Since moving to the South a few months ago, I have had more opportunities than ever before to share our faith with neighbors who are genuinely interested in religion and involved in their own denominations. These exchanges, always respectful and gracious, have allowed me to see how astoundingly well members of other faiths often know The Bible. Our Sunday School and Seminary programs ensure that Mormons are more familiar than the average population with the contents of The Bible and The Book of Mormon. But, I would argue, Mormons now know their Book of Mormon far better than their Bible. Although all knowledge is good knowledge, The Bible is the book that we share in common with members of others faiths, and, therefore, it is often one of our best missionary tools. So, given its importance as a faith-bridging tool, why do we not currently know it as well as our other scriptures?
One suggestion I have heard raised is that our lack of Biblical knowledge is an unintended consequence of the relatively recent effort to encourage all members to read The Book of Mormon. Because leaders have stressed the importance of reading The Book of Mormon, Mormon youth now know it extremely well. But they have not had similar emphasis placed on The Bible.
Another potential explanation, and one that I am particularly interested in, is that Mormons are taught to approach scriptures looking for how we can liken them unto our lives. This interpretive strategy lends itself more easily to narratives that focus on familial and national conflicts, such as those that comprise The Book of Mormon, than on the laws, metaphors, and symbols that we frequently find in The Bible, a book that does not have a strong unifying story or line of authors to hold together its various books. Indeed, the sections of The Bible that we do read, such as the story of Moses, are those that tend to have a storybook structure.
However, while this interpretive approach is compelling, it also seems deeply limiting if it is our only interpretive approach. This approach encourages us to disregard what is potentially sacred but unfamiliar, and thus encourages us to continue seeing the divine in our own image rather than as something that might unsettle or expand our expectations. It also discourages us from emphasizing scholarship that would explore the historical contexts of our written texts in order to more deeply understand our heritage. While parts of The Bible that seem unfamiliar might be challenging reads to the average reader, they nevertheless contain information about our history and our sacred ceremonies that we ought to know, especially if we want to have a sustained dialogue with those of other faiths.