Usage of the Bible as a holy text within Mormonism

Sometimes Mormons are accused by Evangelicals of not being true Christians[1].  These arguments may be based on a perception that the interpretation of the Bible by Mormons is so different from their own that it cannot be a genuine or true belief.  There is also a perception that Mormons concentrate on other scriptures at the expense of studying the Bible.  Perhaps in response to this, the LDS church answers the question, “Do Mormons believe in the Bible?” on their recruiting site as follows:

Yes.  Very much so. It’s the word of God, a sacred volume of scripture, and required reading for a happy life.[2]

The current version of the 8th Article of Faith for the LDS church reads:

We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. [3]

Mormons express a sincere belief in the Bible, with the caveat that it might not be exactly right.  As the Bible Dictionary (included in the LDS standard works) explains:

The position of the Church regarding the Bible is that it contains the word of God as far as it is translated correctly (A of F 1:8). Joseph Smith taught that “many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.” He also said that the Bible was correct as “it came from the pen of the original writers,” but that “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” (HC 1:245; 6:57.) The Church reveres and respects the Bible but recognizes that it is not a complete nor entirely accurate record.

Rather than relying on the Bible as a source of truth, LDS leadership proclaimed in 1992:

The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations.[4]

In spite of these modern reservations with the text, the early church used the Bible extensively.  Joseph Smith relied on its pages for most of his sermons and to justify new teachings and practices including baptism for the dead[5].  Later leaders used the Old Testament extensively in sermons justifying polygamy[6].  Early Mormonism taught that the modern church was a restoration of the church both in New Testament and Old Testament times.  Perhaps for this reason, some traditional Jewish practices including avoiding pork were taught and observed among members for many years[7].

Rate of usage of various scriptures in General Conference

After polygamy was publicly abandoned in 1890, the church worked to redefine itself.  Part of this included buying church history sites and emphasizing the Book of Mormon.  By about 1900, use of the Book of Mormon started increasing in General Conference addresses while the use of the D&C dropped off precipitously.  The exact reason that the D&C was not emphasized during this period is unclear.  Some potential explanations include:

  • There may have been an embarrassment with respect to the doctrine of plural marriage as expressed in D&C 132.  The church also tried strongly to discourage new plural marriages after about 1930.  The church received significant negative press on this topic around 1904-1906 in conjunction with the Smoot hearings.  Concerns regarding plural marriage caused the Danish government to forbid emigration around 1910 and in response the “gathering to Zion” doctrine was amended.
  • There may have been some concern about modern revelation in general. There was a significant disturbance caused by literature regarding the accuracy of the translation of the Book of Abraham in 1912 which occupied about 1/3 of all of the pages in the Improvement Era for about 6 months with various rebuttals.
  • The D&C underwent significant changes during this period. In the 1920 edition, 6 sections were listed as having been received through the “Urim and Thummim” for the first time.  Also in this edition, the Lectures on Faith were removed from the cannon without a vote at general conference.
  • A 1930s edition of the D&C which was largely abbreviated was proposed and printing commenced, only to be halted due to a public backlash. In the proposed edition, section 132 was removed.  This upset many members who were still living in polygamous relationships (the bulk of which were undertaken prior to 1904).
Usage of D&C and PoGP during (detail) in General Conference

After 1950, the Doctrine and Covenants began to take a more meaningful and dominant role in General Conference discussions.  However, this came at the cost of Biblical mentions.  Discussion around the Book of Mormon continued to increase.

Frequency of select Biblical and Book of Mormon names in General Conference

In addition to references made to various books of scripture, it is also important to look at the stories of various scriptural characters to get a hint of what is being discussed.  In the 1960s, discussions surrounding Paul, Noah, Moses, and Adam dominated with fewer mentions of famous Book of Mormon characters such as Nephi and Alma.  However, starting in 1980 – possibly under the influence of Ezra Taft Benson, characters from the Book of Mormon started to take a dominating roll.  Alma was the first to emerge followed by a significant increase in all characters, with the main figures of the text (Alma, Nephi, Moroni, and Mosiah) dominating and comprising about 80% of all references to characters in the book.

Book of Mormon names in General Conference

In contrast, while biblical characters have been emphasized at various periods in church history, the general trend has been downward.  This, combined with the increase in prominence of BOM characters creates a situation where Biblical emphasis relative to the Book of Mormon has greatly decreased.


  • Because the Bible has approximately three times as many pages as the Book of Mormon and the Book of Mormon is referenced roughly twice as often as the Bible, the likelihood that a page in the Book of Mormon would be quoted in General Conference is roughly 6x greater than a page from the Bible.
  • The Sunday school yearly study plan is as follows:
    1. Old Testament (and Pearl of Great Price)
    2. New Testament
    3. Book of Mormon
    4. Doctrine and Covenants and church history

Given this schedule, one could argue that ½ of the time roughly half of the time in Sunday school is devoted to studying the Bible.

  • The Book of Mormon contains passages from the Bible including a relatively large sections of Isiah[8] and portions of Matthew[9]. One could contend that even though there is greater emphasis on the Book of Mormon, one is actually studying the Bible (esp. the New Testament), but through the lens of the Book of Mormon.
  • The LDS meetinghouse libraries are required to maintain 15 copies of the Bible and 25 copies of the “Triple combination” – a combined Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. This may hint at a 62.5%:37.1% split of emphasis on modern scripture vs. the Bible.[10]
  • Between 2017-2020, a number of changes have been made to the LDS church by under the leadership of Russel Nelson. The bulk of these changes have made the theology more mainstream or less demanding on the membership.  Will this effort to go more mainstream translate to additional emphasis on the Bible, or will it maintain the current level of emphasis in General Conference that it has had for the past few decades (about 20%)?


When the Mormon church was first established, the Book of Mormon was the main missionary tool and extensively used in persuading new converts to join the movement.  In spite of this, most of the official rhetoric in General Conference centered on the Bible.  This gradually shifted over time so that the general trend has gone from about 2/3 of reference to the bible to approximately 2/3 of all references being made to the Book of Mormon.  Starting around 1940, Book of Mormon names and prophets started to take a central role in sermons.  This trend created a peak in the 2000s, and has since dropped back to the level of the 1990s – still close to a historically high, but no longer increasing.  Two central figures in the Book of Mormon (Nephi and Alma) are more likely to be referenced in General Conference talks than four central figures in the Bible:  Adam, Moses, Abraham, and Paul.  This historically high level of emphasis on Book of Mormon characters may indicate a sense of maturity and confidence in the movement.  Conservative and fundamentalist movements have been most successful in maintaining their membership during a period of increasing secularism in western democracies, so this emphasis on the Book of Mormon may be a strategic advantage for Mormonism going forward.


[1] See for a typical example.

[2] retrieved 2020.02.15.

[3] An earlier version of this tenant of faith reads:  “We believe in the Word of God recorded in the Bible; we also believe the Word of God recorded in the Book of Mormon, and in all other good books.” (See Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol II, Wilford C. Wood pg about 165 (not numbered)).  The current version can be referenced here:

An alternative version from about 2016 used in recruiting reads:  “(We believe) that the Bible and Book of Mormon are both divinely revealed scripture.”  See:


[5] 1 Cor 15:29 is used to justify this doctrine.  See

[6] While Smith did not teach openly regarding polygamy, he did evidently teach a sermon on the law of talents intending these remarks to apply to polygamous relationships (with the connotation that those who fail to have more than one wife in this world will have their one wife taken from them in the next life).  Brigham Young also taught this doctrine and many church leaders used the Biblical examples of Solomon, Abraham, and others to justify polygamy.

[7] Pork was probably avoided by many or most members between at least 1868 and 1905, and possibly later.

[8] See Book or Mormon, 2 Nephi chapters 7-24, 27,

[9] See Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi chapters 12-14.  Malachi is also quoted (3 Nephi, Ch 24-25).