Lost Books and Latter-Day Revelation: A Response to Mormon Views of the New Testament Canon
The differences between the Mormon religion and historic Christianity have their origin to a large extent in disagreement over the question of the unique and final authority of the Bible, especially the New Testament. It is a basic tenet of historic Christianity that the Bible is complete and the canon of Scripture is closed.
By contrast, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) believes in an open canon — that is, that God is continuing to reveal new truth beyond what is contained in the Bible.1 Indeed, latter-day revelation is said to be of greater importance than the Bible. In the words of Henry D. Moyle, first counselor to LDS President David O. McKay: "The older I get and the closer contact I have with the President of the Church, the more I realize that the greatest of all scripture which we have in the world today is current scripture. What the mouthpiece of God says to his children is scripture. It is his word and his will and his law made manifest through scripture, and I love it more than all other."2
This paper examines four reasons why the LDS Church rejects the historic Christian position that the 27 New Testament books, along with the Old Testament, are the final and complete revelation of God. Considered in logical order, they are: (1) Some of Jesus' teachings were never recorded and have been lost, (2) immediately after the apostles, apostate Christians removed some books or parts of books from the original New Testament writings, (3) other inspired books were rejected in the canonization process, and (4) God continues to give new revelation through latter-day prophets.
Lost Teachings of Jesus
The first Mormon argument against the final authority of the New Testament is the claim that some of Jesus' teachings were intentionally never recorded because of their sacred nature; these teachings are said to have been lost soon after the time of the apostles. Hugh Nibley, emeritus professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, develops this theory in his book, Since Cumorah.3 Nibley notes that the New Testament records various occasions on which Jesus met privately with Peter, James, and John, such as at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9; see also Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36, 2 Peter 1:16-18).4 However, a careful reading of these texts shows that they do not support the idea of secret, unrecorded revelation. There is no hint that the three disciples received new teaching. It is not doctrine but an experience they are told to keep confidential, and this, only temporarily: "As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead" (Matthew 17:9). The fact that this incident is described in four different New Testament books, three of which were penned by non-participants (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), obviously demonstrates that Peter, James and John shared their experience with others in the early Christian community and that it did not go unrecorded.
But not only is Nibley's notion of secret, unrecorded revelation entirely speculative, it is contradicted by Christ's own explicit declaration to the contrary. When questioned under oath5 before the Sanhedrin about his disciples and doctrine, Jesus testified:
I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? Ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said (John 18:20-21).
Jesus' instructions to his disciples elsewhere are consistent with his testimony before the Sanhedrin, and show that none of his teaching was reserved for an inner circle of initiates: "what I tell you in the darkness, that speak ye in the light; and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops" (Matthew 10:27). Thus, on the basis of Jesus' own unequivocal testimony, the idea of secret, unrecorded teachings must be rejected.
It is notable that the strictly open, public nature of Jesus' teaching sharply distinguishes him from some of his Jewish contemporaries, such as the Qumran Community of Dead Sea Scroll fame. These ancient scrolls mention many secret, extra-biblical traditions (such as the supposed personal names of countless angels) which were imparted only to initiates who had met the community's strict religious requirements. It is against this backdrop of secret religious organizations — hotbeds of political intrigue which worried both Roman officials and the Jewish Sanhedrin — that the interrogation of Jesus recorded in John 18 took place. Dead Sea Scroll authority Dr. Ethelbert Stauffer concludes, "This strict rejection by Jesus of any notion of secret teaching and secret organization represents a most characteristic point of difference between him and Qumran."6
Sabotage of the New Testament Writings
A second LDS argument against the finality of the New Testament canon is based on the Book of Mormon teaching that the Bible was tampered with at some point in the early Christian centuries. According to 1 Nephi 13:26-28, "many plain and precious parts" were deliberately removed from the original New Testament writings. Verse 28 suggests both chronological and causal factors in this subversion of the New Testament: "thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book." According to Mormon authorities and scholars, this passage means that entire books or parts of books were removed from the original writings of the apostles, not simply that the text of the New Testament as we now have it has been corrupted or mistranslated.7
However, while 1 Nephi 13 links the sabotage of the New Testament to "that great and abominable church," there is some ambiguity in the resulting picture, a kind of chicken or egg dilemma. Which came first, the universal apostasy or the sabotaged New Testament documents? In other words, is the subverted New Testament an effect, of which the purported great apostasy is the cause? Or, is it the other way around: was the great apostasy the effect, of which the apostolic Scriptures, sabotaged already in the first century, were primary causal agents?
In the author's experience, most Latter-day Saints understand 1 Nephi 13 in terms of the first view, that the universal apostasy came first, with the corruption of the New Testament writings as one of its effects. The apostasy is thought of as the culmination of a gradual process stretching over three or four centuries in which the gospel was corrupted by intermixture with Greek philosophy.8 This is understood to have culminated in the formulation of the doctrines of classic Christian orthodoxy at the councils of Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), and Chalcedon (451), and the emergence of the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy.
As an hypothesis, one can acknowledge a definite logic in this view. For if, over a period of time — say several centuries — the entire early Christian community strayed from some of the essential teachings of the apostles, it is possible to conceive of this leading to the introduction of deliberate changes in the New Testament documents to support apostate doctrines. However, note that this view carries the implication that the New Testament books were copied and circulated for several centuries in their original form, that is, inclusive of the material said by 1 Nephi 13:26-28 to have been removed by the "abominable church." Thus, on this view, we would expect to find, somewhere among the thousands of ancient manuscripts of the New Testament and countless quotations of the New Testament book in early Christian literature, vestiges of the original, unedited version of the apostolic writings. In fact, there is no evidence of an earlier New Testament textual tradition supportive of any of the distinctive doctrines of the Mormon religion.9
Because of this insurmountable problem of an absence of textual evidence for an original, unedited version of the New Testament, contemporary Mormon scholars have adopted a different theory to explain the sabotage of the New Testament described in 1 Nephi 13. According to this newer theory it was the New Testament autographs, that is, the original copies as written or dictated by the apostles, that were sabotaged by apostate Gentile Christians before copies were made and could be circulated widely. This is supposed to have taken place within a few years after the apostles, and would thus explain why no traces of the original manuscript tradition have survived. Robert J. Matthews, dean of Religious Education and professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, is representative of those who hold this view. He writes:
In order for an alteration to have widespread effect, the text would have to be tampered with early enough that multiple copies were not already extant. In other words, the alteration had to be early and by a person or persons having access to very early records and first-generation copies.10
According to Prof. Matthews this "alteration" of the New Testament text consisted primarily of "extractions" of key doctrinal material, and took place, not three or four hundred years after the apostles, but already in the late first century,11 (while, we note, at least one apostle, John, was still living). Prof. Matthew's colleagues at Brigham Young University, Stephen Robinson and Hugh Nibley, also hold that the sabotage of the New Testament took place already in the first century. Nibley suggests a time frame of A.D. 70-80.12
However, consider the implications of this very early dating of the subversion of the New Testament Scriptures: It requires one to believe that the spiritual condition of the Christian community and its leadership within a few years of the apostles was such that major extractions could be made from their writings, undetected or unchallenged. At such an early date, many, if not most, of the Church's pastors and bishops would have been men who were converted, trained, and appointed to leadership under the apostles, themselves. One can only label such a radical view of events an "instant apostasy." Is this radical hypothesis credible? A survey of the biblical and historical evidence shows that it is not, that there are simply no reasonable grounds for such an "instant apostasy" and the resultant sabotage of the original New Testament writings it is supposed to have produced. Instead, the overwhelming weight of biblical and historical evidence is against such a view:
Christ promised that His Church would never fall into total apostasy: "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). According to Mormon teaching, the Christian Church, though established by Jesus Christ Himself and His hand-picked apostles, fell into total apostasy almost immediately. How interesting, then, that a century-and-a-half after the "Restoration," the LDS Church is presented as robust and virtually impervious to spiritual ruin. For instance, one of the LDS Church's major instructional books, Gospel Principles (copyright by the Corporation of the First President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), assures us that "The Lord will never allow the president of the Church to teach us false doctrine."13 This assertion raises an important question: if God is now able to guarantee the perpetual integrity of this "Restored Church" by protecting its spiritual leaders from error, why could He not do so in the first century?
The New Testament nowhere predicts a total apostasy. An article in the March 1991 issue of The Ensign cites 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as a biblical prediction of such an apostasy.14 However, careful study of the passage in its context (1:7-2:12) shows that it does not refer to events that occurred in the generation immediately after the apostles. Rather, it must refer to events yet to occur, at the end of history, just before Christ's second coming. The verse reads as follows: "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." To understand the time table for this statement one needs to look at the context. The apostle Paul's teaching in the first two chapters of 2 Thessalonians is a response to specific circumstances facing the Thessalonian believers, namely, that they are being persecuted for their faith (1:4,5). In this context, the apostle reminds them that God will recompense judgment to those who trouble His people (1:6). Paul expands on this by declaring that God's ultimate judgment against ungodly men will come at the end of the age when Christ returns from heaven in flaming fire to send the wicked into everlasting punishment (1:7-9) and to deliver His saints to glory (1:10). It is in connection with this discussion of the return of Christ at the end of the age that the apostle continues in 2:1-12 to talk about a time of great apostasy that will immediately precede Christ's return at the end of the age. He speaks of "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and ... our gathering unto him" (2:1), which can clearly only mean the return of Christ at the end of human history. However, the apostle specifically warns the Thessalonian Christians to "not be soon shaken in mind ... as that the day of Christ is at hand" (2:2). Why not? Because, as Paul explains, there are two related events which will take place immediately before Christ's return, and which thus serve as advance signals that it is imminent: "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition" (2:3). The "man of sin" is further described in 2:4, and corresponds to the Antichrist figure in the Book of Revelation,15 who will appear at the end of the age. Thus, 2 Thessalonians places the great apostasy in a specific time frame: it will come at the end of the age, immediately preceding the second coming of Jesus Christ. This clearly does not support the Mormon view which places the great apostasy 1,900 years ago, at the beginning of the Christian era (i.e., immediately after the time of the apostles).
In his well-know book, The Great Apostasy, LDS Apostle James E. Talmage (1862-1933) cites five New Testament passages which he thinks predict universal apostasy.16 However, upon examination one finds that none of the passages predict a universal apostasy that extinguishes the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ (and thus require their later restoration): Matthew 24:4,5,10-13 says that "many" will be deceived and that "the love of many shall wax cold." Many, but not all. It is clear that the text does not have in view a total apostasy, for v. 13 concludes, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."
Acts 20:30 records the Apostle Paul's warning to the elders of the Ephesian church that grievous wolves will "draw away disciples after themselves." But nothing in the text supports the view that the faith of all the saints at Ephesus will be subverted.
- 1 Timothy 4:1-3 predicts that "some shall depart from the faith," not all.
- 2 Peter 2:1-3 predicts that "many," not all, will follow the pernicious ways of false prophets to come. Indeed, the immediately following context is inconsistent with the conclusion that universal apostasy may result: in vv. 4-9 the apostle Peter cites the Old Testament example of Lot's deliverance from the city of Sodom before its divine destruction, to make the point that even in the worst times of spiritual degeneration there are those who remain true to God, and whom He preserves: "The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment ..." (v.9). This passage constitutes a powerful argument for God's providential protection of His people against a universal apostasy.
- Revelation 13:4, 6-9 describes the endtime persecution of Christians by Antichrist. We are told that it will be given unto him to "make war with the saints, and to overcome them" (v. 7). However, again, a reading of the context shows that this passage is describing events at the end of the age, just before the return of Christ. Thus, like 2 Thessalonians 2:3, it does not support the Mormon view of a great apostasy at the beginning of the Christian era. Furthermore, notice that this passage does not describe the falling away ("apostasy") of Christians from the truth, but the martyrdom of Christians for the truth (at the hands of Antichrist): "And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them" (v. 7). This passage is not describing apostates, but heroes of the faith.
All of these passages treat the danger of apostasy with great seriousness, but in no case do they support the idea of a universal apostasy that extinguishes the true gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ from the earth, necessitating their later restoration.
Christ promised His apostles converts whose faith would endure: "I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go forth and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain" (John 15:16; Greek: meno = "endure, continue"; see John 4:36 to clarify the point that "bearing fruit" is bringing others to salvation.). The theory of a universal apostasy in the generation immediately after the apostles is clearly inconsistent with Jesus' promise here.
Christ commended faithful churches at the twilight of the apostolic era. The last New Testament book, Revelation, written about A.D. 95 (by which time, according to Brigham Young University professors Hugh Nibley, Robert Matthew's, and Stephen Robinson the work of the apostates who corrupted the New Testament is supposed to have been in full swing)17, records Christ's personal commendations of the churches at Smyrna (2:8-11) and Philadelphia (3:7-13) for standing fast against immorality and false doctrine. Jesus tells the congregation at Philadelphia:
I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and has kept my word, and has not denied my name. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation (Revelation 3:8,10).
2 Timothy 2:2 gives specific apostolic instructions for preserving pure doctrine: "The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." If universal apostasy immediately followed the apostles, either these inspired instructions were inadequate, or the apostles themselves failed to follow them.
The witness of the early Church. A continuous line of historical evidence from as early as 95-100 shows that the Christian community considered the writings of Jesus' apostles the supreme doctrinal standard. By the last half of the second century there was already universal agreement among the far-flung Christian congregations regarding the inspired nature of 20 of the 27 New Testament books.18 Support for the remaining seven books (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude, Revelation) was widespread, if not uncontested. By the end of the fourth century the scriptural status of these books too was universally recognized.19
The apostolic writings were treated as a precious treasure and carefully handed down to successive generations. Writing about A.D. 180, Irenaeus bishop of Lyons cited the collective memory of the Christian community as the basis for confidence that the apostles' teaching had been accurately preserved:
True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the succession of bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved, without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes] ...20
Irenaeus' testimony directly refutes the charge of 1 Nephi 13 that parts of the original New Testament writings were deliberately removed by apostates.
The LDS Church's teaching of a universal apostasy immediately after the time of the apostles requires us to believe that in spite of all the divine promises and safeguards discussed above, and with the ink barely dry on the New Testament Scriptures, God allowed the entire ministry of Christ and His apostles to be undermined by apostates, plunging humanity into spiritual darkness for 1800 years.
The lack of historical evidence for such a universal apostasy poses a serious dilemma for the LDS Church: If apostolic Christianity was not destroyed by such an alleged apostasy, there is no basis for Joseph Smith's claim to have restored original Christianity. LDS apostle James E. Talmage, himself acknowledged, "If the alleged apostasy of the primitive Church was not a reality, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the divine institution its name proclaims."21
Rejection of Sacred Scriptures
A third Mormon argument against a closed canon is that the early Church rejected some books of inspired Scripture. Before examining specific examples of books of Scripture thought by LDS scholars to have been wrongly passed over by the early Church, it will be helpful to consider what we know about the historical process by which the New Testament canon was established. Who made the choices, and on what basis did they accept some books and reject others? The answers to these questions will dramatically affect our understanding of the term canon — is it an authoritative list of books, or a list of authoritative books? In other words, does the authority reside in the religious body that controlled the selection process, or is it inherent in the books themselves?
Most of the Latter-day Saints with whom the author has discussed this subject seem to understand the canon in the former sense, as an authoritative list of books. The Third Council of Carthage in A.D. 397 is often cited as the religious body that controlled the selection process. A passage from Orson Pratt in the Journal of Discourses is representative of this view:
The Pope of Rome gathered together these contending persons in the form of a council, and they sat in judgment upon various manuscripts professing to be divine. That quarreling and contending Council decided that a certain number of books should be admitted as divine, and should form the true canon of Scripture, and that no other books should be added. We are informed that this Council rejected a vast number of books. Some of these books were considered by part of the Council to be of divine origin.22
However, Pratt's characterization of the nature and significance of this council's actions as they relate to the canon of the New Testament is highly inaccurate and misleading on at least three major points:
First of all, the Third Council of Carthage 397 was not an ecumenical council convened by the bishop of Rome, but a provincial council presided over by Aurelius bishop of Carthage. It therefore made no claim to speak for or to the entire Christian Church. While it issued what appears to have been the first formal pronouncement regarding the limits of the New Testament canon, it was merely affirming what had already been largely settled by A.D. 175-200 – the Christian community had long since reached near universal consensus regarding the apostolic origin and unique authority of the 27 books now in our New Testament. In the words of the late Prof. F. F. Bruce of the University Aberdeen, this council " ... did not impose any innovation on the churches; they simply endorsed what had become the general consensus of the churches of the west and the greater part of the east."23
Secondly, the evidence does not support the stereotype of the canonization process as the imposition of a body of writings by hierarchical fiat. The historical process by which the limits of the canon were established was distinctly not a conciliar one; its basis was not an appeal to the authority of a pope, or council of bishops, but to objective, historical qualities possessed by the books themselves. Three criteria in particular seem to have guided the early Christians as they judged whether a book was God-breathed New Testament Scripture:
Apostolic origin –a book needed to have its origin in the small band of Apostles appointed by Christ himself.24 As eyewitnesses to his earthly ministry and resurrection, the Apostles' testimony and teaching is the foundation on which the Christian Church is built (Ephesians 2:20). Apostolic origin was understood to include several books penned by close associates of the apostles, written under their influence and during their lifetimes. For instance, the Gospel of Mark was considered apostolic because Mark was a close associate of the Apostle Peter. In the words of Papias, bishop of Hieropolis (A.D. 60-130), "Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ."25 Likewise, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were accepted as apostolic because their author, Luke, was a missionary companion of the Apostle Paul.
Continuous usage by the Church – a book needed an unbroken record from ancient times of use in public reading among Christian congregations. This guaranteed its historical link to the Apostles. It was also practical evidence of its edifying value in the lives of countless rank and file believers. Thus, for example, Eusebius (ca. 263-339) says in defense of the scriptural status of the Epistles of James and Jude that, although they are not mentioned as often by the earliest Christian writers," Nevertheless we know that these also, with the rest, have been read publicly in very many churches."26
Harmony with the Old Testament and apostolic teaching – a book needed to be consistent with God's revelation contained in the 39 books of Old Testament Scripture approved by Christ (Luke 24:44), as well as with the known teaching of the apostles. Since God cannot lie or contradict himself, nothing he reveals will conflict with previous revelation (Deuteronomy 13:1-3; Galatians 1:6-9).
Considering the widespread, decentralized nature of the early Christian congregations, and the fact that each of the various New Testament writings was originally delivered to a single local congregation or individual, it is surprising to discover how quickly they were copied, circulated, and their status as Scripture recognized. A reference in the Second Epistle of Peter shows that already in the apostolic age the epistles of Paul were being collected, and accorded the same status as the Old Testament Scriptures:
... even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him has written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unstable and unlearned wrest, as they do also the other scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16).
As early as A.D. 100, the four gospels and the major epistles of Paul were widely recognized as fully canonical.27 Testimony to the developing New Testament canon is found in the writings of three Christian leaders who lived in the shadow of the apostles: Clement, bishop of Rome (ca. A.D. 88?-97), Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (died A.D. 110) and Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (ca. A.D. 70-156?); collectively, these early Christians quote or paraphrase all four Gospels, the major epistles of Paul, as well as 1 Peter and 1 John. Clement, for example, commended the reading of 1 Corinthians, saying, "Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul ... Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit he wrote to you."28 And Polycarp describes Paul's epistles as, "the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul."29
The consensus regarding the New Testament canon continued to grow rapidly during the second century, so that by A.D. 175-200, 20 of the 27 New Testament books (the four Gospels, Acts, the 13 epistles of Paul, 1 Peter and 1 John) were universally recognized as inspired Scripture by the widespread Christian congregations. Among the early witnesses to the Scriptural status of these 20 books are the Muratorian Canon (ca. A.D. 170-190), Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (ca. A.D. 180), Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 200) and the North African theologian, Tertullian (ca. A.D. 200).30 Prof. Bruce M. Metzger concludes:
What is really remarkable is that, though the fringes of the New Testament canon remained unsettled for centuries, a high degree of unanimity concerning the greater part of the New Testament was attained within the first two centuries among the very diverse and scattered congregations not only throughout the Mediterranean world but also over an area extending from Britain to Mesopotamia.31
In the historical process by which the New Testament canon was finalized, only two limited areas of significant disagreement arose: One group of seven widely used books, ultimately included in the canon, but which some in the early Church disputed for a time, and a second group of four books which some initially accepted as Scripture, but which were rejected after further evaluation.
Books disputed by some. Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude and Revelation were highly regarded and widely used in the early Church, but did not earn universal recognition as Scripture immediately. This is because some in the early Church had questions about their authorship. By the middle of the fourth century these questions had been resolved, and since then the books have been unquestioned within the historic Christian community.
Books accepted by some. Four books — The Shepherd of Hermas, the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle of Clement, and the so-called Apocalypse of Peter — were highly regarded for a time by some in the early Church. However, they were ultimately rejected because they were determined not to be apostolic in origin,32 and to include some teachings not in harmony with known apostolic doctrine.
It should be noted that in addition to these disputed writings, there was a much larger category of books vying for the early Church's attention, but which were rejected by virtually all in the early Christian community. These self-proclaimed apostolic works — such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Matthias, and the Acts of Paul — were obvious frauds designed to support the doctrinal agendas of various heretical groups. The contemporary reader need only peruse these works to see how obviously lacking they are in the simple grace and self-authenticating authority of the New Testament books. In the words of M.R. James, "It will very quickly be seen that there is no question of anyone's having excluded them from the New Testament: they have done that for themselves."33
Now, let us look at specific examples which Mormon scholars and authorities have proposed as sacred scriptures rejected by the early Church in the canonization process. Bruce R. McConkie suggests that fleeting references to an otherwise unknown Laodicean epistle (Colossians 4:16), and a third epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:9), mean the apostle wrote inspired books that were rejected or lost.34 However, careful examination of these and other proposed examples of lost or rejected New Testament Scripture reveals far more reasonable explanations than the radical theory of sabotage or rejection by apostates. For instance, what McConkie cites as an "epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans," is actually an "epistle from the Laodiceans" (see Col. 4:16). The epistle in question is probably simply the New Testament book of Ephesians, which was a circular letter — like Colosians itself (Col. 4:16) — that bears the name of only the largest of several cities in the region where it circulated.35 This seems to be the understanding of the second century Christian writer Tertullian.36 Interestingly, according to the Muratorian Canon (ca. A.D. 170), the Colossians 4:16 reference had apparently already in the second century become the occasion for a forged epistle of Paul produced by the heretical Marcionite movement: "There is current also (an epistle) to the Laodiceans, another to the Alexandrians, forged in Paul's name for the sect of Marcion, and several others, which cannot be received in the catholic Church; for it will not do to mix gall with honey."37 In summary, references to Colossians 4:16 in early Christian literature do not support McConkie's speculations about a lost epistle of Paul.
Regarding the epistle mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:9, this may indeed have been a letter of Paul that has not been preserved. However, in categorizing this as "lost scripture," McConkie simply assumes that everything written by an apostle was inspired Scripture. But there is no compelling basis for such an assumption. Instead, when we consider the early Church's universal respect for the writings of Paul, and the fact that its literature quotes extensively and exclusively from his canonical epistles, we may safely conclude that in the providence of God this unknown epistle was not preserved because it did not bear the stamp of inspired revelation. Dr. Leon Morris cogently comments,
We need not be greatly surprised ... that the letter has perished. If it was capable of being misconstrued, and if the correct teaching was given more fully in a letter we now have, there was no point in preserving the former letter.38
More recently, a March 1988 article in The Ensign by Brigham Young University professors Daniel Peterson and Stephen Ricks cites six examples of books thought to be inspired Scripture wrongly excluded from the New Testament canon: 1 Enoch, the Assumption of Moses, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle of Clement, and the Shepherd of Hermas.39 It will be helpful to consider the evidence for and against the scriptural status of each of these rejected works:
1 Enoch, Assumption of Moses. These Jewish sectarian books date from the inter-testamental period (400 B.C. to the beginning of the first century A.D.). Peterson and Ricks describe the New Testament Epistle of Jude as "draw[ing] heavily" on these works,40 and they claim that in the early Christian community Enoch and the Assumption commanded respect equal to that of the canonical books.41 They imply that since Jude is accepted as sacred Scripture, these ancient books from which Jude appears to quote or paraphrase, have an equal claim to scriptural status. However, there are serious flaws in both the facts and reasoning of the Peterson-Ricks argument, and compelling reasons for concluding that 1 Enoch and the Assumption are not inspired Scripture.
First, contrary to the characterization of Peterson and Ricks, Jude's use of material from these two works is quite limited. There is a reference in Jude 9 to a dispute between Michael and the Devil over the body of Moses that appears to show literary dependence on the Assumption of Moses,42 and a reference in Jude 14 to a prophecy of Enoch (the ancient patriarch from the book of Genesis) that is probably a quotation of 1 Enoch 1:9.
Second, it is a logical fallacy to argue that because an inspired biblical author such as Jude reports material from Jewish oral tradition or other extra-biblical sources, that those sources in their entirety must be considered accurate and theologically valid.43 And it should be noted that Jude does not cite his sources by name, much less credit them with scriptural status.
Third, Enoch and the Assumption are pre-Christian, Jewish books, that were not considered sacred Scripture by the ancient Jewish community. The first-century Jewish writer Josephus lists the books recognized as divine revelation by his nation, and his list equates exactly to the 39 books in the Old Testament sections of Christian Bibles (though in the Jewish system they number only 24, because 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, and 1&2 Chronicles are combined as one book each, as are Jeremiah-Lamentations, Ruth-Judges, Ezra-Nehemiah, and the 12 Minor Prophets).44 Josephus also comments that later books of Jewish history (the so-called Apocryphal or deutero-canonical books from the inter-testamental period, after the time of the Persian emperor Artaxerxes, ca. 425 B.C.) were not judged to have the same inspired, prophetic authority:
It is true our history has been written since Artaxerxes, very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time.45
This testimony is highly significant, because according to the Romans 3:2, the Jewish people were the divinely appointed custodians of Old Testament revelation ("What advantage then hath the Jew? ... Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them are committed the oracles of God.).46
Fourth, and especially important for the Christian, Enoch and the Assumption are not a part of the canon of Scripture recognized by Jesus Christ, for it is clear from various passages in the New Testament Gospels that He accepted the traditional Hebrew canon. For instance, in Luke 24:44 the Lord Jesus enumerates the three divisions of the traditional Hebrew canon, the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nebiim), and the Psalms (or Writings/Kethubim). And in Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:50,51 Jesus' expression "from Abel to Zechariah" is a way of summarizing all the contents of these three divisions. None of the inter-testamental Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphal books were included in these three traditional divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament).47 Fifth and finally, it is ironic that Peterson and Ricks argue for the scriptural status of Enoch on the basis of its apparent citation by the canonical Epistle of Jude, for it was just this use of an apocryphal book that was considered in the early Church a strike against Jude's own scriptural status (though in the end it did gain universal recognition as Scripture). In the words of the great biblical scholar Jerome (ca. 347-419):
Jude the brother of James, left a short epistle which is reckoned among the seven catholic [general] epistles, and because in it he quotes from the apocryphal book of Enoch it is rejected by many. Nevertheless by age and use it has gained authority and is reckoned among the Holy Scriptures.48
Apocalypse of Peter. In support of the scriptural status of this work, Peterson and Ricks cite its inclusion in the Muratorian Canon (ca. 170), an early Christian document that catalogs those New Testament books recognized as Scripture. However, they neglect to mention that the reference to it there includes this significant caveat: "which some of our people do not want to have read in the Church."49 Clearly, from an early date this book's authenticity was disputed, and subsequent history shows that it failed to retain whatever limited standing it may have enjoyed for a time.50
Epistle of Barnabas. This book from ca. 100 was thought by many Christian writers from the third century on to be the work of the Barnabas mentioned in the New Testament as a missionary companion of the apostle Paul. However, it is never so identified by any earlier writer, and modern scholars almost universally dismiss this view.51 Thus, for instance, it is not listed as Scripture in the Muratorian Canon (ca. 170). And it is inaccurate to imply, as Peterson and Ricks do, that Clement of Alexandria (died ca. 215) considered Barnabas authoritative Scripture. In fact, he classes it a "disputed" work.52 In summary, though Barnabas was without question popular with Clement and others in the early Christian community, it certainly never approached universal recognition as Scripture.
Epistle of Clement. Unlike the Epistle of Barnabas, this work, from ca. 95-96, is universally acknowledged by ancient Christian writers and modern scholars alike to be the work of the man after whom it is named, Clement bishop of Rome (ca. 30-100). Like Barnabas, it enjoyed wide popularity in the early Christian community as an edifying work, but certainly not as authoritative Scripture.53
Shepherd of Hermas. This is another book that was popular with many in the early Church, but which never achieved universal recognition as divinely inspired Scripture. The Muratorian Canon cites specific grounds for its disqualification, namely, that it was produced in the second century by Hermas, who was not contemporary with the apostles, and thus could not have written under apostolic direction: "But Hermas wrote the Shepherd quite lately in our time ... And therefore it ought indeed to be read, but it cannot be read publicly in the Church."54 Apostolic origin was the early Church's major criterion for establishing the canon of New Testament Scripture, and since second century Christians knew The Shepherd to have been written "quite lately in our time," it clearly did not meet this standard.
In summary, none of the six books suggested by Peterson and Ricks were universally recognized by the early Church as inspired Scripture, as were the canonical New Testament books.55 From the standpoint of historic Christianity, this is in large part because they fail to meet the basic criterion of apostolic authorship, and ultimately, because they are not in harmony with known apostolic teaching.
However, one wonders why even a Mormon should take the suggestions of McConkie or Peterson and Ricks seriously, since the First Presidency of the LDS Church has never chosen to incorporate any of these supposedly lost scriptures into its own editions of the King James Version Bible (including the 1979 edition in which material from the Joseph Smith Translation has been added). It would surely have done so if any of these books were known (through the claimed gift of prophet, seer and revelator) to be lost books of sacred Scripture.
As was noted at the beginning of this paper, it is a cardinal tenet of Mormonism that the canon of Scripture is not closed and that God is still revealing new truth through latter-day prophets. This is expressed very forcefully in 2 Nephi 29:6,9-10:
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? ... And because 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 ... 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.
Elder A. Theodore Tuttle emphasized the importance of latter-day revelation in an address to the Spring 1973 LDS General Conference: "Our salvation is contingent upon our belief in a living prophet and adherence to his word."56 Why does historic Christianity reject such a view? There are two basic reasons. First, because the New Testament portrays the office of apostle as limited to the small band of men appointed by Christ himself at the time of his earthly ministry, and makes no provision for the succession of others to this one-time office. The apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus' earthly ministry and resurrection (Acts 1:21,22; 1 Corinthians 15:5-8), and their writings are the Church's foundation and final authority (Ephesians 2:20). The early Christians recognized the unique authority of Paul and "the Twelve." This is illustrated by a passage in one of the letters of Clement, bishop of Rome in the late first century:
The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ .... they [the apostles] appointed the first-fruits [of their labors], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons.57
The humble words of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (A.D. 30-107), are representative of the Church's understanding on this point: "I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commands unto you. They were apostles; while I am, even until now, a servant."58 No Christian leader in the generation immediately following the apostles was more highly esteemed than Ignatius, yet he limits his role to proclaiming and defending the Gospel as taught by the apostles, and does not presume to wield apostolic authority himself. The rationale given in a second century Christian document, the so-called Muratorian Canon (ca. A.D. 170), for rejecting a popular Christian work, The Shepherd of Hermas, from the canon of Scripture, is instructive on this point. It illustrates both the conviction of the early Church that the office of apostle was not an on-going office, and the implications of this point for establishing the limits of the New Testament canon:
But Hermas composed The Shepherd quite recently in our times in the city of Rome, while his brother Pius, the bishop, occupied the seat of the city of Rome. And therefore, it should indeed be read, but it cannot be published for the people in the Church [i.e, be used for Scripture reading in congregational worship], neither among the Prophets [i.e., Old Testament books], since their number is complete, nor among the Apostles [i.e., the New Testament books] for it is after their time.59
Just as the canon of the Old Testament dispensation was understood by the Jewish people and the early Church to have been completed and closed after the time of the prophet Malachi, so now the New Testament canon was understood to be completed and closed with the passing of the apostles appointed by Jesus Christ as his authoritative messengers.
Second, historic Christianity does not look for latter-day revelation because the Bible presents Christ's incarnation, atoning death, and victorious resurrection as the once-for-all culmination of God's plan of salvation foretold and foreshadowed in the Old Testament (Hebrews 1:1-2; 9:26-28; 10:10; Jude 3). Thus, how could additional revelation add anything essential to the Christian message? To the contrary, how could it avoid being merely superfluous, or far worse, a dangerous source of counterfeit spirituality (1 John 4:1)?
Surely, at the very least, latter-day revelation would have to be in complete accord with New Testament apostolic Scripture (Galatians 1:8–"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.").60 But it is precisely those doctrines unique to Mormon scripture, such as the plurality of Gods, eternal progression, and secret temple ordinances, which lack a biblical basis.
Hebrews 2:3 asks a sobering question which highlights the foundation of the Christian message on the two-fold testimony of Christ and the apostles he personally appointed: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him." There is no biblical basis for expecting further revelation. The Church's task is rather to preach and teach and defend the faith "once-for-all delivered unto the saints' (Jude 3), until Christ returns.
1. Here is Joseph Smith's standard reply to those who challenged him on the matters of the finality of the Bible and latter-day revelation: "Is there anything in the Bible which licenses you to believe in revelation now-a-days? Is there anything that does not authorize us to believe so? Is not the canon of the Scriptures full? If it is, there is a great defect in the book, or else it would have said so." History of the Church, 7 vols., (Deseret News, 1948), 1:30; also found in Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Deseret Book Co., 1976), p.121. In response to Smith, let it be said that there are indeed important biblical and historical grounds for believing that God is no longer revealing doctrinal truth to His Church, and for concluding that the canon of Scripture has been completed. In summary, the reasons are three:
the Bible presents "the Twelve" apostles and Paul as the authoritative representatives of New Testament revelation, and makes no provision for the succession of others to the one-time office of apostle;
the New Testament presents Christ's earthly ministry as the once-for-all culmination of God's redemptive plan, so that additional revelation could not add anything essential to the Christian message;
the early Church recognized the unique and final authority of the apostles, and no early Christian leader claimed apostolic authority. These points are addressed in greater detail in the last section of this paper.
2. As quoted by Elder A. Theodore Tuttle, Official Report of the One Hundred Forty-Third Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 6-8, 1973 (Deseret Press, 1973), p. 12, emphasis added.
3. Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah - The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 7., 2nd ed. (Deseret Book Co. and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), pp. 71-88 (esp. 71, 87-88).
4. Ibid., p. 88 – "When Jesus instructed Peter, James, and John to tell no man of what they had seen on the Mount of Transfiguration, he was withholding sacred things from the uninitiated . . ."
5. This detail is supplied in Matthew 26:63, a parallel account of Jesus' hearing before the Sanhedrin.
6. Ethelbert Stauffer, Jesus and the Wilderness Community at Qumran (Fortress Press, 1969), p. 17.
7. George Reynolds and Janne E. Sjodohl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 7 vols. (Deseret Book Co., 1955, 1976), 1:127 – At v. 28 Reynolds comments, "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 of the books extant." See also Robert J. Matthews, A Bible! A Bible! (Bookcraft, 1990), p. 13 – "The Bible has apparently suffered mostly from omissions–it is not particularly erroneous, but many important items are missing, and this in turn leaves some parts unclear."
8. This is the general view LDS Apostle James E. Talmage presented in an introductory lecture on Mormonism at the Congress of Religious Philosophies in San Francisco in July 1915 — The Philosophical Basis of "Mormonism" (Reprinted by Eborn Books, 1994), pp. 23-25.
9. Thus, for example, LDS George Reynolds in his Commentary on the Book of Mormon (1:127) reports the scholarly consensus (with which he apparently agrees) established by the scientific examination of "thousands of manuscripts" that "in all essential particulars the text [of the New Testament] we have is identical with the original writings."
10. 10 "Establishing the Truth of the Bible," in First Nephi: The Doctrinal Foundation (Religious Studies Center - Brigham Young University, 1988), p. 206; also, Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah, p. 27, and in the same anthology, Stephen E. Robinson," Early Christianity and 1 Nephi 13-14," p. 188.
11. 11 Matthews, A Bible! A Bible!, p. 23; see also Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1985), p. 237 ( "it is possible that corruption of the New Testament came soon after the death of the original Twelve and could have affected the very earliest copies." ]
12. Nibley, p. 27.
13. Gospel Principles (Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1988), p. 46.
14. Roger R. Keller, "Do I Know My Neighbor?", pp. 26,27.
15. See especially, Revelation 11:7; 12:3-17; 13:1-18; 19:19-21.
16. James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy Considered in the Light of Scriptural and Secular History (Deseret, 1968 reprint), pp. 27-31. It is notable that although this book was originally published in 1909, it remains in print and is copyrighted by the LDS Church. Thus, it apparently continues to accurately represent the LDS Church's official teaching on the subject of the Apostasy.
17. For bibliographic references, see notes 10 and 11. ]
18. Ibid; cf. also R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Zondervan, 1957, 1969), p. 202; R. M. Grant, "The New Testament Canon," in P. R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans, eds., The Cambridge History of the Bible, 4 vols. (Cambridge University Press, 1970), 1:285.
19. See the next section of this paper where details of the canonization process are discussed in greater detail.
20. Against Heresies, IV,33.8, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols., (Eerdmans, 1987 reprint), 1:508.
21. Talmage, The Great Apostasy, p. iii. Again, we note that this book was originally published in 1909, but remains in print and is copyrighted by the LDS Church. Thus, it apparently continues to accurately represent the LDS Church's official teaching on the subject of the Apostasy. In a similar vein, LDS apostle B. H. Roberts acknowledged that, "Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." – History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Deseret Book Co., 1946), 1: xl.
22. Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., 7:26.
23. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (InterVarsity, 1988), p. 97.
24. Adolph Harnack, History of Dogma, 7 vols., 3rd ed. (Dover, 1960 reprint), 1:158-160.
25. As recorded by Eusebius (ca. 263-339) in his Church History [Historia Eccles.], The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 1:172-173.
26. Church History, II, 23, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 1:128.
27. R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Zondervan, 1957, 1969), p. 202; Grant,"The New Testament Canon," in The Cambridge History of the Bible, 1:285.
28. The First Epistle of Clement, XLVII, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:18.
29. The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, III, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:33.
30. The testimony of these witnesses, with specific references, is summarized in Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, pp. 158-196.
31. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, p. 254.
32. For example, an early Christian document known as the Muratorian Canon (A.D. 170-190) explains that a book that was very popular in the early Christian community, The Shepherd of Hermas, ultimately failed to attain recognition as Scripture because it was known to have been produced in the second century, too late to be apostolic: "But Hermas wrote the Shepherd quite lately in our time . . . And therefore it ought indeed to be read, but it cannot be read publicly in the Church."
33. See M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, revised ed. (Oxford University Press, 1926,1986).
34. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Bookcraft, 1979), s.v."Lost Scripture," p. 454.
35. J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, rev. ed. (Zondervan, 1976 reprint), pp. 37f, 244, 274f.
36. "We have it on the true tradition of the Church, that this epistle [Ephesians] was sent to the Ephesians, not the Laodiceans. Marcion, however, was very desireous of giving it the new title (of Laodiceans), as if he were extremely accurate in investigating such a point. But of what consequence are the titles, since in writing to a certain church the apostle did in fact write to all." Against Marcion, V, 27, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (Eerdmans, 1987 reprint), 3:464-465.
37. For the text of the Muratorian Canon, see Edgar Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, 2 vols. (The Westminster Press, 1963), 1:43-45.
38. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols., revised ed. (Eerdmans, 1979), s.v. "Corinthians, First Epistle of the," 1:776.
39. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, "Comparing LDS Beliefs With First-Century Christianity," The Ensign, March 1988, pp. 7-11.
40. 40 Ibid., p. 9.
41. Ibid.,"In the earliest period of the Christian church, it is difficult to see a distinction being made between canonical writings and [Enoch]."
42. Though it should be noted that no existing text of the Assumption of Moses includes the account mentioned in Jude 9 of a dispute over the body of Moses. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, revised ed. (InterVarsity Press, 1970), p. 917.
43. Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan, 1982), p. 430. Archer notes that the Lord Jesus (in Matthew 24) and Stephen (in Acts 7) refer to historical events not recorded in the Old Testament, and the apostle Paul quotes from secular Greek sources (in Acts 17:28 and Titus 1:12). The fact that a book is nonbiblical does not mean that it contains nothing of value; neither does its citation by a biblical author imply that everything in it is historically accurate and theologically valid.
44. Antiquity of the Jews — Flavius Josephus Against Apius I,8.
45. Ibid., as noted in "Introduction to the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books," in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, (Oxford University Press, 1991), AP iii.
46. Prof. G. W. Anderson, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Studies at Edinburgh University concludes that, "There is no definite evidence that any book not in the Palestinian canon [i.e., the 22 books enumerated by Josephus, which equate to the 39 books in Old Testament sections of Christian Bibles] was accepted as canonical in Alexandria or elsewhere in the hellenistic Disaspora . . ." — The Cambridge History of the Bible, 1:149.
47. See Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, p. 31, and R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, (Eerdmans, 1969), pp. 269,270.
48. Lives of Illustrious Men, IV, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 14 vols. (Eerdmans, 1983 reprint), 3:362.
49. The text of the Muratorian Canon is available in Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, 1:43-45.
50. In its apocalyptic literary style, the book has similarities with the canonical Apocalypse (Revelation) of John. However, whereas the book of Revelation is Christo-centric and focuses on the endtimes as the arena of Jesus Christ's ultimate triumph over evil, the Apocalypse of Peter is anthropocentric, and displays a morbid curiosity about the details of the conditions of sinners in Hell. See Hennecke, Apocryphal New Testament, 2:667.
51. A. Cleveland Coxe,"Introductory Note to the Epistle of Barnabas," in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:134.
52. Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament (Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 134,135; 151. Metzger describes the Epistle of Barnabas as being "for a time on the fringe of the canon" (p. 188).
53. Just as many modern Christians find Bunyan's classic, Pilgrim's Progress, inspiring, but do not consider it divine revelation that should be added to the canon of Scripture (to use an example suggested by Sandra Tanner).
54. The text of the Muratorian Canon is available in Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, 1:43-45.
55. Grant, "The New Testament Canon," in The Cambridge History of the Bible, 1:285.
56. Official Report of the One Hundred Forty-Third Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 6-8, 1973, p. 12; also "When Prophets Speak, Pay Attention"– Church News, August 10, 1991, p. 7. The article reports on an August 4, 1991 fireside address by Elder M. Russell Ballard at Nauvoo, Ill.. Its subtitle is revealing: "Modern Revelation to Living Prophets Just as Profound as Books of Scripture."
57. The First Epistle of Clement, XLII, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:16.
58. Epistle to the Romans, IV, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:75.
59. The translation is from David J. Theron, Evidences of Tradition (Baker, 1957,1980), p. 113.
60. Note the striking parallel to Galatians 1:8 found in the Book of Mormon, Mosiah 18:19 - "And he [Alma] commanded that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets.