Brother Jensen thinks the story of Jonah spending three days in a whale’s belly is not literally true, but is a beautiful metaphor of Christ’s death and resurrection. Brother Christiansen, on the other hand, insists the story is literally true, and thinks Brother Jensen is going to hell for thinking otherwise.
Brother Smith believes the Garden of Eden story teaches true spiritual principles, but is not historically accurate. Brother Young, on the other hand, insists Mormons must believe the Bible’s stories are true both historically and spiritually.
For quite some time I’ve been trying to figure out whether the Church has an “official position” on how we are to interpret the Bible (e.g., literally or not, historically accurate or not). And I’ve been completely unable to find any such statement from the Church. Until now . . .
Today, the LDS Newsroom on the Church’s website published an article entitled: “Reverence for the Bible,” which addresses the question of how Mormons view and interpret the Bible. Here is the passage that caught my attention:
“There is a broad range of approaches within the vast mosaic of biblical interpretation. For example, biblical inerrancy maintains that the Bible is without error and contradiction; biblical infallibility holds that the Bible is free from errors regarding faith and practice but not necessarily science or history; biblical literalism requires a literal interpretation of events and teachings in the Bible and generally discounts allegory and metaphor; and the “Bible as literature” educational approach extols the literary qualities of the Bible but disregards its miraculous elements.
“The Church does not strictly subscribe to any of these interpretive approaches. Rather, in the words of Joseph Smith, it regards the Bible to be the word of God, ‘as far as it is translated correctly’ (8th Article of Faith).” (Italics added.)
To me, this statement is significant because it acknowledges an interpretive flexibility within Mormonism that I haven’t seen the Church publicly acknowledge before now. (Please correct me on that if you know otherwise.) This statement about Mormonism’s flexible interpretation of the Bible also raises an interesting question: Does this same flexibility apply to our interpretation of the Book of Mormon? Or are we required to take a more literalist approach to the Book of Mormon because we don’t qualify our belief in that book of scripture with the words “as far as it is translated correctly”?