Lost Books

An LDS friend sent me an email several weeks ago.

My question concerns all the books of scripture referenced or quoted in the bible, but not found therein. Talmage lists about 18, some of which books are found in the Apocrypha; others are completely lost.

Many of these books were obviously regarded as authentic scripture at one time. The people who quote them as such are prophets and apostles.

Are these missing books scripture?

The list my friend cited from Talmage appears on page 450 of The Articles of Faith (I am using the Missionary Reference Library edition—it may be on a different page in other editions). It’s pretty much the same as a list I found over at FAIR.

Are these “lost” books really scripture?

Talmage starts off with a pretty weighty assumption:

Those who oppose the doctrine of continual revelation . . . may profitably take note of the many books not included in the Bible, yet mentioned therein, generally in such a way as to leave no doubt that they were once regarded as authentic” (emphasis mine).

Are the books really mentioned as if they are scripture? I’m not so sure of that. They are mostly mentioned in passing to back up whatever story the writer is trying to tell. I don’t believe a quote or a mention from one of the authors of scripture is enough to qualify the quoted material as scripture. For example, Paul quotes pagan poets in his writings. He uses their own words against them to prove his point in both Acts 17:38 and Titus 1:12.

Let’s look at a single example, the book of Jasher mentioned in Joshua 10:13:

And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

In my estimation this is no different from the way a modern writer might refer to a recent news story by saying, “wasn’t this on the news just the other day?”. Certainly these “lost” writings would be interesting reading, but that they may have been mentioned or quoted by a Biblical author does not necessarily make them scripture1. It’s apparent to me that most (if not all) of the material in question is historical in nature, not prophetic or doctrinal.

What has God promised us about the scriptures?

Second, God has promised he will preserve his word. These “lost” writings were never meant to be compiled and preserved, or they would’ve been. That may sound like circular reasoning, but it’s reasoning based on what I see as a sure promise of God2. If he didn’t preserve his word, he would be a liar, and how could we trust any of his other promises? If we trust God, we have to trust that what was meant to be preserved has been preserved.

Mormons tend to use the argument that men are free to do what they want, including tampering with the scriptures. I would ask who is more free, God or man? Is God more free to preserve his word, or is man more free to tamper with it? If God is not free enough to preserve his word, why would he make promises he couldn’t or didn’t intend to keep?

How did Jesus regard the Old Testament?

One last important question should be asked. How did Jesus and the New Testament writers deal with the Old Testament? Jesus quoted often from a few notable Old Testament books, and sparingly from many others. If we only trusted the books Jesus quoted from we would be able to retain over half of our Old Testament. If we only trusted the books NT writers quoted or mentioned, we would be able to use all but five OT books (not to mention a few pagan poems).

Did Jesus ever quote from or mention any of the books that Talmage claims are lost? No, unless of course we are missing Jesus’ words, but then we have worse things to worry about. If there were missing books, would it have been important to Jesus? Yes, he took great pains to point out the errors and misunderstandings that were rampant during his earthly ministry. Yet, in Luke 24:44 we find Jesus’ summation of scripture: “the law, the prophets, and the psalms”. That’s akin to saying “the Book of Mormon, the D&C, and the Pearl of Great Price”. Mormons would immediately recognize the collections I’m talking about, and the people of Jesus’ day would’ve immediately equated “the law, the prophets, and the psalms” with the three collections of scripture they were using, which comprise the same books as our present Old Testament.

Intriguingly, Jesus supposedly did the exact opposite thing when he was with the Nephites. He noticed there were missing pieces in their scriptures and reminded the people to record those events that were important3. If you believe the Book of Mormon, and if you believe that Jesus behaves the same everywhere he goes, you have to believe he would have done the same thing in Jerusalem if there were a problem with the Old Testament.

Conclusion

We have manuscript evidence for 99.9% the Bible going back to the first, second, and third centuries AD4. If anything is a question, it would be the Old Testament (since everyone agrees it was written well before the first century AD), but I think Jesus’ words and attitude with regard to scripture are a pretty solid indication that the Old Testament was preserved in its intended form up until his day. To answer the question: no, I don’t think there are any “missing” books of scripture.

Addendum

The few books I think we have reason to wonder about are the three epistles of Paul that Talmage lists. I would love to do some additional study to see where those may have ended up. Were they available to those councils who made decisions regarding the canon, or were they lost well before that time? Whatever the answer, I believe God’s preservation of the OT is a good indication that he has also preserved the NT in its intended form.

  1. This point admittedly deserves more scrutiny because at least five of the books are specifically named after prophets or seers. It’s easy to assume that Jasher may simply have been a historian, but “Nathan the prophet” is another story. I don’t want anyone to think I’m ignoring that, but I want to keep this entry short and I think my second and final points are more convincing. []
  2. See Psalms 119:89; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18; Matthew 24:35. []
  3. See 3 Nephi 23:6–14. []
  4. If you’d like to learn more about the manuscript evidence (and pretty much every other aspect of the Bible’s history), check out How We Got the Bible by Neil R. Lightfoot. []
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  • Thank you for writing and posting your position on “Lost Books.” I enjoyed reading your comments.

    You have reasoned that we are not missing any scripture. As support, you propose that (1) a couple biblical references to lost books does not make them scripture, (2) God promised to preserve his word (i.e. the bible), (3) Jesus never indicated there was missing scripture at his time, and (4) we have manuscripts showing that today’s scriptures are very similar to the scriptures of Jesus’ day.

    I believe your third and fourth points are stronger than your first two.

    I agree that your first point “deserves more scrutiny.” As you said, five of the “lost books” are named after prophets or seers, and three are Paul’s missing epistles. Despite your other three points, it appears that these books are certainly missing scripture because prophets and apostles wrote them.

    Concerning your second point, God has not promised to preserve all his words in writing. He has not promised to protect the bible from those who would change its contents or twist its meaning. God has simply promised to fulfill all his words, whether they are written in the bible or not!

    In the verses you mentioned, God said that his “word” is eternal, stands firm, stands forever, shall be accomplished, does not disappear, and does not pass away. Why do you equate “God’s word” in these verses with “the bible” or even with his “written word”?

    The bible (and all other written word) is simply ink on paper! The bible did not even exist until centuries after prophets penned the verses you mentioned. The prophet-authors were not suggesting that God would protect the ink or the paper. They were not suggesting that every copy or translation would be accurate. They were simply stating God’s promise to fulfill all his words.

    I suggest that God’s word includes everything he has said to any of his children, whether written or not. When God says his word is eternal and that it does not pass away, he is merely saying that it will all happen as he said it would.

  • I just reread my post. I am afraid it might come across as biting, aggressive, or accusatory. Please forgive me if it does.

    Please ignore the exclamation points. My goal was simply to show another side to your first two points.

  • Terry

    Good topic. There is a lot more research than you mentioned Joey that most people, especially those who darken church doors each Sunday, should investigate, but don’t. I’m currently reading a book entitled “Inside Out” by Dr. Larry Crabb. This is what he says about the Bible: “The mood of the Bible is relational, personal. To dissect its contents as a high school biology student disscets a frog, leaving its parts sitting in careful arrangement on the table, is a misuse of God’s Word. Study it, yes…But do it all for the purpose of better knowing God, yourself, and others so you become more loving…We must let the Bible penetrate to the thoughts and intents of our heart so we can more clearly see the ways we violate love. It is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so our time in the Bible should cut through our protective armor to expose the arrogant fear that keeps us looking out for ourself more than trusting God. It should reach deeply into our heart where the core problems lie. We must come to the Bible with the purpose of self-exposure consciously in mind.” (pp. 172-174) Good advice for all of us.

    Terry