Inside the House

Professor Kent P. Jackson’s 6 Jan 07 Church News article, “Sacred Study” proposes a uniquely LDS form of Biblical scholarship and defines LDS Biblical scholars as those who practice this discipline. According to Professor Jackson, this methodology “embraces revealed sources and uses them at every stage in the process of understanding and interpreting the words of scripture.” Clearly, this method can only be practiced at BYU. And if I have understood him correctly, it is the only exegetical methodology to be used at BYU. So let’s take a look at the inside of this one-room schoolhouse which will be training future general authorities and auxiliary leaders in how to approach scripture.

Since this is an article in the church news, there are limited details but this is how Professor Jackson describes it:

In using modern revelation in their scholarship, Latter-day Saints are simply using all the sources available to them, which is a necessary scholarly practice. The restored gospel does not give Latter-day Saint scholars an excuse to be smug, lazy, or uninformed. Latter-day Saint scholars, like others, need to challenge unproven assumptions, question unfounded traditions, and demand evidence for historical and interpretive claims.

Sounds good, eh? One quick point before we move on: rigorous scholarship involves weighing all sources, not necessarily using all of them. And that point leads to the remainder of Professor Jackson’s description, drawn from the very same paragraph:

Where the Restoration provides answers, we must rely on those answers and use them in our continuing quest for truth.

What happened to challenging unproven assumptions, questioning unfounded traditions, and demanding evidence for historical and interpretive claims?

In his next paragraph, Professor Jackson begins to modify the absolute demands of that last sentence. To do so, he draws a distinction between what he calls “important matters” and issues that do not share this distinction. As an example, he cites the reality of the resurrection as “non-negotiable,” while the authorship of the Second Gospel is an indifferent matter:

The New Testament teaches the Resurrection of Jesus in several passages…The Resurrection is confirmed in modern revelation as well, explicitly and repeatedly…Latter-day Saints cannot reject it in good conscience.

In contrast, and I select this only as an example, neither the New Testament nor modern scripture identifies Mark as the author of the second Gospel.

Although I certainly agree that the resurrection is important and the authorship of Mark much less so, I’m not sure how illuminating this example actually is. There are a variety of reasons why it is emotionally reassuring rather than substantive.

First, it is not clear how a scholar unconvinced by the NT witness of the resurrection might be moved by any modern witness. From this perspective, modern revelation on the subject does not provide more “proof.” Second, there is nothing uniquely LDS in considering the reality of the resurrection to be a given matter. I don’t think I know anybody who doesn’t so regard it. Third, from a practical standpoint it raises but does not resolve the matter of who is going to rule which topics, statements, and opinions are “important” and which are not.

Finally, in six years of exegetical study the topic of the reality of the resurrection has NEVER come up. This is not an accident. To the best of my knowledge, there are no exegetical practices that can evaluate the reality of the resurrection. None. This sort of information comes by testimony or not at all and good exegetes know it. A similar argument can be made for the reality of the Restoration. What is really wanted is an example that deals with an important, exegetically defined point.

Since Professor Jackson’s article is limited, I’ll suggest a thought experiment. Section 77 gives an interpretive commentary on the Book of Revelation. One passage (D&C 77:7) is an interpretation of the seal septet (Revelation 6) indicating that the activities of the horseman associated with each seal represent the events of a one thousand year period. This reading is not supported by the text. Can you propose a reading of Revelation 6 that takes Section 77 (canonized LDS scripture) as an incontestable source and meets the standards of an SBL seminar as an “intentional” reading.


55 Replies to “Inside the House”

  1. This reading is not supported by the text.

    Could you expand on that for me? I had a quick read of it, and although the text does not metion the thousand year periods, my untrained eye doesn’t see explicit contradiction. In other words, what am I missing that would strongly point to a different reading?

  2. Your question is good, but it calls for a counter-question. What suggests to you that the seals do represent historical periods?

    In order to satisfy an exegetical reasoning process, it is not enough that your theory be possible. You must somehow suggest that it is the most likely, or perhaps one of the most likely candidates, or that it presents the fewest difficulties or something like that.

  3. “Can you propose a reading of Revelation 6 that takes Section 77 (canonized LDS scripture) as an incontestable source and meets the standards of an SBL seminar as an “intentional” reading.”

    No. And I think it is wrong to try. Same goes with P,J, and J receiving priesthood keys on the Mount of Transfiguration. We owe it to ourselves and to our students to teach clearly and separately (1) what the text itself says and (2) what LDS leaders have taught about the text. That doesn’t mean (2) is wrong or suspect; it just means we need to be clear about the difference between (1) and (2). Otherwise our students end up looking like idiots when they “explain” to a nonmember how it is right there in the NT plain as day that Peter was given the keys on the M of T.

  4. I take your point. I guess what I had in mind is that there are readings provided by Joseph Smith that are as good as any other since nobody knows for sure, so LDS are content to give him the benefit of the doubt and go with it, and then there are readings that are contradicted by good evidence that many of us are blissfully unaware of (or chose to ignore). I just wondered which catagory this falls into.

  5. I don’t think that the mere fact that nobody knows for sure entitles us to assume that interpretations given by Joseph Smith are as good as any other. There may be several competing theories that have some reasonable support, and others that have none at all. Theories which have no support are not as good as any other, even though they cannot be proven wrong.

  6. Yes, I tend to agree with pretty much everything here. I am particularly in agreement with the obligation to prepare LDS students to interact with the Bible on modern terms and with folks from other backgrounds who are Biblically literate.

    There are multiple voices within the Bible itself; as Latter-day Saints we simply have a few more. In appropriate circumstances we can most easily let them be heard by simply reporting their content.

  7. Julie: hear hear! Great suggestion. It would probably prepare a lot of members for a wider and more enlightening points of view.

  8. Jackson said:
    “In using modern revelation in their scholarship, Latter-day Saints are simply using all the sources available to them, which is a necessary scholarly practice. The restored gospel does not give Latter-day Saint scholars an excuse to be smug, lazy, or uninformed. Latter-day Saint scholars, like others, need to challenge unproven assumptions, question unfounded traditions, and demand evidence for historical and interpretive claims.”

    Kerry asks seriously:
    Then why does Jackson in his studies in the vast majority of cases absolutely ignore 90% of the scholarship?! This is silly. If we are expected to question unfounded traditions and demand evidence, then when it is forthcoming in the scholarly world, why is Jackson ignoring so vastly much of it, in order to keep writing a faithful account of supposed religious authoritative truth?

    Have you *ever* seen him rigorously analyze *anything* in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek citing the world’s best authorities and scholars, using their ideas? I see him quote a lot of LDS leaders, but are these honestly BIBLICAL *SCHOLARS*? Honestly?

    I have actually been told by an insider (a *faithful* one, a Very good brother) that he is not allowed to read, quote, or use Greek or Hebrew in his CES job! What thuh?!? Is THAT supposed to be LDS scholarship using ALL sources as Jackson pontificates about? IGNORING the Biblical languages? I’ll take the Prophet Joseph Smith’s methodology anyday over Jackson’s. We need the school of the prophets back, to learn the languages of the revelations, and better prepare ourselves.

  9. Kerry:
    CES is its own odd beast, with a serious middle management problem, IMHO. I wonder what his/her supervisor thinks they’re accomplishing with this limitation?

  10. CES is its own odd beast, with a serious middle management problem

    It’s a shame, really, because if CES were to do solid groundwork, the issues that modern Biblical scholarship raises would not be nearly as disturbing to the saints. And I bet we spend a lot of money on them.

  11. I don’t think the mission of CES is necessarily about scholarship. It seems to be more of a program meant to foster positive social realtionships with other young people and create faithful members of the church. If scholarship is relevant at all, it would be only in as much as it would create good members of the church.

    I think this however gets at the crux of the issue. It seems that we’re dealing with two different hermeneutics: One that wants to take “text as text”, and another which wants to take “text in as much as it reinforces belief”. I think the question that needs to be teased out is, is one hermeneutic to be valued about the other? I think there are many that would argue the latter hermeneutic is basically a restrospectively created style of interpretation that is only meant to reinforce the status quo. Thus if this is a hermeneutic at all, it’s not a very good one. On the other hand, what guarantee is there that the former hermeneutic will lead us back to the position which we “already believe to be true”? Does this decentralize the power of the insitution and put power in the hands of the “scholar”? IMO, the hermeneutic of taking text as text will not be fully embraced until the institution learns how to deal with scholars. In this light, Kent Jackson is someone attempting to work out this relationship. I think it unfortunate that so many of us have lamblasted him rather than attempting to provide a truly helpful critique of his position to help foster a better relationship.

  12. SmallAxe,
    I agree with your understanding of the problem. I have often wondered if the solution is to divide up the two hermeneutics, ala Stephen Jay Gould’s division of religion and science.

  13. IMO we can talk about two hermeneutics, one of science and the other of religion, and in some instances the difference is rather clear, but when we talk about religious text the boundary between the two is blurred. My problem with theories such as Gould’s is that it’s almost too clean. In talking about biblical interpretation, for instance, where does science stop and religion begin?

    Another problem, is that theories like this usually maintin too hard a line between fact and value. If such is the case, then why in essence should believers care about the hermeneutic of text as text? I think scholars of faith actually want to push this line rather than maintain it.

  14. Not to shut down the discussion of Gould, but let me break in and say that we ordered up a copy of the latest Sperry symposium papers on Saturday. This includes the full text of Professor Jackson’s article. When we’ve had a chance to read it, we’ll come back up and post on it again. From some of what Bodhi says over in “Divided House,” it looks like the Church New abridgement wasn’t as successful as it might have been.

  15. Mogget,

    You can also listen or watch his presentation (Asking Restoration Questions in New Testament Scholarship) at BYUtv: 2006 Sperry Symposium. Also, it will be rebroadcast on BYUtv on Sunday February 4 at 12:00 pm (Mountain time I think)

  16. Mogget: “Can you propose a reading of Revelation 6 that takes Section 77 (canonized LDS scripture) as an incontestable source and meets the standards of an SBL seminar as an ‘intentional’ reading.”

    I’m not so sure this is what Jackson is intending. That is, I think there’s room to consider Joseph Smith’s revealed reading of Rev 6 (which is more properly a reading of D&C 77) and a more historic reading of Rev 6. The only quote you provided from Jackson that seems to strain aginst this approach is:

    Where the Restoration provides answers, we must rely on those answers and use them in our continuing quest for truth.

    You seem to be assuming that (1) D&C 77 “provides answers” for how we must interpret Rev 6, and (2) the “answers” in D&C 77 must dictate a one-and-only reading of Rev. 6 (the reading in stead of a reading). I think there is a reading of Rev 6 in light of D&C 77 that can be seriously studied (i.e. diachronically), but only if one does so by digging into Joseph Smith’s perspective and time.

    A subtle example that I think is analogous–though clearly very, very mild in comparison–is Nephi’s reading of Isa 28:10. In a book that Jackson edited, an LDS writer discussed (perhaps only in a footnote, I don’t have the book handy…) how the “line upon line” phrase is probably sarcastic. And yet Nephi takes this as not sarcastic. So we can read Isa 28:10 on its own terms, or we can read it diachronically through Nephi’s reading of it.

    Or maybe I’m just twisting Jackson’s words so that I won’t get too riled up about this….

  17. Hello Robert C.,

    I think I understand your point, but let me try to unpack some of the implications as I see them. I’m really thinking out loud here, so it could be all wrong…

    Nephi deliberately re-uses Isaiah, thereby recontextualizing it (likening it) for his people and purposes. In the process, his reading of “line upon line” goes from the original sarcasm to approbation and it’s very successful in it’s new context. That’s fine as long as no one thinks that because Nephi uses the expression straightforwardly, Isaiah must have have done likewise.

    The thing that “sticks” with the Sec 77/Rev 6 example is that JS does not seem to be recontextualizing Revelation. I’m no expert on the Historical JS, but I think that he believed himself to be restoring something. As a restoration, perhaps of something understood by 1st century Christianity, his reading may not be completely successful.

    So now, what Professor Jackson asserted was that “where the Restoration provides answers, we must rely on those answers and use them in our continuting quest for truth.” But what are we going to do when the answers provided by the Restoration don’t represent a restoration? We have an awful lot of eggs in that one basket!

    We could say that all that was restored was something we can call “priesthood authority,” but then why bother with the Restoration interpretations? Or perhaps what we have said is that the authority so restored gives those who hold it the opportunity to direct interpretive decisions. But I cannot quite see how such a position could be integrated with rigorous and serious scholarship and once again the “restoration angle” is suppressed.

    One option to is “give up” on integration and go with co-existence. The parallel readings suggested above by JMS are an example of this idea. But I sense the potential for practical challenges. Placing these results side-by-side invites a comparison that may either hamstring serious scholarly work or initiate a decline in confidence in the Restoration, at least as it’s commonly understood.

    In any case, you should know that the complete version of Professor Jackson’s remarks are far more nuanced and thoughtful than what the Church News published. So I recommend getting a copy. I don’t think it’s where we’re going to end up, but it’s a place to start.

    And thanks for stopping by. I’ll do another piece on Professor Jackson’s full remarks as soon as I get this paper whipped into shape.

  18. Mogget #19: “. . . then why bother with the Restoration interpretations?”

    I think you raise a really good point, though I think it’s possible to think of the Restoration more as a big push toward a course correction and less of a definitive and unambiguous restoration of “one and only” correct doctrine. E.g.: “Just b/c the Trinity is a bit mystical and difficult for you sinful mortals to understand, doesn’t mean that you should think the Father doesn’t have a tangible body….” Or: “Yes, salvation is by grace, but don’t think that lets you off the hook in terms of grace.” Or: “Don’t think that just b/c Christ came that there’s no more need for prophets, revelation, priesthood, temples, etc.”

    Also, good points about Rev. 6. I think this tension between the hierarchical(/Patriarchal) structure of Church leadership combined with the emphasis on personal revelation and scripture study is sort of a time bomb waiting to go off, though I don’t mean to imply negative connotations–my hope is that it will explode into a new era of greater understanding, thinking, study, etc. Interestingly, I think that because of the Church’s traditional emphasis on orthopraxy, there is hope for a productive symbiotic relationship. Perhaps we saw this work with Nibley to a certain extent: General Authorities are in place to administrate practical affairs of the church and to admonish righteous living and to correct gross errors in beliefs, leaving to scholars the finer realms of scriptural exegesis, hermeneutics, theological thinking, etc. within, say, a set of very broad doctrinal guidelines.

  19. SmallAxe,
    I don’t know if I agree that the boundaries between science and religion aren’t fairly clear in the study of religious texts. Exegetical approaches are designed to produce neutral data, ie data that doesn’t deliberately support a particular theological agenda. Theological approaches are always written with the agenda in mind, either as background noise or as the goal of the approach (as would be the case in apologetics).

    As to the role of biblical scholars in this context, this is something that I struggle with. The truth is that most Mormons go through their whole life without knowing too much about the history of the Church, the history of Christianity, or the history of the Bible or the cultures that produced it. These people seem to get along just fine, prooftexting and assuming that Isaiah is talking about a virgin. I don’t know that you have to approach the Bible the way that I do in order to get good things out of it. That said, I have a deeper, richer appreciation of the Bible becuase of what I have learned (and I think the same goes for other aspects of the Church). All I can do is demonstrate how what I have learned has made the study of these sacred texts a better experience for me and hope that other people catch on.

    Robert C.,
    “General Authorities are in place to administrate practical affairs of the church and to admonish righteous living and to correct gross errors in beliefs, leaving to scholars the finer realms of scriptural exegesis, hermeneutics, theological thinking, etc. within, say, a set of very broad doctrinal guidelines.”
    Really? Do you think this is likely? In a church with lay leadership and an emphasis on revelatory leadership?

  20. HP, I think we see this to a certain extent with Nibley. GA’s quote Nibley on “open issues” (where there is not established doctrine). He’s viewed as a faithful scholar and is (better: was) authoritative in a sense. Similarly, it’s not not uncommon for bishops, stake presidents etc. to genuinely ask questions in SS class. Because we don’t have formal, established creeds, there is a lot of wriggle room, more so I would argue than in churches that are bound to creeds on the Trinity etc. So even though the Church is more hierarchical than most, I think the lack of a formal creed actually gives a lot more room to maneuver than vise versa. I think the trick is to recognize two kinds of authority: official, spiritual authority which priesthood leaders hold, and unofficial, intellectual authority which scholars can gain (like Nibley has, or did, to a certain extent…).

  21. Robert,
    I don’t necessarily disagree, but my worry is that people would take those two types of authority as being in competition. One of the reasons that Nibley is considered such a faithful scholar is that he never questioned official interpretations or official understandings of doctrine. Not that future scholars would (or should) do that, but Nibley was always very careful about what he wrote about, in topic and tone. How do scholars present their ideas as important without stepping on ecclesiastical toes in the eyes of the church at large?

  22. HP, true enough. My hope is that as there come to be more and more “faithful scholars,” and they come to be more and more known, then I think the church at large will become more and more comfortable with these two kinds of authority, and there will be less and less need for tip-toeing–but meanwhile, I think any good scholar knows how to tip-toe in at least the tentative academic sense.

    I just realized that part of my views here are probably heavily influenced by how my BYU biology prof. handled the topic evolution. I can’t remember his name (Bradshaw perhaps?), but I think he did a pretty good job (and, based on his approach, I was amazed at how many students seemed to troubled by the issue thinking there was more tension than I could see…). Basically, he presented a packet of all the “authoritative” statements Church leaders had said on the issue and we discussed in what sense these statements were binding on faithful Church members today (which didn’t seem like very much to me). Then he said we should believe these statements (as far as they are translated correctly, after all, what does “God created man” really mean anyway?) inasmuch as they contradicted science b/c revelation is “sure” whereas science is tentative and always changing. However, since not much has really been said on the issue in a way that’s authoritative and binding, we should explore what science has to say as much as possible (“study it out in your own mind” etc.). I just now remembered this experience in that class, so I’ll have to think more about how applicable it is here and if I’m arguing the same thing or not–but I do think there are obvious and interesting parallels….

  23. Exegetical approaches are designed to produce neutral data, ie data that doesn’t deliberately support a particular theological agenda.

    Do your really believe that though?

    I mean I can see how Jackson’s notion of relying on revealed sources is more “theological” than “neutral”, but even with more neutral exegetical approaches there is always some agenda in the works–some reason I am bringing the questions that I bring to the text.

    Gould’s theory leading to nice and neat realms for fact and value to work it self out are ultimately undermined by religious texts where the facts that they yield cannot be separated from values they will impact.

  24. I agree that exegetical/theologically neutral readings have an agenda all their own (which was my disagreement with David J). However, exegetical readings aren’t meant to be judged on how well they support or explain a theology, but rather by how well they are support by the text at hand. This has a tendency to quell serious flights of fancy.

    However, I would never use an exegetical approach to determine values. Determining values is an explicitly theological undertaking. Exegesis may give you an idea of how to read a given passage, but it is theology that tells you what it means. Exegesis may occasionally say what some thing cannot mean, but with a sufficiently flexible theology (such as what we have) one can often work around such trifles. 🙂

  25. exegetical readings aren’t meant to be judged on how well they support or explain a theology, but rather by how well they are support by the text at hand

    Hm. I think I’ll have to disagree a bit here. Exegesis can be profoundly theological but it is not the theology of the systematicians or the speculative theologians. It’s the theology of the text and as you say the success or failure of a reading is judged by its support, not by an authoritative pronouncement from a denominational leader. This is one of the cruxes of the issue at hand.

  26. Let me unpack this business of the agenda or lack thereof in exegetical studies by means of an example or three. I don’t really disagree with either HP or Small Axe as much as I find some what they’re saying to be too sweeping for my experience. First, here is Rev 4:2-3

    At once I was caught up in spirit. A throne was there in heaven, and on the throne sat one whose appearance sparkled like jasper and carnelian. Around the throne was a halo as brilliant as an emerald.

    Now that’s a description of what John saw when he looked in the direction of God and it has some pretty profound theological implications. Here are three excerpts on this expression from three different commentaries. See if you can discern the confessional choices of the authors or some other explicitly theological agenda:

    First example:

    The three stones in 4:3 area summary and an anticipation of the fuller list of precious stones in chapter 21, where the glory of God is revealed, not only in heaven, as in 4:3ff, but in consummated form throughout the new creation. This first mention of jasper highlights the summarizing nature of the threefold list, since it is the first precious stone mentioned in chapter 21 and is at the head of the list of the twelve foundation stones of the end-time city’s wall in 21:19. The placement of jasper at the beginning of the list in 4:3 underscores the association of divine glory, since it is the only stone in chapter 21 that is linked to glory (21:11). The stones around the throne intensify the light around the throne by reflecting the unapproachable brightness, and hence glory, surrounding God himself.

    Second example:

    The description rigorously shuns anthropomorphic details. The seer’s eye is arrested by the flashing of gemlike colors, but he sees no form. Less reserve is manifested in Ezek 1:26. The enthroned majesty is like in appearance to the light of two precious stones and their brilliance was relieved by a circle of emerald green. The three stones are named together as samples of their kind by Plato and hold an honor able place Biblical listsof gems. According to Ex 28:17ff, the carnelian and the emerald stand in the firs trow of the stones in the High Priests breastplate, and the jasper in the second. Among the precious stones which adorn the person of the King of Tyre, (Ezek 28:13) the same three stones stand first, third, and sixth, respectively. Of the twelve foundation stones of Rev 21:19, the jasper is the first, the emerald fourth, and the carnelian sixth.

    Third example:

    These semiprecious stones suggest colors, and it is interesting to note that, of the OT prophets, only Ezekiel had visions in which colors are evident. Jasper is an opaque stone that tends to be read but is also found in yellow, green, and grayish blue. Since jasper is used as simile for the appearance of God, it is used later in Revelation as an image for the overall appearance of the New Jerusalem, which manifest the glory of God (21:11) and is the material from which its walls are constructed (21:18), as well as the first of it twelve foundation stones (21:19).

    Can you tell where these gentlemen go to church? Probably not. And so it goes with most passages of scripture.

    Now consider something like 1 Cor 11:23-25:

    For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, 24 and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

    If a commentator argues for the idea of the Real Presence in this passage, you may take it to the bank that you’re reading a Roman Catholic. If, however, no such argument is made it does not follow that you are reading a Protestant because many Catholic exegetes reject the Real Presence in the NT. And in a similar vein, if you run onto a bunch of pre-trib and post-trib details in a discussion of Rev 7:14, you may be assured that you are interacting with an Evangelical but the absence does not necessarily preclude an Evangelical author. As TT said over on Urban Mormonism, the fault lines in exegesis are not denominational.

    So…no doubt we do bring our own agendas to our exegesis but it does not necessarily follow that that agenda is overtly theological or aligned with a confessional choice. In many cases it simply cannot be determined, or cannot be determined without expert insight into the historical issues. As HP says, the presence of a text as well as some pretty thoroughly vetted methods tends to limit what gets said.

  27. Hello, Robert C.

    Sorry it takes me so long to get back to this…

    I think it’s possible to think of the Restoration more as a big push toward a course correction and less of a definitive and unambiguous restoration of “one and only” correct doctrine.

    I think, however, that Joseph Smith did think that there were “one and only” truths, that Professor Jackson does now so think, and that many of the Saints also do. Maybe I will pose that issue in my forthcoming post. It’s a good one.

    Myself, I think that the reading(s) that arise from historical-critical methods have a certain priority, even that they are necessary. But I do not think that they are the end of the matter.

    On a broader front, the issue of the relationship between church leaders and scholars that you and HP are working on is also a key element. I’ll add my $0.02!

    I think that it is neither the role nor the responsibility of the scholars to work this out on their own. It is first and foremost a leadership issue. Have a look at the way Pius XII handled the matter for Catholic exegetes in the 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.

    You kinda have to get over some of the flowery language and the extraordinarily patriarchal viewpoints, but there’s some good stuff in here. I have extracted the paragraphs that deal with how Catholic exegetes are supposed to react to situations where the best results of scholarship do not match what the Catholic Church taught over the centuries (para 42; 43-46):

    42. The progressive exploration of the antiquities of the East, mentioned above, the more accurate examination of the original text itself, the more extensive and exact knowledge of languages both biblical and oriental, have with the help of God, happily provided the solution of not a few of those questions, which in the time of Our Predecessor Leo XIII of immortal memory, were raised by critics outside or hostile to the Church against the authenticity, antiquity, integrity and historical value of the Sacred Books. For Catholic exegetes, by a right use of those same scientific arms, not infrequently abused by the adversaries, proposed such interpretations, which are in harmony with Catholic doctrine and the genuine current of tradition, and at the same time are seen to have proved equal to the difficulties, either raised by new explorations and discoveries, or bequeathed by antiquity for solution in our time.

    44. Nevertheless no one will be surprised, if all difficulties are not yet solved and overcome; but that even today serious problems greatly exercise the minds of Catholic exegetes. We should not lose courage on this account; nor should we forget that in the human sciences the same happens as in the natural world; that is to say, new beginnings grow little by little and fruits are gathered only after many labors. Thus it has happened that certain disputed points, which in the past remained unsolved and in suspense, in our days, with the progress of studies, have found a satisfactory solution. Hence there are grounds for hope that those also will by constant effort be at last made clear, which now seem most complicated and difficult.

    45. And if the wished-for solution be slow in coming or does not satisfy us, since perhaps a successful conclusion may be reserved to posterity, let us not wax impatient thereat, seeing that in us also is rightly verified what the Fathers, and especially Augustine,[33] observed in their time viz: God wished difficulties to be scattered through the Sacred Books inspired by Him, in order that we might be urged to read and scrutinize them more intently, and, experiencing in a salutary manner our own limitations, we might be exercised in due submission of mind. No wonder if of one or other question no solution wholly satisfactory will ever be found, since sometimes we have to do with matters obscure in themselves and too remote from our times and our experience; and since exegesis also, like all other most important sciences, has its secrets, which, impenetrable to our minds, by no efforts whatsoever can be unraveled.

    46. But this state of things is no reason why the Catholic commentator, inspired by an active and ardent love of his subject and sincerely devoted to Holy Mother Church, should in any way be deterred from grappling again and again with these difficult problems, hitherto unsolved, not only that he may refute the objections of the adversaries, but also may attempt to find a satisfactory solution, which will be in full accord with the doctrine of the Church, in particular with the traditional teaching regarding the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, and which will at the same time satisfy the indubitable conclusion of profane sciences.

    Except for the bizarre argument from Augustine, I find a great deal to admire in that: the scholarship that recognizes the value of languages, history, critical editions, etc., the courage to address openly the matter of those issues that conflict with Catholic teachings, the faith that in the end things will come together, the instructions to folks to remain upbeat and avoid impatience. That’s good leadership!

    I find particularly appealing the idea that a Catholic exegete “should not be deterred from grappling” with difficult problems in a quest to find a solution that is in full accord with the doctrine of the Church and that satisfies the “indubitable conclusion of the profane sciences.” That’s a great challenge and it’s delivered in such a positive tone with a measured nod to “science.” Instead of shutting down scholarship when there’s a problem they set the scholars to finding a solution! It’s no wonder that their Biblical scholarship flourishes.

    Sorry it’s so long, though. Now Mogs is off to bed!

  28. Thanks Mogs, great quote! I actually liked the “bizarre argument from Augustine” about difficulties in scripture being there to force us to think (at least that’s how I appropriate the argument), reminds me of the now oft-quoted phrase from Joseph Smith, “in proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” I am still hopeful that there will be less of a conflict between scholars and leadership in Mormonism than Catholicism b/c we are less creedal, though I could see it going the other way too (e.g. CES…).

  29. Hi Mogget,

    Let me appologize on behalf of myself and HP if our one and two liners have been “too sweeping”–as if anything on a blog couldn’t be. I’ll try to clarify here, although I think I agree with most of what you have to say.

    HP’s position (and please correct me where I’m wrong) is that there is a difference between exegesis and theology–loosely meaning that there is a difference between doing descriptive versus evaluative work. Descriptive work asks “what there is”, evaluative work asks “what it means (in terms of values)”. The latter is not to be confused by asking something like “what does John mean by X in passage Y.” This is an empirical question and not value-generating. The work of exegesis is to elaborate the objective facts of a text and the work of theology is to assign meaning to the facts of the text.

    Not wanting to get into a debate about what the terms ‘theology’ and ‘exegesis’ mean in a technical sense, let’s talk about two different styles of interpretation: a descriptive style and an evaluative style. Asking the question this way in some regards negates your raising the issue of Rev. 4.2-3. All three authors, from this perspective, are engaging in descriptive interpretations of the text. This in essence supports HP’s claim that exegesis is a value-neutral enterprise (almost like a science). They are not arguing whether John’s vision was good or bad, or what it sheds light on some yet-to-happen series of events; they are simply debating the “cold hard facts”.

    At root, I believe the division between descriptive and evaluative forms of interpretation to be a dichotomy that needs to be overcome, but proving such is not that easy. I think at first we must even ask the question, if such a dichotomy even needs to be overcome. (Or if people really believe in such a dichotomy—which IMO is the default Modern paradigm of science versus religion and evident in the Kantian program.) In some regards such a division creates a (somewhat) clear line of work for the scholar versus the church. The scholar is a fact discoverer and the church gives meanings to the facts. The question for accepting this paradigm is, how does the scholar negotiate the tension between the facts and the values assigned to them?

    I have a bit more to say, but I have to run off at the moment.

  30. SmallAxe,
    I think you’ve got my understanding down correctly. Exegesis, primarily, generates raw data. Theology is the process of doing something with that data.

  31. Robert C., in my ignorance, I have a question. Do the LDS semi-annual conferences ever allow LDS religious scholars to speak alongside the GA? And Robert, even though you mention the LDS church carries no creeds, isn’t there core, fundamental LDS doctrine? And who are the guardians of this? The business authorities or the religious professors?

    And as an evangelical outsider, I still empathize with Kerry’s early outburst. As we live in Idaho Falls (I was born here), there is a dearth of Hebrew and Greek exegesis. Why is there more or less a seemingly hush hush or a lack of interest over biblical “raw data”?

  32. Yes, HP, thankyou. So I would ask you, are the religious scholars ever allowed to meddle in the business of the church?

    According to the NT, shouldn’t church business and scriptural accuracy be visibly, actively intertwined?

  33. Todd, I think the kind of creedal enforcement that you have in mind occurs pragmatically for the regular (non-leader) member during baptismal and temple recommend interviews where you are roughly asked if you sustain the prophet and if you associate with apostate groups (I think the wording has changed on this, and I can’t recall the exact wording anyway). For Church leaders, I think enforcement of pure doctrine is much more informal.

    I’m actually from Idaho Falls myself, and I understand what you mean about the lack of interest in Greek and Hebrew manuscripts there. I think this is changing, but very slowly. A lot of the reason is b/c there is such an emphasis on the Book of Mormon and, to a lesser extent, the D&C and Pearl of Great Price, whose most original manuscripts are in English. So there is much less incentive for learning Greek and Hebrew than there is for Christians or Jews. Perhaps a roughly similar question is “why don’t more Christians learn Hebrew?” I think the answer is b/c the NT is considered the more important text (but I would venture that there are a higher percentage of Christians who learn Hebrew than Mormons who learn Hebrew or Greek, but that’s just a very will and unsubstantiated guess…). Also, I think that, because of our focus on revelation and restored Priesthood, there ends up, at least on the margin, being more of an emphasis on receiving inspired insight from leaders at the cost of an emphasis on scriptural text itself….

  34. I feel that I may have an interesting insight into the number of LDS people learning Greek and Hebrew and their corresponding numbers. Here at BYU we have recently opened up the Ancient Near Eastern Studies major. It is a partial replacement to the old and defunct Eastern Studies major. You have two tracks to choose from: Greek New Testament and Hebrew Old Testament. Now, there is clearly a concentration of nerds like myself here but I estimate that the number of students here studying Hebrew outnumbers the number of people studying Greek at about 3:1. Hebrew and the Old Testament is far more popular here for those interested in studying the Bible in an academic atmosphere. There are probably twice as many Hebrew classes as Greek and they always have a higher enrollment. And these students come from all over. Does this change anyone’s view of anything relevant to the above discussion?

  35. Lxxluthor, why is that? Are the Hebrew profs more popular? Is it because of the Isaiah connection? Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.?

    And I don’t know if BYU-Idaho and conservative Southeastern Idaho is on the same hunger level for ancient languages.

    You ought to bring a slew of your Hebrew buddies up to I.F. for the upcoming “Ink & Blood” exhibit at the Museum of Idaho. I would enjoy meeting you if the crew could stand a Christian fundamentalist in their midst. At a future time, I hope to engage with what Parry and Skinner have to say in Idaho Falls on the Isaiah scroll and English Bible.

    TT, yes, I am one of those Christian fools who believes you can trust the NT apostolic messages to guide in the business of the church. You would be able to bring fault when I provide fallible interpretations, but when I say, I trust the Bible, hopefully, it is not just pious hypocrisy.

  36. The 3:1 Hebrew:Greek numbers doesn’t surprise me too much (though I’ve heard something similar before…). After all, the Book of Mormon comes from the ancient Hebrew world, and esp. since Pres. Benson, the scriptural emphasis has been on the Book of Mormon. Plus the Pearl of Great Price draws on the ancient Hebrew world. And I think the New Testament is viewed esp. among Mormons as building on the Old Testament, so it seems the OT language is the natural one to learn first. And aren’t there a lot more OT/Hebrew profs at BYU than Greek profs? And I’d say Greek is much harder to learn (b/c of the grammar)….

  37. I had wondered about explaining the Heb/Gk ratio in terms of LDS interest in the OT via the BoM and the PoGP myself. But I think this is not all there is to it.

    In addition to these reasons for heightened interest in the OT, there is an active disinterest in the NT, mostly, I think, because of Paul. To the common saints, he’s pretty inpenetrable. There also no motivation to learn more because are very few GA references to his work. I think that perhaps some them don’t really understand his message in any detail.

    Personally, I think that Hebrew is the more difficult, at least to get started in. The Greek of the NT is nowhere near as complicated as classical Greek or its imitators.

  38. Todd,
    I don’t think that you are a fool, only that the injunction you referred to does not exist in the NT, nor can it since the NT doesn’t consider itself to be “scripture.”

  39. Todd: What a fantastic idea! When is this exhibit going to be there and I’ll see if I can gt the word out and work up some support for a little trip. As for being a fundamental Christian, you blog with folks like us?! You’re a brave man. I’d honestly feel honored to meet you.

    I think that ratio of Hebrew to Greek students is partially related to our focus on the Book of Mormon and it’s connections with the OT. Nibley did a lot for that by writing stuff like Lehi in the Desert. But Hebrew is a lot easier to learn (Mogs what are you smoking? Hebrew is so easy), the classes are a lot less demanding, and you get to read text in your second year instead of your third (NT classes start at the 300 level).

    But I also agree to some degree with Mogs about an LDS active disinterest in the OT due to Paul. The KJV strikes me as a shockingly difficult translation to work with when trying to understand Paul. That and we don’t have a bunch of well known, highly pushed books to help clarify his writings.

    Also, Paul’s writings are occasional letters; they don’t have that nice story telling feel about them that the BoM and OT and even NT Gospels have in so many places. LDS people only seem to read and relate to the basic three dozen scriptures that our books and leaders have decided support our interpretation of the gospel. It’s a crying shame too because Paul is a fascinating guy. To hell with all that plainness and simplicity that Nephi adores so much.

  40. Good point about the aversion to Paul. And I think he seems a bit too philosophical for most Mormon tastes. It also doesn’t help that our SS schedule skips over the NT epistles so quickly (one week on Romans?!!!! and one week on Hebrews?!!).

  41. I disagree with the Paul aversion. I don’t know any LDS grad student with the aversion. I believe that, from a grad student perspective, the preference for OT is that more is up in the air. One can be a legitimate OT scholar and believe that Moses actually wrote the Pentateuch. It is perceived as being much much harder to be a NT scholar and to continue to believe that Matthew actually wrote Matthew (and so forth). Also, to be blunt, Greek is taught much more rigorously than Hebrew is at the BYU. It is much easier to get an A in the Hebrew class. Finally, I also believe that it is the Jerusalem Center. What do Israelis speak? Hebrew. Therefore, Hebrew is more authentically ANE. Finally, there is a perception that the big ANE LDS scholars are Hebrew scholars (I believe this to be the effect of all the DSS scholarship). Of course, this is crazy (Nibley was a classicist, for pete’s sake). Nonetheless, I believe that these are the reasons why Hebrew is more popular than Greek at BYU.

  42. One can be a legitimate OT scholar and believe that Moses actually wrote the Pentateuch.

    Is that true!!

    As for why Hebrew is more popular at BYU, I think that it has less to do with the specific program requirements of BYU and more to do with LDS cultural understandings of Judaism and Israel, and their connections to Mormons. The BOM, priesthood, temple, polygamy, etc are all examples of the recentering of the OT in Mormon culture vis a vis broader Christian culture.

  43. HP and TT: Good call on both accounts. Especially that Hebrew is easier here than Greek. I wish that the Hebrew folks here would get the message that a more rigorous Hebrew program is both needed and desired.

  44. Lxxluthor, here is a little info that I wrote up on the upcoming exhibit.

    I would enjoy connecting with any of your gang in I.F. It would definitely be an interesting classroom discussion for you guys interacting with a guy like me.

    And truly, I am busting at the seams with excitement over these artifacts coming to town.

    Robert C., HP, TT, you ought to visit. This is even better than Eastern Idaho’s baked spuds.

  45. Good points all, though I still think grad students are interested in Paul b/c he’s intellectually challenging/deep, but the average BYU student is less interested in his philosophical mingling. But I’m just guessing that most ANE majors are not bound for graduate school….

    Todd, next time I head up to visit my folks in IF, I’ll send you an email (I think I can get it from the Feast blog) and see if we can’t meet for lunch or something.

  46. On the whole BYU Heb/Gk question: There are actually many more Greek classes taught than Hebrew, but most all classical Greek. The ground may be shifting with this new degree program (not really familiar with it), but I did both languages 10+ years ago. Back then one simply could not take a NT Greek class; none were offered. You did the classical Greek curriculum and had to read the “Christian stuff” on your own. And in fact the Classics dept. then was indifferent or even hostile to all things ancient and Christian, so students like myself were, at best, tolerated as misguided in our interests. On the other hand, one could start straight into Heb Bible and find a terrific support base among the faculty. No wonder all of my classmates who went on to do NT in grad school did Heb as undergrads and Greek only as grad students. I suspect these historical differences still influence interests today among BYU undergrads. I’m skeptical that concerns over the theological difficulties inherent in NT studies are as determinative, or that interests of Religion faculty are that skewed and influential. RE has always had plenty of NT people. As an undergrad I was influenced by several NT scholars who were well trained (Richard Anderson, Stephen Robinson, Kent Brown).

    And, FWIW, RE has for quite some time been preferring NT to OT people in new hires because they need so many more of them. This is why some OT scholars have retreaded as NT scholars to help them get hired. NT is a “required elective” with much higher enrollment than OT classes, which struggle to fill even a few sections. Students have very little interest in it. Even some of the OT scholars, like Jackson, almost never teach it, while RE occasionally scratches to cover the NT sections. Anyone who wants a job in RE is better off doing NT, though of course at the end of the day one’s academic specialty plays a surprisingly small part in the hiring process.

  47. I disagree with the Paul aversion. I don’t know any LDS grad student with the aversion.

    I was talking about an aversion to Paul in the larger LDS population. Undergrads are going to mirror the larger population for a bit, don’t you think?

    As for grad students, how many grad students do you know who have taken an 800-level exegesis course in a Pauline epistle as an elective? Pretty much every related Biblical studies field (languages, history, religion) has opportunities for electives. But I’ve never seen any of them in a serious exegetical study of a major Pauline epistle.

    Course I don’t know any other Mormons, either…

  48. Yes, I know you have taken them and that makes two of us! And I love your post on Paul.

    What I was talking about, however, was my experience with grad students here. Paul is a rewarding but difficult area. In my experience, folks who are not NT exegetes don’t take advanced Pauline studies even when the opportunity is presented. Although the plural of anecdote is not data, I remain under the impression that this is because of the difficulty subject matter.

    So now, if most LDS grad students are not in NT exegesis, but in OT or in related disciplines such as languages or history, I don’t expect much engagement with Paul. But we could try to actually find out why there’s less interest in Greek and if there’s really an aversion to Paul, I guess…

    And I do agree with your earlier post — although we talk “restoration” of the NT church, the reality of the matter is that we’ve got an amalgamation of NT doctrines such as christology and ecclesiology with a bunch of OT-related practices like priesthood, temple, and patriarchal blessings.

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