What “Plain and Precious Things” did the “Great and Abominable Church” Keep Back from its Biblical Teachings?

By Scott. S. Mitchell
Image result for the selling of indulgences

In two unique chapters of the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13 and 14, the prophet Nephi, writing during the 6th century B.C., relates what an angel showed him in vision about the future history of Christianity in Europe and the Americas.  One of the most salient features of his vision is a description of what happens after the Old Testament Jewish scriptures and the New Testament Christian gospel have been recorded and written in their uncorrupted form1 by Israelite and Jewish writers of the Old and New Testaments.  Over the centuries, as these records and writings coalesce into what is known today as the Bible2,  they are then adopted and accepted by Christians as canonical.  Thereafter, the Bible comes into the possession and control of what the angel and Nephi refer to as the “great and abominable church.”  The result is that the biblical message, formerly pure, becomes corrupted in the way it’s taught to Christianity’s adherents.  Specifically,  the church’s teaching is observed to be missing “many plain and precious things” which have been “taken away” or “kept back” by said evil church.  See 1 Nephi 13:26, 28-29, 32, 34, 40.

Before discussing the removal of plain and precious things from the gospel message, however, an important clarification is appropriate about why this early, purportedly Christian church was described as abominable.  The first evils listed by Nephi were these, from 1 Nephi 13:4-9 in the Book of Mormon:

4 And it came to pass that I saw among the nations of the Gentiles the formation of a great church.

5 And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.

6 And it came to pass that I beheld this great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it.

7 And I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots.

8 And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church.

9 And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.

Therefore, that which made Nephi call the powerful church he saw “abominable” consisted of much more than mishandling of scriptural gospel.  Profoundly evil were its persecution, imprisonment and murder of the saints of God, insatiable desire to accumulate material wealth, and its rampant sexual immorality.  With these problems plaguing the church, it’s no wonder that it mishandled the teaching of Christ’s message.

But the holding back of plain and precious truths from the gospel was no small matter, either.  On this subject, Nephi was told by an angel:

. . .[T]hey [of the great and abominable church] 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.

27 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.

See 1 Nephi 13:26-27; emphasis added.)

The holding back of precious gospel concepts had therefore been intentional, designed to keep the people ignorant of gospel truths deemed inconvenient to church exploits.  Clearly the church Nephi saw had earned its description.

Why LDS Church Members Misinterpret 1 Nephi 13 and 14

     I believe that LDS Church leaders, scholars and lay members almost universally misinterpret what Nephi meant when he described many plain and precious things, and many covenants, being taken away, or kept back, by the great and abominable church.  It’s not hard to see why.  First of all, in an essay published elsewhere on this website, what I consider to be irrefutable evidence is provided that the term “great and abominable church” used by Nephi (and by the angel who instructed him) refers exclusively to the teachings and practices of corrupt leaders of the Roman Catholic Church during a long era of post-Christian history.  But this term does not refer to all leaders, much less all members, of the Roman Catholic church down through the ages.  See, How History Shows the Great and Abominable Church was Overcome by the Church of the Lamb.  However, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only aren’t taught this, they’re taught almost the opposite.  The following instruction is given to LDS Church class instructors in the Church’s own Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual:  “Emphasize that the great and abominable church is a symbol of apostasy in all its forms. It is a representation of all false doctrine, false worship, and irreligious attitudes. It does not represent any specific church in the world today.”3

Consequently, most church members don’t pay enough attention to Nephi’s crystal-clear description of the great and abominable church’s specific identifying characteristics to identify its referent.  Even if they did perceive it, though, in today’s public-relations-oriented LDS church, few would be willing to say so, as they wouldn’t want to offend Catholics.  But understanding what portions of the Bible’s gospel the Catholic leadership historically taught, and especially which parts it ignored, is crucial to understanding precisely what Nephi was describing.

The second reason Mormons misinterpret what Nephi saw is that they’ve been, and still are, taught that the Bible was translated incorrectly and has thereby had erroneous concepts introduced into it. The Church’s 8th Article of Faith reads, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. . .” (Emphasis added).4   However, the idea that the problem with the Bible is translation errors finds no support in the Book of Mormon (nor in Mormonism’s other scriptures, the Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price, for that matter).  In fact, 1 Nephi  13:41 contains this description of the Bible’s primacy in the latter days:  “. . .[A]nd the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed [i.e., the Book of Mormon], as well as in the record of the twelve apostles of the Lamb [the Bible]; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth.”  (Emphasis added.)  As the Book of Mormon characterizes it, the great and abominable church’s mistakes with the Bible weren’t erroneous translations, but that the church only taught some parts of it, and that the parts omitted were “plain and precious” for Christians but inconvenient for the church. These omitted, but not mistranslated, simple truths were crucial to understanding Christ’s full message.

A third factor adding difficulty in understanding 1 Nephi 13 and 14 is the terminology employed by Nephi (or more precisely, the person or persons who translated Nephi’s words into English for Joseph Smith to read.  For more on this person or these persons, see, Who Translated the Book of Mormon Text into English for Joseph Smith to Read?, elsewhere on this website.)  A careful reading shows Nephi interchangeably uses the phrases “taken away from the book” (v. 28), “taken away” (v. 29), “taken out of the book” (v. 29), “taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb” (v. 29), “kept back” (vs. 32, 34) and “taken away from [the original scriptural record of the gospel]” (v. 40) to describe the great and abominable church’s withholding of plain and precious gospel teachings from those whom it purported to teach.  Despite their differences in wording, these phrases are meant to be understood as essentially synonymous.  But as explained further below, of the six mentioned variants, “kept back” seems the most descriptive in detailing how the deprivation was accomplished.

Nephi also uses another two phrases interchangeably which readers today, if they lose sight of the context of his commentary, might not consider interchangeable.  He says he saw that the church took away plain and precious things from the gospel of the Lamb (see 1 Nephi 13:26, 29) but later describes the church taking these things away from the book of the Lamb of God (1 Nephi 13:28, 29)  which contained said gospel.  The reason taking away from the gospel and taking away from the book containing that gospel should be interpreted as synonomous is because the only foundational source of Christian theology during this era of Catholic monopoly was the Bible.  Hence, to take away, or keep back, portions of biblical teachings was to hold back portions of the gospel itself, since the Bible was then the sole source of Christ’s teachings.

In other words, the fact that the Catholic church “kept back” plain and precious truths from its members prior to the Reformation doesn’t mean it removed them from the Bible, but instead, that it failed to teach them.  The church then supplanted the plain and precious teachings with scripturally baseless ideas and practices.  In Nephi’s vision, the angel made clear that these tragic Catholic notions and practices not only resulted in an incomplete and badly misleading version of Christianity being taught, but dramatically, and not coincidentally, increased the church’s power, immorality and financial profitability.

What Did Nephi See the Catholic Church Teaching and Not Teaching?

     While Nephi described Roman Catholicism’s incomplete presentation of the gospel in general terms, it isn’t overly difficult today to reconstruct what prominent flaws he found noteworthy in the way Roman Catholicism taught religion throughout the centuries after Christ.  The first and most obvious obstacle preventing Catholics from learning the full gospel message was the fact that the Catholic mass was spoken in Latin, a language that no one in Europe except Catholic clergy spoke or understood as of 900 C.E.  Similarly, it’s not hard to imagine how meaningless LDS sacrament meetings would be to members today if everything taught were spoken in biblical Hebrew or Greek.  The fact that Catholic priests were chanting words that they knew couldn’t be understood by their parishioners demonstrates how little the church prioritized scriptural understanding among the laity.

A second defect so obvious it almost escapes notice is that the Catholic church made no effort to teach lay members to read,  though it knew that most of them couldn’t.  While churches today generally leave it to public schools to teach members to read (or charge high fees, in most cases, to teach students in church-sponsored schools), no publicly funded schools existed during almost all of the Christian history Nephi foresaw.  Schooling was thus available only to the wealthy, and even then, the great universites of Europe were heavily under the control of the Roman Catholic church.  Thus, the church knew if it didn’t teach its people to read, a great many of them would remain illiterate, scripturally and otherwise.  However, through the centuries, it made no concerted, church-wide attempt to remedy this situation.

Closely related to the problems of services spoken in Latin and illiteracy was Catholicism’s affirmative and specific desire to discourage scriptural literacy.  The following brief review of this history was written by Monsignor Daniel Kutys, former Executive Director of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis, and current pastor in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia:

Average Catholics asked today how often they read the Bible likely would say that they do not read the Bible regularly.  However, if asked how often they read Scripture, the answer would be different. Practicing Catholics know they read and hear Scripture at every Mass.  Many also recognize that basic prayers Catholics say, such as the Our Father and the Hail Mary, are scriptural. But for most Catholics, the Scripture they hear and read is not from the Bible. It is from a worship aid in the pew.

Scripture always has played an important role in the prayer life of the Catholic Church and its members.  For the ordinary Catholic in earlier centuries, exposure to Scripture was passive.  They heard it read aloud or prayed aloud but did not read it themselves.  One simple reason: Centuries ago the average person could not read or afford a book.  Popular reading and ownership of books began to flourish only after the invention of the printing press.

Once the printing press was invented, the most commonly printed book was the Bible, but this still did not make Bible-reading a Catholic’s common practice.  Up until the mid-twentieth Century, the custom of reading the Bible and interpreting it for oneself was a hallmark of the Protestant churches springing up in Europe after the Reformation.  Protestants rejected the authority of the Pope and of the Church and showed it by saying people could read and interpret the Bible for themselves. Catholics meanwhile were discouraged from reading Scripture.

Identifying the reading and interpreting of the Bible as “Protestant” even affected the study of Scripture.  Until the twentieth Century, it was only Protestants who actively embraced Scripture study. That changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.5  This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so.  And with Catholics studying Scripture and teaching other Catholics about what they were studying, familiarity with Scripture grew.

Scripture awareness grew after the Second Vatican Council [1962-1965]. Mass was celebrated in the vernacular and so the Scripture readings at Mass were read entirely in English.  Adult faith formation programs began to develop, and the most common program run at a parish focused on Scripture study.  The Charismatic movement and the rise of prayer groups exposed Catholics to Scripture even more.  All of this contributed to Catholics becoming more familiar with the Bible and more interested in reading the Scriptures and praying with them.

In a round-about way, aspects of U.S. culture also have encouraged Catholics to become more familiar with the Scriptures.  References to John 3:16 appear in the stands at sporting events.  Catholics who hear of and see other Christians quote or cite Scripture verses wonder why they cannot.  Such experiences lead Catholics to seek familiarity with the Bible.

Such attitudinal changes bode well for Catholics, especially when reading and praying with the Word of God leads to lessons learned, hearts inspired and lives profoundly moved for good.6

 

The previous affirmative desire to prevent Catholics from reading the Bible in their own language is what motivated the church in 1536 to publicly hang William Tyndale and burn his body for heresy.  Tyndale had dared to publish the New Testament in English while the Roman Catholic church opposed its publication in any language other than Latin.  In 1555, John Rogers, who had assisted Tyndale and seen his work through to completion of getting the Old Testament published in English, was also burned at the stake for doing so.

A century earlier, Jan Hus, who lived in the what is now the Czech Republic, had drawn the ire of the Catholic church for several reasons.  He had forcefully argued that the liturgical mass should be spoken in the language of the people, that priests should be allowed to marry, and that the selling of indulgences was evil and scripturally baseless.  Man obtains forgiveness of sins by true repentance, not money, he said.  Hus, a biblical scholar, also supported abolishing the nonscriptural doctrine of purgatory.  He had the courage to assert, as well, that no pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church; he should instead pray for his enemies and bless those that curse him.  Accordingly, the church stripped him of his priesthood and burned him at the stake in 1415.  Although a church  council had consigned his soul to the devil, Hus—singing loudly as the flames consumed him— consigned his soul to God: “Jesus Christ! The Son of the living God! Have mercy upon me.”7  The church therefore didn’t merely fail to teach its people the scriptures; it found it a sin punishable by death to expose them directly to the Bible.

Thus, what Nephi was seeing as he beheld in vision the future of Christianity in Europe, and later the Americas, was that when the great and abominable church monopolized Christian education, its followers were taught what the church wanted them to know, and nothing more.  The church emphasized the overwhelming importance of Catholic ritual, as embodied in the seven sacraments,  which are still heavily emphasized in Catholicism today.  Those sacraments consisted of baptism (preferably of infants, lest they die unbaptized and thereby jeopardize or lose their salvation), the eucharist (which in LDS terms signifies taking the bread and wine of the sacrament), confirmation (formal sacralized, ceremonial recognition of a person as a fully initiated Catholic during which they receive a priestly blessing), reconciliation (confessing one’s sins to priests and performing assigned penance therefor), anointing of the sick (formerly called Extreme Unction, referring to blessings given by priests to provide strength and comfort to the ill and mystically unite their suffering with that of Christ’s crucifixion and death), matrimony (marriages performed by the church uniting Catholic men and women) and holy orders (usually signifying ordination as a deacon, priest or bishop, but sometimes including the joining of priestly orders such as Jesuits or Franciscans).

Church teachings were absorbed by Christians in other ways as well.  On occasion, in many places across Europe, Catholic clergy would present “mystery plays,” a broad term generally signifying liturgical dramas, wherein biblical stories or vignettes of biblical morality were presented theatrically.  And Catholic churches and cathedrals contained much biblical imagery in stained glass windows, crosses, statues and murals.

The laity was also taught that priests, bishops and others above them in the Catholic hierarchy were to live lives of celibacy.  Most people had no way of knowing whether the Bible actually required or recommended such a practice.  Nor did they know how far afield the practice of praying to ubiquitous statues of saints was from the New Testament, or whether the practice was scripturally sound of declaring sainthood for persons whose surfeit of righteousness allowed for the aforementioned selling of indulgences.  It didn’t seem odd to keep relics ( body parts supposedly preserved from dead saints, or other items such saints had purportedly possessed) for the good fortune they would bring, or to incur God’s pleasure through purposely difficult pilgrimages.

Although perhaps not every single one of these means of teaching the gospel was necessarily bad, the point is that the church, as opposed to individuals’ own familiarity with scripture, was the monopolistic source from which all religious teaching sprang, and the filter through which all concepts were forced to pass to find expression.  And if the Roman church decided to sanction the Crusades and all the murder and conquest they entailed, no one could publicly question whether such enterprises were consistent with Christ’s gospel.  The same was true of the church’s expenditures on gold, silver, fine -twined linen and costly silk robes, or the Spanish Inquisition, or the harlots for popes financed by donations from the poor.  Jesus’ specific teachings on these issues, and many others, were mostly unknown, and the church was highly motivated to keep it that way.

Even in the Catholicism of today, it seems the aim of scriptural literacy seems under-prioritized in Catholicism’s inculcation of its members.  From the United States Council of Catholic Bishops website at usccb.org, under the heading “Frequently asked questions about the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” we read this description of the Catechism:

What exactly is in the CatechismThe Catechism contains the essential and fundamental content of the Catholic faith in a complete and summary way. It presents what Catholics throughout the world believe in common. It presents these truths in a way that facilitates their understanding.  The Catechism presents Catholic doctrine within the context of the Church’s history and tradition. Frequent references to Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Fathers, the lives and writings of the saints, conciliar and papal documents and liturgical texts enrich the Catechism in a way that is both inviting and challenging. There are over three thousand footnotes in the Catechism.8

 

Where Do We Find the Plain and Precious Truths Which Were Originally Omitted, and What are Some Examples of These Truths?

      It isn’t difficult to figure out what was left out of the original Catholic inculcation of Christians.  Nephi plainly said that those teachings held back by the great and abominable church would be revealed in the Book of Mormon:

For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy [Nephi’s] seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb.

And in them shall be written my gospel, saith the Lamb, and my rock and my salvation.

. . .

And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records [the Book of Mormon], which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first [the Bible], which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father9 and the Savior of the world . . .

(1 Nephi 13:35-36, 40; emphasis added.)

In other words, to discover the missing gospel teachings originally held back by the Catholic church, we need only read the Book of Mormon and notice which new gospel teachings are contained there and consistent with, but not contained within, the Bible, or which biblical teachings are more fully and clearly expounded there than in the Bible.   There are far too many such teachings to comprehensively list here, but several prominent ones come to mind:

–The doctrine of Christ is extremely simple.  It is to repent and become as a little child, believe in Christ [i.e., in his teachings about himself and about the right way to live], be baptized in his name, and continue on as a little child thereafter in order to be saved and inherit the kingdom of God.  It is no more complicated than that, and we are not to add any other requirements to this simple doctrine.  See 3 Nephi 11:31-40.

–God “doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”  See 2 Nephi 26:33.

–The reason Jesus came into the world to suffer a life of hardship, then allow himself to be put to death, was that he might empathize with the human condition:  “And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”  See Alma 7:11-12.

–The canon is not limited to the Bible, as the Lord has spoken to his people in both hemispheres, and their records of his words combine together to form the scriptural corpus.  The Book of Mormon is the prophecied “marvelous work and a wonder” of Isaiah 29:14.  Thus the Bible and Book of Mormon are both scripture, and eventually the canon will be enlarged to include the sacred records of the lost tribes of Israel, as well as another record of a marvelous revelation given to an ancient prophet.  See 2 Nephi 28, 29 and Ether 4:1-7.

–Thirty-four years after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, his prophecy in Matthew 24:34 that he would come again to the earth in glory within the same generation in which he lived was fulfilled when he descended out of heaven as a resurrected being and taught his gospel to people in the Americas.  The people he visited were those of whom he spoke when he said in Palestine that he had “other sheep which are not of this fold” whom he would also bring, and they would hear his voice.  See John 10:16 in the Bible, and 3 Nephi 10:18 through 3 Nephi 28 in the Book of Mormon.

–The Law of Moses was supplanted by the higher law of Christ’s gospel, thus bringing the former to an end.  See 3 Nephi  15:2-6.  We no longer are bound by the rituals of Moses’ law.  The precepts which now inform Christian philosophy are found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 in the New Testament, and its post-resurrection version in 3 Nephi 11-14 of the Book of Mormon.

–Learning truth by the power of the Holy Ghost is absolutely crucial. Men and women are always to seek out this power, as it is given to those who seek it, and it enables us to discern the truth of all things.  It was never meant to be a gift solely enjoyed by the ancients.  Moroni memorably makes this point in Moroni 10:4-5, but it is also repeatedly mentioned as one of the things missing from the process of learning in these last days.  See 2 Nephi 28:4, 26, 31, and 29:6; Moroni 7:32, 36, 44.  The great and abominable church taught its followers to accept what the church taught them, leaving Christians unaware they could discover truth individually by tapping into the mind of God through the Holy Ghost.

–There must needs be opposition in all things for man to progress.  See 2 Nephi 2:11-13.

–God gives men weaknesses so that they will humble themselves before Him.  See Ether 12:27.

–“[C]oncerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.”  All of mankind will experience the resurrection whereby their mortal bodies will be made not only immortal, but perfect and without defect in form.  Each individual’s physical body will be united with his or her individual spirit, regardless of whether the individual lived righteously or sinfully in mortality.  This is a free gift to all of God’s children, brought about by Jesus’s grace in allowing himself to be put to death so he himself could resurrect and enable us to do the same.  See 2 Nephi 2:8; Mosiah 15:20; Alma 11:45, 40:1-24.

–God desires “to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”

Conclusion

     Individual readers are encouraged to thoroughly read the Book of Mormon and the Bible, especially the New Testament, to notice, not only what is written there, but what is not.  Many religious beliefs come from institutional traditions, but aren’t founded in actual scripture.  But that which is written in these two books is plain and precious.  It is neither to be held back from what we teach, nor supplanted with scripturally baseless rituals, speculations or opinions by institutional teachers which are inconsistent with the plain words Jesus actually taught.  The words should be allowed to speak for themselves.

Footnotes

1. By using the term ‘uncorrupted,’ I only mean those parts of the New Testament that convey the basic gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  However, I do not vouch for the correctness of every New Testament view expressed by Paul, for example, who in his letters occasionally felt free to express personal opinions on subjects unaddressed by Christ. Nor do I feel that such books as the Song of Solomon, or perhaps even the Book of Esther, for example, were meant by God to be included in the biblical compilation and canonized.

2. Catholic bibles include books considered apocryphal by most non-Catholic Christians, and these books are not included in the latter’s canonical works.  For the purpose of this essay, though, this fact is irrelevant since the plain and precious truths omitted for almost 2,000 years from Roman Catholic religious instruction had little or nothing to do with which biblical version was used.

3. Lesson 4: “The Things Which I Saw While I was Carried Away in the Spirit,” in Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (1999), 16-19, available online at lds.org or ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

4. Several Mormon scholars have published articles elaborating on how they think translation errors came to be integrated into the Bible.  And Joseph Smith, operating on the assumption that the Bible contained translation errors, presumed to reword a host of biblical words and phrases to comport with what he believed God intended.  His effort eventually became known as the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) and is now included in the King James Version of the Bible published by the LDS Church.  While the Church has never officially canonized the JST, it has, by its actions, implied acceptance of it not only by including it with the Bible, but citing to it in general conference talks and quoting it extensively in LDS lesson manuals.

5. Quoting Wikipedia’s online article “Divino afflante Spiritu” at en.wikipedia.org:

Divino afflante Spiritu (“Inspired by the Holy Spirit”) is a papal encyclical letter issued by Pope Pius XII on 30 September 1943 calling for new translations of the Bible from the original languages, instead of the Latin Vulgate of Jerome, which was revised multiple times and had formed the textual basis for all Catholic vernacular translations until then. It inaugurated the modern period of Roman Catholic biblical studies by encouraging the study of textual criticism (or lower criticism), pertaining to text of the Scriptures themselves and transmission thereof (for example, to determine correct readings) and permitted the use of the historical-critical method (or higher criticism), to be informed by theology, Sacred Tradition, and ecclesiastical history on the historical circumstances of the text, hypothesizing about matters such as authorship, dating, and similar concerns. The eminent Catholic biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown described it as a “Magna Carta for biblical progress.

6. Daniel Kutys, “Changes in Catholic Attitudes Toward Bible Readings,” online article at usccb.org.

7. “Jan Hus” article at Encyclopedia.com, available online.

8. As those familiar with this website will know, I believe that, as in Catholicism, in traditional LDS orthodoxy there is too much uncritically analyzed material.  It originates from poorly reasoned and scripturally unsubstantiated teachings from church leaders past and present, which have never been compared or reconciled with the clear teachings of the Book of Mormon and Bible.  Hence the birth of this website.

9. I have quoted the original wording of this verse as it was originally dictated by Joseph Smith from the interpreters/seer instrument, as Oliver Cowdery originally recorded it, as it appeared in the first edition of the Book of Mormon published in 1830, and as it now appears in  The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, Royal Skousen, ed., (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 38.  In the second edition of the Book of Mormon published in 1837, among the multitude of alterations made to its original text by Joseph Smith (none of which were divinely authorized) was the decision to reword 1 Nephi 13:40 to read “the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father…” instead of “the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father” order to conform to his own flawed scriptural understanding.  Joseph added “the Son of” language where it hadn’t previously existed in other places of the Book of Mormon as well;  see, e.g., 1 Nephi 11: 21, 18 and 32, and in each case this effected a significant doctrinal change.  Joseph didn’t understand that Book of Mormon prophets writing before the birth of Christ in mortality considered God the Father to be the only God  then in heaven–he would not become two entities until Jesus’ birth on earth.  I’ve addressed this doctrinal misunderstanding elsewhere on this website in Mormonism’s Contradiction of its Own Book of Mormon: Who Exactly Was the God of Old Testament Times, and Does God the Father Really Have a Body of Flesh and Bones?

For more on this topic, see comment by reader Matt Lohrke in the comments section following this essay, below.

6 thoughts on “What “Plain and Precious Things” did the “Great and Abominable Church” Keep Back from its Biblical Teachings?

    • You’re right! Not many people remember that fact, so you’re dating yourself. The church forced him to change it for public relations purposes. But on that point, he happened to be correct; just not politically correct. By the way, I assume you meant “abominable,” not “abdominal.” Easy mistake to make though, and it’s the kind spell check can’t detect, because you spelled “abdominal” correctly.

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  1. Another interesting essay. Thanks, Dad. I feel proud at having myself discovered many of the plain and precious messages of the gospel of Christ included in the Book of Mormon but missing or not expounded upon in the Bible. 🙂

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  2. If I may add something to the conversation….

    This is an interesting passage:

    “And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records [the Book of Mormon], which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first [the Bible], which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world . .

    The original reads:

    “…and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world.”

    “Son of” was added in the 1837 Kirtland BOM. The fact that Jesus is the “Son of God” isn’t exactly groundbreaking. I don’t know a Christian who doesn’t believe that. But if we take Nephi’s original intent, that Jesus Christ is THE Eternal Father, well, that’s a bit different, and consistent with the title page that declares “Jesus is the Christ–the Eternal God.” Of course, Joseph added “Son of” to multiple passages in 1 Nephi 11, radically reshaping Mormon theology.

    Joseph Smith didn’t understand that Jesus Christ is the God incarnate, despite the witnesses of Nephi, Jacob, Abinadi, Mormon and Moroni. We read in Helaman 8 that all the holy prophets testified of the coming of Christ–and that Christ IS God. If Joseph Smith had the same experience as those earlier prophets, there should have known what they knew, but he didn’t. Nephi saw the “condescension of God.” Jacob tells us that God would show himself “in the body” to those in Jerusalem. Abinadi said “God himself” would atone for the sins of mankind. (I know you know all of these references…)

    Further evidence he didn’t know is in Lecture 7, which describes Jesus as one who is “saved.” It even reads “Jesus’ salvation…” as is he were a “man,” something King Benjamin warned about: “and after all this they will consider him a man.” Just as the Pharisee complained that “a mere man” would claim to be God. The idea that the Great Creator, Everlasting Father, King of Heaven is “saved” is a bit ridiculous. Now, I don’t know if Sidney Rigdon or Joseph Smith wrote 7 (there is compelling evidence for either), but Joseph, at a minimum, had a hand in editing Lecture 7.

    I have come to the conclusion that there was no First Vision. Angels and plates? Yes. But Joseph’s view of the Godhead–at least in latter years–is irreconcilable with the Book of Mormon. The First Vision was not widely known until 1842. Nephi, on the other hand, wrote specifically to his descendants and plainly told them that he had seen Jesus. He wanted them to know–because he was a witness. (Nephi busts the LDS “too sacred” canard).

    Joseph’s 1832 account borrows heavily from the language of Lehi’s vision — pillar of fire, sun at noon-day, etc. It even borrows from Luke, saying he pondered those things in his heart, just as Mary.

    Hinckley said the entire strength of Mormonism rested on the validity of the First Vision and that if it didn’t happen, the work of Mormonism was a fraud. Well…

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    • Thanks so much for your excellent, well-thought-out comment, Matt. I have incorporated the point of your comment into the essay, as you will see upon reading the part where 1 Nephi 13:40 is quoted. I have now quoted the original text version you referred to, and expounded upon why that version is preferable to the official LDS version in a new footnote, Footnote 9. I meant to quote the original text version when I originally wrote the essay, but in copying and pasting that scripture from the LDS Church website, I forgot to delete Joseph Smith’s added phrase “the Son of.” Thanks for catching that, and for commenting on the doctrinal ramifications of it.

      Of course, I agree with everything you wrote in your comment. It sounds like you’re in agreement with the essays I’ve written on this website not only on the subject of the First Vision, but on Joseph Smith’s failure to grasp that Jesus and the Father were once one and the same entity, and didn’t become separate until Jesus’s incarnation when he was born on earth. I can also tell you’re very careful and conscientious in reading the scriptures and church history, and in determining for yourself which LDS doctrines are scripturally sound and which aren’t.

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