The Plain and Precious Parts: How Modern Scripture Helps Us Understand the New Testament

The Plain and Precious Parts:

As Latter-day Saints we believe in the teachings of the New Testament. However, we have also been conditioned by latter-day revelation to understand that the present New Testament record does not contain all of the valid writings of the early church, nor does it explain adequately all of the gospel principles and historical facts vital to a correct understanding of the church in that early time. We do not disparage the New Testament, but we recognize that it is, in many instances, an incomplete and inadequate guide.

This awareness is supported primarily by the eighth Article of Faith, which reads, in part: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” [A of F 1:8] It is also sustained by statements in the Book of Mormon that tell of a vision in which Nephi was shown that the testimonies of the prophets and of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb” were true as originally written, and were contained in a book identified as the “record of the Jews.” Furthermore, Nephi was shown that many “plain and precious things” written by these holy men would be “taken out of the book,” and because they were taken out many people would stumble in spiritual darkness and depart from the right way. (See 1 Ne. 13:20–29.)

In other words, the message of the Bible is true, but it is incomplete and insufficient as a total guide for believers in the last days. Since we live in different circumstances today, no ancient revelation could ever be entirely sufficient for complete guidance in modern times. In addition, since part of the biblical record is missing, the remaining portions are less clear and, in some instances, misleading.

But Nephi’s vision also included “other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles. …

“And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them.” (1 Ne. 13:39–40.)

These “other books” surely include the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, as well as other revelations given to leaders of the Church from the Prophet Joseph Smith to the present time. Because the Lord speaks “the same words unto one nation like unto another” (2 Ne. 29:8), each volume of scripture becomes an aid to understanding every other volume—either to explain hitherto unknown concepts, or to confirm as an additional witness that which is already known. One purpose of the additional witness is to confirm the credentials of the Lord’s servants. Thus, the calling, baptism, and ordination of John the Baptist are all affirmed (see D&C 27:7–8; D&C 84:27–28); as is also the divine authority given to Peter, James, and John (see D&C 27:12; D&C 128:20; JS—H 1:68–72); likewise also is given a reiteration of Paul’s holy calling (see D&C 18:9). Another important category is the clarification offered concerning certain parts of the scripture: i.e., the book of Revelation (see D&C 77; D&C 128:6–7; D&C 130:6–11); the writings of Paul (see D&C 74; D&C 128:13–16); and some of the writings of John (see D&C 7; D&C 93:2–18; D&C 130:3). Let us now examine in greater detail some additional items relative to the New Testament that are enlarged upon, or at least influenced by, latter-day revelation.

Writing Sacred Records

We learn from latter-day revelation that the Lord has always commanded his servants to keep records. Adam had a spoken and a written language, “which was pure and undefiled,” and records of his family, prophecies, and revelations. (See Moses 6:5–8, 46.) Enoch, the seventh from Adam, also kept a sacred record (see D&C 107:56), as did Abraham (see Abr. 1:28–31), Moses (see Moses 1:40–41), Nephi (see 1 Ne. 9:2–6), the Nephite Twelve (see 3 Ne. 23:6–14), the people of Jared (see Ether 1:2; Mosiah 8:9–12), and so forth. Recording both history and preserving revelations are standard procedures in every dispensation. The Lord has said:

“For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world.” (2 Ne. 29:11.)

We find among biblical scholars today, however, a general feeling that the four Gospels of the New Testament were written relatively late—from about A.D. 80 to A.D. 125. They also feel that a period of oral transmission took place first—that stories of Jesus’ teachings and doings were handed down by word of mouth for several decades before being committed to writing. If this were so, the four Gospels may have suffered from the forgetfulness, as well as the fruitful imagination, of the authors. On this basis some have discounted the record of Jesus’ divinity and of his miracles, viewing them simply as folklore.

However, since record-keeping has been a commandment since Adam, we may reasonably conclude that the Lord required record-keeping in New Testament times also, both during his mortal ministry and afterward. Any other course would have been an exception to the pattern. Latter-day revelation thus clarifies questions about when and why New Testament records were made—we believe that these records were made early and deliberately. That John would be one of the writers in the record of the Jews is clearly stated. (See 1 Ne. 14:18–27.) Official records kept by the leading brethren in the New Testament church probably formed the core of the four Gospels. We do not know exactly when these Gospels were written; perhaps they took their present form later than the earliest days of the church, but there is precedent for believing that they were based upon official records written at or near the time of the events of which they speak.

Church Organization

Our sixth Article of Faith states that “we believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church.” This general statement also adds clarifying reference to “apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.” It cannot mean that the church in New Testament times had every officer, teacher, help, aid, and government that is, was, or ever will be found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The general organizational structure, however, was the same, with a First Presidency, a Council of the Twelve, seventies, elders, bishops, priests, teachers, deacons, and so forth.

Of at least equal significance is the awareness that the organizational structure was built up gradually. Perhaps many Latter-day Saints, being familiar with our present complex Church organization, at first assume when they read the New Testament that the Savior fully organized his church during his three-year ministry, with bishops, deacons, and so forth. But this was very probably not the case. The four Gospels make no mention of a detailed church organization. A complex organization with quorums and grades of the priesthood was likely not set up until at least the 40-day period following Jesus’ resurrection, and maybe even later.

We read in Acts 1:3 that during this period Jesus frequently met with the 11 apostles and spoke with them “of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” a possible reference to quorum organization, among other things. This idea should not be surprising to Latter-day Saints, since in this dispensation it was five years after the initial organization of the Church in 1830 that the general offices as we now know them were organized. The offices of bishop, First Presidency, patriarch, and Council of the Twelve came singly, as needed. It takes time for the Church membership to become sufficiently large and mature to need the more advanced Church organization. Both in the New Testament time and in our own time, the administrational framework has been unfolded as needed. Thus, the experience of the Church in modern times gives a practical view toward understanding the workings of the church in New Testament times.

Other clarifications concerning procedure in the New Testament church are also offered in latter-day revelation. In 1832 the brethren were directed in missionary work:

“And again I say unto you, my friends, for from henceforth I shall call you friends, it is expedient that I give unto you this commandment, that ye become even as my friends in days when I was with them, traveling to preach the gospel in my power;

“For I suffered them not to have purse or scrip, neither two coats.” (D&C 84:77–78.)

And again, “Therefore, take with you those who are ordained unto the lesser priesthood, and send them before you to make appointments, and to prepare the way, and to fill appointments that you yourselves are not able to fill.

“Behold, this is the way that mine apostles, in ancient days, built up my church unto me.” (D&C 84:107–108.)

Here Jesus alludes to how he sent forth the Twelve while he was with them, and also the way the Twelve sent forth others after Jesus had ascended to heaven. Our present New Testament does not give an extensive account of the ministries of the Twelve after the ascension of Jesus, and therefore we know little of their administrative methods and missionary travels. However, the foregoing excerpts remind us of Paul’s procedures in sending such men as Timothy (see 1 Thes. 3:2–5; Acts 19:22), Titus (see 2 Cor. 7:5–7, 12–16; 2 Cor. 8:4–7), Tychicus (see Col. 4:7), and others, whom he dispatched to various places where he himself could not go, or where he would go later.

Paul’s views on marriage: 1 Corinthians 7

Many Latter-day Saints have felt that Paul’s teachings about marriage are not consistent with the doctrines of the gospel revealed to Joseph Smith. However, both the Inspired Version of the Bible and the historical background of Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians offer some help.

Although the epistle known as First Corinthians is the earliest writing we have from Paul to the church at Corinth, it is evident from the epistle itself that he had written an earlier epistle dealing, at least in part, with morality, marriage relationships, and transgressions. Said Paul, in reminding the Corinthians of his earlier, now lost, letter, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators.” (1 Cor. 5:9.)

It is also evident that the Corinthian church’s reply, also lost, asked about marriage. What is now called “First” Corinthians was written in reply to their letter. If we had access to the two letters written before the present “First” Corinthian letter, we would no doubt understand better Paul’s teachings about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. [1 Cor. 7]

Here the Inspired Version by Joseph Smith may be the best guide available. Prophet and seer that he was, Joseph Smith placed in the Inspired Version of 1 Corinthians 7 some background and “bridge” material necessary for a reader to understand Paul’s instructions, without having access to the two lost epistles. The King James Version says:

“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” (King James Version, 1 Cor. 7:1–2.)

The Inspired Version says:

“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me, saying, It is good for man not to touch a woman.

“Nevertheless, I say, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” (JST, 1 Cor. 7:1–2; italics added.)

From the King James Version one would think that Paul instructed the Saints: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” But the Inspired Version shows us that Paul is simply quoting what they had said. In verse 2, the comment “Nevertheless, I say” makes the transition between what they had said, and what Paul is about to say. The word nevertheless takes on a different flavor in the Inspired Version. From the King James Version it could be inferred that Paul had made the statement about a man not touching a woman, and then said, “Nevertheless, we will just have to have marriage anyway so as to avoid sin.” But in the Inspired Version nevertheless means, “You said this; but, I say this.” Paul continued:

“Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer.” (King James Version, 1 Cor. 7:5.)

Depart ye not one from the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer.” (JST, 1 Cor. 7:5; italics added.)

The rendering of the Inspired Version is somewhat plainer: separation of husband and wife leads to temptation, so the departure or separation of the two ought to be temporary and by mutual consent only. The word defraud does not convey this idea as well as does the word depart, and is even misleading.


“Now concerning virgins. … I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.” (King James Version, 1 Cor. 7:25–26.)

“Now concerning virgins. … I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, for a man so to remain that he may do greater good.” (JST, 1 Cor. 7:25–26; italics added.) “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: It remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none.” (King James Version, 1 Cor. 7:29.)

“But I speak unto you who are called unto the ministry. For this I say, brethren, the time that remaineth is but short, that ye shall be sent forth unto the ministry. Even they who have wives, shall be as though they had none; for ye are called and chosen to do the Lord’s work.” (JST, 1 Cor. 7:29; italics added.)

“But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” (King James Version, 1 Cor. 7:32.)

“But I would, brethren, that ye magnify your calling. I would have you without carefulness. For he who is unmarried, careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; therefore he prevaileth.” (JST, 1 Cor. 7:32; italics added.)

“But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” (King James Version, 1 Cor. 7:33.) “But he who is married, careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife; therefore there is a difference, for he is hindered.” (JST, 1 Cor. 7:33; italics added.)

Paul speaks of the “present distress,” the need to remain unmarried to “do greater good,” within a short amount of time. We see from the Inspired Version that he is giving temporary instructions, in view of a particular situation, to those “who are called to the ministry.” In other words, the man called to the ministry is advised to remain unmarried temporarily, so that he can devote full time and attention to the work of the Lord—so that “he prevaileth” and can “magnify his calling.” Otherwise, during his temporary service, if he marries, he will be “hindered.”

Other statements by Paul show that he understood the place of marriage in the gospel:

“Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11:11.)

“Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled.” (Heb. 13:4.)

Paul on the power of Christ to change men’s lives: Romans 7

The Inspired Version emphasizes that the gospel of Jesus Christ has power to change a man’s nature from carnality to spirituality. This is a prominent New Testament doctrine especially found in the writings of Paul, but it is given added emphasis and clarity in Joseph Smith’s translation of Romans 7. [Rom. 7]

As the chapter stands in the King James Version, Paul states that he is carnal and sinful, and that the good he would do, he does not do, and the evil that he would not do, he does. All this is written in the present tense, signifying that at the time he wrote the epistle to the Romans (probably around A.D. 55, about 20 years after his conversion to the gospel), Paul appears to have been still very much under the bondage of sin, for the chapter concludes: “with the flesh [I serve] the law of sin.” (Rom. 7:25.) These are strange statements to be coming so many years after Paul had experienced the cleansing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, it contradicts many other instances where he declares that Christ has made him free, and that through the power of Christ he is able to walk no longer after the flesh but after the Spirit. (See King James Version, Romans 8, especially verses 1–10.) [Rom. 8:1–10]

The Inspired Version of Romans 7 draws a clear distinction between Paul’s life under the law of Moses and his life under the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the chapter concludes with Paul’s statement that he would serve the law of sin with his flesh if he subdued not the sin that was in him.

Compare the two versions of this chapter:

“For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

“For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

“If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.

“Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

“For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

“Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

“I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

“For I delight in the law of God after the inward man.

“But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (King James Version, Rom. 7:14–25.)

The Inspired Version says:

“For we know that the commandment is spiritual; but when I was under the law, I was yet carnal, sold under sin.

But now I am spiritual; for that which I am commanded to do, I do; and that which I am commanded not to allow, I allow not.

For what I know is not right, I would not do; for that which is sin, I hate.

“If then I do not that which I would not allow, I consent unto the law, that it is good; and I am not condemned.

“Now then, it is no more I that do sin; but I seek to subdue that sin which dwelleth in me.

“For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me, but to perform that which is good I find not, only in Christ.

“For the good that I would have done when under the law, I find not to be good; therefore, I do it not.

“But the evil which I would not do under the law, I find to be good; that, I do.

“Now if I do that, through the assistance of Christ, I would not do under the law, I am not under the law; and it is no more that I seek to do wrong, but to subdue sin that dwelleth in me.

“I find then that under the law, that when I would do good evil was present with me; for I delight in the law of God after the inward man.

And now I see another law, even the commandment of Christ, and it is imprinted in my mind.

But my members are warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

And if I subdue not the sin which is in me, but with the flesh serve the law of sin; o wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord, then, that so with the mind I myself serve the law of God.” (JST, Rom. 7:14–27; italics added.)

The whole tenor of this chapter as presented in the Inspired Version is that when Paul obtained the gospel he became a changed man and had a power over sin that he did not have before. This is Paul’s dynamic testimony that the gospel can have a powerful influence on a human life and that Christ is the enabling power to attain righteousness.

Because the King James Version fails to place sufficient emphasis on the change the gospel had made in Paul’s nature, the chapter disagrees with many of Paul’s other statements, whereas the Inspired Version reaffirms the harmony of Paul’s teachings.

Preaching to the spirits in prison

Sometimes direct revelation has been given to clarify an earlier scripture. For example, Peter says that Christ, after death, went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

“Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” (1 Pet. 3:19–20.)

The Doctrine and Covenants identifies some of those who would inhabit the terrestrial world as “the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them.” (D&C 76:73.)

These passages imply that during his ministry in the spirit world, the Savior went personally among those in the spirit prison. However, in the fall of 1918, President Joseph F. Smith, while pondering how so great a work could have been accomplished in only three days, was granted a vision of the spirit world:

“As I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them; but behold, from among the righteous he organized his forces and appointed his messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men. And thus was the gospel preached to the dead. … Thus was it made known that our Redeemer spent his time during his sojourn in the world of spirits, instructing and preparing the faithful spirits of the prophets who had testified of him in the flesh, that they might carry the message of redemption unto all the dead unto whom he could not go personally because of their rebellion and transgression, that they through the ministration of his servants might also hear his words.” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 473–74.)

As the reader studies and compares the scriptural records he will discover many such instances of latter-day revelation helping him understand the New Testament. These “discoveries” bear convincing testimony that “the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old” (D&C 20:11), and that all scriptures, and all things bear record that Jesus is the Christ, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, and the Savior of mankind.

[illustrations] Illustrations by Ed Holmes

[illustration] It was Nephi, the Book of Mormon prophet, who was shown that many “plain and precious parts” would be “taken out” of the Bible.

[illustration] There is precedent for believing that the leading brethren in the New Testament kept records that probably became the core of the four Gospels.

[illustration] Revelations given to modern prophets from Joseph Smith to the present day help establish the truth of ancient scripture.

[illustration] It was probably not the case “that the Savior fully organized his church during his three-year ministry.”

Dr. Robert J. Matthews, chairman of the department of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, serves on the adult correlation committee of the Church.