Upon What Rock?

Hawkgrrrl Bible, catholicism, christ, christianity, church, Culture, curiosity, inter-faith, Jesus, LDS, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, ordinances, Priesthood, prophets, religion, salvation, scripture, symbols, thought 33 Comments

There’s a difference in interpretation between how LDS and non-LDS view the statement by Jesus to Peter when he says “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”  While all might agree that there is a play on words between the name “Peter” and “rock,” Catholics consider this scripture as the origin of Papal authority, whereas LDS readers would say that Jesus was referring to “revelation” as the rock upon which He would build His church.  So, just what rock was Jesus talking about?

The original citation is found in Matthew.  Here it is in context:

Matthew 16: 13-20.  When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?  And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.  He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?  And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.  And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.

Why did Jesus say “Thou art Peter” first?  Was it just a play on words, or was he saying that Peter was the rock upon which he would build his church?  Most Christians would say that Peter is the rock (nevermind the fact that the Romans killed Peter and buried him and then built the church on his remains a couple hundred years later when they converted).  An LDS person would revert back to the larger context of the discussion to say that REVELATION was the rock, a very different meaning indeed.  (BRM specifically said this in a 1981 GC talk).  So which is more accurate or plausible?  Or are they both just a little off?

Supporting evidence that “the rock” isn’t Peter:

  • Size matters.  The word for “Peter” was “petros” meaning stone or little rock (pebble?).  The word for “rock” used was “petra” meaning bedrock (Fred Flintstone’s hometown).
  • What kind of rock?  “Rock” was a nickname Jesus gave Peter (kind of like the wrestler?).  His actual name was Simon.  JST states that the name he was given was Cephas which meant “seer stone.”  So, not just some rock you throw at enemies or whores (hey, it’s the Bible!), but a rock you use for translation or revelation.  Is this an accurate translation or wishful thinking on JS’s part?  There is certainly Biblical precedent for rocks being used as translators (Urim & Thummim).  Was that the intention?

I checked, and rocks are used in many symbolic ways throughout the scriptures.  Here’s a laundry list:

  • Rock = place of sacrifice (like an altar).
  • Rock = wellspring (water springs from a rock).
  • Rock = “the Lord” or even someone else’s God is their rock.  Figuratively in the same sense, rock is used to mean one’s “salvation” or “defense” (as poetic equivalents for “Lord”)
  • Rock = a refuge, a hiding place for people (either in a rock or under a rock); also the Savior’s tomb
  • Rock = a place where animals live
  • Rock = objects God throws around to demonstrate his power  (e.g. “rent in twain” at crucifixion)
  • Rock = a good place to build a house
  • Rock = a bad place to plant seeds
  • Rock = doctrine or gospel
  • Rock is molten to make tools or stones that are useful for people.

Almost all of the above can also be symbols that refer back to the Savior, and in fact, that’s another way to interpret the scripture, although not what is usually suggested.  Maybe the rock wasn’t Peter but was in fact the Savior’s mission and atonement.  It’s a little odd for Jesus to refer to himself in the 3rd person (who knows?  maybe he pointed to himself?), but maybe he viewed his mission/atonement as separate from himself in a sense, the way someone might refer to their role or job.  Or perhaps the text is just missing something in translation.

Which do you think is more plausible?  That the rock is Peter or that the rock is revelation or something else entirely?  What is the better rock to build on?  Is the text missing something?  Was it a clever wordplay that actually made it harder to understand (I hate when that happens!)?  Discuss, and rock on!

Comments

comments

Comments 33

  1. Can I add a further possible suggestion that I have stolen from a Christian writer who spoke at the Worlds of Joseph Smith Symposia. He argued, although it seemed no one took him that seriously, that calling Peter the rock was an example of Jesus actually making a joke at Peter’s expense, for according to the scriptural account (this man argued) Peter was anything but solid or reliable. Perhaps all religions have taken this passage of scripture way too seriously.

  2. Re: the JST, there is a great article by Kevin Barney in Dialogue 19(3) doing a side-by-side comparison between the JST and other textual variants. Incidentally, I think we should bury the “Joseph was translating lost manuscripts” theory. Just b/c JOseph believed he was doesn’t mean he was…I tend to think that much of the time, Joseph wasn’t understanding his own capacity for revelation.

    But I digress.

  3. Another digression:

    I read an article (sorry, can’t find a link) that gave some compelling evidence to support the idea that Jesus grew up not at the feet of a carpenter, but a builder of stone. (mistranslations, traditions, etc entrenching the carpenter idea) When one considers the possibility that Jesus was a stonecutter of some sort in his early life it certainly adds some interesting interpretation to all of the stone and rock references scattered throughout the scriptures.

  4. I read “Misquoting Jesus” and that was a real eye-opener. It was by some Biblical scholar who became an atheist because of what he found out while investigating ancient New Testament manuscripts. In short, every translation of the New Testament is riddled with errors, hearsay and opinion by scribes who did the transcription. And the King James version is one of THE WORST. No original manuscripts exist, it’s impossible to know what was in the originals, even if there WERE originals (e.g. they could’ve been dictated and scribes could’ve taken down the transcription, making errors along the way or writing it down the way THEY wanted it to sound; some follower could’ve authored a “gospel” saying it was from so-and-so). Though these were Christ’s chosen apostles, they also had their own opinions and biases (for example, Paul was clearly opposed to women in church or to seeing women’s hair in church). To summarize, take everything you read in the New Testament with a grain of salt. If it sounds whack, remember you’re reading a translation of a transcription of a transcription of a translation of a transcription… like the world’s longest game of “telephone”. If you want some good doctrine, read the Book of Mormon (or D&C). The New Testament is valuable because it’s our only record of Christ’s mortal ministry. But don’t take (most of it) literally. A great deal of it had been mangled and manhandled through the centuries.

  5. First, hawk, I love the subtle humor in this post. It’s the Bible, so, “Rock on!” I shall.

    You said, “Was it a clever wordplay that actually made it harder to understand (I hate when that happens!)?”

    I think so. Jesus’ words in many instances are understood to be layered and nuanced – but I’m not sure how much of that is correct for his time and how much is interpreted for later times. The parables, for example, have come to take on meanings in some cases that never were intended originally, imo.

    I view this as both literal and symbolic. I think Jesus told Peter that he was the pebble (reinforcing the least of these teaching) upon which the bedrock would be founded, but I also believe he told Peter that his testimony, gained through personal revelation, would be the pebble that would roll forward and become the great stone cut out without hands – that personal testimony would be the bedrock of the church Peter would establish.

    I think it’s important to understand that Jesus didn’t create the ancient church; Peter led the other ten (then eleven) apostles in doing that. We believe Jesus directed that process (at the very least, that it was inspired), but it was Peter who led it in practical terms. Thus, the post-resurrection church was founded in a very real way on Peter. In denying the Catholic claim to succession, I think we demean Peter too much.

    That Catholic claim, however, is shaky, at best, and nonsensical, at worst. Jesus’ words don’t hint at an unbroken line of Simons – that somehow a part of him would continue on throughout time. In fact, I don’t see any hint of organizational connotation in that passage, so it’s much easier for me to see the personal statement as indicating the immediate future (building the infant church) and the reference to personal revelation (testimony) as the on-going foundation. In that light, I am a little uncomfortable with the translation of generic “revelation” and prefer the slightly more nuanced “personal revelation” (or “testimony”) for what became the bedrock of the restored kingdom.

    Ironically, that definition could be used by the Catholic Church much more effectively than the personal reference to Peter, but it also could be used by the Protestant reformers, as well. The paradox is intriguing.

  6. #4 – There are at least two commenters here who are going to have a heyday with your comment. 🙂 Since I would say it to them, please try to stay focused on the question of the post itself and not veer off into a threadjack about the translation process and the accuracy of the Bible, although that is a question in the post. Just keep it focused and not a broad, sweeping argument.

  7. The footnote to verse 18 in the LDS version of the Bible is unusual (but not unique) in that it offers a sort of doctrinal mini-statement (I don’t generally like these editorial statements in the scriptures, but that is beside the present point). I read this note to be in line with Hawkgrrrl’s suggestion that the “rock” is Christ. The note suggests that Christ would have said something like, “You are Petros, and upon this Petra I will build my church.” It ends with the observation that Christ is the Stone of Israel. I like this interpretation, and wish that the NT said, “Thou are Peter, BUT upon this rock (Petra), etc.” But, as Frecklefoot points out, we are hardly dealing with a pure source here, so parsing may not add much value.

    It is interesting to note that footnote 18a would have been published about the same time as the BRM’s talk (which suggests a different interpretation) Hawkgrrrl references above.

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    Teach – Fixed it – thx.

    I read the book Lamb: The Gospel of Biff, Childhood Pal of Christ, and the author suggested this alternate reading: “Peter, you’re as dumb as a box of rocks, but . . .”

  9. A few years ago, I was watching a documentary on PBS that said that Peter was not the head of the church, but rather James, brother of Jesus. I find this quite interesting, because we find very little information about James in the Bible. This would seemingly move Peter to an inferior position, not being the rock upon which the church was built….

  10. I have no particular dog (or rock) in this fight. I have no problem with Jesus stating or implying that Peter would head up the Church (epi taute te petra oikodomeso mou ten ekklesian) after He was gone. LDS focus on and interpretation of this passage derives largely from old arguments with Catholics, who saw it as establishing the Papacy — which, in my mind, is even more of a stretch than having “te petra” refer to revelation rather than Peter.

    I do like the idea above that Jesus was poking fun at Peter a bit, though a kinder interpretation may have been that he was trying to build Peter up (after all, he said “su ei Petros” rather than “su ei Simon” or even “su ei Simon Bariona“) in advance of the load that was going to fall upon Peter’s shoulders. On the other hand, it may have been Matthew (or, at least, the author of Matthew) who introduced the wordplay; Jesus may well have said “su ei Simon [Bariona]“, but Matthew thought that “su ei Petros” went better with the subsequent “epi taute te petra…”.

    In short, I think it’s a slender reed to put much weight upon. ..bruce..

  11. Why is it that we assume there was a single meaning?
    Plays on words and puns are by definition ambiguous.

    We should not make the same assumptions that gellies (Evangelicals) make about infallibility. We don’t expect “a single interpretation” that is correct while the rest are incorrect.

    I can fully agree with Joseph Smith that the Church must be based on revelation. I believe that one can state that revelation is a rock.

    I can also agree, to some extent, that Peter was a rock upon which the Church was built. Prophets and apostles are part of the foundation of the gospel.

    Both of these things, are not as important rocks as Christ is. So, I can fully agree with fellow Christians, and hawkgrl, who suggests that Christ is the rock. He’s the main Rock, the Chief Cornerstone. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other rocks in the foundation.

    Often Evangelicals make the mistake of assuming a 1:1 correspondence, accepting an isomorphism, when they should understand multiple levels, nuances, and polymorphisms. Let us not make that mistake.

  12. For whatever this may be worth . . .

    . . . after Peter had confessed Christ to be the son of the living God, Christ told him, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. On this rock,” i. e. on that revelation or spirit of God by which Peter spake, “I will build my church,” &c.: “and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven:” i. e. unto Peter and all his successors, (not successors by generation, but by regeneration) or who retained or possessed that revelation which Peter possessed: “and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth,” i. e. being under the influence of that same revelation or spirit of God in man, leading and directing him, “shall be bound in heaven: and whatsover [sic] thou shalt loose on earth,” (by the same spirit still) “shall be loosed in heaven.”—(Matt. chap. xvi.) . . . As this church profess to have the same revelation restored, that was given unto the apostles, and that in an increased degree; by which, in her ministration, she is invested with the same authority: and I tell you further, all judgment is in the church. The ministration will judge us, and all men living, either in this world, or world of spirits; i. e. they will judge and condemn the principle of evil in all men, and the soul in its adherence to it.

    —Thomas Brown (b. 1766). An Account of the People Called Shakers: Their Faith, Doctrines, and Practice, Exemplified in the Life, Conversations, and Experience of the Author During the Time He Belonged to the Society. . . . (Troy [New York]: Printed by Parker and Bliss. Sold at the Troy Bookstore; by Websters and Skinners, Albany; And by S. Wood, New-York, 1812), 116.

  13. Note that in some languages when someone is referred to as a rock it means that they are thick headed or dopey and sometimes just stubborn.

    I don’t know if it was used that way in greek or in aramaic but reading the new testament one may think that Jesus did think that of Peter.

    Either way I can’t see how the Catholics can interpret ‘the rock’ as being Peter. Maybe revelation maybe the saviour’s atonement but not Peter.

    But to know exactly what Jesus meant I think we would need to know how the word was used in aramaic especially in colloquial uses, or if it was be a play on words in that language. Unless we can receive a revelation to settle it since much is lost in translation!

  14. Ray:

    I’ve been looking and can’t find the specific article. I’ve kicked myself more than once over the last couple of years for not saving it, but a little searching on the issue has yielded a few less complete treatments of the issue. Most of them focus on a mistranslation of the greek “tekton” which followed a translation path from builder, which can be an aspect of the original meeting, to carpenter, which would be a more familiar term for builder to some later European scribes and translators.

    But the greek word more accurately refers to a master of a craft, and can range from scholar to architect or evern something like a general contractor. Coupled with historical ideas of what most houses were built of, stones come into play.

    It seems to be a fairly simple possibility to follow, but once something gets as entrenched in the story as the carpenter thing…

    Again, regretting not being able to find said article, as it drew much more direct connections to stone work. If I find it, I’ll let you know.

  15. Re: #11. I was correcting myself, not you Hawkgrrrl I would never correct you.

    Re: #15. That quote is very interesting. I have always thought the “Rock of Revelation” interpretation was a bit forced. Not as forced as the “Rock as Pope” interpreation, but forced. It is interstign to see another faith tradition using it, too.

    And, I agree with NOYDMB that Christ may have intended more than one meaning for the phrase he used. It would be a good way to get Peter and others talking and thinking about what the Rock really is!

  16. The problem I have with the whole Peter thing is that Peter (Petros) is greek. These people were hebrews, not Greek. I realize that there may have been a Greek influence but if these people, Jesus included, spoke Aramic, what is with the greek names. Jesus is Yeshua, Simon is Shimon, Christos is מֹשִׁיַּח Moshiach. So, for me, the whole “Peter as rock” thing is contrived.

  17. #21 – That passage as a later insertion to justify Peter’s leadership of the Church is an interesting idea – one I honestly hadn’t considered before now. Thanks for giving me something new to ponder, Jeff.

  18. While it is certain that Jesus spoke Aramaic, it is highly likely that he also spoke some Greek which was the lingua franca of that part of the Roman empire. Kepha i.e. Cephas, means big rock or boulder.

  19. This question of reference if an old objection raised because of course to Mormons and Protestants alike the scripture in question has to mean something other than what Catholics understand it to mean. But in the passages around it, Christ has not been talking of revelation so the rock can’t be areference to revelation. Also the play on words only occurs in the greek translation. Christ spoke aramaic and the word used would have been Cephas for rock. The work rock has not other reference in the context except to Peter.
    If you still want to preserve your position with some more realistic argument you might claim that the authority was given to Peter alone and not to a future line of succession. It’s thin but it saves face against the sensible objection that there is no other viable reference in the conversation at hand. The fuller scripture verses are:

    13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
    14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

    15″But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

    16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ,[b] the Son of the living God.”

    17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter,[c] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[d] will not overcome it.[e] 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[f] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[g] loosed in heaven.” 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

    Notice that there is a direct conversation with Peter in these verses not about his faith or revelation. The verses refer unmistakably to Peter himself and a special commission given him by Christ Jesus.

    You can also argue that the greed petra means something different than petros but the distinction is only found in Homer and by the time of the writing of the New testament the distinction has long been lost. These are all uncertain objections to a set of verses that need a strong agrument to overturn their apparent meaning.

    As for later insertion of this text that’s a grat argument if you can prove it with an earlier version that omits the passage. Oh but I forgot with our Mormon genius’ the argument then should state that the Catholics destroyed all those version that disagreed with their insertions. Then you need to show that there was a revolt over specific changes or revisions to scripture because such destruction and objections would not have gone unrecorded. The Caliph Uthman did the same with the Koran in his day by standardizing the edition and then destroying all copies that disagreed with his own. But this is well know and such an effort could not be concealed and there were major objection and rebellions over this in Islam

    As for so many rare and precious things lost to scripture, no one in the Mormon church has specifically been able to show what they are and when, how or if ever they were removed or just weren’t there to begin with. Except by using the very point to be proved i.e. that ” there are many rare and precious thing lost ” from scripture, to prove that any passage I disagree with is obviously one of those rare and precious losses.

    If we wish to engage thinking Christians, we Mormons will need to act as smart as the best of their thinkers. If we want to keep falling back on cheap intellectual tricks, then we will ultimately lose the battle for minds that is being waged around the world. We may have the final revelation from God but we will need all the power of rational thought as well a God-given gift to combat those who oppose us. All our reliance on Mormon theology and cotrine to prove Mormon doctrine and theology is just so much chasing of our own tails.

  20. Tom, I agree with much of what you are saying about the need to be factually sound, but admitting the reference can apply to both Peter and revelation isn’t a “cheap intellectual trick”. It is a valid reading of the actual text. (See my comment #5.)

    Denying that it could apply to Peter and narrowing it ONLY to revelation . . . I agree that such a reading is problematic. (Again, see my comment #5.)

  21. To Ray:

    Thanks, Ray, I went back and read your #5 but I’m not sure what it adds that you see as so conclusive:

    Your wrote “I view this as both literal and symbolic. I think Jesus told Peter that he was the pebble (reinforcing the least of these teaching) upon which the bedrock would be founded, but I also believe he told Peter that his testimony, gained through personal revelation, would be the pebble that would roll forward and become the great stone cut out without hands – that personal testimony would be the bedrock of the church Peter would establish. “

    You read an awful lot into what Jesus really said to get to this conclusion. Jesus does not speak of Peter’s testimony except to attribute it to the Father’s inspiration. When Jesus says “You are Peter and upon this rock” it would be better to read Cephas for Peter so as to get “You are Cephas and upon this cephas I will build my church…” but either way the closest and most normative reference is to Cephas himself. Any attempt to see this as a reference to his testimony is a true forcing of the meaning and to say that it refers forward to the verb “revealed” in verse 17 makes even less sense. References move backward to the closest clause to the word itself. This leaves Cephas referring to Cephas in the immediately preceding clause.

    Also if cephas refers to Peter’s testimony then what do the “you’s” in the succeeding sentences refer to? Would you have Jesus leaving the keys and power to bind and loose to a testimony. No I’m still left with the common meaning and that would be to leave or invest Peter with the same power and keys using the same reference point of the rock.

    Then you write, “I think it’s important to understand that Jesus didn’t create the ancient church; Peter led the other ten (then eleven) apostles in doing that. We believe Jesus directed that process (at the very least, that it was inspired), but it was Peter who led it in practical terms. Thus, the post-resurrection church was founded in a very real way on Peter. In denying the Catholic claim to succession, I think we demean Peter too much.”

    I think it is naive to say Jesus did not create the ancient church. We seem to want Jesus to hand over a complete blueprint with instructions and Users’ Guide to the Apostles on how to create His Church. He didn’t do it in the Book of Mormon either but through various revelations over time to Joseph Smith and his successors. But Jesus leaves us at the end of the New Testament leaving behind only the Ecclesia or assembly of Apostles and disciples. Jesus nowhere says write this down and assemble a New Testament. Christ leaves all that work to the Apostles themselves with the provisos that 1) He will be with them even unto the end of the world and that 2) He will send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit to them as He does on the first Pentecost.

    Next you wrote “That Catholic claim, however, is shaky, at best, and nonsensical, at worst. Jesus’ words don’t hint at an unbroken line of Simons – that somehow a part of him would continue on throughout time. In fact, I don’t see any hint of organizational connotation in that passage, so it’s much easier for me to see the personal statement as indicating the immediate future (building the infant church) and the reference to personal revelation (testimony) as the on-going foundation. In that light, I am a little uncomfortable with the translation of generic “revelation” and prefer the slightly more nuanced “personal revelation” (or “testimony”) for what became the bedrock of the restored kingdom.”

    The succession of Apostle to bishop and to each’s candidate in succeeding generations to those selected to govern and exercise authority may be presumptuous but in no way nonsensical or shaky. The Apostles in wishing for a continuance of their mission to the whole world elected first Mathias and subsequently passed their authority on to other successors by the laying on of hands. This sounds like good governance and wisdom. The Apostles and the next generations wrote the New Testament under inspiration of the Holy Spirit and later assembled together those books that they recognized as authoritative into that Testament. As to this text being a reference to the faith of Peter, I would say you have to see it that way or else you have to take it at its literal meaning as a reference to Peter himself. This is one of the reasons I walked out of various Protestant Churches. They all said they take scripture literally and then freely interpret against the literal meaning whenever it suits their purposes.

    You ended with “Ironically, that definition could be used by the Catholic Church much more effectively than the personal reference to Peter, but it also could be used by the Protestant reformers, as well. The paradox is intriguing.”

    Could you elaborate on this as I’m not clear on what you’re describing?

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    Tom: “You read an awful lot into what Jesus really said to get to this conclusion.” Of course, the phrase “what Jesus REALLY said” is problematic. Who knows what He really said? We have this account which was written years after his death. It’s not exactly a recorded transcript.

    I like Ray’s alternate interpretation, which spins this story into primarily a “teaching moment” between Christ and Peter rather than an instruction about the succession of church leadership. Perhaps it was both. Maybe neither. But I like the idea of Christ taking Peter under his wing to teach him something. Peter always seems sincere but bewildered to me.

  23. Tom, I’m not sure where you agree and disagree with what I wrote, since your explanations of why you disagree only reinforce what I actually believe. I think there’s some interpretive dissonance with my comment, since I agree with pretty much everything you said in #28. (little details aside) For example, your description of the establishment of the early Church says, essentially, the exact same thing I said in the quote that launched your description.

  24. Ray, then thanks for the clarification I thought there was more disagreement between us but I might have been reading your writing too narrowly. Thanks for the response.

    Hawkgrrl, I accept your correction I should have simply said what the text says. However, if we are going to judge everything in the New Testament that quotes Jesus as being problematic or suspect then I think we’re left right where the Jesus seminar concluded that we simply pick and choose what we like or agree with out of scripture.

    Consider this. I believe that the central problem with the Protestant position and with say the Islamist faith is precisely its sole dependence upon a book without the additional support of an authoritative interpreter. Words and language do not have precise meanings. Every word had connotations as well as shades of meaning subtle indicated by the context. The meanings are ambiguous. I guess this whole discussion shows that that many interpretations can be drawm from scripture as there are readers of scripture. Without an authoritative interpreter, such as the Magisterium of the Church, scripture is left at the mercy of the clever and most provocative interpretations.

    We see the problem in the interminable splits that continue to occur in the various Protestant churches over interpretations of scripture. Even Luther quickly sidestepped his “Scripture plainly capable of interpretation according to the inner light” and ended with a scripture interpreted exclusively by himself or by some one of the other reformers.

    The Mormon church avoids this problem by the office of the First President or living prophet who receives revelations from time to time elucidating their doctrines. The root problem there is that there seem to be numerous times that prophet has contradicted prophet. Mormonism seems to come down to believing whatever the current prophet claims.

    The Roman Catholic also avoids the interpretive dilemma by means of the Magisterium that defines dogma and what is to be believed.

  25. Tom, fwiw and just so you know the perspective from where I am coming, my basic stance about importance of various scriptural sources is pretty simple:

    1) Taking into account “actual author” and translation / filtering issues, the Gospels and other words attributed directly to Jesus (throughout the canon) come first.

    2) Theoretically, Joseph Smith’s teachings are second, but the evolutionary nature of his understanding needs to be considered – since I think it’s obvious he was learning and his understanding was changing, sometimes month by month or even week by week. Also, I believe he made a lot of assumptions about things that simply were a by-product of his cultural upbringing – the best example being some of his beliefs about the Book of Mormon that I believe aren’t supported by the actual text (which, again, I see as a strength of the argument that he wasn’t the “author”).

    3) In practical terms, our modern prophets and apostles are second or third, depending on the actual topic or issue being considered.

    4) The Book of Mormon prophets are an interesting example of a unique calling, imo. Their two main, stated purposes (as described in the book itself) are to: a) teach and convince others that Jesus is the Christ; b) to help people understand what the Bible actually teaches. That makes it hard for me to give them a particular rank order, since there is a good argument for them being #1a and another good argument for them being #4. I simply will say that I place GREAT (almost foundational) importance on them, but when it comes to “doctrinal importance” there really isn’t all that much that is unique.

    5) Personally, I rate the epistles of Peter, James and John over those of Paul – simply because I struggle a bit with some of Paul’s social/cultural statements. I love much of his writing, but I see him kind of as the Bruce R. McConkie of his time – a wonderful, dedicated, highly intellectual apostle with a rock solid personal testimony of the risen Lord who saw the world in black and white and would have made an excellent Old Testament Prophet. I just think his social outlook was a bit . . . extreme.

    6) I love the Old Testament, but I think most of it (at the very least until King David) is mythological and figurative. (Perhaps a better way of saying it would be that I don’t think most of it can be considered “non-fiction” or “historically accurate” in the most narrow usage of those words.) I have the same view of the Pearl of Great Price – which, frankly, is one reason why it doesn’t bother me in the slightest if it actually matches the text from which it was translated / transmitted. I believe it was “inspired”, just as I believe nearly all of at least the first half of the Old Testament was “inspired”. Iow, it fits the type of scriptural record of the time period it represents perfectly, imo – so I have no real issues with its origin. I actually place more weight on it, since it doesn’t face the same overwhelming issues of multiple millennia of translation and institutional memory transmission as does the OT.

  26. Ray, thanks for the clarifications but where does all this selection lead?

    “Taking into account “actual author” and translation / filtering issues, the Gospels and other words attributed directly to Jesus (throughout the canon) come first.” This is probably the best position we can hope for as Mormons. The strongest LDS principle seems to me to be the insistence that the abominable church has taken away from scripture many rare and precious things. This give us a handy doctrine whereby we can reject anything in OT and NT that doesn’t square with LDS doctrine. So the qualifying phrase “as long as it’s correctly translated” is the important point in all LDS exegesis of scripture. However, I find this hard to prove. What is an example of these things removed?
    In this same vein, however, don’t we have problems with The BOM and the revelations of the prophets? We need some doctrinal principle whereby new revelations that contradict past revelations can be defended and justified. If Joseph Smith was a true prophet then his ideas aren’t his own ideas but inspired revelations from God or the Holy Spirit. If as you say his ideas are his own and are evolutionary what makes them any more credible than any one else’s?
    If modern prophets are a 2nd or 3rd rate source then what does prophet and prophecy amount to? You seem to be discounting it generation to generation and that their teaching are not unique. So when you prune away the mistakes, their correct utterances are not unique? Not unique versus what?
    Well, then given that they’re not so unique, where is the need for any non unique restoration? Where’s the evidence of the many rare and precious things removed? Why did anyone have to appear to Joseph Smith to say anything? It seems that for you the OT and NT suffice. What then does the BOM add to the faith? Was it necessary that it be ever written?
    As I commented before, this type of attitude seems to be directly in line with the Jesus Seminar. Let’s all highlight the true parts of the NT and OT and discard the rest. Also let’s develop some criteria to justify our highlighting but it all boils down to what I wish to accept and what I wish to reject. What criteria do you use?
    You love the Old Testament, but think most of it (at the very least until King David) is mythological and figurative. (Perhaps a better way of saying it would be that I don’t think most of it can be considered “non-fiction” or “historically accurate” in the most narrow usage of those words.) you have the same view of the Pearl of Great Price – which, frankly, is one reason why it doesn’t bother you in the slightest if it actually matches the text from which it was translated / transmitted. I believe it was “inspired”, just as I believe nearly all of at least the first half of the Old Testament was “inspired”.
    What do you mean by “inspired” but not accurate historically? Are we to a point where the Holy Spirit is inspiring novelists in writing fiction? The more I think about what this means I am driven to a conclusion like this. “At some time in the past and continuing into the present, the Holy Spirit inspired various writers and prophets to write thoroughly fictional accounts of the past or to prophecy in contradiction to each other various aphorisms. All this fictional writing was intended to reveal great truths for our salvation or maybe just for its entertainment value.”

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