I am going to comment on your blog post, “On the Univocality of the Bible.” You wrote:
As you will recall from our discussion in another thread, when I asked you about it you affirmed that reading scripture “univocally” is a mistake with regard to the Book of Mormon, D&C, and Pearl of Great Price, as well as (even if not as much as) the Bible. Thus, you take the view that none of the scriptures in the LDS Standard Works may be read univocally.
My first observation is that it would appear that many Mormons, including some professional Mormon theologians, approach the LDS scriptures (i.e., the three other than the Bible) on the very sort of assumption of “univocality” that you reject. Indeed, I would suggest that official publications of the LDS Church routinely proceed from this same assumption.
Examples are all over the place. Consider the LDS doctrinal manual Gospel Principles, which all Mormons are encouraged to study throughout this year and the next. At the end of each chapter, the manual provides a list of scriptures to study, drawn from all four of the Standard Works. The first chapter gives the following list:
· Acts 7:55-56 (Son at the right hand of the Father)
· D&C 88:41-44 (qualities of God)
· Psalm 24:1 (the earth is the Lord's)
· Moses 1:30-39 (Creation)
· Alma 7:20 (God cannot do wrong)
· Joseph Smith--History 1:17 (Father and Son are separate)
· Alma 5:40 (good comes from God)
· John 14:6-9 (Son and Father are alike)
· Mormon 9:15-20 (God of miracles)
Note that this list draws from every “canon” within the Standard Works—the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, D&C, and two very different books in PGP. The assumption here is that every part of the Standard Works teaches the same coherent doctrine about the nature of God (the subject of the first chapter).
I know that you agreed, when I asked you, that one should not read any of the scriptures univocally; that this caution applies to the LDS scriptures and not just the Bible. But I think it significant that in your blog you made this observation only about the Bible. I’m not saying you were hiding anything—not at all—but that such cautions or qualifications come more naturally from you as a Mormon with regard to the Bible than with regard to the Book of Mormon, D&C, or PGP. It isn’t insignificant that the Articles of Faith qualify the status of the Bible as the word of God by the caveat “so far as it is translated correctly” but gives no such qualification with regard to the Book of Mormon.
In my judgment, if Mormons were to insist on the limitations of the LDS scriptures as zealously as many of them do with regard to the Bible, it would open up some startling perspectives. They would recognize that the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham teach “virtually irreconcilable worldviews” (to use your words), and they just might recognize that the reason for this is that their “translator” went through some worldview changes of his own.
You are conflating (it’s a good word!) two concepts here. Biblical inerrancy simply affirms that what Scripture we have unerringly expresses what God chose to reveal in those writings. From a conservative evangelical point of view, the Old Testament was inerrant even when the New Testament did not yet exist. Thus, inerrancy is a different concept than that of the sufficiency or completeness of Scripture. If you wish to maintain a doctrine of open canon and continuing (or rather restored) revelation, you can do so and not abandon the univocality of Scripture. Of course, evangelicals affirm both the univocality (i.e., theological unity) of the Bible and the completeness of the canon. Nevertheless, these are two distinct issues.
I agree, though, that conflicting theologies would undermine the view that the texts containing these conflicting theologies were divinely inspired. For example, if Paul’s epistles and the epistle of James really teach contradictory soteriologies, as many people claim, then either Paul’s epistles or James’s epistle is less than fully inspired by God—or perhaps both are less than fully inspired. I don’t see how one could coherently affirm both of the following propositions simultaneously without equivocation:
1. James’s epistle is divinely inspired and teaches that works are prerequisite for salvation.
2. Paul’s epistles are divinely inspired and teach that works are not prerequisite for salvation.
Do you consider these two statements compatible (again, without equivocation)? I don’t. In my opinion, there are logically a finite number of ways of handling this problem:
· Accept statement #1 and reject statement #2.
· Accept statement #2 and reject statement #1.
· Reject both statements #1 and #2.
· Accept both statements #1 and #2 but with equivocation (e.g., assert that “prerequisites for salvation” means something different in #1 than in #2, or that “works” means something different in #1 than in #2).
Evangelical theologians take the second or fourth option; they either argue that James does not teach that works are prerequisites for salvation, or they argue that James means something different by “works” than Paul means, or some similar explanation.
I am going to parody the above paragraph for the purpose of making a serious point. Suppose you ran across a blogger whose church did not teach that baptism was necessary for salvation. In fact, to make this more realistic, let’s imagine it’s a blog by a Quaker or Friend, since they often do not regard the Bible as inerrant or fully inspired. Suppose this blogger wrote the following:
I don’t believe you would accept this reasoning. In fact, I don’t think you would have employed the reasoning you did if a fellow Mormon had opined that Acts 2:38 showed baptism was necessary for the reception of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. You would most likely have agreed, since the claim as to what the verse shows happens to agree with your doctrinal position. I’m pretty confident about this, since this is exactly how Gospel Principles (for example) uses Acts 2:38. I quote:
“We Must Be Baptized for the Remission of Our Sins.... The Apostle Peter taught, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins’ (Acts 2:38).”
Is there anything wrong with what Gospel Principles does here? It makes a dogmatic doctrinal assertion, “We must be baptized for the remission of our sins,” and then backs it up with Acts 2:38 as a proof text. In principle, this is no different than an evangelical citing Acts 10:44-48 to show that baptism is not a prerequisite for the remission of our sins.
I am not bothered here about who is right in the above debate. Both Acts 2:38 and 10:44-48 are Scripture. Moreover, even if I did not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible (which I do), I would be very slow to accept the easy out that one of these passages reflects an “aberrant policy” or that they are inconsistent with one another. After all, the same author included both passages in the same book, and from what I can tell Luke was an extremely intelligent fellow. It is therefore likely that he understood these two passages in Acts to cohere in some way. I can understand someone suggesting that Galatians and Numbers might not be on the same page theologically, but I begin to suspect a hypercritical stance when someone suggests that Acts 2 and Acts 10 might also be at loggerheads theologically. I’m consistent in this principle, by the way: I’m disinclined to think that Joseph Smith would contradict himself from, say, 1 Nephi 2 to 1 Nephi 10. It would be possible for him to do so, but my working method would be to look for some harmonization since more than likely the author (be he Nephi or Smith) would not contradict himself in so short a space. To fail to consider explanations that give the text and its author some benefit of the doubt is unjustifiable.
I rather think the reverse is the case. Those who are committed to a contemporary set of dogmas that rest on an authority other than Scripture will feel free to set aside anything in Scripture that does not fit those contemporary dogmas. They will be quick to seize upon proof texts that seem to support their dogmas and to explain away or dismiss as “theological speculation, propaganda, polemic, rhetoric, [or] human error” statements in Scripture that fail to cohere with their dogmas. This type of hermeneutical circle is really quite common. On the other hand, those who are truly committed (not just in lip-service fashion) to Scripture as theologically normative and authoritative will work hard to take into consideration all that Scripture says, breaking out of their hermeneutical circle if necessary to accommodate elements of the Scriptures that do not fit their paradigms.
As I have already argued, your view on this subject is far more extreme than questioning the “inerrancy” of the Bible. Let’s go back to your example of Acts 10:44-48. I think you brought up that example because, in your understanding, most of what the New Testament says about baptism seems to confirm that it is a prerequisite to receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is why you could criticize those whose view of Scripture leads them to maintain that “Acts 10:44–48 manifests no exceptions or unique or aberrant policy.” Your comment here presupposes that most (at least) of the rest of the New Testament agrees with the view that baptism is a necessary prerequisite for reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost. In your view, Acts 10:44-48 is an anomaly, some sort of exception or unique situation or aberrant policy not in keeping with the prevailing view of baptism in the New Testament. Such an assessment assumes that there is a prevailing view that one can determine.
But now look at what you are really saying about the biblical teaching concerning the nature of deity. As I documented in our first discussion here, and as you agreed, the prevailing theology that runs throughout the Old Testament and right into and through the New Testament accepts that “conflated pantheon” in which the number of deities recognized as objects of worship was reduced to one. The prevailing theological perspective that dominates the biblical texts is also one that suppressed (I think this is how you view it) older “anthropomorphic perspectives of deity” in favor of a more transcendent conception of deity as incorporeal and immaterial. You acknowledged that the “conflation” of Elohim and Yahweh took place early in Israel’s history, earlier than most or all of the Old Testament writings, and of course earlier than the New Testament, which appears to presuppose throughout this “conflation” of two deities as one God. To show that there was an earlier religious belief in which Yahweh and Elohim were two different gods, you appealed to a couple of texts that you admitted were imbedded in texts that also reflected their conflation. The more than one thousand texts that treat Yahweh as Elohim (=El Elyon) are explained away as reflecting a conflation of the two deities under the pressures of socio-political factors, while the two texts that might speak of them as two different gods are regarded as representative of the earlier view. Now you are the one who is seizing upon what appear at best to be anomalies, “exceptions,” or “aberrant” wording in a couple of isolated texts, and on that basis sweeping aside as lacking any authority the thousand-plus texts that articulate the traditional Jewish and Christian doctrine.
Such an analysis of the biblical texts completely negates any meaningful role for those texts as authoritative or even useful for learning the truth about God. You found a couple of puzzle pieces in a thousand-piece puzzle that are difficult to fit into the picture shown on the outside cover of the box, and so on that basis announce that the original puzzle was that represented by the two unusual pieces while the 998 pieces represent a radical alteration of the original picture. The problem here isn’t inerrancy; the problem here isn’t even “univocality.” The problem here is that the Bible simply doesn’t support your theology, and so you are appealing to apparently anomalous texts to justify stripping the Bible of any authority in matters of faith.
Again, I think as a Mormon you can more or less get away with taking such an attitude toward the Bible. There is a venerable tradition in LDS thought of tossing into the potentially bottomless pit of “it wasn’t translated correctly” or “many plain and precious things were lost” anything in the Bible that doesn’t square with current LDS doctrine. But let’s not kid ourselves that this is about Christians naively (so-called) thinking that the Bible is inerrantly consistent from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. After all, what your view really amounts to is thinking that the Bible almost without fail teaches the wrong doctrine from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Furthermore, you’ve really got the same problem with the Book of Mormon. It also “conflates” what you view as separate deities into one God. Again, you can’t explain this away by saying that as a Latter-day Saint you can view the Book of Mormon as the word of God without understanding this to imply that it is absolutely inerrant. The Book of Mormon is at least as consistent as the Bible in teaching monotheism. Your real problem is that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are far too univocal, or much too close to being univocal, in their supposed “conflation” of the deities into one God. You might argue that they are not perfectly or inerrantly univocal on the matter, but they are so close to being univocal in this doctrinal matter that your contrary evidence looks very much like a couple of stray anomalous points on an otherwise beautiful straight line.
Finally, I would reiterate that your view seems to stand in some conflict with the way Mormon authorities and teachers generally handle the Bible. Do a search in LDS Library for such phrases as “the Bible says” or “the Book of Mormon says” or “the Bible teaches.” Mormons generally feel comfortable making such statements. It is only when evangelical Christians cite the Bible against LDS doctrine that some Mormons start looking down their noses at the naïvete of assuming that the Bible can function as a sourcebook of systematic theology.
Edited by Rob Bowman, 28 January 2010 - 09:32 PM.