I heard this question in passing the other day, and it started me thinking. The question included the passing comment that one always hears the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants in the Mormon Church instead---so I projected onto the questioner, perhaps unfairly, such thoughts as, “what’s wrong with these Mormons that they don’t use the Bible?” or “who do these Mormons think they are, using their own scripture instead of the Bible?”
When I was first learning about the Church, I remember seeing scriptural references like “Alma something something” or “D&C something something,” and my reaction at the time ranged from mild indignation to outright disgust that Mormons weren’t using the “real” scriptures. In other words, I totally relate to the questioner’s skepticism.
In twelve years’ worth of Sacrament meetings, I can’t say I personally have noticed a higher proportion of references to the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants over the Bible. But let’s say for the sake of argument that, in general, most Mormons in most wards cite the Book of Mormon or D&C but rarely the Bible in Sacrament talks. Why is that?
To the best of my knowledge, the Book of Mormon IS the Bible as far as precepts, teaching about Christ, and commandments are concerned, but the Book of Mormon offers that spiritual knowledge in a more modern language. Joseph Smith was translating less than 200 years ago as opposed to the KJV Bible’s nearly 400-year-old language, much of which was taken from even earlier translations by William Tyndale circa 1500. If you don’t think the English language changed that much between 1500/1600 and 1800, try reading some of Tyndale’s original work. Almost indecipherable without a translation guide.
Second, the Book of Mormon was translated once from the original gold plates inscribed by the prophets of ancient America. The Lord was so intent on one and only one translation of the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith was not allowed to re-translate the 116 pages that were lost. The Bible, on the other hand, was translated from derivative versions of the records that had been copied and recopied for centuries thus introducing inevitable human error and, we believe, deliberate human distortion. The Book of Mormon is simply closer to the Source.
Third, the Book of Mormon is so much more coherent than the Bible because it conveys the gospel by telling the unified story of three (only three) ancient civilizations over about a thousand years (a little more for the Jaredites) whereas the Bible starts with creation and finishes in about 100 AD (that’s anywhere from 6,000 to 6 million years depending on your point of view) and covers the Israelite civilization plus everyone else in existence in the middle east during that time. The Bible is unavoidably loose, fragmentary and vague on many gospel points. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that has so many pieces missing, you aren’t really sure what the totality looks like. Only certain sub-areas are clear. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, presents the gospel in vibrant technicolor. In fact, once you’ve read the Book of Mormon and D&C, and the totality of the gospel picture emerges, you can read the Bible so much more deeply because the fuzzy parts resolve against the background of their presentation in the Book of Mormon and D&C.
The most obvious example to me is the Bible’s I Corinthians 15:29 where Paul inquires, Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? If you have only the Bible, what the heck does that mean? I don’t know of any other church that pays any attention to that verse. Yet the Doctrine and Covenants makes that verse clear: For verily I say unto you, that after you have had sufficient time to build a house to me, wherein the ordinance of baptizing for the dead belongeth, and for which the same was instituted from before the foundation of the world, your baptisms for your dead cannot be acceptable unto me; (D&C 124:33).
So why would many Mormons favor the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants over the Bible? Because they’re easier to read, easier to understand, and more full in their explication of the gospel. They’re like a study guide for the Bible.
Knowing the Church as I do now, it’s almost laughable that I thought they weren’t using the “real” scriptures, that somehow they were dissing the Bible. Now that I have actually read the Bible, I see the continuation of Biblical precepts and practices everywhere in the Mormon church: Temples, the Priesthood, tithing, the Family, patriarchs, the Sacrament (or Lord’s Supper). Contained within the Book of Mormon are two-thirds of the sixty-six books of Isaiah—nearly verbatim—-from the Old Testament. The Book of Mormon’s account of Christ’s visit to the Nephite civilization after his resurrection includes what is essentially the Sermon on the Mount, reiterated almost verbatim to His sheep from a different fold.
I think back to my earlier skepticism about the Book of Mormon, and I liken myself to a tourist from a country without western medical care visiting a hospital emergency room for the first time. The tourist sees doctors stabbing patients in the neck, or sawing their chests open and breaking their ribs, and thinks, “These are doctors? How dare people who call themselves doctors assault the human body like that?” It’s only if the tourist learns the purpose of the actions (i.e., intubation for continued breathing or accessing the heart to operate on it), that s/he can understand.
Without spiritual preparation, a Mormon Sacrament meeting is a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese where they’ve tossed the Bible overboard and quote self-centeredly from scriptures they’ve discovered. Once you realize the intimate continuity with the Bible, however, then the invaluable imprint of the Holy Ghost on the spirits of noisy, restless, often annoying little children, and the beauty of the Lord’s plan to provide scriptures of the never-changing gospel to all of His sheep in every fold make it a religious experience.
P.S. Just for grins, I decided to look at April’s General Conference and count the references made to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants. Of the twenty talks given by either President Monson or one of the twelve apostles, there were 156 references to the Bible, 52 references to the Book of Mormon, 73 references to the Doctrine and Covenants, and 10 references to the Pearl of Great Price. That’s Bible 156: Mormon scripture 135. And to be fair, many of the D&C references were listed as secondary references to the Biblical references because they recapitulate what is stated in the Bible.
Photo credit: jeffvrabel.com/chuck_e_cheese.gif