Jesus didn’t write any scriptures. The apostles didn’t write the gospels down as things were happening. They didn’t sit in that upper room during Pentecost, making sure they got everything written down so they could go out and organize the church of Christ based on the authority of their scriptures.
The point with written scriptures is that they must be understood as the product of believers in Christ organized as his church – not what believers in Christ need to use to become organized as his church. The written records are the trail that’s left behind – not the hand guiding us through.
The scriptures are just printed ink on processed wooden pulp. Destroy every copy of the written word of God – and it wouldn’t do a thing. Because a group of believers in Christ would just produce more scriptures. Only dead congregations, who have no real connection with God through the spirit of prophecy and revelation, would be scrambling – because they lack the ability to produce anything new. They can only re-tell the stories they’ve inherited from a by-gone generation.
It’s essentially idolatry [see, Making an Image out of God] – to look at the image that’s pointing and cling to and serve it, rather than to Look, Follow, and Live [see, ...and the labor which they had to perform was to look...].
The church of Jesus Christ is not established on scriptures:
A book cannot authenticate itself. It takes an outside authority to do that. Written records become “scripture” when the church of Christ covenants to be bound to that written record by common consent. That means that the 66 books that make up the King James canon have authority as “the Bible” by virtue of the Catholic Church’s word alone – not by virtue of them simply being “the Bible”.
Further, you accept the English word-choice of the King James translation by virtue of the word of the Church of England alone – God did not dictate the creation story to Moses, or the epistles to Paul using 1611 English words.
The reason the King James text is also known as “The Authorized Version” is because, prior to its commission – there were many attempts by English commoners [i.e., not clergy or royalty] to translate the Bible into English [the language of the unlearned common-folk]. This threatened the power of the elites – who believed that the translations of the commoners did not, “conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its beliefs about an ordained clergy.”
So, a new state-sanctioned English translation was commissioned that would render phrases in such a way as to justify and legitimize the hierarchical authority of the crown and of the church. And it would be the only one “Authorized” by the state and the church for use.
Joseph Smith’s view of the bible:
- It can be ambiguous,
“The teachers of religious understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.”
This ambiguity in the meaning of revelations happens when interpreters make false assumptions about the Bible and then just start guessing away at the correct interpretation.
They’ll assume the scriptures are cryptic [that they’ll say “A”, when they really mean “X”], are relevant [that all the narratives can be applied as personal lessons], and are perfect [that there are no contradictions, missing pieces, or extraneous material]. Their guessing either takes place horizontally [applying the past to the present] or vertically [applying the physical to the spiritual].
The meaning of the word of God should not be guessed at in this way. Guessing is what Laman and Lemuel did. Guessing is what Judeans did with Jesus’ parables. Guessing is what the brethren at Jerusalem did [see, And they understood me not, for they supposed]. The meaning of scripture [in a gospel context] has only one signified attached to it. And there is only one way to “figure out” what it means –to ask God what it signifies.
“The Bible contains revelations given at different times to different people under different circumstances.”
The blessings promised in the scriptures pertain to the people to whom they were spoken. The laws outlined in the scriptures were tailored to the conditions under which they were given.
For example, at Wheat & Tares I commented on the definition that “hot drinks” in D&C 89 means “tea and coffee”. The standard interpretation used by the church in regards to verse 9:
hot drinks are not for the body
says that Joseph and Hyrum Smith all told members that “hot drinks” meant “tea and coffee”. Sounds pretty straight-forward.
But – so what if Joseph or Hyrum in fact did say that “hot drinks” meant “tea and coffee” to this-or-that member back in the 1830’s? That’s all well-and-good because that’s what the saints were in the habit of drinking hot at the time the revelation was given. Brigham Young reasoned:
I have heard it argued that tea and coffee are not mentioned [in D&C 89]; that is very true; but what were the people in the habit of taking as hot drinks when that revelation was given? Tea and coffee. We were not in the habit of drinking water very hot, but tea and coffee — the beverages in common use.
Now – to follow his reasoning – if the saints ended-up falling out of the habit of drinking tea and coffee hot and started drinking other things hot or started drinking tea and coffee cold — then the revelation still calls us to be guided by the general concept of avoiding the habitual drinking of hot liquids [rather than be bound to the specific conceptions of tea and coffee per se].
The revelation meant “tea and coffee” for them [because that’s what they were in the habit of drinking hot] — but it does not necessarily mean that for us today [if we get in the habit of drinking other liquids hot or drinking tea and coffee cold].
When the Lord said “Don’t drink hot drinks,” Joseph/Hyrum rightly took a look at what the saints were in the habit of drinking hot at that time — and they concluded that it was tea and coffee — so the leaders rightly taught the people to not drink tea and coffee. But the interpretation of “tea and coffee” pertains to them – given under conditions where the people were in the habit of drinking tea and coffee hot.
- transmitted erroneously,
“I believe the Bible as it came from the pens of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, and designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.”
If our understanding of some particular point of doctrine is based on a scripture that is the translation of a translation of a translation – that was taken from a copy of a copy of a copy – and somewhere along the line [there are centuries between the original and what we have extant, in many cases] a rendering was screwed-up [whether accidentally or maliciously] – then it may well reveal how weak some of our beliefs could be.
Our centuries long history and traditions of scriptural interpretation, some of Joseph’s wording choices in the Book of Mormon, and much our the temple endowment ceremony are all based on the scriptural renderings common at the time [taken from the King James English text].
I’ve heard people say that:
You’ve got to believe that God created the universe in six 24-hour periods because it says it right there in Genesis, ‘And the evening and the morning were the ____ day.’ The Bible clearly says ‘day’.
When, in reality, the Bible clearly says “yohm”, as it was recorded in Hebrew. That’s a word that could mean a variety of things in English.
And even getting back to the original Hebrew can be more complex than it might seem at first. The Meru Foundation found that the origin of the Hebrew characters lie in a series of ritual hand-gestures — or sign language.
Also, the Chronicle Project has found an alternate system for how the written Hebrew characters work, and publishes alternate, “original meaning” renderings of the Hebrew scriptures.
- and incomplete.
“Much instruction has been given to man since the beginning that we do not now possess […] to say that God never said anything more to man would be claiming a new revelation – because such a thing is nowhere said in that volume by the mouth of God.”
In The Concept of Race, in the Gospel, I wrote:
The best thing to do is to take it as granted that the current scriptural record we have in the Bible is a pretty incomplete picture concerning the affairs of God throughout the whole human race. The Bible is the book that’s come by way of the Jew and is their record — and so we find that it deals primarily with Arabians [go figure].
Until the scriptural record is more complete — until we receive the prophets of the other nations, tribes, and people, with their prophetic records that will come forth from Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Pacific Islands, etc. — we cannot speak with certainty of how God has dealt with the other races and if there are promises made to them that we know that of.
Now, I’m not trying to say that we can draw no good lessons from our historical translations and traditions. I’m not saying all current Biblical teachings should be repudiated. Rather – it’s that any explicit meaning we’re going to gather from them ought to be accepted with the understanding that it comes skewed. That the scriptures come to us as time-and-space artifacts of a particular culture – given in their language and suited to their circumstances.
What we have is just what we have. It’s better to be honest about what we’ve got with our scriptural record — rather than try to pedestalize it into something it’s not meant to be.
Religions become concerned with ethical behavior and doctrine, and using the scriptures as an all-encompassing moral rule-book – instead of being concerned with changing people’s minds/hearts and how they view/experience their world, using the scriptures as a collection of stories that motivate believers to go live-out their own stories.
The problem with approaching religion as though it were a method of relaying ethics and doctrines from “the Good Book” is that ethics only teach us how to live as though you were one with your neighbor. You learn the modes of action that imply a compassionate relationship with another person. It offers you incentive to act in a certain way – but it cannot generate the genuine feeling of it.
While there may be certain ethical implications of having made a covenant with the fundamental Reality of existence – such things neither add to or subtract from current pool of human ethical wisdom. It is not the domain of religion to lay down specific “hither thou shalt come and no further” guidelines for human behavior that transcendent time, space, culture, and circumstance.
Rather, religion is about providing the environment for people to experience the miraculous works of God and manifestations of the spiritual gifts. Because once the experience is had – the very way in which a person approaches and experiences human problems/decisions will be altered.
The gospel is about that transcendent experience of a direct connection with God — one that smashes a hardened, left-brain sensation of being separate and opens a person up the fluid, right-brain awareness that all creation is a continuous and connected event that we are all a part of .
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