How the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) Solves the Myth of “Biblical Christianity”
Christians all across the globe are obsessed with the idea of Biblical Christianity. What exactly is Biblical Christianity and why do I as a life-long Christian object to it?
Biblical Christianity has different meanings to different faiths due to varying levels of sola scriptura (by scripture alone), but it encompasses the idea that the Holy Bible defines Christianity. I do not think that the Holy Bible has the capacity to do this because of the nature of the Bible.
We can take our Bible off the shelf in the same way that we can readily grab a copy of Mere Christianity by Lewis or The Lord by Guardini and this creates the psychological perception that the Bible was an intentional book. But it’s not. Both the Hebrew and Greek Bible were compiled after they were written and the authors of them did not conceive of their writing for a larger work.
Authors would write letters or gospels or hymns for local places and specific purposes and then, a group of individuals canonized some of these writings, but not others. Even at the time of canonization, they were unsure of who wrote what, but defined Christianity on a set of writings. This makes defining a systematic theology of Christianity directly from the Bible impossible.
Why? Because the authors disagree with each other and we see development of ideas even within a singular author (e.g. Paul and his conceptions of Mosaic Law). Despite the fact that a group of individuals hundreds of years after these documents were written for specific places and people somewhat arbitrarily pieced them together, leaving others out in order to define the canon, we still consider the document a systematic authority.
Furthermore, several of the authors considered themselves Messianic Jews more so than Christians because the idea of Christianity was not fully constructed or formed. Immediately after Jesus leaves, when picking the next apostle, they cast lots because they did not have a system for selecting apostles in place.
Independent of textual transmission issues (I do not believe the narrative of nefarious monks deliberately altering the text for their benefit) and the multitude of copies, the canonization process neglects the fact that even within a particular book such as Genesis or Corinthians, multiple authors may have worked on it and the ideas can (and do) contradict each other.
While it is true that all scripture is inspired of God, this does not mean that all scripture is true. In the process of speaking truth and searching for truth, we err because of mortality. By not acknowledging the disagreement that we clearly see within the Bible and not confronting its complicated history, we run the risk of trying to create a systematic theology from a text that by its nature, composition, and compilation was and is not systematic.
This would and should leave us confused and even disheartened if we did not have restored scripture. One of the critical differences between the Bible and the Book of Mormon is the Book of Mormon offers a clear path of handing down the records to those who should write next, which makes it more (not entirely so) an intentionally constructed document that builds on theological principles rather than a document that is potentially in conversation with other documents, but exists in a discrete and individual moment in time and space.
The Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants have more unity in their composition and compilation as well as a more limited compilation path, which makes them easier to purport as systematic theological documents.
But even then, that is not the miracle alone. The miracle is when we see that we can measure the Bible against directly compiled documents and then, construct what Christianity is from that process. This enables us to still consider the Bible as important, true, and revealed scripture while retaining the idea that it has doctrine. While the Bible contains many sources that were not meant to be together, the Book of Mormon contains many sources that were meant to be together. They are perfect complements.
The Bible’s problematic history causes concern for many believers when they find out that it was not written to be as it is presented to us and/or they see problematic things that exist within it. If we read the Bible in conjunction with scripture that was revealed in different ways and has a different composition and compilation process, we have more to measure against and then, we see the underlying truths that do exist in the Bible more clearly.
I was first baptized Catholic and then, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One critical reason why I stay and will always stay in the Church of Jesus Christ comes down to this basic idea: there is none that is truth except Jesus Christ.
If we accept sola scriptura or even many degrees of it, we assign a truth value to mortals that cannot exist in this lifetime due to the fallen nature of humankind. By having scripture outside of the Biblical canon exist, we can better discern what Christianity is and emphasize those correct parts.
The Restoration of the Gospel needed to happen not only to resolve very real scriptural issues, but also to resolve priesthood authority issues. If tradition is wrong about who wrote what books in the Bible, I do not think it is that far-fetched to say that tradition is also wrong in the supposedly clear line of priesthood succession that happened. Paul was accused several times of not being an actual apostle, which fact shows a lot of confusion and tumult about Christianity in the time.
If they did not know who were the apostles and who were not and did not have systems in place to propagate priesthood authority, it does not seem unlikely that the succession was not clearly defined. The entirety of priesthood succession lies on whether or not Peter went to Rome, which we do not have early or contemporary evidence for him doing. Granted, we do not have contemporary evidence for the Resurrection of Christ either, but the earliest documents we have about Peter do not mention this particular event.
When it comes down to it, we do not really know that much about early Christianity. And that fact alone can make us more secure in the need for a restoration of the Church and a restoration of scripture because restored scripture has something that the Bible does not have: a security and definition of compilation, composition, and succession.