The Lord continues to provide divine instruction to us by revealing His word and His will to His servants through the Holy Ghost. Because God continues to speak to modern prophets, the canon of scripture remains open. Additional scriptures brought forth in our day—such as the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible and the book of Abraham—confirm, clarify, and expand our understanding of the gospel.
“Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham,” Gospel Topics, lds.org/topics.
Elizabeth Maki, “Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation: D&C 45, 76, 77, 86, 91,” Revelations in Context series, Mar. 20, 2013, history.lds.org.
Invite students to imagine that a friend sincerely asks, “Why do Mormons have more scriptures than the Bible? I thought the Bible contained the complete word of God.” Ask students to raise their hands if they have been asked a question like this. Invite a few students to share how they answered the question and how they felt as they testified of the scriptures to others.
Write the word canon on the board. Display the following statements by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and invite two students to take turns reading them aloud. Ask the class to listen for the meaning of the word canon in the context of these statements.
“Some Christians, in large measure because of their genuine love for the Bible, have declared that there can be no more authorized scripture beyond the Bible. In thus pronouncing the canon of revelation closed, our friends in some other faiths shut the door on divine expression that we in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold dear: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the ongoing guidance received by God’s anointed prophets and apostles” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “My Words … Never Cease,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 91).
“Most Christians believe that God closed the scriptural canon—the authoritative collection of sacred books used as scriptures—shortly after the death of Christ and that there have been no comparable revelations since that time. Joseph Smith taught and demonstrated that the scriptural canon is open [see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 195]. …
“… Joseph Smith taught that God will guide His children by giving new additions to the canon of scriptures. The Book of Mormon is such an addition. So are the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Fundamental to Our Faith,” Ensign, Jan. 2011, 29).
What does the phrase “scriptural canon” mean? (It is “a recognized, authoritative collection of sacred books. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the canonical books are called the standard works” [Guide to the Scriptures, “Canon,” scriptures.lds.org].)
What does it mean that Latter-day Saints believe in an open canon? (Though they may use different words, make sure students understand the following truth: The authoritative word of God is not contained in the Bible alone [see Articles of Faith 1:9].)
What difference does it make to believe that the Lord still reveals scripture to latter-day prophets?
Write the following truth on the board:
Invite a student to read aloud the section heading to Doctrine and Covenants 35. Ask the class to follow along and look for what the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were doing when they received the revelation contained in this section.
What work were the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon engaged in when they received this revelation?
To help explain what the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is, invite a student to read the following two paragraphs aloud:
Around the summer of 1830, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to translate the Bible. Joseph Smith did not translate the Bible from one language to another, nor did he have an original biblical manuscript to work from. Instead, Joseph read and studied passages from the King James Version of the Bible and then made corrections and additions as inspired by the Holy Ghost. Thus, the translation was more of an inspired revision than a traditional translation.
The Joseph Smith Translation affected over 3,000 verses in the King James Version of the Bible. These differences include additions (to clarify meaning or context or to restore prophetic writings, such as the book of Moses), deletions, rearranged verses, and complete restructurings of certain chapters. For more information on the Joseph Smith Translation, see Bible Dictionary or Guide to the Scriptures, “Joseph Smith Translation (JST).”
Copy the following chart on the board:
Doctrine and Covenants 42:56, footnote a
Doctrine and Covenants 94:10, footnote b
Divide the class into two groups. Invite each group to study the material in one of the columns, looking for information about the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. After sufficient time, invite students to share what they learned. Then ask the following question:
What effect do you think the work of translation had on Joseph Smith’s spiritual education and on the restoration of gospel truths?
To help students appreciate the effect that Joseph Smith’s work on the translation of the Bible had on the Church, invite students to turn to the “Chronological Order of Contents” (located at the beginning of the Doctrine and Covenants) and explain that the Prophet worked on the translation primarily between June 1830 and July 1833. Then ask:
How many sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were received between June 1830 and July 1833? (The Prophet received 74 revelations that became part of the Doctrine and Covenants in this time period.)
You might also point out that the books of Moses and Joseph Smith—Matthew, both of which are in the Pearl of Great Price, are also part of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible and were received during this time period. The book of Moses is the Joseph Smith Translation for the first eight chapters of Genesis. Joseph Smith became aware of how much was missing from the Bible as he translated the verses about Enoch. The King James Bible contains 109 words about Enoch, and the Book of Moses contains 5,240 words about Enoch.
What might the large number of revelations received during this time period suggest about the role that the Joseph Smith Translation played in the Restoration?
As you look at the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants received during this time period, what are some of the important doctrines that were revealed during this time? (Examples of important doctrines revealed during this time period can be found in sections 29, 42, 45, 76, 88, and 93.)
Display the following and invite a student to read it aloud:
“The Prophet’s translation of the Bible was an important part of his own spiritual education and the unfolding restoration of gospel truth. As he revised the Old and New Testaments, he often received revelations clarifying or expanding upon biblical passages. In this way, the Prophet received many doctrines from the Lord, including those now found in Doctrine and Covenants 74, 76, 77, 86, and 91, and in portions of many other sections of the Doctrine and Covenants” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 208).
Testify that the Lord revealed a significant portion of the Doctrine and Covenants as a direct consequence of Joseph Smith’s work on the translation of the Bible. You might also explain that portions of the Joseph Smith Translation were added to the 1979 LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible, making these important revelations more available to bless the lives of Church members.
Invite students to scan the chapter headings of the book of Abraham. Briefly discuss the content of the book of Abraham with the class. Then explain that in the summer of 1835 a man named Michael Chandler brought four Egyptian mummies and several papyrus scrolls containing ancient Egyptian writing to Kirtland, Ohio. Members of the Church purchased the mummies and rolls of papyrus. Though the exact method of translation is unknown, the Prophet Joseph Smith translated some of the writings in the months following the acquisition of the Egyptian papyri. Beginning in March 1842, segments of the book of Abraham were published in a Church newspaper called Times and Seasons. The book of Abraham was later published in the Pearl of Great Price.
Share the following summary about the coming forth of the book of Abraham. Invite students to listen for what we know about the translation process.
A common objection to the authenticity of the book of Abraham is that the manuscripts (papyri) are not old enough to have been written by Abraham, who lived almost 2,000 years before Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith never claimed that the papyri were written by Abraham himself or that they originated from the time of Abraham. “Ancient records are often transmitted as copies or as copies of copies. The record of Abraham could have been edited … by later writers much as the Book of Mormon prophet-historians Mormon and Moroni revised the writings of earlier peoples” (“Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham,” Gospel Topics, lds.org/topics).
While translating, the Prophet Joseph Smith may have been working with sections of papyri that were later destroyed. Thus, “it is likely futile to assess Joseph’s ability to translate papyri when we now have only a fraction of the papyri he had in his possession” (“Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham”). It is also possible that Joseph Smith’s careful examination of the writings led him to receive “revelation about key events and teachings in the life of Abraham, much as he had earlier received a revelation about the life of Moses while studying the Bible” (“Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham”). Although we do not know exactly how Joseph Smith translated the book of Abraham, we do know that the translation was done through the gift and power of God.
What are some examples of how the additional scriptures made available through the Prophet Joseph Smith contribute to our understanding of God’s plan for His children?
You may want to testify that as students study the doctrinally important book of Abraham, the Holy Ghost will witness to them of its importance and authenticity.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 1:38 aloud, and invite another student to read Doctrine and Covenants 68:4 aloud. Ask the class what they learn from these passages. (Students should identify the following principle: When the Lord’s servants speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, their words convey the will of the Lord.)
What experiences have you had that made you feel grateful that the Lord continues to pour out revelation today?
Explain to students that in the Church, certain revelations to latter-day prophets are canonized (accepted as scripture) through the law of common consent (see D&C 26:1–2). Church members are asked to sustain the prophet and apostles in adding a revelation to the scriptures. For example, at the October 1978 general conference, Church members sustained the prophet and apostles in adding Official Declaration 2, which granted the priesthood to all worthy male members, to the canon of scripture.
Invite students to turn to someone sitting near them and briefly discuss what they might say to someone who believes that the scripture canon is closed and we cannot receive additional scripture from God.
Conclude by asking students to contemplate what they might do to strengthen their testimonies that the heavens are open and that the Lord continues to reveal His words in our day.