Saturday, January 21, 2006

Loss of Bible Truths: A New Interpretation

It is often a Mormon viewpoint that the Bible is, regardless of the divine nature of its existance, textually problematic. The problems with the text are believed to have created huge holes in theological understanding. Usually it is an argument based off of Joseph Smith's statements such as:

From sundry revelations which have been recieved, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.

And perhaps from one of the most repeated quotes:

Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.

Ironically, all major Mormon doctrine has been found in the Bible, regardless of the agreement of the textproof interpretation. The "translation" of the Bible by Joseph Smith hasn't even played a very important role in LDS Bible reading, acting more like supplimental material or grammatical correctives (part of this is because of historical rather than institutional reasons). One of the most common questions of non-Mormons to Mormons when they learn of how the Bible is viewed is why there are not Mormon specific translations beyond Joseph Smith's Translation (JST) by revelation. This is perplexing to some considering the JST isn't seen as complete or the last word and the number of Bible translations currently available. Certainly the Mormons would want their own evaluation of older documents with such a critical view of Bible completeness and innerancy.

I believe that answer is in how Nephi sees the apostacy and restoration in relation to the Bible at the dawn of the Christian era. One of the more mysterious comments is that the Bible came from the mouth of "a" Jew, rather than several individuals. It is clear from the context of the vision that Jew would be Jesus Christ. Related to this is the idea that the Bible is filled with Covenants that the Gentiles saw as precious. So, the Bible is first and foremost the Covenants between Jesus Christ and Israel, with the Gentiles taking them to heart.

At this point the Bible ". . . go[es] forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God." There are no problems so far with the text or presentation. One could almost say it comes closest to the innerancy idea. But, things seem to go wrong. What happens next is what is usually interpreted as a corruption of the Scriptures:

And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

At this point the Joseph Smith statements about the Bible are added. But, a closer look shows they are not as related as first thought. The key is ". . . they take away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts . . . ," without invoking any Scriptural text mutilation. Those without authority distort and confuse issues and theology. It is a war of ideas more than paragraphs and pages. No doubt, the plain and precious losses are connected to the Bible. This is not because of what happens to the Bible as much as with the Bible. As Joseph Smith said:

There is no salvation between the two lids of the Bible without a legal administrator. Jesus was then the legal administrator, and ordained His Apostles.

what does all this mean? It explains why most Mormons are uneasy toward Biblical Higher Criticism. There are less problems with the text than with the interpreters. Joseph Smith himself seemed not to take the English version of the Bible as completely reliable and felt comfortable comparing textual variations. He probably would be thrilled with the study of the older text; although perfering a more creative examination of epistomology. What he did not accept was a Bible without its divine meaning and miracles.

For the members of the LDS Church it might mean letting go of our own reluctance to examine critical historical Bible texts. They are flawed, but no more than any other modern variations. Mostly, however, acknowledging the problem isn't with the Bible itself can take care of many straw man arguments. The biggest of these is that Mormons are somehow hostile and distrustful of the Bible. Rather, Mormons are distrustful of interpretations of the Bible and aware that imperfection is a portal of discovery rather than reason to discard.

1 comment:

Jettboy said...

This is only a test. I would like to see if this works or not.