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Comments about ‘Defending the Faith: The decline of revelation and the origin of the Old Testament’

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Published: Thursday, Jan. 23 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

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Tyler D
Meridian, ID

Even as a non-believer I find this stuff fascinating.

It’s amazing how quickly religions become institutionalized and calcified when anything other than personal religious experience is authoritative (in this case, a book). And the following quote is revelatory:

“The founders of mainstream Judaism clearly saw a need to draw a line against writings that threatened their views.”

We see the same phenomenon in Christianity – a whole library of writings, often targeted to different audiences depending of their level of “spiritual wisdom,” cut down to a manageable number by the orthodox authorities and then “canonized.”

Given how little we know of the non-canonical Christian writings – which often display a completely different understanding of who Christ was (in a metaphysical sense) - perhaps a more accurate moniker for Christians would be Biblians.

Aside from getting so many questions about the natural world wrong, this is perhaps the main reason religion is dying out in the educated West.

If it is ever to experience a major revival it will likely be the approach outlined by people like William James and Abraham Maslow (i.e., personal religious experience).

Russell Spencer
Boise, ID

Along the same lines of this article, I've recently been studying the Savoy Declaration and Westminster Confession (which also declare a closed canon in no uncertain terms), and frankly I'm perplexed by how ostensibly faithful people can feel comfortable aggregating to themselves the authority to silence God. I'm reminded of the passage from Emerson's Divinity School Address:

"The stationariness of religion; the assumption that the age of inspiration is past, that the Bible is closed; the fear of degrading the character of Jesus by representing him as a man; indicate with sufficient clearness the falsehood of our theology. It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake."

How people can accept the Holy Scriptures as true while simultaneously rejecting the Biblical testimony that God speaks to man in all ages--revealing his will, offering hope, guidance, comfort and counsel--sincerely baffles me.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

What is found in a canon is like a seismogram of history. What is left out is as telling as what went in. The victors were often those whom we know today as prophets. The vanquished got labeled false prophets, heretics, or worse by those who came out on top. Their side of the story cries out to be heard.

As one-sided as the Bible may be in its particulars, it provides the most insightful and often the only account of historic ancient events. Looking deeper, its details can yield tantalizing clues as to what the contentious issues really were.

Gildas
LOGAN, UT

Historically it seems there has always been a preference for old revelations that nobody reads any more, than for the vexation of living prophets who plainly rebuke the current generation. You can twist or darken the words of the old deceased prophets without fear that they will resist and condemn the wrestings.

It's a good article: virtually all of today's myriad religious sects are based on old scriptures whose canon they have declared closed.

sharrona
layton, UT

RE: New Revelation. The New Covenant prophecy Jeremiah 31:31-34. Heb 8:8-12. Gentiles grafted in, Rom 11:25-27.

He would do nothing without first revealing it to His servants, the prophets (Amos 3:7). From the Old Covenant to the New, Genesis to Revelation God provides picture after picture of His entire plan for mankind is outlined for us in the first four of the seven feasts occur during the springtime (Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Weeks), and they all have already been fulfilled by Christ in the N.T.

The final three holidays (Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles) occur during the fall, all within a short fifteen-day period. i.e..

Passover (Lev 23:5)The Messiah as our Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7) whose blood would be shed for our sins.

First Fruits (Lev 23:10) – The Messiah's resurrection as the first fruits of the righteous. Jesus was resurrected on this very day, Cor 15:20 as the "first fruits from the dead.

RE: Russell Spencer. God spoke.. through the prophets, in these Last Days he has spoken to us in a son,(Heb 1:1-2) The‘office’of prophet ended not personal revelation.

hermounts
Pleasanton, CA

Only 24 books out of the 39 in the Christian Old Testament? Which ones were left out?

Russell Spencer
Boise, ID

@hermounts:

Great question. The 24 books of the Hebrew Bible correspond to the 39 books of the Old Testament. The 24 include the 5 books of Moses; the 8 books of the Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1 and 2 are combined), Kings (1 and 2 are combined), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and "The Twelve Minor Prophets" (which combines Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi into one book)); and the 11 books of the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah (which are combined), and Chronicles (combining 1 and 2)). So they're all present, just slightly reordered and combined differently.

BenTanner
Eagle Mountain, UT

In light of this article what are your thoughts on the brass plates Dan?

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

The need for a canon stems from belief that there necessarily must be infallible scripture. I don’t share that view. But it’s important to devout believers and I respect that.

The problem in early Christianity wasn't that it had no canon. It had competing canons and no consensus on which to use. Early Christianity had dissident voices, hardening orthodoxy, and church authority trying to control the message and weed out error. The impetus for closing the canon was strong but it was never as fully successful as it hoped to be or without its critics.

Even today, the canon can vary as determined by which one any given religious tradition chooses to observe. And that’s without getting into which translation is the only correct one to use.

danielPA
Newcastle, WA

A very good and wise article. We have in our time an interesting Hebrew Roots Movement which largely wants to discredit the present if it does not use the language of, and disagrees with, what they feel is codified and solidified of ancient. Thus, the term "true Israel" is captured for them, anything coming from "Western Christianity" as they term it is viewed as lax and untrue, and they (individually) decide what are "commandments" from the Torah that cannot be broken; there is the statement that God's commandments stand forever, so... don't eat pig. As to Torah, back to the "codified" discussion again. I have no opposition to the fact we need to understand the OT, and it's environment, much better because it is the foundation of today. I have no opposition to the idea that we are quite lax, that we pick up holidays whose roots are with pagans of the dark ages, and the translated (unwritten as practiced) Word of Wisdom is no longer a Health Law. However, to hear people who have accepted the covenants of baptism discrediting present guidance that they feel violates what they have decided is "Torah"... troubles me.

desert
Potsdam, 00

Now this took me by surprise.
As long you want to argue Jewish Traditions today fine with me,
but at BYU and other Mormon studies we should know far better.

To say (Neither Moses nor the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had a Bible. It didn’t exist. Their religion rested, rather, on intimate contact with God, living revelation. Indeed, no Old Testament existed during the Old Testament period. Inspired writings arose gradually, circulated separately and (without printing, paper and widespread literacy) probably had few readers) is denial of what we really know.

We learn from Nephi that they had kept records always, and plenty.
We also here from Nephi's descriptions that our Bible today contains a very small part only of what they had back then.

Prof. Nibley would be up any minute, if you had his phone number to call !

Dadof5sons
Montesano, WA

What I find really interesting, is a paradox of sorts. On one hand we have people that say God is all powerful! Then they say God can't give new revelation! So what is it? god is all powerful, Or you set limits on him? That is what I call the modern day religion paradox. Setting limits on God yet wanting him unlimited. He can do this but he can't do that because if he did that then my belief system would be shaken.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

desert,

"....We learn from Nephi that they had kept records always, and plenty.
We also here from Nephi's descriptions that our Bible today contains a very small part only of what they had back then."
______________________________

If the brass plates of Laban contained the five books of Moses, as the Book of Mormon reports, that would mean that a written version of the Torah existed at the time of Jeremiah and Zedekiah. That is at odds with the view of current scholarship that Torah authorship belongs to the post-Persian exile period. At the time of Jeremiah, there were of course the oral traditions that preceded the Torah.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@Dadof5sons – “What I find really interesting, is a paradox of sorts.”

An astute observation and one I think easily explained in a way that has nothing to do with God. And the best explanation I’ve seen comes from Dostoyevsky in what is arguably the greatest chapter in all of literature – The Grand Inquisitor in Brothers Karamazov.

For a more modern (and rock’n) treatment, the coda from The Who’s Tommy does a respectable job as well… enjoy.

@Russell Spencer – “I'm reminded of the passage from Emerson's Divinity School Address:”

And inspired quote… and I should have included Emerson along with James and Maslow.

sharrona
layton, UT

RE: Russell Spencer O.T. cannon, the 11 books of the Writings (…, “Song of Solomon”)

Rabbinic Judaism recognizes 24 scriptural books , the O. T. or Hebrew Bible, as authoritative. Western Christianity has inherited this same scriptural canon. But not, Joseph Smith.

While laboring on the JST, said The Songs of Solomon are not Inspired Writings,” and he left them out of his translation of the Bible. Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”.

RE: Desert, “We also here from Nephi's descriptions that our Bible today contains”:

I Nephi 8:4, “Methought,” an Elizabethan English poetic word.

I Nephi 10:11, “Holy Ghost” is a King Jamesism and was not known in 600 B.C.

I Nephi 10:17, “Faith on the Son of God.” A term never used by an O.T. Prophet, allegedly written between 600-592 B.C. The Messiah, who would be King and Deliverer was expected but not, the Son of God.

I Nephi 10:9/John 1:28 KJV,Bethabara beyond the Jordan.

Older and more reliable Greek MS support,“Bethany” i.e…(John 1:28 NET,NIV,ESV) Bethabara was probably not on the Jordan River

desert
Potsdam, 00

I would be proud if I could give you evidence about the words in the Book of Mormon. But you should understand that J.Smith did place the words in such a form of translation that we could understand the book in our time, regardless to his knowledge as a young man.But prayer is the answer.

Easy to asume the BM is done by pure imagination.

That is not so. Why we can learn from this book things about that time when it was written,
because it is true.

Nephi 13 (Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew... it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many...)

Our Bible is just a small part of what they had back then.

The commandments to Moses include the emphasis on having written memos for each household.
Another point that they did have much more, than we know today.

Knowing the BM to be true opens doors to more knowledge.
Just as faith in Christ will do the same to you.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

Scriptural canons are not contrived. They evolve. In the New Testament, some critics see the heavy hand of the Church suppressing writings that undercut its authority and doctrine. Orthodox hegemony aside, overall the early Church compiled an anthology that preserved much of the best of early Christian texts.

No canon is infallible. But we are indebted to many long dead souls for what they passed on from their times to ours.

Fine article by Daniel Peterson.

laVerl 09
St Johns, AZ

It's interesting that even though the Brass Plates existed in the time of the Prophet Lehi in 600 BC, not even he, a prophet, owned a copy. This says to me that copies were not readily available to very many of the time. This problem existed all throughout history until the printing press made books available to the common man. What a blessing that we are obtaining more and more access to historical books that we never knew existed. And now with digitization and the internet, we can read many of them right in our own homes at no extra expense.

Ad Rem
Falls Church, VA

It is interesting to see the misunderstandings based on Professor Peterson's article. What he stated with respect to rabbinic Judaism was correct, he created a gigantic lacuna in his description.

Rabbinic Judaism considers both the Written Torah (the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible), and the Oral Torah as inspired of God. This means that the Oral Torah as written down in both the Mishnah and later the Gemara (Talmud) are also inspired. Furthermore, other collections of writings are also considered canonical within Rabbinic Judaism, e.g., Midrash Rabbah, Midrash HaGadol, and the Zohar.

Furthermore, the idea of inspiration and revelation continue in rabbinic Judaism today. The founder of hasidism, the Ba'al Shem Tov,in the 1700's not only had revelations but actually ascended to heaven and met the Messiah. The author of the Sulam (an authoritative commentary on the Zohar), R' Yehuda Ashlag, in the early 1900's received revelations of Elijah.

These sorts of revelations are throughout Rabbinic Judaism until today. It is unfortunate that Professor Peterson left these out, as it led readers like Tyler and Dadof5sons to conclude incorrectly with respect to Judaism.

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