- Answer by Michelle

Over the years, as I have talked with those not of our faith, I have seen hints of this question everywhere. I have some thoughts on why Mormons sometimes engage and interpret the Bible differently.

First of all, I think the different notions about the Godhead affect how we read the text. There is disagreement among Christian denominations about who God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost are. Many churches teach that they are all one in the same, one being, one entity. Some believe that God is a spirit, and that Christ was the embodied manifestation of God. I do not pretend to know or understand all the Christian doctrines out there, but I do know that this is a point on which we often see things differently.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that God the Father and the Savior, Jesus Christ (whom we also worship as a God) are two distinct Beings. We also believe they have glorified bodies of flesh and bone, united eternally with their spirit. (Christ reached that state of completed perfection after the Resurrection, which took place three days after His death and burial.)

There is much in the Bible that will be affected by how we view who God and Jesus Christ are.

A second point that influences the different way we engage the Bible concerns continuing revelation. Most Christian denominations see the Bible as inerrant and also the only source of revelation and teachings about God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that prophetic and apostolic teachings, such as those found in the Bible, continue today. Teachings that have come and continue to come through latter-day prophets amplify and clarify the Bible’s teachings. They do not take away from the wonder that is the Bible, but we share with the world the wonder that is continuing revelation.

Often, when these questions come up, it’s easy to engage in Bible-verse-quoting exercise. I have rarely, if ever, seen this produce good fruit, because the underlying assumptions going into interpreting the Bible are fundantally different in significant ways. While there is much we can agree on about our love of the Savior and of His truths, we cannot use our interpretations of the Bible to convince one another that our way is the correct way of looking at it.

Which brings me to a critical element of Mormon teachings. We teach that after Bible times, prophets and apostles were killed, and the authority to teach gospel truth and to administer in gospel ordinances (such as baptism) were lost. Of course, people continued to desire truth and understanding about God, but more and more, teachings became decided by personal opinion and popular vote, not through priesthood authority.

This is why Joseph Smith’s experience which we call The First Vision becomes such a critical element in our church. Joseph saw the different ways various churches interpreted the Bible. It was impossible to sift through the varying opinions to find which taught the truth from God. Joseph finally decided to ask the Source of truth. He prayed to God and had a wondrous vision where he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ — as separate, distinct, beings with glorified bodies. He was called to be a prophet to restore the truths (through direct revelation and translation of the Book of Mormon) and ordinances that had been altered over time. The authority to both teach those truths and administer those ordinances was restored through him as well, under the hands of those who held that authority anciently.

I think that ultimately that explains why Mormons and Christians interpret the Bible differently. Most Christians believe the Bible is the authority in and of itself. We believe the authority to teach truth lies with prophets — that it did anciently and does today. I think it’s important to note that the first thing that Joseph Smith learned about God, besides that He does indeed answer prayers, was that God and Jesus are separate Beings.

It is our conviction of the reality of that vision which began the prophetic journey of Joseph Smith and brought about the restoration of the Savior’s church that defines how we engage the Bible. While we love and cherish and study and use the Bible, we rejoice in the fact that the heavens are not closed, that we have continued prophetic guidance as people did anciently, to learn and understand more about God the Father and about how to come to our Savior, Jesus Christ, to enjoy the blessings available to us through Him.

I have a personal conviction that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, that he saw both God and Jesus Christ, that the Book of Mormon he traslated is also the word of God, and that prophets are alive today teaching us not only ancient truths, but things that are relevant and current to our constantly-changing world.

If there was a gift I would want to give someone, it would be to know these things. This knowledge means everything to me.

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