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What a fun topic! I don't know where to begin--other than there's too much good stuff covered in one post (although it's summarized very well). Each section could easily be covered by a whole string of posts (if not an exclusive blog). :)

I share the puzzlement regarding LDS aversion to critical Biblical scholarship. I think that the adherence of J. Reuben Clark and his "Clark men" to the KJV has also aligned Mormons with the more conservative-Evangelical side of the contemporary debate on the study and translation of the Bible.

Ongoing revelation also takes some of the impetus out of trying to discover the original text of the Bible.

In our Irvine study group, Mike and I set up a one year New Testament course. In it we tried to introduce the current approaches to the study of the Bible that are used by scholars (in and out of faith). I think that there were a handful of enthusiasts, but the rest were much less interested. The latter wanted to wrestle with the Book of Mormon and Latter-day church history.

Learning about the three approaches has definitely enriched my understanding (and enjoyment) of the Bible. I've started treating it less as one book and more as a collection of documents, each with its own textual history, social context, community, purpose, style, etc. It's much more interesting to study a library of books than one monolithic document.

John, based on the dozens of comments to this post ... I think you're right, not too many are interested in all this Bible stuff. Maybe I'll give that topic its own discussion in a later post.

What is there to say, other than "Nice Post"? The issue of the merit of many forms of the "higher criticism" is pretty much a settled issue in the Church, and has been for about three decades now.

Of course, if we were to talk about the implications of this history in terms of informal doctrine and theology in the Church, that would be a subject about which a rather lot could be said. I read Quinn's biography of J. Reuben Clark's tenure as a Church authority, and I don't see any discussion of scriptural literalism at all. Clark was much more involved in administrative issues, and comparatively little in doctrinal issues, from what I can tell.

Joseph Fielding Smith seems to me to be the right man to examine for twentieth century doctrinal issues. And his father, of course.

Yeah, I'd say interest by LDS in higher criticism is mixed. But I wonder if that is partly due to the way LDS are introduced to the stuff. If you frame the discussion with our "as far as it is translated correctly" AofF and stress why this makes the BoM important for Mormons, then people are more open about flaws in the Biblical text and in commonly held perceptions about the Bible.

Haven't you read "Mormons and the Bible" by Barlow? Obviously you have because it is on the side of your blog. I think that pretty much sums up Bible attitudes and approaches for Mormons, even if I disagree with minor conclusions.

Personally, I find Mormons ambivalent about the "inerrancy" idea, especially when talking with Christian evangilicals. Yet, in practice they are very literalist themselves - to a point. In other words, Mormons are very literalist with the stories and miracles. When questioned farther, they are usually very open about the non-binding nature of the text itself. It is a very nuanced viewpoint. Sometimes they don't know that is what they are doing themselves its such a subtle distinction.

I think Mormons tend to be historical inerrantists (roughly speaking) and leave more room open for occasional doctrinal error. It is a lot easier to identify why a doctrine may have been transmitted incorrectly than a historical account.

Interesting point, Mark. Yes, I think many Mormons would affirm a literal and inerrantist view of the stories -- such as Noah and the worldwide flood or Jonah and the big fish -- while feeling free to reinterpret or simply reject doctrinal discussions.

That seems completely reverse to the views of some Protestant "modified inerrantists" (my term), who might admit that words get changed here and there and some of the stories are plainly mythical or symbolic, yet hold that the essential salvific doctrines of Christianity were nevertheless preseved accurately in the Bible.

It's almost as if to some Mormons it's the stories that are really important, not the doctrines! You might even extend that thinking to the popular Mormon treatment of the Book of Mormon, where stories (about Nephi going after the plates and finding Laban, or about Helaman's stripling warriors) sometimes seem to overshadow doctrinal pronouncements.

I think the general Mormon lack of interest in biblical higher criticism is a direct offshoot of their suspicion of intellectuals.

What can we learn from a bunch of Protestants, no matter how educated they are? We have the Truth, and they Don't.

After all, if there's something about the Bible we ought to know, the Prophet will tell us.

Great, great post, Dave. Again.

I'm not sure that's right Mark. Certainly Mormons are apt to give the benefit of the doubt to the history. But I tend to see proof-texting (which depends upon consistent doctrine) much more than appeals to history.

But it's always hard to say given that appeals to what "most Mormons believe" are typically more "most Mormons I've talked to." Since I live around BYU I'll be the first to admit most Mormons I've encountered are probably atypical.

It is very easy to become suspicious of intellectuals if all of them you know seem to be tearing down your faith rather than building it up. Setting aside historical issues, how many Mormon scholars do you know who actively work to establish doctrines through say metaphysical analysis rather than use often a rather naive rationality to persuade people to discard them - not just oddities like Jonah and the whale, but key doctrines without which the plan of salvation is meaningless?

Theology is intended to sustain faith, not tear it down. Whenever I see somebody working too hard to argue against pinciples known by revelation, I think of someone who has lost their testimony and doesn't have anything better to do than help other people lose theirs. A good scholar thinks so that he may understand, rather than thinks to justify disbelief in what he does not.

Now on the main topic, I agree it is hard to make generalizations, and I would not go as far as Dave has. People who believe only in stories and have lost the gospel are cultural Mormons at best. Plenty of Jews like that.

I am not inclined to believe for various reasons that the flood covered the *whole* earth. However, no one is going to persuade me that Abraham or a contemporary of his just made the whole thing up.

That is what I mean about historicity. Sometimes we misunderstand auxilliary doctrines and we end up with revelations or whatever implicitly admitting that our understanding or someone's understanding was flawed. Our interpretation of whole passages of scripture often changes without public notice, just private scholarship. So we are not strictly speaking doctrinal inerrantists to the degree many Protestants are. I think the Lord has a good reason for that, namely teaching us according to our language and understanding.

But historically speaking, we might see minor errors, a little too zealous hagiography, etc. But how many Mormons really believe that any of the recorded scriptural or historical accounts are fictional simply because they seem out of the ordinary or speak of divine intervention?

That is an effective way to lose your testimony in a hurry. It is very hard to be a faithful member if you believe God is either impotent or an absentee landlord. Just about any denomination or philosophy is compatible with an abstract Deism, so why wouldn't the person drift to a less demanding one?

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