How Much Candor Is Too Much?

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?


  1. Huzzah for non-bakinu!

  2. I am not sure how I feel about pseudonymous authorship Mogget, or should I say DJ? :)

    Anyway I hope you enjoy your time here.

    Your post is very interesting. As a long time Mountain Dew drinker, I did give it up completely while serving my mission. Not because of any doctrinal conviction, just to avoid explaining things unneccessarily.

    I think your approach is good. I would state what you feel you should with the verbal references like you suggest, in an objective way. This seems better than – Joseph was wrong. Who knows, the facts may yet change on some issues. Both sides should keep a somewhat open mind.

    I also might imagine that people in your position might need a good dose of humility (which I suspect you have) not to expose the rest of us as the uninformed idiots that we are. I appreciate that you may have ‘held back’ on some of my posts and comments at times. Thank you.

  3. DJ, in your penultimate sentence are you equating “Joseph Smith’s revelatory insights” with “his thoughts,” thoughts that most likely not correct? Or am I missing an allowance for separateness you may have in mind?

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Wonderful to have you here, D.J./Mogget! I’ve loved your posts on FPR, and look forward to more here at BCC.

    I often find it useful to try to find alternative points of view from within the LDS tradition. This opens the door to showing that there is not just one monolithic Mormon viewpoint, but different schools of thought, which makes discussion of different viewpoints less threatening to every day Saints.

    It is true that the dispensationalist approach is pretty engrained in Mormon thought, but I think there have been minority voices advocating other approaches.

    I do something along these lines with Pauline authorship of Hebrews. Most LDS take this as a given, and would be threatened by a bare assertion to the contrary. But I go through a process that makes a number of points:

    – Joseph’s statements can be interpreted as assumptions based on Christian history and the ascription of the material to Paul in the KJV, and need not be taken as revelatory in character.

    – Sidney Sperry concluded that he didn’t think Paul was the author.

    – Many modern church leaders (I have a list) when speaking or writing on this book refer obliquely to the “author” rather than Paul, seemingly in recognition of the modern uncertainty over who the author was.

    This is enuogh to open the door even within our own tradition so that people won’t freak out when I suggest that Paul was not the author of the book. It is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.

    Of course, this is easier to do with some questions than with others, but it is worth giving a shot.

    And I agree, Eric, with your point about the paramount importance of scholarly humility.

  5. Ah, yes. Pseudonymous authorship and perhaps inspiration?

    Most canonical scripture considered pseudonymous is not self-pseudonymous. The falsely attributed author is not actually claimed by the work itself, but was instead tacked on by some well-meaing individual later on. So “bad intent” is not usually an issue.

    Deuteronomy might be the only exception. And even there, I think there’s only a perception of naughtiness based on our ideas of authorship rather than those of the era.

    FWIW, you do know how to test for inspiration. Knowledge of the author or the author’s official position is nice but not always necessary in this process.

    And I do not think you are an uniformed idiot. Even if you were, I’m quite sure that I find informed idiots much harder to deal with.

  6. Christian,

    Nothing so erudite. I’m simply avoiding lexical repetition.

    To clarify my thoughts:

    The D&C is, I think, properly reported as Joseph Smith’s inspiration, hence, revelation. In addition to distinguishing between the content of his revelation and the findings of an h-c reading, it is also, I think, necessary to make something of an epistemological distinction.

    My understanding is that revelation and and h-c study are different ways of knowing things. I don’t think we should set the two ways of knowing things in open conflict. I am content to let them lie side by side, reporting on the results of each.

    But I am no philosopher (the last philosophy class I had I called “drugs”) and am willing to be persuaded otherwise or to learn a more nuanced approach.

  7. You know, DJ, I hadn’t thought about it like that, i.e., Paul’s teaching. He seems to be saying that it is ok to believe in old traditions that aren’t particularly true…I can see the parallel that you are drawing. But, in contrast to the question in your title, it is not how much Candor but how much error is too much…but who knows who is in error?

  8. Where is it that we are asking this question? Is it in Sunday School? Personal conversations? Over the pulpit in a testimony or giving a sacrament talk? In a comment in lesson you’re not teaching?

    I may often err on the side of too much candor but I think your audience makes a difference. Maybe not that it needs to be whitewashed in any of those former situations but that you approach the topic in a different way.

    In teaching Sunday School, I have brought up the topic of say, gay marriage. It’s something we’re afraid to talk about and we don’t have a lot of well-understood info from the scriptures etc. (There are many topics like this, I’m begging for no threadjacking to talk about gay marriage-ugh)but I handled the conversation in the classroom MUCH differently than I would when I’m talking about it with a Mormon orthodox friend.

    Though maybe I always get this wrong. Am I supposed to coddle those who believe differently than I do more than I do? Shoot.

  9. DJ, thanks for this post. It’s helpful to have this frame for thinking about candor. The issues you’re discussing with respect to ancient scripture obviously have direct parallels for LDS church history; do we forcibly expose people to the historiographical developments of the last 55 years, do we distort our understandings of the most reasonable version of historical events in order to fit traditional ways of telling history, or do we find ways of speaking that split the difference?

    I’m tempted not to think that there’s anything terribly damaging about, for example, committing the anachronism of describing Joseph Smith’s seer stone as the Urim and Thummim (a term that was only adopted during the period after Joseph had stopped receiving revelation through the seer stone). On the other hand, I’d never make that terminological substitution when talking with my friends and acquaintances who are involved in Mormon history research. In that sense, your useful standard that “there is just something unsavory about cultivating one set of answers for my LDS friends and another for professional interactions” cuts against this practice.

    There are real stakes in this dilemma; every few months, I do end up in a conversation with a recent convert or, sometimes, lifelong member who’s just found out about the way the Book of Mormon was actually translated, the links between the translation process and Joseph Smith’s earlier treasure-digging, etc., and is suddenly in a state of confusion about the entire package of the church. Do we want to be the person who initiates that panic for someone? But do we instead avoid that by double-speak?

  10. J. Stapley,

    Paul’s specific point here is part of a larger pattern — how to treat your fellow-saints. The lack of LDS folks who can read and teach Paul means that we lack awareness of some very powerful formulations of our obligations toward each other.

    According to Paul, we’re saved by faith. But also according to Paul, faith works itself out in love. To bad we hear so much about the former and so little about the latter. I’ve been meaning to do the hyperakoe (hearing under faith) over at FPR, so I guess I’ll hop on it.

    Can you tell I like Paul? Thanks for giving me the opportunity to pontificate. Now onto your excellent question:

    The central ideas of saving faith are pretty simple and are not, to the best of my knowledge, ever contradicted in the NT. Jesus lived, died for us, was resurrected, and stands beside God on our behalf. Plus the Restoration.

    If you get that right, most other things are details. Theologians and philosophers debate them, but as an exegete I am usually content to watch from the sidelines.

  11. Interesting thoughts. My dad enjoyed quoting Paul’s approach to us growing up– that we should seek to offend others who see things differently.

    “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.”

    I think what you mean here is that, if one is assigning likelihood on the basis of critical analysis, and then evaluating JS’ position on that basis, it is not the most likely reading. Is that right?

    As an alternative example, one could say that given JS’ revelatory standing, the standard critical approach is “not the most likely reading of Revelation”.

  12. Amri,

    Can’t say as I disagree, but I think I find it helpful to continue to think about it in terms of “love” rather than “coddling.” My experience, FWIW, is that my mindset — respect — helps with the message.

    Personal conversation was what I had in mind, with no expectation of confidence — so any “answers” are going to be repeated.


    Yeah, the history angle did occur to me. I’m so glad you’re the historian and I’m the exegete, because I think you’ve got the harder row to hoe.

    WRT to the seer stone: There’s also the idea of answering the question that was asked, in the lexical register in which it was asked, and not volunteering a lot of extraneous detail. Maybe that is a bit of a fudge, but my experience is that there is such a thing as too much information.

    I guess my only thought here is the importance of example. I’m sure you don’t need to be told, but it seems to me that if we are clear that we’ve heard and understand these things, and also clear that we sustain, support, and participate, then there’s not much else we can do.

    I did say, one day in GD, that Paul simply did not write Hebrews. I then pointed out that we as a class had a choice. We could all run screaming down the hall to bishop’s office and ask for our tithing back, or we could study it out and see if we found it to be God’s word.

    Laugher all around and a willingness to really get serious about it was the result.

  13. I thought a bit about this once upon a time.

    Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Joseph Smith got something wrong strictly from a historical and translation standpoint in his translation of the Bible.

    Let’s say he then proceded to expound upon the principle behind this, unbeknownst to him, falsely translated scripture. He gives a few lectures on it before the brethren, it becomes a part of Mormon doctrine, it is handed down in the teachings of the Church even to this day, with several further insights and interpretations from various General Authorities along the way.

    But the translation was technically wrong. And not just in a small grammatical way. Wrong to such an extent that it completely changes what the original author intended by the particular verse.

    So the question is – Is this true doctrine?

    I would have to say yes. It is true doctrine.

    It is not true by virtue of its historical and translated integrity of course. But it is true because generations of inspired men have now pondered it, prayed on it, and prophesied concerning it.

    The scripture has now become something more than what it’s original author intended. The inspiration adds to the written word and metamorphoses the verse into something different than “what Paul intended.”

    But the authority to prophesy was given to Joseph Smith and those who came after him. The conduit of inspiration flowed to them freely. God not only authorized them to be right in His name, but also to be wrong in His name. And we see that God can and will make weak things (like a flawed translation) become strong unto the confounding of the wise.

    Under this paradigm, technical and scholarly correctness of the translation becomes much less of an issue.

  14. RoastedTomatoes,

    I have often stuggled with the point you raise.

    Do we want to be the person who initiates that panic for someone? But do we instead avoid that by double-speak?

    I’m prone to think that the church leadership would have us not be the initiator of such research in others. But I have struggled with this point: if the church is to grow to the grand proportions often spoken of, all of these difficulties will one day need to be dealt with in a straight forward manner. So are we doing a disservice to others by allowing them to find out these troublesome facts from unfriendly sources?

    I don’t know the answer to this question.

  15. Great post! Whoever introduced you to blogging must have been some sort of genius!

    there is an argument to be made that the critical analysis of a text offers the best reading of a text as we have it. When you introduce revelation into the mix, we are introducing an entirely new source, one that is inaccessible to critical analysis and one that is often inaccessible to us, too.

    That said, as has been noted, humility in the case of scholarship (or prophecy) cannot be overrated.

  16. Hi Seth,

    Hm, yes, it’s fine for modern folks to find doctrinal input that’s not part of what seems to be the original content. It’s called the sensus plenior and there’s a great deal written on it, including Raymond Brown’s dissertation. You can google it, I’m sure.

    One example is the idea that the virgin birth of Christ was predicted in Is 7:14. Total mis-translation. Not only no prediction of the birth of Christ, but no virgin at all from an h-c standpoint.

    Nevertheless, you won’t find me suggesting that Mary wasn’t a virgin. I’d point out that h-c exegesis cannot determine the state of Mary’s hymen. Instead, it can report that the author of the First Gospel, among others, thought it to be intact. After that, it’s a matter for the theologians and the philosophers, as you have described.

    But good taste suggests that we all stop thinking about it, anyway. I mean, goodness gracious, it’s kinda personal, ya know… ;)

    Folks who use the sensus plenior ususally conclude that Isaiah wrote better than he knew, not that he actually predicted the virgin birth. But the sensus plenior is not really part of exegesis.

  17. “is there a better way to handle the matter?”

    I guess it depends upon what you consider “better.” Non-combative? One that arrives at a definitive answer? Synthesis? I would think that once we have our goal in mind we’ll be better placed to approach issues like this. In the case of critical interpretation vs. Joseph Smith’s translation — personally, I don’t believe that Joseph Smith’s revelations supplant or replace the critical interpretations in each instance, but rather are alternatives that provide us with an enlarged perspective on God’s dealings. I read them both and usually I enjoy them both. I take a similar, though more exaggerated, tack with the Pearl of Great Price.

  18. I would think that once we have our goal in mind we’ll be better placed to approach issues like this.

    Steve, excellent point. I suppose this problems exists because each of us have different goals based upon different points of view (and different sets of values).

  19. HP,

    You are a genius, dude. How’s your dissy coming? About as fast as mine this PM, no doubt.


    Good point. I deliberately framed the question with Paul’s thoughts on living together in love. I guess I’m pointing in the direction of non-combative, supportive, approaches rather than trying to find a definitive answer to the specific case I introduced.

    I think I’d avoid synthesis, though. I can’t think of a single successful instance. And I do agree that the JST should not supplant a critical reading.

  20. Nice thoughts, DJ. Candor is often praised, but by highlighting certain situations or conversations where the speaker must be candid, it implies there are others where such candor is not welcome or not called for. Candor is thus the flip side of discretion. That consideration of both candor and discretion is required to grasp the full application of the complicated virtue we call “honesty” is a fact that is lost on some people.

  21. Uh, by “flip side of discretion,” I meant that candor and discretion are two sides of the same coin, not opposites.

  22. Hi Dave,

    Good point. I guess I’d find discretion in, for example, not volunteering every little thing I know. Not being a spring-fanny in GD. Not pointing out the mistakes of high councilors except over at FPR as a lead-in to a post…

    I think that in several years, I’ve only made one unsolicited correction, and that was to a blatantly wrong conception of what faith in Christ is. I judged that the error was pretty serious and that it had gone completely over the teacher’s head before I spoke.

    Eric opened this with a comment on humility and the more I think about it, the more I think he’s really onto something.

  23. Rosalynde says:

    Hooray, Mogget! What a great post. I especially liked the phrase “dead and deadening debate.” And I’ve always loved this passage from Paul.

    You say that the substance of saving faith claims is not subject to h-c inquiry; do you believe it matters, then, that Jesus Christ was a living historical person, and that he actually, verifiably lived again after death? And wouldn’t these facts, though certainly unrecoverable given our distance in time from the events, still be in the realm of information theoretically subject to historical inquiry? I just wonder whether we too easily separate the two kinds of knowledge.

    And on the substance of your question, how about this: suit the response to the rhetorical requirements of the venue. In a GD class, use language that will maintain the Spirit and strengthen faith. In an historical journal, use language that will shed light on historical events and contexts. In personal conversation, share your personal synthesis of the two, suited of course to the interest and capacity of your interlocuter.

  24. Rosalynde,

    Your questions on the Historical Jesus are on the mark. Here are my thoughts:

    If it can be shown that Jesus never lived, Christianity has a problem.

    I think that the facticity of the resurrection is actually beyond h-c inquiry. Instead, it can report that a good many people said they saw Jesus after others reported his death, and that at least some of these folks considered him resurrected.

    Beyond that your advise is certainly sound, albeit easier said than done. I quite like Kevin’s point about being able to introduce the existence of multiple strands of LDS thought. I think that idea can really help, as well.

  25. Mogget:

    I might be onto something? I guess that’s one time in a row now!

    Your comment about Mary’s – you know – was a classic. I’ll laugh about that for a long time.

    But the humility thing. People like you (this is a compliment) could blow your fellow saints out of the water just about every Sunday. If it’s just to show off – yuck. Christ could also have blown a lot of people out of the water if he chose to. It seems sometimes he did – when they needed it, but usually didn’t. Come follow me and all.

    Cool post. I’m liking it more all the time.

  26. A month or so ago, I determined that I was going to take the presentation made by Darius Gray at BYU to a new black member of our ward, because he deserved to know what was in there. I voiced this plan to the Ward Mission Leader (I’m a Ward Missionary) at the time. Then a bunch of stuff came up and I was gone for most of a month.

    After I got home, my bishop pulled me aside and asked me not to do this (“I’d really rather you didn’t.” to be precise). He said that he had become good friends with the brother involved. I don’t know what that means. And I don’t yet know what I’m going to do about it. I told the bishop that I had decided that I didn’t need to tell this brother so much as we needed to tell the whole ward, because, frankly, him being a black Mormon wasn’t a problem, but some ignorant ward member spouting off about “seed of Cain” could certainly be a problem. I don’t think that fireside will take place — the bishop doesn’t like the idea.

    My position is that the Church of God has nothing to fear from the truth. If something is unpleasant or uncomfortable, but true and relevant, then it can not harm God’s Church. If we have a testimony based in a false understanding of events, then we do not have a testimony based in the Gospel, but, rather in our own comfort zones. I don’t consider crushing that testimony to be a bad thing — it’s house built upon sand, and it will fall — although I prefer it to be presented in such a way that a more sound reason for faith can be shown at the same time.

    I think I’m going to find/make an opportunity to share that presentation with this brother. It includes information that I tend to think the bishop doesn’t even know. And I think I should let the bishop know that I’m going to do it, and give him the opportunity to listen to the presentation and decide if he wants to present it to the ward.

    Which is, I guess, a long way of saying that I don’t yet know where to draw the line you’re seeking. Thanks for the discussion. It’s informing my understanding of the issue.

  27. Wow, Blain, that sounds like a really really bad idea. You should follow the counsel of your bishop here – just because you have a black man in your ward doesn’t mean that he immediately needs to absorb Darius Gray’s presentation.

    There is plenty of time for all those things. As a ward missionary, you have a responsibility not to just display all truth immediately, but to succor and aid new members in ways that will contribute to their long-term happiness. Your bishop has already told you not to do this in no uncertain terms. Most likely your WML will tell you something similar. I’d listen to them.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    Blain, if it were me, I wouldn’t do anything behind your bishop’s back. But I would have another conversation with your bishop and convince him that this brother, and probably the ward, needs such a presentation. (In my stake, the stake brought Darius in personally to speak to us–either the stake leadership or the entire stake, I forget which.)

    There are different views on the value of inoculation. I personally am a strong advocate of it; the Church as a general policy matter is leery of it, I confess. But the case of an American black member of the Church is different. There, in my view, he or she simply must be inoculated, or it is only a matter of time before some bomb blows up and knocks them out of the water.

  29. Mark Butler says:

    The “sensus plenior” or fuller interpretation, occasionally beyond what the author knew at the time, according to the working of the Holy Ghost in the writer, is the orthodox doctrine of the Church. Not only that, it is taught, implicitly or explicitly, all over the New and Old Testaments.

    See for example:

    Luke 8:10
    1 Corinthians chapters 1 and 2.
    1 Cor 13:2
    2 Peter 1:20-21
    Most of the book of Hebrews
    1 Ne 10:19
    Jacob 7:11
    Alma 12:9-11
    D&C 71:1

    Dallin Oaks, “Scripture Reading and Revelation”, Ensign, January 1995.

    In the latter article, Elder Oaks specifically notes the limitations of scriptural commentaries and secular scholarship as to determining the secondary, higher, inspired meanings of scriptural prophecies.

    He also repeats the teaching of Joseph Smith that one can learn more by studying the scriptures, and gradually learning the inspired intrepretation directly, than studying out of other books.

    Now on occasion, I have found something worthwhile in secular scriptural scholarship, but those things seem to be far overshadowed by the spurious misstatements of scholars who typically do not have any faith in the gift of prophecy or the spirit of revelation, who do not take the scriptures at their word until proven otherwise, who adopt a methodological agnosticism, and so on.

    If authorities in the past have made some mistakes, the only way one is likely to get a better understanding is to have the gift of prophecy yourself. Relying on secular scholarship alone turns the scriptures into something of little to no value, not milk, not meat, but an extremely dilute gruel, hardly worth consuming at all.

  30. Blain,

    Thanks for bringing up a side of this idea that I had not thought through.

    I second the voices that urge caution. Your situation is different because the Bishop has asked you to forebear. That’s an entirely new ballgame.

    I confess I haven’t thought it through completely, but it seems to me that the Bishop has some authority in the matter. Therefore, the responsibility is also his. If you cross his counsel, you assume some really major responsibility.


    Although your zeal is inspiring, I must point out that orthodoxy is not generally a consideration in a critical reading. You’ll be wanting the theologians with their dogmatics for that one, I think.

    I would also agree that a h-c reading will not, by definition, find the sensus plenior. That’s, um, why it’s called the sensus plenior, more or less. The SP and a h-c reading can sit side-by-side. If one supplants the other, however, there might be complications.

    Beyond that, where or how one learns in scripture is certainly an individual matter. I certainly wish you the best in your efforts.

  31. Mark,
    I don’t believe that anyone here is discounting prophecy or revelation. On the contrary, we might be discounting our ability to properly understand it. In any case, as we are not subject to it in a way that makes scriptural interpretation definitive to anyone beyond ourselves (I am, admittedly, assuming that you are in the same boat there), there would be no point in setting up our personal revelatory moments as commentary for others.

    When it comes to those whom God has called to give authorized revelatory explanations, we respect those. Saying that those revelations don’t reflect the apparent original intent of the scriptural passage in question in no way diminishes the scripture or the revelatory interpretation. Nor, for that matter, does it diminish the critical approach. The two systems appear to approach original intent from different angles, but there is no reason to allow one to trump the other. As Mogget, Kevin, and others have suggested, the best way through may be to offer all alternatives that are reasonably authoritative. After all, those whom God has called have not always espoused identical interpretations. If their understanding can develop, I see no reason why ours cannot also.

  32. Mark Butler says:


    That is precisely the problem. A “critical” reading implicitly ignores the scriptures own commentary on the scriptures. And more than that it explicitly prohibits the commentary of the Holy Ghost on the scriptures.

    If you accept these assumptions as founded in reality, nothing a prophet can say can have any prophetic significance whatsoever.

    In other words, the end of the Church of Jesus Christ, as an institution, and as a people, any different from a grab bag handful of other bizarre psuedo-agnostic-quasi-theistic philosophies and claimers of inspiration. In the world of secular scholarship inspiration doesn’t exist, and there can be no possible reason, however hypothetical to trust say the words of Joseph Smith or Dallin Oaks above outright atheists.

    If orthodoxy isn’t worth anything, neither is any Church, except of course the Church of all things non-religious, suitably watered down to have no position on anything at all.

  33. Mark Butler says:


    Please explain to me how in the world we can know that an ancient prophet did not have a dual meaning in mind the very moment he wrote the scripture down, according to the spirit of revelation within him.

    The Old Testament prophets switch back and forth between explicit ancient and latter day revelations, on such a regular and often explicitly signalled basis, that it seems difficult to believe they did not have the dual aspects of prophecy and parallels in particular, on their mind all the time.

    Elder Oaks said that secular scholarship was useful for determining the immediate application of various Old Testament prophecies, but that it was extremely inadequate for determining the other things those prophets had in mind. He quotes 1 Ne 15:3 in this regard:

    And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them.
    For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought.
    (1 Ne 15:2-3)

    So the problem is not that secular scholarship discovers interesting and useful things, it is that they claim an exclusive ownership on the contents of the original author’s mind without any warrant whatsoever.

  34. Mark,
    I assume that you are addressing what I wrote, not Mogget. No one here is attacking what the Holy Ghost, Joseph Smith, or Elder Oaks has (or had) to say. Where given audiences place the relative importance of those voices is up to the audience, not the commentator. The serious commentator considers what the audience expects, but there is no effective way to demand that an audience pay attention.

    Also, of course commentators don’t ignore what is found in other scripture. Generally, however, they realize that meaning changes over time. What Paul found in Isaiah is not necessarily what Isaiah intentionally put there. What Nephi finds in Isaiah is sometimes definitely not what Isaiah intentionally put there. This doesn’t disqualify Paul or Nephi as prophets or commentators and nobody here is arguing that it does.

    For that matter, nobody here is arguing against orthodoxy. We might be arguing against your perception thereof, but, as you haven’t deliniated it, I don’t think anyone is seriously doing that either.

    Finally, as Mogget would say, it seems like you are irritated because the h-c method doesn’t produce theological and philosophical arguments. That isn’t the job of the exegete. The h-c method was developed specifically to avoid producing theological or philosophical conclusions. It churns out data, which theologians, philosophers, crack-pots, and preachers use to make points, some good and some bad. It is a human and, therefore, imperfect endeavor and no-one has argued that it isn’t. However, it is better at getting to the original intent of the texts that we have than any other public endeavor that I could think of. In saying that, I am not discounting the value of prophets or revelation. I am saying that the heed which one gives to the interpretations received from them is a very private matter and should not be the subject of public speculation.

  35. Mark,
    I apologize for assuming that you were addressing me, when it seems you weren’t.

    “Please explain to me how in the world we can know that an ancient prophet did not have a dual meaning in mind the very moment he wrote the scripture down, according to the spirit of revelation within him.”

    Ultimately, only in the exact same manner that you have used to determine everything written had a dual meaning.

    “The Old Testament prophets switch back and forth between explicit ancient and latter day revelations, on such a regular and often explicitly signalled basis, that it seems difficult to believe they did not have the dual aspects of prophecy and parallels in particular, on their mind all the time.”

    How exactly do you know this, Mark? I know that there are some phrases that scholars have decided must have reference to the “latter days” but does that prevent them from also dealing with things in the original author’s present? How often are these “explicit” signals given and are we always without dispute over what constitutes as explicit signal? You are making some very sweeping statements here in areas in which I am aware of no consensus, within or without the church.

    In my experience, the Holy Ghost is informative regarding how to apply a given scripture to me. To be honest, I have never really troubled him regarding original intent. This is in part because I don’t see how it matters. As Seth mentioned above, we take what we need from scripture, not necessarily what was put there. I study using the h-c method because I am interested in why it got put there in the first place, but that is a secondary concern to my daily walk with God. In my daily walk, the Holy Ghost is paramount.

  36. HP,

    If I knew what was going on, I would be “arguing against orthodoxy.”


    Now that I have contributed nothing, I am going back to writing about Rousseau.


  37. Mark Butler says:


    And I am saying that the “h-c” method is fatally handicapped in terms of supplying source data for prophetic interpretation.

    In fact it is practically designed to make sure that there can be no such data of significance.

    Scriptural interpretation is not an empirical science. The only ways to interpret scriptures properly are twofold: (1) With the personal gift of prophecy (2) Relying on the gift of prophecy in others. That is what Peter teaches.

    “No scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophect came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

    The “h-c” method that you outline violates this principle in extremis. You call inspired interpretations “speculation”. I say inspired interpretations are the only ones that have any real value, that one must be inspired personally, or trust those that are to distinguish the quality of inspiration.

    So far as things of real value in the scriptures are concerned, the “h-c” method converges on worthlessness.

  38. Mark Butler, your comments are long but your point is brief: you don’t think that historical/critical approaches to the scriptures have any value. Fine. But can you see how that’s not really what DJ’s post is about, and how you have failed to approach her question? If you want to pontificate about the only “real value” of the scriptures, that’s fine — once again I would encourage you to create your own forum for such discussion.

  39. Rats! Steve stole my thunder.

    I apologize for the threadjack.

  40. Mark Butler says:


    My comments are directly to the point of a major theme of this thread, which is enlightening members as to the true “h-c” derived understanding of the scriptures. I did not bring out that theme, Moggett did herself in a long series of comments.

    As to whether my comments give supporting evidence for my objections to her and others comments on the naivete of prophetic interpretation that is ignorant of the data supplied by “h-c”, I will let them speak for themselves. Certainly they have an appearance of an actual argument, I think.

    That said, I will drop the topic, if you do not believe my comments are germane to the subject at hand.

  41. Thanks Mark.

  42. Mark Butler says:

    By the way, Steve, you over-read my second to last post, when you asserted that I do not think that “historical critical” approaches have any value. I argued that “historical critical” approaches, taken alone in the manner that has been suggested, gradually converged on something with no real or lasting value, e.g. prophetic or spiritual value.

    They certainly have interesting historical value, to the same degree as other secular scholarship. [I intend to drop the subject, as instructed, really.]

  43. Goodness gracious! Now might be a good time to take a deep breath. You seem to have learned about the historical-critical method from someone who neither appreciated nor understood it.

    If you like, I am sure we can put our heads together and fix you up with a good intro. The Monk has one, now that I think about it. All about why exegesis is not like sunday school and all that.

    From a historical perspective, it’s unlikely that an appreciation of the results of a historical-critical inquiry means the end church life as we know it. Both the RC and the Prots seem to be fine.

    Historical-critical inquiry asks what can be learned by using a specific set of methodologies and approaches. All are mundane, for lack of a better word. Deliberately so.

    Folks from many different confessional backgrounds now talk about scripture rather than fighting. In theory, even non-Christians and atheists can “do” historical-cricital work.

    This creates limits — we’re limited by our knowledge of history, limited by our knowledge of the languages, culture, society, etc. Good exegetes know these limits.

    Good exegetes are not prophets and good exegesis is never a substitute for prophecy or the Spirit. It can, however, bring things to our attention that may then become something the Spirit can testify to.

    Good exegesis is a careful, disciplined look at scripture to capture a sense of how the folks who came before us thought about God, life, etc. In a church that claims to be a restoration, I cannot fathom disinterest.

    Finally, diachronic exegesis takes explicit note of the commentary of scripture on scripture. It is a very difficult and exacting field because it require a grasp of a span of history as well as a diachronic mastery of (usually) two languages.

  44. DJ/Mogget (#6), I like the approach of regarding the D&C en masse as part of the ‘canon,’ but not of the entire thing necessarily as ‘revelation.’ Here I think of the ‘canon’ as a community’s best collective judgment and perception of God’s word and will for them, a provisional working body of standard texts by which their official discourse and practice proceeds. In contrast I like to construe ‘revelation’ pretty narrowly: actual instances of communication from God to man.

    This has a couple of advantages. First, it allows the heterogeneity of genres in the canon room to breath; writings of various sorts are allowed to not be more than what they need to be. One can think and feel differently about, say, the article on government than one might about Section 1. Second, it provides greater allowance for slippage between God’s eternal truth, so to speak, and what has ended up in the canon by whatever convoluted processes landed it there. Because D&C 77 is part of the canon, in official Church meetings and such I would be careful to never ‘diss’ it; but outside of this I might well consider it nothing more than Joseph’s best personal guesses, and not revelation.

  45. My favorite GD teacher was a Biblical studies graduate student, who was so bold as to say in introducing a new book of scripture at the beginning of a new year, “Our method in class will be the Historical-Critical method,” even writing “Historical-Critical” on the board. Obviously in practice it was “historical-critical” in lowercase, with the afterburners off, so to speak; things were pretty much always in line with standard expectations. What he meant was that we would be taking context and background of the text into account, and not treating isolated fragments as disembodied idealizations.

  46. Mark Butler says:

    Where that is what someone means, three cheers for them!

  47. Along with Christian’s comments, I’ve noted before that D&C 77:

    1. Isn’t like many other sections of the D&C in that it is not written as the voice of God speaking.

    2. If I remember correctly, it was not cannonized until under Brigham Young.

    I’m not issuing a judgement, only pointing out facts that might be relevant to a full consideration of the issue.

    On the larger point, thanks for pointing out Paul’s teaching and this connection. I have enjoyed the discussion.

  48. 27 — He did not tell me not to do it, nor were his words that certain. “I would rather you didn’t,” isn’t even a request not to. And my WML’s grandmother was Juanita Brooks — he has an attraction to real history and an ability to displease priesthood leaders if he sees the need. I haven’t talked to him about the latest turn of events — other things have been more important.

    28 — I think we’re singing from the same page. I don’t like the idea of going behind my Bishop’s back. It’s not my style. I like the idea of just letting him know what I’ve decided to do (not asking for permission, so he doesn’t need to worry about needing to give or withhold permission) and offering him information with which he can make a choice. Maybe I should talk to a mutual friend about this first. I could do that Saturday. Hmm.

    30 — Thanks. Interestingly enough, my Bishop didn’t bring nor use any authority in this. He could have said “I have the impression that this just isn’t the right way to handle it,” and I would have been done. I think part of the problem is that he doesn’t know (most likely) what exactly I plan to do, and is concerned with what I’m going to present. He kinda sees me as a bit of a loose cannon, and he’s not sure what he’s going to get from me in general — our approaches to things are very, very different.

    I have someone else I’m going to talk to about this, maybe two, and then I’ll see what option makes the most sense.

  49. BTW, the latest FARMS Review has an article by Royal Skousen concerning the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. In light of this discussion, some of what Skousen says might be useful.

  50. Sensus Plenior huh?


    Every time you come up with an idea that seems new in your own mind, you always seem to discover later that some Catholic monk back in the 1300s or something already had the same thought, wrote about it, and it’s been kicking around for centuries now.

    Truly, there is “nothing new under the sun.”

  51. Mark Butler says:

    Seth R., Who are you talking to? I did not introduce the term into this discussion, Moggett did. I admit an affinity for certain fourteenth century Christian philosophers, but it would be far off track for me to defend them here.

  52. Mark Butler says:

    Actually, now I think I understand where you are coming from, Seth. My apologies – I did not realize you were speaking rhetorically.

  53. DJ Kirby says:

    Christian, Jared,

    Thanks! Those are great points. I needed to hear that about Section 77 and the D&C in general. A pleasure to hear from both you gentlemen!


    Yeah, those Catholic monks and all that. I was actually very intrigued to see that someone had worked through that whole thing logically!

    I don’t think I’d heard or thought of it til I got to grad school. The professor, a RC priest, said it was [bunk] in one three word sentence, then left it forever.

  54. Mark IV says:


    In our Doctrine and Covenants, there is often an explanatory paragraph at the beginning of a section that explains the context of what we are about to read. Who is speaking, who is present, the date, the location, the circumstances leading up to the occasion, etc. My understanding of the value of historical-critical inquiry is as an attempt to give context to other texts in our canon. How far off base am I? I shudder to think what we would make of the sections that use false place names and psduedonyms if we didn’t have the explanatory notes, and we are only 175 years removed, and it is in English.

    It is so interesting for me to think about Joseph Smith and the rest of them meeting upstairs at the Kirtland temple to study Hebrew and compare bible translations. Illiterate frontiersmen had opinions about Luther’s bible!

  55. Hi Mark IV,

    Yes, you’re on the mark about the value of context in appreciating scripture. I think the h-c is necessary, though rarely sufficient.

    Those intro paragraphs in the D&C have just become an item of interest. I think that the folks who really work with the D&C use far more than just what’s there. But you’re right, if it’s a choice between nothing and those, I’ll take the paragraphs as is.

    And yeah, it tickles me too that JS and his buddies had so much initiative with those translations!

  56. Seth R. says:

    No problem Mark …

    In fact, I’m not really sure that I ever realized I was being disagreed with. That’s what comes of trying to juggle multiple conversations at once.

  57. “How much candor is too much?”

    To the question I add my observation of Truman Madsen. As a missionary I heard his series of lectures about Joseph Smith. Later, I learned much more about the Prophet and the arguments that had been leveled against him and the church. Some tricky questions and history! Even later, I listened to the tapes again. I was surprised and delighted to notice on several occasions throughout the talks a subtle nod of the head by Madsen that he was aware of these difficult issues but that they were tangential to the point he was making.

    I have since tried to follow in Madsen’s pattern in my limited teaching and speaking in the church. I usually try to find a way to subtly acknowledge the more difficult issue while leaving it unexplored in a public setting. There is so much of value to talk about that there isn’t much time for the controversy in our public meetings.

    Incidentally, I loved Jim F.’s post about how he interprets scripture.

  58. Jothegrill says:

    Hi, I’m a little late coming into this conversation, but I have some strong feelings concerning the matter. I have a relative who wrote me a letter some years back to tell me the “truth” about my ancestry. It was full of stories about how they were wronged by the church and lost their faith. This was not at all motivated by love. It was a direct attempt to destroy my faith, to destroy my hope, and to make me “stumble.” The stories may have actually happened, but you know what? I didn’t really need to know. It didn’t do me any good and it hurt me quite a bit. This was not virtuous honesty, it was evil and hurtful. I think this is what Paul was preaching about, but it is an extreme case. A mild case happened to me more recently. Someone I love brought up some uncomfortable issues. He was very hesitant to do it because he thought it would shake my faith and that it would hurt me. Honestly it did hurt, and it made me question things, but it gave me an opportunity to grow. I was made strong enough to deal with it because God knew I needed it. There are others who aren’t at that point in their lives and we need to be careful with them, so very careful, because the human soul is a very delicate thing.
    Someone mentioned earlier that in finding out that what they thought was true about some detail in church history is not true someone may throw out “the whole package.” That is a very real danger and something I never want to be responsible for.

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