The Ensign Gets Scholarly. Kinda.

The January Ensign (not available on-line yet)  includes “The New Testament: The Historical Context” by BYU prof Thomas Wayment. PhD from Claremont, focused on textual criticism (as I recall), Wayment is one of the young movers and shakers at BYU. He co-authored Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament, which garnered all kinds of positive press from lds blogs.

The Ensign article includes several statements that represent long-time scholarly consensus but may not be well known to LDS (some more significant than others), as well as a few that cut the other direction. Let’s look at a few.

  1. Gospel = ‘”good news’ referring to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.” Often in the Church we use Gospel as an all-encompassing term for all doctrine, tradition, LDS culture, etc.
  2. The current canon of 27 books wasn’t fixed until the 4th century. [The first time we find our current canon is from Athanasius, c. 367 CE.]
  3. Mark and Luke are not Apostles like Matthew and John.
  4. Paul’s letters pre-date the Gospels.
  5. Hebrews is only traditionally ascribed to Paul.
  6. The authors of the New Testament were writing primarily for their contemporaries, not for those millennia later.

Only one assertion made in passing really struck me as incomplete.  I assume this results primarily  from the spatial and institutional constraint of writing in the Ensign.

  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John really wrote Matthew Mark, Luke and John. The writing of the Gospels is much more complicated, but Wayment himself has written about this elsewhere.

This is a great article, and I’ll be referencing it with my Gospel Doctrine classes. Is it a movement in a particular direction for the Ensign? I hope so.

  • Chris Henrichsen

    I look forward to reading it.

  • the narrator

    My copy of the Ensign never arrives until halfway into the month. However, if this is the latest of scholarship for Latter-day Saints, we are running about two centuries behind everyone else. In the February Ensign are we going to have articles on breaking research which shows that the earth is older than 13000 years?

    As a student at Claremont, I’m quite disappointed with Wayment’s ability to pretend that so much scholarship doesn’t exist, and to sometimes ignorantly defy it.

  • JamesinHouston

    I thought that the article covered some other important things that Ben didn’t mention. Readers can find it on the Church’s website to learn more.

    The December Ensign also has a semi-scholarly article addressing the birth of Christ. It is worth the read.

  • Ali

    You’re kidding, right? To assert that these basic (and I did not go to university) facts “may not be well known to LDS” is a bit of an insult, surely, even in less well-educated parts of the world. I learned most of these things in high school and seminary.

  • TT

    I see only 5 and 6 as being points that might offer any controversy, but I agree that even bringing a little big of attention to more careful understandings of the text is a step in the right direction, even if the implications are not necessarily spelled out. Thanks for noting this!

  • Rameumptom

    Elder McConkie must be rolling over in his grave, and it is about time!

    I think many LDS do know these things, but many have rejected them due to traditions and teachings of the JFSmith/BRMcConkie teaching and book dynasty.

    They wrote many great things, but ignored or used their authority to dismiss scholarly research in many things. I hope we can get past the concept that Jesus was born exactly 2011 years ago this coming April 6th. Sadly, many members believe it as the only way to read D&C 20:1, simply because B.H. Roberts suggested it, and Elder McConkie reaffirmed it in his writings and in the D&C Institute manual. I love these early apostles and prophets, but it is time to allow them to rest, and start accepting new inspiration and teaching regarding such issues.

  • Julie M. Smith

    I’m a little unclear: is “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John really wrote Matthew Mark, Luke and John” a quote from the article and the sentence following your response?

  • Ben Spackman

    Reverse order-

    Julie: That’s my paraphrase, not a quote.

    Rameumptum- On April 6th, that argument has completely fallen apart recently. Turns out that line was added later, by someone who used it on other occasions as well.

    Ali- As with many blogposts, my tentative suggestion that some of these things were not widely known was based on my own anecdotal experiences teaching for several years in the midwest and east coast. I’d be thrilled to be wrong. That said, it is the case that these things haven’t really been said in the Ensign before. Perhaps it’s more of a generational thing?

    James- I missed that in the December issue. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

    Narrator- Institutional constraints. There’s no way the Ensign is going to become JBL overnight, nor should it. Wayment’s other LDS writings (I linked to his Religious Educator article on Q) do show more depth and nuance.