The Word

This is a talk I gave many years ago, slightly modified.

I have had a lot of time to think about the scriptures, what they mean and how they mean. I have read the history of the times in which these texts were produced, and learned all sorts of theories about their development. Clearly, I think that these things are not only interesting, but also extremely useful for making the scriptures real, seeing in them both the humanity and divinity, and at the same time obliterating such binary distinctions, which I take to be the essential message of Mormonism.

As LDS we do not assign the status of inerrancy to any scriptures. We recognize the fact that God speaks differently to different people at different times, and we engage in a hermeneutic, or interpretive process that accounts for such divine insight. We know that human beings always mediate the word. In the beginning was the Word, and this word, the logos is the intermediary between God and humanity. Christ came to demonstrate this fact precisely. Rather than being an ontological absurdity of a half divine, half human creature, contrary to what many of even our own theologians have imagined, Christ was fully human and fully divine, in the same way that we are. Christ was the metaphysical exemplar of our path to salvation, not the metaphysical exception. He is the Word because it is through language that we are able to relate to God and he may relate to us, and he embodies what the Word of God is: it is experience, human experience with God and with others. We read about these events to know how to live them.

In different traditions the Word of God has different value. The mere existence of the word on the page is not enough to give it meaning, nor is the concept of “scripture” enough to precisely define it. It must be received, interpreted, and assigned meaning. My message is simple. We misuse the sacred texts if we expect that they will in and of themselves provide us with salvation if we read them. This mistaken view of the Word of God is enshrined in a very early Christian text known as the GTh. The opening lines are, “These are the hidden sayings that the living Jesus uttered and which Didymus Judas Thomas wrote down. And he said, “Whoever finds THE MEANING of these sayings will not taste death.” That is, for this text the key to eternal life is found in the text itself and its correct and definite, “the meaning,” interpretation. Often times we conceive of the scriptures in much the same way, as esoteric texts with a hidden meaning. I don’t think that the scriptures are to be enshrouded with mystery. Instead, contrast this with John’s record of Jesus, “He who hears my word, and believes on him who sent me, has eternal life” (5:24). And the words of Alma, “awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith” (32:27). The different view of the Word of God that these scriptures offer is that salvation is not in the hearing, nor in its correct interpretation, but that the word is to be acted upon, to be experienced, to be used as a tool to gaining the real fruit. Again from John, “this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ” (17:3). Mormonism has beautifully understood this idea of salvation, of developing a relationship with God. Joseph Smith’s own experience of his First Vision is the prototypical example of this new mode of relating to God.

Our way of knowing truth is not from a correct reading of the scriptures, but from experiencing them, receiving the revelation for ourselves, recreating them in our own lives and communities. We do not read the scriptures to learn about what we should know; rather we read the scriptures in order to know, to create the situation for knowing ourselves, for experiencing God to speak to us, through the scriptures. D&C says: “And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation. Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants” (68:4-5). The scriptures do not tell us what to do, but God tells us what to do as we read the scriptures. The Word of God is not his communication to us, but rather God communicates directly to us as we read the word. The message of the scriptures is not that Abraham, or Nephi, or Isaiah received revelation from the Lord, but that we can too!

5 Replies to “The Word”

  1. Blake,
    I gave it in sacrament about 6 years ago. It is obviously inflected by my reading of Givens. I’m glad you like it.

    I’m not sure that talking about hermeneutics exempts me from the charge, but I’ll take it!

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