Remember that one time God totally denied having a body in restoration scripture?

There I was looking at all the fascinating differences between the First Book of Moses called Genesis in the KJV and the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price … such as the global change from third person to first person (e.g. Genesis: “God said” > Moses: “I, God, said”) … when to my surprise I saw this anti-anthropomorphism:

Genesis 3:8 KJV

And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

Moses 4:14

And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

In the KJV, God walks around like a human with legs (Hebrew Bible and LXX both have masculine single participles modifying the noun Lord God). But that would be some kind of crass theology. So in the Book of Moses, it’s Adam and Eve who do the walking.

Also, the whole business about God being ignorant of where Adam and Eve were hiding? Yeah, that’s been cleared up too. In the Book of Moses they don’t hide; they go to hide and get busted on the way:

Genesis 3:9 KJV

And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

Moses 4:15

And I, the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?

There’s no hiding from an omniscient deity. Even if he doesn’t have feet himself to patrol with, he’s still gonna stop you in your tracks.

Even More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

I once wrote about the Jacob (pseud)epigraphon in the book of Alma, which I said I would follow up on but never did, and I won’t do it here. Because there are even more Old Testament pseudepigrapha to write about that are not old but new!

The current issue of the Ensign features an article written in the first person as though by Adam. It looks to be the initial article in a series called “Old Testament Prophets,” coinciding with the year’s gospel doctrine topic. Apparently, soon there will be articles written by Enoch, Noah, and so forth.

So what are we to make of this? Here is a text that purports to be written by a biblical figure. Do we take it at face value? And if not, what exactly makes this text different from others that we may insist on taking at face value, such as the Jacob (pseud)epigraphon in the book of Alma, or the Book of Moses or the Book of Abraham?

The differences may well be extensive. They should not merely be assumed, however. They should be reflected upon and verbalized.

What Paul did not mean by apostle

Paul claims to be an apostle by virtue of his vision/s of Jesus.

He does not claim to be an apostle by virtue of Jesus ordaining him to any priesthood.

He does not claim to be an apostle by virtue of Peter, another of the twelve, or anyone else ordaining him to any priesthood either, though he does want to point out that years after the fact James and Peter and John accepted him (Galatians 2:6-10).

When he refers to apostles (arguably including the woman Junia in Romans 16:7) and deacons (clearly including the woman Phebe in Romans 16:1-2), he does not have any priesthood or ordination to it in mind.

In the pastoral epistles attributed to Paul (but arguably not written by him), where the qualifications of a bishop are listed, no priesthood or ordination to it comes up. Ordination of elders comes up (they are ordained in the KJV of Titus 1:5 anyway) but not ordination to any priesthood. ‘Paul’ does say here that he was ordained an apostle (ordained in the KJV of 1 Timothy 2:7 anyway), but again he says nothing about any priesthood or who it was that ordained him an apostle, if indeed it was anyone but God.

Thus Paul and even ‘Paul’ never mention priesthood or ordination to it.

Furthermore, when Jesus calls the twelve and seventy(two) in the gospel accounts (written after Paul), he is not made to say anything about priesthood or ordination to it. He does ordain the twelve (he ordains them in the KJV of Mark 3:14 anyway), but it is not to any priesthood.

In Acts (also written after Paul), when Matthias is ordained an apostle in place of Judas (ordained in the KJV of Acts 1:22 anyway), it has nothing to do with any priesthood. It has to do with him having been there at Jesus’ baptism, resurrection, and everything in between. That is, Paul would be excluded as a candidate here (but see Acts 14:14). It also has to do with a kind of divination. Matthias is ordained (again in the KJV anyway) as God chooses him by sortition. None of the eleven place their hands on his head to ordain him. Rather, they give a lot to him and lot to another candidate, and the lot falls to Matthias because, it was believed, God made it happen.

Later in Acts, when Peter and John bring the spirit to the baptized Samaritans, something Philip is supposed not to be able to do, there is a power mentioned to be sure. And Peter and John do place their hands on the heads of the Samaritans. But the power they have is not called priesthood. Likewise, when Paul re-baptizes the Ephesian converts of Apollos.

Apostle, seventy(two), elder, bishop, deacon are not priesthood offices in the New Testament. Much less do they comprise a priesthood organization in which to become an apostle, seventies first become elders, bishops, and deacons.

The only priesthood organization in the New Testament is the Jewish temple priesthood. Jesus was a Jew but he was not a Jewish priest in the temple; in fact, he seems to have gotten along poorly with most who were.

It is only in the book of Hebrews (which does not even claim to be written by Paul) that Jesus is said to be a priest. There he is said to be a cosmic priest ministering in a heavenly temple/tabernacle. Not exactly literal.

The only occurrences of words for priesthood in the  New Testament are in Luke (1:9 Jewish temple priesthood); in Hebrews (7:5, 11-12, 24 one after order of Aaron and another after order of Melchizedek); and in 1 Peter (2:5, 9). It is in the latter that believers in Jesus are referred to as a priesthood. But they offer spiritual, i.e., metaphorical sacrifice. If the sacrifice is non-literal, what about the priesthood?

Believers in Jesus are also referred to as kings and priests to God and Christ (or vice-versa) in the book of Revelation (1:6, 5:10, 20:6), it is true. But it is not clear what that means when God and the Lamb are said to be the temple of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22).

Up shot: there is no precedent in the New Testament for men or women being ordained to priesthood offices of apostle, seventy(two), elder, bishop or deacon. Men and women are referred to as apostles and deacons, the term apostle being used in more than one way by different New Testament authors and probably even the same author (Luke-Acts). Men are also referred to as seventies, elders, and bishops. This has nothing to do with any priesthood or ordination to it. In some New Testament texts, Jesus and believers in him are said to be priests or priestly, but it is only on very broad analogy with the priesthood of the Jewish temple or Israelite tabernacle.

The Heresies of Father Brown and the Future of LDS Scriptural Studies

With the new direction at the Maxwell Institute, the launch of the Mormon Interpreter, the latest about the BYU New Testament Commentary project, and the search for a new dean of Religious Education, which culminated last week, there has been some talk about the future of LDS scriptural studies, including, but hardly focused on, the Bible.

In talking about the future, we might consider the history of scriptural studies in other faith traditions, such as Catholicism. Broadly speaking, Catholics were late to the game of biblical scholarship, a game that Protestants had been playing for some time. Catholics were late to the game because they were discouraged from participating until changes in the 1940s and 60s.

One of the most prominent Catholics to engage in mainstream biblical scholarship was Raymond Brown (1928-1998), priest and professor. As a professor, he was and still is well respected for his extensive publications, representing the middle of the road, hardly fundamentalist on the one hand or radically skeptical on the other. As a priest, though, he was and still is something of a polarizing figure, either loved or hated by his fellow Catholics.

Mormons, it would seem, have been and continue to be discouraged from participating in the game of biblical scholarship, even at the level of textual criticism and translation (see e.g. this), not to mention historical criticism and, in a word, subsequent theory, or in a few more words, subsequent narrative, social scientific, and cultural criticisms—none of these kinds of criticism necessarily being mutually exclusive.

But if things were to change, and if one day in the future there were to be an LDS Raymond or Raymona Brown, how might that turn out?

There is no way to know for certain of course until we reach that point. If we reach that point. And there is no reason to expect that Mormonism’s history with biblical scholarship will mirror that of Catholicism. All the same, it does not hurt to consider their history in thinking about our future.

What would an LDS Raymond or Raymona Brown be, first off?

This would be someone who publishes widely on the Bible, who serves as president of the Mormon Biblical Association (the imaginary LDS equivalent of the Catholic Biblical Association), as well as the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas.

In other words, an LDS Raymond or Raymona Brown is generations away at the absolute soonest. For one thing, there is no Mormon equivalent of the Catholic Biblical Association. Imagine a religious scientific association of LDS biblical scholars and their colleagues, having 1500 members, a quarterly journal with a subscription of 3800, and a monograph series. (Those are the recent numbers for the CBA, not what they were when Brown was president.)

Anyhow, say the time comes, and conditions are right. Then what?

Some Mormons, even a few high ranking Mormons, might be supportive. Pope Benedict XVI, before he became pope, is purported to have said once that he “would be very happy if we had many exegetes like Father Brown.”

But other Mormons, even among those with advanced degrees, and even among those with training in biblical and related studies, are likely to be opposed to the kind of work that would result from LDS engagement with mainstream biblical scholarship. Brown was and is considered to be a dissident, heretic, and so forth, by some of his fellow Catholics who have written against him in books (at least one anyway, entitled The New Biblical Theorists, by George Kelly) and various online venues. Like here (January 2010) and here (May 2010) and here (April 2009) and here (January 2008).

One Christian apologist with a bachelor of divinity degree recently wrote the following in an online opinion piece punctuated by mocking and anti-intellectual scare quotes:

‘Father’ Raymond Brown (1928-1998) was a Roman Catholic “Bible scholar” who spent many years undermining the New Testament, something most Catholics have never forgiven him for.

This apologist cites another, Catholic apologist with a BA in religion and an MA in theology, as well as a PhD, who has this to say about Brown’s heresies:

Up until his death in 1998, Fr. Brown was upheld by many as the premier Catholic biblical scholar. Unfortunately, despite his well-recognized scholarly erudition, he has probably done more to undue [sic] much that we have held sacred in biblical studies than any one single person in Catholic history. … That a man with such a liberal background and radical ideas could actually make it to the top of his field in Catholic biblical scholarship gives a good indication of the sad state of affairs both at the Vatican and Catholic academia.

What sorts of things did Brown write in his middle-of-the-road scholarship that were so pernicious? What might an LDS scholar who engages in mainstream biblical scholarship write?

Well, for starters, Brown argued that the idea of Jesus’ preexistence in Paul and John and the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth in Matthew and Luke were originally separate, and that they were only harmonized as the orthodox doctrine of incarnation through parthenogenesis in the second century (The Birth of the Messiah, p.141-142).

What would LDS reactions to this be? What should they be? (Before turning immediately to our extra-biblical scriptures, it might be informative to try find the ideas of Jesus’ pre-existence and virgin birth together anywhere in the New Testament.)

As final food for thought, the Catholic apologist quoted above in opposition to Brown, the one who says that Brown “has probably done more to undue [sic] much that we have held sacred in biblical studies than any one single person in Catholic history,” this apologist, by the way, argued in his massive dissertation, now published in three volumes, that the earth, not the sun, is at the center of our solar, er, geo system.

Truly, Galileo was wrong.

And Father Brown was a heretic.

Evangelium secundum Matthaeum et tres porci minores

Matt 7:6
…neither cast ye your pearls before swine…
(The three little pigs? No, just coincidence.)

Matt 7:7-8
…knock and it shall be opened unto you…

Matt 7: 15
… but inwardly they are ravening wolves…

Matt 7:19
… and cast into the fire …
(Uh. Fire. Pot of boiling water.)

Matt 7:21
Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter …
(Little pig, little pig, let me in!?)

Matt 7:23
… depart from me …
(Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin. Yes. Jesus, is the bearded one after all.)

Matt 7:24, 26
… a wise man, which built his house upon a rock … a foolish man, built his house upon the sand …
(Houses with different foundations/building materials that are symbolic: check.)

Matt 7: 25, 27
… and the winds blew …
(Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down.)

Matt 7:27
… and it fell: and great was the fall of it …

Event at Benchmark Books Tonight: Mormons and the Bible

If you are in the area of Benchmark Books, stop by to hear Philip L. Barlow and to pick up a copy of the updated edition of his book, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion, which has just been reissued in paperback with a new preface and updated bibliography.

And if you are not in the area, get a copy online.

First published by Oxford University Press in 1991 and featuring such chapters as “The Mormon Response to Higher Criticism,” the book should be required reading.


Boat, Bible; Ship, Scripture

*follow-up to this.

Three vociferous cheers for Old Joe and his Indian Bible notwithstanding, a lot of what the Book of Mormon says about colonization and colonialization is liable to make current readers squeamish. After all, it has been some time since the president of the United States, for instance, was systematically removing Native Americans to west of the Mississippi. Today there is actually concern about the loss of Native American languages, if not religions.

It doesn’t matter much whether 1 Nephi 13:12 is to be understood as referring to Columbus himself, another explorer or conquistador. God was behind Gentile discovery and colonialization of the Americas, according to the Nephite record. The Gentiles’ crossing of the many waters, Bible in hand, was divinely inspired. Which should come as no surprise in a book of holy writ that features other providential voyages of boats and bibles, ships and scriptures.

Among other things, the story of the Book of Mormon is one of ongoing colonialization, beginning with attempts to Christianize Lamanites through the use of the Brass Plates centuries before the Spanish arrived in the New World and ending with prophecy of widespread Lamanite conversion post-1829 due to the instrumentality of the Book of Mormon itself. Still, some of what the Book of Mormon says about colonialization is fairly critical.

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adjustment to the book of abraham in the new edition of the scriptures

So you noticed the change regarding the Book of Abraham in the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price, and you want to situate it a little. Well here is a rundown of some pertinent information.

The heading to the William W. Phelps and Warren Parrish Copy of Abraham Manuscript (Summer—Fall, 1835):

Translation of the Book of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus and found in the CataCombs of Egypts

The heading to the Willard Richards Copy of Abraham Manuscript (early 1842):

A. Translation of Some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catacombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the Book ofAbraham, written by his own hand upon papyrus,


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D&C 7, the Delay of Jesus’ Return, and Alternate Early Christian Realities

Section 7 of the Doctrine and Coventants shares much of its language and content with John 21, a few other New Testament texts like Hebrews 1 and Matthew 16, as well as 3 Nephi 28. This commonality is no secret. Most all the cross-references are listed right there in the footnotes to the standard edition.

What to make of the commonality is of course debatable, but it can be argued that D&C 7 adds new material to John 21 by drawing from Hebrews 1 and Matthew 16. The Book of Mormon then builds on D&C 7 in 3 Nephi 28, drawing further from Paul.

It can also be argued that much as John 21 itself, neither D&C 7 nor 3 Nephi 28 would have been written had the return of Jesus not been delayed. If Jesus had returned in the first or second century, there would have been no need for the development of a doctrine of ‘translated beings’ such as John the beloved disciple and the three Nephites—beings that tarry on or around the earth for hundreds, even thousands of years.

In John 21, an anonymous third-person narrator faces a problem. Some of his fellow early Christians believed that the beloved disciple would not die. According to the third-person narrator, Jesus never said that; he only said that the beloved disciple would tarry until his return.

Fast forward a couple millennia, and Jesus has still not returned. So the question for Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery is “whether John, the beloved disciple, tarried in the flesh or had died.” As a (p)rewriting of the biblical text, D&C 7 tries to get behind the third-person narrative of John 21 to the voice and authority of the beloved disciple himself in order to give a definitive answer. It also adds new material to John 21, John 21 itself being an ancient addition to John 20.

The new material added to John 21 in D&C 7 is drawn in part from Hebrews 1 as an explanation of how the beloved disciple had tarried so long and could still be alive in April, 1829: he had become an angel. John himself recounts Jesus’ statement of his angelification, while the actual experience of becoming an angel was soon to be described in 3 Nephi 28 as the three Nephites desire the same thing that John desired.

The new material added to John 21 in D&C 7 also draws from Matthew 16, where Jesus tells Peter that he will give him the keys, and that “there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”

Despite Peter’s desire to come speedily unto Jesus in his kingdom, in D&C 7 it is not clear that Peter in fact did so. He and James and John take part in what looks like the same ministry, all three having been given the same power and keys. This re-interpretive allusion to the giving of keys in Matthew 16 is striking because here in D&C 7 the keys are not given to Peter alone; they are given to him, James, and John: “and unto you three will I give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come.”

If the power and keys of ministering and tarrying until the return of Jesus are among those given to Peter, James, and John in D&C 7, this would go some way towards resolving the issue of Jesus’ saying in Matthew 16 that “There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” The more and more time passed before Jesus’ return, the longer and longer some of the disciples would have to live in order for this saying to be true in any literal sense. And it could not be just one disciple, e.g. John. It had to be some.

Jesus’ saying in Matthew 16 is similar enough to what he says of the beloved disciple in John 21. In Matthew 16 Jesus says that “some … shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom;” in John 21 Jesus of the beloved disciple that he will “tarry till I come.” But by combining Matthew 16 and John 21 in the way it does in order to work out problems caused by the delay of Jesus’ return, D&C 7 also introduces certain tensions of its own within John 21 and the New Testament as a whole. Peter and James could not be among Matthew’s ‘some that shall not taste of death’ because the future death of Peter is mentioned in John 21, and the death of James is related in Acts 12.

Even a (p)rewriting of the biblical text as creative as D&C 7 could not avoid these tensions due to the constraints of the canon. Only in the extra-biblical text of 3 Nephi 28 were the tensions resolved in the figures of the three Nephites, each like John in their desire, and none of them tasting of death, just as Jesus said about the ‘some’ in Matthew 16.

3 Nephi 28 was written apparently no more than a month or so after D&C 7, and it seems that the inquiry started by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery was still going. In April 1829, they wanted to know “whether John … tarried in the flesh or had died.” Provisionally it was sufficient for them that John had become an angel. But by May, as editor/narrator of the gold plates, Mormon wants to know details about the process of angelification and whether the three Nephites who had become angels like John were immortal or not.

In language also found in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus tells the three Nephites that when he returns they “shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality.” This would be a stunning reuse of Paul, who believed that “we shall not all sleep,” i.e. not all die, because Jesus would return within Paul’s own lifetime or at least within the lifetime of a few of his peers. In keeping with the delay of Jesus’ return, however, in 3 Nephi 28 now the change is to happen centuries later. Mormon, writing circa 400 CE, claims to have seen the three Nephites, whom he refers to as angels, and who so “remain until the judgment day of Christ” hundreds of years in the future.

The actual experience of their angelification is described in 3 Nephi 28 in Pauline terms as well. In preparation for their change in the twinkling of an eye at Jesus’ return, according to the Nephite record, the three were then “caught up into heaven, and saw and heard unspeakable things … And whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell,” once more akin to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12.

But unlike Paul who eventually died after his in-and/or-out-of-body experience, theirs had lasting effects. As Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery inquired about John, Mormon states that he too “inquired of the Lord” regarding the three Nephites and whether they were mortal or immortal. After what he wrote previously, he learns that in fact there was “a change wrought upon their bodies, or else it needs be that they taste of death;” a change but “not equal to that which shall take place at the last day.”

Thus the problems caused by the delay of Jesus’ return are worked out, and the tensions introduced by D&C 7 are resolved in 3 Nephi 28.

Finally, if there is a correspondence between Peter, James, and John in D&C 7 and the three Nephites, then the autobiography also runs in the other direction when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery are subsequently visited by Jesus’ three Old World disciples sometime in 1829/30, as Mormon had seen the three Nephites.

scripture and the issue of (God’s) discrimination … again

On the chance that you missed it, at least two university professors invoked Martin Luther King Jr in the last few days in order to criticize the president. Given the national holiday, the King-Obama association that had already been established, and the president’s use of King’s Bible for his second inauguration, this is not altogether surprising.

What is perhaps surprising is that both professors did so from quite different points of view, which of course are hardly the only points of view. I happen to be a member of the same faith tradition as one of the professors, and it is his point of view that I want to focus on, that is, his point of view, not him or what he may represent for certain groups of church members and former members.

I want to focus on it in order to arrive at a theological question that I think is important for all Mormons to consider, whatever our different political leanings may be. I am not seeking to perpetuate intra-Mormon dispute as an end in and of itself, much less do I aim at arguing a point so as to appear to win. I feel strongly enough to have written something, but I have tried not to allow emotion to over-influence my writing. I have also tried to use a number of qualifiers, in the hopes of avoiding the possibility of misrepresentation.

For Cornel West, it was upsetting that the president used Martin Luther King’s Bible, as the president is, in West’s recent words, a “Republican in blackface,” out of step with King’s speeches, which the president has referenced in his own.

For Daniel Peterson, the president’s “vaunted oratorical skills pale into insignificance alongside Dr. King’s.” If ‘pale’ was not intentionally loaded with double meaning here, and it easily may not be, Peterson goes on to state: “I’m pleased (it’s the only substantial thing about his presidency that pleases me) that America has broken the color barrier in electing a black president. (Well, 50% black, anyway.)”

Despite whatever superficial and rhetorical similarities there are between them, however, the criticisms function entirely separately. For West, it is the president’s policies that are too ‘white;’ West calls him “my dear brother,” at the same time suggesting that the president is not one of Martin Luther King’s ‘people:’

I got upset [about the president’s use of King’s Bible] because you don’t play with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and you don’t play with his people. By ‘his people’ I mean people of good conscience, fundamentally committed to peace, and truth, and justice; and especially the Black tradition that produced it.

There is some ambiguity in West’s definition of King’s ‘people,’ i.e., “and especially the Black tradition that produced it,” the antecedent of ‘it’ being unclear, but it is clear enough that he does not limit King’s ‘people’ to race.

Whereas for Peterson, it seems that racially the president is only “50% black,” at least potentially implying that “the color barrier” has only been half broken.

If it were not for other things that Peterson has to say about Civil Rights, this potential implication might not be eye-catching. In his blog post meant to honor King on Monday, in the comments there, and in the follow-up post and comments, he seems to be saying that discrimination should not (have) be(en) regulated against but that hopefully it would (have) be(en) corrected through market forces.

Even if, for the sake of ‘logical argument,’ discrimination could be isolated from the violence that historically accompanies it, I’m afraid that this economic view may also be tied to what I consider to be problematic theology–the existence or non-existence of Mormon theologians being what it may.

When I first read his post on the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr Day this week, I thought of an earlier post he had written about a year ago, as one of his colleagues was in some trouble for statements regarding why there was a priesthood ban. Peterson himself has not connected the posts as far as I know, but I have brought them together. In this earlier post, entitled “An Unfortunate Attempt to Explain the Pre-1978 Priesthood Ban,” Peterson argued from scripture that “God has always discriminated with regard to priesthood … But we don’t know why.”

God discriminates then, according to Peterson, at least when it comes to priesthood and race as well as gender. Though I want to be careful not to conflate Peterson’s earlier blog post on the priesthood ban with his post on Monday so entirely as to result in distortion, it would seem that he does not read the same scriptures as found in Martin Luther King’s Bible, the one that Cornel West is upset about the president using.

If they are not the same, the reason for the different scriptures of a Martin Luther King or a Cornel West and a Daniel Peterson may not amount to our LDS extra-biblical canon. How was King able to look at the Bible and see equality, likewise West, albeit his own version, while Peterson apparently looks at it and sees a God who discriminates?

I would contend that both equality and discrimination are there in scripture. But the issue of God’s discrimination per se has to do with the passages we ourselves select; it has to do with whether we ourselves choose to read them as entirely divine or also at least partly human texts; and it has to do with when we ourselves may or may not make that choice to read them as at least partly human texts.

In other words, I don’t think the best answer is: we don’t know why God discriminates.

The question is: what will we choose, a God who discriminates or not? And if we choose one who does, how will we know when God’s discrimination in scripture is or isn’t a product of the human beings, like us, who recorded and wrote it?