Evangelical Questions: If you believe the Bible, why do you also need the Book of Mormon?

by Jennifer Roach, MDiv, LMHC

Welcome back to Come Follow Me with FAIR: Faithful Answers to New Testament Questions. My name is Jennifer Roach and today we’re going to talk about scripture, what is it, how we read it, and more. As you know we’re going through the Come Follow Me readings and addressing common questions that Evangelicals ask about our faith as we go along. Our purpose here is not to fuel debate but to help you understand where your Evangelical friends and family are coming from so that you can have better conversations with them, and perhaps even be able to offer them a bit of our faith in a way they can understand.

All right, I think this is the last week I will be telling you this – you have 1 week left to purchase tickets for the FAIR Conference, August 2-4 in Provo, Utah. Or you can register online to get free streaming access. I haven’t even told you about half the people who will be presenting. But I will tell you about one more that is near and dear to my heart. Avraham Shannon will be speaking about the Book of Moses. If you listened to my conversation story a bunch of episodes ago you might remember that the very first Latter-day Saint scripture I read was the Book of Moses. I can easily tell you today that I had no real idea what I was reading at the time and mostly read it out of curiosity, not submission to the commandment to read scripture. But I was hooked right about from the beginning. Dr. Shannon is a professor at BYU in the religious studies department and he will be presenting some of his research to us. It should be really great. My talk will be on Friday afternoon. I will be doing 2 things….1) Presenting my own original research on rates of abuse. One of the vexing questions in the area of church abuse is: What practices actually have better outcomes for kids? So one way of answering that question is to take an organization where many different churches are involved and take a retrospective look at which churches the abusers are coming from. You might think you know the answer, but I promise you that you will be surprised on several items. The other part of my talk is 2) addressing some of the most frequently asked questions about abuse in a church context like, “Why don’t we require universal background checks?” It will be a fascinating time together.

Okay, so today we’re going to talk about scripture as a concept. We get our jumping off verse from is Acts 17:11:

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

So what we have here are Jewish people living in Berea which is in modern-day Greece. Paul and his group have come up from Jerusalem into modern-day Turkey and then up into this part of modern-day Greece. It sits just south of modern-day Serbia and right next to Albania. (Geography is important – you can’t understand history without understanding geography. And you can’t understand theology without understanding history.) And when Paul arrives they go to the synagogue to teach the people there. He finds that the Bereans were eager to listen and willing to actually investigate what he was teaching. It’s an interesting point because these were Jews still – so when the verse says they “examined the scriptures to see if what Paul said was true,” what they were examining was not the New Testament, it didn’t exist yet, and even if it had those were not their scriptures. What they were examining was the Old Testament – probably the first 5 books called the Pentateuch. And probably studying the major Prophets as well (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) as well as the minor Prophets (the 12 small books at the back of the Old Testament.) So, Paul is teaching them something new – about Jesus Christ – and they were able to look in the Old Testament and verify that what he was saying was true.

Now, you know that the Old Testament does not talk much about Jesus Christ directly. And Latter-day Saints will sort of frequently roll their eyes and wonder why we can’t just get back to the good stuff where Jesus is mentioned on just about every page. But these Jews in Berea were able to understand what Paul was saying enough to interpret the Old Testament in a new way. This is the task of all the early Jewish converts of course – they must take the scriptures they love, the Old Testament, and use it to verify that the teachings of the New Testament are true. Most people today – even people who have impressive academic credentials – are unable to see the correspondence between the Old and New testaments. But here, these Jews are doing it. And in doing so, they open themselves up to accepting new scriptures – the ones that were being written during that era and would become the New Testament.

Latter-day Saints would see this as a model or precedent for how people in a standard Christian church today have to look at what’s in the Book of Mormon and compare it to what’s in the New Testament. But right here in the Book of Acts we have this beautiful example of the Berean Jews doing this – and being called noble for doing so.

But things get tricky if you talk about this model this way with Evangelicals. I want to explain why and what their thinking is behind that. Let me use an illustration to talk about it.

My grandparents and great-grandparents were cattle ranchers in California. They had a couple thousand acres and managed herds there. And if you’ve got a big property like that there are a couple ways to do it. You can either make sure you’ve got really, really good fences around every single square inch of the place so that the cows can’t escape. Or, you can let the cows help you out a bit – meaning that if you make sure the cows have access to the resources they want (like a water or food source) they are going to naturally make sure they are able to find their way back to you – you don’t have to force them within the fence, you can kind of let them go where they want, knowing they’re going to come back because they need the water, or whatever. So it’s 2 different philosophies to get a cow to stay where you want it to stay – cage it in, or let it police itself in its own best interest – it can roam all it wants, but it’s going to come back to get what it needs. And our 2 different approaches to scripture are kind of like that.

Evangelicals, all Protestants and Catholics too, have taken the cage-it-in approach. They put some very high fences what is and is not scripture. Now, these fences have moved over time – some books of scripture are in and then later they’re out – but there is always a high fence up. The question they’re trying to answer is something like: How can we make sure we’re protecting the small amount that we’ve been given?

Latter-day Saints take an entirely different approach. Instead of asking how to protect the amount we’ve been given, we ask something like: How can we make sure we’re able to receive anything God has for us? And this is applied to the question of what is – and what is not – scripture.

One of the very best ways to talk about this is to compare what both groups do when an individual wants a direct message from God. And, as always, there is a wide variety of ways Evangelicals deal with this. Most of them, the vast majority of them, would say that God speaks through the Holy Spirit to individuals today and that those words can be trusted in as far as they are understood correctly. But the problem comes if you want to write those words down and treat them like actual messages from God. This can be done sometimes in perhaps the most private of private settings, but very few of them would go around and act like something God told them is on the same level of trustworthiness as scripture. Those would be treated with 2 radically different levels of trustworthiness.

Compare that to how Latter-day Saints think about Patriarchal Blessings. Every Latter-day Saint is entitled to receive a Patriarchal Blessing that is personalized for them, and which they can consider their own personal scripture. These blessings are transcribed and recorded with the church. Latter-day Saints don’t treat these blessings as fortune-telling or step-by-step dictates on exactly what to do, but we do treat them sacredly and as scripture. We consult them throughout our lives and do our best to see them as God being aware of us and our circumstances. They are considered as trustworthy as other scriptures. They have to be understood correctly, and sometimes that takes a bit – but that’s true of any other scripture too.

You can see the 2 different approaches to scripture. Evangelicals have the very best of intentions here. Their sort of locking down what can be considered scripture is their way of making the boundaries very clear about what is out and what is in. They’re not doing this to be controlling or to limit what the people have access to in terms of hearing from God, they’re doing it with the intent of treating scripture with the sacred respect it deserves. Sometimes we Latter-day Saints look at that and wonder: Why wouldn’t they want EVERYTHING God has for them? But that’s not how they think of it. I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt here that their motives for limiting things is good. Latter-day Saints just see it differently – we’re not trying to fence in exactly what God has said with fences that limit what he is able to say. Or at least limit the trustworthiness of things God tells individuals.

And sometimes Latter-day Saints feel frustrated, or perhaps confused, by Evangelicals’ lack of willingness to consider a message God might have for them. And Evangelicals feel frustrated or confused by Latter-day Saint’s willingness to ascribe the word “scripture” to the Book of Mormon (most of them won’t even know what a Patriarchal Blessing is and their heads might explode if they did.) But they look at the Book of Mormon and see that it’s on the outside of the fence they’ve already set up, so it’s hard for them to let it in. I get that. But the reality is that the Bible and the Book of Mormon very much go together. As a complete outsider to the church when I first read the Book of Mormon I saw that very quickly. It can be an interesting conversation to have with someone who is used to scripture being very tightly defined.

Well, that is what I have for you today. Next week we’re on our last week of the Book of Acts and then on to Romans which will be super fun. Go and register for FAIR. I will see you next week.

More Come, Follow Me resources here.


Jennifer Roach earned a Master of Divinity from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and a Master of Counseling from Argosy University. Before her conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints she was an ordained minister in the Anglican church. Her own experience of sexual abuse from a pastor during her teen years led her to care deeply about issues of abuse in faith communities.

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