Mormons are best known for their use of the Book of Mormon, but it is less well-known they consider the Bible equally important in their study of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They use the King James translation of the Bible in English and other translations in other languages, but they use both the Old and the New Testament.
Thomas S. Monson, the current Mormon prophet, gave an address to members of the Mormon Church in 1985, when he was an apostle. (Mormons have a prophet who is assisted by two counselors and also a quorum of twelve apostles who fill the same role as Jesus’ apostles.)
The title of the talk is taken from Matthew, chapter 11 in the New Testament:
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
The story of the Mormon Church began with a Bible and a teenage boy’s desire to know which church to join. Joseph Smith was fourteen when he read in James 1:5:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” This scripture led him to pray in the woods near his home to find out what church to join. God instructed him not to join any of them, because none had the complete truth. When he was grown, God would send an angel to prepare him for the restoration of the gospel.
Since that time, Mormons have strongly emphasized the importance of the Bible and other scriptures. Children as young as eighteen months are taught scripture stories in church, with older children receiving more serious scripture training. Teens receive, in addition to Sunday School, a weekday religion class that focuses on one book of scripture a year for the four years of high school. Two of those years are spent on the Bible. College students receive, in addition to their Sunday School curriculum, a college-level course taken during the school year which allows them to study the scriptures in great detail. Sunday school classes for ages eight and up rotate on a four-year cycle, with two years being devoted to the Bible.
Mormon families are also taught to study the scriptures at home during daily scripture study and individuals are asked to study the scriptures on their own each day as well. In all, most Mormons are reading the scriptures several times each day in personal study, family study, and church classes.
For Thomas Monson, the scriptures are an important part of his faith. “The words of truth and inspiration found in our four standard works are prized possessions to me. I never tire of reading them. I am lifted spiritually whenever I search the scriptures. These holy words of truth and love give guidance to my life and point the way to eternal perfection.”
The Mormon prophet enjoys using examples of great Biblical heroes in his many religious talks. He holds them up as examples for Mormons to follow in their own lives.
For example, in 1987, he talked to Mormons about following the example of David in his battle against Goliath.
The battle for our souls is no less important that the battle fought by David. The enemy is no less formidable, the help of Almighty God no farther away. What will our action be? Like David of old, “our cause is just.” We have been placed upon earth not to fail or fall victim to temptation’s snare, but rather to succeed. Our giant, our Goliath, must be conquered” (Thomas S. Monson, “Meeting Your Goliath“, Ensign, Jan. 1987, 2).
President Monson likes to remind Mormons to remember the past and the many sacrifices that occurred so we could have the Bible in our hands. He speaks often of early Protestant reformers and their role, which was so critical to the beginnings of his own religion, even though Mormons, while Christian, are not Protestants:
“Space will not allow a detailed discussion here of the many individuals whose efforts have made the scriptures available to us. Were there space, we could explore the contributions of such chosen prophets as Moses, who brought us in written form the inspired writings of earth’s earliest times. We would think of Jewish leaders who preserved the records of Israel. We would remember the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ whose testaments of His divine ministry on earth were so carefully kept. We would recall the sacrifices of Reformation leaders who, in some instances, gave their very lives to assure that common people could read the Bible.
In another talk, he said:
In due time honest men with yearning hearts, at the peril of their very lives, attempted to establish points of reference, that they might find the true way. The day of the Reformation was dawning, but the path ahead was difficult. Persecutions would be severe, personal sacrifice overwhelming, and the cost beyond calculation. The reformers were pioneers, blazing wilderness trails in a desperate search for those lost points of reference that they felt would lead mankind back to the truth Jesus taught.
Wycliffe, Luther, Hus, Zwingli, Knox, Calvin, and Tyndale all pioneered during the period of the Reformation. Significant was the declaration of Tyndale to his critics: “I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the scripture than thou doest.”
Such were the teachings and lives of the great reformers. Their deeds were heroic, their contributions many, their sacrifices great—but they did not restore the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Of the reformers, one could ask: “Was their sacrifice in vain? Was their struggle futile?” I answer with a reasoned no. The Holy Bible was now within the grasp of the people. Each person could better find his or her way. Oh, if only all could read and all could understand! But some could read, and others could hear, and all had access to God through prayer” (Thomas S. Monson, “Led by Spiritual Pioneers”, Ensign, Aug. 2006, 2–8).
Mormons teach their members to be grateful to all those of any faith who helped bring us the scriptures because they are a critical part of our religion. Mormons turn to the scriptures to understand God’s relationship with man, to learn what God wants us to do, and to find comfort and inspiration. In the Bible, we learn how God ran His church in early times—apostles, prophets, priests, elders, and so forth—and can find the earliest models for their own structure.
Thomas S. Monson, having come from the printing industry, was instrumental in creating the award-winning Mormon edition of the Bible. This is a King James translation, but with footnotes and reference material that integrated the four books of the Mormon canon. It made it easier for a Mormon who reads a scripture in the Bible to quickly research to find out what the Book of Mormon says on the same subject, for instance and to be certain they are completely understanding the scriptures.
Just as the printing press made it easier for the first Bibles to be made available to more people, the development of computer technology made it much more possible for this six-year project to progress at a comparatively rapid pace.
President Monson noted many instances of miracles which helped the books come forth without error.
The Lord opened many doors at various times of need as the work progressed, and quiet miracles occurred to keep it moving. During the printing process, I witnessed such divine help, for I was the recipient. At the printing plant of the Cambridge University Press in Cambridge, England, I was shown the long battery of presses on which the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James version of the Bible was being printed. The work had been declared proofread and proofread, again and again, and pronounced free from error. As I walked along the press line, pausing briefly at the delivery end of each press, I removed from one a printed sheet. My eyes observed a horizontal rule that had been misplaced, making the text confusing to the reader. The press was stopped. The error was corrected. I paused to thank my Heavenly Father, and a warm feeling came over me. I learned that day the meaning of the poet’s words: “The smile of God’s approval is the greatest of all gifts.
The new edition of the Bible was a carefully carried out process. Three high level church leaders were put in charge of the project, including President Monson, who was not yet president of the Church. He brought to the project administrative skills and his background in the printing industry. Boyd K. Packer, coming from the Mormon’s education department, brought an understanding of what teachers needed from the book and also an understanding of the needs to keep the final purchase price low. Elder McConkie had an unusually strong understanding of scriptures.
In addition, other specialists were brought in, including people who knew Greek and Hebrew and some who were experts in Mormon scripture.
Cambridge University Press, which had been printing Bibles since the 1600s, was interested in working on this project with the Mormons and they were selected, despite the great distance between the press and Salt Lake City, Utah. It was the largest printing project they had ever undertaken, but the effort won them a major award for best typesetting project in England.
The final project contained LDS specific footnotes, chapter summaries specific to Mormon teachings with cross-references as needed, maps, a concordance and a Bible dictionary. The work continued through several administrations. Today it is the standard Bible used in all Mormon classes, allowing teachers to send students to specific pages and to ensure all students have the same information available to them as they study in class or at home.
For a more detailed history of the history of the LDS edition of the Bible, see Wm. James Mortimer, “The Coming Forth of the LDS Editions of Scripture“, Ensign, Aug. 1983, 35.