Question:

Good morning.  Back in the 1800's Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt stated that the Bible is fundamentally unreliable; that it had been mistranslated over the centuries.  What I want to know is,  was this statement by Pratt original with him, or did this kind of claim originate earlier in history?  [My objective in knowing this is to be able to tell the Mormon missionary, standing on my front porch, that Orson Pratt's claim did not originate with him, and that Pratt had no "special revelation"].  Any information you can provide will be most appreciated.  Or, maybe there is a web site that you can refer me to.  At any rate,  I thank you for your time and consideration.

Answer:

One of the basic problems Joseph Smith ran into with his Book of Mormon is that its teachings and his own teachings conflicted with what was found in the Bible. Thus he reached for an explanation that has been used before -- he claimed that the Bible was corrupted. Joseph Smith in the Evening and Morning Star, published in 1833, stated, "As to the errors in the bible, any man possessed of common understanding, knows, that both old and new testaments are filled with errors, obscurities, italics and contradictions, which must be the work of men." In the Pearl of Great Price, in the eighth article of faith, Smith stated, "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." Thus, giving himself and his followers a back door to use whenever someone points out a flaw in the Book of Mormon.

Orson Pratt, a follower of Smith, echoed his words, "God gave many revelations to Hebrew Prophets, in the Hebrew language.  Some of these revelations have been translated by human wisdom into many other languages, and called the Bible.  The same revelations have been translated many times by different authors:  but no two translations agree.  They differ not only in words and style, but also in sentiment, according to the various opinions of the translators.  These clashing translations are circulated among the people, as the words of God, when , in reality they are the words of translators; and words too, selected by their own human wisdom.    ... Therefore, so far as the uninspired translators and the people are concerned, no part of the Bible can, with certainty, be known by them to be the word of God.    ... The Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible from which translations have been made, are evidently very much corrupted, as appears from the fact, that scarcely any two copies are alike in any chapter or verse. ... This uncertainty, combined with the imperfections of uninspired translations, renders the Bibles of all languages, at the present day, emphatically the words of men, instead of the pure words of God." [Spiritual Gifts, pages 70-71].

Joseph Smith eventually did his own "translation," in which he claimed to restore the text to its original state. There is a good, scholarly paper called, "The Joseph Smith Translation in Light of the New Testament: An Examination of Key Passages in the Gospel of John" by Joel B. Groat that documents both the claims and the evidence against the claims.

But as I stated, Joseph Smith isn't the first to use this tactic of casting doubt on the accuracy of the Bible in order to introduce another document. Islam does the same thing. A. S. Hashim, M.D., in his book Iman Basic Beliefs, states "In the case of the Gospel, the Torah, and the Psalms, none of these were written the same way as the Holy Qur'an was. They were written some years following the life of that particular Prophet, and the people who wrote them could not simply write all the revelations accurately. Actually, some of the teachings were also lost to those people. There were also many changes and many additions. So, we don't know which part of the Gospel is the truth and which part is not. The same is true with the Torah and the Psalms." [page 45-46]. Thus a follower of Islam can both claim the Bible is from God and reject proof offered from the Bible at the same time.