Redaction Analysis and the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document

We are pleased to offer the following guest post from friend of the blog “Steve.” (Update: An earlier version of this post did not preserve correct formatting for the analysis). 

Modern biblical scholarship has developed several literary tools to help understand the origins and development of scriptural texts. Among the most prominent are source analysis and redaction analysis. (Redaction is a fancy word for “editing.”) These can be complicated endeavors, especially when they are applied to ancient documents in dead languages, yet the basic ideas are not difficult. Source analysis seeks to identify the written sources utilized by later writers, and redaction analysis looks at the way those authors purposefully adapted those sources.

Source analysis and redaction analysis can be useful in trying to understand other texts as well, and here I want to apply them to the recently released Doctrinal Mastery Core Document. Elder Ballard mentioned this new program in his Feb. 26, 2016 address to CES teachers, and it appears that the initiative has been in preparation for some time, since the printed manual has an “English approval” date of 2/15. The manual begins with an essay for CES instructors, “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” which includes guidelines that could be very helpful: 1) act in faith, 2) examine concepts and questions with an eternal perspective, and 3) seek understanding through divinely appointed sources. As a seminary teacher myself, I appreciate the insight and wisdom here, including

• “Whatever the source of our questions may be, we have been blessed with the ability to think and reason and to have the Lord’s influence expand our minds and deepen our understanding.”
• “During times when we may not immediately find answers to our questions, it is helpful to remember that although Heavenly Father has revealed all that is necessary for our salvation, He has not yet revealed all truth.”
• “It may also help to examine historical questions in the proper historical context by considering the culture and norms of the time period rather than imposing current perspectives and attitudes.”
• And in responding to students’ questions, “Listen attentively before you respond, seeking to clarify and understand the actual questions they are asking.” and “offer to search for answers, and then follow through by sharing what you learn.”

The majority of the handbook, however, consists of a summary of nine key Doctrinal Topics: The Godhead, The Plan of Salvation, The Atonement of Jesus Christ, The Restoration, Prophets and Revelation, Priesthood and Priesthood Keys, Ordinances and Covenants, Marriage and Family, and Commandments. Many readers will recognize this list from the “Come Follow Me” curriculum for youth Sunday School, Young Women, and Aaronic Priesthood that was introduced in 2012, along with the “Basic Doctrines” section of the Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual that was released that same year.

Here is where scholarly tools can be handy in tracking the development of what seems to be a churchwide, top-down effort to consolidate and reinforce LDS doctrinal teaching. Source analysis is not a problem since the sources are readily identifiable. The “Doctrinal Topics” section of the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document (2016) appears to have been adapted from the “Basic Doctrines” section of the Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual (2012; pp. 572-76), and in any case, Doctrinal Mastery itself cites the ultimate source for both: True to the Faith (2004). In addition, there are passages that have been adapted from Preach My Gospel (2004).

Redaction analysis comes into play when we compare Doctrinal Mastery to the BOM Seminary Teacher Manual and then to True to the Faith and Preach My Gospel—identifying key differences, noting changes in emphasis from 2004 to 2016, and then making hypotheses concerning the motivations for those modifications. The last step is admittedly the most speculative, but I think that the evidence is clear enough to allow for some educated guesses.

The first step, comparing the 2016 Doctrinal Mastery to the 2012 BOM Seminary Teacher Manual is easily accomplished by copying the relevant sections into Word documents and then using the “Compare Documents” feature. The two are similar enough to yield immediate results. For instance, the information on God the Father has been modified as follows (underlining indicates additions; strikethroughs are deletions):

God the Father is the Supreme Ruler of the universeBeing whom we worship. He is the Father of our spirits (see Hebrews 12:9). He is perfect, has all power, and knows all things. He is also a God of perfect mercy, kindness, and charity.just, merciful, and kind. God loves each of His children perfectly, and all are alike unto Him (see 2 Nephi 26:33). His work and glory is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man.

So there’s a change in divine title (actually a return to the TTTF wording), a simplification of phrasing, and the addition to two scriptural allusions.

There are a fair number of revisions, but significant deletions from 2012 to 2016 include

We are to use the earth’s resources with wisdom, judgment, and thanksgiving (see D&C
• [The Fall] has a twofold direction—downward yet forward. In addition to introducing physical and spiritual death, it gave us the opportunity to be born on the earth and to learn and progress.
• [a detailed explanation of the Apostasy]
The word baptism comes from a Greek word meaning to dip or immerse. Immersion is symbolic of the death of a person’s sinful life and his or her rebirth into a spiritual life, dedicated to the service of God and His children. It is also symbolic of death and resurrection.
• [God’s commandments include] having a spirit of gratitude (see D&C 78:19)

And among the additions are

Gender is an essential characteristic of each person’s premortal, mortal, and eternal
​identity and purpose. The Fall In the Garden of Eden, God joined Adam and Eve
​in marriage
[followed by several more sentences that emphasize the nature and ​consequences of the Fall]
• More than passive belief, faith true faith in Jesus Christ leads to action and is expressed by the way we live
• [an explanation of Zion]
• Keeping the commandments will always bring happiness and blessings from the Lord

What is perhaps most striking, however, is the increased emphasis on Church authority, as can be seen in these modifications:

• [Prophets] denounce sin and, warn of its consequences., and help us avoid deception
• If we faithfully receive and obey the teachings of the President of the Church, God will bless us to overcome deception and evil (see D&C 21:4–6).

IndividualsAs we study the words of prophets, we can learn truth and receive guidance. While God gives revelation through prophets to guide all of His children, individuals can receive revelation to help them with their specific needs, responsibilities, and questions and to help strengthen their testimonies. Most revelations to leaders and members of the Church come through impressions and thoughts from the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost speaks to our minds and hearts in a still, small voice (see D&C 8:2–3). However, personal inspiration from the Lord will never contradict the revelation God gives through His prophets.
• Jesus Christ holds all the keys of the priesthood pertaining to His Church. He has conferred upon each of His Apostles all the keys that pertain to the kingdom of God on earth. The President of the Church is the only person authorized to exercise all of those priesthood keys.
• All of the blessings, ordinances, covenants, and organizations of the Church are administered under the authority of the President of the Church, who is the President of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

The development of LDS doctrinal discourse from True to the Faith and Preach My Gospel to Doctrinal Mastery is a little more difficult to track since it requires comparing paragraphs that are scattered throughout the 2004 publications, but the differences are even more pronounced. (It should, however, be kept in mind that True to the Faith consists of a series of short essays, while Doctrinal Mastery is a cut-and-paste document that often lacks the clarity, argumentative flow, and precision of the former.)

First, a few stylistic notes:

• In every instance, “flesh and bones” has been changed to the singular “flesh and bone,” which is odd since the former expression is scriptural (5 times in the NT, BOM, and D&C), while the latter is a non-scriptural innovation.
• TTTF conscientiously used gender-inclusive language. In 190 pages, the word “mankind” appeared 8 times, always in scripture quotations. DM uses “mankind” seven times in eight pages, never in quotations. One wonders why “people” didn’t work. A stark example occurs where TTTF “A covenant is a sacred agreement between God and a person or group of people” is changed to DM “A covenant is a sacred agreement between God and man.”
• The new title “Prophet of the Restoration” is used twice in DM to refer to Joseph Smith. It never appeared in TTTF.
• DM is especially fond of the term “saving ordinances,” which appears 6 times in its eight pages; in TTTF “saving ordinances” are mentioned only 5 times, scattered across nearly 200 pages.

Changes to subsections:

• The TTTF essay on “Plan of Salvation” was expanded to include subsections on “The Creation” and “The Fall”; a section on “Blessings through Knowledge of the Plan,” focusing on reassurance, meaning, and joy, was deleted.
• DM drops the helpful subheadings from the TTTF essay on “Atonement of Jesus Christ” (e.g., “Universal Redemption from the Fall” and “Salvation from Our Sins”) and instead inserts “Faith in Jesus Christ” and “Repentance.” There are, however, no subsections anywhere on baptism or the gift of the Holy Ghost, as one might expect from the 4th Article of Faith. (Contrast this with PMG Lesson 3: The Gospel of Jesus Christ, where faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end are all given equal weight.)

A few significant changes:

• The explanations in TTTF and PMG of how the atonement of Christ is related to both spiritual and physical death are much clearer than in DM, where the description of the Atonement is somewhat opaque by comparison.
• The section on the Great Apostasy in DM is shorter and softer in its implications, observing that “Although there were many good and honest people who worshipped God according to the light they possessed and received answers to their prayers, the world was left without divine revelation through living prophets.”
​• Unlike TTTF, DM includes an explanation of “dispensation,” which is adapted from
​PMG, p. 44.
• There are a couple of new references to women in the “Priesthood and Priesthood Keys” section of DM: “All who serve in the Church—men and women—are called under the direction of one who holds priesthood keys,” and “Those who are ordained to the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods enter into the oath and covenant of the priesthood. . . . Women are likewise promised the blessings of exaltation as they are faithful to the covenants they have made with the Lord.”
• In TTTF, the covenant renewed during the sacrament is always that of baptism; in DM there appears to be a doctrinal innovation by which the sacrament renews all our covenants, with baptism and the oath and covenant of the priesthood being specifically mentioned.
• There is a new paragraph in DM that has no precedent in either TTTF or PG, or even the BOM Seminary Teacher Manual: “One of the earliest commandments given to man was to keep the Sabbath day holy. God commands His children to honor Him by doing His will rather than our own on the Sabbath, and He promises great blessings to those who keep His day holy (see Isaiah 58:13–14).” While the new emphasis on the Sabbath may be laudable, the opening assertion is simply not true. According to the scriptures, although the Lord honored the Sabbath at the Creation, he did not command humans to do so until the time of Moses—long after the many commandments given to Adam and Eve, Enoch, Noah, the Brother of Jared, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Overall Assessment

Even though there are a few helpful clarifications in DM (for instance, on the concept of dispensations), in general it appears that the new document was not as carefully written or as well thought-out as its predecessors. And many of the choices made in excerpting, modifying, and adding to TTTF and PMG seem to have been motivated by recent concerns, probably arising from difficult issues in Church history, same-sex marriage, and women and the priesthood. Compared to its sources, DM puts much more emphasis on obedience and Church authority, as opposed to agency, personal revelation, or the joys of living the gospel. For instance, the section on “Prophets and Revelation” in DM is nearly entirely concerned with revelation to Church leaders, while the four-page essay on “Revelation” in TTTF is mostly about personal inspiration. In fact, there is very little in DM about the role of the Holy Ghost in providing guidance or helping individuals discern truth from error. (It would be interesting to test these observations by comparing the new Doctrinal Mastery scriptures with the current Scriptural Mastery scriptures. Out of a total of 100, twenty-three have been replaced.)

In reading nearly any section of TTTF alongside the corresponding DM paragraph, the differences are striking. True to the Faith is written in the second-person voice, addressing youth directly and individually. It quotes scripture, offers reasons, acknowledges feelings, and suggests applications. In general, its tone is one of gentleness, persuasion, and invitation. Doctrinal Mastery takes the form of more hard-edged, propositional statements, which can make it sound like a creed or a catechism. Some of the disparity is due to length, of course, but even the relatively concise doctrinal summaries in Preach My Gospel are, at least to my ear, much warmer and more appealing.

There is always a danger of reductionism when choosing just a few key themes from the rich teachings of the scriptures and the Restoration. That is to say, any system of belief that is constructed from a set of doctrinal statements may answer some questions or make sense to some believers, while leaving out other aspects of our religion that speak more powerfully to young people with different concerns or sensibilities. In any case, the challenge of helping the next generation of Latter-day Saints develop and sustain faith is one of the most daunting, and important, tasks of our time. However effective or ineffective Doctrinal Mastery may turn out to be, we are fortunate that True to the Faith and Preach My Gospel are still readily available as resources.

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