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The Plain and Most Precious Parts of the Book



Fragment from the book of John dating from 125-175 AD. Rylands Greek P 457, the St John Fragment, on display in the Rylands Gallery at John Rylands Library in Manchester, England


Where Science Meets the Book of Mormon: Come Follow Me Lessons: January 22-28; 1 Nephi 11-15


Nephi received the following revelation, as recorded in 1 Nephi 13:23, “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.”

The first part of my discussion this week is a continuation of last week’s essay. Nephi is told that the book that is, “…a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord…” i.e., the Old Testament, is “…like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many...” That scripture implies, then that the brass plates contained more scriptures than our Old Testament.

 

The brass plates, according to 1 Nephi 5:11 and 13, contained not only “the five books of Moses,” but also “…the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.” Jeremiah, as we have it in the Old Testament, began his record in the thirteenth year of King Josiah’s reign (about 627 BC; Jeremiah 1:2) and continued to the eleventh year of Zedekiah (586 BC; Jeremiah 1:3), “unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.” Therefore, there is no gap in the Torah/Old Testament immediately before the sac of Jerusalem. Indeed, the Old Testament account of Jeremiah must be more extensive than that in the brass plates because Lehi and his family left Jerusalem before its destruction.


So, what part of the brass plates was more extensive than the Old Testament? We are told that the brass plates also contained a genealogy of Lehi’s fathers (1 Nephi 5:4). However, Genesis 5 gives an extensive and very detailed patrilineal genealogy from Adam to Noah’s sons and Genesis 11 gives the patrilineal genealogy from Shem to Abraham. Genesis 46 lists some of Jacob (Israel’s) descendants and Nehemiah 11 gives the genealogy of some of Judah and Benjamin’s descendants. Ruth 4 gives the genealogy from Pharez to David. Jeremiah 1:1 says that Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, in the land of Benjamin, and 1 Chronicles 6 gives a genealogy from Levi to Hilkiah. However, that genealogy says that Azariah was Hilkiah’s son and that Azariah begat Seraiah, who begat Jehozadak, who was carried into captivity (1 Chronicles 6:13-15). If the two Hilkiahs were the same man, that would place Jeremiah as a contemporary of Hilkiah’s great-grandson, suggesting that perhaps a couple of generations were skipped in Jeremiah 1:1 (apparently not necessarily unusual for Hebrew genealogies). So, from a genealogical perspective, it appears that the Old Testament is at least as complete as the brass plates, if not more extensive, in providing genealogies.


However, we do have at least a partial list of what might be on the brass plates but missing from the Old Testament. According to the Bible Dictionary on the Church website, under the title “Lost Books,” we read, “The Book of Mormon makes reference to writings of Old Testament times and connection that are not found in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or in any other known source. These writings are of Zenock, Zenos, and Neum (1 Ne. 19:10Alma 33:3–17). An extensive prophecy by Joseph in Egypt (which is not in the Bible) is also apparent from 2 Ne. 3:4–22, and a prophecy of Jacob (not found in the Bible) is given in Alma 46:24–26. These writings were evidently contained on the plates of brass spoken of in the Book of Mormon (1 Ne. 5:10–13).”1 

 

Furthermore, the “Lost Books” topic in the Bible Dictionary also states, “Sometimes called missing scripture, they [the “lost Books”] consist of at least the following: book of the Wars of the Lord (Num. 21:14); book of Jasher (Josh. 10:132 Sam. 1:18); book of the acts of Solomon (1 Kgs. 11:41); book of Samuel the seer (1 Chr. 29:29); book of Gad the seer (1 Chr. 29:29); book of Nathan the prophet (1 Chr. 29:292 Chr. 9:29); prophecy of Ahijah (2 Chr. 9:29); visions of Iddo the seer (2 Chr. 9:2912:1513:22); book of Shemaiah (2 Chr. 12:15); book of Jehu (2 Chr. 20:34); sayings of the seers (2 Chr. 33:19); an epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, earlier than our present 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9); possibly an earlier epistle to the Ephesians (Eph. 3:3); an epistle to the Church at Laodicea (Col. 4:16); and some prophecies of Enoch, known to Jude (Jude 1:14). To these rather clear references to inspired writings other than our current Bible may be added another list that has allusions to writings that may or may not be contained within our present text but may perhaps be known by a different title; for example, the book of the covenant (Ex. 24:7), which may or may not be included in the current book of Exodus; the manner of the kingdom, written by Samuel (1 Sam. 10:25); the rest of the acts of Uzziah written by Isaiah (2 Chr. 26:22).”2 

 

“The foregoing items attest to the fact that our present Bible does not contain all of the word of the Lord that He gave to His people in former times and remind us that the Bible, in its present form, is rather incomplete.”3 

 

“Matthew’s reference to a prophecy that Jesus would be a Nazarene (2:23) is interesting when it is considered that our present Old Testament seems to have no statement as such. There is a possibility, however, that Matthew alluded to Isa. 11:1, which prophesies of the Messiah as a Branch from the root of Jesse, the father of David. The Hebrew word for branch in this case is netzer, the source word of Nazarene and Nazareth. Additional references to the Branch as the Savior and Messiah are found in Jer. 23:533:15Zech. 3:86:12; these use a synonymous Hebrew word for branch, tzemakh.”4 

 

I think I have found at least one other “missing book” as the result of my own research. The following four paragraphs are from my recently published book, Who is Adam, with citations in that book.5

 

Then there is the odd reference to Michael in the book of Jude in the New Testament, “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”14 This verse is quite confusing at several levels, and bible commentators have wrestled with it for many years John Gill (1697-1771) proposed that the struggle between Michael and Satan was over where – or even whether to bury Moses’ body after his death.15 This scenario would not actually have happened, however, as Moses was translated so as to pass his keys to the Savior at the mount of transfiguration.16 An alternative explanation proposed by Gill was that the struggle occurred over Moses’ soul while he was still alive. One question is: where did Jude get this story in the first place? Origen (c. 185–254), an early Christian scholar, mentions a Jewish Greek book, “The Assumption of Moses,” as existing in his day.17 The book apparently contained this very account of the contest between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses. Origen supposed that “The Assumption” was the source of Jude’s account. The portion of the book containing that information is now lost. There appears to be no account in extant scripture of a struggle between Moses and Satan, or between Michael and Satan over Moses.


However, through modern revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith, recorded in The Pearl of Great Price, we now have another account of “Moses’ Assumption,” and therein is an account of Moses’ struggle with Satan. Moses 1 teaches us that, “The words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up [assumption] into an exceedingly high mountain, And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.”18


“And it came to pass that…Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me. And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee? For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely? Blessed be the name of my God, for his Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me, or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God; for God said unto me: Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve. Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten. And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me. And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory. And now Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook; and Moses received strength, and called upon God, saying: In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan. And it came to pass that Satan cried with a loud voice, with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; and he departed hence, even from the presence of Moses, that he beheld him not.”19


Now, Michael is never mentioned in this scripture, but the passage “Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength…” (vs 20) is very interesting. Could this be the time when Michael intervened in God’s behalf to strengthen Moses and fight for Moses against Satan? Moses 1 certainly appears to contain all the requisite parameters for Jude’s reference.


To continue with Nephi’s vision: We read in 1 Nephi 13:24-29, “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.”


This scripture makes it quite clear that at least part of the “lost books” were lost on purpose; for we are told that the “great and abominable church” has “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.” What might we find from recorded history to shed some light on this charge?


First of all, what is meant by the term the “great and abominable church”? Elder Dallin Oaks stated in a devotional address, “Witnesses of God,” given at Brigham Young University–Idaho on February 25, 2014, “Because no religious denomination—Christian or non-Christian—has ever had ‘dominion’ over all nations of the earth or the potential to bring all the saints of God down into ‘captivity,’ this great and abominable church must be something far more pervasive and widespread than a single ‘church,’ as we understand that term today. It must be any philosophy or organization that opposes belief in God. And the ‘captivity’ into which this ‘church’ seeks to bring the saints will not be so much physical confinement as the captivity of false ideas.”6 Therefore, I will move forward with this definition, that the “the great and abominable church” is the “the captivity of false ideas.”


What do we know about the canon of the various versions of the Jewish and Christian Bible? There appears to be no consensus among Hebrew Biblical scholars, but many agree that the Hebrew canon was established well before the 1st century AD — likely in the first or second centuries BC.7 


Let’s focus, for initial discussion, on the twelve so-called “deuterocanonical books” (from the Greek meaning “belonging to the second canon”): Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Sirach (or the writings of Ben Sirah), 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, Wisdom (Ecclesiasticus), Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Esdras, and 2 Esdras; which date from 300 BC to 100 AD. Those books were included in the Septuagint and are considered by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the Assyrian Church of the East to be canonical books of the Old Testament, but Jews, Protestants, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regard them as apocryphal.


Apparently, by the Second Temple period (586 BC-AD 70), very few people could speak Hebrew and even fewer could read it. Koine Greek and/or Aramaic were the most likely spoken languages of the Jewish community of the time. The Septuagint therefore, apparently satisfied the need for a readable Bible in that Jewish community.8

 

The word Septuagint is derived from the Latin spetemginta, meaning seventy. Josephus claimed that the translation of the Hebrew Bible from Hebrew to Greek took 72 elders 72 days.9 Steve Rudd said of this translation, “Ptolemy I (Soter) [succeeded Alexander the Great and] became pharaoh of the Egyptian kingdom from 323-282 BC and in 295 BC he instructed Demetrius of Phaleron [or Phalereus] to create the great library of Alexandria. During the reign of Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) 282-246 BC… a sizable population of Jews lived in Alexandria…It was Ptolemy II’s librarian, Demetrius Phalereus who made the initial request to acquire a Greek copy of the Hebrew scriptures and oversaw the entire process…The Grecian Jews living in Alexandria consented with Ptolemy II to request that the Jerusalem high priest provide 72 (6 from each of 12 tribes) bilingual translators of the Torah in Egypt. The rest of the 39 Old Testament books (Joshua - Malachi) were all translated into Greek as early as 250 BC but not any later than 150 BC.”10 


It was apparently the Septuagint, including the deuterocanonical books, from which the New Testament apostles and other biblical authors quoted.11 The Council of Rome, held  in 382 AD, under the direction of Pope Damasus, defined a list of books of scripture, including most of the deuterocanonical books, as canonical.12 So, the early Christian church largely relied upon the Septuagint in the canonized Christian Bible, which contained more books than the later King James Bible.


I grew up largely blaming the Catholic Church for the “Great Apostacy” and the Protestant Reformation for beginning the correct steps toward the ultimate Restoration — that view of history was apparently not very accurate. I have learned over many years that the story of Christianity is much more complicated than that simple perception.

 

For example, in the 16th century, Martin Luther argued that many of the New Testament books lacked the “authority of the Gospels,” and therefore proposed removing a number of books; including HebrewsJamesJude, and Revelation; from the New Testament. Apparently, those books didn’t fit with Luther’s theology, which he claimed was derived from the scriptures — he simply removed the portions of the Bible that didn’t agree with his Bible-driven theology. As a result, apparently Lutherans and Anglicans do not consider those books to be canonical but do consider them worth reading and considering.


The first Luther Bible, in German, consisting of only some New Testament books, was published in September 1522, and a complete German-language Bible, a translation, by Luther and others, of the Old Testament, New Testament, and Apocrypha, was published in 1534. Luther continued to make improvements to the text until just before his death in 1546. The 1545 edition of Luther’s Bible, translated into English, is available on the internet under “Text of the unrevised Luther Bible 1545: DeepL English Translation.” The introduction states, “German text obtained from a now defunct German website, with only minor corrections. The Apocrypha were not included as in Luther's Bible. Chapter headings etc. were included per orthodox Lutheran Bibles, however emphasis of some verses and phrases was not retained.”13 That version includes all 27 books of the New Testament, with the book of Revelation entitled, Offenbarung, “Epiphany.”14 The fourth session of the Catholic Council of Trent was held in 1546, the year of Luther’s death. That Council upheld earlier council conclusions that the deuterocanonical books were equally authoritative as the protocanonical canon (those books constituting the Hebrew Bible). A list of the books may be found at bible-researcher.com/trent1.html.15


In preparing this review of Biblical history, I do not see a documented time when the “plain and precious things were “taken away from the book.” It is very difficult to establish a negative. We do not have any very old documents from which to judge what may have been removed from the extant scriptures. As I stated last week, the world’s oldest complete extant Torah scroll is the Bologna Torah Scroll (also known as the University of Bologna Torah Scroll, circa 1155–1225 AD). The scroll contains the full text of the five Books of Moses, written in Hebrew.16 Older copies are only fragments. The oldest complete copies of single, separate New Testament books date from around 200 AD, and the earliest complete copy of the New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus, dates from the 4th century.17

 

The very earliest fragment of the New Testament is a tiny piece from the book of John, dating from around 125–175 AD. The 3.5-by-2.5-inch fragment of papyri is designated the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, currently housed at the John Rylands University LibraryManchesterUK. It is nearly impossible to know what may have been lost from the New Testament story and gospel before any extant copies large enough to read a complete story, were written, around 150 years after the events described.


Even though we may never know what doctrinal knowledge was lost before our current Bible was produced, we can identify a couple of critical theological changes that were made in the King James Bible — and presumably other versions of the Bible. We read in John 4:24, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” The word “is” is italicized, indicating that it did not exist in the original and thus was inserted in the translation. Therefore, the original Greek stated “God a Spirit.” However, English does not like sentences without verbs — so the word is was inserted to reflect the beliefs of the King James translators. Why not insert the verb "has," which gives an entirely different, more theologically correct meaning?


The Luther Bible, in 1545, fifty years before the King James Version, states in John 4:24, “Gott ist Geist…” “God is Spirit…” The Vulgate, largely the work of Jerome in 382, also states for John 4:24, “spiritus est Deus” “God is Spirit.” Apparently, in all these translations, the plain and precious truth that God has a Spirit — therefore God is a combination of body and spirit, was replaced with the idea that God is only spirit and has no physical body — that one word change makes a huge difference in Biblical theology.


Another example is Ephesians 1:5: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will…” According to Bible Hub, the Greek word προορίσας (proorisas) should be translated as “To foreordain.” The Luther version (1545) states Ephesians 1:5: “for und hat uns verordnet zur Kindschaft gegen sich selbst durch Jesum Christum nach dem Wohlgefallen seines Willens,” “and hath ordained us to adoption as sons unto himself through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,” However, the Latin Vulgate states, “qui praedestinavit nos in adoptionem filiorum per Iesum Christum in ipsum secundum propositum voluntatis suae” “Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will:” It appears from these three versions of Ephesians 1:5 that the King James translators, being influenced by Clavin (King James being educated as a Calvinist), believed in predestination and inserted that translation into the King James Bible. Likewise, it appears that Jerome also believed in predestination, and inserted the concept into the Vulgate. On the other hand, Luther appears not have been a predestinationist and used the original, more correct term of being ordained.


Even though it is very difficult, if not impossible, to identify specifically what passages of the “plain and precious” parts of the scriptures were removed from the Bible, we can identify subtle changes, even single word changes, in the Bible that have had, and reflect, radical theological changes throughout Christian history. Those changes in the original Christian theology, as taught by the Savior and the early apostles, could only be corrected by a complete Restoration of all things — including the plain and precious doctrines taught in the Book of Mormon.

 

 

Trent Dee Stephens, PhD

 

References

2.     Ibid

3.     Ibid

4.     Ibid

5.     Stephens, Trent Dee, Who Is Adam? Castle Books, Pocatello, ID, 2023

7.     McDonald, Lee Martin and Sanders, James A., eds., The Canon Debate, Hendrickson Publishers; Reprint edition; Carol Stream, IL, 2002

8.     Stefon, Matt, Judaism: History, Belief, and Practice, Rosen Publishing Group, Buffalo, NY, 2011

9.     Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XII, Chapter 2:11-13, Kregal, Grand Rapids, MI, 1978, p. 249-250

11.  Akin, James, "Deuterocanonical References in the New Testament"Jimmy Akin.; 10 January 2012; jimmyakin.com/deuterocanonical-references-in-the-new-testament; retrieved 19 January 2024

12.  see the list at tertullian.org/decretum_eng.htm; retrieved 19 January 2024

14.  biblestudytools.com/lut; retrieved 19 January 2024

15.  bible-researcher.com/trent1.html; retrieved 19 January 2024

16.  Colefor, Diane, Carbon Dating Confirms World's Oldest Torah Scroll, National Geographic, May 31, 2013

17.  Ehrman, Bart D., The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, New York: Oxford, 2004, pp. 480f

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