Please review this explanation on the purpose for this section before reading the information here.
Similar to the Old Testament, the way the New Testament came together is a bit messier than most understand. We typically understand that all the NT books were written by its namesake as author. Most LDS believe the gospels were written by first hand witnesses of Jesus. We believe there may have been some hijacking of the translations after they were written, but we have an expectation this is relatively minimal. And if that did happen, we believe it would generally be in taking out “plain and precious” truths that might point stronger to LDS truth and not the opposite.
In reality, scholars understand the NT, while not as extreme as the OT, as coming together as a little bit more of a piecemeal process over time. Between 50 and 150 AD, many books related to Christianity were written and circulated. It was common for an author to fake like they were writing as one of the original disciples of Jesus to gain credibility for their work.
Most of the first hand witnesses of Jesus were likely dead by the year 60 AD and none likely survived past about 70 AD. Mark is considered to be the first gospel written around 65-75 AD and not written by Mark or other apostle who was a first hand witness of the events told. Then scholars believe there was a book (or if not a book–a consistently repeated oral compilation of stories) written we don’t have, they call Q. Q was likely written soon after Mark. Then within the next 20 years, Mathew and Luke were produced, using Mark and Q as source material. By this time, all first hand witnesses have been dead for decades. John was the last gospel written circa 90-100 AD, by an unknown author in Greek. About half of Paul’s letters are believed to be written actually by him. None of the other works from John, Peter, and James were written by the original apostles.
The authorship issue is marginally troubling for a literal believer. But what’s more problematic is how we see the evolution of actual content. There is a question regarding the divinity aspects of Christ. Scholars agree that the earliest material has the lowest amount of references to Christ as divine, ie virgin birth, resurrection, claims to be the Son of God, post resurrection visitation, etc. These seem to evolve over time, with the earliest, most pure writings closest to first hand witnesses seemingly describe Jesus more as a mortal man and inspired prophet. This is also handled quite satisfactory through a nuanced view of scripture.
Personally for me, I was always moved by John talking about himself how he was the “disciple Jesus loved”.
21 When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
22 Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake.
23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
24 Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake.
25 He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?
I was upset at first to think John didn’t really write this. But then as I think through this, and I think this is the key to understanding all scripture, is that even though John might not have written it, or even if it might not have happened in a literal sense exactly this way, viewing it metaphorically can be just as powerful and touching. We all love to be in that position, at the Last Supper, in that intimate setting with Jesus and his closest friends, having the best seat snuggled up next to Jesus, imagining ourselves as the one that he truly loved the most. The scripture takes no less meaning if it wasn’t actually John who wrote it or if the event didn’t literally happen. We can apply that same view of scripture to the Book of Mormon or any other scripture.
How do informed LDS members view this information?
churchistrue.com sacramental paradigm view:
Scripture is seen as metaphorical. Faith is an expression of loyalty, devotion, worship and doctrinal alignment but not necessarily a belief in the factual accuracy of scripture or historical religious origins. Challenges to scriptural historical events are not damaging to faith. I believe most of the textual criticism scholarship on the New Testament as stated here. I am uncertain on the question of the divinity of the historical figure Jesus Christ, though at the same time I have faith in and worship Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior. I believe that Jesus Christ as defined in the New Testament and Book of Mormon and taught in the LDS church, is exactly how God would show himself as a representation of himself as man on Earth.
Literal believing LDS view:
Some literal believing LDS might acknowledge some aspects of NT textual criticism, such as the possibility different authors wrote books that were ascribed to Paul. But literal belief in the divinity of the historical Jesus Christ is imperative. The New Testament is actual, correct history of the events of the Savior’s lives and the apostles after his crucifixion.
Nuanced LDS view:
The actual reality lies somewhere in between the two above views. Some nuanced LDS believe in the theories scholars have of how the New Testament came about, but still believe in the actual miracles and resurrection of the historical figure Jesus Christ. Some take the position similar to mine that it’s the teaching and the symbol of God that is critical, not the actual historical record in the New Testament.
Shared view by all LDS:
The Bible is the word of God. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and representation of God condescended to Earth to be born and live as a man. He is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We testify of Him.