Responding to James White (Part 2)

White’s second post (found here) begins with concern for my use of his first name. He states,

it is possible that in modern Mormon homes, using someone’s first name, even if they are older than you are, and unknown to you, has become the standard.

White here is very clearly taking advantage of every opportunity possible to rhetorically jab at Mormonism in general through me. He is trying to insist that my use of his first name derives from a contemporary Mormon trend away from respect for one’s elders, and thus that Mormons in general are growing increasingly disrespectful. Nothing could be further from the truth. I used his first name because I treat my blog rather informally. I approach things academically, but I’ve always used first names, and most other bibliobloggers do the same. I’m happy to use White’s last name if he prefers that—I meant no disrespect—but the notion that my use of his first name stems from a trend in Latter-day Saint households away from respect is quite petty. It seems, however, to be consistent with White’s general habit in these responses of broad generalization and mischaracterization for rhetorical purposes. He continues with the following:

After linking to my video and that of Elder Holland, he notes, “In doing so he tries to paint a picture of a shifting and manipulative Mormonism working to hide its disparity from Christianity in the interest of seducing converts.” You will not find this kind of language in my original video, of course. What I noted was Mormonism’s seeking to “mainline,” and the resultant shifts in emphasis and presentation. There is no doubt about that, of course. Evidently, this is simply how Mr. McClellan “hears” criticisms of the modern LDS presentation of itself.

I felt and still feel White’s rhetoric is clear enough in the video, and my comment obviously places the main points of his characterization at the rhetorical level. The same is clear of his comments about Catholicism not being Christian, which I quoted in my earlier post. He was careful not to clearly state it, and to use no-fault language (it’s “others” who might conclude that “Christian” may not be the most judicious characterization of Catholicism). He continues that no-fault language here by not actually disagreeing with my reading. He simply states that he did not explicitly say it in his video. Be that as it may, it seems obvious to me that there was a thick shellacking of it between the lines. I may be wrong, though. If James wishes to clearly state that he does not believe Mormonism’s putative mainlining is in the interest of appearing more Christian for the sake of more converts, I will happily retract my statement and issue an apology.

White’s next paragraph attempts to imply that if I am anything like my “apologist” predecessors I am woefully ignorant of my own church’s history and thus need to be reminded of the fact that early Latter-day Saints often leveled harsh criticisms against mainstream Christianity. He links to a collection he has put together of just such rhetoric (here). White is here appealing to emotion again. His collection of sayings is not relevant to the discussion, and that kind of rhetoric was quite tame in that time period, especially compared to the secular and religious polemic aimed at Latter-day Saints. The fact that early Latter-day Saints ridiculed other Christian denominations, or mainstream Christianity in general, while obviously unacceptable today, hardly indicates they didn’t wish to be identified as Christians.

White next addresses my actual comments. In response to my assertion that his definition of Christianity is begging the question and that Mormonism should be allowed to contribute to the definition of Christianity he had this to say:

In fact, he even argues that Mormonism should be given a voice in defining Christianity. Think about this for a moment: that which has existed for nearly two millennia should be defined on the basis of that which came into existence April 6, 1830. No, logically, that which comes into existence April 6, 1830 is to be judged on the basis of what had existed long before it came along. But that is disastrous for the modern Mormon who is attempting to make room in the Christian faith for a belief that is fundamentally “other.”

This, however, is an even more egregious example of begging the question. White must reject the LDS claim to be primeval Christianity restored in the latter days in order to define it as coming into existence in 1830. Additionally, White is still presupposing the grouping together of numerous other manifestations of Christianity of vast degrees of disparity from one another, and of varying ages, under the “Christian” umbrella, with Mormonism intentionally left out. White’s Reformed Baptist tradition does not date back two thousand years. He will insist on ideological continuity with the broad Christian tradition that dates back that far, but that insistence brings us back to the core ideologies that define Christianity. White cannot escape begging the question if he insists on this line of argumentation. In the next paragraph White makes his question begging absolutely explicit:

I emphasized the nature of God (not just monotheism, but the fact that the God of the Bible is eternal, unchanging, self-existent, the Creator of all things, etc.) and the atonement because these are two glaring and obvious areas of contradiction between Christianity and Mormonism

In other words, his definition of Christianity was based on the need to distinguish it from Mormonism. He is begging the question. He immediately moves on to an appeal to popularity and neglects to address the role of sectarianism and the very fallacies to which he appeals in accounting for the popularity of his claim:

I am not alone in identifying these issues. As far as I know, every Christian denomination that existed in 1830 would have agreed with me on the topic, and surely I am representing the majority view over the 180 years of LDS history.

White moves on to claim that the “single defining issue” I highlighted as begging the question is not just “a single defining issue,” but is “the foundation, the definition.” Of course, this again neglects the fact I pointed out in my initial post that if the defining issue of Christianity does not meaningfully separate it from Islam of Judaism, it is hardly defining. Even a brief glance at the New Testament, early Christian literature, and even Jewish and Greco-Roman literature, shows that the foundation and defining issue of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and the Son of God. Since White is interested in detecting methodological change in broad religious movements, perhaps it would be apropos of me to ask him if Christians have ceased emphasizing Jesus as Messiah and Son of God in favor of what White seems to insist is the only defining issue: the One God, uncreated, eternal, etc. A friend recently commented concerning White’s three responses here that he not once mentions any particular king of belief in Jesus as a criterion for being Christian, nor does he even seem to prioritize belief in Christ. White even states,

the consistent rejection of Mormonism as a Christian religion by the entire spectrum of Christian churches has been based, first and foremost, upon the doctrine of God.

For White, Christianity is not about Christ, but about a correct idea of God’s nature. Certainly a part of this is God’s relationship to Christ, but White never emphasizes this. Look at his list of possible emphases:

I could have pointed to many other areas of contradiction, and, of course, have, in published works on the subject, such as the gospel, the priesthood concept, temple ceremonies, etc. But I was focusing upon the fundamentals.

Christ is not a part of defining Christianity, apparently. This must mean that Mormonism’s idea of Christ is just fine. With all the polemic aimed at Mormonism for putatively neglecting Christ in favor of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, I find this quite surprising. Those accusations (which could not be more ridiculous) strain credulity in light of White’s approach here.

White finishes out his post with a discussion of Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse. His idea of an infinite regress of gods is highlighted by White as the issue that “once and for all” separated Mormonism from Christianity:

Smith may have thought he was taking away a veil, but in reality, he was removing his followers from the Christian faith, once and for all.

Again, it is God, apart from Christ, that defines Christianity for White. White’s insistence that this issue alone was what removed Mormonism from the Christian faith would seem to indicate that had he not taught an infinite regress of gods, Mormonism would be considered Christian. This does not seem to me to square with White’s earlier claim to numerous “areas of contradiction,” and I must conclude he is just letting his rhetoric get the best of him. Regarding the King Follett Discourse itself, I would point out first that it’s not official doctrine, it’s not binding on any member of the church, and many members don’t even know about it. Would White agree that those that don’t know about, or reject, the infinite regress of gods are Christians? I don’t think he would. On the other hand, many scholars, myself included, argue that Yahweh was originally conceived of as a son of the Syro-Palestinian high god. At that point there was really no concern for ideas of philosophical eternity or for the immanence or transcendence of any particular deity. If the earliest strata of Israelite biblical tradition are held to be the word of God then Mormonism’s position hardly conflicts with it, and I would see no reason to point to that position as invalidating Mormonism’s participation in the broader Christian tradition. If White wishes to assert that the word of God now opposes the earlier word of God then he must reconsider his earlier criticisms of Mormonism’s evolution. If he rejects the notion that early Israelites believed that Yahweh was the son of the Syro-Palestinian high god then he will have to provide an argument.

White concludes:

Modernistic theories about ancient henotheism in textual variants of the Hebrew Old Testament (based upon the rejection of the consistency of divine revelation across the canon), as popular as they are, cannot change a simple reality: the Christian faith is based upon the confession of one God, not many gods. Smith rejected this, and unless McClellan and his fellows are willing to reject Smith, they simply cannot lay claim to the title “Christian.”

This is problematic, though, because if those “modernistic theories” (and I have stated they include first century Christians as well) are accurate, then the Christian faith is simply not based upon the confession of one God. White must respond directly to those claims if he wishes his assertion to stand. Once again, his argument is built upon dogmatism and sectarianism, not on sound methodologies and sound logic.

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13 responses to “Responding to James White (Part 2)

  • Hamblin of Jerusalem

    When he starts calling you “sir” you’ll know you’ve won the debate!

  • Paul Owen

    Dan,

    I would like to add a few points to this discussion.

    1. I still think, even in the context of your approach here, that distinguishing between being in the visible Church, and being a Christian, would be a helpful category. Catholic Christians who believe in apostolic succession have an objective basis for excluding Mormons from the realm of the Church and sacramental grace. They can still acknowledge that there are people (some Mormons among them) who know and love Christ outside the ordinary channels of God’s new covenant and saving operation. White on the other hand, since he has no meaningful doctrine of the visible Church apart from local congregations of varying creeds and structures, has no meaningful way of excluding Mormons without seeming to be arbitrary.

    2. You keep mentioning the issue of monotheism. As I argued in my chapter in The New Mormon Challenge, there are a lot of problems with the way that scholars like yourself handle the Old Testament material:
    1) The Deuteronomic literature does assert a kind of philosophical monotheism, as Adela Yarbro Collins writes: “The philosophical or theological issue was addressed by the authors and editors of the Deuteronomic literature….The Deuteronomic reform was apparently not only a matter of where and how the God of Israel should be worshipped, but also a matter of the divine nature.” The Deuteronomic literature IS part of the collection of sacred texts within the Mormon Bible, so to win the day, you must surely demonstrate the capacity to handle these writings as Holy Scripture, and not merely sweep them aside through appeals to higher criticism. Besides, the Book of Mormon indicates that the Pentateuch achieved something like its present shape well before the exile (1 Nephi 5:11; 3 Nephi 20:23).
    2. Canaanite parallels falter on the fact that the three-tiered structure of gods one finds in the Ugaritic texts is entirely absent from the Old Testament: “In the OT, the Canaanite pantheon is transformed into God’s ‘general assembly’ with a guardian angel assigned to each Gentile nation” (“elim,” in NIDOTTE). And as Marjo Korpel notes: “The Hebrew tradition tends to eliminate the concept of a divine court with its complicated internal and external contacts. What remains is a vaguely described body of holy beings who have no other task but to serve God unconditionally.” The “gods” in the DSS are angels, created by the true God, and that theology is already present throughout the OT in its canonical shape. See 4Q427 7 I, 13-15; 1QH 15:28, 31-32; 18:8-10; 20:10-11; 4Q427 3 II, 10-11; 4Q503 fgs. 7-8; 1Q35 1:2-3; 4Q403 1:32-34.
    3. Your belief that Yahweh was understood to be the son of a Syro-Palestinian high god seems to be based mainly on Deuteronomy 32:8-9, but this only works if one presumes an original vayehiy cheleq in v. 9 rather than kiy cheleq, a reading which most scholars reject (viewing the LXX as a free rendering), and which the MT and DSS provide no evidence for. Not to mention that it sits ill at ease with the canonical shape of Deuteronomy.
    4. There is a ton of evidence that the monotheism of the OT is very deeply seated, and cannot be dismissed due to editorial reshaping of Israelite beliefs: 1) There are no female deities in biblical Israelite religion; 2) God has no sexual consort in biblical Israelite religion; 3) Epigraphic Hebrew sources lack evidence for feminine theophoric personal names; 4) No term for “family” is ever used for the entourage of YHWH; 5) Theophoric personal names in pre-Davidite biblical traditions overwhelmingly favored Yahwistic and especially Elohistic names, in contrast to the many pagan toponyms from the same period. The implications (see J. C. de Moor) being that, “the number of Yahwistic names is so high that we must assume the popularity of Yahwism to have started long before David made Zion the national centre of worship for YHWH. Moreover, the correspondence in meaning between Yahwistic and Elohistic personal names is so high that El and YHWH may well have been names of the same God centuries before David.” And: “The remarkable divergency between the personal names and the toponyms speaks against the supposition that the religion of the early Israelites was in no way distinct from that of her neighbors.” J. C. de Moor and Marjo Christina Annette Korpel have marshalled a ton of evidence for early Israelite monotheism that I have yet to see any LDS scholar interact with.
    5. Finally, the earliest strata of Israelite biblical tradition is not “canon” in Mormonism. You call this “the word of God” but the eighth article of faith calls the “Bible” the word of God. It is plainly the canonical “Bible” (cleaned of copyist mistakes and errors) that is in view, not the sources lying behind the Bible. I don’t see how your handling of the OT can square with this. Furthermore, it is the canonical OT which was the “Bible” for the early Church (that Mormons believe was founded by Christ), not scholarly reconstructions of the sources behind the Bible. It is one thing to reject biblical inerrancy, it is another to reject the substantial historicity of the Bible itself, something that you seem willing to do, but which goes against the grain of LDS scholarship so far as I can glean from the essays in Historicity and the Latter-Day Saint Scriptures.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Paul, thanks for the continued dialogue. I hope you always feel welcome to share your thoughts here. I disagree with Collins, as do the majority of scholars who have addressed the issue of Israelite monotheism since the publication of The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism. She’s a New Testament scholars, after all. She’s not a specialist on Deuteronomistic literature or early Israelite religion, and the overwhelming consensus in that field is that the Deuteronomistic literature is not monotheistic (I would point to Smith, Handy, MacDonald, Gordon, Koch, Clements, Lemaire, and a number of others). Most scholars today first find monotheism in Deutero-Isaiah, but there are several scholars, including myself, who are currently challenging that model.

      To respond in more detail, Collins doesn’t seem to provide a bridge from her evidence for the Deuteronomist’s aniconism and mono-Yahwism to the notion of philosophical monotheism. The conclusion of that paragraph doesn’t mention anything related to philosophical monotheism: “The Deuteronomic form of Yahwism led, during the Exile and thereafter, to an aniconic and nonlocalized form of the worship of Yahweh.” I have written a few times on the nature of the Deuteronomistic literature’s theology, including in my first masters thesis, and while I agree with Collins that the Deuteronomistic literature was aniconic and mono-Yahwistic, it simply mentions the existence of other gods far too many times for its rhetoric of incomparability to be taken as an expression of philosophical monotheism. I would add that I don’t believe treating something as Holy Scripture means it cannot be critically evaluated. Regarding the Book of Mormon’s witness to the Pentateuch, those two scriptures have this to say:

      1 Ne 5:11: And he beheld that they did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents.

      3 Ne 20:23: Behold, I am he of whom Moses spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people.

      I don’t think this indicates “something like its present shape” as much as it indicates there were five books, a tradition about Adam and Eve, and the prophecy from Deuteronomy 18 (although 3 Nephi, according to the Book of Mormon, dates to the Common Era).

      Regarding point 2, I would disagree that the three-tiered pantheon is absent. It is very much there, even if it is mitigated. First, though, I would point out that Deut 32:8-9 doesn’t call the sons of gods “guardian angels.” “Guardian angel” is a much, much later idea, and it is late Septuagint manuscripts that first render “sons of God” with “angels of God.” The best analysis of “guardian angels” is Darrell D. Hannah, “Guardian Angels and Angelic National Patrons in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity,” in Angels: The Concept of Celestial Beings – Origins, Development and Reception from de Gruyter in 2007. I do not think your source on that verse is being thorough enough. My LXX Deuteronomy paper addresses that in much more detail. Korpel seems to be neglecting Gen 6:2, 4, Job 1:6; 2:1; Psalm 82; 1 Kgs 22:19-23; and a number of other texts that not only show that the form and function of the council continued to be critical, but that the participants were not simply contingent beings who did nothing but serve God unconditionally. I would have to revisit her book to be reminded of exactly how she develops her argument, though.

      Yes, the gods in the Dead Sea Scrolls are characterized as angels, but they’re still divine beings. My LXX Deuteronomy paper describes the process by which I believe they became identified with angels.

      On point 3, my conclusion is not mainly based on Deut 32:8-9, but on a number of other considerations which are further supported by Deut 32:8-9. I describe some of those considerations here:

      http://danielomcclellan.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/angels-and-demons-and-michael-heiser/

      I disagree that most scholars reject LXX Deut 32:9’s kai egenethe as a “free rendering,” and I would be happy to address the arguments of whatever publications you would like to point to in support of your conclusion. The scrolls provide no evidence for that verse because they simply do not attest to that portion of the verse. Also, I don’t think the canonical shape of Deuteronomy bears on determining its original shape and meaning.

      On point 4, I would disagree with your sub-points, and I am happy to address them individually:

      1) “Biblical Israelite religion” as distinct from “Historical Israelite religion” is a literary construct, not an actual religion, just like “Biblical Christianity” as distinct from “Historical Christianity” has never existed. The texts cannot reconstruct the religion independent of contemporary material evidence that conflicts with it. A good book that several articles that address this question is Barton and Stavrakopoulou, Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah. I believe the argument is not difficult to make that Israelite religion, informed by the texts as well as the material culture, did have female deities, and before the Deuteronomistic authors there is simply no evidence that she was ever ignored, marginalized, or rejected by anyone. Dever has been making this argument for over 15 years. Hadley, Wiggins, Olyan, Day, Smith, and others have also argued that early Israelite religion, even early Yahwism, certainly included a consort, even as late as the 8th century. I believe your second point falls under this discussion as well.

      3) This draws from Tigay’s work, which has been roundly criticized by numerous scholars who have pointed out that other cultures who very clearly worshipped female deities often lacked female theophoric names. I’d like to put together a post on this topic, actually, but it will probably have to wait.

      4) I don’t believe this means much to the argument that a divine council was thought to exist. The closest the Ugaritic texts ever get to using a term for “family” in reference to their divine council is the word hmlt, which once appears parallel to ’ilm and means something like “clan.”

      5) I don’t believe the presence of Yahwistic names means that Yahweh could not be distinct from El. I would like to go back and do more research in this area, but it seems to me that many of the Yahwistic names found in pre-Davidic biblical traditions come from authors dating well after David’s time. That names were changed by later editors for the sake of theological propriety is shown in the mitigating of Baal theophoric names and the interpolation of Yahwistic names in earlier literature that did not originally have them. Again, though, I’d like to spend more time with that topic before committing to anything. De Moor’s publication has also been roundly criticized by scholars for being far too conservative with sources. I was also surprisingly disappointed in Korpel’s volume. I was really looking forward to a much better discussion. Rest assured, though, that my current masters thesis will treat all these texts and more.

      On your fifth point, I don’t feel I’m beholden in my scholarship to any theological presuppositions or to the scholarly positions of others who happen to belong to the same faith as me. I have no problem going against the grain, and if you’re at SBL this year feel free to come to my paper in the LDS and the Bible section to see that in action.

  • Paul Owen

    Sorry, I got lost in my numbering in the above post, but the basic points are clear enough.

  • Paul Owen

    Hey Dan. You make some really interesting points here. You have really thought this stuff through! I will set aside the discussion of de Moor and Korpel, as I don’t have access at the moment to the resources I would need to keep that discussion going.

    1. I don’t agree that you can’t have monotheism alongside the mention of other gods, because that is a definition of monotheism that simply seems too strict to be useful. Then it simply becomes a matter of wording. The Essenes who wrote the DSS were quite obviously theological determinists and monotheists, but they call the angels gods all the time, Melchizedek too. To me, monotheism is the assertion that the true God is different in nature from all other heavenly and earthly beings. He alone is creator, he alone rules at the pinnacle of the universe in sovereignty, he alone is by nature worthy of human and angelic worship. I see these characterizations made in the Bible about the true God (and have detailed them in my New Mormon Challenge chapter), but I suspect you would interpret the characterizations differently.

    2. 1 Nephi 5:11 does not simply mention five books of Moses, but “the” five books of Moses. That is obviously an allusion to Genesis through Deuteronomy, already collected as sacred texts. 1 Nephi 5:12-13 also mentions (I think rather clearly) Joshua through 2 Kings, thus placing the composition of the whole Deuteronomistic history as a sacred collection (a record of the Jews), together with the Torah, alongside the prophetic oracles of Jeremiah and other preexilic figures. I think this is obvious. But okay.

    3. In contrast to Canaanite polytheism, I am not aware of any OT text which speaks of God, the sons of God, and the lower angelic messengers together. Isaiah 6:8 presumes that there are only two tiers in the divine assembly. Prophets play the role of the third tier when God and the angelic council are considered together.

    4. I am happy to be corrected on the consensus regarding the LXX of Deuteronomy 32:8-9. My characterization was taken from Paul Sanders, The Provenance of Deuteronomy 32, 160: “Present-day scholars, however, commonly prefer retaining the MT and regard the rendering in the LXX as a free one.”

    5. As to the distinction between biblical Israelite religion and historical Israelite religion, I guess you would disagree then with the characterization in the ABD, 2:1042 (“God (OT”)? “God in popular Judean or Israelite religion is not necessarily the God of the definitive Hebrew Bible…One can speak of two religions in Israel: (1) the official one, concerned with the one God and his law, represented by the priests and prophets…and (2) the popular one, crass, ignorant…with practices outside official control….The people, common folk and high officials alike, substituted Canaanite gods and worship for the one true God.”

    6. I’m genuinely not being obtuse, but could you please explain to me how you would define the word “Bible” as the word of God in the eighth article of faith, and how would you go about handling the DH as sacred scripture, while at the same time openly disagreeing with the theology that large chunks of the OT promote, and which (most importantly) Jesus and the apostles would have assumed. I’m genuinely puzzled. You do agree that Jesus and the apostles would not share your critical outlook regarding the theology of those who edited and shaped these canonical materials, correct? I’m open to clarification here, honestly.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Hi Paul, thanks for replying. This has been my main area of interest for the last couple years. I don’t have either of those resources handy right now either, so that’s probably a good idea to set that aside. On your points:

      1. I agree with you regarding the definition of monotheism, and that’s the position I take in my LXX Deuteronomy paper, although I do disagree about where that position is found. In that paper I discuss the view of the other gods as angels as the final theological viewpoint that aligned the ancient position with the modern vis-à-vis the nature of the other gods and their relationship to God. I argue that that identification first pops up in the Septuagint, and thus monotheism as it is commonly interpreted today ought to be seen as originating in the early Hellenistic period. I don’t see that position in Deutero-Isaiah, Deuteronomy, or anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible and though I only talk briefly about that in that paper, it will be one of the main foci of my current thesis.

      2. Yes, it mentions the five books of Moses, but it does not indicate any specific shape for that collection. Here is what 1 Ne 5:12–13 says:

      /And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah; And also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah./

      I don’t believe this clearly indicates Joshua through 2 Kings. It indicates a record of the Jews from the beginning and it indicates the reign of Zedekiah, as well as the prophecies of the prophets and many prophecies from Jeremiah, but it doesn’t tell us about the shape and size of that record or collection of prophecies. I don’t see a reason to fill in all the gaps between those elements with the different books of the Hebrew Bible as we now have it.

      3. No, there is no single verse that mentions them all together, but we see the different elements of the three-tiered pantheon spread out pretty consistently. The angels are never identified with the sons of God in the Hebrew Bible, and they function in completely distinct ways from the sons of God. It’s not until the Septuagint that the two are equated. We never see the sons of God sending their own messengers, as they do in the Ugaritic texts, but to me that just indicates the angels were the sole property of God.

      4. I gotcha. There has been quite a bit of movement within the field of Septuagint studies regarding translation technique and what scholars presuppose about the Septuagint’s Vorlage. When Sanders wrote his book the James Barr/Emanuel Tov notion that you presuppose translator exegesis was pretty common. The Finnish school’s approach (popularized by Soisalon-Soininen, Lemmelijn, and Aejmelaeus), which focuses more on translation technique and prefers to assume a variant Vorlage, has gained quite a bit of ground. The first part of my previous masters thesis goes over this in more detail. If you’re interested, it’s available here:

      http://danielomcclellan.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/masters-thesis-online/

      5. I do disagree with that characterization. I would recommend Barton and Stavrakopoulou’s recent edited volume, Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah, which takes direct aim at it.

      6. I would have to suspend judgment on exactly what the Bible is as the “Word of God.” I don’t know exactly what “Word of God” means, and I don’t think anyone else does either. It’s not something that’s spelled out anywhere, and the common formula of God = perfect :: God’s Word = perfect doesn’t satisfy me, nor does the notion of accommodation as I’ve seen it presented. I do think Jesus and his followers would have a different approach to their scriptural heritage, but I don’t think that problematizes my approach. They were living in a pre-critical time and brought quite a few assumptions to the text that we don’t bother with anymore. My paper in the LDS and the Bible section at SBL this year will go into this in some detail.

  • Paul Owen

    As to point 6, maybe I could boil it down this way. How would you teach through 2 Kings 22-23 in an adult Sunday School class? How would you read this texts devotionally? I am trying to figure out your model of biblical authority. How do you make that bridge from biblical criticism to reading these texts as sacred scripture? Would you take 2 Kings 23:25 as a truthful statement with normative teaching value in light of the narrative? I am quite familiar with higher-critical methodologies, but I am not sure how you square that with reading the Bible as God’s word, in light of LDS principles.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Good question. It depends on the class. When I taught Sunday School in the Oxford ward in the UK I often brought up these kinds of issues (and Deuteronomy’s late date was one of them), but that was because the class early on started asking questions about it and they felt it was something that should be addressed. I would explain that there’s quite a bit of evidence that many of the texts of the Hebrew Bible were written much later for a variety of purposes, and that they often don’t give accurate histories, but that we can still approach them expecting to be taught by the spirit about the principles of the gospel. I don’t believe that “Word of God” or “scripture” means “absolutely accurate history with no human influence.” In some other wards I’ve been in, like my current one, the consensus has been that that’s not what Sunday School is for, and so I leave it alone.

  • Paul Owen

    Thanks for the interaction Daniel. I think this thread has played itself out. Your response in regard to point 4 was very interesting, and gave me something I’d have to look into further. :)

    Your reply to point 6 was troubling to me, basically because I operate with much more traditional and conservative assumptions about the nature of Scripture. But I do see where you are coming from. I hope to attend your paper at SBL!

  • Are Mormons “Christian”? | Diglotting

    [...] the past few days Daniel McClellan (here, here, here, here, and here) and James White (here, here, here, here, here, and here) have been engaging [...]

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