Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strongly believe that the Bible is God's word and are counseled to study it daily. This is no different than what all other Christian faiths believe yet, even so, there are strong disagreements between these denominations on what the Bible teaches. And, because each religious church feels that their doctrines are easily supported by the Bible they each have difficulty understanding how other Christian faiths don't believe as they do. As such, they all have the tendency to think that if they can just show others what the Bible says then that will settle the argument. However, instead of this approach clarifying a person's beliefs to others, it generally only increases the argument. When this happens people are often baffled by why others cannot see what they see.
But this is nothing new. The apostle Paul had the same problem with teaching the gospel to the Jews of his day. They had a strong belief in the Old Testament scriptures and faithfully studied it. In fact, the rabbi's of Paul's day spent much of their life carefully studying and then teaching the scriptures to their people. When Paul first began his missionary labors, each Sabbath day he would go into the Jewish synagogues and teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ from the Old Testament scriptures, thinking he would have great success in converting the Jews to Christ by showing them, from their own scriptures, how Jesus was the prophesied Messiah they had been anxiously waiting for. However, instead of converting the Jews, he found himself getting into arguments with them over scriptural interpretation.
Jesus Himself had the same experience. Although he preached from the scriptures, the Pharisees in particular, questioned His interpretation of them. The four gospels are full of incidents where Jesus was forced into a confrontation with these teachers of the law over the meaning of certain verses of scripture. And the same thing happened to John the Baptist when he was out preaching in the wilderness. Therefore, it should not be surprising to find that this same situation still exists today.
In 1819-1820 a young boy named Joseph Smith saw this happening all around him. During this time, he and his family attended various Christian churches, seeking to find the one that taught the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Later in life, Joseph wrote of those days saying, "I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father's family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.
"During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.
"My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.
"In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it? … for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible" (Joseph Smith 1:7-10, 12).
The question this raises is: If so many people are sincerely seeking Christ and using the same Bible to find Him, why do they all understand the same scriptures so differently?
Perhaps we can illustrate this answer through the use of an example.
Paul wrote, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9). This is one of the defining scriptures Protestants use to justify their doctrine that we are saved by grace alone. They then point to Romans 4:4 which tells us, "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." The clear conclusion of these two scriptures is that salvation is given to us as a gift and a gift is not something we earn. On the other hand, if we get something as a reward, then it is something that is owed us for something we've done. In that case, if salvation is given to us as a reward then we can boast that we earned our own salvation. And, if that is true, then the atonement of Christ wasn't necessary. Therefore, many Christians have come to the conclusion that anyone who teaches that salvation depends on our works is actually denying the atonement of Christ.
This logic seems justified based on these two scriptures. However, the problem with this interpretation is that Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). This seems to say that unless a person is baptized in water they are not saved. But, to many Christians, baptism is considered a "work," which is defined as something we must do. If that is true, then that violates what Paul said about not being saved by works.
At this point we find ourselves confronted with a conflict in scriptures. However, such a situation is something that most Christians say is impossible. Therefore, when faced with two scriptures that seem to contradict one another, the only course of action that a Christian can take is to find some explanation that will bring these two contradictory scriptures into agreement with one another.
As we have already seen, there is a disagreement concerning whether or not baptism is essential for salvation. Those who believe that it's not needed point out that Jesus didn't say a person must be baptized in order to enter the kingdom of heaven but only that he must be "born of water." Since everyone comes from their mother's womb out of water, they say this is what Jesus meant by His statement. To show how this is the correct interpretation and illustrates how the Bible clarifies itself, they point to the words of Nicodemus when he replied, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" (verse 4). This shows that he understood being "born of the water" as meaning coming forth from the womb.
However, the other side points out that Jesus upbraided Nicodemus for his lack of understanding on this issue saying, "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" (verse 10). Clearly, they say, this indicates that Nicodemus misinterpreted what Jesus was saying.
The counter argument to this is that Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (verse 6), showing that "being born of water" does refer to us being born in the flesh, while being born of the Spirit means having a spiritual conversion to Christ.
However, the other side counters by saying that when Peter spoke to a large gathering of people at the temple on the day of Pentecost he "said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). Here the scriptures plainly teach that salvation comes only to those who repent and are baptized, thereby clarifying what Jesus was trying to tell Nicodemus.
However, the counter argument to that is when one day while Paul and Silas were imprisoned, an earthquake caused the prison walls to collapse. Fearing that they had escaped, the jailer was about to commit suicide but Paul cried out, "Do thyself no harm." Trembling and fearing, the guard "fell down before Paul and Silas… and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:28-31). Here there is no mention of the need to be baptized in order to gain salvation. The only requirement given in this scripture for salvation is simply to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." It is argued that if baptism was really necessary for salvation then Paul would have certainly mentioned it. The fact that he didn't shows it's not essential.
The critics of this doctrine respond by saying that Jesus Himself was baptized "to fulfill all righteousness," which shows that even He had to comply with this requirement. And if it was necessary for Him to be baptized then it is just as necessary for us. The other side argues that baptism is merely an outward symbol to the world, showing that a person has accepted Christ as their personal Savior and has no effect on our salvation. But the other side argues that this doesn't make sense because that's like saying Jesus was baptized to show the world that He accepted Himself.
What all this illustrates is that using the Bible to settle a difference of opinion about baptism or any other biblical doctrine actually creates more controversy rather than clarifies the matter. Worse yet, it does nothing to convinces anyone on either side of the argument.
It was just this kind of situation that Paul was referring to when he said "even unto this day, when [the scriptures are] read, the vail is upon their heart" and "their minds [are] blinded." That's because people's vision of what the scriptures say is guided by what they want to believe. That is why it is useless to "argue" over scripture, and this is just as true among members of the LDS Church because they are as much subject to this kind of behavior as anyone else. But arguing never resolves an argument. Instead it always prolongs it.
The only way this vail can be lifted and have the eyes of our understanding open is through the Spirit of Christ. This is what Paul meant when he said that the, "vail is done away [with] in Christ." Paul explained that "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:9-11).
Men can understand other men because they personally live, work, and associate with one another but since we don't personally live, work, and associate with God, we don't really know Him. However, the Holy Ghost does personally live, work, and associates with God, therefore, He fully understands even "the deep things of God." Therefore, if we want to know God we must have that knowledge revealed to us by His Spirit. That is why no man really knows the things of God except as they are revealed to him by the Spirit of God.
One of the functions of the Holy Ghost is to be a revelator and a teacher. When Jesus walked upon the earth, many people saw Him perform mighty and magnificent miracles yet, when Jesus asked His disciples one day who people thought he was, "they [answered], Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." Even though people saw Jesus with their own eyes and witnessed for themselves what he could do, still they didn't see him for who He really was.
Then Jesus "saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." The reason why Peter knew that Jesus was the Christ was not merely because of what he had seen Jesus both do and teach, or even because of anything he could have known through his natural, earthly senses. Jesus explained, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:14-17).
The things of God are not plainly visible to our natural eyes. The only reason why we have an understanding of earthly things is because of the experiences we have on this earth. Since very few people have actually had any experience with heaven it is not possible for us to have a correct understanding of heavenly things without help from outside of ourselves. Peter didn't come to know who Jesus really was because of his great insight or intellect. He came to know that truth only because it was revealed to him. And the same principle applies to our understanding of the scriptures. It is only by and through the Holy Spirit that we come to learn spiritual truths. It is only those who are taught by the Spirit who will have the correct understanding of the scriptures. And those who have been taught by this member of the Godhead will be in agreement with those who have likewise been taught by the same Spirit. When we see two people arguing over spiritual matters, it is certain that at least one of them has beliefs that have not come from the Holy Ghost.
To get someone to see what can only be seen through the eyes of revelation is like getting someone to see what can only been revealed through the lens of a microscope. It is when a person has actually looked through this instrument that they will truly understand what things are like at that level of intense magnification. In the same way, the Holy Ghost is like a teacher who is able to give us a view into the things of God that cannot be seen in any other way, by not only showing us what is there but also explaining and making it plain to our understanding.
Expecting someone to see and understand what has not been revealed to them is like expecting a blind person to understand and appreciate colors. Unless a person has seen with their own spiritual eyes and has come to understand with their own spiritual mind the things that only the Spirit can show them, they cannot truly know or understand the things of God.