First of all, I apologize if this isn’t too coherent. I’m running on little sleep, but I thought about this last night and wanted to see what others thought.
According to the Book of Mormon, many “plain and precious things” were taken away from the Bible by that “great and abominable church” (1 Nephi 13:28). Afterward, the Bible circulated among the Gentile nations and made it across the “many waters” (13:29), and because of the removal of the “plain and precious things,” it caused many of the Gentiles to stumble and enter into an “awful state of blindness” (13:29, 32). Nephi states that the “plain and precious things” were “plain unto the understanding of the children of men” (13:29). As a result of the G&A Church removing these things, the Lord will bring forth many things that are “plain and precious” through the Book of Mormon (13:35), and then later records will also “make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away” (13:40).
The traditional interpretation of the G&A Church removing the “plain and precious things” from the Bible is basically what Joseph Smith said occurred during the transmission of the text: “Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors” (TPJS, 327). Maybe more emphasis on the corrupt priests. We imagine malevolent students of Satan meticulously removing parts of the Bible that they didn’t like. Doctrines like Christian temple work, exaltation, the pre-existence, Gethsemane, the Spirit World, etc., were probably all in the original Bibles, but the G&A Church clipped them out.
The problem with this is that the Book of Mormon states the removal of the “plain and precious things” happened post-New Testament. This editing occurred during the Christian era, the BoM text says. But there’s no evidence that any mass editing of the Bible occurred during this time period, and, IMHO, there’s much to the contrary. Evil Jews didn’t remove overt references to Christ from the OT. Not to say that there weren’t massive editings and redactions of the OT; but these were complete, for the vastly greatest part, prior to the Christian era.
As for the NT, the Book of Mormon specifically gives the book of Revelation as an example. Nephi notes that the Revelation of John “at the time the book proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew, the things which were written were plain and pure, and most precious and easy to the understanding of all men” (14:23), implying that the plain and precious things of John’s Revelation were removed as well. However, there’s no evidence for any overt editing of the book of Revelation in its early stages that would make it significantly less easy to understand.
I think that maybe we’re misunderstanding Nephi. “Things” is an ambiguous word, and it might be significant that Nephi/Joseph Smith uses the word “things” instead of words like “passages,” “verses,” or “words.” Maybe the “plain and precious things” removed from the Bible–and which the Book of Mormon and the teachings of the Gospel helped to restore–weren’t actually passages of text cut out by the Great and Abominable Church. Maybe, as perhaps here with the Book of Revelation, it was just the book’s easiness to understand that they removed. If this is the case, then John’s first readers correctly understood the symbolism of his text, but that plain interpretation was lost when the book went into the hands of the G&A Church.
If that’s the case, then it wasn’t that the Harlot of all the earth removed the plainest passages of the Bible and only left us the confusing parts. Instead, the Great and Abominable Church changed the lens through which every generation of future Christians would view the parts of the Bible. The “plain and precious things” that were taken away weren’t actual passages of text; rather they were the plain teachings of Jesus and the Apostles through which the Bible was to be understood.
The corrupt lens of the Great and Abominable Church led to false doctrines on the Trinity, baptism, ordinances, salvation, the afterlife, etc., the truths of which Latter-day Saints see clearly in the Bible, but which aren’t plain to non-LDS Christians. Jesus’ teaching that “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” didn’t change. The G&A Church didn’t edit that verse out of the Bible. But they did eventually remove the plain and precious way of understanding it.
Critics often ask, if the BoM is the most correct book, what does it teach that the Bible doesn’t? If it’s the case that the G&A Church didn’t actually remove doctrinal passages from the Bible but instead removed the plain way of understanding the passages still in the Bible, then the significance of the Book of Mormon is that it restores the plain and precious things needed to plainly and correctly interpret the Bible. It’s not new or radical doctrines that make the Book of Mormon so important; rather, it’s that the Book of Mormon provides the restitution of a plain understanding of the Gospel.
I’m not contending that biblical passages weren’t altered, even during the early Christian era. There’s solid evidence that that occurred. But I don’t think it occurred enough to merit the prophecies of the Book of Mormon, and I think this interpretation makes much more sense when considering the total context of the Book of Mormon as well as the textual transmission of the Bible.