English-speaking members of the Mormon Church typically use the King James Version of the Bible. Mormons understand that the Bible underwent innumerable alterations during the first two centuries of its existence, but they believe that, as far as it is translated correctly, the Bible contains the word of God. Each member should study the Old and New Testament and pray to know the truth of the records contained therein. The word Bible comes from Greek origin, meaning “the books,” so members of the Mormon Church believe that the Bible can be understood as a library of writings that contain records of divine revelation (see Bible Dictionary, Holy Bible).
Joseph Smith also translated a version of the Bible popularly referred to as the Joseph Smith Translation (JST). The King James Bible issued by the Church contains cross references to the Joseph Smith Translation, as well as an appendix containing major excerpts from it. Mormons believe that Joseph Smith’s translations correct a number of errors made in the original translation and clarify doctrinal points that might otherwise have been ambiguous or misleading or outright lost.
The Bible has two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is the record that was used by the Jews of Palestine in the first century A.D. The New Testament contains writings of the time during which Jesus Christ and His apostles were on the earth. The books of the Old Testament were written mostly in Hebrew, and the books of the New Testament, in Greek. The word testament is a translation of a Greek word meaning “covenant.” Thus, the Old Testament, or covenant, is the record of the original law given to the prophet Moses. The New Testament records the new covenant brought to the Lord’s people when Jesus Christ came to earth.
In Mormon beliefs, both parts are essential reading for Christians. The Old Testament contains many types and prophecies of Christ and our day, as well as teaching many essential principles through law and example. The Book of Job tells a powerful story of spiritual endurance, of faithfulness through and despite ferocious adversity. The Book of Ruth speaks of loyalty, even when loyalty does not appear to have any immediate reward. The writings of prophets such as Isaiah and Ezekiel are both beautiful and immensely valuable, supporting multiple close readings and revealing more and more with each reading. The long explications of the Law of Moses teach us about obedience, sacrifice, and repentance, even when we may not immediately understand the principles involved. The books of history detail both the righteousness and waverings of a chosen people, the glories of their heroes and the tragedies of their falls.
The New Testament tells us of the chosen people at the time of the coming of the Messiah. Jesus Christ, His teachings, His Church, is the central figure of the New Testament. His birth is the great beginning of the New Testament, but His death does not end it. He died at the hands of His own, but He suffered and died for the sins of all, that we might all be forgiven by God and return to Him. The apostles of His Church, also of Israel, continued His work until their death – after which, Mormon doctrine teaches, Christ’s Church was afflicted by distortions, lost its heavenly line of authority, and fell into apostasy. The New Testament is a record and testament of Christ – it is also a record of the original precepts and organization of His original church. To read the New Testament is to know how He would have us live and how He would have us love our fellow man as He has loved us and loves all.
Some people outside the Mormon Church erroneously think that Mormons only read their own “Mormon Bible,” or the Book of Mormon. Mormons read and study the Bible on a consistent basis. The course of study for Mormon Gospel Doctrine classes on Sundays lasts four years and rotates through the scriptures, then begins again. Two of those four years are spent on Bible study. Mormons also pay more attention to the Old Testament than do most Christian faiths. Mormons also tend not to use very recent translations that might dilute meaning.