A Mormon Essay Question

November 7, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 11:00 am   Category: Life

I received the following questions in an e-mail from a good friend, and thought I would solicit the greater masses for input.

A 1967 edition of a Deseret Sunday School Union lesson manual, Messages of Exaltation, explained the following:

Unfortunately, not all people accept and live the teachings contained in the scriptural witnesses given them by our Heavenly Father. The Lord does not give additional scriptures to those who reject these witnesses; in fact, He often takes away from them even those scriptures which they already have. The Lord outlines as follows the principle upon which He works in this matter.

Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. (2 Nephi 28: 29 – 30.)

Several good examples of how this principle has operated in this dispensation might be listed. For example, when those Christians who believed in the Bible heard of the Book of Mormon and accepted it, additional scriptures were given to them – the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. This is in keeping with the principle “for unto him that receiveth I will give more.” (v. 30) However, many Christians who believed in the Bible and refused to accept the Book of Mormon as a new scriptural witness literally had their testimonies of the Bible taken away from them. Thus it should not be surprising to note that apparently many Christians today (including many Christian ministers today) do not accept the Bible as the literal word of God. They refused to accept the second scriptural witness when it came to them, so their first scriptural witness (1) has either been changed through new versions so that many of its essential teachings have been changed or (2) has been “explained away” by themselves or by “higher critics.” This abandonment of the Bible is in keeping with the principle enumerated by the Lord – “from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” (v. 30)

Do you think the conclusion of the authors of this lesson manual is correct; i.e., that alternate versions of the Bible and “explaining away” of the Bible by “higher critics” are evidence that a “taking away” has occurred?

Is an “explaining away” of modern scripture evident in the LDS community today? If so, to what extent, do you feel, that a “taking away” has occurred in the LDS community?

31 Comments »

  1. My own answers:

    1. I think the majority of translations of the bible are not trying to take away core teachings. However, I did come accross a misguided feminist bible once which, in the foreward of the bible noted the author’s lack of belief in God at all, and that the focus of the “translation” was not to get back to what the text really said, but to give equality to the genders in the text for oppressed Christian women. Needless to say, the foreward turned me off completely.

    More to the point, I don’t believe we have adequately offered the modern revelations to the world for such a statement to be true.

    2) This is a very interesting question, but it is very difficult to clearly answer. After all, one might argue that the fact that women can’t give blessings, no one speaks in tongues, or no one lives under the united order are all “taking away”. One might argue that Independence MO was a taking away. I’m sure Fundamentalist Mormons would no doubt argue that polygamy could be seen as a “taking away”, and some LDS argue the current state of the RLDS is a “taking away”. One could ever consider the seemingly lower amount of miracles occurring in our religion as a sign of this. (less faith = less miracles, according to Moroni 7, after all) but it is really hard for me to come down hard and fast on any of these.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 7, 2007 @ 11:13 am

  2. I don’t think this is accurate at all. The saints didn’t get the Book of Commandments, D&C or Pearl of Great Price because they believed the Book of Mormon. Joseph was getting some of those revelations before the Church was even organized.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 7, 2007 @ 11:56 am

  3. Yea, the explanations offered in that lesson manual strike me as entirely ad hoc and unconvincing. I think it works better to apply those verses in 2 Ne 28 to individuals than to groups. We can certainly say that Joseph Smith was only able to receive further revelation because he accepted what he was given in the first place. The same is true for all of us.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 7, 2007 @ 2:25 pm

  4. I agree with Stapley and Jacob. Ad hoc is a good description. This sounds like silly and unsupportable speculations to me. Who exactly wrote that anyway?

    Comment by Geoff J — November 7, 2007 @ 3:23 pm

  5. Geoff J, as far as I can tell, the SS manual for 1967 was post exaltation so it would have been written by committee?

    Comment by Matt W. — November 7, 2007 @ 4:11 pm

  6. did you mean “post correlation”?

    Comment by Jacob J — November 7, 2007 @ 5:41 pm

  7. This is an interesting criticism of higher criticism. Of course the Church is one of the few to retain the KJV. But what would the consequences be for taking higher criticism more seriously? I know that Jack Welch and several others at BYU are preparing something like an LDS Critical Edition of the New Testament. But I cannot imagine that this Edition would adopt the NRSV and higher criticism wholesale. Yet, the reason for publishing something like this must be for the purpose of academia taking Mormon scholarship more seriously (establishing the Mormon Studies Chair at Claremont would be part and parcel with this). Is there a way to induce the scholarly world to take Mormonism more seriously without “selling out” to higher criticism completely? Conversely, is taking higher criticism more seriously (from the LDS standpoint) really a sellout? That is, are the consequences too severe? But what are we really asking? It’s not as if higher criticism is a “movement” though it often acts as such. Higher critics usually simply believe that the textual and historical criticism they engage in is the most accurate reading of the texts. However, to the only reason (that I can think of) to generally oppose higher criticism is because it generally undermines fundamental faith claims. It seems that it is at this intersection that we can see what is really at stake. Many higher critics have tried to reconcile higher criticism with traditional faith claims, but it often doesn’t seem possible. At the same time, if we generally embrace what supports our faith claims and reject what does not, are we merely engaging in wishful thinking?

    I personally think that the BYU forthcoming publication is at least (finally) an acknowledgment of higher criticism. But unless it really engages things like Q scholarship regarding New Testament authorship, it won’t appear credible. The final question is, should LDS have to constantly explain or apologize for their retention of the KJV? Does it matter because we have “additional” scriptures that scaffold our faith claims? Why not acknowledge the severe shortcomings of the KJV and stand by our insistence that the Bible has not come down to us in its original (correct) form anyway?

    Comment by Jacob B. — November 7, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

  8. jacob j: ouch, that’s embarrassing.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 7, 2007 @ 8:23 pm

  9. I have always felt that the taking away or a book becoming sealed has more to do with us. If the scriptures are sealed it is because we are not open to the spirit and learning form them. Whether it be orthodoxy, lack of seeking, or whatever, they are sealed to us as individuals.

    Comment by joshua madson — November 7, 2007 @ 10:06 pm

  10. Wow. There’s a lot to consider here. This manual was published when I was about 13, three years after our family joined the Church. I remember some of what was going on way back then. It is very interesting to view these questions in the context of 1967 vs. 2007.

    The Deseret Sunday School Union “pre-dated” correlation and used “Boards” rather than committees. This manual came out the year after the Nietzsche “God is dead” quote appeared on the cover of Time magazine. So, when the manual reports about “many Christians today,” my take is that the authors are responding to major religious themes in the United States of 1967. Also, at that time, there was a change going on in and among many Christian denominations emphasizing such principles as “social justice” and “economic inequity” rather than traditional faith claims.

    Part of the whirlwind in US churches was the promotion and adoption of new versions of the Bible. The faults of the KJV were being exploited as proof that the values of Judeo-Christian thought were not as bedrock solid as many thought. New versions were seen as both symptom and cure. Higher criticism was partially used by some to show that there was no valid basis for the miracles and mores of the Bible; i.e., that “fundamental faith claims” were misguided.

    The Prophet has already given Jacob B. (#7) the answer he seeks: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated ccorrectly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”

    My take is that the alternatives to the official explanation of where we got the Book of Mormon, D&C, Book of Moses, Book of Abraham could constitute a taking away.

    Comment by mondo cool — November 8, 2007 @ 10:37 am

  11. Thanks for the interesting context Mondo. It makes me wonder what context we can see as influencing the church’s current curricula.

    the alternatives to the official explanation of where we got the Book of Mormon, D&C, Book of Moses, Book of Abraham could constitute a taking away.

    Fair enough, however, I think there is a fair amount of wiggle room in the official explanation once we get past “from God”. After all, in the book of Mormon we could argue for or against a tight translation, connecting the extant fragments from the book of breathings with the book of abraham does not seem to have an official explanation, the entire JST (not just the book of Moses) gives us room to discuss whether the text is being restored to it’s original or if it is inspired commentary to make the KJV contemporary to Joseph’s Day.

    What I can say is that the difficulty arises when we discount the scriptures and their message from God to us by using the above to discount the scriptures status as being “from God”

    Another thing I thought of is that “taking away” is not always a bad thing. God himself gave us a revelation in 1978 to “take away” many foolish and pernicious folk doctrines that had crept in among us. speaking of which, could we connect those incorrect ideas from when we saw “through a glass darkly” with our rejecting the word of God and with a “taking away”? See, this is where, like I said in #1, it is hard for me to come down hard and fast.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 8, 2007 @ 11:15 am

  12. speaking of where the book of mormon came from.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 8, 2007 @ 11:20 am

  13. Mondo (#10)

    Thanks for putting this more explicity. At the end of my final paragraph, “Why not acknowledge the severe shortcomings of the KJV and stand by our insistence that the Bible has not come down to us in its original (correct) form anyway?” that Article of Faith (and the entire JST project) is what I was alluding to. My point was that we already acknowledge the shortcomings of the KJV, and really any Bible translation. Why not, then, incorporate at least some of what higher criticism has to say about the revised texts and at minimum more fully acknowledge their relevance? Why hold onto the KJV so tightly in our manuals and sermons? Once again, the only valid reason I can think of is that is is perceived by church leadership that to do so would undermine LDS faith claims or the faith claims of Christianity generally. There is some credence to this for anyone who has watched the extreme liberalization of Protestantism or the interdenominational debates between Protestants and Evangelical Fundamentalists over this very issue.

    Comment by Jacob B. — November 8, 2007 @ 12:39 pm

  14. Jacob B. – I don’t think we hold on to the KJV so tightly. I think the main reasons we use it are:
    1- It’s Public Domain, so we are able to put our own footnotes on it.
    2- It’s what all the prophets have used since day one, so contextually it makes more sense.
    3- It is recognized by all Christian groups as a legitimate translation (if not the “best”) so no one thinks we are pulling a fast one on them.

    I don’t think we hold on to it that tightly because
    1- Joseph Smith used other versions
    2- Most LDS people I know who are interested in such use other versions (When I went to visit BYU the one day I was there, as a new member, I was surprised (as a newbie) to see all the different kinds of bibles the professor had.
    3- General Authorities do use other versions when they feel it is useful to do such.
    4- The Church, in it’s publication of the KJV- has tried to add some of the scholarship newer version have brought by putting it into the foornotes.

    While I have heard many claim the Church has a doctrine of KJV usage, I think such a concept has been dead and buried in our orthopraxy for 20 to 30 years now…

    Comment by Matt W. — November 8, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

  15. In my New Testament class at BYU Dr. Griggs required us to read the whole New Testament in both KJV and some other translation. It is true they come down on people using other versions in Sunday School, but I don’t think that is because they think other versions would undermine faith claims.

    It is interesting that if we moved away from KJV less of the BoM/D&C language would be so obviously from the Bible, so I’m sure if we ever inch away from KJV there will be critics who say it is for that reason. Even though the language cross-over is used by the critics to challenge the authenticity of the BoM, for a believer it is useful to see the connections. I think Matt mentioned this on a different thread recently.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 8, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

  16. Thanks Jacob, that’s what I was trying to reiterate in my 2- in Comment #14. You said it better than me. Personally, I have never known anyone to come down on anyone about anything in any sunday school lesson I’ve been in. Perhaps that is a subject for another thread.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 8, 2007 @ 2:12 pm

  17. I agree with much of 14 and 15. However, if I’m not mistaken, though Joseph Smith used other sources for his understanding of the KJV, the KJV in his time was by far THE Bible of nearly all of the Christian world. Joseph Smith did not really have other viable options if he was to rely on an Enlgish Bible. Second, though most of the people you know use other versions (and my experience is the same) the Church does not officially use any other Bible in any of its publications and my experience has been that it is an extreme rarity for a general authority to use other versions. There is usually not even a comparison with other versions in church publications. Additionally, I am not sure what you mean by “pulling a fast one on them.” Is it that we supposedly pretend to be Christians but then use a Bible not accepted by Christianity? If that’s the case, you are right, we cannot be accused of deception on that point. However, just because the KJV is certainly “Christian” there is no doubt that, as far as it pertains to contemporary Christianity (at least US/European Christianity) it is pretty much irrelevant. Also, it is true that there is a strong connection between the language of the KJV and Restoration scripture (and if you even partially accept Blake’s BoM modern expansion theory this should hardly be surprising). But there is a version of the Bible currently extant that utilizes contemporary biblical scholarship while putting it into the form of KJV language (I do not know if it is any good or truly comparable to KJV language, so this point may be moot). In light of all this, I am still not persuaded that the LDS Church does not “tightly” hold to the KJV in clear preference over other versions. Jacob J may be right, that it is not because of the possibility of faith undermining that we are married to the KJV, but I’ll willingly consider other theories if anyone has any. As a final note to a rather bloated response, I took New Testament at BYU as well, with Frank Judd. He referred to the Greek NT a few times and once or twice to the NRSV. He even occasionally referenced current NT scholars. But 97% of the time he used the KJV for his exegesis (which wasn’t really an exegesis, it was more like a weekly devotional on the NT complete with about 150 Bruce R. McConkie quotes. You obviously had a much better NT Prof than I, and I know that several Religion professors there know their stuff though I think their training is often woefully underused). I don’t think we need to “abandon” the KJV; I am looking for a valid reason why we don’t engage and/or incorporate contemporary scholarship into our own engagement with the scriptures at a Church community/corporate level as opposed to just an individual one.

    Comment by Jacob B. — November 8, 2007 @ 2:52 pm

  18. Jacob B. (#17):

    I am looking for a valid reason why we don’t engage and/or incorporate contemporary scholarship into our own engagement with the scriptures at a Church community/corporate level as opposed to just an individual one.

    This is merely supposition on my part, but the question might be: “How much more towards a spiritual / testimony building advantage does ‘contemporary scholarship’ add to ‘our …engagement with the scriptures’ than does the use of the KJV?” Is there a clear benefit of a spiritual nature, rather than an intellectual nature, that incorporating contemporary biblical scholarship provides? After all, the Church has gotten as far as it has with its strong preference for the KJV. What are we missing by that stance & what greater motion towards salvation comes by a greater incorporation of contemporary biblical scholarship?

    Don’t get me wrong, I find much of the current study fascinating, but most of it for me is more brain-building. It supports testimony but is not too much the essence of testimony. Maybe that’s why there’s not a big push to subsume contemporary biblical scholarship by the Church. That, and scripture hinges on revelation as much or more than councils of scholars, don’t you think?

    Comment by mondo cool — November 8, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

  19. I have been blogging a bit at an Orthodox web-site. I thought that you might get a kick out of it. You can find the discussion here: http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2007/11/03/a-sign-of-the-apocalypse/#comments

    Comment by Blake — November 9, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  20. That will teach you Blake. :)

    By the way, good for you on linking your name to that awesome web site!

    Comment by Kent — November 9, 2007 @ 1:14 pm

  21. Your name to your web site that is.

    Comment by Kent — November 9, 2007 @ 1:17 pm

  22. I noticed they deleted several of your posts. Although I thought they did have a point. There is that bit about presuppositions. And, of course, Mormons make the same points. I suspect most people seeing certain books by Signature at a Deseret Books might be a tad surprised were that to have happened.

    While I disagree overall with the mindset, I certainly can understand wanting books that fit a certain class of presuppositions in a particular bookstore.

    Comment by Clark — November 9, 2007 @ 1:36 pm

  23. Clark,

    I can understand wanting books that fit a certain class of presuppositions for a particular bookstore. I’m not sure the same argument holds for saying it is “unfortunate” that the book was published by Eerdmans.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 9, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

  24. That’s a good point. Although once again drawing the parallel, I can see someone upset if a particular publisher printed something. Although arguably in LDS studies there are the “faithful” publishers and then the scholarly ones and there isn’t a lot of overlap. And scholarly publishers allow a lot more through. But let’s say FARMS published Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness. (He’d submitted it to them as a possible publisher) Had they published it I suspect you’d find a lot of comments not unlike this one about Eerdman’s.

    Comment by Clark — November 9, 2007 @ 2:01 pm

  25. It was an interesting discussion over there. I would give them some credit for responding pretty well to Blake entering with guns blazing.

    It is always interesting to me to see how quickly the nut of the disagreement is uncovered in a discussion like that and how long it can go on after the fact without everyone zeroing in on the issue. I am no scholar of Orthodox theology, so a fair amount of the discussion was on topics I am unfamiliar with, but I thought this comment early on was at the root of many of the disagreements:

    You need to learn and understand that Orthodox Christianity has a different logic to it then Hellenism. For the Cappadocian Fathers, where logic seems to imply something contradictory to what revelation says, there’s something improper about the way the logic is being used. We have quite a low view of the humanity’s ability to reason after the fall (Photios).

    I am tempted to say this kind of statement is very un-Mormon since in my mind Mormonism is deeply committed to the reliability of reason, but on second thought, I had to admit that people show up here saying the same sort of thing with disturbing frequency.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 9, 2007 @ 2:12 pm

  26. Clark,

    I guess my point was that FARMS is not a good parallel to Eerdmans. Is there any reason we should expect Eerdmans to reject something simply because it was pro-LDS? Something about Eerdmans’ mission statement or affiliation I am unaware of?

    Comment by Jacob J — November 9, 2007 @ 2:42 pm

  27. Don’t get me wrong, I largely agree with you. But I agree there’s not a perfect analogy. I do think that for many they assume Eerdmans publishes more mainstream Christian stuff. So they are understandably surprised at the Mormon stuff. (Just as a few folks are surprised at some of the Mormon written entries to the Anchor Bible Dictionary)

    I’m just saying that regardless if I agree, I at least understand the mindset in question.

    Comment by Clark — November 9, 2007 @ 2:59 pm

  28. Yeah Jacob, I was surprised. I thought that Orthodox could be reasonable folks, but when the arguments fairly clearly demonstrated that their view was incoherent, they reject logic and indicated that any premises that lead to the conclusion that their view was incorrect had top be rejected along with the logical standards that produced it. Strange way to approach reasoning on my view. My opinion of Orthodox has definitely been negatively affected.

    Comment by Blake — November 9, 2007 @ 5:06 pm

  29. Clark: There is this interesting fact: FARMS in fact publishes reasonably well argued articles that take on Mormonism. They published Mosser and Owen, and they have published two pieces by Heiser and even gave him the last word. I suppose I get just bit confused when some suggest that Mormons are just as bad as evangelicals (in this case Lutherans and Orthodox) who berate, engage in all-out attack and slander, and then there is a comparison that “well, LDS say that they are apostate.” That is no comparison at all and to suggest that they are morally equivalent is moral blindness of a grand order.

    Comment by Blake — November 9, 2007 @ 7:41 pm

  30. With regard to the assertion that other translations of the scriptures take away from the Gospel . . .

    I had a friend, now a General Authority, who occupied a high administrative position in the Church Educational System. When I asked him about another quote in a seminary manual, that didn’t seem to correspond with my understanding of the Gospel, he said: “If you go back far enough, I wouldn’t be surprised at anything you could find in a seminary manual.” What he seemed to be saying was that quality control was less than adequate in earlier church publications. I think the church has made a commendable through the correlation committee and other tools to correct this problem.

    I have read several new translations, one in particular seems to parallel the Gospel far better than the standard King James version. The King James version is used to simplify teaching and discussion in sunday school classes, home teaching lessons and so on. There is nothing sinful about reading an alternative translation of the bible.

    Comment by Dennison — May 4, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

  31. This made me think of the current issues of Element (Why does it say 2007 on the cover? I don’t get it. The addresses clearly reference 2009 happenings. Is it some sort of strange reference to foreknowledge?) and Loyd Ericson’s paper* titled “The Challenges of Defining Mormon Doctrine” there. Basically he notes Millet’s statement found in Discourses in Mormon Theology that a hard problem of Mormonism is dealing with teachings of the Church which are no longer taught by the church today, or are superseded by new instruction. However, Ericson notes what he considers a harder problem in taking this conclusion a step further and asking how we as saints can have confidence in the accuracy of our current leaders when leaders of the past have been wrong. ie- If the church could be wrong for hundreds of years about blacks and the priesthood, how do we know it is not wrong about women and the priesthood. As Blake Ostler noted at 2008s SMPT conference, if Brigham didn’t even know the God he was receiving revelation from wasn’t Adam, How can we trust him? I’d add, from Ericson’s perspective, the question is now how can we have confidence Thomas S. Monson knows who he is talking to.

    My response to Ericson is much the same as my response to my Bishop. Do we lose confidence in our Medical Doctors because they used to use leeches? Do we lose confidence in our contractors because they built with Asbestos? I say no. We have to accept instead that we are on a journey here, with ebbs and flows and we are doing the best we can. Have we lost knowledge in the past. Sure we have. Just look at how to build Egyptian Pyramids, or Mayan Mathematics, or Ancient Languages and Culture. I’ll leave it to the historians to mention other forms of knowledge we have lost. For Ericson I answer yes, we do need to be humble in what truths we stand for, but at the same time, We must act on the knowledge we have available as we understand it. To my Bishop I’d say more specifically that there are scriptural precedents for “taking away” occurring in our age, such as Zion being in Missouri, or Tithing superseding consecration. Unfortuneately, what is being taken, what is being superseded by greater law, and what is simply culture falling by the wayside and never really from God is a somewhat tricky business, and like my response to Ericson, I can only say that while it is good for us to perpetually be cognizant of our limitations, we must also act based on a conjunction of our own personal revelations, reasonings, and the validating understanding and experience of the community around us, including those we esteem as authorities.

    *- Loyd, seriously, It’s Joseph B. Wirthlin, not Richard. Element needs to upgrade the peer review

    Comment by Matt W. — March 22, 2010 @ 5:17 am

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