Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Honestly reading the scriptures

Posted by Matthew on September 30, 2012

Do you ever feel that a certain interpretation of the scriptures is too convenient? too strained?

Suppose a scripture seems to say one thing, but the interpretation of the scripture strains against the obvious reading. For example, I remember when I first heard a Mormon interpretation of Matt 22:23-32. In this scripture the Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus so they ask him about a woman with seven husband. The question is: whose husband will she be in the resurrection. The interpretation I heard said that Jesus was telling the Sadducees that nobody was given in marriage in the afterlife, but not that no one was married in the afterlife. The explanation didn’t make any sense to me then and still doesn’t. I don’t get why the Sadducees didn’t just respond to Jesus with “Look it doesn’t matter to us whether people get married in the afterlife or not. So what’s your point? In our example we say they got married in this life, so the question still remains …whose wife is she of the seven in the afterlife?”

Maybe I totally misunderstood the point of this Mormon interpretation of Matt 22:23-32. Whether or not I did is really beside the point of this post.  My question really is, how good does an interpretation of scripture have to be before it is better than a straightforward reading that doesn’t fit into the way things are/should be?

Note: I don’t feel obliged to be able to interpret all scripture in a way that is consistent with my own beliefs. I assume this is because (a) some scripture is wrong (b) I don’t understand some scripture and (c) some of my beliefs are wrong. But regardless of what the underlying cause is, I’m okay with saying “ok, I don’t know how to reconcile that with my beliefs.”

Also note: certainly I am thinking about this because of my last post here and the comments in response.

If we didn’t feel obliged to show that every scripture is consistent with our beliefs, I wonder if we would end up being better readers.

Thoughts?

24 Responses to “Honestly reading the scriptures”

  1. Carolyn said

    You make a good point, Matthew. Just as in interpreting scriptures to support what one’s political beliefs are, and then emphatically insisting in Sunday School what the selected scripture means to us as Americans, we can go at the scriptures as the proverbially “man with the hammer” does, to whom “everything is a nail”. This kind of myopic search for a previous bias is a little like a scientist who dismisses every result that doesn’t fit his/her pre-determined conclusion and then stating that the empirical evidence shows thus and thus, having skewed the results. To read with an open heart and mind our scriptures, to ponder deeply and to allow mystery (a word that we don’t hear often in our discussions within the Mormon faith) to be part of the experience and to, as Rilke wrote, “love the questions” is to me both a challenge and a blessing and leaves room for true growth and magical thinking.

  2. Ben S said

    I’m distrustful of any on-the-face reading that relies on a historical/cultural non-contextual English reading. What something means at face-value changes once you change the cultural assumptions brought to it, i.e. saying “at face value” really only means “as it first strikes me from within my own cultural matrix without regard for whether the passage was written in a different cultural matrix.”

    • Carolyn said

      You are so right, Ben. And as an American reading the English translation, without deep study, I have limited or no knowledge of not only the original Hebrew or Egyptian, etc. but as you say, the very traditions and cultural foundations of our brothers and sisters in ancient scripture. One word in English may come from entire phrases and frameworks in another culture. I may not take the time to seek either simple and accessible information or the subtle nuances within the cultural terrain of ancient traditions. Certainly, scripture study is very personal and one’s own insights into the deeper meanings of the words can enrich. But, as American Mormons, we can have an arrogant sense of proprietary entitlement to interpretation, and so we manage to wrestle/jerimander into conformance a given phrase or reference, as we happily take it out of context. At least many of us do that. We Americans are proficient at this practice, and it extends even to how we reduce other faiths, countries and cultures and their beliefs to a simple dismissal that they “don’t have all the truth”. Smug comments that dismiss a complex set of religious beliefs are unworthy of our own Christ-centered devotion and doesn’t contribute to a healthy and enriching discussion. We don’t have all of the truth, either. Okay, I’ll step off the soapbox now. Sorry. I wandered off the map. Where is that compass? I’m sure it is here somehwere. Can you say “pet peeve”?Thanks for your insight.

    • Matthew said

      Ben, I completely agree with your points.

      I think you and I are probably worrying about different problems. I am concerned about cases where people fit the scriptures to a belief system in a way that seems to me to push beyond the point of breaking. For those people, the original language and the original culture are just more fodder for coming up with an interpretation that they think is better because it aligns with other things they believe. Then, the fact that they sound academic in the process because they use a Greek or Hebrew word is a bonus.

      I think Matt 22:23-32 is a good example. Why does it really matter that the original Greek word means to get married vs to be married? Does it change the interplay between the response and the question to avoid the conflict with my own beliefs in eternal marriage? I don’t see it. And in this case, I think for most English readers a careful reading of a decent English translation is more likely to help them understand what the scripture is saying than trying to follow someone else’s explanation of what the Greek means which has been tailored so it falls in line with what we believe.

      To tame my comments a bit…
      I think people SHOULD try to fit the meaning of the scriptures to be consistent with other beliefs. That is what it means to apply the principle of charity when reading scriptures. But I’m less certain in how you draw the line though between applying the principle of charity vs applying the principle of wishful thinking. I don’t accept that this distinction is just subjective, but I really struggled with how to articulate any reasonable principles in responding to the comments on my post about Abraham 3:22-23 ( http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2012/09/29/an-open-letter-to-all-noble-and-great-ones ).

      Also, to be sure, there are a lot of scriptures that we will better understand once we understand the cultural and historical context. I hope nothing I am saying suggests otherwise.

  3. Bonnie said

    I’ve learned a great deal more when the interpretation is not intuitive, when it grates like a piece of sand and I have to turn it over and over. Isn’t it the purpose of life to strain to understand? My hero is Mary, the mother of the Savior, who (according to Luke) “kept these things and pondered them in her heart.” The older I get the more tolerant I am with ambiguity. I like your a, b, and c.

  4. There are also three Biblical scriptures that teach a doctrine of polyandry: Matt. 22:24-30; Mark 12:20-25; and Luke 20:28-36. In these verses we learn that the Sadducees once approached Jesus with a scenario in which a woman marries a man, who then dies, and so she marries his brother, who then dies, and so on until seven brothers are dead and then she dies. This is all according to law of Moses protocol. So, then the Sadducees ask Jesus who her husband will be in the resurrection. His answer to them was that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage.”

    The meaning of these scriptures is the following: Jesus had previously taught the Pharisees about divorce (in Matt. 19:6 and in Mark 10:8-9) saying, “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Whatever God does, He does forever. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees regarding Moses’ allowance of divorce was that “from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8.) The Mosaic idea of dissolving a marriage is a made-for-man law of expediency because they could not live the best law of no divorce. Ideally, man would never allow divorce and never should have said in their ceremonies “until death do you part” because that is a dissolving of holy matrimony that God never said nor ever intended. So the answer to the Sadducees question of which husband would be hers was: all of them. It is the obvious answer which they didn’t even need to ask, but their hearts were so hardened that they could not even think of it.

    Quoted from the Adult, Consensual Polyandry Is Never Condemned in the Scriptures section of the as yet unpublished book, The Gospel-based, Egalitarian, Multihusband-Multiwife, Tribal Anarchy Model

  5. John C. said

    Matthew,
    Is this in response to my particular wrenching? I think the passage from Abraham reflects a period (that arguably lasted into the early 80′s) when considerations of lineage, bloodlines, and tribal affinity were incredibly important aspects of self-understanding and where understanding oneself as part of the chosen tribe was a very effective tool for helping people modify behavior. However, I think that recent advances in DNA have shown (for better or worse) that notions of bloodlines and lineage aren’t scientifically demonstrable and, at some point, we’re all related to everybody (and therefore to nobody). Clinging to notions of chosen-ness based on lineage has fallen out of favor; instead we make claims about chosen-ness based on behaviors (this is why there is much less talk of Jack Mormons anymore). Unfortunately, those tend to be circular (Calvinist) arguments. Is he faithful? Then he’s chosen. Has she stopped wearing her garments? Then she isn’t. But she’s started again. Then she was all along.

    So, while I think that the Abraham passage probably originally was meant to make readers feel pre-ordained to greatness by means of their lineage (or their fate), I think it works against Gospel principles in the current cultural context (for the reasons you stated in the earlier post). As a result, I’m fairly dismissive of its message at present (at least as dismissive as I am of Paul’s advice regarding hairstyles and Jesus’s regarding castration). This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t grapple with hard scripture; of course we should. I was definitely more forceful in my online dismissal than I am in real life. Then again, I had a whole big blog argument about this once and the conclusion we came to was the same as in the other thread: Perhaps it is true that the noble and great ones are some subset of the people on earth, but if that is true knowledge, it isn’t useful knowledge. That’s where I sit right now.

    “If we didn’t feel obliged to show that every scripture is consistent with our beliefs, I wonder if we would end up being better readers.”

    Definitely. Which, again, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t struggle when we encounter beliefs we don’t believe. It means that we should learn to live with the struggle.

    • Steve Lawrance said

      Could ‘noble and great ones’ refer to dispensation heads only?

    • Matthew said

      My post is not a response to your comments in particular. My post is a response to the fact that I feel unsure when I should use the principle of charity to help interpret scripture in a way that makes them less distasteful (in the rare circumstances where they otherwise would seem to be) and when I should just say “i don’t dispute it says that but I am ignoring that / putting it on the shelf or maybe even rejecting that.”

      Agree with your comments. Thanks for them!

  6. joespencer said

    Perhaps honest reading is less a matter of being honest enough to get the right reading than a matter of being honest enough to seek a variety of possible interpretations to chew on….

    • Matthew said

      Joe, I totally agree that there isn’t a single “right” interpretation. But I am concerned when additional readings to chew on seem to be a substitute for recognizing an obvious and distasteful reading. Do you think I should be concerned about that?

      • joespencer said

        I think I’d say, “Only mildly.” A good example: “by grace we are saved after all we can do.” There’s an obvious and distasteful reading of that, no? But serious work on that text reveals that what seems so obvious may actually not be so obvious. Work on the text doesn’t so much reveal that there are violent ways the text can be forced to say something else, but that the apparently-so-obvious reading might itself be a violent way of reading the text that has become obvious by dint of repetition.

        Of course, the risk of honest work on scripture is that we might come to see that the best interpretation is the one we’re hoping to dodge—that nothing of our work reveals the obvious reading to be anything other than obvious. At that point, we have—I think—to begin to see how the best reading, which goes against our own theological inclinations, might instruct us profitably.

      • Matthew said

        You make a good point that what is an obvious reading often is one that has been repeated over and over. I am very curious to hear a case though where you think the mild concern I should have should manifest itself.

        I am particularly interested because I suspect, but am not sure, that you and I disagree here. And, I think you are, honestly, a much more insightful reader of scripture than I am. So I should be learning from you but I haven’t figured out yet what is wrong with my thinking. Maybe if I understood where you actually agree that there should be concern, it will be easier for me to understand when it isn’t applicable.

      • joespencer said

        Good question. I guess I’m saying that mild concern should be with us in any case where there appears to be an obvious but distasteful reading we’re trying to work around. And I guess I’m saying also that strong concern shouldn’t ever be with us, even when there appears to be an obvious but distasteful reading we’re trying to work around.

        Put another way, I think we should have mild concern until we’ve fully revealed that the supposedly obvious (and, of course, distasteful) reading has revealed itself to be unobvious. With 2 Nephi 25:23, I literally spent years revisiting the text to provide alternate readings, always mildly concerned that my many readings were just refusals to give in to the obvious, incontrovertible meaning of the text. But at one point, I saw with stark clarity how completely unobvious the standard interpretation is, and since then I’ve had no concern as I explore its meaning. It has now become just a text to be investigated, not a text that I want to read otherwise.

        The mild concern we should have, then, is an indicator of our honesty in dealing with the text. We’re exploring other possibilities, but until one of them becomes more obvious than the supposedly obvious, we would do well to express some concern that we’re really just kicking against the pricks—even as we express concern about the apparently obvious meaning of the text.

        So, to take the example from your other post, I think you’re right to be concerned about what seems to be the obvious interpretation of the text. My own suggestions for directions to go—what do “noble,” “great,” “rulers,” “good,” etc., mean—aren’t expressed in unflinching confidence that the apparently obvious interpretation is simply wrong. They’re expressed in the hope that, if serious work is undertaken, the supposed obviousness of the interpretation will crumble. Until it definitively does that for me, all of my experimentation on the word will be undertaken with a bit of a worry, a concern I refuse to let go, that I’m trying to twist the scriptures to say what I want them to say. At the same time, I can’t just let the going interpretation reign, because I’m equally justifiably worried that the going interpretation is just the product of someone else’s twisting of the scriptures for other non-scriptural purposes.

        I can neither accept the apparently obvious interpretation, nor can I simply be done with it. If I simply give in, I’m not really a member of the interpretive community of the Church, and if I simply ignore the pull of community-produced interpretations, then again I’m not really a member of the interpretive community of the Church. That I’m bothered by a reading, and that I’m equally bothered by the worry that I’m only bothered because I selfishly want God to say only what I already agree with—that’s the symptom of serious engagement with a scriptural text that binds a community.

        Or so, at any rate, it seems to me.

      • Matthew said

        Joe, I appreciate what you have said. I mostly agree. and it allows me to tease out where I may not agree.

        For me there are cases where I want to have the impact that comes with saying “I disagree with that.” In saying that, I don’t want to leave what you call the interpretive community of the Church. On the contrary, it is only within that community of those who (like myself) accept that the scriptures are the word of God, that the punch exists.

        Take the example in this post. I believe marriage exists in the next life, while fully admitting that Matt 22:23 implies it doesn’t.

        Would it be better instead for me to take a less forceful approach and say “I’m not sure exactly what Matt 22:23 means but I’m going to continue to study it out”? Absolutely not. That less forceful approach suggests that maybe my belief in eternal marriage depends on how to interpret Matt 22:23. It doesn’t. And since it doesn’t I want people to know that.

      • joespencer said

        Matthew, I think I’m figuring out what you’re after. Your point is a little different from what I thought it was, but I like it. In the end, the Matthew 22 example is quite different from the Abraham 3 example, no? In the latter case, it’s a matter of saying: well, the scripture seems pretty obviously to say X, and Latter-day Saints generally believe X, but I don’t—so now what do I do? In the former case, though, it’s a matter of saying: well, the scripture seems pretty obviously to say X, while Latter-day Saints generally believe not-X, and I’m with them on this point—so now what do I do? I think it’s the nuance of this difference that I was missing. All my comments so far have been in response to the Abraham 3 sort, but I’m just realizing what you’ve been saying about the Matthew 22 sort.

        So, all I’ve said still holds for me when it comes to texts where there appears to be an obvious interpretation and it’s at odds with what I uniquely believe. But what are we to do when it comes to texts where the going interpretation does some obvious violence to the text and it seems obvious that it’s done in order to reconcile a scriptural text with our doctrine, with which I have no problem? That’s the question, yes?

        I too like the punch that comes with saying “I disagree with that.” In fact, two punches, associated with two disagreements: I disagree with the going interpretation, which does violence to the text; and I disagree with the rightly-interpreted text, which parts ways with the truths of the restoration. Once we’ve come to that point, what do we do?

        My own modus operandi has been to take the scriptural point, with which I disagree, as a gadfly of a sort, something to keep me from settling into my understanding of the doctrinal point it contradicts. (Have we understood marriage in the afterlife correctly? How might this bald statement make us rethink eternal marriage, even as we don’t give it up?) I tend to assume that there’s a possible Hegel-like synthesis to be worked out. (Take Paul’s advice against marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, for instance. First, it’s necessary to recognize that his statements are contextualized by a complex notion of Messianism and what it means to live in “the time of the now” or “the time that remains.” Then it’s necessary to see what he actually says about being married—this whole “as if not” business that needs a good deal of theological reflection. But ultimately one can play around with the possibility of taking Paul to be saying something like: “Don’t get married, get sealed!”) But where no synthesis is forthcoming, I continue in the tension between the doctrine I believe and the text to which I’m bound, and I think that’s an important tension.

        Or so it’s coming to seem to me. :)

      • Matthew said

        Joe, Thanks for your comments. As I keep saying I agree with absolutely everything you are saying … except ….

        In this case I disagree with:

        1) I don’t feel “bound” by the scriptures. Generally yes, but not so specifically to each passage. Whether “bound” perfectly describes how you feel I think there is a difference in our views and I wonder if at bottom that difference partly accounts for why you are a better, more diligent and patient reader. But, even knowing that, the logic doesn’t work for me in reverse…i.e. I can’t bind myself as a means to becoming a better reader.

        2) Though I agree with what you say about Matthew 22 vs Abraham 3, I haven’t caught the significance of the difference you point to. Is they key in the fact that there are two disagreements vs one? or is they key in whether my view is in the majority or minority? When I read what you say about Matthew 22 I think “yes, yes” but then am not sure why the same thinking doesn’t apply for me to Abraham 3. (Except of course Robert may have convinced me I’m totally wrong in what I make of Abraham 3–but suppose he hadn’t yet done that.)

        PS I totally appreciate your responses so far on a topic I think you aren’t particularly interested in. So if at some point you tire of responding to me, I understand and still appreciate your engagement to date.

      • joespencer said

        The essential aspect of the difference, I think, is the position each has to the larger interpreting community. In the one case, the community adheres to the idea set forth according to the text’s most obvious meaning, but I don’t. In the other case, I again don’t adhere to the idea set forth according to the text’s most obvious meaning, but neither does the community. (Note that it’s unimportant in either case whether the community recognizes the text’s most obvious meaning—at least for what I’m spelling out here.) This difference also entails, as you say, that in the one case I disagree only with the text (but not with the community) while in the other I disagree with both the text and the community (“two disagreements vs. one”). And it further entails that in the one case my view is in the majority while in the other it’s in the minority. But these are just implications, not the key to the difference. What’s crucial to me about the difference is where I’m positioned vis-a-vis the community: Do I dissent from scripture along with them, or do I dissent from scripture without them?

        The difference is important/interesting to me because it determines the significance of my dissent—with which, given my irreparable sense that I’m bound to scripture (more on that in a moment), I feel I ought to be nervous. In the one case, to be nervous about my dissent is to be nervous about the whole community’s dissent. In the other, it’s to be nervous about my particular dissent from the community. In the one case, my nervousness positions me as a voice in the wilderness, calling for repentance in a certain way through my hermeneutical work. In the other, it positions me as a prodigal son, trying to make sense, through hermeneutical work, of how I’ve landed myself in such an awkward and desperate situation.

        But this difference only has any purchase if I feel bound to the scriptures, bound without exception. And that, you say, is where we ultimately differ here. I don’t doubt it. But I’ll say something about why I fell bound. For me, it’s (also) a question of community. There are few things that bind the community of the Saints together, and it’s only things that bind the community of the Saints together that can be used to leverage the community to build Zion—which I unabashedly take as the point of all we’re doing in the Restoration. We are, of course, bound by a set of rituals, etc., but the most interesting and detailed of these I can’t really talk about in settings where my aim is to help produce community among the Saints. We’re also, naturally, bound by the existence of a priesthood hierarchical structure, but the history of our own magisterium is too complicated to employ, generally speaking, since it usually just sets in motion the game of “my general authority can beat up your general authority.” To a lesser extent, but not unsignificantly, we’re also bound by a culture, perhaps even an ethnic heritage, but this has been profoundly transformed too many times over the short history of the Church for it to be reliable, it is profoundly changing as we speak, and it has too little purchase on the relatively new-to-the-Church to be of much worth. So what universally binds us and can be used in more or less any LDS setting, if we’re to get the Saints moving? The scriptures, to which we’ve all bound ourselves in a certain regard. They’re the going currency in Mormonism.

        So I use them. And part of using them effectively, it seems to me, is demonstrating one’s unflinching willingness to embrace whatever they say. Now, “whatever they say” is complicated, because they contradict themselves, they complicate themselves, they even call themselves into question, but all this twists and turns are part of what has to be embraced in employing them—always with hedges, always with care, always with “wonderings” and “ponderings” rather than with confidence. People have to get a sense that you’re willing to trust the scriptures to the end, but that you recognize profoundly that we’ve barely scratched their surface, as well as that you recognize profoundly that their meanings are anything but fixed.

        That’s what I’m after. The scriptures are, in the end, a certain means to an end, but they’re the means, I think, that God has Himself ordained for the purpose. I could, of course, be wrong about that. I’m happy to be. But for the moment, the scriptures have served as the surest tool for gathering the Saints in my experience.

  7. Carolyn said

    Here is a poem I came across yesterday that I think is apropos to this discussion. It is by Ursula Le Guin.

    Science

    What little we have ever understood
    is like an offering we make beside the sea.
    It is pure worship when pursued
    as its own end, to find out. Mystery,
    the undiminishable silent flood,
    stretches on out from where we pray
    round the clear altar flame. The god
    accepts the sacrifice and turns away.

  8. Robert C. said

    Fascinating discussion. I’m just commenting so I can click the “notify me of follow-up comments” check box. But I’ll say something a bit more substantive on the other thread….

  9. Robert C. said

    I can’t resist saying something quickly in response to Joe’s most recent comment on the role of scripture in community (#6).

    My own view would focus a bit more on the role of scripture as a kind of convenient site to work through differences — differences that might by conceived as, ultimately, differences in values — in a way that avoids the kind of contention that is so common in discussions about values.

    So, even if we don’t feel bound to scripture in the sense that Matthew is saying he doesn’t feel bound, my own appropriation of Joe’s comment would be that the scriptures nevertheless give us a medium through which we can explore and discuss our differing and always developing understanding of more fundamental values.

    But this is just to say that scriptural interpretation depends on something other than a straightforward meaning (i.e., other values, views, norms, perspectives, beliefs, opinions — whatever you want to call them, I just like the term “values” right now…). And, if I want to engage other Mormons, or discuss particular issues or values from a Mormon perspective, Mormon scripture is a particularly useful resource(/means) to do so — for all the reasons Joe mentioned….

  10. Matthew said

    Joe and Robert, I’m having so much fun with this whole discussion. I hope you are too. Thanks for your insightful comments. I think this will be my last comment on this post because I feel after this that I’ll having nothing left to say except to repeat myself.

    First off I completely agree that the scriptures are useful in engaging the community. Weakening the commitment to the scriptures in the particulars weakens that community fabric. That’s a real danger. So in that sense I pretty much agree with everything you say. Nevertheless, I believe that in some cases a strong commitment to the scriptures can also be destructive to the community. So I want to get this out there as an additional principle to balance against the commitment to the scripture you both argue for so well (though I realize your positions are not the same).

    Here’s why I think that in some cases a strong commitment to the scriptures can be destructive to the community.

    We would all hate to see someone leave the church because of something Brigham Young did or said. If a person is confronted by whatever it is and feels that they either have to explain the thing away (i.e. Brigham Young didn’t really do that or that isn’t really what Brigham Young meant) or reject the Church, and that person is unconvinced by attempts to explain it away, they may feel the need to leave the Church. Further, the more forced an interpretation is to explain something away by members of the church, the more it stands as a testimony to reinforce the dangerous belief that the only other alternative is to reject the Church.

    Of course, most members are at the point where they realize that a better alternative is simply to chalk some things up to the failings of good people, even prophets. And this is a good thing I believe. And for the reasons I stated, I believe that view is community preserving. And by community preserving we shouldn’t consider only the person who is able to stay in the Church that otherwise would leave, we also need to think of the person who suffers (literally) under the burden they feel when they feel compelled to explain away something they cannot explain away. Relieving that burden, they need not bear, is good for the community.

    We have extremely high expectations for prophets and our expectations for scripture are higher still. But just as allowing for the fallibility of prophets is community preserving, so is allowing for the fallibility of scripture. Let’s take the issue that I consider no longer threatening to much anyone to show the point: evolution. Supposing we imagine a time when believing in evolution was very much a minority position within the Church. Further assume that many who held that view honestly worked at trying to figure out how evolution was compatible with Genesis 1 but that they lacked the tools to pull it off in any decent way. So they got stuck down rabbit holes like trying to equate a day in Genesis 1 to a certain number of years or something else equally fruitless. To me it seems that opening up the possibility that Genesis 1 is just wrong about how the creation happened may lift a real burden off their shoulders. And I say that, even as someone who holds that Genesis 1 is very important and has a lot to say about God, the world, us and the relationship between these. Still I would rather someone who can’t figure out how to get there, reject Genesis 1 than reject the Church or live in the Church but bear a burden they need not bear. Of course, in doing so, there are a bunch of insight that they miss out on, but as long as they were stuck on reconciling it with evolution they likely weren’t going to see those. And if later in their life they are convinced of a better way to read Genesis 1 which allows them to see the insights and not get wrapped up in concerns about evolution, then great. Nothing prevents them from readmitting Genesis 1 at that point to their beliefs.

    Would you agree that this escape hatch is even more important to those who hold minority positions within the Church than it is to those who hold positions in the majority, for it is the ones in the minority position who feel like they are the prodigal son in an awkward and desperate situation.

    • joespencer said

      Matthew,

      I agree with everything you say here. I’d only want to nuance it, and in two ways:

      (1) My hope would be that the person who thus rejects Genesis 1 nonetheless feels a certain—perhaps minimal—concern about doing so, because I think that concern can be productive. I’d rather the person reject Genesis 1 and stay associated with the community, yes, but I would hope that further experience with the community would help the person to see other ways to read that text (ways that will only catch the person’s attention because concern, however minimal, remains). Hence, the rejection would only be a step along the way toward a fuller engagement with the text.

      (2) Nothing I’ve said is meant to suggest that all scripture is right, only that whatever scripture is wrong is wrong because the scriptures are right. One can reject Genesis 1 in the name of Nephi’s vision and all it says about the corruption of the Bible. I’d hope such a view could be nuanced and enriched later, but that’s a faithful way to reject a text. Similarly, one could reject the slaying of Laban in the name of what Christ has to say in the New Testament. That too is a faithful way to reject a text, though I think a better reading than that is available.

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