The name “Mogget” may mean something to you: a graduate student at a Catholic university, the amazingly well-spoken Bible scholar from Faith-Promoting Rumor. To us, she’s D. J. Kirby, and she’s agreed to post with us for a while.
In the final chapters of Romans, Paul introduces the terms “strong” and “weak” to distinguish between those who enjoy freedom from the Law and those who do not. The “strong” are those who understand, as Paul did, that righteousness comes by faith (15:1). The “weak” believe they must also continue in certain Jewish traditions, possibly including abstinence from meat sacrificed to idols and observance of holy days (14:1-2, 5).
Based on this contrast, Paul makes two points. First, neither the strong nor the weak are to judge the other. Second, the “strong” have the greater burden in their interaction with the weak. In 14:13b-15, he says:
Make rather this decision, never to put a stumbling block or an obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I know and am persuaded that nothing is unclean of itself; but for the one who considers it unclean, it becomes so for him. If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer conducting yourself in love. Do not allow your food to destroy someone for whom Christ died.
Three things stand out. First, there is a certain grasp of God’s righteousness that gives a particular kind of freedom to those who hold it. Second, those who have this insight must not act thoughtlessly in their freedom. Finally, the source of this self-moderation is love: a love of one’s fellow Christians and a love that responds to God’s love in Christ Jesus. Paul’s conclusion reads (14:21-22):
It is better to not eat meat or drink wine, or do anything to cause your brother to trip, to stumble, or to be weakened. The conviction that you have keep to yourself before God.
There is an obvious correspondence here with the dead and deadening debate over a scrupulous versus an enlightened approach to our Coke-dogma. Suffice it to say that I do not whip out a 24 oz. bottle of Mt. Dew while quilting with the RS and then let us leave modern dietary codes before the Snarker gives me a second “guest” appearance.
I would like to propose a different scenario in which an application of Paul’s guidance may be more subtle. Many of the Saints grew up, as I did, with a very literal and naive approach to ancient scripture. Some make the transition to critical and historical-critical readings easily, but for others it brings fear, anger, or rejection.
Among the items that arouse these negative feelings are anonymous or pseudonymous authorship, textual alterations, bad translations in key verses, the very real possibility that the historicity of certain events is unlikely or exaggerated, internal contradictions, and rejection of conflated readings. The emotional investment in a traditional reading or interpretation can even outweigh the critical import of the verses themselves.
As an exegete and a believer, I know that saving faith is the faith that God raised Jesus to stand next to him with all that that implies. The substance of this faith is not subject to historical-critical inquiry. Imperfections in the canonical record such as those above are really indifferent matters.
On one hand, Paul’s advice suggests that I should not act on my “freedom” without thought for others who may become tense when I speak with candor. On the other hand, I also need to respond honestly to those who question me. And there is just something unsavory about cultivating one set of answers for my LDS friends and another for professional interactions.
Consider this case: D&C 77:7 understands the seven seals of Rev 6:1-17; 8:1 as dispensational divisions. A critical reading of Revelation finds little to support such a conclusion. Perhaps the seven seals are a preliminary set of messianic woes, or the first of three judgment septets against the wicked, or simply the first iteration of a single plague septet recapitulated three times.
My initial response is to treat this case just as I treat any other instance of potential internal conflict. I’d simply say “Author X wrote “such and such,” while Author Y found “this or that” to be the case and leave it at that. In this case, I’d report Joseph Smith’s revelatory insights, while also noting that his thoughts are not the most likely reading of Revelation.
But is there a better way to handle the matter?