Willing to Submit in All Things

One the more striking passages from the BoM is the natural man pericope in Mosiah 3. Perhaps I shall have more to say on the central idea of the natural man, later. In the meantime, I wish to focus on the correctives to this fallen state. Three things are recommended:

  • yield to the Holy Spirit
  • put off the natural man and become a saint
  • become as a child, willing to submit to all things

It is this third prescriptive statement that interests me here. The idea of a male “submitting” has some interesting connotations, although the natural father-son relationship seems to be foremost. This idea is not limited to the BoM, in fact, it seems to allude, or perhaps adumbrate, an interesting little argument in Hebrews. But to get started, here’s the natural man verse with the third qualification highlighted (Mos 3:19):

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticing of the Holy Spirit, and puts off the natural man and becomes a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becomes as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord sees fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Most of us grew up so steeped in the LDS tradition of God as a loving father that we are actually numb to the implications except that we expect that God will give us what we need. However, God was not always known as a father-figure to individual believers, and so the author the Hebrews wishes to show his readers that such a relationship has consequences…


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The Joy of the Saints

The Book of Enos opens like this: “ Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.” Although Enos never really tells us what this “joy of the saints” might be, it seems to me that the entire story functions as an illustration of John 16:22, a verse in one of the stories in which Jesus explains his upcoming departure to his disciples:

And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.

The essential element is, I think, not the source of joy but the nature of this joy: it cannot be taken from the disciples. So although they are about to see Jesus crucified, experience his second departure, and suffer themselves, their joy remains.  Why? Christ’s promises and the joy they engender cannot be taken from the disciples because they are anchored in his own eternal life – which no one can take.

How does this play out in the BoM? While Enos tells us that he was satisfied by the promises he obtained from God regarding his people, he does not otherwise describe a happy life. He makes no mention of a family, and his son Jarom does not distinguish himself. The interaction between the Nephites and the Lamanites seems to have been fruitless, and his experience of teaching his own people brings down this bitter description (Enos 23):

And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things — stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction. And after this manner do I write concerning them.

But no one could take his joy from him, and so it is that at the end of his story he can write about joy, like this (Enos 26-27):

And I saw that I must soon go down to my grave, having been wrought upon by the power of God that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ. And I have declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it above that of the world.

And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father. Amen.

And that is how the joy of the saints plays out in life: preaching the promises in confident expectation of a warm welcome by the One who makes those promises sure through his own eternal existence.



Evil Eschatological Mothers

Heh. Back to work, are you? And not really in the mood, perhaps? Yeah. It coulda been Normandy outside last night until quite late. Anyway, here’s a little something to muse on as you ease yourself back into productive behaviors.

I think that perhaps the great and abominable church of 1 Nephi 13-14 is the whore of Babylon (Revelation 17), mostly stripped of sexuality and gender. If this is a reasonable reading, it means that the BoM re-visions the great struggle of the end times as a church-church fight rather than the church-state conflict that plays out in Revelation.

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Seminary Series: What Is Seminary For?

(update:) Author’s note: This is the second post in a series dealing with my experiences teaching seminary on a volunteer basis over this past year. The thoughts and observations contained therein do not necessarily represent those of the Seminaries and Institutes program or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The introductory post can be found here.

I support and deeply value the seminary program and its role in the lives of LDS youth. That’s why I accepted the call. But as I began to contemplate the coming year, I struggled to come to terms with the difference between how I would teach the Old Testament in seminary and how I had been taught it in graduate school. I had many questions. How much should these students know? Should I tell them that Moses did not write the “Five Books of Moses?” Should I tell them that he did? Should I acquaint them with ancient literary concepts of fiction and satire, and point them out in the ahistorical books of Job, Jonah, Esther, and even Ruth? Can the Old Testament be properly understood without doing so?

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LDS Correlated Lessons and the Hermeneutical model “PaRDeS”

I deeply respect the Jewish approach to the study of the scriptures. It is said that simply stating an opinion about Torah without any background or training in how to critically think about the text is Torah discussion but is not necessarily Torah study. To encourage critical thinking, rabbis from at least the third century C.E. established a simple four-level system known as PaRDeS. Each consonant in this acronym stands for a Hebrew word, and put together they mystically form the word “orchard” (פָּרְדֵּס), or paradise.

  • p’shat — “plain”
  • remez — “hints”
  • d’rash/midrash — “inquire”
  • sod — “secret”

The p’shat level of exegesis seeks to explain the “plain,” simple, or obvious meaning of the text.  This is the type of scripture study that we see so often in our Sunday School classes. Even LDS Seminary and Institute manuals are filled with this level of study. Of course, the p’shat meaning of a text is quite important. It is the keystone of scriptural understanding, and takes into account the customary meanings of the words, literary style, historical and cultural setting, and context. In Lesson 20 of our current Sunday School manual, the teacher is advised: [Read more...]

Understanding the Scriptures and Apostasy Theologically From a Canonical Perspective (Part 1)

Canonical criticism, associated most closely with B. Childs, J. Barr, F. Thielman, and J. Sanders (among others) seeks to understand and apply the Bible as Scripture to the Church.  For Childs, the historical-critical method is useful in its own context, but is insufficient in itself to account for the theological questions that the Church places on the Bible as Scripture.  Canonical criticism, as its name implies, takes the canon (and the canon’s limits are based on ecclesial confession) as its starting point for theological reflection. [Read more...]

“Have You Been Saved?”

To oversimplify things a bit, Mormon notions of salvation are more consistent with Paul, while Evangelical notions of salvation are more consistent with deutero-Pauline ideas.  In essence, Mormons, like Paul, believe that salvation is a future event; while Evangelicals, like deutero-Pauline authors, believe that salvation is a present event.

The deutero-Pauline letter Ephesians claims, “by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:5, NRSV).  The deutero-Pauline text Colossians agrees, and goes even further, explaining that you have died and have been raised already (Col 3:1-3).  Saved in the past tense?  Already raised?  Yes, these texts consider that it is at baptism or some other event that has already brought about salvation.

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Constantine’s Sword

Sitting near York Minster in England is the statue of Constantine shown below.  Notice the contemplative look on Constantine’s face as he examines his sword.  You’d think he’d never really seen it before!  Why?  Look again, at where the tip of the sword should rest on the ground.  As you can see, the tip of his sword is broken off.  Although the sword could still cut, it’s utility as a weapon is pretty much gone.  It is a cross now, the great symbol of God’s self-gift of life rather than an instrument of death.

I work around a lot of folks, including pacifists, who are uniformly horrified by the thought of carrying a weapon.  And yet, there’s one weapon they carry with them, as do most of us: our sharp, savage tongues.  The propensity of the human tongue to cause trouble was not missed by observers as shrewd as the biblical authors.  The sages, prophets and psalmists all recognized the damage that the tongue can do.   But for my money it’s James that has the most vivid imagery:  the tongue is an untameable member, a fire ignited by hell itself, a “restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Ja 3:6-8).  Poison is a nasty weapon for many reasons but one particularly reprehensible quality is that once released it cannot be controlled, that is, it does not distinguish between lawful combatants and those who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And so it is with what we say: poison is a most apt description.

Too bad we can’t just cut off the tips of our tongues, so to speak, and change them from deadly weapons to a source of life. We’d probably all be as bemused as Constantine at the results.


If the Book of Mormon is dull, the New Testament is duller

One recent, sympathetic critic called the Book of Mormon “dull.”  This is not a new accusation.  Mark Twain famously called it “chloroform in print,” and I don’t deny the charge.  Trust me, I’m quite aware of the boringness of the Book of Mormon. Mormons are aware that the Book of Mormon can be difficult reading, and often make jokes about it.  It’s characters are one-dimensional, there isn’t much plot to speak of, only some of the content is occasionally moving, and even many of the theological debates just seem not particularly pressing anymore.  But is an aesthetic appraisal the best way to evaluate sacred literature?  Is dullness really relevant at all?   [Read more...]

“Every wo/man that striveth for mastery”: Thinking About LDS Scripture Mastery (A New Series of Posts)

**I wish I could say that my recent lack of posts at FPR has been due to the fact that I’ve been following the newest reincarnation “Further” (Bobby and Phil, minus Mickey, Billy) around the country in a VW Microbus, but other events have been the culprits. In any case, I am excited to be here with FPR at Patheos and look forward to being more involved again and “not fade away.”**

For quite some time now I have been pondering a long-term series of posts that look at the 100 Scripture Mastery (SM) verses (25 for each year’s course of study: Old Testament [along with the Pearl of Great Price], New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Covenants) that high school age Latter-day Saints are encouraged to memorize during their (ideally) 4-year religious education as part of the LDS Church Educational System’s (CES) Seminary program. In particular, I am interested in examining the re-contextualization of these particular verses in the context of the CES and SM program. Similar hermenuetical issues have interested me in the past as can be seen, for example, in my past post: ”Levels of Understanding in Isaiah(?).”

In the first (forthcoming) post in the series, I will provide somewhat of an introduction (I’m not sure if that makes this an “Introduction before the Introduction”) by briefly attempting to trace the beginnings of both the CES organization as a whole, as well as the pedagogical approach of committing scriptural verses to memory that has been (more or less) formalized in the SM program.

In subsequent posts, I will look at individual SM verses and attempt to see not only how CES, for the most part via manuals and teacher development training meetings [1], have re-contextualized these verses, but also how this compares to how various biblical scholars have re-contextualized these verses. While I won’t pretend that my biases always view both (or any) of these re-contextualizations as equally valid, responsible, useful, and/or beneficial, I do want to stress that those that are trained (or are in the process of being trained) as biblical scholars also take part in the practice of re-contextualization or re-construction—when we’re not busy deconstructing :) . Scholars’ hard work and commitment should in no way be overlooked and/or underestimated, and yet it is important to remember as one such scholar has pointed out, that “[h]istorians are text readers and have to deal with the hermeneutic problem that no text (i.e. historical source) can be understood the way it was “originally” meant.” [2] So while I view the process of contextualizing biblical verses as far more complex than providing background, in Ranke’s words, “wie es eigentlich gewesen [ist]” [3], I work from a perspective that realizes scholarship (as well as myself!) also has biases and tendencies.

All that to say that in beginning this series of posts, I do not wish to convey the idea that I am necessarily seeking to systematically “debunk” the SM verses one-by-one (though to be sure, some critique will occur at times)—the hermeneutical issues are more complex than that. Rather, I hope to see what happens when these two (thus far) strange interlocutors are put into dialogue.

Hope you enjoy the posts!



1. I think it important to point out that for a number of reasons, much [most?] of the interpretive force behind how scripture is viewed in SS and CES settings lies not with the instructors (who by all means deserve recognition and praise [especially the early morning Seminary teachers out there....zzzz...] for the volunteered time they freely give), but with the manuals provided to the respective instructors.

2. Hans M. Barstad, “History and the Hebrew Bible,” in Lester L. Grabbe (ed.), Can a History of ‘Ancient Israel’ Be Written? (European Seminar in Historical Methodology 1; JSOTSup 245; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 41. Also representative of this view is Davies statement that, “[m]odern ‘biblical historians’ do not merely parrot the biblical framework in their own historiography.” Philip R. Davies, “Biblical Histories, Ancient and Modern,” in Can a History of ‘Ancient Israel’ Be Written?, 116.

3. This oft-quoted phrase from the German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886) can be translated, “as it actually [or essentially] was.” Much debate has ensued about what the particularities of this statement mean/t; however, I use it here as a symbol to represent any idea, hope, and/or perception that historians do indeed have (even if in part) access to the “the past.”