Obedience and Speaking for God

Last week in my ward, the Sunday school lesson included 1 Samuel 15, where Samuel speaks for God and tells Saul, “go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

So Saul kills the Amalekites, except the king, while sparing the best animals, ostensibly for sacrifice. Then, as is well known, Samuel tells him that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” Followed by this: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”

1 Samuel 15 is an extreme example from the Holy Bible, extreme in that Samuel says God says to massacre, and extreme in that obedience is defined here such that taking human lives is scarcely an afterthought. But it raises important issues for less extreme examples too. At what point does obedience become a cult? And what are the dangers of speaking for God?

Unanswered Questions about the Priesthood

As President Uchtdorf said in his in general conference talk last October, “Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information.”[i] And as Managing Director of Public Affairs for the Church, Michael Otterson, stated last month, “I suppose we do not know all the reasons why Christ did not ordain women as apostles, either in the New Testament or the Book of Mormon, or when the Church was restored in modern times.”[ii]

It’s important to recognize how much we don’t know, and here are some unanswered questions about what in contemporary Mormonism is understood to be the priesthood, including LDS priesthood keys and some LDS priesthood offices.

Q1. Why are there so few references to priesthood in the Old Testament (8 total, in Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Ezra, Nehemiah)? Note that there are 600+ references to priests, however, many of them being Levites, others being priests of gods besides the God of Israel.

Q2. Why aren’t there any references to priesthood in the Book of Genesis, that is, from the creation accounts throughout the time of the patriarchs and their contemporaries, such as Abraham and Melchizedek? Note that Melchizedek is referred to as a priest, though (one of 6 total references to priests in Genesis, all the others being Egyptian priests).

Q3-4. Why are there so few references to priesthood in the New Testament (7 total, in Hebrews and 1 Peter), and why aren’t there any references to it in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry? Note there are references to priests in the gospel accounts (130+), but none of them are Jesus’ disciples (unless somehow the father of John the Baptist counts), and many of them are his enemies. According to Acts 6:7, it was not until after his death that some priests become followers of Jesus.

Q5-6. Why are there so few references to priesthood in the Book of Mormon (7 total, in Alma; cf. Hebrews), and why aren’t there any references to it in the account of Jesus’ establishment of his church in 3 Nephi?

Q7-8. Conversely, why are there so many references to priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants (100+), and where did this emphasis on priesthood come from if not from the Bible or Book of Mormon?

Q9. How can there be references to priesthood in the Books of Moses and Abraham (8 total), when there is none in the Book of Genesis?

Q10. Why are there references to priesthood keys only in the Doctrine and Covenants and in Joseph Smith History (26 total), not in the Bible or Book of Mormon? Note that in Matthew 16:19 there is a reference to Jesus giving “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” to Peter, but there is no reference to priesthood.

Q11. Why are there prophetesses in the Bible (e.g. Deborah) but none in contemporary Mormonism?

Q12. Why is there a female deacon (Romans 16:1, “servant” in the KJV) and a female apostle (Romans 16:7) in the New Testament but none in contemporary Mormonism?


i. President Uchtdorf went on to say, “and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.”
ii. Otterson went on to state: “We only know that he did not, that his leaders today regard this as a doctrinal issue that cannot be compromised, and that agitation from a few Church members is hindering the broader and more productive conversation about the voice, value and visibility of women in the Church that has been going on for years and will certainly continue (the lowering of the age requirement for female missionary service was consistent with this conversation).”


Remember that one time God totally denied having a body in restoration scripture?

There I was looking at all the fascinating differences between the First Book of Moses called Genesis in the KJV and the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price … such as the global change from third person to first person (e.g. Genesis: “God said” > Moses: “I, God, said”) … when to my surprise I saw this anti-anthropomorphism:

Genesis 3:8 KJV

And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

Moses 4:14

And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

In the KJV, God walks around like a human with legs (Hebrew Bible and LXX both have masculine single participles modifying the noun Lord God). But that would be some kind of crass theology. So in the Book of Moses, it’s Adam and Eve who do the walking.

Also, the whole business about God being ignorant of where Adam and Eve were hiding? Yeah, that’s been cleared up too. In the Book of Moses they don’t hide; they go to hide and get busted on the way:

Genesis 3:9 KJV

And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

Moses 4:15

And I, the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?

There’s no hiding from an omniscient deity. Even if he doesn’t have feet himself to patrol with, he’s still gonna stop you in your tracks.

Even More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

I once wrote about the Jacob (pseud)epigraphon in the book of Alma, which I said I would follow up on but never did, and I won’t do it here. Because there are even more Old Testament pseudepigrapha to write about that are not old but new!

The current issue of the Ensign features an article written in the first person as though by Adam. It looks to be the initial article in a series called “Old Testament Prophets,” coinciding with the year’s gospel doctrine topic. Apparently, soon there will be articles written by Enoch, Noah, and so forth.

So what are we to make of this? Here is a text that purports to be written by a biblical figure. Do we take it at face value? And if not, what exactly makes this text different from others that we may insist on taking at face value, such as the Jacob (pseud)epigraphon in the book of Alma, or the Book of Moses or the Book of Abraham?

The differences may well be extensive. They should not merely be assumed, however. They should be reflected upon and verbalized.

What Paul did not mean by apostle

Paul claims to be an apostle by virtue of his vision/s of Jesus.

He does not claim to be an apostle by virtue of Jesus ordaining him to any priesthood.

He does not claim to be an apostle by virtue of Peter, another of the twelve, or anyone else ordaining him to any priesthood either, though he does want to point out that years after the fact James and Peter and John accepted him (Galatians 2:6-10).

When he refers to apostles (arguably including the woman Junia in Romans 16:7) and deacons (clearly including the woman Phebe in Romans 16:1-2), he does not have any priesthood or ordination to it in mind.

In the pastoral epistles attributed to Paul (but arguably not written by him), where the qualifications of a bishop are listed, no priesthood or ordination to it comes up. Ordination of elders comes up (they are ordained in the KJV of Titus 1:5 anyway) but not ordination to any priesthood. ‘Paul’ does say here that he was ordained an apostle (ordained in the KJV of 1 Timothy 2:7 anyway), but again he says nothing about any priesthood or who it was that ordained him an apostle, if indeed it was anyone but God.

Thus Paul and even ‘Paul’ never mention priesthood or ordination to it.

Furthermore, when Jesus calls the twelve and seventy(two) in the gospel accounts (written after Paul), he is not made to say anything about priesthood or ordination to it. He does ordain the twelve (he ordains them in the KJV of Mark 3:14 anyway), but it is not to any priesthood.

In Acts (also written after Paul), when Matthias is ordained an apostle in place of Judas (ordained in the KJV of Acts 1:22 anyway), it has nothing to do with any priesthood. It has to do with him having been there at Jesus’ baptism, resurrection, and everything in between. That is, Paul would be excluded as a candidate here (but see Acts 14:14). It also has to do with a kind of divination. Matthias is ordained (again in the KJV anyway) as God chooses him by sortition. None of the eleven place their hands on his head to ordain him. Rather, they give a lot to him and lot to another candidate, and the lot falls to Matthias because, it was believed, God made it happen.

Later in Acts, when Peter and John bring the spirit to the baptized Samaritans, something Philip is supposed not to be able to do, there is a power mentioned to be sure. And Peter and John do place their hands on the heads of the Samaritans. But the power they have is not called priesthood. Likewise, when Paul re-baptizes the Ephesian converts of Apollos.

Apostle, seventy(two), elder, bishop, deacon are not priesthood offices in the New Testament. Much less do they comprise a priesthood organization in which to become an apostle, seventies first become elders, bishops, and deacons.

The only priesthood organization in the New Testament is the Jewish temple priesthood. Jesus was a Jew but he was not a Jewish priest in the temple; in fact, he seems to have gotten along poorly with most who were.

It is only in the book of Hebrews (which does not even claim to be written by Paul) that Jesus is said to be a priest. There he is said to be a cosmic priest ministering in a heavenly temple/tabernacle. Not exactly literal.

The only occurrences of words for priesthood in the  New Testament are in Luke (1:9 Jewish temple priesthood); in Hebrews (7:5, 11-12, 24 one after order of Aaron and another after order of Melchizedek); and in 1 Peter (2:5, 9). It is in the latter that believers in Jesus are referred to as a priesthood. But they offer spiritual, i.e., metaphorical sacrifice. If the sacrifice is non-literal, what about the priesthood?

Believers in Jesus are also referred to as kings and priests to God and Christ (or vice-versa) in the book of Revelation (1:6, 5:10, 20:6), it is true. But it is not clear what that means when God and the Lamb are said to be the temple of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22).

Up shot: there is no precedent in the New Testament for men or women being ordained to priesthood offices of apostle, seventy(two), elder, bishop or deacon. Men and women are referred to as apostles and deacons, the term apostle being used in more than one way by different New Testament authors and probably even the same author (Luke-Acts). Men are also referred to as seventies, elders, and bishops. This has nothing to do with any priesthood or ordination to it. In some New Testament texts, Jesus and believers in him are said to be priests or priestly, but it is only on very broad analogy with the priesthood of the Jewish temple or Israelite tabernacle.

The Heresies of Father Brown and the Future of LDS Scriptural Studies

With the new direction at the Maxwell Institute, the launch of the Mormon Interpreter, the latest about the BYU New Testament Commentary project, and the search for a new dean of Religious Education, which culminated last week, there has been some talk about the future of LDS scriptural studies, including, but hardly focused on, the Bible.

In talking about the future, we might consider the history of scriptural studies in other faith traditions, such as Catholicism. Broadly speaking, Catholics were late to the game of biblical scholarship, a game that Protestants had been playing for some time. Catholics were late to the game because they were discouraged from participating until changes in the 1940s and 60s.

One of the most prominent Catholics to engage in mainstream biblical scholarship was Raymond Brown (1928-1998), priest and professor. As a professor, he was and still is well respected for his extensive publications, representing the middle of the road, hardly fundamentalist on the one hand or radically skeptical on the other. As a priest, though, he was and still is something of a polarizing figure, either loved or hated by his fellow Catholics.

Mormons, it would seem, have been and continue to be discouraged from participating in the game of biblical scholarship, even at the level of textual criticism and translation (see e.g. this), not to mention historical criticism and, in a word, subsequent theory, or in a few more words, subsequent narrative, social scientific, and cultural criticisms—none of these kinds of criticism necessarily being mutually exclusive.

But if things were to change, and if one day in the future there were to be an LDS Raymond or Raymona Brown, how might that turn out?

There is no way to know for certain of course until we reach that point. If we reach that point. And there is no reason to expect that Mormonism’s history with biblical scholarship will mirror that of Catholicism. All the same, it does not hurt to consider their history in thinking about our future.

What would an LDS Raymond or Raymona Brown be, first off?

This would be someone who publishes widely on the Bible, who serves as president of the Mormon Biblical Association (the imaginary LDS equivalent of the Catholic Biblical Association), as well as the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas.

In other words, an LDS Raymond or Raymona Brown is generations away at the absolute soonest. For one thing, there is no Mormon equivalent of the Catholic Biblical Association. Imagine a religious scientific association of LDS biblical scholars and their colleagues, having 1500 members, a quarterly journal with a subscription of 3800, and a monograph series. (Those are the recent numbers for the CBA, not what they were when Brown was president.)

Anyhow, say the time comes, and conditions are right. Then what?

Some Mormons, even a few high ranking Mormons, might be supportive. Pope Benedict XVI, before he became pope, is purported to have said once that he “would be very happy if we had many exegetes like Father Brown.”

But other Mormons, even among those with advanced degrees, and even among those with training in biblical and related studies, are likely to be opposed to the kind of work that would result from LDS engagement with mainstream biblical scholarship. Brown was and is considered to be a dissident, heretic, and so forth, by some of his fellow Catholics who have written against him in books (at least one anyway, entitled The New Biblical Theorists, by George Kelly) and various online venues. Like here (January 2010) and here (May 2010) and here (April 2009) and here (January 2008).

One Christian apologist with a bachelor of divinity degree recently wrote the following in an online opinion piece punctuated by mocking and anti-intellectual scare quotes:

‘Father’ Raymond Brown (1928-1998) was a Roman Catholic “Bible scholar” who spent many years undermining the New Testament, something most Catholics have never forgiven him for.

This apologist cites another, Catholic apologist with a BA in religion and an MA in theology, as well as a PhD, who has this to say about Brown’s heresies:

Up until his death in 1998, Fr. Brown was upheld by many as the premier Catholic biblical scholar. Unfortunately, despite his well-recognized scholarly erudition, he has probably done more to undue [sic] much that we have held sacred in biblical studies than any one single person in Catholic history. … That a man with such a liberal background and radical ideas could actually make it to the top of his field in Catholic biblical scholarship gives a good indication of the sad state of affairs both at the Vatican and Catholic academia.

What sorts of things did Brown write in his middle-of-the-road scholarship that were so pernicious? What might an LDS scholar who engages in mainstream biblical scholarship write?

Well, for starters, Brown argued that the idea of Jesus’ preexistence in Paul and John and the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth in Matthew and Luke were originally separate, and that they were only harmonized as the orthodox doctrine of incarnation through parthenogenesis in the second century (The Birth of the Messiah, p.141-142).

What would LDS reactions to this be? What should they be? (Before turning immediately to our extra-biblical scriptures, it might be informative to try find the ideas of Jesus’ pre-existence and virgin birth together anywhere in the New Testament.)

As final food for thought, the Catholic apologist quoted above in opposition to Brown, the one who says that Brown “has probably done more to undue [sic] much that we have held sacred in biblical studies than any one single person in Catholic history,” this apologist, by the way, argued in his massive dissertation, now published in three volumes, that the earth, not the sun, is at the center of our solar, er, geo system.

Truly, Galileo was wrong.

And Father Brown was a heretic.

Evangelium secundum Matthaeum et tres porci minores

Matt 7:6
…neither cast ye your pearls before swine…
(The three little pigs? No, just coincidence.)

Matt 7:7-8
…knock and it shall be opened unto you…

Matt 7: 15
… but inwardly they are ravening wolves…

Matt 7:19
… and cast into the fire …
(Uh. Fire. Pot of boiling water.)

Matt 7:21
Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter …
(Little pig, little pig, let me in!?)

Matt 7:23
… depart from me …
(Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin. Yes. Jesus, is the bearded one after all.)

Matt 7:24, 26
… a wise man, which built his house upon a rock … a foolish man, built his house upon the sand …
(Houses with different foundations/building materials that are symbolic: check.)

Matt 7: 25, 27
… and the winds blew …
(Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down.)

Matt 7:27
… and it fell: and great was the fall of it …

Event at Benchmark Books Tonight: Mormons and the Bible

If you are in the area of Benchmark Books, stop by to hear Philip L. Barlow and to pick up a copy of the updated edition of his book, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion, which has just been reissued in paperback with a new preface and updated bibliography.

And if you are not in the area, get a copy online.

First published by Oxford University Press in 1991 and featuring such chapters as “The Mormon Response to Higher Criticism,” the book should be required reading.


Boat, Bible; Ship, Scripture

*follow-up to this.

Three vociferous cheers for Old Joe and his Indian Bible notwithstanding, a lot of what the Book of Mormon says about colonization and colonialization is liable to make current readers squeamish. After all, it has been some time since the president of the United States, for instance, was systematically removing Native Americans to west of the Mississippi. Today there is actually concern about the loss of Native American languages, if not religions.

It doesn’t matter much whether 1 Nephi 13:12 is to be understood as referring to Columbus himself, another explorer or conquistador. God was behind Gentile discovery and colonialization of the Americas, according to the Nephite record. The Gentiles’ crossing of the many waters, Bible in hand, was divinely inspired. Which should come as no surprise in a book of holy writ that features other providential voyages of boats and bibles, ships and scriptures.

Among other things, the story of the Book of Mormon is one of ongoing colonialization, beginning with attempts to Christianize Lamanites through the use of the Brass Plates centuries before the Spanish arrived in the New World and ending with prophecy of widespread Lamanite conversion post-1829 due to the instrumentality of the Book of Mormon itself. Still, some of what the Book of Mormon says about colonialization is fairly critical.

Continue reading “Boat, Bible; Ship, Scripture”

adjustment to the book of abraham in the new edition of the scriptures

So you noticed the change regarding the Book of Abraham in the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price, and you want to situate it a little. Well here is a rundown of some pertinent information.

The heading to the William W. Phelps and Warren Parrish Copy of Abraham Manuscript (Summer—Fall, 1835):

Translation of the Book of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus and found in the CataCombs of Egypts

The heading to the Willard Richards Copy of Abraham Manuscript (early 1842):

A. Translation of Some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catacombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the Book ofAbraham, written by his own hand upon papyrus,


Continue reading “adjustment to the book of abraham in the new edition of the scriptures”