When I bring up The Book of Mormon, I’m often confronted with questions like, “Doesn’t the Bible expressly warn people not to add to it or take away from it? If so, how can the Church claim that The Book of Mormon is the word of God?”
There are several ways to answer this question. The easiest way (and the focus of this post) is to explain how John, when writing this warning, did not intend refer to the Bible as a whole.
The scripture in Revelation reads,
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
First notice John’s reference to “the words of the prophecy of this book“. It mirrors the way in which he referred to the Book of Revelation in the beginning chapters. He says,
“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy…,” and then then tells of how the Lord told him to “write in a book [what thou seest]…” (Revelation 1:3,11).
From this it is clear that John was referring to the Book of Revelation alone, and not the Bible as a whole.
As a side note, it’s important to realize that the version of the Bible we use today was not compiled until hundreds of years after John’s death. Further, scholars agree that the Gospel of John was written after the book of Revelation. This evidence supports the fact that John referred not to any collection of books, but just the book of Revelation.
What’s more, his condemnation is against man adding to the words of scripture. Even if John’s prohibition were meant to be applied to the Bible as a whole, that prohibition does not apply to God adding to or taking away from his word (something which he did often in Biblical history). In this case, the only fact any Christian has to settle for themselves is whether or not The Book of Mormon is the word of God, keeping in mind that it is not in any way prohibited by John’s statement. If it is the word of God, then nothing in this scripture represents a warning against its’ use.
Ancient Copyright Protection
Ancient writers must have been wary of having their words changed. Copies were all made by hand, with no way of enforcing a “copyright”. Bart Ehrman, a Biblical scholar, wrote:
“The very real danger that [New Testament] texts could be modified at will, by scribes who did not approve of their wording, is evident in other ways as well. We need always to remember that the copyists of the early Christian writings were reproducing their texts in a world in which there were not only no printing presses or publishing houses but also no such thing as copyright law. How could authors guarantee that their texts were not modified once put into circulation? The short answer is that they could not. That explains why authors would sometimes call curses down on any copyists who modified their texts without permission. We find this kind of imprecation already in one early Christian writing that made it into the New Testament, the book of Revelation, whose author, near the end of his text, utters a dire warning. This is not a threat that the reader has to accept or believe everything written in this book of prophecy, as it is sometimes interpreted; rather, it is a typical threat to copyists of the book, that they are not to add to or remove any of its words. Similar imprecations can be found scattered throughout the range of early Christian writings.”
And speaking of New Testament texts being modified at will, perhaps the eager student would do well to investigate what has come to be known as the Johannine comma, a text added to the Bible because there was not any other scripture explicitly teaching the apostate doctrine of the Trinity. No wonder the ancient Biblical writers were so concerned about tampering.
“There Cannot Be Anymore”
Nephi, an ancient prophet, made a prophecy about those who would prohibit God from speaking any more in these latter days. It is, in essence, the Lord’s reply to those that would condemn Him from adding to his word. Nephi prophesied,
“And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.
“But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews…
“Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?
“Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
“Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.
“And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
“Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written” (2 Nephi 29:3-10).