In 1981, when the new, modern, LDS editions of the scriptures were published, there were also included many helps. As time passed, these helps were expanded to include the following: chapter headings, section headings, verse summaries, footnotes, a Guide to the Scriptures, a Bible Dictionary, a Topical Guide, an Index, lengthy excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation, Bible Maps, Church History Maps, Scriptural Photographs and Church History Photographs.
The new scriptures and new helps were a very big deal at the time. There were even some GA talks about the significance of the new edition of the scriptures. (For example, see the Library of the Lord by Elder Packer.)
I remember that some members were quite reluctant to give up their old editions and to use the new editions. My own wife was one of them. But, eventually, the switch was made by most members and now it is hard to find an old edition anywhere.
For the most part, the footnotes, headings, Index and Topical Guide were helpful, at least at first. A person who was not familiar with the scriptures could quickly find similar scriptures in all four standard works by following the footnotes. A person could search out topics using the Topical Guide and Index. On the surface, it appeared the new editions’ helps were, indeed, helpful in making the saints more scripturally aware.
But then I started to notice something peculiar: conditioning.
Chapter headings and D&C verse summaries
When a person would read a chapter, they would begin by reading the chapter heading, which is supposed to give a summary of the chapter. Sometimes, though, the chapter heading contained an interpretative summary. Consider the following examples:
Alma teaches the poor whose afflictions had humbled them—Faith is a hope in that which is not seen which is true—Alma testifies that angels minister to men, women, and children—Alma compares the word unto a seed—It must be planted and nourished—Then it grows into a tree from which the fruit of eternal life is picked. About 74 B.C. (Chapter heading of Alma 32)
Most of that chapter heading is factual, but the statement “faith is a hope in that which is not seen which is true” is an interpretation (and is false.) When people read that heading first, they are conditioned to believe that faith is a hope. Then they go on to read the chapter itself, which defines faith differently than hope, but as they are already conditioned by the heading, they supplant the definition found in the scripture for the heading’s definition.
Another example of conditioning is found in the verse summaries of D&C 89:
1–9, Use of wine, strong drinks, tobacco, and hot drinks proscribed; 10–17, Herbs, fruits, flesh, and grain are ordained for the use of man and of animals; 18–21, Obedience to gospel law, including the Word of Wisdom, brings temporal and spiritual blessings.
In this case, the statement “Use of wine, strong drinks, tobacco, and hot drinks proscribed” is an interpretation (and is false.) Only hot drinks are proscribed, all the other items mentioned are given legitimate uses. But, as people first read the verse summary, when they get to the actual words of the revelation, they substitute the verse summary’s interpretation for what the scripture actually says. In other words, the summary immediately conditions a person’s mind to receive the scriptural text in only one way.
In conditioning, there is a presupposition that is accepted. The presupposition is that since the church publishes the scriptures and authorized the text of the chapter headings and verse summaries, the chapter heading and verse summary interpretations must be correct. In other words, the presupposition is that the headings and summaries give the correct interpretation of the scripture that follows and can be entirely trusted.
The danger in relying upon the chapter headings and verse summaries for interpretation is that they are often found in conflict with the scriptures themselves, or that they are too narrow in the broad scope of the scriptures, and thus a person who relies upon them will either entirely miss the true meaning of the scriptures or they will only get a part of the meaning and not the bigger picture or other meanings.
Another problem is that the headings are often completely substituted. I have seen people just skip over chapters entirely and just read the headings, thinking that they are still “feasting upon the word of Christ.” The tendency, therefore, of the headings and summaries is to produce scriptural midgets and not giants. People can check their brains in at the door and absorb the headings’ interpretations without going through the mental exercises and processes to really figure things out. This tends to make a people think they know a lot, when really they know little to nothing.
Another danger to an individual’s correct understanding of the scriptures is the footnotes. Like the chapter headings and verse summaries, footnotes condition the individual reading them. For example, look at the following scripture and footnotes:
24 And there stood aone among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and bwe will make an earth whereon these may cdwell; (Abraham 3: 24)
The footnote for “24a” tells a person to look up Jesus Christ, Firstborn in the Topical Guide. The implication is that the “one” referred to in this scripture is Jesus Christ. As the LDS reader presupposes that the footnote interpretations are correct, that is the end of discussion. So, when someone brings up that Michael is a Hebrew name which means “ONE LIKE GOD,” they are already conditioned into believing that this scripture is referring to Jesus, due to the interpretative footnote.
Not only can Topical Guide (TG) footnotes interpret scripture, but also the alternate translations from the Greek (GR) and Hebrew (HEB), as well as the explanations of idioms and difficult constructions (IE) and clarifications of archaic English expressions (OR). Due to space limitations, not all of the alternate translations can be listed, so the one or two that are given tend towards a limited interpretation. Either a person needs to learn Greek and Hebrew and read the texts himself, or he needs to consult the multiple translations into English that have been done by using Biblegateway.com or some other resource. Only in this way do the scriptures open themselves up to understanding. For idioms, difficult constructions and clarifications of archaic English expressions, instead of getting a one or two word “sound bite,” which is all that can be given in a footnote, one should consult with either the Oxford English Dictionary or another resource that specializes in all the shades of meaning that archaic expressions can have. This leaves the reader with the opportunity and responsibility to determine what the scripture means, guided by the scriptural text itself, the various translations, the English language tools, and the all important gift of the Holy Ghost.
Anything that points the mind in one direction or another, to the exclusion of all the other directions, conditions it to look at the scripture from only one vantage point, which is not the correct way to understand scripture. The entire scriptural canon needs to be used to interpret correctly any portion thereof. This is why even footnote scriptural references can be interpretative and thus, bad or misleading. To give an example of how footnotes can condition a person into thinking one way, and one way only, consider the following:
In the past, when I still used scriptural footnotes, I often had the experience of following the footnotes only to discover that important scriptures that threw a lot of additional light upon the subject were left out of the loop. By loop, I mean, for example, let’s say that there are 20 verses that speak of the same subject, but only 10 of them are footnoted and referenced, while 5 of them are only referenced. This means that when you come to five of them, there will be no footnotes in them nor references pointing to them, whereas another five have no footnotes but there are references pointing to them and the other 10 have both footnotes and references pointing to them. When a person comes across a footnoted scripture, the footnote will reference other scriptures, which, when followed, will also have footnotes referencing other scriptures, which if followed may cause you to end up at the beginning scripture. This is a loop. As long as all scriptures relative to that topic are referenced, allowing you to footnote surf through all of them, such a loop is helpful. But if 5 verses are out of the loop, not being referenced or footnoted, the loop becomes a method to keep information out.
A peculiarity of the scriptures is that the information is scattered with smatterings everywhere, in a seemingly random manner. Human minds, when writing learning books, do things in sequential order, building from basic knowledge to more advanced subjects. No so with the mind of God. His scriptures contain both the basic and advanced subjects all over the place, a piece here, a bit there, with apparently no rhyme or reason to it. This means that to understand any part of it, one has to read all of it and use all of it to understand any part of it. So any human endeavor, no matter how well intentioned, that tries to direct the human mind to only parts of it, will inevitably cause that mind to misunderstand the information, or misinterpret it.
It is my view that the modern edition scriptural helps, although well-intentioned, have created more mental laziness and more scriptural ignorance than ever before. The helps have become a crutch upon which the people lean for understanding, but due to the limited nature of the crutch, it is insufficient to allow scriptural comprehension.
The Topical Guide and Index
The Topical Guide is not immune to these accusations, as it, also, limits the scriptures that a researcher has access to. The TG opens up by giving a disclaimer:
“This Topical Guide, with selected concordance and index entries, is intended to help the reader find scriptures most often used in gospel classes and study. Because of space limitations, the guide is not intended to be comprehensive. It is also recommended that the reader look up each scripture and examine it in its context, in order to gain a better understanding of it.”
The problem is that unless it is comprehensive, or exhaustive, it is of value only as tool of exclusion (excluding those scriptures it fails to mention, scriptures that may throw sufficient light upon a topic as to make the understanding of it substantially different.) The Index falls into the same category as the Topical Guide.
The Bible Dictionary
The disclaimer attached to the Bible Dictionary says the following:
“This dictionary has been designed to provide teachers and students with a concise collection of definitions and explanations of items that are mentioned in or are otherwise associated with the Bible. It is based primarily upon the biblical text, supplemented by information from the other books of scripture accepted as standard works by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is not intended as an official or revealed endorsement by the Church of the doctrinal, historical, cultural, and other matters set forth. Many of the items have been drawn from the best available scholarship of the world and are subject to reevaluation based on new research and discoveries or on new revelation. The topics have been carefully selected and are treated briefly. If an elaborate discussion is desired, the student should consult a more exhaustive dictionary.” (Emphasis in bold type mine.)
It is unfortunate that although it was never intended to be official, the BD is often considered definitive by the LDS. Interpretation is found throughout, which, in and of itself is bad enough, but due to the brief treatment of the topics, the scope is all too narrow to open up the full vistas of the gospel. The LDS are naturally quite zealous, but are also mentally lazy, so the inclusion of the Bible dictionary in the standard work editions practically guaranteed that no LDS would consult a more exhaustive dictionary. This ensured that LDS remained scriptural retards, to put it bluntly.
The Guide to the Scriptures
The newest “help” offered by the church is the Guide to the Scriptures (GS). This thing takes a gospel topic and dumbs it way down so that the most idiotic person in the whole world is left without the excuse that the “gospel is too hard to understand.” Unfortunately, by dumbing it down, you can’t really call what is expressed “the gospel.” It is more like a semblance of the gospel. The GS is in the vein of the PlainBookofMormon, which takes the Book of Mormon (which is already plain) and puts it into eighth grade language so that eighth graders can understand it. (I had no idea eighth graders were now retarded and didn’t know how to read plain English.) Unlike its predecessors (the TG, BD and Index), the GS makes no disclaimer. Its opening paragraphs actually intimate that it is official:
“This alphabetical listing of gospel topics defines selected doctrines, principles, people, and places found in the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. It also provides key scriptural references for you to study for each topic and can help you in your individual and family study of the scriptures. It can help you answer questions about the gospel, study topics in the scriptures, prepare talks and lessons, and increase your knowledge and testimony of the gospel.
“Each entry gives a short definition of the topic and provides the most significant scriptural references about that topic. Each reference is preceded by a short quotation or summary of the scripture. The scriptural references appear in the following order: Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.”
Although it carries itself with official weight, the only official church doctrine is found in the standard works (the scriptures themselves) and the only official scriptural interpretations are given by First Presidency Statements. The GS, however, has no listed author(s) and since we don’t know who wrote it, it should be ripped out of every edition and tossed right into the trash. In every aspect, both in its definitions, its limited scope, and its arrogance in proclaiming that it “provides the most significant scriptural references” about a topic, as well as its fascade of officialdom (only the LDS people themselves decide what is official church doctrine, by canonization vote, through the law of common consent) and its conciseness to the point of saying almost nothing, the GS is a monstrosity that has attached itself like a leech to every modern edition of our scriptures, to the detriment of the unsuspecting new convert. (Can you tell that I don’t like the GS?)
The modern trend of the helps
Unfortunately, the dumbing down of doctrinal explanations appears to be the new pattern of the latter-days. I do not blame the GA’s for this new trend, though. Apparently, people are getting dumber as time goes on and their attention spans are getting shorter. We are losing the ability to think and perform tasks that were routine just a decade or so ago. For example, most kids today in public school can’t read or write cursive. As if that were bad enough, a recent study showed that only 12 percent of teachers have taken a course on how to teach handwriting. So, as the newer generations become more stupid and mentally dense, it may be necessary to paraphrase the doctrines of the scriptures in a way that even their clouded, vapid minds can comprehend.
The danger, though, of including these watered-down versions of doctrine in the standard works editions is that the mentally lazy LDS will also grab a hold of them and use them as “the standard,” instead of the scriptures themselves.
Another example of this doctrinal dilution trend is the web site mormon.org, to which we are instructed to refer investigators. I, personally, can’t visit that site without cringing. A click on the Glossary link at the bottom of the home page and a selection of any of the topics brings up the most shallow and concise definitions I’ve ever heard. I understand the correct doctrine of piece by piece, line by line, but this is nano-bite by nano-bite. If I were investigating the church today (instead of decades ago), and was given these bits, I would spiritually starve to death. Luckily, the scriptures are still there to sup from and feast upon, but with all the emphasis on “helps,” it’s a wonder if anyone actually reads their scriptures anymore.
The only real helps
The church has given only one real help, and that is the online scriptural search feature, or the downloadable search features. This allows a person to quickly look up any word or phrase found in the entire standard works. It is exhaustive and comprehensive and permits a person to use all the scriptures to interpret any one particular verse. That is the only true help that should be used by LDS.
Additionally, the Bible Maps, the Church History Maps, the Scriptural Photographs and the Church History Photographs are likewise truly helpful. The maps and photographs do not interpret anything, but give additional information that allows us to come to better conclusions.
The JST, although it is interpretative and non-canonical, is important to know nonetheless because the Lord gave Joseph that task so that we could read what came out of it. Although it doesn’t necessarily belong in the scriptural editions (it being non-canonical), having it there makes it easier to compare it to the scriptural text and see what changes have been made. The changes give views on the Prophet’s vision of the gospel and these views expand our own, so in my estimation, it is as okay to leave it in the edition as it is to remove it. Nevertheless, there is still the tendency of the LDS to use any and all interpretation as a crutch upon which to understand scriptures which they refuse to read or refuse to understand by the power of the Holy Ghost, so it may be wiser to remove it, too, until such time that it becomes canonized.
So, in conclusion, the LDS may be better off ignoring all chapter headings, verse summaries, footnotes, the Topical Guide, the Index, the Guide to the Scriptures, the Bible Dictionary and even the Joseph Smith Translation when studying their scriptures. They ought to just use the scriptures themselves and the Holy Ghost to figure it all out.
Note: thanks goes out to Christian and T J for bringing this topic to my attention.