Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

A Hermeneutic for the Unlearned

Posted by Robert C. on March 24, 2007

How do the unlearned study scripture? How should the unlearned study scripture?

My title for this post is supposed to sound subversively condescending and pretentious, drawing on D&C 35:15, “Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thrash the nations by the power of my Spirit.”  Over the past couple years or so, I’ve significantly increased my level of learning about scripture and scripture study. I’ve begun reading scholarly commentaries, lexicons, dictionaries, etc. and I’ve even started studying Biblical and philosophical hermeneutics. So, what’s to stop me from becoming prideful as a result of my recent learning? I think an implicit goal of the Feast blog and wiki is to help all of us learn about the scriptures and scripture study. Does this make us better off than those who are not as learned about the scriptures?  If so, how can this not lead to pride?  If not, why not? 

Part of the reason I’m wondering about this is because I’ve recently been reading a bit about reader-response criticism. I tend to think of reader-response as the polar oppisite to the historical-critical method in terms of the text-reader encounter.  An historical-critical approach is focused on the orginal-context side of this encounter, trying to recover the original context of the text by thinking about the author’s original intent, historical setting, etc. and the likely way the original readers/listeners would’ve understood the text.  In contrast, a reader-response approach is focused on the reader side of the encounter, how a reader today is apt to understand the text. This is an oversimplification, but hopefully it at least gives some helpful background to my question above.

Perhaps another way to frame my question is in relation to a common criticism I’ve heard about the Church Sunday school manuals, that they should give more historical background about the scriptures. What do you think, would more historical background be an improvement in the lesson manuals or not?

Although I’m fairly ambivalent about these quetsions (that’s why I’m asking!), I’m inclined to think that if more historical-critical information were included in the manuals, it would become more of a distraction than a help. And I think that a hermeneutic that places too much weight on historical-critical learning may be misguided and even dangerous. If we view “learning” as a pre-requisite to meaningful understanding of scripture, I worry we will be on the wrong side of the thrashing described in the D&C passage above. That is not to say we should not learn as much as we can (after all “to be learned is good“)—I’m thinking about this only because I’m planning to continue my learning about scripture—I just don’t think the benefits of such learning should be viewed as much more than a symptom of our faith, love and commitment to the Word.  Learning, then, is not so much the only key that can unlock significant meaning of scripture, but something that “merely” helps us refine unlearned understanding.  On this view, understanding that might be “incorrect” from a more learned perspective, can nevertheless be viewed as significantly “true” and meaningful.

This is only loosely related, perhaps, but I recently saw a fun little Aussie film called The Castle. It’s about a quirky lowbrow family that lives in a rather undesirable home. The family has to move because a nearby airport is expanding.  The family does not want to move and tries to fight the issue in court. (Warning plot-spoilers ahead!)  The father’s argument in court amounts to “it’s not fair,” and so of course the court denies his request. But a very sophisticated and articulate lawyer ends up taking the case and ultimately winning the appeal. What is ironic is that the lawyer, in his closing statements, uses the very words that the lowbrow father used earlier. 

“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Cor 1:29)

49 Responses to “A Hermeneutic for the Unlearned”

  1. John said

    Historical background is good *IF* it helps us to understand the text and (by extension) the principles that the text encapsulates. I’m afraid that the typical LDS classroom time slot leaves little room for principles, let alone an engaging historical-critical analysis. Ultimately, would there be any added benefit for such analysis given the fact that religious learning is ultimately tied to the “aha” moments that we so often attribute to the Spirit?

    How should the unlearned learn scripture? From someone who truly understands and loves the word of God, and who has done enough studying to be knowledgeable, but is yet able to distill the essence of the message in such a way as to expose new ways of seeing it.

  2. John said

    PS: Don’t underestimate the value of the heart in learning. Even the learned need “aha” moments.

  3. Robert C. said

    John, thanks, I like how you put this in terms of “aha moments” which I think is an interesting way to think about what we get out of scripture study. In some ways, I think it’s harder to have aha moments when we are more learned (or at least familiar) with the scriptures and we have to watch ourselves more carefully to keep being child-like in our study, looking more carefully at the text than we have ever before, reconsidering our views afresh each time, listening more carefully for the Spirit instead of relying on what we’ve already learned previously, etc.

    I’m a little leary in talking in terms of “the principles that the text encapsulates” as you put it in comment #1. I’m off to Church now, but I’ll be thinking about this and try to explain my reservation later. (Basically I think when we talk about underlying “principles” we are apt to fall into too much of a meta-narrative view of Truth, the Gospel, scripture, God, etc., so my reservation is tightly linked to my post-modern sympathies…).

  4. Julie M. Smith said

    Here’s a case study for you to chew on:

    In 1 Samuel 1:28, Hannah announces “Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD,” speaking, of course, of Samuel’s dedication to the temple.

    Someone, somewhere, can’t remember, made the point that her use of the word “lent” implies that she understood that family relationships are eternal, since she views Samuel’s entire life as a time of “lending” with the understanding that she’ll get him back in the next life. Which led to a long extended riff on eternal families blah blah blah. (I think I may actually have picked this up and used it in a lesson once.)

    The problem is that the Hebrew word translated as ‘lent’ most likely doesn’t support that translation. (It’s possible, the NRSV uses it, but most others don’t and “dedicate” seems a better fit than “lend.”)

    So: our unlearned-in-Hebrew Saint may use this passage to lead to a conclusion that isn’t warranted, but nonetheless is a true principle (i.e., families are eternal). Our learned-in-Hebrew Saint would probably not think the phrase could bear that weight and therefore wouldn’t make that point.

    Which is better?

  5. Cherylem said

    Just a quick opinion – being one of the “busy” that Robert mentioned . . . I do get flummoxed when we overlay our modern LDS organization/church/doctrine on the OT stories. I get really irritated at this, actually.

    For what its worth.

  6. Matthew said

    I like this question Julie poses (#4). Suppose we agree that the unlearned saint is making a point that leads to a correct understanding of a true principle but that “lend” is not supported by the Hebrew. In that case, why not think that the best case is someone who understands the original meaning of the words but isn’t constrained by them. That person, despite their knowledge, can still point out that the KJV word here is true to what will happen; Hannah is lending her son since she will have him in eternity.

  7. John said

    Julie (#4): In this case, “borrow” or “lend” appears to be a valid reading of the Hebrew sha’al, though most Bible translations use “give” instead.

    There’s a similar passage in Job 42:12-13 that tells us how Job was blessed “more than his beginning.” His cattle and herds doubled in size, but he only had 10 children as before. An astute LDS reader might assume that the Lord intended to also include the original 10 children (which are still promised to Job) in the count, making for twice as many children as well. Should we make this leap, or not?

    Do these passages really teach us specifically about eternal families? If you or I could ask them directly, I’m pretty sure these ancient Hebrew people would have no idea what we were talking about.

    Hana’s story is a case study of strong principles — meekness, pure motives, indebtedness, sacrifice, a willingness to dedicate ones own life and family to God. Did Hana loan Samuel to God because she knew she would be reunited with her son in the celestial kingdom? I suspect she would have been insulted by this type of bet-hedging. She had entered into a solemn contract with the Lord, and she intended to keep her part of the bargain. She literally saw Samuel as the Lord’s property.

    If, at the end of his story, Job had received only 5 children instead of 10, would he have been any less blessed? Job was not seeking an increase in family. Rather, he wanted to be reconciled with God. A new family was a sign that reconciliation had occurred.

    Yet, aren’t we encouraged to use scriptures as parables, symbolic representations of eternal truth within a story? Why not interpret the Biblical imagery in terms of the 21st century?

    There is something inherently shaky about a foundation of scriptural reconstructionism.

  8. m&m said

    As much as I love learning about the “real” meaning behind words and such, I am really uncomfortable with a sort of intellectual trumping of personal feelings and meaning that scriptures can bring. The Spirit can teach us things that really have nothing directly to do with the historical context or the original language. While often knowledge of those things can also bring interesting and meaningful insights, I like to think that they shouldn’t be prerequisites to reading the scriptures.

    I find that sometimes, the exposure I have had to “learned” points of view can get in the way of my acceptance of others’ such personal insight. And that bothers me.

    I think Julie’s example is a good one, and I think that, barring straight out false doctrine, we ought to relish personal insights into scriptures, whether or not they are historically or linguistically or _____ally “sound.”

    I also have to say that I’m always a little sqeamish with dividing lines like “learned” and “unlearned.” I realize this is for argument’s sake, but it just feels so -ites-ish to me and so I think even in the hypothetical we need to be really, really careful.

    So, with that concern in mind, this will reveal my idealistic point of view, but when I think of the ideal, I picture what is available to people in far-off places who have no library close by, who have no internet. All they have is the scriptures and a copy of the Church magazines and manuals — and a pure, unadulterated faith in what the Spirit has testified to them. I wonder sometimes if those of us who are “learned” were to spend some significant time with such people if we might come back to our opportunities for learning and access to information and treat it all with a bit more fear and trembling. Again, this is all said with an intense love for learning and information, and gratitude for all that can enhance my knowledge of the gospel and the scriptures and such. But sometimes I wonder if extra stuff serves as more of a distraction to the Spirit. Is it possible that I might discover more pure truth if I put away my internet and infobase and just studied those basic things with an open, honest, humble heart, trusting that those basics we have is sufficent for my spiritual needs? I love extra stuff so much that I wonder if I would ever find out, but there is that part of me that really wonders…. How much easier is it to read other people’s points of view and interpretations (even those that are “correct” historically or linguistically or whatever) than to really seek and search and hunger for the things the Spirit would have me know and understand?

    Final thought: This is no secret, but I actually think that the application-focused curriculum is completely inspired, and I really dislike lessons that want to be too heavily historical and intellectual. Give me the personal, please. :)

  9. Jim F. said

    First a point about “lent” in that passage to which Julie M. Smith points: The United Bible Society’s translation handbook, A Handbook on the First Book of Samuel, says,

    “The words my petition (27), I made (27), I have lent him (28), and he is lent (28) all come from the same root, meaning ‘to ask’ or ‘to request’ and, in some forms, ‘to lend.’ Osty attempted to capture the wordplay as follows: ‘It was for this child that I was praying, and Yahweh granted me the request that I requested of him. For my part, I yield him to [the request of] Yahweh; all the days that he will live, he will be yielded to [the request of] Yahweh’” (48).

    But for me the real question is Robert’s question as Julie M. Smith has amplified it, and I find myself coming down on both sides of the fence.

    If we don’t allow ordinary persons the ability to interpret scripture, even if it sometimes involves the overlay of contemporary ideas that irritates Cherylem, then we have said that few in the Church can read and understand scripture. That is unacceptable, especially since I think we can presume that the Holy Spirit is available to them as readers.

    However, I think we also have to recognize that the texts we are reading do have meaning and that sometimes learning what we can about them, in spite of some of the problems of reconstructing the ancient milieu, helps us understand things we would not otherwise understand.

    So, taking much more time than Matthew did to say much the same thing, I take it that the best case is one in which a person pays attention to what scholarship can provide but isn’t constrained by it and also neither constrains others by it nor vaunts himself or herself over others with it. (How’s that for a sentence that is too long by at least half?)

  10. John said

    O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.
    Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me.
    I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.
    I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.
    I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.
    I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me.
    How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
    Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.
    Psalm 119:97-104

  11. joe m said

    I’m not able to express my ideas nearly as eloquently as most of you. but this is important, so i press on.

    Remember how many interpretations of scripture there are, and the confusion and general animosity that comes as a result of debate of these interpretations. (This blog is great because the contributers often peaceably discuss, debate and disagree without any animosity.) The topic at hand seems to address the question of how to interpret scripture.

    Using the example given above, it can be dangerous to use OT stories to justify latter-day teachings that don’t necessarily have any correlation. this is not far removed from using scripture stories to justify personal beliefs of any kind, which is not far removed from starting my own church and preaching my own ideas that the scriptures seem to support…

    Then again, scripture study should be a very personal activity where we can be fed directly by the spirit, and my interpretation, or what i get out of the study in any case, may be (should be?) different from other people, even of the same faith… How do we balance the two stances?

    Thinking out loud here: I agree with John#7 that if we were to ask the scripture writers about some of our interpolations/interpretations of specific words or phrases etc…, they would respond with a big “huh?” It is attractive for many of us to dig deeper and deeper into the meanings of words, phrases, context and history of our ancient scripture. Is it possible that the simplest explanation is usually the right one?

    Here’s what I mean: I never see or hear anybody in the church examine the writings and speeches of latter-day prophets (with the exception of Joseph Smith) with nearly the fervor that they examine ancient scripture. Is this because (multiple choice):
    a) current prophets’ messages are not laced with hidden meanings or a multitude of layers to be interpreted, as many seem to think the ancient texts are (and i’m not saying they are or aren’t)?
    b) since we understand the language (English) of current prophets’ messages, we have no need or desire to analyze their words, context, etc…
    c) ???

    I think that if someone were to perform an extensive, cross-referenced study of all of Pres. Hinckley’s talks, and ask him what he meant by a word or phrase that he might have used in the various talks or texts, such as “try a little harder,” he would reply “I meant what i said: try a little harder.” But then, one of us might want to know “what do you mean by ‘try a little harder?’ Do you mean try harder than i have tried, or harder than you, the prophet, have tried? by using the word ‘try’ do you imply that i will fail, and it’s okay? are you saying that only a little extra effort is required for my salvation? what is your cultural reference for the words ‘hard’ and ‘try?’ How were these words used at the university where you were educated? Where else can we find a reference for your specific usage of these words?” to which I imagine Pres. Hinckley replying “huh? just try a little harder…”

    And then i imagine Paul, or John, or Luke, giving a similar response.

    I guess my point may be summed up this way: do we make things way more complicated than they need to be? the Lord commands to preach the gospel of repentance and baptism (DC 19:31, footnote on ‘tenets’ linked to 2 Tim 2:23). I love the insight that scholarly scriptural study provides, and this kind of study keeps me interested in the scriptures. Also, like many visitors to this blog I am sure, I am bilingual and am acutely aware of meanings lost or changed in any translation, no matter how good. But while nuances are lost or changed, the overall concept relayed by the passage should remain more or less the same. Usually, the purpose of a particular scripture story is clear, just like the purpose of a general conference talk is (usually) clear.

    So, study however you get the most satisfaction. Be as learned as you plase. But be careful when you teach, that you don’t lose track of the purpose of the scriptures while exploring the related tangents of semantics.

    these musings are as much for me as for anyone reading. hope i didn’t offend.

  12. joe m said

    John#10: this is what i think is the most important:

    “I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.”

  13. m&m said

    I never see or hear anybody in the church examine the writings and speeches of latter-day prophets

    Hmmm…I think there are times when we actually should be doing this (and it’s something I like to do to some degree ;) ), so although I agree with the fact that sometimes things are a LOT more simple than we want them sometimes to be (it’s easy to “look beyond the mark,” to miss the “easiness of the way”), on the flip side, my experience is that sometimes even with the simplest of teachings or principles, the Spirit can unfold layers of meaning and richness that underscore the beauty of the simplicity.

    [Alas, I feel sometimes like these kinds of discussions go in circles because it’s sort of like the answer to any point of view could be “yes, but….” :) ]

    I like this from Elder Nelson. He speaks here of the temple, but I think it can apply to scriptures as well:

    “Teachings of the temple [scriptures] are beautifully simple and simply beautiful. They are understood by the humble, yet they can excite the intellect of the brightest minds.”
    (Russell M. Nelson, “Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” Ensign, May 2001, 32)

  14. Matthew said

    m&m #8,
    >All they have is the scriptures and a copy of the Church magazines and manuals — and a pure, unadulterated faith in what the Spirit has testified to them

    Not sure I like the phrase “unadulterated faith” … I don’t think you mean that other sources adulterate faith do you? It is natural and good to have questions while reading the scriptures and it is natural and good to search for additional sources that can help answer those questions.

    Still I agree with your main point which is, I think, that we must be careful not to let secondary sources distract us from reading the scriptures ourselves. What good is it to blog about the scriptures for an hour but spend no time reading them?

    And I think Joe’s point (#11) is that we can get distracted from the true meaning of the scriptures even by the scriptures themselves. No matter how we go we have to be careful of this.

    And (#13) I really like this quote from Elder Nelson. It does a great job of summing up what our attitude should be to scripture as well.

    —–
    At its heart I think part of this post is about anti-intellectualism. I remember Cherylem had a great comment on one of the posts recently about this where she uses Paul as a great example of a faithful intellectual–only I can’t find it now. (Link anyone?)

    What should we make of anti-intellectualism? This type of pride is just as bad as the other types.

    God has not chosen the foolish things to confound the wise because the foolish are better than the wise (no pride should be taken in ignorance, in fact, to be learned is good); rather, God has chosen the foolish to confound the wise to better make his power manifest.

  15. joe m said

    #13 m&m yes i agree, and this has happened to me:

    “my experience is that sometimes even with the simplest of teachings or principles, the Spirit can unfold layers of meaning and richness that underscore the beauty of the simplicity.”

    and yes to this as well:
    “[Alas, I feel sometimes like these kinds of discussions go in circles because it’s sort of like the answer to any point of view could be “yes, but….” :) ]”

  16. Ben McGuire said

    In relation to this topic, something really interesting (at least to me) occurs in the Book of Mormon. This is from 2 Nephi 25:

    “Now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words which I have written, which have been spoken by the mouth of Isaiah. For behold, Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews.
    For I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations.”

    In a sense, since Nephi doesn’t like what the learned do with the scriptures, he deliberately prevents his people from becoming learned – and thus the result that understanding the scriptures becomes “hard”. He continues:

    “Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.”

  17. Cherylem said

    Hi all,
    From my point of view, the Spirit can testify to anyone under any circumstances, but a correct reading of scripture (at least as correct as we can make it) benefits everyone and harms no one. But a wrong reading (overlaying 21st century Mormonism on ancient OT stories)can irritate and close some people off, and lead other innocents astray, IMO. Plus it shuts down conversation because the person in the room that wants to say, “Wait a minute, let’s read this a different way – a more correct way,” has no way to comment.

    I believe seeking a correct reading is not being prideful. A more correct reading enlightens all, and also enlightens the reading of all scripture. Consequently, the language of God is better known, and spirituality is increased rather than decreased.

    Also, a more correct reading keeps people from being shocked or shaken later – how many of us have known people who are shaken because they find out what has been taught in SS and other classes was not really the reading that is? But at least an acknowledgement of intellectual effort helps make maintaining faith easier in the light of later-discovered intellectual endeavors.

  18. Robert C. said

    Wow, so many great comments—really, I think every comment on this thread has been very, very helpful for me. I don’t have time to respond to each point or comment, but here are a couple of thoughts these comments have left me thinking about:

    First, the following remark comes to mind which I think illustrates very similar dialectical tensions at play. My sister has an advanced degree in music and lamented how her training makes it harder for her to enjoy amateur musical performances the same way she did before she received her advanced training (i.e. it takes more charity…).

    Next, one of my mission presidents (Gary Browning, a truly exemplary individual) used the phrase “a more excellent sacrifice” (Heb 11:4) frequently and it became an informal motto for us (or at least me) in the mission. I think one of John’s comments above got at this same idea: in God’s eyes it’s where my heart’s at that matters most[*]. I wouldn’t limit this to the heart, however, since it is my ““whole soul” that God asks for, and this requires all of my heart, might, mind and strength. In this sense, not applying our mind I think is as odious as becoming prideful in any learning we might receive or attain.

    I think contemplating the widow’s might here is also helpful. I think m&m is right to ask us to check own theological views by thinking about those who have less access to the resources we have access to (but also remember, when much is given much is required). Or, as Jim F. once put it, we should apply the “grandma test”: if I’m remembering correctly, Jim described his grandmother as not particularly sophisticated intellectually-speaking, but she had tremendous faith, so any theology should give commensurate weight to this kind of faith relative to more intellectual concerns.

    Again, I don’t want to short-change “correct” doctrine and study, it’s just that the more I think about these issues, the more it seems that these issues need to be firmly grounded in an understanding of what matters most, which I think might be best considered in terms of consecration, our own willingness to give ourselves over to God.

    __

    * This reminds me of a part in William Barrett’s book Irrational Man. Barrett discusses (though, again, I may be remembering this very poorly…) the shift away from Realism in art and how Realism became boring precisely b/c it silenced the individuality that the artist could express. If the height of art is being as “realistic as possible” there is no room or need for the individual voice. I’m not quite sure how to articulate how I think this applies to the theological and hermeneutical concerns of this thread, but I’ve noticed that the more focused I am on trying to construct one system of theologically true principles, the more irrelevant individual scriptures seem to be in relation to such meta-principles. I remember the genuine appreciation and praise my mother would give us each year when we would make her homemade cards. My very artistic brother always made a much more artistic card, and yet my mother always made me feel like mine was as special to her as his was. Surely there is a similarity in this with the way God sees our efforts to worship Him. But we are talking about not just worshiping God, but learning about God—can such learning occur if it is based on “inaccurate” information? Or perhaps this question is ill-posed, after all we are to learn of God, not about God, and perhaps learning of depends more on how we apply ourselves to the Word and less on the “concepts” we intellectually learn along the way. Perhaps the danger in learning is that we will become too focused on some sort of destination-view of Truth and miss the importance of one’s purity of heart along the way, that in a certain sense the destination (Truth as a set of intellectual propositions) is the journey (Truth as a way-of-being and relating to others)….

  19. Ben McGuire said

    Robert #18:

    Your comments made me think of a show I hear on NPR quite some time ago (9/15/06 it looks like) on noise. [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6082158]

    IIRC, it talked about how perfection is a problem for us. Photographs, capturing perfectly an image are less alive, less vibrant, less stimulating, then a photo which has some “noise” artifically introduced into it. The perfect photo requires little from us to see it. I think that this idea might help with what you seemed to me to be suggesting. That being given everything (including how to understand or how to read, and so on) leaves no room for ourselves. And while we want to lose that sense of self, I think it has to be a personal decision and a desire and not to be caused by all of us receiving the exact same experience in mortality.

  20. m&m said

    But a wrong reading (overlaying 21st century Mormonism on ancient OT stories)can irritate and close some people off, and lead other innocents astray, IMO.

    I’m still mulling over this and am not sure I agree with it, at least not completely. Of course, getting correct information can be helpful, but what if it squelches what someone feels is personal inspiration? Again, I’m not talking about preaching full-on false doctrine (which, IMO, is what really would lead someone else astray), but can sharing some personal application that still falls within true principles (emphasis on personal and true) really lead someone astray? And if someone gets irritated or closed off, isn’t that more the responsibility of the learned one to change, not the unlearned?

    I’d love to consider a way that both approaches could peacefully coexist, actually…that, say, a 21st century overlay on an OT story that might not be historically or linguistically accurate and the ‘accurate’ point of view could both be presented in a class, for example, with neither seeking to be “right” but each presenting a point of view that might be meaningful to someone else. As much as I worry about allowing too much freedom into scriptural interpretation (that WAS tied to apostasy, after all), usually the “unlearned” who bring a personal insight into the scriptures are simply sharing how something helped them, and it seems sad to try to shut that down for the sake of “correctness,” ya know?

    I’m also intrigued by this: “when much is given much is required” — how does that apply to those of us who live in a place where we have access to lots of information. What is required of us? I would argue that it’s humility and balance and constant effort to not look beyond the mark or get too caught up in our “chances for learning” (from the following scripture, which I think is rather sobering in relation to this discussion):

    And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.
    Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.
    And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up; yea, insomuch that in the thirtieth year the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith; and they would not depart from it, for they were firm, and steadfast, and immovable, willing with all diligence to keep the commandments of the Lord.
    (3 Ne. 6:12-14)

    Might some of the responsibility of those of us with “chances for learning” to be to stay humble, to do all we can to build and stay on equal ground with those who don’t have chances for learning (how to do that?), to make sure we are not critical of those who don’t have similar chances or inclinations…. ????

    I dunno…I’m really mulling over this and asking questions because I’m not sure what the right answers are. :)

  21. n.hilton said

    If we are to follow the instruction to be as little children, then I think being “unlearned” is part of this. Perhaps you need to define “learned.” I know that the more I learn, the more I realize I DON’T know.

    Joseph Smith is a terrific example of the unlearned excelling when it comes to seeking spiritual knowledge. He specifically applied the scriptures to his life in terms of what he already knew and what he wanted to know. His study/learning never ceased. When did he cross the line between unlearned & learned?

    Contrast him with the “one learned” whom JS took the BofM characters to (Isa.29:11). The differences are startling. I think if I had to pick between the two character traits for myself & others, I’d pick the “unlearned.” Being unlearned so often coincides with being humble & teachable. Why?

    Matt. 13:11-12 speaks of those who take advantage of what they’ve been given (knowledge) will be given more. Since we don’t know what the limit of this knowledge is, I think we’re all pretty much unlearned & to think ourselves otherwise is ignorant & arrogant.

    RE: the church manuals, I think they’re as good as they can be for being the manual for so many different people. They’ll never be an exhaustive manual for any topic or class so why bother trying? If anything, I think they should be simplified to encourage the teacher to stretch OUTSIDE the manual to appropriate sources for material specific to their class. If the manuals weren’t as good as they are, more study would be REQUIRED by the teacher in their preparation for class. This might spur on learning of our teachers & improve things all around.

  22. m&m said

    If the manuals weren’t as good as they are, more study would be REQUIRED by the teacher in their preparation for class.

    If we consider what they used to be like, though, there is a lot less for the teachers than there used to be. :)

  23. cherylem said

    Matthew #14
    My post was a comment on Elder Cook’s book:#72.

    I keep wondering why there is ANY resistance to studying and teaching intellectually as well as spiritually – I cannot separate the two for myself. Is there some feeling that intellectual study sends the Spirit running the other direction? I believe this is just false. It is pride that sends the spirit away, and pride can come out of any intellect – the humble and the most exalted and many in between.

    I wonder if this isn’t a peculiarly (!) Mormon discussion, with our more recent history of anti-intellectualism.

    I do agree that the Spirit can and does communicate with people whether or not a particular scripture is understood correctly. A lesson on ancient temple worship can cause someone to have an aha experience about modern day temples, and a lesson about ancient marriage laws can bring an aha experience about one’s own marriage. But this doesn’t mean we have to stop there, either.

    I think that, once again, we come around to what a good teacher is. A teacher who might not have much background in the scriptures can still bring excellent preparation and a teaching spirit to the classroom. And a teacher who does have an excellent background can bring excellent preparation and a teaching spirit to the classroom. On this blog, I venture to say that both would delight, because both bring ALL THAT THEY HAVE, and invite the Spirit to bring all that IT has, to the classroom experience.

    But the teacher who has not much background and is PROUD of that fact, might not be able to facilitate much spirit, and the teacher who has much background and is PROUD of that fact, might also not be able to facilitate much spirit.

    But to me, the study of the scriptures is a constant happiness, and sharing that is also happiness.

  24. cherylem said

    And Joe m –
    Congratulations on your new daughter! Born Thursday, little Molly.

  25. cherylem said

    One more thing about being being “unlearned.” I really think it is our job to learn as much as we can, and I reference these verses (which I included in my lesson on Matthew 13):

    Hebrews 5:11-14 (in a section regarding the High Priesthood after the order of Melchezidek)
    11Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
    12For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
    13For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
    14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

    And the same in NIV:

    11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

    and there is this:

    Isaiah 28:9
    9Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
    -or-

    Isaiah 28:9-13 (New American Standard Bible)
    9″To whom would He teach knowledge,
    And to whom would He interpret the message?
    Those just weaned from milk?
    Those just taken from the breast?

  26. m&m said

    I think someone said it well above: we need to define what “learned” means in this discussion.

    I am not sure that anyone, for example, cherylem, is saying that learning is necessarily a bad thing. I can’t imagine that anyone would argue with your comments on pride, either. I feel a bit like you are trying to convince about something we are all already convinced of. :) That tells me we are probably not understanding each other very well, and probably because we aren’t sure what we are talking about.

    So, what does “learned” vs. “unlearned” mean? :)

  27. Jim F. said

    Cherylem: I keep wondering why there is ANY resistance to studying and teaching intellectually as well as spiritually

    I have seen very little such resistance either here (wghere I’ve seen none) or in Sunday School classes (where I’ve rarely seen it).

  28. Cherylem said

    Jimf #27, m&m #26 and all,
    Sorry if I began to sound a little fierce . . .

  29. Robert C. said

    I think learned is something roughly like a formal education, or learning from those who have a formal education (like reading books). And so I think D&C passages telling us to seek words of wisdom out of the best books also support Cheryl’s claim that we are in fact commanded to seek out learning.

    Although I haven’t encountered a whole lot of blatant anti-intellectualism in the Church, I have been accused of “thinking too hard,” “looking beyond the mark” (say, in response to a question that many would probably label an “intellectual question”), “making things too complicated,” or even being prideful regarding some more intellectual tid bit I share. I think sometimes (perhaps even most times) these accusations against me have been warranted, but not every time. Because of this, I think I understand where Cheryl’s “fierceness” on this topic is coming from. Also, as a practical matter, this question comes up nearly every day for me: how much time should I spend reading the scriptures (or General Conference reports or the Ensign) directly vs. how much time should I spend reading learned supplements (meaning commentaries, dictionaries, lexicons, etc.)?

    Ultimately, I think the answers to these questions are very personal, but hearing everyone’s thoughts on this thread has been very helpful in helping me rethink these questions for myself. Further, I think there is a natural tension that arises when learning is gained by some but not others, a tension that is analogous to the tension felt as a result of socioeconomic inquality, or inequality in terms of spiritual gifts or other kinds of talents, or inequality even in terms of righteousness. I think some of these inequalities can and should be avoided (I think the 3 Ne 6 passage that m&m referred to in #20 is very thought-provoking), but I think some of these differences are a natural part of life in this world, and we must learn how to deal with such differences. I think the short answer to this question is in terms of charity, but in striving to implement this kind of charity, I find it helpful to think through the underlying tensions, potential conflicts, sources and counter-sources of pride, etc. (In terms of how to deal with differences, smallaxe’s post “How to Reconcile Difference: In History and More” at the FPR blog discusses similar issues.)

  30. Robert C. said

    [Hmmm, I just had a comment “eaten”—it seems this is becoming more and more of a problem, something we should look in to….]

    I’m thinking about learning in terms of non-scriptural books, scholarly ones in particular. I think the Spirit can teach us without books, but I’m inclined to interpret “learning” to be referring to something different. In this sense, I think the D&C passages telling us to seek words of wisdom out of the best books complement the passages Cheryl quoted above.

    Although I haven’t seen anti-intellectualism in the Church too directly, I have been told on a number of occassions that I’m over-thinking things, looking beyond the mark, getting too caught up in scholarship, etc. Sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, these accusations have been accurate and helped me “refocus on the basics of the gospel.” However, I don’t think the accusations were warranted in every instance, and perhaps that is part of the reason I’m trying to think through these issues more carefully in this thread. In this sense, I relate to Cheryl’s “fierceness” above….

    I think there’s a natural tension that arises when we begin to learn, esp. when we begin to learn more than those around us. I think this tension, or difference (or differance), is analogous to several other kinds of inequality, inequality in terms of wealth, talents, gifts, righteousness, etc. I think some of these inequalities are bad and avoidable (I think the 3 Ne verse that m&m alluded to in #20 is particularly thought-provoking), but others are unavoidable. The trick, it seems, is to seek learning and righteousness in a way that is charitable and benefits the entire community rather than engendering strife (although, I think that sometimes such “strife” is unavoidable if others in the community insist). By the way, there is a somewhat related post on difference here at FPR.

  31. joe m said

    cherylem i am strongly in favor of intellectual study and analysis of the scriptures. i hope my statements are not misunderstood here. Studying and understanding the scriptures with the intent you describe has opened my mind many times to new concepts, meanings, and profound experiences. I agree that it is our job, as you stated, and as Robert (#18) implied, to learn as much as we can. I have learned much in your classes and lessons for many years.

    this topic is evidence, i believe, of the reason i am at times cautious. many of us have cited scriptures that seem to support our various claims. so, are our claims based on personal opinion or the scriptures? i must admit, i wrote my post (#11), and then found a scripture which i thought adequately supported my claims when i cited DC 19:31 and 2 Tim 2:23. I found a couple verses to support my thoughts, and thought, “great, i was right!” Using the scriptures to support our opinions is the danger. I admit that I used this strategy without thinking.

    very intelligent people interpret scripture so differently, and even those who honestly try to not let their own opinions influence their scholarship (as i try to do) unavoidably fail to some degree in this endeavor. So, how can we, as we study, know what is a “correct” interpretation?

    another example of interpretation issues: I served my mission in Italy. I was introduced to Roman Catholic Saints, and specifically Stigmata (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stigmata gives a sufficiently simple description). I wanted to know how the Catholics could scripturally justify Stigmata. I found Gal 6:17, and thought, “aha! that’s how they justify stigmata!” and then i tried to find a correct interpretation, since the given interpretation was so obviously wrong from my perspective… I ended up with the conclusion that Paul must have been referring to temple related symbolism, because in the temple we are symbolically marked with the markings of Christ. I thought Paul was referring to this. This was an “aha” moment for me. Turns out, after reading remarks about the temple at the time of Christ at a different post here, that my conclusion is probably not factually correct, since their temple worship did not include the same rituals that ours does. Is my interpretation any less incorrect then the Catholic interpretation?

    but the verse is still significant to me when i apply my original thought, that we are all marked with the markings of Christ in the temple, and this helped me understand temple worship in a way i hadn’t understood previously. so, is my interpretation still incorrect? it is not historically “correct” but it did bring great spiritual learning. and what is the correct interpretation of this verse? is there any way to even know?

    Galations 6:17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

    So, be as learned as you can. But where information is missing or unclear, be very careful to not fill in the gaps with your own opinions. and as has been mentioned (by all, i think) let the Spirit teach you as you read and study. Just because we learn something that the author wasn’t intending to teach doesn’t mean that the thing we learned wasn’t correct (as Nephi said, likening the scriptures to ourselves).

    Robert C. asked in the original post if learning more about the scriptures would make someone better off than other people. I think the answer depends on how we use what we learn. maybe the real advantage is simply that the study requires that we apply time and effort to the learning, thus allowing the Spirit more time and opportunity to work on us, as long as we remain open to it.

  32. Ben McGuire said

    Joe #30 – you wrote:

    “very intelligent people interpret scripture so differently, and even those who honestly try to not let their own opinions influence their scholarship (as i try to do) unavoidably fail to some degree in this endeavor. So, how can we, as we study, know what is a “correct” interpretation?”

    Doesn’t this suggest that there is a) a “correct” interpretation and b) that such an interpretation is accessible, and c) that any “correct” interpretation is universally so?

    My own opinion is that there is no such thing as a “correct” interpretation. Rather there is a range of possible interpretations which can be ordered hierarchically according to some overarching objective. If we want to interpret scripture as it was interpreted by its original audience, then scholarly approaches seem quite valid. If we want to interpret scripture so that we understand God’s will for us, then we expect that there will be a broad range of interpretations – none of which are truly valid for ourselves except the one that we discover. And so on. When we want different objectives in our hierarchy, we will weight the interpretations differently.

    Sitting in conference from time to time, I have heard General Authorities invoke scripture in ways that are completely opposite to the original intent of the passage – and yet are invoked to teach true principles and to motivate people to faith.

    The risk is not in always questioning our interpretation or looking for new ways to understand – the risk is in deciding that you have the “correct” interpretation – in endowing some interpretation with the status of absolute truth, of fully determinate status – and so stopping the search for more.

  33. Jim F. said

    I think that Joe is on to something here. Correct interpretation can help us understand the scriptures better, but it is much less important than correct response. The scriptures ought to be challenging us to repentance and Christ-like living. If correct interpretation doesn’t do that or provide a background for doing that, then it isn’t that important. Equally, if my meditation and response to scripture doesn’t do that, themn it is unimportant, even less important in fact than correct interpretation.

    We aren’t reading scripture for information, but for formation, being formed in the image of Christ.

  34. Jim F. said

    As I mentioned on another thread (http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2007/03/11/sunday-school-lesson-11/#comment-1972), I think that Jesus may have specifically addressed this issue at Matthew 13:52. In that verse he offers a short parable, and the more I think about that parable, the more it seems to me that he is saying something like: those who are scripturally literate can show us old things (old meanings–the meaning of the Old Testament for those in Jesus’ day) as well as new things (things that may not be obviously part of the “old” texts but are appropriately understood as there now that we have a new perspective–Jesus as Messiah for those of his day).

  35. m&m said

    The scriptures ought to be challenging us to repentance and Christ-like living. If correct interpretation doesn’t do that or provide a background for doing that, then it isn’t that important. Equally, if my meditation and response to scripture doesn’t do that, themn it is unimportant, even less important in fact than correct interpretation.

    Very well said. And hence why I think we ought to leave room for meaningful meaning (such as insights that may not be historically or linguistically “correct”) that inspires people to be better, draws them to Christ, brings depth to their testimony…as long as it is based on true principles (as, #31 mentioned, is sometimes done by our leaders).

    As I was mulling over this last nite, I remembered the scripture in 1 Ne. 19 (also 2 Ne. 11) about likening scriptures unto ourselves. I wonder what that might mean for us. The key purpose I glean from Nephi is to bring us to Christ (e.g., 19:23). But he also talks about “profit and learning.” S’more to mull over, perhaps? Isaiah’s words were rich in historical signficance and language, and yet it seems to me Nephi invited personal interpretation/application as well. I guess I’m intrigued by the fact that he said to liken Isaiah to ourselves, given the value of history and language that is often needed to understand Isaiah in context — and yet Nephi takes that text and seems to invite us to also find personal context, and that struck me as significant. Nephi deliberately also didn’t teach about the Jews, so those reading wouldn’t have known much so Isaiah’s words wouldn’t have been as “plain” to them, and yet, again, he encourages “likening.” (Am I making sense?) Thoughts?

  36. Jim F. said

    1 Nephi 19:23: “I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.”

    2 Nephi 11:2: “I will liken his words unto my people.”

    I have some points and questions that will probably create more confusion rather than more clarity:

    Nephi speaks of likening the scriptures to “us” and to “my people.” He doesn’t speak of likening the scriptures to himself. We don’t see him doing this personally/individually. Is that significant? Are we perhaps misunderstanding what he is saying?

    What does “liken” mean, anyway? The Oxford English Dictionary (the gold-standard for historical English dictionaries) says that “liken” means “compare.” Is the comparison typological, so that we discover a type in the scriputes that we also find in our own world? Given that the Book of Mormon also speaks of types and shadows with some regularity (Mosiah 3:15, 13:10, 13:31; Alma 13:16, 25:10, 25:15, 33:19, 37:445; Ether 13:6), I suspect that is what Nephi meant.

    However, if he did then not just any idea that we think we have been inspired to receive from the scriptures is the result of likening the scriptures to ourselves. It may be that likening is always understanding the scriptures typologically.

  37. Wonderful conversation, everyone. I apologize for not having joined it yet. Internet troubles have made it nearly impossible. And travel makes it impossible tonight. I hope to weigh in tomorrow, and I’m sure you all are expecting me to have very strong opinions that will inevitably be misunderstood and require my re-explaining them fifteen times before everyone decides I’m not an apostate.

    Good night, all.

  38. m&m said

    You are right, Jim. I’m a bit confused about what you are trying to qualify. :) Can you help me? Are you trying to argue against the “classic” interpretation of this scripture, that we are to apply the scriptures to our lives? (If so, you are taking on a lot. :) )

  39. m&m said

    I’ve been searching on lds.org on this concept, and found talks by several apostles extolling the virtues of likening. :) But this I thought was particularly relevant to this conversation as a whole, getting to all the main points I think have been brought up about studying and learning all we can but also allowing for and seeking for personal meaning.

    I have thought perhaps what Nephi is trying to tell us is that he recognized the barrier of Isaiah. He knew that the book of Isaiah is full of imagery. Of all the scriptures, few have as many images; therefore, Isaiah can be very difficult. I believe what Nephi meant by “liken all scriptures unto us” was that they could be directly applied.

    Many are more skilled than I am at putting scriptures in their historic context. There are wonderful techniques of understanding metaphor, simile, and allegory in the scriptures, and I hope you will learn as much about that as you can. But I hope you will learn one more thing. As you read Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, try to believe that Nephi knew Isaiah and he knew imagery. Nephi said to liken Isaiah directly unto you. So I tried it. I read Isaiah’s words again, assuming Nephi picked the parts of Isaiah that I, without worrying about the imagery, could take directly to my heart as if the Lord were speaking to me.
    (Henry B. Eyring, “The Book of Mormon Will Change Your Life,” Liahona, Feb 2004, 13)

    Love it.

  40. m&m said

    This really has nothing directly to do with anything, but I really liked this about prioritizing our knowledge.

    As regards knowledge, the highest priority religious knowledge is what we receive in the temple. That knowledge is obtained from the explicit and symbolic teachings of the endowment, and from the whisperings of the Spirit that come as we are desirous to seek and receptive to hear the revelation available to us in that sacred place.
    Dallin H. Oaks, “Focus and Priorities,” Ensign, May 2001, 82

  41. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to weigh in on this discussion, especially since it was something I posted on lds-herm that led Robert to write this post. But let me offer a few thoughts here.

    I think the right question to ask here is about what we mean by “learning.” And we need to recognize from the very start that we as Mormons are in a very interesting situation as regards the scriptures. Through Sunday School and seminary, and perhaps especially in the mission field, most Latter-day Saints who grow up in the Church become relatively “learned,” at least in one sense: they develop a very broad and quasi-systematic understanding of LDS “doctrine.” The fact is that the work of LDS scholars saturates most of the teaching in the Church: anyone who has been through seminary has been filled with the scholarship (always second hand, almsot never attributed to the scholars) of Talmage, Widtsoe, Joseph Fielding Smith, McConkie, Nibley, even John Welch (at least as regards chiasmus). (The publishing work of Deseret Book ultimately reinforces this, because they tend to publish books that draw on relevant scholarship but that simplify it so that the reader does not need to call any traditional understanding of the scriptures into question.) The consequence of being filled with the work of these scholars, and without attribution, is that the “average” Latter-day Saint has an invisible “learned” lense through which she sees everything in the scriptures, and this is often problematic.

    Perhaps what is unfortunate about this is that what we are here calling “unlearned” is probably this “average” Latter-day Saint who reads the scriptures through an invisible “learned” lense. That is, I assume that what we mean by “learned” is the person who is willing to go beyond all of that, who is willing to question the received interpretations.

    A curious consequence of all of this is that people who are generally unacquainted with religion (not members of the Church) but who have a good reading comprehension usually interpret our scriptures far better than we do! Unhindered by a kind of unquestioned blend of demythologized Mormon scholarship, they can just read the text as it is.

    But this suggests to me that what we are calling “learned” here are really those who are willing to “unlearn,” and what we are calling “unlearned” here is that person who is actually quite “learned” in terms of LDS assumptions and tradition but who has not yet recognized the necessity (?) of “unlearning” what one has learned.

    Hence, what of scholarship? I personally regard most scholarship as a help for unlearning. By reading those who have thought seriously about the texts I’m studying, my assumptions are called into question, and I have the opportunity to overcome my own learning. Studying the scholarship is, for me, a process of becoming humble, not a process of becoming proud.

    That is, the scholars don’t give me answers, they help me to ask questions. Better, they help me to recognize how it is that the text is questioning me. Reading about, say, the documentary hypothesis does not provide me with some kind of superior knowledge, with an awareness that other Latter-day Saints are idiots for not having. It helps me to recognize that there are profoundly different ways of reading the scriptures, that there are important linguistic tools that I’m not employing, that there are historical facets that I’ve not considered, that there are parallels I’m missing, etc., etc., etc.

    Now, all of this, I think, suggests that the question we are asking here is not really a question of the learned and the unlearned, but a question of the humble and the proud. The humble seek understanding before the Lord (and they recognize the importance of scholarship in doing this), while the proud seek to be smarter, better, more well-informed, etc., than the next guy.

    Isn’t it that simple?

  42. Let me add just this: Those who seek understanding through humility seek it in order to be able to save others. I should hope that I read nothing but what will help me to grow humbler and more receptive to the Spirit on the one hand, and what will help me to know how to help others do the same on the other hand. In the end, this latter is the essence of teaching.

  43. Jim F. said

    m&m: I’m not trying to argue against anything, but I am wondering whether the classical interpretation of Nephi’s admonition is correct. I have a hunch that it isn’t, but only a hunch. It seems to me that Nephi may be saying, “We ought to understand Isaiah in terms of the types of Israel–of God’s people–that we find in his writing.”

  44. Robert C. said

    m&m, great quotes as always, thanks for finding them and sharing them. I’m not quite sure what to make of the Elder Eyring quote, though I think I agree with what he’s saying, that we should both seek out as much learning as we can in terms of historical context and what not, but we should not wait to obtain such learning before we try to find personal meaning in the scriptures. (And I say “personal meaning” quite vaguely, but I think “typology” might be a good way to think of it, that is, how our lives might be viewed “typologically,” so that throughout each day we view things in terms of scriptural words, events, patterns, characters, names, etc. This topic of typology definitely deserves a few posts all by itself….)

    Joe #40: “Now, all of this, I think, suggests that the question we are asking here is not really a question of the learned and the unlearned, but a question of the humble and the proud.”

    I’m pretty sure I agree with practically all of what you’re saying, Joe. I esp. like how you point to the kind of learning that we are so often touched by without really recognizing it. I’m a little hesitant, however, to adopt too quickly your “learning as unlearning” wording. I agree with what you’re saying (cf. nhilton’s #21, “the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know”), but I think this can lead to confusion to how the term learned seems to be used in a passage such a 2 Ne 9:28-29. There, it seems one can be “learned” in, roughly, a humble or a proud way. That is, what you might describe as “learning to be unlearned” I think is what 2 Ne 9 seems to be describing as “learned . . . [but] hearken[ing] unto thje counsels of God.” In other words, I think that “learned” in that passage should be thought of more in terms of scholarly learning rather than, say, spiritual learning.

    By the way, a quick search” tells me that “learning” is a very rich term in scripture, and it seems to connote more of a spiritual-type of learning than scholarly-type of learning in other passages. In particular, note how prominent the term is in Isa 29 and the BOM passages alluding to Isa 29, where both the Hebrew yada (v. 11) and lm/w/d (and the its underlying root) are in play. (Also, regarding the learned one who cannot read the sealed book, don’t miss this post at BCC on Jack Welch’s new theories about what “sealed” means….)

  45. m&m said

    I am wondering whether the classical interpretation of Nephi’s admonition is correct.

    I’m sorta smiling, because I think this sort of takes us back to the core of this discussion. Is there such a thing as one “correct” view of a scripture? I think I understand a bit what you mean by your hunch, but seeing at least four apostles use the “classical interpretation” suggests to me that there’s more than one way to understand/interpret that scripture. And I can’t help but think that is just the way the scriptures are. We can look at the contextual/historical/linguistic for one view, but to bind ourselves to that one view as the only “correct” one seems extremely limiting.

    NOT that I don’t think there is value in that type of reading, but I think there could be value beyond it. I sorta feel like we’re going in circles in a way…. :)

  46. m&m said

    This topic of typology definitely deserves a few posts all by itself

    I’d love that, fwiw.

  47. Robert, I totally agree with your concerns, and they occurred to me as well while I was writing my comment. So let me add the caveat that I am not at all trying to think, in that comment, about scriptural language.

    I also think it would be worth doing a series of posts on typology. If I can ever get my internet troubles sorted out, I’d love to head up a series of posts on the subject.

    I should also say that I really like your thoughts on “liken,” Jim. I’d like to think about that further, but I’d like to see that taken over to the wiki. Incidentally, Nephi’s manner of likening Isaiah is on full display in 2 Nephi 26-27, and it follows Jim’s interpretation (or “hunch”) here. There is definitely reason to think about this further.

  48. joe m said

    ben #31 and m&m #44 you both stated that there is not only one correct interpretation. maybe ‘correct’ is a bad word. i’ll use ‘true’. i don’t think that i would have agreed with you both before this thread came along, but i think the evidence is nearly incontrovertible. Ben I really like your statements on parables as well in the other thread. That there is the possibility of multiple true interpretations of the scriptures, and that all can lead to greater understanding of Christ, is something that is slowly working its way through me right now. i like the implications very much.

    cherylem, i think i can finally put into words my thoughts about intellectualism. it is the ‘intellectual’ who does not allow other interpretations to be true that bothers me. by the same token, the ‘unlearned’ who dismisses correct intellectual translation and interpretation bothers me as well. both can be completely true, and completely contradictory. And together both interpretations make the scriptures truly marvelous.

  49. m&m said

    there is the possibility of multiple true interpretations of the scriptures, and that all can lead to greater understanding of Christ

    I think the fact that we can read the same books of scripture over and over again and have them open up with more light testifies to the reality of this as well. It’s one of the things that testifies so clearly to me that the scriptures are from God, because they have layers and layers of meaning just waiting for us to be open to. So awesome!

    joem, you also summed up many of my feelings about intellectualism, etc. Part of why i love the format of lessons as they are in the church is that, if discussion happens as it should (teacher encourages it and students welcome it and contribute meaningfully), we can see the scriptures through others’ eyes and how they have affected others’ lives. It also allows people to bear testimony of those things, and that all can bring the Spirit in a significant way.

    (I guess I’m back to m&m. For whatever reason, I just like it. :) )

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