Friday, October 09, 2009

Some Thoughts on Revelation and "The Word of God"

A friend of mine (who isn't a Christian, BTW) had this to say on his blog:

"Was this really a problem that the Bible isn't conservative enough? I have to confess to not having heard of Conservapedia - The Trustworthy Encyclopedia before. Apparently they have decided the Bible is too liberal in its language and so on. So they are instituting a "retranslation" effort of the Bible to purge it of its liberal bias. Apparently they are starting with the KJV to remove anything they assume to be too liberal in terms of language, ideas etc.

"So now, if you are looking for the actual, unvarnished literal Word-O-God, you will have even more "literal translations" to choose from!

"Someone tell me again which literal translation is
literally the Word-O-God?"

I made a few comments, which you can read if ya wanna.

But, here, in Mo' Boy, I want to talk about some of the other thoughts his comment inspired. Some of these thoughts, by way of disclaimer, are *MY* thoughts, and not necessarily canonized doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. But then, most of what I write here in Mo' Boy is such, anyway...

We get our scriptures through our prophets. And that makes for a very interesting circumstance, because that means that everything that God says to us comes to us through another human. God, for some reason, doesn't directly write us messages. I, personally, would really enjoy reading that particular Twitter Feed, but He doesn't choose to work that way.

So, partly to clarify my own thoughts, and partly for the benefit of my non-Mormon, non-Christian friend, I'm gonna think out loud for a few minutes.

There are several ways that we get our written scriptures:

Taking Dictation

I read once that sometimes when Joseph Smith was receiving revelations he would just begin writing, in a sort of "automatic writing" kind of way. When you read chapters like this, it comes across very much in a sort of "Word of God" kind of Tone. It's often in (if you'll pardon the pun) first-person omniscient point of view. A really good example is the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Another good example, off the top of my head, is the whole Book of Malachi, in the Old Testament.

Go Tell it on the Mountain

Another method is when God gives a marvelous spiritual experience or a vision to someone, and then tells them to go write about it. One good example of this is the story of Nephi's Vision(That originates as Lehi's Dream), which starts in Chapter 11 of 1 Nephi and goes on for a number of chapters after that.

The experience that we Mormons all know as the "First Vision" of Joseph Smith is another good example, as is the entire Book of Revelation.

This method is different from the first because, although I firmly believe that the experiences the prophets experience are no less divine, the words themselves are not directly the "Words of God." This means that the word were written by a flawed human being, sometimes days, sometimes even years after the fact.

It's All History

The last bit of scripture we get are the stories. These are tales, stories, and histories written by an archivist using his own (albeit often inspired) insight. Another flawed human is choosing which histories to include, and writing them into the text. Almost the entire Old Testament is this kind of writing. The four Gospels were written this way.

The whole story of the conflict between Nephi and his brothers, Laman and Lemuel, is colored, I believe, by the fact that it was written by Nephi, from his point of view, many many years later. Is it any wonder he comes off as the good guy?

The whole reason we name the Book of Mormon after that ancient American prophet is that he compiled and abridged all of the records of his people.

I don't mean to diminish the spiritual nature of the scriptures, nor to imply that I don't believe that they're inspired. But I think that God allows us to learn from each other, often centuries or even millenia later.

The Title Page of the Book of Mormon, which was actually translated from the Golden Plates themselves, carries this clarification: "And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ."

And none of these things even take into account how often the book of scripture has been translated from one flawed and human language into another, in the hope that it can be understood by people of a totally different background and culture..

So, the sooner we get past all that, and not stress out over the details of the words, and get to the real messages that are underlying, the better off we'll be.

Mark has a lifelong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his Dutch Oven blog.

Mark's Other Blog Posts: More Work on "Martyrs", Healthy Dutch Oven Recipes,


  1. Skipping over all the substance of your post (it was a good post) I have to say that I really like the way you point out that in all the talk about the correctness of translation we need to remember that our language (whatever language we use, not just English) is flawed and thus there is no "perfect" translation of the ideas and instructions given by God to man.

    The only perfect translation is a non-translation - that would be pure intelligence that is given from heaven to the hearts and minds of individuals - from there it is necessarily translated imperfectly into words or actions.

  2. I like your post. Thought-provoking.

    Thanks for the nod too, though I am not sure you want to send people to my blog. What will the neighbors say?

    My 'discussions' are usually with serious fundies who insist the Bible is 100% the unvarnished word of God. A position which, as you point out, has a few flaws in it, which was more to the nature of my original post.

    Oh, and I checked. Apparently God does have a Twitter feed:

  3. David: You've hit it on the head, in my opinion. We have these divine-inspired, human-produced writings, and as we read them, if we do so openly and willingly, sometimes that pure intelligence pours into us and tells us what we need to know.

    Victor: As much as we often disagree, it's fun to see how often we agree, too. And the neighbors can talk all they want!

    I checked out the feed and his blog. It's interesting, but I'm skeptical that it's from the real God. Keep looking...



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