“Many Plain and Precious Things Taken Away from the Book”

George Reynolds, Janne M. Sjodahl

This, as I understand it, refers to books and, perhaps, parts of books, that have been destroyed, rather than to the corruption of the texts in the books extant.

Many modern scholars are changing their attitude toward the Bible. They admit, for instance, that the books of the New Testament almost without exception belong to the first century, although they were not gathered together in a volume, as we know them, until a couple of centuries later. Archeological finds prove that the grammar, the vocabulary, the form of the letters, the diction and the historical background stamp them as products of that early age. They also admit that in all essential particulars the text we have is identical with the original writings. They consider these conclusions established by the scientific methods of criticism applied to thousands of manuscripts. 1

There are discrepancies. And even apparent contradictions. In the Old Testament, and particularly in the Chronicles, dates and names are sometimes hopelessly changed. In fact, the entire chronology of the Old Testament, before the Temple of Solomon, is guesswork. Usher calculates the time from the creation to the flood to be, 1656 years; the Septuagint makes it, 2262 years; Josephus, 2256 years. Similar discrepancies appear in the following periods. From the flood to the call of Abraham, Usher, 427 years; Sept., 1207; Josephus, 1062. From the call of Abraham to the exodus, Usher, 430, Sept. 425, Josephus, 445. From the exodus to the foundation of the temple of Solomon, Usher, 479, Sept. 601, Josephus, 621. From the temple of Solomon, to the restoration of Cyrus, Usher, 476, Sept. 476, Josephus, 493. From the restoration by Cyrus to our Lord, Usher, 536, Sept. 537, and Josephus, 534 years. That is, the entire time from the creation to the beginning of our era appears thus:

Usher 4004 years

Septuagint 5508 years

Josephus 5411 years

To this may be added that the Samaritan text makes the period between the creation and the exodus 2809 years. 2

In the New Testament, too, there are numerous variations. A few of these will have to suffice for illustrations. In Luke 24:12) is omitted in some MSS, but Griesbach considers the verse genuine.

Such are the variations in the text. Dr. Joseph Angus remarks: "In the 7959 verses of the New Testament there are not more than ten or twelve various readings of great importance, and these affect not the doctrines of the Scriptures, but only the number of proof passages in which they are revealed."

Such variations are easily accounted for. Many of them are accidental. A copyist can accidentally mistake one letter for another. He can happen to leave out words or lines, or repeat sentences. Sometimes the changes are made deliberately, in order to correct grammar, or perhaps establish proof of a doctrine. Sometimes owners of a manuscript would make marginal notes, and a copyist may have incorporated them in the text, thinking that they belonged to it originally. An Armenian translation of St. Mark has been found in which the last 12 verses of Mark are said to have been written by a church father, Aristion. If that is correct, he, no doubt, added it to the gospel because it was an accepted tradition at that time in his part of the church. They may have been part of the original, for the end leaf of a papyrus might easily get lost.

Nephi, in his wonderful vision, sees that many precious things had been taken away from the book. For the reasons here given I believe this was fulfilled in the destruction of books that originally belonged to the collection of inspired literature.

People have a wrong idea of the civilization of the early ages. They are apt to think of the people as ignorant, unable to read and write. But not so. In all probability, while the slaves were ignorant, a majority of the citizens could both read and write. Letters, written even by school children, have been unearthed in later years.

It is not maintained that every one could write like the artists whose manuscripts have been preserved. On the contrary, experts in penmanship were probably few, as they still are. For that reason, even the apostles engaged writers, as we may gather from the statement of St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians, that only the salutation was by his own hand. (2 Thess. 3:17) This is important. For, if the writers of the books of the Bible engaged amanuensis, as they certainly did, then the discrepancies in "style" which have caused "higher critics" to dissect the writings, may be due to different secretaries instead of different authors, since the learned scribes certainly had some latitude in the choice of words or construction of sentences.

Books were numerous. In the famous Alexandrian library, there were at one time circa 700,000 volumes. During the siege of the city by Julius Caesar, part of the library was destroyed by fire, but the loss was somewhat repaired by the turning over of the collection at Pergamos to Cleopatra by Mark Anthony. It remained for the so-called Christian Roman emperor, Theodosius the Great, to destroy that precious collection of literature, in the interest of the church, in the year A.D. 389. Similar acts of vandalism have occurred again and again. Precious books were given to the flames. The same policy was resurrected in America by the first Spanish missionaries who made bonfires of the literature of the Mayas. The vision of Nephi was fulfilled literally.

Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1