Theological Twinkies and our Spiritual Diet

The scriptures contain a number of food metaphors. I’ve been working for a few years on an article talking about them: “milk before solid food,” “feast upon the words of Christ,” etc. But there are also some good ones in recent LDS tradition. Notably, Elder Holland gave a great talk called “A Teacher Come from God.”

The summary takeaway is that

We must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom.

Where do we get superior teaching of the scriptures from? Well, let’s talk about food metaphors. Continue reading “Theological Twinkies and our Spiritual Diet”

News!

Ben contemplates his words, at Petra.

It’s been a long several months. I have passed my written and oral exams, and am on to writing my dissertation proposal. I’m currently traveling, and have a lot on my plate to get caught up on, but I hope to return to my weekly Gospel Doctrine writing (and other things) soon.

Well, soonish.

In the meantime, let’s talk about my dissertation and summer speaking. Continue reading “News!”

A Reminiscence on a Missionary Christmas

(Originally posted here.)

When the mission president announced to our small group of greenies that I was going to Strasbourg, I shrugged the resigned shrug of a missionary who knew nothing about anywhere but was willing to go anywhere. One of the sisters expressed jealousy; Strasbourg, she said, was one of the best cities in the mission. She was right, and it would not be a good thing.

Strasbourg is and was beautiful pre-Christmas. Several weeks passed before I fully acclimatized to the major time difference from the MTC, and the schedule of missionary life, but I loved Strasbourg almost instantly. Continue reading “A Reminiscence on a Missionary Christmas”

A second blog update, and podcast

A candle inside the Holy Sepulcher. My pic.

I’ve finally had time to update some Old Testament posts, and run into some technical issues. Patheos is looking into it, and I hope to be caught-up soon.

In the meantime, I had opportunity to record a podcast with LDS Missioncast. Although aimed at missionaries and pre-missionaries, I hope what I had to say will have some insight for everyone. We talked about the problem of proof-texting, or using a verse out of context to prove a point, and why that’s problematic. I then went into how and why the Bible functions differently for Mormons vs. Protestants, which I hope will help us teach differently.

In essence, when we teach Protestants, we are NOT asking them to accept a different, Mormon interpretation of this or that scripture as much as asking them to shift their epistemology, their conception of authority. That is, for sola scriptura Protestants, scripture is the highest authority. Protestants expect Mormons to be able to demonstrate why Mormon doctrines are actually better, more accurate interpretations of the Bible than Protestant doctrines, because that’s how doctrine is made in the Protestant sola-scriptura worldview. (They think we’re like JWs.) Although missionaries often end up talking about specific passages or doctrines, conversion involves a change in religious worldview and epistemology. Mormon missionaries often unwittingly get pulled onto this Protestant ground, and try to prove the Word of Wisdom, for example, solely from the Bible.

In reality, we are asking Protestants to shift from sola scriptura not just to a bigger canon of scripture (Bible+ Book of Mormon, etc.), but to an authority structure that is canon+ modern prophets.

One non-LDS scholar really gets this, better than many Mormons do.

It is important to underscore here the way in which the Mormon restoration of these ancient offices and practices resulted in a very significant departure from the classical Protestant understanding of religious authority. The subtlety of the issues at stake here is often missed by us Evangelicals, with the result that we typically get sidetracked in our efforts to understand our basic disagreements with Mormon thought. We often proceed as if the central authority issue to debate with Mormons has to do with the question of which authoritative texts ought to guide us in understanding the basic issues of life.  [That is, is Mormonism just Protestantism with a bigger canon?] We Evangelicals accept the Bible alone as our infallible guide while, we point out, the Latter-day Saints add another set of writings, those that comprise the Book of Mormon, along with the records of additional Church teachings to the canon- we classic Protestants are people of the Book while Mormons are people of the Books.

This way of getting at the nature of our differences really does not take us very far into exploring some of our basic disagreements. What we also need to see is that in restoring some features of Old Testament Israel, Mormonism has also restored the kinds of authority patterns that guided the life of Israel. The old Testament people of God were not a people of the Book as such— mainly because for most of their history, there was no completed Book. Ancient Israel was guided by an open canon [of scripture] and the leadership of the prophets. And it is precisely this pattern of communal authority that Mormonism restored. Evangelicals may insist that Mormonism has too many books. But the proper Mormon response is that even these Books are not enough to give authoritative guidance to the present-day community of the faithful. The books themselves are products of a prophetic office, an office that has been reinstituted in these latter days. People fail to discern the full will of God if they do not live their lives in the anticipation that they will receive new revealed teachings under the authority of the living prophets.

– Richard Mouw, “What does God think about America?” BYU Studies, 43:4 (2004): 10-11. My italics.

Two other citations on this idea.

Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: “There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day.” “And now,” said he, “when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.” That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation, “Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.”

-Wilford Woodruff, Conference Report, October 1897, pp. 22-23.

The Latter-day Saints do not do things because they happen to be printed in a book. They do not do things because God told the Jews to do them; nor do they do or leave undone anything because of the instructions that Christ gave to the Nephites. Whatever is done by this Church is because God, speaking from heaven in our day, has commanded this Church to do it. No book presides over this Church, and no book lies at its foundation. You cannot pile up books enough to take the place of God’s priesthood, inspired by the power of the Holy Ghost. That is the constitution of the Church of Christ. …Divine revelation adapts itself to the circumstances and conditions of men, and change upon change ensues as God’s progressive work goes on to its destiny. There is no book big enough or good enough to preside over this Church.

-Conference Report, October 1916, p. 55.  Elder Orson F. Whitney Quoted by Loren C. Dunn, in General Conference, Ensign May 1976,  p.65-66

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). You can also follow Benjamin the Scribe on Facebook.

News and blog updates!

My picture, from the Kidron Valley.

It was the last week of the semester, we got sick, and some other distracting things happened this week (see #3). Fortunately, if you missed my updated posts, thanks to #1, you can find my old ones easily.

First, I’ve gone back and tagged a lot of my previous posts, so they can be accessed in groups. That is, scroll down to the bottom of a post, and you’ll see “select category” next to “select month.” Now that I’ve tagged many of my posts, you can see just my posts related to Evolution, or to Gospel Doctrine Resources, or to Genesis, or to Books or to Scripture Study

Second, I’ve been blogging for a long time, at various places, so I’m going to start rerunning old posts on various things. I find them useful, I doubt most people have seen them, and due to repeated technical migrations, some of them have actually disappeared from the web, so I couldn’t even link to them if I wanted to.

Third and more exciting, my wife and I will be moving to the Phoenix/Mesa/Tempe area this fall, where I will work on preparing for my comprehensive exams (American Religious History, Reformation History, History of Science) and writing a dissertation proposal.

Fourth, I have two upcoming events. In June, I’m at the Mormon History Association conference in Boise, ID. My paper is “’Latter-day Saints Accept the Scriptures, But Every Man Must Interpret Them for Himself’ —Recovering David O. McKay’s Views on Genesis and Evolution”. The other two papers in my session are “Darwinism, Evolution, and Latter-day Saint Church Education, 1875-1911” and “‘One of the Most Valuable Books I have Ever Read’: The Influence of William Jennings Bryan on 20th Century Mormon Responses to the Theory of Evolution.”
Then in October, I’m speaking at the Joseph Smith Papers Conference on Translation. There’s no schedule yet, but I know some of the other people, and it should be an interesting conference. My paper, partially derived from part 2 of my book manuscript, is “Translation, Creation, and Revelation: Implications of Textual Differences in the Pearl of Great Price.” I’m looking at those places in the text where Moses reads differently from the KJV, but Abraham matches the KJV. Part of my conclusion is that these changes imply that revelation is not a straight line of upwards progress, but a mediated human-divine dialectic process which sometimes becomes “frozen” as scripture. The implication is that scripture is not necessarily composed of divinely revealed eternal facts, but contains human elements and understandings common to the time. This can account for differences between inspired texts which, according to common assumptions, “should” be identical.

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here. You can get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right) and also follow Benjamin the Scribe on Facebook.

A Click-Bait Listicle: Seven Things You Didn’t Know about Genesis chapter 1!

genesis-hebrew2I hate click-baity listicles, especially the ones that make you click for each new picture. So I figured, why not do a click-baity listicle? These are just as likely to help you lose weight as any of those others, even if I don’t offer “this one weird trick.” So, here you go. Continue reading “A Click-Bait Listicle: Seven Things You Didn’t Know about Genesis chapter 1!”

Old Testament, the Blog in the Upcoming Year, and News

My image.

My image.

Coming back to the Old Testament means I’ve been at this solo blog thing for a while, and I have a lot of prewritten material to work with. In the next year, I’ll be reposting and updating all of my Old Testament Gospel Doctrine posts, so they should appear as “new” posts in your feed and on the blog. If for some reason you get ahead of my updating/resposting, a google search for Benjamin Scribe Old Testament Lesson X or using the blog index (link at the top of every page) can get you to the old post you’re looking for. I also anticipate writing some new posts. Continue reading “Old Testament, the Blog in the Upcoming Year, and News”

“Reading the Old Testament in Context” Fireside in San Antonio Tx, Nov 11

Screen Shot 2017-09-30 at 9.55.57 PMMy Oct. 8 fireside in Claremont will be repeated in San Antonio, Tx on Saturday November 11 at 6pm, in the chapel at 6240 UTSA Blvd, San Antonio, 78249.  It’s on “Reading the Old Testament in Context” and is a version of my Sperry Symposium presentation which will be in Provo, October 28. The firesides and presentation are an adapted form of the 25-page paper I submitted for Sperry, so the paper has some things the presentations won’t and vice-versa. I’ve decided to take that paper, and will just post it in sections here as blogposts, starting in mid-November.  Continue reading ““Reading the Old Testament in Context” Fireside in San Antonio Tx, Nov 11″

Repeat of “Reading the Old Testament in Context” Fireside, in Rochester MN

Screen Shot 2017-09-30 at 9.55.57 PMMy Oct. 8 fireside in Claremont will be repeated in Rochester MN on October 22. (Flyer) It’s on “Reading the Old Testament in Context” and is a version of my Sperry Symposium presentation which will be in Provo, October 28. The firesides and presentation are an adapted form of the 25-page paper I submitted for Sperry, so the paper has some things the presentations won’t and vice-versa. So I’ve decided to take that paper, and will just post it in sections here as blogposts, starting in November.  Continue reading “Repeat of “Reading the Old Testament in Context” Fireside, in Rochester MN”

Fireside Oct. 8 on Reading the Old Testament in Context

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 10.34.46 AMIf you live in the Los Angeles area, I’ll be giving a fireside on October 8, entitled “Reading the Old Testament in Context.” Flyer (PDF).

As you might guess, this presentation is oriented more towards understanding the Old Testament, reading it like an Israelite or a Hebrew scholar, than devotional or personal application readings of the Old Testament. Those aren’t entirely separate categories, but I assume most Mormons are experienced in the latter and not so much in the former.

I will talk about becoming a “competent reader” (a quasi-technical term) and introduce four kinds of context, moving from the simplest to the most complex. For each of these, I have numerous examples from the Bible, modern parallels to help drive the point home, and study suggestions/questions.

  • Textual Context– By this I mean we need to read what comes before and what comes after a line or verse, especially across verse and chapter boundaries. Those divisions are largely medieval impositions on the ancient text and sometimes break up stories or sections. If you start a book or movie in the middle of one section, and then end randomly in the middle of another, you’re not really getting the whole story as it is meant to be communicated.
  • Historical Context– This includes elements of the historical setting which are relevant. Because the Old Testament authors spoke to their contemporaries who shared this knowledge, they did not provide explanations about or identify people, places, customs, laws, or events. These things went without being said, but modern readers need them to be made explicit in order to understand
  • Linguistic Context– What should we know about language of the Old Testament to better understand it? This includes aspects of both Bible translation from Hebrew/Aramaic into English and usage characteristics of Hebrew. I single out three: poetry, paranomasia/wordplay, and allusion.
  •  Literary Context– This is the most complex section, where I introduce the idea of genre. We experience this natively today, with books, movies, restaurants, which all come in different kinds, each with its own conventions and expectations; You know what kind of clothes to wear and what kind of food to expect if I say “burger joint,” you know the conventions and truth-claims of the Romantic Comedy genre. But we rarely understand that this kind of thing applies to scripture as well.  I talk about the Bible as a library of different kinds of writings, a collected edition or anthology of different genres, set off by genre markers. I drill down into the historical genre, arguing that modern expectations of historical writing are largely journalistic ideals (i.e. verbatim quotes, neutral reporting, a priority on historical accuracy), but ancient history-writers did not remotely follow these conventions. What were the conventions of ancient history-writing? I cover much of the same ground as in my LDSPerspectives podcast and elsewhere on the blog, but more formally and organized, with citations and examples.

I’ll make the text of this available one way or another in late October or early November, as part of my gearing up for Old Testament in January. I have several things in mind for the blog, so check back. In the meantime, listen to the podcast and watch my screencast about the rediscovery of the world of the Old Testament.

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.