We in the Church—along with many other Christians—read the “Fourth Servant Song” in Isaiah 52:13–53:12 as transparently about Jesus. It’s kind of hard not to: phrases like “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” fit the Christological narrative almost too perfectly. And yet the presence of this passage in the Hebrew Scriptures suggests the possibility of a reading that has nothing at all to do with Jesus, because Jews obviously do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. So what is this other reading? More pointedly, why should we as Christians bother to look beyond the seemingly straightforward identification of the “servant” in this passage with Jesus?
Many people find problematic the extent to which the Book of Mormon quotes the King James Version of the Bible, because this practice can make the Book of Mormon look more like a cobbled-together 19th-century text than a translation of an ancient artifact (bearing in mind Joseph Smith’s idiosyncratic usage of “translation”). Without claiming to offer a solution to this conundrum, I’d like to put forward an 1820s analogue, in which the translator of a recently recovered text relied uncritically on the King James Version, in the process masking some interesting details of the scriptural text presented.
Leshana Tova Tikoseiv Vesichoseim Le’Alter LeChaim Tovim U’Leshalom — “May you be inscribed and sealed for a Good Year and for a Good and Peaceful Life”
In 1 Corinthians 6:19, it says: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” As some Mormon youth teachers used to like to say to encourage chastity: “Your body is a temple, and he doesn’t have a recommend!” or as I saw on a tee shirt: “Your body is a temple, not a visitor center.” This scripture is often trotted out in opposition to tattoos or piercings, likening those actions to vandalism of the exterior temple walls. It’s also used to support the Word of Wisdom, and this interpretation isn’t unique to Mormonism. Other faiths use it to enforce modesty, anti-smoking and temperance.
But what if this scripture is not referring to our individual bodies, but the body of saints? Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians 12: 12-14: [Read more…]
As an American living in Asia, I often experienced cultural disconnects. A peer or friend would make a comment so obviously based on assumptions or values I didn’t share that I realized that my own values and assumptions must sound equally foreign to them.
Last year, a colleague in India made a statement that I found very unsettling. He said: “When we focus on results nothing changes. When we focus on change we see results.” Since this claim was made in a business setting in a results-driven culture, I was taken aback. I had to ask him to repeat it several times, yet it still flew in the face of everything I believe as a business person. I really was at a loss how to respond to someone who believed that. Was he really saying you should get an A for effort and that results didn’t matter? If so, that explained a lot about the results I was seeing from his group! [Read more…]
This post began as a response to J. Stapley’s recent post about Ordinances but quickly veered off in a tangent that would have constituted a threadjack of his post, so I’ve posted it as an independent contemplation.
J. was exploring possible origins of Mormon use of the word “ordinance” (or early influence as to the use and meaning of the word) in legal usage in his post and especially in the ensuing discussion in the comments (J. notes that he is beginning to think that “JS . . . was explicitly using legal language” when using the term “ordinance”). I think “covenant” also falls into this category of a term coopted from legal usage to express a religious teaching. [Read more…]
As Rebecca J just noted, the theme for youth instruction for the month of June is priesthood and priesthood keys. In the revelations of Joseph Smith, the Biblical leitmotifs of opening and closing, of binding and unbinding, and of sealing and unsealing all come to be associated in deeply significant ways with the priesthood orders of the Church. In this post, I will focus on the theme of opening and closing as it connects to the imagery of keys.
I must admit, before my trip to New Zealand over the holidays I had never heard of the Mormon Maori prophecies. I knew that there are many Polynesian church members. I was aware that the most popular religion in the island of Molokai (the spiritual center of Hawaii) is Mormonism, and that there are many Samoan and Tongan church members. As for the Maori, I knew that they were Pacific Islanders. I knew the men danced the haka and the women danced with poi balls. I knew that they once practiced cannibalism (practice makes perfect!) and were considered fierce by early European seafarers who visited the islands. I knew that one of their greetings (touching foreheads and sharing a breath) is similar to the Eskimos (rubbing noses).
We’ve just experienced the Mormon preaching festival. That is, general conference! In addition to inspired teaching, it gives the outside world a chance to experience some of the variety of Mormon address. And besides, I’ve been toiling over chapter 7 of the book, rewriting, rethinking some, and redoing other. This represents mental suds rising to the top of my brain-glass.
Texts are always encased by interpretation. Generations come and go, and interpretation floods over texts, at least those that rise to surface (paradoxically), via unearthing by graduate students or rediscovery by the public, or just constant devotion, etc. Scripture is no exception, and everyone, not just Nephi, deploys a kind of rationalization with circumstance and inspiration to come up with a correlated understanding, whether that be official, communal, familial, or even “backlistial.” Among Mormons, Joseph Smith’s sermons are quite often seen as doctrinal in some sense, a sense I won’t attempt to make precise.
This week, Utah Valley University plays host to what promises to be a fascinating conference on Mormonism’s scriptural canon. Five reasons you should attend: [Read more…]
Not since 1981 (and maybe even before, I’ll let the textual/scriptural scholars determine the amount of change versus other scriptural compilations) have this many changes been made to our modern Mormon quad.
So needless to say (but I guess I need to say it anyway) it’s incredibly exciting.
And while there is a lot of new scriptural commentary to peruse, compare, and explore, I’m going to jump right to Official Declaration–2 as it still is Black History Month for a few more hours here.
The new version now begins: “Book of Mormon teaches that ‘all are alike unto God,’ including ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33). [Read more…]
I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that my gay friends investigate the church. [Read more…]
Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.
This covers much the same material as the last lesson, historically and thematically. The emphasis continues to be on Oliver Cowdery’s experiences translating the Book of Mormon and, specifically, his attempts to recognize the spirit of revelation in his own life. While the emphasis of last week’s lesson was more on preparing yourself to receive revelation, this week’s lesson has more to do with recognizing what on earth is going on when it happens.
First of all, go to the new Revelations in Context resource at lds.org and read the article by Jeffrey Cannon on Oliver Cowdery’s Gift. While you are hopping around, go to Robin Jensen’s post on last week’s lesson and read that as well. Now return to this post and feel bad; I’m neither as knowledgeable, nor as good a writer as those guys. Oh well.
If there is one message to take from all of the sections being covered this week (and last week) it is this: revelation is not easy work. [Read more…]
I ordained my son a deacon a couple of weeks ago. The first thing he did when we got home was to facetiously wave his hands toward a chair and attempt to move it with the power of his mind and/or Priesthood. I immediately told him, “The Priesthood is not a superpower.” It is something that, I suppose, bears repeating. [Read more…]
A Christmas memory: At some point in my teenage years my mother purchased a new nativity set, a Fontanini. I didn’t eagerly await the unwrapping of the nativity scene in the same way I did the Dickens Village; it was a tradition each year for my parents to purchase one new piece for the village. Possibly my favorite Christmas memories consisted of watching the village grow year after year. When I finally left home the Village had become quite substantial. But the preparations for the traditions into which we spoke and enacted every Christmas were not complete until the Nativity had been unwrapped and carefully and lovingly arranged on the table. The placement of the Nativity allowed the celebration to officially commence.
I find most Bible films to be unsatisfying. Here’s what I would like to see in a Nativity film:
1. Authentic-looking actors. I realise that a film is by its very nature make believe, but any attempt to reproduce the biblical world has to look and sound right. [Read more…]
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
Christian love is not romance, affection, and sentimentality. It is transgressive, a love that disturbs and destabilizes as much as it binds and connects. Slavoj Zizek calls Christian love an unplugging or uncoupling  Love unplugs us from our original organic communities (families, circles of chosen intimate friends) in order to inscribe us within a larger community. Not that it severs all familial ties, but that it severs us from the belief that there must only be familial ties, or better: That familial ties must increase and expand, and do so exponentially. Love does this through re-orienting the ways in which we value and interact with knowledge.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [Read more…]
Title: Let the Earth Bring Forth: Evolution and Scripture
Author: Howard C. Stutz
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Pages: xvi, 87
Price: $15.95 ($9.95, Kindle)
“One of the greatest tragedies in recent times has been the extensive promulgation of creeds that have created chasms between science and religion. At no time in the history of humankind has science provided a more comprehensible panorama of the universe in which we live. Nor has there ever been a time when God has more clearly revealed Himself and His purposes to His children. Why then should there be so much apparent conflict between science and religion?” (xix).
Let the Earth Bring Forth is the culminating testimony of a man who spent his life successfully exploring the realms of faith and science. In addition to earning a Ph.D in genetics at UC Berkeley and teaching at Brigham Young University, Howard C. Stutz (b. 1918) served in various church callings from bishop, to high councilor, to stake patriarch. In university and church settings he interacted with students who were unsure of how to make sense of evolution from a faithful perspective. Shortly before passing away in 2010, Stutz completed his manuscript to “point out the harmony which exists between the theory of speciation by organic evolution and revealed truths contained in hold scriptures” (xv).
Stutz repeatedly emphasizes a few guiding principles throughout the book: [Read more…]
Title: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today
Author: N. T. Wright
N.T. Wright has been called “the C.S. Lewis for our time.” Like Lewis, Wright is Anglican. Like Lewis, Wright’s overriding purpose is to demonstrate Christianity’s relevance for our times (Lewis with modernism, Wright with postmodernism). Lewis wrote Surprised by Joy, Wright wrote Surprised by Hope. Like Lewis, Wright’s style is cleverly engaging. This particular similarity is evident from the first line of Wright’s latest publication:
“Writing a book about the Bible is like building a sandcastle in front of the Matterhorn. The best you can hope to do is to catch the eye of those who are looking down instead of up, or those who are so familiar with the skyline that they have stopped noticing its peculiar beauty” (ix).
Odds are, if you’ve enjoyed Lewis’s theological or devotional writings, you’ll enjoy Wright’s. Some differences between the two deserve attention. Unlike Lewis, who was content to remain a lay Anglican, Wright once served as Bishop of Durham, and sat in the UK’s House of Lords. Unlike Lewis, who was an armchair theologian and literary critic whose fiction largely outranks his non-fiction, Wright is a distinguished Bible scholar who takes higher criticism much more seriously than Lewis could have. Lewis still serves as a safe source for many Mormons who are pleased to find similar theological ground in the works of a non-LDS author. Wright can easily serve a similar purpose for Mormons in regards to contemporary biblical scholarship.1 He has a knack for making complex academic discussions comprehensible to regular folk like me. It is with this in mind that I recommend his latest book, Scripture and the Authority of God.2 It’s a lot thicker than its 224 pages appear at first glance as evinced by this over-long, chapter-by-chapter review, but at least the prose is almost always accessible and the analogies creative! [Read more…]
Elder Scott, in his recent Conference address, extended a call to greater devotion of our scripture. This devotion, in his life, seems, in part, to have emerged from the practice of memorizing scripture. Within Mormonism memorizing scripture is tightly bound with seminary and the experience of Missionaries. The practice is often geared toward establishing as truth a particular doctrine or concept through a specific verse from the standard works. The ability to do this well seems to have become the Latter-day Saint definition of a ‘scriptorian’. As such, I fear this association has lead some to conflate the practice of memorization with the act of proof-texting but this is not necessarily the case and it under-appreciates the religious value of this form of devotion.
Having had a go myself, I am always keen on efforts to talk sensibly about Old Testament ethics. Oxford professor John Barton’s slim volume offers a collection of his own lectures on biblical morality and does a very good job moving the conversation beyond simple caricatures of the text. [Read more…]
Italo Calvino’s If on a winter night a traveler is a novel of starts with no stops. Calvino explores language and the relationship between texts and readers. I happened to be reading it at the same time I was going through Brant A. Gardner’s new book The Gift and the Power: Translating the Book of Mormon. I’ll post my full review of Gardner tomorrow, but here’s an excerpt from Calvino to ponder in the meantime. [Read more…]
[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
My first encounter with Jim Faulconer came on my mission to South Korea. I’d been in the country about a year, and my companion at the time had an older brother who was studying philosophy back at BYU. He sent his younger brother a recent essay by Jim: “Self-Image, Self-Love, and Salvation”, a masterpiece which has since been reprinted and celebrated and attacked many times. I don’t know why this fellow thought his brother would like or need the essay: perhaps it just struck him as a great piece of writing, or perhaps he thought his brother would relate to Jim’s own experiences as a missionary in South Korea more than 20 (now more than 40!) years before, or perhaps he thought his brother would value Jim’s advice. If the last of these, he misjudged his brother greatly; my companion looked through the essay, turned to me and said (if my memory is accurate, which it probably isn’t) “This guy just doesn’t like people being successful and making money!”, and threw it in the trash. I retrieved it, read through it, and realized several things, among them: 1) this man, James E. Faulconer, has put into better words than I ever could at least a portion of the many inchoate and confused thoughts I had about my situation as a missionary and a Christian, and 2) that I want to read everything he’d ever written, or ever would write.
As it turned out, Jim’s thoughts, profound as they were (and are) didn’t do much to prevent me from being a pretty crappy missionary, but I have attempted diligently to read just about everything Jim has written in the years since, and I have been blessed by that determination. Let me take a few moments to attempt to explain why.
Tomorrow is stake conference, and then a week from tomorrow I’ll be teaching GD lesson 21, which is JS-M. I haven’t actually prepared the lesson yet, but in pulling some stuff together I noticed something that was new to me and which I thought was interesting. [Read more…]
The notion that “all the answers are found in the scriptures” is an idea I’ve heard expressed in the church on many levels and times. I think this and some variations on it are commonly stated themes in assorted Church settings. We can even find this kind of anchor text belief about just the Book of Mormon alone. It’s all you need.