You are here

Mormonism and Alleged “Lost Books” of the Bible

Printer-friendly version

Mormonism and Alleged “Lost Books” of the Bible

Robert M. Bowman Jr.

Mormons frequently cite a list of references in the Bible (taken from their Topical Guide) to books that are not part of the canon of the Bible as we know it to establish that the Bible is now incomplete. In order for these books to support the LDS position, there must be some evidence that the books were once considered part of the canon of Scripture. Below I will survey these references, placing them into six categories, and then offer concluding comments on this line of argument. Biblical quotations are from the KJV.


1. Possible References to Parts of Existing Books of the Bible 

Some of the alleged “lost books” of the Bible are probably books or parts of books that are still found in the existing canon of the Bible.

Exodus 24: 7 – “And he took the book of the covenant, and bread in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient.”

This could be referring to part of the book of Exodus (and in fact this is what most biblical scholars think is the case).

1 Samuel 10:25 – “Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house.”

This could be something found in 1 Samuel itself. In any case, there is no evidence that this verse is referring to a book that was part of the Bible but then for some reason was later left out.

2 Chronicles 26: 22 – “Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, first and last, did Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, write.”

This statement could refer to material in the Book of Isaiah regarding the evils during the reign of Uzziah (Is. 1-5). If not, it is apparently a source never included in the canon of Scripture; again, it is apparently cited for its historical information.

Ephesians 3:3 – “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote fore in few words…).”

Paul is probably referring here to his epistle to the Colossians, which of course is not lost. Study Ephesians and Colossians side by side carefully and you will see that Ephesians is an expanded rewrite of Colossians.


2. Historical Sources

Several of the alleged “lost books” are cited in historical books of the Old Testament as source materials that corroborate or supplement the historical record found in the canonical book. These include the “book of the wars of the Lord,” the “book of Jashar,” the “book of the acts of Solomon,” the “story of the prophet Iddo,” and “the book of Jehu.”

Numbers 21:14 – “Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the LORD, What he did in the Red sea, and in the brooks of Arnon.”

Joshua 10:13 – “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.”

2 Sam. 1:18 – “(Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.)”

1 Kings 11:41 – “And the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the book of the acts of Solomon?”

2 Chronicles 13:22 – “And the rest of the acts of Abijah, and his ways, and his sayings, are written in the story of the prophet Iddo.”

2 Chronicles 20:34 – “Now the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Jehu the son of Hanani, who is mentioned in the book of the kings of Israel.”

It should be noted that “the book of the kings of Israel” is probably not what we call 1 and 2 Kings (which was originally one book). Elsewhere, Chronicles cites this “book” as containing information not found in our 1—2 Kings (see below on 2 Chronicles 33:19).


3. Unknown Books by Jewish (Old Testament) Prophets

1 Chronicles 29:29 – “Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer.”

One might suppose that since Samuel, Nathan, and Gad were prophets, the books they wrote must have been prophetic. But such an argument would surely boomerang against the LDS, since they argue very strenuously that not everything written by their prophets needs to be accepted as scripture. All this text really tells us is that these three prophets wrote books detailing David’s life. One of these may be a reference to the books called 1 and 2 Samuel, which happen to be Scripture. (Originally, 1 and 2 Samuel were a single book.) But that doesn’t mean the other books were viewed that way. It’s also possible that at the time of the Chronicler, what we call 2 Samuel consisted of shorter books attributed to Nathan (a prominent prophet in 2 Sam. 1-12) and Gad (whose ministry comes at the end of 2 Samuel). Later, those two books may have been combined into one volume and called the book of Samuel. I don’t know. In any case, Chronicles cites these books as historical sources and says nothing about their status as scripture.

2 Chronicles 9:29 – “Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat?”

2 Chronicles 12:15 – “Now the acts of Rehoboam, first and last, are they not written in the book of Shemaiah the prophet, and of Iddo the seer concerning genealogies? And there were wars between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually.”

Nathan the prophet appears in 1 Kings 1-4 and Ahijah in 1 Kings 11-15, suggesting the possibility that much if not all of 1 Kings derives from these prophets. Again, we’re not told explicitly how these historical books of the Old Testament came about. In any case, this statement merely treats these books as historical sources about the acts of Solomon. The book of Shemaiah the prophet appears to belong in the same category—that of an historical source cited in Chronicles. The prophecy of Ahijah and the visions of Iddo would, I think, qualify as prophetic or inspired words, so I’ll give Mormons half a point for their argument with regard to these two books. However, they aren’t cited as scriptural works containing revelations needed for Israel’s ongoing relationship with the Lord, but as historical sources on the acts of Solomon. There is, once again, no evidence that any of these books was ever part of the canon of Scripture and later “lost” or removed from the canon.

2 Chronicles 33:19 – “His prayer also, and how God was intreated of him, and all his sin, and his trespass, and the places wherein he built high places, and set up groves and graven images, before he was humbled: behold, they are written among the sayings of the seers.”

It is unclear that this is even a reference to a specific book. Chronicles cites these written sayings of the seers as a source or sources that elaborate on the details of the life of Manasseh. The LDS Topical Guide is somewhat misleading here in citing verse 19 by itself, because verse 18 sheds some likely light on what is meant: “Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer unto his God, and the words of the seers that spake to him in the name of the LORD God of Israel, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel.” It seems likely that “the sayings of the seers” was part of “the books of the kings of Israel,” referring to an unknown historical source. (It cannot be 1-2 Kings, because that book does not say anything about Manasseh’s prayer of repentance.)


4. Matthew’s Generalized Reference to the Prophets

Matthew 2:23 – “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”

The generalized reference to “the prophets” suggests that the statement “He shall be called a Nazarene” is not an exact quotation from a specific text but a summary of what the prophets had said. The expression “the prophets” has this sense in other places in Matthew as well (e.g., Matt. 7:12; 11:13; 26:56). Scholars have proposed a few different explanations for what Matthew is doing here, but no scholar, to my knowledge, thinks Matthew is quoting a book now lost to us.


5. References to Other Letters Written by Paul

1 Corinthians 5:9 – “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators.”

The epistle to which Paul refers was of course written by an apostle, and in this case is not cited as an historical source. So, I’ll give half a point for this one. But the epistle was never excluded from the Bible because it was never part of the Bible. The letter was evidently confined to the Corinthian church and was never circulated as Scripture, as his other epistles were.

Colossians 4:16 – “And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.”

One way of understanding Colossians 4:16 is that Paul is referring to a lost epistle to the Laodiceans that he expected to be circulated among the churches but is now lost. However, Paul speaks of this epistle as coming “from” Laodicea, not as one that he wrote “to”Laodicea. It is possible that the epistle to which Paul was referring was one of his known epistles that was circulating among several churches and was going to be sent to the church inColossaefrom the church inLaodicea. Again, there is no evidence that this epistle was ever part of the canon of Scripture and later removed.


6. Jude’s Quotation from Enoch

Jude 14 – “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints.”

This passage does not identify Enoch as an inspired book. All that Jude 14 indicates is that Enoch said what is quoted here. That does not make the book from which Jude was quoting Scripture. If it does, why doesn’t the LDS Church add the book to the canon? After all, it’s not lost.


Conclusion: No Lost Books of the Bible

In sum: most of these references offer no possible evidence for the claim that the Bible is missing books of scripture. 2 Chronicles 9:29 and 1 Corinthians 5:9 are possible but not clear references to inspired though no longer extant writings, but neither refers to lost writings that once circulated as part of the canon. The reference in Colossians 4:16 to an epistle of Paul that was to be delivered to the Colossians from the Laodiceans is a possible example of an inspired writing that was never part of the canon, but we really don’t know this to be so, because Paul doesn’t say to whom that epistle was written. In short, these references do not establish that whole books belonging in the Bible were somehow lost from the canon.

Finally, here is a peculiar thing: the LDS Church cites all of these “lost” books as evidence supporting their claim that as a result of apostasy many “plain and precious things” that were once part of the Bible are no longer there. Yet the LDS Church has not “restored” any of these books that the Bible supposedly mentions as lost scriptures. Instead, its prophet Joseph Smith “restored” lost scriptures (Book of Mormon, Book of Moses, and the Book of Abraham) that the Bible does not mention. Stranger still, the LDS Church has access to one of these supposedly “lost” scriptures (Enoch) but has not seen fit to include it in the Bible. Why, then, is it listed in their topical index as a lost scripture? The answer seems clear: the LDS Church is not really concerned about the Bible supposedly being incomplete, but about defending books as scripture that were never part of the Bible at all.