Plain and Precious Things

By: Jeff Spector
December 6, 2013

“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.” (2Nephi 13:28)

One of the common prevailing ideas taught in the LDS Church is that the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament were tampered with and that doctrinal ideas that directly support the Restoration and key LDS doctrine were somehow removed by the evil designs of men.

While I don’t want to get into a lengthy historical lesson on the canon of scripture, we all know that the books of the Bible were determined largely by committee and some books are included in some churches’ versions of the Bible and others are omitted.  There are books described in the scriptures, which are not available.   So, some part of the loss of “Plain and Precious Things” could be attributed to the lost books or books not included in the modern canon.  But, perhaps there is more to it than that.

“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. (Article of Faith 8)

Oh, and BTW, we also consider the Doctrine & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price to be the Word of God.  Some also think the Wheat and Tares blog is the Word of God. :)  It’s not.

I suppose this serves as some level of justification for Joseph Smith’s Translation (JST) of the Bible.  As you remember, it was translated by inspiration, not by use of manuscripts.  And while the LDS Church uses the JST to some degree, the main English language Holy Bible is the King James Version.  Selected verses of the JST are used from time to time and are part of the LDS edition of the Holy Bible.  The Community of Christ does use the JST as its main Bible.

So, back to the idea of the Bible having been tampered with regard to the loss of Plain and Precious things.”  There really is no evidence that this happened to the Old Testament or the New Testament.  The first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, pretty much existed in the original language. Hebrew, prior to the coming of Christ, so if someone knew something and removed references to Jesus in the Torah, they were a seer. In fact, there is some evidence that those books of scriptures may have existed as early as 180 BCE!

“Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim;” (D&C 27:5)

The Book of Mormon was given to Joseph Smith to be translated and given to the people of our day.  Because it is a direct translation, it is felt that no corrupting influences were allowed to tamper with its content.  However, it seems, because it is a translation from ancient languages, it was in fact translated using language and expression from the time Joseph received it.  In addition to passages that are almost word for word the same as the King James Bible English, there is French and there is Greek in the book.

One of the things that always intrigued me was the use of “Jesus Christ” in the early parts of the Book of Mormon to write about the Savior.  How did those who came Jerusalem, who spoke Hebrew or Aramaic use a Greek name to describe the Savior?

I concluded a while ago that it was merely the effect of the modern translation as described above.  In other words, Joseph Smith used the name Jesus Christ because more people would immediately understand who He was.  I suppose he could have used “Messiah” anytime the word “Christ” is used or, as I have often wondered, used the term “Jehovah” when referencing the pre-mortal Jesus.  That argument falls a bit short because Nephi and others were referring to Jesus as Savior, not the pre-mortal Jehovah, co-creator of the earth.  Finally, I also suppose he could have used his actual Hebew name, Yeshua ben Yoshef.  In the end, I’ve just concluded Joseph used Jesus Christ because it was the most recognizable to the majority of people.

So, here you have an abridged record of a people, who originated in Jerusalem, that seem to have a clear knowledge of the Savior from about 600 BCE. I’ve never quite understood how the records found in the holy land seem less detailed about Jesus. There are illusions, but not the same specific detail as the Book of Mormon contains. Perhaps those books have yet to be found.

In further pondering this question about the loss of “Plain and Precious Things,” one can also observe that the main loss of those key doctrines were mostly the result of the “philosophies of men,” rather than the actual tampering with scripture. In other words, alternate interpretations have been the main driver behind the loss.

For instance, the knowledge of the true nature of God and the Godhead, the eternal nature of man, the Plan of Salvation, the Temple, and the Priesthood among other things were all restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith because those doctrines were lost to most of the Christian world.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Paul seems to predict the loss of “sound doctrine” as well.

Modern Day

As we have discussed recently here on the blog and in other forums on the bloggernacle, some believe the modern LDS Church has the same issue of the loss of “Plain and Precious Things.”

Some look at the elimination of in polygamy, changes in the Temple ceremonies, some administration changes, and changes in church practice as evidence of the loss.  For example, some have said that changes in the Endownment were made because current day members cannot handle the doctrine that was being taught. That because some members complained about what appeared to be violent acts, those parts were removed for future generations.

So what are your conclusions, are there losses of the “Plain and Precious Things.”  Both in history and as well as today?

16 Responses to Plain and Precious Things

  1. whizzbang on December 6, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    I agree with Robert J. Matthews, “the Roman Empire, the Mediterranean world of the early centuries after Christ—never did have a complete Bible, for it was reduced and altered before it was distributed among them.”

    as it says in the Book of Mormon as well, “many covenants” were taken out as well

    http://rsc.byu.edu/es/archived/book-mormon-first-nephi-doctrinal-foundation/13-establishing-truth-bible

    the way I read that is the doctrines of the Bible were corrupted before they made it into the Bible

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  2. The Other Clark on December 6, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    Some of us don’t believe the Journal of Discourses were “translated correctly” either.

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  3. The Other Clark on December 6, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    Seriously, my New Testament professor @ BYU indicated that the New Testament is at least 98% “translated correctly,” comparing the earliest extant manuscripts with the current KJV–and some of those manuscripts were written during Paul’s lifetime (2nd century). The Old Testament was also well above 90% accurate.

    I think most Mormons have a tendency to blame medieval copyists for whatever “plain and precious truths,” were lost, but that’s the case. With the OT, it’s possible errors were introduced hundred or even thousands of years B.C.

    In some cases, it appears the JST clarifies the intent, (similar to SWK changing “white and delightsome” to “pure and delightsome.”

    I see the modern changes (e.g. temple) as a conscious effort to separate culture and tradition from core doctrine. Obviously, there’s still a ton to do on that front!

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  4. ji on December 6, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    We need to remember that the purposes of the Book or Mormon include proving that the Bible is true and being a second witness of Jesus Christ (our first witness is the Bible). We unnecessarily stick our fingers in the eyes, so to speak, of our Christian neighbors when we over-emphasize the Bible’s failings. I’m a Latter-day Saint, and I love the Bible!

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  5. Dave on December 6, 2013 at 7:07 PM

    “There really is no evidence that this happened to the Old Testament or the New Testament.”

    Yeah, the LDS theory of the “great apostasy” really needs some work. The FARMS-published book Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy (2005) is the best guide to present LDS thinking on the topic, and there are some good articles in the book, but it still leaves the reader a bit confused. Was the apostasy about the loss and corruption of scripture (John Gee’s article)? Was it the adoption of Greek philosophy into Christian theology (Graham and Siebach’s article)? Abandoning the doctrine of an embodied God (Paulsen’s article)? Turning covenants into mere sacraments (the Reynolds article)? The withering away of the apostleship or the loss of the true priesthood (ideas found in LDS manuals)? Disarray is apparently not limited to the early Christians.

    The statement under the term “apostasy” at LDS.org [http://www.lds.org/topics/apostasy?lang=eng] sort of touches all the bases as well: “[The] Great Apostasy … occurred after the Savior established His Church. After the deaths of the Savior and His Apostles, men corrupted the principles of the gospel and made unauthorized changes in Church organization and priesthood ordinances. Because of this widespread apostasy, the Lord withdrew the authority of the priesthood from the earth. This apostasy lasted until Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820 and initiated the restoration of the fulness of the gospel.”

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  6. jpv on December 6, 2013 at 8:43 PM

    I agree with most of your post. This quote does not at all for with modern biblical scholarship such as the documentary hypothesis etc.

    So, back to the idea of the Bible having been tampered with regard to the loss of Plain and Precious things.”  There really is no evidence that this happened to the Old Testament or the New Testament.

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  7. mark gibson on December 7, 2013 at 2:02 AM

    Although the Community of Christ has the JST (Inspired Version) as its “official” Bible, in most cases of conference sermons and articles, the Revised Standard Vesion is quoted.

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  8. Kevin Christensen on December 7, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    With regard to “plain and precious” things being lost, and the transmission of the Hebrew Bible in particular, see “Text and Context” by Margaret Barker:

    http://www.margaretbarker.com/Papers/TextAndContext.pdf

    Among many key points, notice this one:
    “The distribution of unreadable Hebrew texts is not random; they are texts which bear upon the Christian tradition. Add to these examples the variants in Isaiah about the Messiah, the variants in Deuteronomy 32 about the sons of God, and there is a case to answer.”

    Try reading her essay, and then re-read 1 Nephi 13. At the 2003 Seminar at BYU, I saw her present this material, and saw Jack Welch run down and flip over 1 Nephi 13 to ask if she had read it.

    She has dealt with the evidence and implications of unreadable and corrupt texts at greater length in The Older Testament, The Great High Priest, and elsewhere.

    Also consider her essay, “The Secret Tradition” which begins:

    “There was far more to the teaching of Jesus than is recorded in the canonical gospels. For several
    centuries a belief persisted among Christian writers that there had been a secret tradition entrusted to
    only a few of his followers. Eusebius quotes from a now lost work of Clement of Alexandria,
    Hypotyposes: ‘James the Righteous, John and Peter were entrusted by the LORD after his resurrection
    with the higher knowledge. They imparted it to the other apostles, and the other apostles to the
    seventy, one of whom was Barnabas.’ (History 2.1) This brief statement offers three important pieces
    of evidence: the tradition was given to an inner circle of disciples; the tradition was given after the
    resurrection; and the tradition was a form of higher knowledge i.e. gnosis.”

    Two essays in Early Christians in Disarray are also particularly important. Gee’s esssay on “The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity” and “Reynolds on “The Decline of Covenant in Early Christian Thought.”

    FWIW

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

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  9. Nate on December 7, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    I would say that God never intended to give, and perhaps never gave a “fulness” to His ancient church. Why would He? He knew that the ancient world was one where correlation of correct orthodoxy would have been impossible. Sure enough, ancient Christianity was nothing but a jumble of competing sects following rapidly diverging corses, until the Nicean Creed. Even Paul, John, James, Peter, Apollos seem to have divergent views in the New Testament, though they lived at the time of Christ.

    Mormons were given the paradigm of “restoration” in order to make sense of our place within Christianity. But really, the only thing that has been truly restored is authority. Our doctrines are most likely very different than anything believed in the ancient world. We can hand-pick various ancient heretical doctrines, and find things similar to Mormonism. But these jumble of ancient similarities probably never had a cohesive whole.

    Joseph Smith used the word “plain and precious truths taken out” when translating the Book of Mormon, because that is how he himself understood the Bible, and his role in the restoration. But that doesn’t mean nescessarily that it can be taken literally.

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  10. Jeff Spector on December 9, 2013 at 11:06 AM

    Kevin,

    Thanks so much for that pointer to Margret’s essay. Quite fascinating. Since we do not have complete parallel histories to the creation of the canon of scripture, in many ways we have to assume that most of the compilations reflected the current doctrinal thinking at the time.

    The Jewish world was very different before and after the captivity. The rise of Rabbinic Judaism remarkably altered the religion itself in many ways. In order of preserve itself against the rise of Christianity, many changes were made to prevailing doctrinal thinking in order for differentiate between Christian doctrine and Jewish doctrine.

    The same thing happened as Greeks and Roman embraced Christianity as concepts such as the Triune Godhead were adopted.’

    I guess my bottom line was that while the scriptures are one issue, the real loss of “plain and Precious things” came about by the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.

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  11. jpv on December 9, 2013 at 5:43 PM

    Thank you, Kevin! I had your fine work in mind as I read this post!

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  12. New Iconoclast on December 10, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    All of the above comments to the effect that “the Bible” is 90+% translated correctly, or that there is little evidence of tampering, etc. leave out an important note, and it’s the error most often made by our Protestant friends in particular – assuming that “The Bible” is a singular noun. It’s a collection of ancient works, and the process by which some were included and some excluded has in itself the potential for some major omissions and mistaken inclusions. To quote Margaret Barker, “The evidence suggests that the texts which became
    the Old Testament of the Western Church were not identical to those used by the earliest Church, and that removing even the texts we have from their cultural context in the so-called Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha has hindered any attempt to reconstruct Christian origins.”

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  13. New Iconoclast on December 10, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    Oops. Hit the wrong button. I would also add that there is considerable scholarly doubt as to the origin of some of the books, especially in the New Testament. I and II Timothy, Titus, and Ephesians are generally thought by scholars to have been written by a different author (i.e., not Paul) than the rest of the Pauline epistles, and scholars are split about evenly on Colossians and II Thessalonians. There are other parts of the NT which appear to scholars to have been inserted at a later date into the books where they are found (some “help” the LDS theological viewpoint, some don’t some are indifferent), including the “Johannine comma” (I John 5:7-8, a key Trinitarian passage), the story in the Gospel of John of the woman taken in adultery, and the Savior sweating blood in Luke 22:43-44.

    I’d recommend to the curious almost anything by Bart Ehrman, including his “Great Courses” lectures, but especially Forged: Writing in the Name of God and Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.

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  14. Jeff Spector on December 10, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    I do agree that the collection of books were a nod to the prevailing thinking of those who compiled them. And there have even additions, corrections, re-corrections and omissions. But I think it was in an effort to push the prevailing ideas. So, in the end, Jesus was still the Christ, but having words and actions attributed to Him that may or may not have ever happened.

    What I am actually making as a point is that There was no deliberate effort, to say, remove Jesus from the Old Testament or remove the nature of the Godhead or Temple work as we know it. that’s what many members think happened.

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  15. […] The Other Clark, commenting on Jeff Spector’s post “Plain and Precious Things” at W&T: […]

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  16. Eric on August 20, 2014 at 3:56 AM

    I believe the New Testament to be in gross error. Jesus warned, beware the yeast of the Pharisees (et al), and Paul continued… A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. We also know that the Corrupter comes when men are sleeping and sows in bad seed with the good seed. And, we also are told that we have tares mixed in with the wheat. We are admonished not to pull up the tares because the wheat would be damaged. The tares will be removed by God and Jesus later. Jesus said that his sheep hear his voice. Listen to the voice of God. Do not be led astray by the voice of thieves and wolves. Recognize those tares that go against the grain of Grace. Jesus is a snake on a pole. Those who look to Jesus have eternal life. Jesus is the bread of life. Those who eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood will live forever. Those who handle Jesus (the bread, the snake) and drink his poison (his blood) will not die, as Mark tells us.

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