Does Joseph Smith Pass the Biblical Prophet Test?

I have always enjoyed scripture study. I was attempting to “feast on the words” of the Bible but it had always been difficult for me. There seemed to often be some bit of historical context I was missing, or certain passages that seemed to contradict Mormon doctrine. To make matters worse, each time I would look through all of the Mormon resources I had available to me, the verses or chapters I had the most questions about seemed to be completely ignored. I looked everywhere to find Mormon-written books on the Bible to provide answers: Institute and Seminary manuals, commentaries available at Deseret Book, etc. I found almost all of them to be unsatisfying; most were devotional in nature, and typically used the verses as a starting point from which to quote from prophets and apostles, which meant it didn’t really address the scriptures directly. I went on a search for non-Mormon commentaries and first found a lot of Evangelical commentaries which were often more scholarly and certainly longer and more in-depth, but just as frustrating. When it came to interpretations of scripture, everything had to fit in an evangelical belief system. So while I had found more detailed commentaries, I was simply trading one religious interpretation for another. Eventually I found more academic commentaries such as the Anchor Bible series. Some may argue that these commentaries still have a bias, simply an academic or even non-believing bias. However, I found them refreshing. Rather than sweeping confusing passages under a rug and quoting from other parts of the Bible to support a position, the commentators actually read what the scriptures said, and tried to interpret what it means, even if it contradicts other scripture. This academic approach also created problems, however. I quickly ran into areas of academic consensus which were either superficially, or entirely opposed, to Mormon Doctrine. While Mormons emphasize the importance of scripture written by Prophets, I learned that many books attributed to famous Biblical figures were actually not written by...

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The Woman Taken in Adultery in History and the Gospel of John

The question of what is original and what is not to the earliest version of any book of scripture can be a very sensitive subject. This is compounded when you are discussing a section of one of the Christian gospels that deals specifically with a well-known story in the life of Jesus. The reason it can be controversial is because the conclusion has implications for how a faith community might approach or even think (or believe) about a certain text. The narrative that I will briefly discuss is found in John 7:53-8:11, which is the story of the woman “who had been caught in adultery.”[1] This pericope has long fascinated readers, and only over the last few centuries was its originality to the gospel of John put into question. The field of textual criticism and the New Testament has opened a new view to these verses that cannot be ignored. This view should be appropriated in any understanding of the gospel of John even if only because scholars are at a consensus in understanding the non-originality to the gospel of these verses. Scholarship and faith can work in tandem, and do not need to be at odds with one another. Although this is a controversial subject for many it is indisputable that John 7:53-8:11 is not original to the gospel of John. There are several evidences for this position that need to be mentioned.[2] First, the story is not found in any of the earliest Greek manuscripts of the gospel of John or in the earliest verse-by-verse commentaries on the gospel by the church fathers.[3] Second, these verses intrude on the surrounding narrative, in both context and style, that would have originally connected John 7:52 to 8:12, even if one might argue that it connects well with 8:15, 46a. Third, there are several manuscripts that place this pericope after Luke 21:38 rather than in the gospel of John. This fits a little better with the context in Luke (i.e. cunning questions presented to Jesus),...

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A Lack of Knowledge

by Michelle Wiener Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge: because thou has rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” In this verse, Hosea is condemning the Northern Kingdom of Israel for their rampant idol worship. Many people assume Israel’s main sin was Asherah/goddess worship, but that is only part of the equation. Israel’s real transgression of the “law of God” was, in essence, committing “spiritual harlotry” by linking Asherah to Baal worship. In doing so, they were profaning all that was sacred to God – namely, his Wife. Let’s examine these scriptures in context…. Keep in mind Hosea was given a rather odd prophetic assignment. He was asked by God to marry a woman of rather “questionable” reputation, and it is clear he was deeply in love with her. Could we even say, lovesick? However, try as he did to keep her in his arms, he could not. All throughout the Scriptures, we see scattered references to Heavenly Father as a “jealous God” (see Exodus 20:4-5, Deut. 32:16). What does this mean? It seems no one knows what to think of this verse, let alone how to interpret it. Does God have quasi-human characteristics? Why would the God of the universe be described as jealous? What could God possibly need that he doesn’t already have? Perhaps Hosea holds the key to interpreting this passage – for God, like Hosea, is a jealous husband – deeply in love and extremely protective over his beloved Asherah, who the Israelites keep “whoring out” to Baal. All throughout the Hebrew Bible, there is an ongoing competition between Baal and the Hebrew God/Heavenly Father. No sooner than the Israelites leave Egypt, they are found worshipping the golden calf, representative of the Canaanite god Baal- just in time for Moses to come down from the mountain carrying the Ten Commandments. This...

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Seeking Liberation

Dec 17, 14 Seeking Liberation

Posted by in Featured

A Gospel of Liberation. A Gospel about liberation. That’s what I need. That’s what I seek. That’s why Church is hard for me sometimes. It can be so individualistic in ways that feel imprisoning to me. I need a gospel that is collective… in voice and in action. I need a collectively liberating Gospel after the tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. I need a gospel that is active in liberating people from captivity, and most importantly, allowing people to name their captors. Especially if I am one of them or complicit in their captivity. Liberation is not comfortable when you are part of the captors. Naming captors is a key element in naming pain, shame, and finding the freedom necessary to be. To move into and through transformative change – conversion, if you will – a chance to be whole. There are times that it feels splitting to be at Church. But, I come. And I stay. And I listen. And I continue to seek glimmers of freedom. Shimmers of liberation. I am not liberated by holding another captive by my ill-informed judgments, believing that it is righteous for me to judge any person beyond myself or those within my stewardship. I am not liberated by having my integrity challenged. I am not liberated by siblings in the gospel who promote fear over family or family bound by conditions. “I the Lord am bound when you do what I say…” He has said, “Love one another…” He has said, “Preach nothing but repentance….” I’ve often wondered what was there to repent about in the 1830s and 40s, of American and British Culture? What was so widespread that everybody needed to be involved in repentance whenever a missionary approached? We hadn’t fully hit industrialization because our industry was still slavery. Imagine God asking for repentance during times of chattel slavery and indentured servitude?  It’s never happened in my Sunday school lessons, and these days, if it isn’t correlated, it isn’t preached, it seems. “But when...

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The Prodigal Son

Our ward recently had stake conference and in Relief Society we were given a lesson on The Prodigal Son by our stake president.  It was a wonderful lesson and I was touched by the words and thoughts that were shared by my wonderful stake president and members of my ward. I think often in the LDS church, we get caught up in the “wayward children” part of the story of The Prodigal Son and see the return of that child as a return to activity in the church. There is nothing wrong with that analysis. It’s straightforward and encouraging. It helps people feel like there is hope for the people they love to return to the church, which is a good thing. But it also lends to disappointment and frustration when those children choose a different, but equally good path. I do have to admit that looking at the story with the goal of getting people back to the LDS faith seems a little narrow minded. I know that I may not be the majority here, but I know for me, it would not be about my children returning to the LDS church necessarily. Yes, that would be grand if they decided to return to the faith that I participate in and that they grew up with, but I am more concerned about my children, and about all of my brothers and sisters in general, returning to THE Father. About coming home to HIM. I think it’s important to look beyond the little world we know to the bigger picture. Many of Christ’s parables are taught this way and I think we grow more spiritually when we think beyond the literal to a broader perspective. Last conference the most touching talk for me was President Uchdorf’s talk, “Come, Join With Us.” I particularly liked this statement: “In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search...

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The Old Testament Does Not Prohibit Homosexuality

By Sheldon Greaves, Ph.D. The section in Genesis for this week’s lesson is Genesis 13-14; 18-19, a crucial set of passages where the Bible paints a defining picture of Abraham, Lot, their families, and the world they lived in. There isn’t time to do proper justice to these sections, because understanding some of them demand a deeper knowledge of ancient pastoral nomad life in the ancient Near East. For instance, the story in Genesis 14 of Abraham’s rescue of his nephew Lot and his recovery and disposition of the booty makes a lot more sense when one understands the art of the raid, reputation, and the role of wealth in nomadic societies. This story not only tells us about the rescue of Lot, it is there to explain how Abraham became a powerful figure in the region. For more information on this, I suggest you check out my podcast on Abraham in the Desert which runs just under 20 minutes. That podcast also treats the topic of hospitality to a stranger, which is quite possibly the most important single social institution in the Patriarchal narratives. It comes down to this: show hospitality to the stranger and you enjoy the favor of God. If you don’t, you’re toast. This brings us to the section that is likely to receive the most attention this week, and that is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is a persistent, and incorrect belief that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of homosexuality. The Bible itself shows otherwise. The story of Lot and Sodom is actually the second part of a story that begins when Abraham entertains some mysterious messengers, and does so lavishly. We get the whole menu; he orders Sarah to take “3 Seahs” of flour—nearly five gallons—to make cakes as just one part of the meal. Afterwards, Abraham is rewarded with the news that Sarah will bear a child. This blessing, coming on the heels of Abraham’s hospitality, would make perfect sense to the reader; cause and...

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Discovering the Old Testament: Sacrifice, Sin, and the Cosmic Order

By Sheldon Greaves, Ph.D. In this week’s installment of “Discovering the Old Testament” we spend some time exploring the ancient Israelite sacrificial system, which is one of the more opaque parts of Biblical law. For most modern readers it has something to do with burning lots of animals to remove sins for reasons that aren’t clear. Beyond that is where most people’s eyes glaze over.  In fact, Israelite sacrifice brings together some of the more important concepts of ancient Israelite monotheism. You’ll be relieved to know that we don’t go deeply into detail about the sacrificial system. Instead we’ll look at some of the basic assumptions behind Israelite sacrifice and how it differed from practices from neighboring nations. Why is this important? One reason is that ancient Israelite religion did not leave behind anything like a specific theological guide. We don’t have a Summa Theologica for ancient Israel. Instead, we have to look at the rituals and slowly, carefully, tease out the theological ideas that lay behind them. One thing we learn is that ancient Israel’s sacrificial system has a lot to teach us about the relationship between Israelites and the Temple priests who served them. Where other religious communities hid their sacrifices and rituals behind temple walls and figurative walls of secrecy and bureaucracy, Israel’s sacrificial system was public, out in the open, and every Israelite was expected to know it. These and related differences have profound implications for Israelite and later Jewish theology. For links to all the episodes of “Discovering the Old Testament,” visit:...

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Old Testament – There’s Better Books Out There

Old Testament – There’s Better Books Out There As 2014 grew closer I began thinking about Sunday School and the upcoming study of the Old Testament (link). A week ago I walked into Seagull Book and was overwhelmed by the number of Old Testament commentaries for sale. I’m sure all of these publications were written with an eye single to the glory of God with all proceeds going to help the poor, sick, and otherwise afflicted. What kind of a Mormon would sell scripture knowledge for money? (I have a hard time not typing what I’m thinking.) Anyway, I decided to use my post this month to discuss some of my thoughts on the Old Testament. The authorship of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) has been discussed and debated by scholars within and without the Church for centuries. With higher criticism came the documentary hypothesis (link). To say that Mormonism’s response to the DH has been varied would be an understatement. Church authorities and scholars exist on a continuum from liberal to conservative (see Barney, Kevin. Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis). The debate goes on today. I’m familiar with the subject and try to stay current, but I’m no expert. Bible authorship is something I think about on occasion, but I can’t say that I have a justifiable opinion. My biblical hermeneutic is comprised of at least seven principles I use to interpret and understand its text. (This list excludes spiritual mechanisms.) 1. Limitations of Oral and Written Histories 2. Syncretism (here) 3. Language 4. Translation 5. Prooftexts (here) 6. Presentism (here) 7. Human Fallibility 8. Time Moving forward I’ll assume most will concede the influence of these principles on the Bible. As I consider this issue I’m often left wondering, what is real? It’s a ridiculous question to ask, but I ask anyway. Today it inspired a follow up question: What did they really say? A question as ridiculous as the first, but like always I ask anyway. My brain responded by churning out bible...

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Whom Say Ye That I Am?

Nov 11, 13 Whom Say Ye That I Am?

Posted by in Agency, Faith, Featured, New Testament

Luke 9: 18-25 From a journal entry March 9, 2011 It’s funny how moments of significant enlightenment can be marked by equally insignificant surroundings or events. This one for example: I was driving home from somewhere, who knows where. It doesn’t really matter. Anyway, I was heading south on Orem Main Street from University Parkway toward Provo, just beginning the descent toward the four-way stop before the Welcome to Provo sign near the orchards. [This is in Utah.] You’ll know the place if you’re local. I had been thinking about my Sunday school class: fifteen-years-olds, and lessons from the New Testament. Wondering about Jesus–about who he was to those who lived with him during his ministry, about who he was as a man, sitting on the Mount of Olives. The question had just begun to form in my mind when the reality of his life on earth came into clear focus for me. Here is how it went: From Handel and Isaiah: A man of sorrow, acquainted with grief. People in his home town: Is this not the carpenter’s son? (of low esteem, nothing special) No particular beauty or charisma to draw folks toward him. He does not look like the paintings. He did not “glow.” Probably very plain-looking. He was born in a stable with animals, poop, smells – the humblest and among the least desirable of circumstances even for that time. The ghetto. He worked quietly, in a tiny part of the globe for a very brief time. Had no titles, lands, riches, acclaim, fame or any such thing. Three years. Three short years of ministry. Then Gethsemane and crucifixion. Then a question came to my mind: Do I really want to be like Jesus– like that? And the answer: Well, yes, I do. . . okay then. What does that mean for me? The thoughts that followed left me quite stunned and, frankly, in a state of awe. And, although the idea may not be new to many people, it was new to...

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The Nephite Ministry of Jesus Christ—Part 3

  A Little Background This is the final of three articles.  The first article looked at how Jesus’ ministry to the Nephites begins with three chapters quoted from the New Testament, being the Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew 5-7; how those chapters are not just filler, but how pieces of the New Testament chapters are “brushed forward” and found in approximately 15 places throughout the rest of his subsequent teachings. (To read the first article, click here.) The second article explored how Jesus’ ministry to the Nephites ends with three chapters quoted from the Old Testament, being Isaiah 54 and Malachi 3 and 4; how those chapters are not just filler either, but how pieces of the Old Testament chapters are “brushed backward” and found in numerous places in his previously recorded teachings and deeds. (To read the second article, click here.) So while the author was recording this ministry in 3 Nephi, he was apparently able to “brush forward” from the New Testament chapters while simultaneously “brushing backward” from the Old Testament chapters.  This indicates a high degree of structure, sophistication and planning.  It is not what one would expect from a narrative being dictated off the cuff. Adding to the complexity of the narrative is the fact that a readily identifiable structure appears to be superimposed on the text.  This article will explore this structure. A Brief Tangent In order to talk about the structure, I first have to talk to about the use in the Book of Mormon of what is sometimes called “resumption” in the text.  Readers of the Book of Mormon are well aware there are times in the plot line where the author digresses from the main point and begins to wander off on a tangent.  Close readers of the Book of Mormon are aware that, seemingly without fail, the author always comes back to the point and “resumes” his discussion from where he broke off, no matter how long it takes him to do...

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