Obviously, the scriptures are:
- The inviolate unchanging word of God, replacing him for us at this time.
- Any inspired writing or sermon that is useful or interesting.
- A Rorschach inkblot.
- A collected miscellany of myths and historical documents.
- A Urim and Thummim
Or something like that. Or are they?
1. The first view of scripture, called Biblidolatry by those who are critical of it, treats the scriptures as the inerrant word. Which scriptures, which translation, which conflicts count, all of those issues are swept aside with the claim that God spoke, it is written, and the scriptures are all we need. Versions of this approach have lead to the claim that the heavens are closed — all we need we have and it is all we will get until Christ comes again.
One of the foundations of our faith is the rejection of this view and a rejection of a closed canon.
2. The alternative to number one is Paul’s 2 Timothy 3:15 “And that from a child thou has known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The word Paul used means inspirational or religious writings. Early Christian libraries, in reliance on Paul, included Plato and other writings (remember that all the early “Bibles” are/were the collections of sacred writings that Christian Communities had, typical archeology will find Plato, Shepard of Hermes, The Pearl and other texts as the mainstays of early Christian “Bibles”).
In many ways our theology embraces the “every word that proceedeth” approach. D&C 68:4 “whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture …” summarizes this nicely — and it is talking about missionaries. Every sacrament talk, every missionary lesson, every family prayer has the potential to be scripture of this type.
3. At the same time, scripture often reflects the reader (especially when being ignored or reinterpreted). I remember being assigned to read On Walden Pond. The book struck me as mostly froth. As we discussed it, one guy began an impassioned defense of the philosophy of the book. As I listened I realized that what he was defending was (a) not in the text and (b) his personal philosophy. The book had been an ink blot for him. Scripture can be the same, and often is.
4. Our scriptures are filled with myths and histories. Reading Kings and Chronicles caused me to realize that the histories are not necessarily accurate histories (the two disagree on many details).
Now myths can be true myths (e.g. The Battle of Bunker Hill really did happen, as did The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere — just because they are foundational myth stories doesn’t mean they didn’t happen). They can also be figurative accounts, sometimes purely figurative — or even just myths and stories.
The other end of the spectrum from “the inerrant word of God” is “miscellaneous accretions of myth and history we have by random chance.” A sort of cultural artifact vs. a divine expression.
Our theology acknowledges that our scriptures may contain accretions, but that they are not only accretions. While scripture is a written collection of oral narratives, each specific to a specific time and need, instance and occurrence, we believe that the scriptures are more as well.
5. Which leaves us with the last view of scripture. Scripture is a body of communications from God that can work for us as a key to revelation. A Urim and Thummin by which we can tune ourselves and then find the word of God that he has for us. Which is why the scriptures, rather than being a textbook of expository instruction, are as they are.
It also means that we can ignore them, find in the whatever it is we already think, or patiently learn from them that which we do not know or suppose. It is up to us what we find in the scriptures and what they become for us.