Adventures with the Bible Dictionary

Stephen Marsh Mormon 20 Comments

The LDS Bible Dictionary has its roots in a “freebie” from the publisher.  Many of the entries are almost as old as the LDS Church.  While the “new” scriptures updated the dictionary so that the doctrine is closer to ours, it is still filled with survivors.

For example, Baal rides the heavens, has two hammers (thunder and lightening), is vanquished by drought, has the god of irrigation as the pretender to his throne and brings the rain.  He is a classic indo-european storm-god.  And the Bible Dictionary says …

That he is a sun-god.  That entry comes form when Egyptologists dominated the field of religious studies — in the 1800s.  It could use some updating (the same people insisted that Zeus, Jupiter, Woden and the Germanic Thor were sun gods too, by the way).  After all Elijah’s sealing the heavens against rain is a meaningless claim vs. a sun god.  A high place and calling fire (lightning) from heaven is not a challenge that a sun god would answer.  It cuts to the core of Ball vs. Jehovah.

Ask yourself, what other entries in the dictionary need to be updated for the dictionary to really connect?  A better entry on  HuldahZipporah?  Expanding to cover the full set of scriptures so we have an entry for Emma Smith and one for Oliver Cowdrey?  What do you think we need to add or correct?

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Comments 20

  1. I wouldn’t mind seeing the disconnect between always referencing persons in the BD instead of the TG, but then not including a complete list of references to them in the scriptures. Google, yes, I know, but that’s a little hard during Sunday School. It seems sometimes to function as a glossary, but it leaves out gems like chapiter and adamant–some consistency there might be good, too.

  2. The central theme of the New Testament is the salvation of man through Jesus Christ the Redeemer of the world. Yet the LDS Bible Dictionary contains no entry for the words “save”, “saved”, “salvation”, or even “exaltation”. The LDS Bible Dictionary does contain an entry for “resurrection”, but there is no mention in the definition of the word pertaining to the idea that the LDS believe that when the Bible talks about being “saved” it really means “resurrection” and the rest of the Christian world has a false understanding of this concept. (At least this is what was taught in my High Priest Group’s priesthood lesson this past Sunday.)

    Would anyone like to take a stab at why McConkie and his minions neglected to include “save”, “saved”, and “salvation” in the LDS Bible Dictionary when these words and themes are so prevalent in the New Testament?

  3. #2 Probably based on our century-long stance of trying to distance ourselves from the “saved by grace, and only grace” crowd in protestantism. IMO the pendulum is swinging the other way now. It hasn’t been traveling that way for long, so we still have a lot of recent artifacts from that era of saved by works, after all we can do.

  4. Stu, that’s a great question. I do know that they cut two thirds of the footnotes from the LDS Bible when they did the revision. Seems that the editors felt that there was a limit to how many footnotes and extra material they should have.

    On the dictionary, the focus was on clean-up rather than on expansion or revision. That is, on cleaning up entries that were far afield from LDS doctrine rather than turning it into a guide to LDS theology.

    On the other hand, the way that salvation is used, in context, isn’t as clear. Much like the way Spirit and Soul are used. Sure, when the scripture says “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” that fits cleanly. But the way we use a term is not always the way that Tindal (and those who followed him) used it or translated it (or it was in the texts they worked from). I think an entry on that point would have created some conflict, though it also would be great for clarification.

    It would make an excellent entry now. As would combining the topical guide and the dictionary into a single volume.

    Salvation: currently used to describe the universal resurrection from the dead, the term means “the state of being saved or preserved from harm” and a savior is the one who saves or preserves one from harm. The term is applied at different times to physical salvation (being saved from enemies or threats), to political salvation (Israel freed from external dominion), to eternal salvation (being saved from death through resurrection) and to spiritual salvation (being saved from sin). Contrast with exaltation, which means to become like Christ and a joint-heir of God.

    Topical Guide entries:

    Salvation: physical

    Salvation: eternal

    Salvation: sin

    Salvation: other

    ——————————————————————
    Such entries require a little less black and white thinking than can sometimes afflict editors.

  5. From the Topical Guide:

    1) Salvation (See also Baptism, Essential; Deliverance; Jesus Christ, Atonement through; Jesus Christ, Mission of; Jesus Christ, Redeemer; Jesus Christ, Savior; Redemption; Repentance; Save)

    2) Save (See also Deliver; Redeem)

    Stu, I don’t blame anyone for not having “save” or “salvation” in the Bible Dictionary. I certainly wouldn’t want to write those entries. It simply is WAY too complex. Having hundreds of verses (perhaps over 1,000) referenced in the categories above in the Topical Guide seems to address any charge of not teaching salvation or running away from it. It’s just next to impossible to address adequately in a Bible Dictionary; after all, there have been multitudinous and voluminous tomes written on the very narrow “definition of salvation”. Trying to summarize that in a single, concise dictionary definition? No thanks.

  6. Valoel said: “…we still have a lot of recent artifacts from that era of saved by works, after all we can do.”

    Generally speaking, The members of the LDS church don’t understand what JS and SR were trying to communicate when they wrote 1 Ne 25:23. You have to do some diligent study and searching to find the true meaning of “all we can do”. The definition of “all we can do” (repentence) is found in Alma 24:10-12. Unfortunately, many members and general authorities think that you can put God in your debt and work your way into Heaven. Paul would disagree (Romans 4:4-5).

    While I agree with you that some general authorities say some things that make the LDS church appear as if it is more inline with mainstream Christianity, they still hold on to things that are VERY mormon and very much from the mind of JS (or borrowed from other men) and not from a divine source. The LDS church is a long way from correcting the philosophies of JS and his cohorts.

  7. To Stephen M (Ethesis): Salvation physical vs. spiritual is interesting. Let’s look at it in terms of what my HPG instructor was trying to teach on Sunday. He read two quotes which talked about the telestial kingdom having many degrees. Each quote said that those who are in the telestial kingdom are “saved” or have “salvation”. When aske what “saved” meant in this context, the instructor explained that this meant they were saved in the sense that they were resurrected. To this forum, I cry, “Foul” since an assignment to degrees of glory comes after the resurrection. Resurrection is universal. Even those who are cast into outer darkness are also resurrected. So I don’t buy this physical vs. spiritual savaltion jive. If those who are in the telestial kingdom are “saved”, what are they saved from? Outer darkness? They certainly aren’t going to live with God.

  8. “If those who are in the telestial kingdom are “saved”, what are they saved from? Outer darkness? They certainly aren’t going to live with God.”

    Sure, they are – if you define “God” as including the Holy Ghost. Such a construct is perfectly compatible with Mormon theology. That discussion, however, is moving away from the point of the post, as you are well aware, so I’ll leave it at:

    “Salvation” is used to mean multiple things in Mormonism; hence, the near impossibility of defining it succinctly in a Bible Dictionary.

  9. Ray said: “‘Salvation’ is used to mean multiple things in Mormonism…”

    So what salvation mean in “reality”?

  10. I’d like to see more entries on the tribes of Israel that are not Judah or Joseph/Ephraim. There is very little to go on regarding the roles and spiritual placement of other tribes.

    I’d also like to see more elaboration on women in the Bible. Some non-Biblical historical exposition would be nice, though I can see why it isn’t there, based on how many believe the Dictionary is hard doctrine.

  11. “Google, yes, I know, but that’s a little hard during Sunday School.” When I was teaching on Sunday, one of the class members read the assigned scripture from her blackberry. Love that!

    Missionary Stu – I take it you do not consider JS a prophet and that you prefer the protestant view of “salvation” to the Mormon one? (Just a clarifying question) Also, when you ask what does salvation mean in “reality” I’m forced to ask if you are kidding. This is a discussion of theology. “Reality” isn’t really on the table here, just perceptions of reality and opinions based on faith and/or belief systems.

    What I wish were in the BD is more information about restoration figures. I know it’s in the Church Almanac (as well as many other sources), but it would sure make it easier when you read through the D&C to know who some of these people were.

  12. As to why entries like Save or Salvation are not dealt with in the BD, well, it would be a lot of “on the other hand stuff just as well served by the TG. After all, it’s a *Bible* Dictionary, not Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

    Stu: What is hard with 1 Ne 25:23? Giving our best effort to “qualify” for grace means that we are not saved by our works, but not completely without either, which is consistent with all of New Testament except a couple statements from Paul that can be taken out of context and interpreted to mean “grace only”. Even those don’t give credence to the popular Protestant idea that we can not do *anything* for ourselves – even faith is a gift from God in that we have no say in whether or not we believe (yes, these are things that my Lutheran friends have told me repeatedly).

    I personally am glad that the Church holds on to inspired teachings of the Prophet. And I have always thought that “salvation” actually has become to mean being redeemed from original sin (Moses text refers to that as early as 1830, although “salvation” has since been used ambiguously).

  13. All i know is that most of the time I go to the Bible dictionary, what I looking for IS NOT there. Not sure where it all really came from, but it does not appear that much work was done on it as say, the topical guide was by Eldin Ricks. We could use a revision to it big time.

  14. All i know is that most of the time I go to the Bible dictionary, what I looking for IS NOT there — or inaccurate.

    As I said Jeff, we got it as a freebie from the publisher who has/had the license on the King James version, back when they had the Missionary Edition of the Bible (the one with historic excerpts on things like the meaning of the word baptism and such). The rewrite was focused on getting the non-LDS doctrine out of it, but it could use another revision.

    I’m all for another major revision of the scriptures. Only wish I had gotten in on the printing where they printed them standard size on the large edition paper — huge margins. I also wish that they had retained some of the direct footnotes in the Bible (e.g. in the New Testament, when they refer to a specific prophecy, the old edition had the cite, the new one tends to just show a link to the entry instead).

    I’d always hoped for a FARMS edition of the scriptures.

  15. There was an article in the BYU alumni magazine a few years back that was an interview with Daniel Ludlow (I think). Google is not doing me any favors right now, despite my best efforts at crafting a decent query to track that down. The interviewer encountered Bro. Ludlow reading the Bible Dictionary, reminding himself of “all of the stuff I used to know”. My understanding from that article was that the BD was composed under his leadership.

    I enjoy reading the BD and often go to other sources, where I find other viewpoints. I have been distracted from reading the scriptures to reading the BD on many occasions.

  16. Stephen M

    A friend of mine asked me asked me recently why didn’t the preceding prophets continue the work of Joseph Smith as he was attempting to rectify the bibles mistakes.

    Wouldn’t this work have also been part of the dictionary as well!

  17. Well, the Bibles used not to have dictionaries at all. Then the publisher made one available as a freebie, so to speak. Now they have been following up on it, but in slow cycles.

    Kind of like how the Bible did not start out with verses and chapters and chapter headings.

    It is all a work in progress.

    James, btw the preceding prophets are those who came before Joseph Smith. The succeeding prophets would be those coming after him. But until recently, they didn’t have a dictionary to consider, and then, the rewrite was focused on doctrinal errors rather than the rest. It is due for another round of rewrites and such, and probably has one in progress.

    But a new cycle of scriptures would be a major undertaking and a major expense. You have to balance that with what little problem is caused by the errors and the omissions. Just treat the dictionary as a volume of the Apocrypha and you are probably in the right frame of mind.

  18. “what other entries in the dictionary need to be updated for the dictionary to really connect? ”

    I’d like to see more people be aware of and follow the directive given in the heading to the dictionary itself-

    “It is not intended as an official or revealed endorsement by the Church of the doctrinal, historical, cultural, and other matters set forth. Many of the items have been drawn from the best available scholarship of the world and are subject to reevaluation based on new research and discoveries or on new revelation. The topics have been carefully selected and are treated briefly. If an elaborate discussion is desired, the student should ***consult a more exhaustive dictionary.”***

    I’d like to see a quad with no footnotes at all, no topical guide, BD, etc.

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