Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes nicknamed the “Mormon Church”), was a young man during a period of religious revival known as the “Great Awakening.” He was confused by the many different interpretations of the Bible preached to him, and could not tell what was true from what was false. Reading in the New Testament one night, he decided he must ask of God after reading James 1:5.
I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible. (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History 12)
Anyone who has studied geometry knows that it takes at least two points to determine a line. The Bible provides one point, brilliant with truth and the glory of God. But it can still be difficult to know which way to go, as the teenaged Joseph Smith discovered. What other points can help to mark the way along the straight and narrow path that leads us back to God?
In our time as well as in Joseph Smith’s time, many religious leaders contend that the Bible is both the beginning and the end of God’s word to His children. They resist any suggestion that God might have more to say, that He spoke to other people besides the Jews in the past, or that He has additional counsel for His children who are on the earth now. But God has always spoken to His people through prophets, in every age of the world and in every land. The Bible is a compilation of some of His words, and of the teachings of Jesus Christ, using those manuscripts that were available at the time the compilation was made. Yet there exist other people, other times, and other places where He also revealed Himself.
Mormons believe that God has revealed the gospel of Jesus Christ to many different peoples in many lands in the past, and that He continues to actively speak to prophets today. Sacred records from ancient and modern times exist and are accepted in addition to the Bible as scripture. The books that Mormons accept as scripture are the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
The King James Bible is the translation used in English-speaking Mormon congregations. Early manuscripts of the Bible, transmitted orally and by hand-copying, introduced various errors and omissions that can make the Bible contradictory at times. Joseph Smith and other prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ have stated that the King James version is the most accurate available. An edition using the King James text with numerous footnotes, a Topical Guide, and a Bible Dictionary, cross-referenced to other Mormon scripture, is published by the Church to help its members in their scripture study.
The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ
The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ is the history of an ancient people that lived in the Americas prior to and for a few hundred years after the coming of Christ. The peoples who wrote the Book of Mormon migrated from the old world during Old Testament times, and worshipped the God of Israel. Their prophets foretold the coming of Jesus Christ, and taught their people to keep the Law of Moses, repent of their sins, and be baptized in Christ’s name. Many important truths about the nature of man, his relationship to God, and most of all the atonement of Jesus Christ, were revealed to these ancient prophets, who recorded them on metal plates for preservation and passed them down from generation to generation. One of the last prophets was named Mormon, and it is from him that the book takes its name. Seeing that his people had fallen into wickedness and were engaged in a war that would prove their eventual destruction, he took all the ancient records he had inherited and abridged them into a single record. His son, Moroni, buried them in the earth after his people had been destroyed and scattered by their enemies.
Hundreds of years later, Joseph Smith was shown by the Angel Moroni where the plates of gold containing the record were hidden. He retrieved them, and translated into English the ancient characters written on them by the gift and power of God. The Book of Mormon provides the second point that fixes the path back to God, set forth in the Bible, onto a single, steady course. Its teachings about Jesus Christ clarify and amplify the teachings of the Bible, unclouded by the centuries of translation that can make the Bible confusing. God Himself will bear witness of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the truth of its teachings to anyone who reads it and asks Him with an open heart:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things(The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Moroni 10:4-5).
The Doctrine and Covenants
Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints receive revelation from God for His people today, just as the prophets in the Bible and the Book of Mormon did. These revelations are recorded in the book of the Doctrine and Covenants. Most of the Doctrine and Covenants, which is divided into numbered sections, records revelations given to Joseph Smith during the early days of the Church. Other revelations were given to later prophets, but they are fewer in number. Revelations included in the Doctrine and Covenants speak of the atonement of Jesus Christ, prophesy about the second coming of the Savior, explain the organization of the Church, and teach of the importance of the ordinances of the temple. Like the Book of Mormon, one can gain a personal witness of the truth of the teachings of the Doctrine and Covenants by studying it, applying the principles it teaches, and asking God.
The Pearl of Great Price
The Pearl of Great Price is a compilation of several different short works. The first is the Book of Moses, as revealed to Joseph Smith. The Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price is more detailed than the first book of Moses contained in the Bible, and contains stories from the creation up through the prophets Enoch and Noah. The very first chapter is a touching account of Moses’ first encounter with God, and how he comes to understand God’s glory, His majesty, and His great love.
The second book in the Pearl of Great Price is the Book of Abraham, translated by Joseph Smith from ancient Egyptian papyri by revelation. The Book of Abraham records Abraham’s early history, and revelations to Abraham about the earth and its creation, as well as important events during our pre-earth life. The third book in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith–Matthew, is an expanded version of Matthew 24 revealed to Joseph Smith while he was studying that chapter, and contains additional details about the second coming of Jesus Christ on the earth in the latter days.
The final two books in the Pearl of Great Price are Joseph Smith–History and The Articles of Faith. The first is an abridged history of the life of Joseph Smith. It contains accounts of his first vision, the translation of the Book of Mormon, and other events prior to the formal organization of the Church in 1830. The Articles of Faith are a set of 13 basic beliefs, sent by Joseph Smith to a newspaper editor who asked him what the Church believes. They consist of succinct statements regarding the Godhead, the atonement of Jesus Christ, baptism, priesthood authority, and other important doctrines.
God continues to reveal His word to living prophets today. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are ordained prophets, seers, and revelators. Through speeches given at local meetings and especially during the Church’s semi-annual General Conference, modern prophets reveal the words of God to His children today, at this particular time and place. One important recent revelation is entitled “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” It offers important guidelines about the nature and importance of the family in God’s eternal plan.
Mormons and the Scriptures
Mormons are counseled by the living prophet and by other church leaders to study the scriptures daily. The scriptures contain the words of God as revealed through His prophets throughout all the ages of the world. By studying the scriptures, we open our hearts to hear the whisperings of the Holy Ghost by which God can guide us individually in our daily lives. Thanks to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, members of the Church are blessed with a deep understanding of God’s plan for us, the Savior’s mission, and the path we must follow to return to Him.