The Scriptures, the Word of God for Men
The Prophet Joseph Smith once wrote, “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. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 8 and 9).
Mormons believe that the words of God are spoken and written down by prophets. The Apostle Peter said that “prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). Modern revelation echoes this:
And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation (Doctrine and Covenants 68:4).
For Mormons, scripture is ongoing and open. The Church believes many scriptures were written anciently that have not yet been given to us in modern times. These scriptures have been “hidden up” by the Lord, because men are not yet worthy to receive them. They include the writings of Joseph who was sold into Egypt, John the Baptist, the Ten Lost Tribes, and part of the Book of Mormon. In addition, the Mormon Church has continued to gain more scripture through the words of inspired modern prophets. There are four books, however, which Mormons call the standard works, and represent the core scriptures used by Mormons currently. These four are:
Mormons typically use the King James Version as their standard version, though others are accepted. The Mormon edition of the Bible is identical to that used by most Protestant churches, except that the Mormon Church has added extensive footnotes, an index, maps, and a dictionary of biblical terms. Additionally, Joseph Smith undertook to translate the Bible himself during his lifetime, but was unable to finish. His translations, called simply the Joseph Smith Translation or JST, are included in footnotes and in the appendix.
Belief in the Book of Mormon is one of the most distinguishing features of the Mormon Church and is the source of that nickname. It contains the record of a civilization that lasted from 600 B.C. to A.D. 400 somewhere in the Americas. This people, called Nephites, believed in God and Jesus Christ. They were descendants of Israelites, and therefore inheritors of Israel’s promises. They were visited by the Savior after His resurrection. Eventually they fell away from the truth and were destroyed and absorbed into the surrounding cultures.
The Doctrine and Covenants contains revelations given to modern prophets. The majority of the revelations were received by Joseph Smith, but his successors have continued to add their revelations when these were particularly significant. Most recently, a revelation was added in 1978. The “D&C,” as Mormons refer to it, is not meant to be a compilation of every revelation the Church receives, but rather contains the most important, foundational revelations that direct the organization of the Church.
The Pearl of Great Price is a small book of scripture that contains translations and writings of Joseph Smith. It has five sections, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith-Matthew, Joseph Smith-History, and the Articles of Faith. The Articles of Faith are a short summary of the basic beliefs of the Mormon Church.
In addition to these Standard Works, Mormons also believe that the words of living prophets are scripture for us. Prophets reveal God’s will for us now and can help us in navigating the problems of modern life. Their words are published in books and magazines, like the Ensign and the Liahona, two of the official magazines of the Church.
Mormons are encouraged to study the scriptures on their own every day and to listen to and read the words of the living prophets, which most often come during the semi-annual General Conferences held in Salt Lake City. Mormons also study the scriptures in Sunday School and in other religious education classes. Families are encouraged to pray and read the scriptures together regularly.