Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles explained the meaning of “plain and precious”: “Elements… missing from the bible were both ‘plain and precious.’ They were plain in their simplicity and clarity, being easy to ‘the understanding of… men.’; they were precious in their purity and profound worth, their saving significance and eternal importance to the children of God” (Christ and the New Covenant [1997, 5]
One educator suggested the following explanation for changes in the scriptures:
“Apparently the original manuscripts of the Bible disappeared very early. This seems particularly true of the New Testament. Sir Frederic Kenyon, one of the greatest textual scholars of the early twentieth century, commented thus: “The originals of the several books have long ago disappeared. They must have perished in the very infancy of the Church; for no allusions is ever made to them by any Christian writer.”Kenyon’s statement is particularly important to us because it means that for centuries there has not been an original Bible manuscript to guide the reader. Even in the early decades of the original Christian church, the original texts seem to have been absent. …
“The angel [in 1 Nephi 13:21–29] makes it clear that he is not talking about subtle accidents of hand and eye, resulting in a few misplaced letters or words—the unplanned errors of copyists. He pointedly ascribes these changes to the planned editorial work of designing men [see 1 Nephi 13:27–28]. …
“As we read the words of the angel, we discover that the world never has had a complete Bible, for it was massively—even cataclysmically—corrupted before it was distributed. Of course, in addition to the major willful corruption of the Bible in the early Christian era, the manuscripts have also continued to suffer the gradual and relatively mild changes, due to errors of hand and eye, that the scholars talk about. Thus there have been two processes at work: (1) a major, sudden, and deliberate editorial corruption of the text and (2) a gradual promulgation of variants that has occurred as a natural consequence of copying and translation” (Robert J. Matthews, A Bible! A Bible!, 74–75).
Joseph Smith taught that “many important points touching the salvation of man, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled” (History of the Church, 1:245). 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” (History of the Church, 6:57.)
[Continuing onto 1 Nephi 13:32–40] Plain and Precious Things Restored
President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency spoke of how the standard works of the Church have been the principal means of restoring lost truths:
“The Apostle John saw in vision the time when an angel would come to the earth as part of the Restoration of the gospel. That angel was Moroni, who appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He directed Joseph to the place where golden plates containing ancient writings were deposited. Joseph Smith then translated these plates by the gift and power of God, and the Book of Mormon was published. This is a record of two groups of people who lived centuries ago on the American continent. Little was known about them before the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. But more importantly, the Book of Mormon is another testament of Christ. It restored precious truths concerning the Fall, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and life after death.
“Prior to the Restoration, the heavens had been closed for centuries. But with prophets and apostles upon the earth once more, the heavens were opened once again with visions and revelations. Many of the revelations that came to the Prophet Joseph Smith were written down in a book that came to be known as the Doctrine and Covenants. This contains further insights about principles and ordinances and is a valuable source concerning the structure of the priesthood. In addition, we have another canon of scripture called the Pearl of Great Price. It contains the book of Moses, which came by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the book of Abraham, which he translated from a purchased Egyptian scroll. From these we learn not only a great deal more about Moses, Abraham, Enoch, and other prophets but also many more details about the Creation. We learn that the gospel of Jesus Christ was taught to all of the prophets from the beginning—even from the time of Adam” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2006, 68; or Ensign, May 2006, 67–68).
The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible also helps restore many plain and precious truths. The Joseph Smith Translation is “a revision or translation of the King James Version of the Bible in English, which the Prophet Joseph Smith began in June 1830. He was commanded by God to make the translation and regarded it as part of his calling as a prophet. …
“The Joseph Smith Translation has restored some of the plain and precious things that have been lost from the Bible (1 Nephi 13). Although it is not the official Bible of the Church, this translation does offer many interesting insights and is very valuable in understanding the Bible. It is also a witness for the divine calling and ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Joseph Smith Translation”; see also 2 Nephi 3:11; History of the Church, 1:238).
With continuing revelation in the Lord’s Church, the process of bringing the plain and precious doctrines and principles of the gospel to people throughout the world is an ongoing process. The conference reports and other inspired writings from the Lord’s apostles and prophets are vital for gospel understanding of the plain and precious truths.