In Tents # 84 A Note on Hermeneutics part 4

My friend who goes to Jerusalem a couple times a year on university business for BYU’s Jerusalem center tells me that seeing the places where events in the Bible took place, seeing the geography and studying the culture, greatly adds to his understanding of the Bible.

Similary, my old retired farmer neighbor who served as mayor of Vineyard, Utah, then a small farming community on the shores of Utah Lake south of Geneva Steel, now growing considerably as the former superfund site is deemed safe for industrial, commercial and residential development, told me that after he burned off his fields each year he would find little charred clumps around the fields. “Chickens are the only birds who will gather their chicks under their wings to protect them rather than fleeing the danger and leaving them,” he said one day in Gospel Doctrine class.

If understanding the cultural and agricultural, linguistic and geographical settings of the Bible can help us understand the Bible better,  studying the rhetorical patterns of prophets who wrote about receiving and transmitting revelations can help us understand why an open canon is much different than just having additional scripture–here a little, there a little from time to time.

The standard objection to an open canon is to ask what is left to reveal if the Lord has given us salvation in the Bible. It’s an unanswerable question because the logic behind it is circular: If it’s not in the Bible–which is our canon, our measuring rod–we have no need of it, it’s not sanctioned by God’s word; if it is in the Bible–like baptism for the dead–what more is there to say about it?

The way to break out of the hermeneutic circle of that logic is to ask questions like, what is baptism for the dead? how do we perform it? how do we keep track of our baptized dead? If we ask those questions not just of the text, but of God, the answers would by definition be the word of God (see D&C 127 and 128). But that kind of questioning and answering is not confined to people who have been ordained as prophets, seers and revelators. Anyone can puzzle over the scriptures, or ponder them and ask questions.

I have been trying to finish up Ben Crowder’s Readers Edition of the Doctrine and Covenants by the end of the year. It has proven impossible. There are too many things to stop and contemplate, too many rhetorical connections to note.

A couple of days ago (Dec. 29) I was reading Section 98. One of my reasons for this blog is to explore and understand the connection Nephi makes in 2 Nephi 29:4 between closing the canon and hating the Jews, to try and understand how a religion founded by a rabbi renounced it Jewish origins.

Section 98 confirms that one of the duties of opening the canon is to take the covenant back to the Jews.

16 Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children; 17 And again, the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews; lest I come and smite the whole earth with a curse, and all flesh be consumed before me.

It’s one of my favorite passage in scripture, but I’m always surprised by it. How does the section get to this statement rhetorically? Crowder formats the sections as words-only, no verse numbering, no historical introduction or chapter summaries. I’ve been studying rhetorical links between different passages of scripture this year, and seeing Crowder’s formatting (I’ve kept the numbering), I noticed a rhetorical connection, answering my question what does therefore in verse 16 link to?

13 And whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal.

14 Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant even unto death, that you may be found worthy. 15 For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me.

16 Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children; 17 And again, the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews; lest I come and smite the whole earth with a curse, and all flesh be  consumed before me.

18 Let not your hearts be troubled; for in my Father’s house are many mansions, and I have prepared a place for you; and where my Father and I am, there ye  shall be also.

I made the following note:

Therefore links rhetorically to the last sentence, telling us that the covenant we are to abide in is a covenant of peace. And rhetorically links the verbs renounce, proclaim, and seek, and connects the covenant with turning hearts towards each other as it introduces Malachi’s statement of the covenant. And again brings the Jews into the covenant, reminding us that the Jews are the covenant people, and if we’re to avoid being smitten with the curse of being found unworthy we need to remember them as part of the covenant. So the end of verse 17 brings the envelope back to verse 15, but that’s within another envelope connecting be not afraid in verse 14 with let not your hearts be troubled in verse 18. Ben Crowder formats 14-15, 16-17, and 18 as three paragraphs.

Then I noticed in writing this that verse 14 begins with therefore, which indicates a rhetorical link, so the envelope structure (inclusio) begins with verse 13. Note that this passage is a commentary on several biblical passages, not simply Malachi. The Doctrine and Covenants is full of that kind of commentary, as is the Book of Mormon. because both books are deeply concerned with how scripture is created, preserved and passed along.

One of the advantages of being a record-keeping church is that historians can look at what prophets have written about their experiences with revelation. In his article “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood” Edward L. Kimball relates an experience LeGrand Richards reported after a May 4, 1978 meeting of the First Presidency and Twelve”

I saw during the meeting a man seated in a chair above the organ, bearded and dressed in white, having the appearance of Wilford Woodruff. . . . I am not a visionary man. . . . This was not imagination. . . . It might be that I was privileged to see him because I am the only one here who had seen President Woodruff in person (p 53).

Kimball comes back to this incident several pages later

When someone reminded President Kimball of the earlier appearance of Wilford Woodruff to LeGrand Richards in the room, Spencer said he thought it natural: “President Woodruff would have been very much interested, because he went through something of the same sort of experience” with the Manifesto (p. 59).

Perhaps the someone was Edward L. Kimball, because he attributes the quote to an interview he conducted with Pres. Kimball. Marion G. Romney made a similar comparison to the Manifesto when Kimball interviewed him “a few weeks after the events”:

 This is the most far-reaching event of his administration, an historic event that opens up to vast numbers of people all the blessings of the gospel. It ranks well up with Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto in importance in Church history (65).

That is, one of the implications of an open canon is that prophets are not passive receptacles of revelation. Revelation comes after a great deal of thought and prayer and questioning. This has implications for the nature of truth as well as the nature of revelation, which we may discuss next month, if we get that far.

¡Próspero año nuevo!

2 Thoughts on “In Tents # 84 A Note on Hermeneutics part 4

  1. Dennis Clark on January 2, 2018 at 7:20 pm said:

    My friend Colin Douglas, the poet who most recently published *Division by Zero,* was for a while a participant in an Evangelical/Mormon web conversation. He reports that, if you ask an Evangelical why he accepts the Bible as the word of God, the same kind of circularity occurs in the answer.

    When he presses, hard, eventually the respondent, if not despondent, replies that God told him that it is true.
    Same test the *Book of Mormon* asks us to to apply.

    There is no “proof” that the Bible is the word of God that does not apply equally to the Qu’ran, the Book of Mormon, the Upanishads or any other text regarded as sacred by a group of believers. Faith is not proof, even the faith of a whole bunch of believers. Epistemologically, there is no proof of the existence of God, let alone of the existence of any book, let alone many books, that is the word of God. Hermeneutics are no more convincing than hismeneutics in this matter.

    That’s why I continue to applaud your efforts to address them, Brother Clark.

  2. Harlow Clark on January 29, 2018 at 2:31 am said:

    Thank you for your comments, Brother Clark. Always a pleasure. The same is true of the theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, or human-caused global warming. In one sense there is no proof of their existence. We use words like proof and scientific objectivity to connote a situation where there’s so much evidence that it would be impossible to deny. But truth is not objective. It’s not an object, it’s a relationship, a way of being. Our ability to receive truth and live truth doesn’t depend on the nature of truth–it depends on our willingness to receive, Truth isn’t forced upon us. Can’t be forced upon us. We have to choose to receive truth in order to receive it.

    One definition of a hermeneutic is a framework for interpreting. The earliest Christian hermeneutic was Jewish, but Paul was a master of Greek rhetoric and the hermeneutic shifted. Eventually an Evangelical hermeneutic emerged, and a lot of early Mormons came from that tradition, but the Mormon hermeneutic is different from the Evangelical hermeneutic, and it’s not just a matter of having more scripture. Opening the canon redefines the nature of scripture, and even redefines the nature of truth.

    I’m trying to understand how, but I don’t think in straight lines. I think in puns and rhetorical links and circles that encompass all truth, trying to tease out the differences in hermeneutic by looking at what kinds of assumptions people make to support a hermeneutic, like a closed canon. Which is why, though I set out to interpret passages from the Gospels in a different way, I keep circling around to other subjects.

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