Mormonism and Islam share a common narrative. It goes like this:
God has spoken through his chosen prophets through the ages in order to inform humanity about how they should serve him and so gain his favor and a place before him in eternity. God’s greatest revelation of himself was through Jesus Christ. Sadly, over time Christ’s message to us became tainted through errors that entered the Bible as it was cobbled together, copied and translated through the centuries. To correct the flaws in the Bible and the pursuant flaws in belief and practice among Christians and Jews, God has sent his angel to give pure revelation of his will in the form of a truly perfect book given in our own language through the hand of a Prophet. While the Bible is still useful for partially discerning the will and nature of God, the new book being entirely perfect, must be deferred to and preferred over the Bible in all places where the two might disagree.
I invite any adherents to one of these faiths please correct me if I got something wrong in this narrative, but that is the way I understand their teaching at this point. This being the case, both religions rather than focusing on fulfilled prophecies or confirming signs within their own traditions, tend to assail the veracity, relevance and consistency of the Bible. I find it endlessly fascinating that Muslim apologists cite liberal bible scholars and atheists. Recently, a friend of a relative of a friend was arrested and threatened by Turkish authorities for releasing a video which demonstrated that the Bible has not be corrupted over time. Nothing the man said violated explicit Turkish law nor did it directly criticize Islam; he simply stated his reasons for trusting the Bible. As a result he has had to flee his home for the time being.
I have not yet been able to view the video since it’s in Turkish, but it may be that defending the Bible as inerrant might not be the best approach anyway. Muslims and Mormons (henceforth M&M’s) make a strong case for their premise and we should acknowledge those places where the biblical text sounds archaic, vindictive, regressive, inaccurate, and inconsistent. Of course all of those things are there because it was written by people, many of whom don’t even claim divine origin for their words. It was written by lots of people who all had their own agendas in what they wrote and who wrote to their specific audiences. With the exception of the book of Revelation, I can’t think of a single book of the Bible that was intended by its author to be read by all people for all time. What’s more, there were lots of books that got excluded by other people who had their own agendas and made no claim on divine inspiration or even divine endorsement over their decisions. But here’s the kicker…it doesn’t matter!
M&M’s make a strong case for their premise but faith according to the Bible is not predicated on that premise. I do not believe that God meant to dictate his will to humanity by means of a book. If he did, he left worthy saints such as Abraham, Job, and Melchizedek woefully under equipped. God has always meant to reveal himself through personal relationship with individuals and communities. The Bible is the story of God’s growing relationship with humanity told in smaller stories of the ways he has related to humans and then finally as a human in the person of Christ. The Bible is a compendium of these stories told from the perspective of flawed flesh and blood. What some might call mistakes in the Scripture are there by design.
The Bible was designed to be the story of us told by us. In those 66 books bound in the skin of an animal, we find a manifestation of what the apostle Paul called, “treasure in an earthen vessel.” The Bible wasn’t meant to be a holy book to be kept off the floor or gilded in gold and left on a coffee table somewhere. Instead the Bible was meant to be printed in softcover and carried around to be read and reread in coffee shops, break rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms. The Bible will not be a talisman nor will it serve as an owners manual or a rule book. The Bible is not a map to get us to heaven or “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” The Bible calls itself a mirror and because the image we find there is us, the image must be flawed.
Rather than calling it the Holy Bible, perhaps we should call it the Vulgar* Bible. You might ask, “What good would that do?” Perhaps it would get us to quit expecting it to be the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Bible will fail that expectation and we will go looking for other books and institutions that claim to offer that age-old ticket to godhood. But God has never wanted us to eat that fruit regardless of how it is presented. God has always wanted us to want life and that must be found in a daily, intimate relationship with him. That’s what the Bible points us toward as we look in its shiny surface at our flaws and his own perfect presence just behind us.