Category: Scriptures

Reading Scripture in the 21st Century

space the final frontier

I recently read Thinking Through Our Faith: Theology for Twenty-first-Century Christians (Abingdon Press, 1998) by C. David Grant, a professor of religion at TCU. The book might be described as a short prologue to a 21st-century approach to theology, one that takes full account of science, historical criticism, and pluralism — in short, the sort of book you probably would not encounter in a BYU undergraduate religion class.



Sometimes unintentional mistakes lead to interesting lines of thought. A few weeks ago I misheard a speaker in an LDS meeting. The speaker was quoting John 14:27, and either because of the speaker’s mispronunciation or my imperfect hearing, I heard the word “live” instead of the word “leave.” This lead me to think about what it means to live in peace.

Notable Race-Related Changes to Footnotes and Chapter Headings in the Standard Works

Marvin Perkins is a Latter-day Saint music producer who is currently the Public Affairs Co-chair for the Genesis Group and who has worked to nurture understanding between African Americans and Latter-day Saints and attack misconceptions (see our 12 Questions series with Brother Perkins from 2009).  This morning, Brother Perkins circulated the following email to his “Blacks in the Scriptures” listserve (which is re-posted here with his permission): ______________________________ Friends, Many of you have recognized the new website.  Some of you have recognized that with the new site also came changes to chapter headings and footnotes in the scriptures.  Not nearly as significant in number as the changes that were made in the 1981 edition of the LDS scriptures, but equally confirming on the messages being conveyed.  Here are a list of the changes that I’m aware of, along with some thoughts and two very compelling short videos below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts as you prayerfully review the…

What we talk about when we talk about God

photo courtesy of wikimedia commons

Bruce Feiler’s daughter was just five when she pitched him a question right to the gut of religious experience:  “Daddy, if I speak to God, will he listen?” Feiler writes books on the Bible and God for a living, so he’d presumably given the question some thought. Nevertheless he had no good answer ready for his daughter. So he did what any loving parent would do:  answered the question with an inartful dodge, and then wrote about it in the New York Times style section. How do we answer our children’s questions about God, he asked, when we are ourselves doubtful, confused, or otherwise conflicted? Feiler solicited comments on the matter from a formerly-Catholic agnostic playwright, a formerly-Episcopalian agnostic New Testament scholar, and a popular Conservative rabbi in Los Angeles.  It’s not hard to guess the direction their responses took.  Among the educated elite readership of the NYT, a kind of ritualistic doubt partners with a set of tolerant gestures…

Correlation is Killing Sunday School

Once upon a time, there was Sunday School, an independent auxiliary whose officers were appointed by senior LDS leaders and whose primary task was to develop a Sunday School curriculum, and commission and supervise the writing of lesson manuals. They did a nice job. Then came Correlation.

Myth and Ritual

Like some of you, I’ve been reading a book or two on the Old Testament, this year’s Sunday School course of study. Most recently I read Susan Niditch’s Ancient Israelite Religion (OUP, 1997), described in the jacket blurb as “a perceptive, accessible account of the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Israelites.” Too often our approach to the Old Testament is essentially cherrypicking — highlighting passages that affirm our own beliefs and understanding while skimming over or simply ignoring everything else. We can do better. Niditch takes a worldview approach, suggesting we ought to strive to see how the Israelites saw the world as a way to understand Israelite religion. Myth and ritual are two aspects of this “worldview analysis,” which, along with experience and ethics, form the template Niditch uses to examine the Israelite worldview revealed by the texts of the Hebrew Bible and by surviving archeological artifacts. I’ll touch on a few of the points Niditch makes…

How to write a revelation


I have been working on a paper looking at the Doctrine and Covenants, and my research has me thinking about how the texts of modern revelation were produced.  I think that there are a lot of Mormons who assume that the words of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were dictated word for word to Joseph.  On this model, the Doctrine and Covenants is rather like the Qua’ran, which also consists of a series of revelations given to a prophet over a period of years in response to concrete historial circumstances.  Pious Muslims affirm that the Qua’ran was dictated word for word in classical Arabic to the Prophet Muhammed and transmitted without error to the present.  Some Islamic theologians have gone farther, declaring that the Qua’ran is uncreated in time.  Rather, it is an eternal emanation of the Divine mind, the Word that was in the beginning with God incarnate in the world.  (There are problems with this story of the…

An Unexpected Gift

06-17-2010 090

At 3:28 this morning we welcomed a new son into the world. As one would expect, congratulations and well-wishes have come flooding in from friends and family all day. And for all of these we have been moved and grateful. First thing this morning, however, we received a congratulatory gift we hadn’t anticipated. Women housed in the Alexandria Detention Center had sent us a hand-crocheted blanket, cap and set of booties. (In Packer yellow-and-green for my Cheese-head wife no less). Both modern and ancient scripture admonish us to serve the “least” of those among us, noting that doing so is akin to serving Christ himself. My wife and I found ourselves touched that, at such a sacred and spiritual time for our family as the birth of our new son, we had been remembered by some gracious women who, by some standard, might consider to be the “least” of those in our society today. Humbled by the act, we resolved…

Genesis and Genre

When we read Genesis, what exactly are we reading? The distinctions and categories we modern readers bring to books and narratives (fiction or nonfiction; science or folk tale; history or literature; poetry or prose; author’s original text or quoted source) may not serve us well when we read the Old Testament, a collection of ancient literature. Its writers used different conventions. What were they? What exactly are we reading when we read Genesis?

Reviving the Hebraic


Every four years we have a celebrated ritual during the second hour of church: it is the discussion by all members present on the topic of being uncomfortable studying the Old Testament. 

Lucan Infancy Narrative

[Once again, these are just notes, and they do not even begin to do the subject justice, but yesterday’s Matthew notes were able to spark some good discussion. I will response and comment as I can today, but, hey, it is Christmas Eve Day!] While Matthew’s is largely from Joseph’s perspective, Luke’s from Mary’s This does not mean, however, that Joseph and Mary were necessarily the sources—rather that the evangelists focused on them and what they represented Luke included poetic passages or songs to personalize the characters of his infancy narrative (canticles, more below) Luke adds the stories about John the Baptist as literary foils to compare and contrast with the story of Jesus While Matthew and Luke differ, and even conflict, on some details, the important facts are all confirmed by the Book of Mormon Mary was a virgin from Nazareth, where she divinely conceived Jesus (1 Nephi 11:13–20) Jesus was the son of God and his mother was…

The Matthean Infancy Narrative

[Christmas realities have hit, making me admit that full length blogs the last two days of Christmas week are just not feasible! So forgive me as I just post here some “notes” on Matt and later Luke, consisting of largely recycled material from my class lectures!] Matthew’s is largely from Joseph’s perspective, Luke’s from Mary’s This does not mean, however, that Joseph and Mary were necessarily the sources—rather that the evangelists focused on them and what they represented For Matt, Joseph’s proposed status as a Davidid makes Jesus David’s true heir, although admittedly through “adoption” or legal recognition by Joseph, not literal descent Matthew does not mention Nazareth until the end of his account, presenting the possibility that Joseph was from Bethlehem and Mary was from Nazareth Was it an arranged marriage and Joseph went to Nazareth to retrieve his new bride? The problem of the “census” is will be treated in the next blog on the Lucan infancy narrative…

Studying the Infancy Narratives

Bloch, "Birth of Christ"

This Christmas Eve, most of us will at least read the “Christmas Story,” as found in Luke 2:1-20. As we approach the holiday, a few more diligent souls will read all of the Infancy Narratives, as found in Matt 1-2 AND Luke 1-2. Yet even when reading (as opposed to just remembering or “thinking” about) these familiar texts, the tendency will be to harmonize the two accounts, resulting in a hybrid vision of the birth of Jesus that accords nicely with the Christmas pageants that we will watch and the Nativity scenes that we have set up. But our Christmas creches—which confidently put three kings (as opposed to two or more magi or wise men) at the stable (not mentioned in Luke, although he does record a manger) along with shepherds and various animals under a star—are the result not only of jarring harmonization, but even some creative fabrication. This harmonizing tendency is alive and well in the LDS community,…

Priesthood Session in a Nutshell

President Uchtdorf conducted the Priesthood session, featuring talks by Elder Ballard, Elder Gonzalez, Elder Choi, Elder Uchtdorf, Elder Eyring and President Monson. Direct quotations (based on my notes) are given in quotes; phrases without quotes are my summary of the remarks given.

Royal Skousen’s 12 questions — The Critical Text Version

Last month we posted Royal Skousen’s discussion of his work on recovering the earliest version of the Book of Mormon, along with some updates.  Unfortunately, that post garnered some annoying formatting problems — mostly due to the new format T&S adopted this year.  We’re happy to now present to you mark III of Royal Skousen’s 12 questions interview.  Royal Skousen’s book, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, was published last month by Yale University Press and yes, you can order  it at Amazon.

Divine Comedy, Divine Tragedy

The Bible, as we have received it, sets out the drama of salvation with its wrenching fall and crucifixion, but joyous resurrection and exaltation. Though its compilation is in many ways ad hoc, there is a satisfyingly comedic structure to the whole. As Terryl Givens puts it in his The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction, just out from Oxford University Press, “There is a neat symmetry . . . Primordial creation is balanced by apocalypse and heavenly postscript . . . All tears are wiped away, and the primal fall and alienation are remedied by reunion under the beneficent reign of God the Father” (p61). The Book of Mormon is very different.

12 Questions for Marvin Perkins, Part Four

Here is the last installment of our 12 Questions with Marvin Perkins, comprised of Brother Perkins’ responses to our last two questions. We’d like to thank Brother Perkins for the time and effort he’s put in to giving us a set of very substantive and thought-provoking responses.

What Does My Lack of Personal Trials Say About Me?

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I should talk about in my inaugural post on this blog.  Quite honestly, when I agreed to do a stint as a guest blogger, I thought it would be pretty easy.  But, lately, it seems that all my Mormonism-related thoughts have been trite and meaningless.  For example, I considered drafting a post complaining about one of the teachers Elders Quorum and his refusal to teach out of the manual.  But, honestly, I think that post would have just ended up being a rant about a quorum discussion outlining the evils of facial hair (true story, by the way) and I don’t think that’s what the faithful readers of this blog are looking for. 

Breathing the Breath of God

Genesis (2:7) says that God breathed life into Adam’s nostrils. Is our life a portion of God’s? Jesus quoted a Psalm (82:6) that said, “Ye are gods,” when confronted about his claims to divinity. Mormons are usually not so bold, but there is certainly an element in our tradition that states that humans are children of God, like godlings, capable of developing into gods. Is this idea arrogant or humbling? It depends.

Faith and Healing

“And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed. He who hath faith to see shall see. He who hath faith to hear shall hear. The lame who hath faith to leap shall leap.” (D&C 42:48-51)  

Getting over Nibley

Of late I have been thinking of late about how to read Mormon scriptures.  In particular, I have been working on some passages in the Book of Mormon on legal interpretation and thinking about how best to approach these sections.  By and large, it seems to me that there have been three basic models of how to read LDS scriptures.  First, there has been what I think of as an external, sectarian reading.  This consists essentially of proof texting in debates and discussions with Protestant outsiders.  There is a sense in which this is the oldest kind of LDS hermeneutic.  The first Mormons to carefully study the scriptures with Mormon eyes were looking for biblical verses with which to answer Campbellite critics and other Protestant naysayers of the Restoration.  The second LDS hermeneutic has been internal.  It is aimed not at outsiders but at Latter-day Saints and it has served two purposes.  The first, and  in my opinion overwhelmingly the most important, reading has been…

Commentary on 1 Nephi 17, pt. 1

This is the first of a series of posts in which I will be offering some commentary on 1 Nephi 17. Why that particular chapter you ask? The answer is that I believe that chapter 17 is setting forth a method of scriptural interpretation that proved to be very important both for the Book of Mormon and for Mormonism generally. Furthermore, what I find fascinating about the story is that ultimately it is about the legal interpretation of scripture.