What Is Scripture?
Most who know something about Latter-day Saints know that we have scripture besides the Bible, namely the Book of Mormon. Sometimes people know that we have a book of scripture called the Book of Mormon but don't know that we also accept the Bible as scripture. But we do.
The Book of Mormon is a translation by the prophet Joseph Smith of an ancient set of plates delivered to him by an angel, seen by eleven witnesses and handled by some of them, translated by the power of God, and returned to the angel after the translation was over.
It is the edited history (edited by Mormon) of a small group of refugees from Jerusalem in the 6th century B.C.E. who landed someplace in the Americas (perhaps in Central America or on the coast of Peru or Chile), split into two groups, and probably intermarried with existing peoples. One of the two groups continued to practice a form of the Israelite religion that they brought with them from Jerusalem. Christ visited and taught the gospel to the descendants of the original settlers after his resurrection. The identifiable descendants were finally wiped out in warfare about 400 C.E.
Even people who know that Mormons accept both the Bible and the Book of Mormon as scripture often don't know that we have two additional scriptural books, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. And we hold open the possibility of other scripture being revealed.
As do other Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims, we believe that scripture is the word of God. Unlike many, however, we do not believe that the scriptural texts we have are infallible. In fact, perhaps even the original texts were not infallible.
Self-referentially the title page of the Book of Mormon explicitly says, "if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ." It is possible that there are faults in the Book of Mormon (and, by implication, other scripture), but that doesn't disqualify it as a thing of God. We don't believe in the inerrancy of scripture.
According to the Doctrine and Covenants, the general definer for scripture is that it is produced by the Holy Ghost:
. . . whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation. (D&C 68:4)
That is an important claim: God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, who speaks to us through other human beings. Part of our responsibility is to be able to distinguish between what is taught through the movement of the Holy Ghost and what is not.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.