Jews who did not want specific references to the Savior to be included in the Old Testament, thus preserving the Jewish tradition, or b. they were those in the New Testament era who wanted their views of the nature of God, Jesus and the Church to prevail.

But, as they say in the detective game, one has to have motive AND opportunity.  I think that motive could easily be established but what about opportunity….?

a. Some Jews removed more specific references to the Savior from the Old Testament.

This idea is actually rather far-fetched in my opinion for the following reasons:

  • They would have had to have done it after 33 AD, after Jesus died and was resurrected. As I wrote in part 3 of this series, there were copies of the Old Testament Septuagint as early as 2nd century BC. Since the Jews were looking for a Messiah, it seems hardly likely that they would have wiped out most references prior to Christ’s ministry.  Also, they would have had to ensure that all copies of the Old Testament in existence were all changed the same.  And I am quite sure they had no idea where they all were or the opportunity to retrieve them.
  • While errors in translation are possible and extremely likely, why would only those “plain and precious” passages suffer from translation errors? Comparisons to other existing manuscripts seem to show that not many translation errors really existed.
  • If they removed “Plain and Precious things” that clearly referenced the Savior, it appears they forgot a few.  Namely, Isaiah 9, 42, 53, Zechariah 9:9; 11:12-13 to name some, but not all.

b. Christian Leaders in the New Testament era wanted their views to prevail.

This one actually has some level of plausibility to it.  But, rather than remove text from canonized books, some chose what books to canonize based on their view. We know from the history of the great ecumenical councils that doctrine was discussed, argued about and voted on, or later that Constantine actually dictated what Christians would believe. So, in some cases, the scriptural text says one thing but the prevailing doctrinal view might actually be different.

So, in conclusion, I am more apt to accept theory 1, Loss of Gospel Truth as an explanation of the loss of “Plain and Precious Things” rather than any other theory.  I am sure there are other theories, maybe one that is more possible than the one I noted.

I’m interested in your take on this.

Comments

comments

Comments 13

  1. I recall reading that Jack Welch believed there were three dimensions to this loss of plain and precious truths. I think he argued that the first step was a loss of meaning, teh second step was a loss of understanding the covenants and that the two of these meant that certain pasaages were removed because they were seen to be un-important.

    I have no problem with these three explanations. However, I think if we take this view too far then we can end up thinking that when we put a christian spin on a passage that we are restoring the plain and precious truth.

    Moreover, I think we make more out of this idea than we need to. I would argue that the same clause (as far as it is translated correctly) should also apply to the BoM. The writers themselves seem to do so.

  2. There are translations of the Bible available today that use sources closer to the “original” than those available to the translators of the KJV centuries ago. If our true attempt is to restore as many of the “plain and precious” truths as those contained in the original documents, doesn’t it seem a bit odd that we cling to the KJV?

  3. Mike S,

    It seems odd to me in light of the JST and how much the church has promoted it in recent times. In addition, several GAs have quoted from other translations of the Bible in General Conference.

    Plus the fact, that the KJV is the English translation we use. Other languages use different versions.

  4. I wonder whether it is tied to the very fact that we have the JST. If we used a different version, how would the JST fit in with it. I suspect that this reason is the main one, it does not apply to othe countries because the translation problem is already there. but doing it for us it creates issues up front.

  5. I don’t necessarily think the “original Old Testament” contained references to Christ. The only example we have of rejecting Jesus Christ is in the Book of Mormon with the anti-Christs. You could read those sections of the BoM for a possible mentality that would lead to Christ’s name to be removed from the sacred books. If you believe the Documentary Hypothesis and other ideas that large portions of the OT were written or redacted in various later times than it is possible that an anti-Christ movement could have started in one or more of these periods. However this is just conjecture and I don’t really believe it myself. In general I see most of the references added by the JST to Jesus Christ in the OT as doctrinal additions to help us along, and not necessarily historical originals. References to the Messiah are the most concrete prophecies of Christ that we have. Other more obscure prophecies allow us to see Christ in the OT, but ancient Jews wouldn’t have necessarily seen the Messianic tones in them.

  6. In my post above it appears I am confused between Christ and Messiah, I know they are the same. I was attempting to refer to prophecies of the “name of Christ” or more particularly Jesus Christ.

  7. Larrin,

    Let’s not forget, Jesus Christ is a Greek name and title. His real name would have been Yeshua Ben Yosef meaning Joshua son of Joseph. No doubt the BoM was translated to read Jesus Christ but I doubt that is the way it was written in the original language.

  8. I think we need to remember that there was no such thing as “The Bible” when the texts in it were being written. It’s not like Moses went out and bought a great big book with blank pages and started writing at the front, and passed it down until John finished writing Revelation and the pages ran out, so The Bible was finished (that’s more the way the BoM worked, but even that required abridging to get to what we have now). None of the authors was self-consciously writing intending that what they wrote would be compiled next to the other collected books.

    Or, as Sir Leigh said in the Davinci Code, God didn’t send down the Bible on his fax machine.

  9. Jeff, I agree with your conclusions.

    I happened to notice in your list of lost books “the Book of Jasher.”
    One of the Restoration Churches called the Nephite Church of Christ has this to say about it:

    The Nephite Order: The Code of Doctrine & Discipline of the Nephite Church of Christ includes Sefer ha-Yashar as part of the Deposit of Faith. The Sefer ha-Yashar is considered to be “deemed by the Holy Spirit to be worth of study and obedience.” [see entry entitled Deposit of Faith]

    Also they point out that “Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of Mormonism, wrote in Times and Seasons, Sept. 1, 1842, in reference to the patriarch Abraham: “the book of Jasher, which has not been disproved as a bad author, says he was cast into the fire of the Chaldeans”. (External Link: Times and Seasons, Volume 3, Number 21.)”

    Here’s a link to a copy which was published in SLC in 1887.

  10. BiV,

    The Book of Jasher has been very popular in LDS Church circles. I even remember a Gospel Doctrine teacher teaching from it in our Ward. I suppose the JS reference is one reason.

    The copy of the book that I have seems to indicate it is published around 1840. It appears to be a photo reproduction.

    Scholars tend to put this translation of the Book of Jasher as part of the pseudepigrapha. In others words, a false version of the real book. But it is very interesting reading.

  11. Jeff, you Talmage quote, “we find the Church itself apostate, boasting of temporal power, making its own laws,” I think William Law wrote the same thing about Joseph Smith in the Expositor… 🙂

    When we look at the Bible, I think it’s important to remember that these editors of the Bible (as the Documentary Hypothesis refers to), weren’t trying to erase evidence of Christ at all. In the case of Josiah and Baruch, it could very well be that these 2 wanted a specific kind of Judaism, and “finding” (or planting, as some scholars think) the book of Deuteronomy gave Baruch and Josiah just the sort of priesthood that was more absent in the other 4 books of Moses. It could be that Baruch was one of these editors who added and took away plain and precious truths that Joseph talks about in the 8th article of faith. Since they lived 700 years before the birth of Christ, they’d have no reason to remove references to him. So, we shouldn’t be so focused on Christianity to see that some of these editors could have been seriously messing with Judaism. Some of these lost/changed scriptures could have been lost centuries prior to Christ.

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