Monday, July 9, 2018

What is the Iron Rod? (Part 2)

It has always seemed obvious to me that the scriptures, or standard works, are the word of God. After all, that is what was taught in Church. They do contain a great amount of light and truth and should be used as a standard or measure by which to judge other purported revelations. Yet, as I have studied them, I’ve found that problems arise when they are considered the pure and unspoiled word of God.

Most Mormons are familiar with the early history of the Restoration. It begins with the 14 year old Joseph Smith pondering his salvation amidst the religious excitement that was prevalent where he lived. Different sects were competing for converts, and he was left to wonder which of them was right. He concluded at the time that it was impossible to discern the truth from the established scriptures “for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passage of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible”.

Indeed, Joseph later taught: "that many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled" (TPJS p. 9-10) Also, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” (DHC, vol. 6, p. 57.)

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi gives a similar description for how the written word was corrupted.
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 the most abominable of 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 most 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.
Therefore, though the original documents from which the Bible came may have been inspired and even correctly called the “word of God”, yet it had passed through so many hands, and undergone so many changes and uninspired revisions, that it could no longer be considered the pure word of God. It had become corrupted and today contains many errors. Joseph Smith did restore many things that were lost when he undertook his inspired revision of the Bible, but he was killed before was able to complete it.

But what about the restored scriptures? They are still pure, right?

Unfortunately, many of the saints in Joseph’s day, like the Jews after Moses and the Christians after Christ, were not as careful as they should have been with the oracles they received. By careful comparison, one can find numerous additions, deletions, and revisions in the revelations contained in the Doctrine & Covenants. One notable example is D&C 27. Here is the original text of D&C 27 from the Joseph Smith papers website. It was received August of 1830 and recorded in Revelation Book 1. Compare the transcript there with the version contained in the modern-day Doctrine & Covenants. Do you notice anything different?

If you paid any attention at all, you’ll notice that the version in the modern D&C is much longer. It is assumed that Sidney Rigdon was responsible for putting in the "extended edition" around 1834 or 1835. What was the justification for the additional text? Did Sidney claim to receive a revelation to modify or add to an existing revelation? There is no record of any such claim. There is also no indication that Joseph was made aware of these changes. Yet, the longer version of the revelation appeared in the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants (see here) and has remained that way until today.

After Joseph died, the church fractured. There were many who stepped forward to lead the now leaderless saints. Because of competing claims, some found it necessary to control access to or even modify history in order to present a more faithful view of things (translation: more faithful to their view of things). Here is how one writer described this time period:
The official History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was published in book form under the direction of the First Presidency in 1902. The introductory assurance that “no historical or doctrinal statement has been changed” is demonstrably wrong. Overshadowed by editorial censorship, hundreds of deletions, additions, and alterations, these seven volumes are not always reliable. …The nineteenth-century propaganda mill was so adroit that few outside Brigham Young’s inner circle were aware of the behind the scenes alterations so seamlessly stitched into church history. Charles Wesley Wandell, an assistant church historian, was aghast at these emendations. Commenting on the many changes made in the historical work as it was being serialized in the Deseret News, Wandell noted in his diary: “I notice the interpolations because having been employed in the Historian’s office at Nauvoo by Doctor Richards, and employed, too, in 1845, in compiling this very autobiography, I know that after Joseph’s death his memoir was ‘doctored’ to suit the new order of things, and this, too, by the direct order of Brigham Young to Doctor Richards and systematically by Richards.” The Quorum of the Twelve, under Brigham Young’s leadership, began altering the historical record shortly after Smith’s death. Contrary to the introduction’s claim, Smith did not author the History of the Church. At the time of his 1844 death, the narrative had been written up to 5 August 1838. (Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, Signature Books (Salt Lake City, 1004), p.322.
If there were some who conspired to alter recorded history in their favor, then what are the odds that scripture remained untouched?

Even the Book of Mormon is not devoid of errors. Royal Skousen, a professor of Linguistics and English at Brigham Young University, has published a book called The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text. From pouring over what remains of the original manuscripts written by Joseph Smith’s scribes and the printer's manuscript used in E. B. Grandin's print shop, Mr. Skousen claims to have found over 600 textual errors that still remain in standard editions of the Book of Mormon published by the various branches of Mormonism. Of those, over 250 of them affect the meaning of the passage. Unfortunately, less than a third of the original manuscript still exists. So, one could assume that there are many more errors that have changed the meaning of the text. This number of 600 only accounts for scribal errors after translating the record. Mormon admits there may be errors by him and others that were etched onto the plates. He wrote on the title page: “And now if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ.” So, even Mormon did not claim that the record he left us was free of errors.

Therefore, despite the many precious truths that come to us from our present-day scriptures, do they qualify as an unerring guide to eternal life? Can we truthfully claim that they are the rod of iron, which will lead all who lay hold upon them to the tree of life? Though others may make that assumption, I cannot. If the scriptures were enough by themselves to lead men to Christ, then why is Mormonism (not to mention Christianity as a whole) so fractured? There are tens of thousands of different Christian denominations. All of them have the same Bible. Likewise, within Mormonism there have been roughly 100 different branches or sects (whether still in existence or not) that have descended from the restoration through Joseph Smith .  They also all have had access to the same revelations and scripture that Joseph received. How could there be so many diverse and contradictory ideas among them if the scriptures were enough? Is God the author of all this? Heaven forbid. The scriptures, by themselves, cannot be the iron rod shown in Lehi's dream.

In writing this, I don't mean to dismiss or denigrate the scriptures. They should be studied by anyone who wishes to come unto Christ and be saved. To me, they have served as a great key of discernment, helping me to learn how to recognize God's hand in my life and in my generation. Yet, because of their many errors, I don't see how they can qualify to be the thing that will, without fail, lead me (and anyone else who trusts them) to the tree of life.

Next, I will examine modern-day revelation, whether personal or otherwise, and see how faithful of a guide it can be.

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