A House Divided

A House Divided January 23, 2007

The January 6, 2007 edition of the Church News contained an article entitled “Sacred Study” by Professor Kent P. Jackson of the Brigham Young University Religious Education Department. In his article, Professor Jackson attempts to define the requirements of LDS Bible scholarship. In this process, he fails to adequately distinguish between a much-sought but not yet achieved tradition of LDS Biblical scholarship and the wider practice of Biblical studies by LDS exegetes and others in related disciplines. Should it be institutionalized, this deficiency may have some significant repercussions.

Professor Jackson’s thesis is that LDS Biblical scholarship must be different from the Biblical scholarship of others. He opens his argument by asserting that those who practice this approach must seek out and apply the best of modern scholarship’s training, methods, and evidence. But the key point is that LDS Biblical scholarship must also go beyond this, so that it always “embraces revealed sources and uses them at every stage in the process of understanding and interpreting the words of scripture.”

This is a methodological description. Evangelicals do much the same thing when they call for exegesis that “takes seriously” the seven great councilor decrees of the post-NT world instead of accepting that these formulations are not found in scripture. Similarly, Roman Catholics sometimes express interest in an exegetical approach that imparts a high degree of authority to the opinions of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. In seeking a uniquely LDS approach to the Bible that gives high priority to interpretation via secondary sources uniquely valued by them, the Saints are not breaking new ground.

The right Mogget-eyebrow starts to go up, however, when Professor Jackson writes that “Latter-day Saint Bible scholars have a mission different from that of their peers in that they both embrace and use in their research the information obtained through modern revelation.” This raises a significant question: What does Professor Jackson mean by the expression “LDS Bible scholar?”

As Professor Jackson has defined it, LDS Biblical scholarship can probably be practiced only at LDS institutions. Is status as an LDS Biblical scholar limited to those who practice within Professor Jackson’s nascent LDS Biblical scholarship tradition? Or can an LDS exegete working within a more conventional approach to the Bible also refer to him- or herself as an “LDS Biblical scholar?” There are about eighty LDS students in graduate programs in the wider field of religious studies. They cannot all work at BYU

And then there’s the matter of how Professor Jackson characterizes the practice of this uniquely LDS form of Biblical scholarship in his closing paragraphs. I think that there are expressions other than “true discipleship” or an act of “worship and consecration” that can be pressed into service for the occasion. Discipleship, worship, and consecration in exegetical studies probably depend upon far more than a specific choice of secondary sources and hermeneutics. (N.B. In HP’s case, I’m all in favor of the true discipleship thing, however. Wouldn’t question that for the world.)

So…the proof’s in the pudding as they say. Over time, we’ll see if an LDS Bible scholarship tradition as defined by Professor Jackson produces readings that compare favorably with those achieved by more conventional means. But perhaps the first indication we’ll have of its power to move and motivate top-notch scholarship will be how those who work outside Professor Jackson’s as yet untested scholarly conventions are regarded by those who work within. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

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