“Every wo/man that striveth for mastery”: Thinking About LDS Scripture Mastery (A New Series of Posts)

**I wish I could say that my recent lack of posts at FPR has been due to the fact that I’ve been following the newest reincarnation “Further” (Bobby and Phil, minus Mickey, Billy) around the country in a VW Microbus, but other events have been the culprits. In any case, I am excited to be here with FPR at Patheos and look forward to being more involved again and “not fade away.”**

For quite some time now I have been pondering a long-term series of posts that look at the 100 Scripture Mastery (SM) verses (25 for each year’s course of study: Old Testament [along with the Pearl of Great Price], New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Covenants) that high school age Latter-day Saints are encouraged to memorize during their (ideally) 4-year religious education as part of the LDS Church Educational System’s (CES) Seminary program. In particular, I am interested in examining the re-contextualization of these particular verses in the context of the CES and SM program. Similar hermenuetical issues have interested me in the past as can be seen, for example, in my past post: “Levels of Understanding in Isaiah(?).”

In the first (forthcoming) post in the series, I will provide somewhat of an introduction (I’m not sure if that makes this an “Introduction before the Introduction”) by briefly attempting to trace the beginnings of both the CES organization as a whole, as well as the pedagogical approach of committing scriptural verses to memory that has been (more or less) formalized in the SM program.

In subsequent posts, I will look at individual SM verses and attempt to see not only how CES, for the most part via manuals and teacher development training meetings [1], have re-contextualized these verses, but also how this compares to how various biblical scholars have re-contextualized these verses. While I won’t pretend that my biases always view both (or any) of these re-contextualizations as equally valid, responsible, useful, and/or beneficial, I do want to stress that those that are trained (or are in the process of being trained) as biblical scholars also take part in the practice of re-contextualization or re-construction—when we’re not busy deconstructing 🙂 . Scholars’ hard work and commitment should in no way be overlooked and/or underestimated, and yet it is important to remember as one such scholar has pointed out, that “[h]istorians are text readers and have to deal with the hermeneutic problem that no text (i.e. historical source) can be understood the way it was “originally” meant.” [2] So while I view the process of contextualizing biblical verses as far more complex than providing background, in Ranke’s words, “wie es eigentlich gewesen [ist]” [3], I work from a perspective that realizes scholarship (as well as myself!) also has biases and tendencies.

All that to say that in beginning this series of posts, I do not wish to convey the idea that I am necessarily seeking to systematically “debunk” the SM verses one-by-one (though to be sure, some critique will occur at times)—the hermeneutical issues are more complex than that. Rather, I hope to see what happens when these two (thus far) strange interlocutors are put into dialogue.

Hope you enjoy the posts!



1. I think it important to point out that for a number of reasons, much [most?] of the interpretive force behind how scripture is viewed in SS and CES settings lies not with the instructors (who by all means deserve recognition and praise [especially the early morning Seminary teachers out there….zzzz…] for the volunteered time they freely give), but with the manuals provided to the respective instructors.

2. Hans M. Barstad, “History and the Hebrew Bible,” in Lester L. Grabbe (ed.), Can a History of ‘Ancient Israel’ Be Written? (European Seminar in Historical Methodology 1; JSOTSup 245; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 41. Also representative of this view is Davies statement that, “[m]odern ‘biblical historians’ do not merely parrot the biblical framework in their own historiography.” Philip R. Davies, “Biblical Histories, Ancient and Modern,” in Can a History of ‘Ancient Israel’ Be Written?, 116.

3. This oft-quoted phrase from the German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886) can be translated, “as it actually [or essentially] was.” Much debate has ensued about what the particularities of this statement mean/t; however, I use it here as a symbol to represent any idea, hope, and/or perception that historians do indeed have (even if in part) access to the “the past.”

7 Replies to ““Every wo/man that striveth for mastery”: Thinking About LDS Scripture Mastery (A New Series of Posts)”

  1. Cool! I wonder if there is a way to do an FPR scripture chase.

    I have soured on the idea of scripture mastery since we often seem unaware of the context of the verses that we know word for word. However, I was also bad at it. Maybe I am just bitter.

    I look forward to the series. Deadhead, do you have a VW van? That would be awesome. There should be an FPR VW van.

  2. I tend to like the idea of scripture mastery stuff. I’ve even thought of returning to them so this is kind of handy. The problem is that it really does incentivize proof texting and a more legalistic way of reading scripture. Which was why after my mission I stopped doing it. However there really are some big benefits to memorizing some scriptures and studying carefully your favorites.

    (BTW – I think I like your art without the text in it better – If you are going to add text I’d use a different font and make sure you anti-alias)

  3. I’m a big fan of memorizing scripture, though I would probably choose somewhat differently for the 25 top scriptures from each standard work. I’m looking forward to this series as well. Will you be getting out your guitar and putting some of them to song? 🙂

  4. This will be a great series. I’m teaching seminary this year. Maybe MormonDeadHead is too, and hence the series. One of the assignments my students have is a rotating presentation of whatever SM verse we’re doing that week, and by requirement it includes a) literary context, b) historical context, c) doctrinal application, and d) personal meaning. It isn’t a full-blown exegetical exercise, and I don’t expect them to go outside the standard works and the Bible Dictionary, but the goal is to see that these verses are part of something and comes from somewhere.

    Also, some of our scripture mastery games try to get them to match the verse up with its literary context.

  5. I am really looking forward to this! I’ve been finding CES interesting lately, as it seems to keep getting brought up in the Bloggernacle. Now that I think about it as an adult, I agree that memorizing verses out of context is probably problematic. I was darn good at it as a teenager, though. Won my stake scripture chase. Anyway, I’m excited to see what you have to share.

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