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Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

Offspring of God

Posted by nebula0 on March 26, 2009

Alright, so this is the last little apologetics related post for a while… at least let’s hope.  But, Mormon apologists, future missionaries everywhere, it’s better to be aware of these things from the outset.  I’m sure you know about that verse in Acts in which Paul is speaking to the Athenians and says  that we are the offspring of God.  I’m sure you also know that that is a popular Mormon prooftext (i.e. a verse often used by Mormons to bolster particular Mormon claims).  Please be aware that in that verse Paul is actually quoting a philosopher named Cleanthes who wrote a poem exalting Zeus.  Given the context of the quotation, you may want to proceed rather cautiously when trying to use that tidbit to make any broad theological claims.

Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?


Posted in Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

More Comments on Women and the Priesthood

Posted by nebula0 on October 7, 2008

This is one of those hot button issues in the LDS church that usually brings about the silent treatment from most Mormon women if brought up.  The truth of the matter is, most Mormon women are busy enough doing other things that they don’t care, at least, not too often.  And, it isn’t as if Mormonism is alone in having sexist doctrine (in the most technical sense, doctrine which gives special privileges to one person but not the other based on their sex)- look at conservative Christianity.  Most conservative evangelical churches do not countenance the notion of having a woman senior pastor, the Roman Catholic Church does not allow for women priests either.  Mormons would be fair in pointing out these facts when discussing this issue: hey, we’re not the only ones who think that ecclesiastical power ultimately should be located in the hands of men, and with women only under the supervision of men.

With that being said, let me open this up, why is this the case?

I’ll start by venturing a few thoughts:

– the first is that women are traditionally, and biologically, busy with children.  You can imagine this beginning when a woman is nursing a small infant, and from there having the role as primary care provider.  This is usually the case around the world.

– the New Testament suggests that men are to be leaders (remember that line about elders being the husband of one wife?  that certainly suggests that the elders were men!).  Even if there were women deacons and apostles (and there were definitely deaconesses, perhaps women apostles) the norm was men as the leaders.

– the New Testament also spells out that good wives are submissive to their husbands.  There are so many different ways to interpret this and give it nuance, but the essential core remains: the man as the ‘head’ of the family.  This naturally extends itself into ecclesiastical life.

– either by culture, biology or a combination of both women are perceived as more ‘sensitive’ and emotional than men, not making them not as attractive as leaders in any extensive sense (think bishop over the ward, and even prophetess over the church).  Not just men hold this opinion of women by the way, women hold this opinion of other women extensively.  Is there truth to this?

Posted in Controversial Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Mormon Bible(s)

Posted by nebula0 on October 1, 2008

One term that inevitably rears its ugly head when talking about Mormonism is “Mormon Bible”.  Usually someone who doesn’t know the first thing about Mormonism hears about how Mormons have their own scriptures and so assume that Mormons go around using a Mormon Bible.  Now there is a half truth to this.  Joseph Smith did go about creating his own “translation” of the Bible, a product of what he felt to be inspiration of the Holy Ghost since he wasn’t fluent in the original languages of the Bible and wasn’t working from ancient manuscripts to translate anything into English as translators usually do.  This “translation” is known as the Joseph Smith Translation or JST and an example of this work, the recasting of Matthew, is found in the Pearl of Great Price and JST footnotes are found in Latter-day Saint church published Bibles.

With that caveat in mind, the translation of the Bible that English speaking Mormons use is the King James Version.  Given that Mormons in non English speaking parts of the world using more modern translations, why are Mormons stuck with the KJV?  Bearing in mind that the KJV is not the most accurate translation on the market (for example, the name Lucifer originated with a mistake when the Bible was translated into Latin and that mistake was carried into the KJV), and that it is difficult for modern ears to understand, especially when things get technical, some accuse the LDS church of choosing the KJV to keep Mormons purposefully in the dark.  That is, a Mormon could potentially read over Romans in the KJV five times and not quite get it because of the language barrier.  But if that were the case, why wouldn’t the LDS church choose a similarly difficult translation for use in non English speaking countries?  No, that doesn’t explain it.

The explanation is simple: the Book of Mormon appeared in English (whether you believe it was translation or not) and the Book of Mormon language is very KJV-esque.  More than that, the Isaiah portions of the BoM are largely a word for word match to the KJV.  So you can see the reasoning here, unless the LDS church wants to redo the BoM into a more modern sounding English perhaps using a modern translation of the Bible as a guide, the KJV will probably need to stay around- people will expect those Isaiah passaages (among other things, such as the numerous paraphrased KJV verses found in the BoM) to match up with their Bibles.  Since Joseph is believed to have been directly influenced by God in his translation of the BoM, messing with that (more than it already has been anyway) is unlikely to happen.  This isn’t a problem for non English speakers for whom the BoM has to be translated into a different language no matter, and is modernized in the process to begin with.

Posted in Basic Background, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »

Philosophies of Men

Posted by nebula0 on September 8, 2008

Mormons, among others (Jehovah’s Witnesses even more so) are very suspicious of what they see as the philosophies of men- after all, Lucifer did try to trick Adam with “the philosophies of men mingled with scripture” in the Endowment ceremony.  But, what if the “philosophies of men” weren’t mingled with scriptures in the apostasy, what if the philosophies of men were mingled in scripture as the scripture was being written?  To put this another way, what if the writers of Bible inserted their philosophical understandings of the world in with their inspiration from God?  What if “those darned Greeks” were such a part of the thinking of New Testament authors, for example, that Greek philosophy has its mark all over the finished product?

If this is true, the results are profound for our understanding of what scripture is.  But really, why should we expect anything different?  After all, we are finite humans, with finite understanding of how the cosmos operate, trying to communicate with each other through imperfect, clumsy language. 

The Bible is written in this clumsy language, penned by human authors.  Suppose that the Bible were written in these times, wouldn’t we expect to see reflections of our modern scientific understanding of the basics reflected within the writings?  We’d expect to see hints of our knowledge about the earth orbiting the sun, the sun being one of many stars, there being many planets, of atoms and so forth.  But, these were not things known to antiquity, the universe to the writers of the Bible looked very differently.  One obvious example of this is revealed right at the get go in Genesis.  We see that God divides the waters and creates a dome or vault and calls that heaven.  If we were to reconstruct what the cosmos of Genesis looks like, we’d see the earth as a flat island with a large dome over it, with vast waters laying beyond.  This is obviously not how the universe is.  Does that mean we ought to toss out Genesis as useless and give up on the whole thing?  Of course not, this is exactly what we should expect.  God speaks to humans using language and concepts comprehensible to us.  If His goal is to teach us spiritual truths, wouldn’t giving ancient people’s a complex astronomy lesson simply detract from the ultimate goal of revealing His existence and His care for humanity?  I would think so.

Now on to examples from the New Testament.  The basic Platonic cosmology was accepted by the ancient world as the standard understanding of the order of things.  It would be like assuming the model of the solar system that third graders create today using foam balls to represent the planets.  The basic idea of this Platonic cosmology entails various levels of existence in concentric spheres.  Think about a golf ball encased by a tennis ball, encased by a basket ball and so forth.  The farther one got from the center, the better things were, the more perfect they were– the more heavenly and real.  The closer one got to the center, the more degraded things were, the more earthly, the more material.  Lying outside of all the ‘balls’ is God, or the realm of the pure forms.  A basic idea of Platonism is that all that we see in our material, earthly world is mere shadows or copies of a perfect form.  Out there, somewhere, is the model of the perfect cat, and all the kitties we see running around today’s are merely imperfect copies of that one perfect form, like that same third grader who made that model solar system for us trying to trace a cut out kitty but never quite getting it completely right.

The basic ideas of levels of heaven and shadows and copies are represented in the New Testament.  That doesn’t mean the authors accepted everything that Platonism represented, not at all, merely that the ideas of Platonism were so popular, so widely accepted, that they constituted the standard way of thinking about things so it was natural for the authors to share their ideas with others using those ideas.  Think about Paul’s journey through the three levels of heaven in 2 Corinthians.  This screams Platonic cosmology (sorry Mormons, unless you want to agree that Plato was inspired by Heavenly Father to conceive of these three levels, Plato came first).  Or, think of the Word/Logos of God in the Gospel of John.  The perfect, immutable God does not create material things Himself in the Platonic world, He thinks things into being– He creates through His Logos, His Word, His reasoning.  A very obvious example is the entire book of Hebrews. The whole thing is about how Old Testament ideas are mere shadows or copies of the true Form, which is Christ.  You have the earthly vs heavenly tabernacle, the levitical high priest vs Jesus the Melchizedek High Priest, imperfect animal sacrifices vs the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus, Moses as a servant in the house of God vs Jesus as the Son, and so on.

So what should we make of agreeing to see the “philosophies of men” in scripture?  Obviously this topic is very deep, and may be troubling to some.  Let me state that just because Paul or other New Testament writers use Platonic concepts to explain concepts to their readers does NOT mean they accepted everything Platonism entails, not at all, simply that they were using the common concepts of their place and time to communicate as effectively as they could.  It also implies that we readers of the Bible are using philosophies of men that we may not even be aware of to read the scriptures.  It means that we ought to learn all that we can about the Bible, about the place and time of its writing to really, and fully, comprehend everything written.   God speaks to us humans where we are, as embodied, finite, limited beings, embedded within a certain history, with a certain culture and with a certain language. 

What are some other possible ramifications of these ideas?  It means that as we learn more about the world around us, as we discuss what is revealed to us in the scriptures more, that we can add to our understanding.  It is not improper to reflect on the philosophies of our day and age that we use, compare it to that of the biblical writers and do our best then to get at the transcendental truths, those truths which go beyond either our culture or those of the Biblical writers. 

What does any of this have to do with Mormonism?  Mormons reject those ‘abominable creeds’ as products of an apostasy which erroneously introduced those darned Greek philosophers into the pure, unadulterated message conveyed in the Bible as ‘properly translated’.  Given what I’ve stated above, I think it’s obvious as to why this argument falls flat on its face before it can ever get going.

Posted in Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

In the beginning…

Posted by nebula0 on August 29, 2008

In the beginning God created… or, in the beginning of God’s creating… the translation could go equally either way.  But what about the word traditionally used in the translation: to create, how accurately does that capture the Hebrew?

According to Joseph Smith we learn the following (from the King Follet Discourse): 

“You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, “Doesn’t the Bible say He created the world?”  And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing.  Now, the word create came from the word barau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship.  Hence , we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos -chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory.”

This is an essential point for Joseph to push in the discourse, because it is essential that the matter out of which the world exists, and the rules by which it is organized, exists eternally.  This must be because according to Joseph God wasn’t always God, there was a time in which he was a man, and during that time where did the materials come from for his body and his earth?  Well, his God (God’s God) created them?  But that would mean that God’s God is then the ultimate God… no, God’s God in turn was fashioned by a God using pre-existing materials, and so it goes, forever.

So how about it, is Joseph right that bara means ‘fashion’ like a boat?  I’m afraid not.  According to Marc Zvi Brettler (Professor at Brandeis University) in How to Read the Bible (Jewish Publication Society, 2005), p 41:

Much of the activity of God throughout this story is described using the verb bara [bet, resh, aleph], typically translated “to create,” a word used more than fifty times in the Bible.  Unlike other creation words, however, it always has God as its subject.  That is, so to speak, God may bara but humans can never bara (at least according to the attested evidence).  This verb appears to be part of a small class of Hebrew words that are used in reference to God only, thereby suggesting that in certain respects, God is totally other.”

Looking up the root bet, resh, aleph in the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon confirms this.  As rendered into the qal paradigm, bara is used only with God as the subject.

The significance of this is devastating to Joseph’s argument.  Not only does bara not mean to organize as to organize a ship, it is a word reserved solely to describe God’s actions.  That implies that God’s creating the world was unlike anything we humans do, any word we try to come up with in English to translate this will be inadequate, what verb is there in English that only God can be the subject of?  Create?  No, humans can create.  Form?  No, humans form things all of the time.  Assemble?  Certainly not.  The use of bara accentuates exactly what Joseph thought it shouldn’t– the unique creative activity of God, completely unlike anything a human is capable of doing.  That is, as Professor Brettler pointed out, “God is totally other.”

Posted in Controversial Topics, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »