Pres Veazey on Scripture Literalism

Thanks to FireTag for letting me know about a recent statement by the current prophet of the Community of Christ.  He talks about scriptural literalism.  The videos can be found on the CoC website, and this quote comes from Chapter 4.  Let me quote from Pres. Veazey directly:

Scripture is authoritative, not because it is perfect, or inerrant in every literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation.  And here is the heart of our challenge:  over the last several centuries, a doctrine of scripture emerged in Christianity that insists that all scripture, every single word, was directly dictated by God, and is inerrant in every detail.  This belief emerged as a response to the questioning of religious authority from those who held that human reason alone was the most reliable pathway to truth.  So a doctrine of scripture emerged that enshrined the literal words of scripture as inerrant and as the sole authority on all matters.

This view still dominates much of global Christianity today.  It also strongly influences more than a few members of the Community of Christ who have adopted it from the larger religious culture.  However, that doctrine, that view of scripture is not how scripture was understood in Christianity since its birth.  It’s not how Jesus Christ used and viewed scripture.  And it is not how the community of Christ officially views scripture today.

The church affirms that scripture is inspired, indispensable, essential to our knowledge of God, and the Gospel.  In addition, we believe that scripture should be interpreted responsibly, through informed study, guided by the Holy Spirit working in and through the church.  Scripture was formed by the community of faith to shape the community of faith, therefore, interpreting scripture is the constant work of the faith community.  Community of Christ also stresses, that all scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s most decisive revelation in Jesus Christ

So if portions of scripture don’t agree with our fullest understanding, of the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and discerned by the faith community, the teachings and vision of Christ take precedence.  This principle applies to all of our books of Scripture, especially any passages by some to categorically assign to God’s disfavor, or negative characteristics, or secondary roles to others.

This is why our belief in continuing revelation is so important.  This belief keeps us open to yet more light and truth so we can grow and understand of God’s supreme will as revealed in Jesus Christ.  Doctrine and Covenants 163:70 states, “Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge and discernment must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God.”  Follow this pathway, which is the way of the living Christ, and you will discover more than sufficient light for the journey ahead.”

I find tremendous agreement with the CoC position.  What are your thoughts?

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79 comments on “Pres Veazey on Scripture Literalism

  1. BR:


    But I’m still struck by the “and there were no rich or poor among them” as the immediate outcome of Christ’s visit to the Nephites. Still an ideal to shoot for (though I’d rather make more people rich than make more people poor as a way of leveling the field).

  2. This is an interesting stance. I think we can all agree that religion requires some type of constant in order to keep the assemblage steered towards the center vs going off in all directions. Historically, that constant has been the scriptures. What the CoC has done is to shift that constant away from the scriptures and towards the CoC understanding of Christ and his teachings. Is this progress? Well, it is definitely movement. I would have to say it is progress, because we know that the scriptures are not perfect and areas of contradiction can cause misunderstandings and even rifts. But, will simply replacing inconsistencies with one’s own interpretation or understanding of Christ, be able to keep a diverse community centered on the Gospel? Only time will tell.

  3. I’m hoping that Tara gets back from her vacation and weighs in on this topic. It seems to me she is much more of a spiritual literalist than you or I. I have often heard that scripture is theology, rather than history. When we attempt to turn scripture into history, that is where we end up moving scripture to a realm where it was never intended to be. When scripture fails some of these historical tests, we are moving it out of its area of usefulness. It’s kind of like using a fork to fix a flat tire–it doesn’t work very well, because that is not its intended use.

    Bishop Rick, from some of your previous comments, it seems to me that you can be pretty tough on scripture. Does it hold any value in your mind? Do you find any parts of it inspiring, and beneficial in your life?

  4. BR:

    I see the same danger you mention. Even to say what the CofChrist “understanding of Christ and his teachings” actually are would be a surprise to most of the members, and would be a shock to their parents.

  5. Great statement!

    Fire Tag, how do the members of CofC view their prophet? We’ve ofted talked here and on my blog about how most Mormons (at least culturally) seem to view the prophet as infallible (i.e. “follow the prophet, he will never lead the Church astray,” that he is “God’s mouthpiece,” etc) and that those who believe the prophet can and does make mistakes are often criticized for their “lack of faith” and sometimes feel ostracized from the conservative base of the Church. What’s it like in the CofC when the prophet speaks or writes something? If a Mormon prophet does that, most consider it to be true and necessary for us to follow — even though by no means is it “official doctrine.” Is there the same debate or struggle in CofC between those who view the prophet as infallible and those who don’t?

  6. The CofC prophet is also the mouth of God and infallible – so long as we agree with what he says.

  7. FD:

    Since we grew out of skeptics who felt that practices in Nauvoo were decidedly wrong, I think we’ve always had a higher percentage of members who have been more likely to think for ourselves than to blindly accept. But there are different degrees of blindness, and we have the entire spectrum of belief about prophets that you see from schismatics to the right to secularists on the left (who tend to walk away without forming new “true” churches, unlike the right).

    We canonize D&C additions quite often. I gather if a revelation is given in the LDS, you accept it, and THEN may seek personal testimonies of its truth (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) We are supposed to do it in the opposite order. Think about the issues, pray and discern what God wants us to do as a people, and then the Prophet almost “confirms” the word heard by the people.

    Now that isn’t the way it works in practice. High levels of leadership usually come to a conclusion about what should be done, and then they sell it to the membership in advance of any actual inspired document being brought to the conference and quorums. If they themselves are not sure what to do, they may be open to listening to the people, but if they are not sure, it’s more likely that the process will merely tread water until they are sure. Frankly, much of the “discernment process” involves “discerning” whether there is sufficient support among the membership to push through what the leadership believes to be right. Keeping the church together is paramount, whether for practical or theological reasons.

    The church is going through such a “discernment process” right now in regard to standards of membership (e.g., the necessity of rebaptism for other Christians to join our church), but it is doing so on a schedule. People who are involved in planning the 2010 conference have already been told they will be given guidance by December 2009 to enable them to prepare the Conference services and pre-conference discernment exercises to lead up to consideration of whatever action the presidence decides should be taken. By the time of conference there will be no serious opposition to whatever the Presidency decides by December — or a document will never come to the floor. And no matter how radically ideas change, we’ll all try to protect both the present and past prophets’ credibility by pretending that nothing actually changed at all — we believed it all along.

    Sometimes this process gets OBE. Sometimes views within disparate cultures of the church (dominant CofChrist cultures are largely conservative North American vs. Progressive North American vs. third world perspectives) become so pronounced that the Prophet must decide (because even to not decide is to decide). Sometimes the Prophet will take a stand, whether there is consensus or not, but that is a last resort.

  8. I’m back.

    I can’t say that I really disagree with Pres. Veazey’s statement. I don’t believe the scriptures are inerrant, but I would probably find less error than most, if not all of you.

    MH, could you please help me understand what you mean by scriptural literalism? If by that you mean that the history or events in the scripture are just made up in order to teach a theological lesson, I would have to disagree. While I believe that events portrayed in the scriptures may contain incorrect details, I see no reason to believe that they aren’t in essence true. Maybe we don’t have the scientific understanding to verify some things, or maybe some events are not conveyed in a manner we can completely understand, that isn’t a reason to assume they aren’t literal. If you believe that God is a God of miracles, then why would you doubt that miracles can happen?

  9. I gather if a revelation is given in the LDS, you accept it, and THEN may seek personal testimonies of its truth (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

    We don’t just accept it. We decide if we will accept it or reject it. But yes, as far as I know we don’t get the opportunity to pray before revelations are presented for approval by the membership. However, if one is in tune with the spirit, I believe that one can immediately know if a revelation is inspired or not, particularly if such a witness were needed on such short notice. I haven’t actually had the opportunity to put my theory in to practice since there haven’t been any new revelations presented for approval in my adult life-time. Correct me if I’m wrong MH, but I don’t remember any revelations since the priesthood ban was lifted.

  10. One more thought: It seems that scriptural literalism is different from scriptural inerrancy, at least as far as I understand the term scriptural literalism. I didn’t see any hint that Pres. Veazey was saying that we shouldn’t take the scriptures literally, only that they were inerrant. Am I incorrect in my understanding?

  11. Sorry, I meant to say “only that they WEREN’T inerrant”.

  12. Tara,

    For the purposes of this discussion, I want to use Pres Veazey’s definition. “a doctrine of scripture emerged in Christianity that insists that all scripture, every single word, was directly dictated by God, and is inerrant in every detail.”

    What I am getting from that is that Pres Veazey is holding that God didn’t necessary breathe every single word. So, the question becomes, if God didn’t breathe every word, then which words did God not breathe? Obviously, people are going to come to different conclusions. I have mentioned some here, and I am sure Tara is aware of many of my positions, since she has disputed many of them. So, Tara, if you accept Pres Veazey’s definition, can you think of anything in the scriptures that God may not have breathed? (I’ve laid out my cards on the table, can you lay out some of yours?) I’d just like to see where we are in agreement here, because I am quite aware of our areas of disagreement.

    FireTag, I’ve been reading a book called “Great Basin Kingdom”, by former LDS Historian Leonard Arrington. The book so far discusses much of the economic history of the Mormon settlements in Utah. Due to the difficult Great Salt Lake environment, Brigham made a heavy emphasis on the needs of the community outweighing the needs of the individual. I think that emphasis is an ingrained part of LDS culture. Unity is highly sought after. I suspect part of this emphasis is a reaction to the disunity of Former First Counselor William Law and others in the events leading to Nauvoo Expositor and the death of Joseph Smith.

    Your characterization that “if a revelation is given in the LDS, you accept it, and THEN may seek personal testimonies of its truth” is pretty accurate IMO. We don’t have a “vetting” procedure as the CoC does. If a new revelation is received, it would be brought before the General Conference, and voted on, with a unanimous affirmative vote expected. I would be absolutely shocked to see a single negative vote at General Conference, and I’ll bet there hasn’t been a negative vote cast since the 2nd Polygamy Manifesto in 1904 (which isn’t in the D&C.) It seems to me that General Conference is a rubber stamp of any leadership statements.

    Since the death of Joseph Smith, there have only been 3 sections added to the D&C, and 2 Official Declarations. It does seem to me that the heavens have been rather closed since the times of Joseph Smith. Let me summarize these below, (the Chronological link is found here.)

    Section 135 (originally section 113 for CoC, but removed completely in 1990) is basically the obituary of Joseph Smith, written by John Taylor at the end of June 1844.

    Section 136 is the only revelation recorded to Brigham Young, and outlines how the westward migration was to be organized. It came in Jan 1847, in Council Bluffs, Nebraska.

    Section 138 is a revelation given to Joseph F. Smith (Joseph’s nephew, I believe he is descended through Hyrum), and concerns Baptism for the Dead.

    Official Declaration 1 is a press release ending polygamy in 1890, given by Wilford Woodruff.

    Official Declaration 2 is also a press release ending the priesthood ban in 1976.

    I am very much impressed that the CoC seems to have many more revelations. The LDS church claims 134 revelations in 14 years, and then just 5 over the next 163 years. I don’t call that a great deal of continuing revelation. In many ways, it seems to me that the LDS canon is much more closed than the CoC canon, despite the LDS position that we say we believe in continuous revelation. Certainly, canonical revelation has dropped precipitously since the days of Joseph Smith. IMO, the CoC has a much stronger claim to continuous revelation, with their 163 revelations–50 or so coming after 1861, and Pres Veazey’s recent edition of section 163 in March 2007.

    Some may refer to the Proclamation on the Family as a revelation–it was given by President Gordon B Hinckley in 1995. I can see it being added as an Official Declaration some day, but it seems to me to be more of a statement of already accepted beliefs than a new revelation. On the other hand, many of the sections of the D&C are simply mission calls, and don’t seem to have much new information, but rather are good advice to follow–remember faith, virtue, knowledge, etc in D&C 4 aren’t really earth-breaking revelations either. In that respect, the Proclamation is every bit as important as D&C 4, for example. (I checked, and D&C 4 is the same in the LDS and CoC editions.)

    As for Tara’s question about inerrancy, and literalism, let me give the most obvious example. While there may be a few people who believe that God created the earth in 6-24 hour days, I doubt most people believe this literally. The LDS position has been very vague on this topic. Some LDS leaders have taken the position that evolution is not part of the creation, while others are very pro-evolution. I doubt any LDS person believes that God literally created the earth in 6-24 hours days.

    I also suspect that many LDS people understand the chronology problems in the Bible–that the earth is probably much more than 6000 years old. So, the LDS church isn’t going to hold a literal view of this. However, I suspect that most LDS believe in Adam and Eve, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham, Moses, etc literally existed. I think I am in that camp as well. I’m not ready to call Moses and the Exodus a myth, but I do entertain William Dever’s notion that there is no evidence of the Exodus, and there is a possibility that the Israelites and Canaanites are actually the same people. I suspect the two groups are strongly related, and perhaps the Exodus story does contain some exaggerations on the size of Israel, but I still hold that some sort of Exodus probably occurred. Perhaps the details in the Bible have been exaggerated, but I don’t think it is out and out myth. (I am planning an Exodus post soon, so I don’t want to get too sidetracked there.) In that sense, I believe an Exodus literally occurred, though I think the Bible might contain some embellishments and is not inerrant regarding the Exodus.

  13. The extension of the “vetting process” to the membership is gradually emerging, and is not that old; the leadership behind the scenes doing the vetting has been going on all along in CofChrist. As Tara said, i guess you have no way to tell how it would work in the LDS today until you have a working example.

    One question I ask of our own process is whether this kind of prophetic consensus-building is really practical as the pace of change in the world increases and the number of divergent cultural views that need consideration in the consensus grows as we become much less a North American church.

    BTC wasn’t being flippant above. His post expresses his real frustration with the slow pace of this process, as you can see on his most recent post on talking points issued by the Presidency concerning the issue of gay rights.

    Tara, I’m surprised that you would say that the truth of a revelation would be obvious because I thought you said that you got your testimony about polygamy only after much deep searching.

  14. FireTag, while I agree that we haven’t had many revelations to know how the “vetting” process is for the LDS, it is apparent to me for both Official Declarations that it was basically an edict from the Lord. In the case of polygamy, Lorenzo Snow basically laid down the new law, and we were told to accept it. While there were some who continued to perform polygamist marriages as late as 1904, those apostles resigned in 1904 due to their continuing practice of polygamy.

    In the case of the lifting of the priesthood ban, it was also was more of an edict. I’m sure it caused some people some concern, but the general membership accepted it pretty readily. I was about 9 years old when it was announced, and remember thinking, “I didn’t know blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood.” It seemed pretty logical to me, and I suspect it was with most members.

    I don’t know many details about Pres Joseph F. Smith’s revelation in 1918, but I suspect it was just added to the D&C in an “edict” fashion as well. I do know it was originally added to the Pearl of Great Price, but I don’t know when it made the move to the D&C.

    As we think about it, Moses didn’t go through a vetting process for the 10 commandments, nor did any of the biblical prophets. They talked as if it was an edict from God, and I think that is probably the way it should probably be done and presented to the general membership.

  15. Lots of threads here. I’ll comment on a couple of them.

    First let me say that I agree with Tara that there is a difference between literalism and inerrancy, and this is where she makes the separation. However, I also agree with MH that this designation probably doesn’t fit with this discussion…though relevant none the less.

    Many critics site the fact that little to no revelation has occurred in the LDS church since the death of JS, as evidence that the current LDS church is not “the one true church”. Either because revelation simply does not happen (and didn’t in JS’s day either) or that the CoC is where the “true” authority/church lies.

    To answer MH’s question about my use for the scriptures:
    1. Anyone that knows me beyond this blog, knows that I have very little use for the majority of the OT. I won’t get into the reasons here.
    2. The NT, on the other hand, is full of great wisdom and teachings. I marvel at how wise many of the parables and judgments attributed to Jesus really are. I have A LOT of use for the NT. Doesn’t mean I take it all literally though.

    I lived in southern VA when the Blacks were given the priesthood. I will NEVER forget how 1/3 of our ward immediately went inactive. Like MH, I was a young lad at the time too, and didn’t really understand all the implications.

  16. I do want to point out one other thing. The lifting of the priesthood ban happened on June 8, 1978. It wasn’t voted on in General Conference until Sept 30, 1978. there had already been many blacks ordained prior to September, so if anyone had voted “no”, it would be too late to overturn the revelation anyway. Even if someone had voted “no”, it wouldn’t have affected the status of the revelation anyway.

  17. So, Tara, if you accept Pres Veazey’s definition, can you think of anything in the scriptures that God may not have breathed? (I’ve laid out my cards on the table, can you lay out some of yours?)

    Well, I don’t really keep a catalog of all the scriptures that I think perhaps God didn’t breathe. That isn’t something that I consciously do as I read and study the scriptures. I believe that God gives truths to prophets and they write it, sometimes in their own words, sometimes maybe even word for word as God gave it when it is very important. Sometimes the prophets are just writing the history as they’ve lived it or have read it, and that is an instance where a prophet may not need to be inspired in every word to write. Sometimes prophets may write their own ideas and feelings which may not have come directly from God but are consistent with the truth. When scriptures are translated from one language to another, I believe that there is even more opportunity for the translator to impose his own choice of words. In this case, sometimes the original meaning is lost and that is certainly not the inerrant word of God. The creation periods being called “day” is one example where the original meaning has been lost.

    So while I believe that there may be errors and that not all words are as they fell from the mouth of God, I don’t believe that there is any doctrinal error and I don’t believe that the historical events in the scriptures, particularly the ones which have been reconfirmed in modern revelations and scriptures, are false or merely figurative.

    I hope this helps you better understand where I’m coming from.

    I’m surprised that you would say that the truth of a revelation would be obvious because I thought you said that you got your testimony about polygamy only after much deep searching.

    When the principle of plural marriage was first introduced to me, it wasn’t through the prophet. It was just in a casual conversation. I wouldn’t expect to receive a testimony of the principle in such a setting. I wasn’t being asked for a sustaining vote on plural marriage. I’ve never even asked the Lord to give me a testimony of it. I didn’t feel that I was entitled to it since I wasn’t required to live it. I did want to understand it better if it did become necessary for me to someday live or sustain the principle. That is why I studied it rather than pray for a testimony. However, if I remember correctly, I think I may have prayed that my understanding of the principle would be increased.

    there is a difference between literalism and inerrancy,..However,…this designation probably doesn’t fit with this discussion…though relevant none the less.

    Why not? The title of this post is about “Pres Veazey on Scripture Literalism”, but I don’t see how Pres. Veazey’s statement speaks directly to or even just alludes to scriptural literalism. It seems like that is what has been read into his statement. Maybe I’m mistaken there, so correct me if I missed something.

  18. “Edicts” have been known to happen in CofChrist, too, when the issues are too divisive. This certainly happened in our history back in the 1920’s when revelation settled the relationship between the First Presidency and Apostles for us. (The 12 are definitely subordinate in our structure — we would never refer to the 15 living Apostles, and the Prophet can remove Apostles for reasons of age or need for new direction in the church.)

    It also happened when women were called into the priesthood. There was even an organized attempt at the following conference to RESCIND conference approval of the revelation that drew perhaps 20% of the conference votes. The fact that many women had by then already been ordained was used as one of the reasons for ruling the attempt out of order.

    But it strikes me, now that I think of it, that one of the reasons revelations are less often given as edicts has to do with the notion we feel we’re supposed to be a “prophetic people”, not simply a people led by a prophet. It all has to do with how we see our calling to serve in this world and not only prepare for the world to come. Whether we can take the responsibility to develop that closenesss with the Spirit as individuals, or our leadership can give up the control to let that happen in time to matter is an open question.

    I think it was in one of the threads in Mormon Mattewrs, but someone was talking about a child answering the question “How many Mormon prophets have their been?” by replying, “All of them.”

    The vetting process is moving us slowly in that direction.

  19. Tara, I agree 100% with your differentiation between literalism and inerrancy, but as MH pointed out, he was only interested in the literalism side of the argument. That is the only reason, I said what I said, otherwise, I’m with you.

  20. BR,

    I guess my comment was directed more to MH, but I do wonder why such a discussion doesn’t fit this discussion, as I believe he has read more into Pres. Veazey’s statement than it was meant to convey.

  21. “The LDS church claims 134 revelations in 14 years, and then just 5 over the next 163 years.”

    This is something that I’ve wondered about, too. But I tend to think that today’s LDS Church is more hesitant to apply labels such as “doctrine” or “revelation” to anything anymore. Some like to say that the Mormon faith is a faith without official doctrine. In many ways I think this is true. I don’t think that there are many of us who know the difference between “official doctrine,” “revelation,” “teaching,” “policy,” or just plain Mormon cultural traits. Many equate everything in the scriptures or what the prophet has said as “official doctrine.” But, based on the criteria for what constitues “official doctrine,” I honestly can’t think of much that is indisputably “official doctrine.” (See this guide put out by FAIR.

  22. FD, that mindset is a product of the LDS church in the 70s (or before). You ask anyone that was a member back then (and into the 80s) and they will tell you that they were taught that anything published by the church was considered doctrine, and that when the prophet spoke in a church setting, he was speaking for the church.

    I was shocked, quite frankly, at the complete turnaround the church has taken in recent years regarding this. That said, I understand it though, because church leaders have consistently said things that contradict current knowledge and have put their foot in their mouth quite often. That is the reason for correlation (which I think eliminates the position of Prophet). I don’t remember Jesus asking the apostles to vote on his teachings. Same goes for any other biblical or BoM prophet.

  23. BR: Can you elaborate for an outsider how “correlation” functions?

    Tara: There is a cultural context in Pres. Steve’s statement that may not be apparent. During the 1980’s, fundamentalist resistance to the direction the church was taking was so intense that workers at church HQ commonly believed that the Prophet had to wear a bullet proof vest to protect against assassination. (I cannot attest to whether the belief was accuarate, but I can attest that the belief was very common). So the present leadership are people who saw their mentors personally scarred by theological battles against fundamentalism. They certainly know the difference between literalism and inerrancy, but I don’t think they would care about the difference enough to affect the statement.

  24. FT: In some respects, correlation makes sense. Basically, the First Presidency and Apostles approve content that is published by the LDS church. This is to make sure that writings are on topic and on message. I have no problem with that.

    Where I have a problem is when it spills over to what the Prophet writes and declares. Seems a Prophet does not have the right to declare doctrine unless it is first approved through correlation. This tells me 2 things:
    1. The Prophet does not speak directly to God – else why the need for correlation?
    2. The Prophet is not trusted to properly speak for the LDS church when the format is written and published.

    These are red flags for me.

  25. The Presidency retains that right in the CofChrist, but I’m not clear that the Presidency bothers to apply it to the Apostles, and usually applies it only after the fact for members — usually only if the statements embarrass the church.

  26. Ok, I’m getting a little confused. It seems we’re not all in agreement as to what “inerrancy” is, and what “literalism” is. In my mind, there is quite a bit of overlap in the definitions. However, it seems that Tara and Bishop Rick are making distinctions between the two words. Wikipedia is always a quick easy source, so let’s look at some basic definitions. Biblical Inerrancy:

    Biblical inerrancy is the doctrinal position that, in its original form, the Bible is totally without error, and free from all contradiction; “referring to the complete accuracy of Scripture, including the historical and scientific parts.”

    Biblical Literalism:

    Fundamentalists and Evangelicals sometimes refer to themselves as “literalists” or Biblical literalists. Sociologists also use the term in reference to conservative Christian beliefs which include not just literalism but also inerrancy. Often the term Biblical literalism is used as a pejorative to describe or ridicule the interpretative approaches of fundamentalist or evangelical Christians.

    In my mind, there is much overlap in these definitions. Can you clarify your definitions as to why they are different?

    Tara, what do you think I’m reading into Pres Veazey’s statement? It sounds to me that you think I’m reading something that Pres Veazey did not intend. Can you expound?

  27. FireTag,

    Let me try my stab at correlation. In about the 1950’s, Pres David O McKay was concerned that many of the manuals contained information that wasn’t necessarily the official church position. There was also a problem with different organizations duplicating and contradicting other organizations. (For example, Priesthood manuals would duplicate and/or contradict Sunday School and/or Relief Society manuals.) Correlation was an attempt to centralize and eliminate many of these problems. So the church has made a big push to better standardize many manuals.

    One of the results of correlation is that there is much less radical teaching. For example, while Brigham Young taught that blacks were less valiant in the pre-earth life, new manuals have tried to distance themselves from these statements, though such statements unfortunately still can be found. Correlation can be similar to the “vetting” process we have been discussing with the CoC, but of course the manuals are not considered on the same level as scripture.

    Bishop Rick has highlighted that correlation has seemed to make the prophets more circumspect in what they say. Part of this can be attributed to the internet age we live in, where it is much easier to disseminate and misconstrue comments, so I can understand some of the current prophet’s desire to prevent mis-statements.

    I think it is quite interesting that Pres Hinckley did make a statement on Larry King that polygamy is not doctrinal. Pres McKay made a similar statement to Sterling McMurrin in about 1955, that the priesthood ban was not doctrinal as well. 20 years later the ban was removed. Now 50 years later, McKay’s statement is seen in a different context, and seems quite radical from the traditional Mormon perspective of the day. Certainly when the apostles learned (in 1969) of McKay’s statement 1955 statement, it caused quite a stir, and nearly resulted in a lifting of the ban 7 years sooner through a policy change, rather than a revelation. (See my Priesthood Ban post for more details–Greg Prince highlights this, so look for the orange parts.)

    I wonder if Pres Hinckley’s comments about polygamy may usher in a similar shift in ideology concerning polygamy. (I’d love for my polygamy position to be in a similar position of Sterling McMurrin’s priesthood ban position in another 20 years.) I just don’t view the Proclamation on the Family as congruous with the polygamy doctrine. While Bishop Rick may not attribute Pres Hinckley’s polygamy remarks as radical, I know that his polygamy remarks rankled some of the more orthodox members within the church who support the principle of polygamy. Perhaps it is a forerunner of future shifts away from polygamy in the future. Of course, some would like the prophet to make more radical pronouncements, and view such declarations by Hinckley as minor.

  28. MH: Believe me, I was shocked by the statement by GBH, but if I remember correctly, didn’t he say, “I’m not sure if its doctrinal” kind of leaving it open?

    Or was that his response to “was God once a man?”

  29. I looked and found a transcript. Yes it is certainly about polygamy, and can be found here. The exact quote regarding polygamy is

    Gordon B. Hinckley: I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law.

    As for your other comment “was God once a man”, I believe that was a quote from General Conference. I did a post about that. Hugo Olaiz did an analysis of Pres Hinckley’s comment. You can see it here.

  30. MH,

    I understand that there is some overlap with inerrancy and literalism. But what I think you may be doing is assuming that Pres. Veazey is equating inerrancy with literalism when he may not be. But then again, maybe he is. Or he could’ve only used the term inerrancy instead of including literalism as well in order to allow some wiggle room in the event of severe criticism.

    As for Pres. Hinckley’s statement about polygamy, it certainly isn’t doctrinal now, is it? Doctrine can change can’t it?


    They certainly know the difference between literalism and inerrancy, but I don’t think they would care about the difference enough to affect the statement.

    What do you mean by the last part of this statement?


    I look at correlation and such procedures as a sort of checks and balances, in order to prevent a prophet from being deceived and leading us astray. I think it also gives confidence to the membership when they know that it isn’t just one man making decisions but that the presidency and the twelve prayerfully seek to make sure that any changes the prophet receives revelation for are indeed from God. I don’t see why these things would be red flags for you if they are an added layer of protection for us.

  31. Tara, I think you’re reading things into my statements. If you have a different definition of inerrancy and literalism, we can use your definitions. What are your distinctions between the two? Since Pres Veazey didn’t specifically address those 2 definitions, I think we should be in agreement on them before we dispute them with each other.

    I’m not sure I agree with your statement on correlation as a check and balance. Your statement seems to imply that there were not checks and balances prior to Pres McKay, and that indeed some of the prophets prior to McKay led us astray. From your previous comments on Abraham, Joshua, and the Priesthood ban, I can’t believe you actually support a position that prophets were ever led astray. Pre-correlation, it seems that a check and balance was never needed. Can you clarify your position?

  32. I agree with the definitions you quoted, and I agree that the definition of the two terms can overlap. Certainly, if the scriptures portray a fictitious event as having actually occurred, that would prevent it from being inerrant. But I can hold the belief that the scriptures are not inerrant, meaning not without errors, amd still hold that they do not present fiction as truth. If you automatically conclude that I am not a scriptural literalist when I say that I don’t believe the scriptures are inerrant, then you dilute the meaning of the term, and we have a communication problem. Does that make more sense?

  33. When Pres. Hinckley said that, it would have been fascinating to have posed the question whether he was in any way referring to Joseph Smith (who outright lied about practicing polygamy) and the post-Manifesto Mormons who were still entering into polygamous marriages with the Church turning a blind eye to it. Was he condemning them? Or only those who think they have a right to practice it now?

    “I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal.”

    “As for Pres. Hinckley’s statement about polygamy, it certainly isn’t doctrinal now, is it? Doctrine can change can’t it?”

    Good question. I don’t know for sure, but to me it seems that doctrine should be unchangeable (i.e. the nature of God) whereas policy and teaching can change and evolve. However, as I stated before, we’re often confused about what is doctrine and what is policy. I think that JS and BY believed themselves that polygamy was doctrinal (hence the harsh statements from BY about people burning in hell for not practicing it), whereas GBH seems to treat it as yet another policy or teaching that we’ve abandoned over time.

  34. The checks and balances I am referring to also occurred prior to Pres. McKay in the form of unanimity or at least consensus among the brethren in adopting new doctrines or revelation. It can also apply to correlating instructional materials too to ensure that they are consistent with approved doctrines.

  35. (That quote beginning with “I condemn it…” was supposed to come before my first paragraph.)

  36. FD,

    If you look up the definition of doctrine, it says:

    1. A particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government.
    2. Something that is taught; teachings collectively: religious doctrine.

    I wasn’t able to find a good definition of doctrine from the church website but I did find references to “constant doctrine”, “essential doctrines”, and “core doctrines”, which seems to imply that some doctrines are more important than others and that doctrines can change, otherwise the qualifier “constant” probably wouldn’t be necessary.

  37. And yet, if we use the FAIR essay as a guide, “constant” or “essential” doctrine doesn’t seem to qualify as “official doctrine.”

  38. Tara:

    Opposition to fundamentalism draws the CofChrist leadership’s attention as a prospective threat to the church, whether it is American Christianity or fundamentalist Hinduism. It is a far broader stance than a particular doctrine about the Bible or Book of Mormon, and so I don’t believe the statement distinguishes between inerrency and literalism any more than it does between Shiite and Suni.

  39. FD,

    Why do you say that “constant” or “essential” doctrine doesn’t seem to qualify as “official doctrine” according to the FAIR essay? The essay very clearly states that the standard works are the “yardstick” by which we judge whether something is doctrinal. Therefore, what is contained in the standard works is doctrinal. That means that plural marriage, for example, was a doctrine until it became forbidden. Meaning, it was a doctrine and it was taught as such. Now, it is not a doctrine because it is not taught or practiced by the leadership or by the membership. I guess I don’t understand the difficulty here. If a statement is made and it is consistent with what is taught in the standard works, we can consider it doctrine. If it doesn’t or if it might not be clear if it does, then we can consider it possibly true or speculative or possibly false. We are entitled to view such things however we choose, hopefully following the Spirit.


    Did you mean to say “fundamentalism draws the CofChrist leadership’s attention” rather than “opposition to fundamentalism”?

    But if I’m following you correctly, it sounds as though the church is in a “by any means necessary” mode to protect the church. Does that mean the church would be willing to completely abandon the scriptures if the threat became too serious? To not really care to differentiate between inerrancy and literalism is troubling to me because there is a significant difference. The difference between Shiite and Suni doesn’t mean much to us, but to those who are of those tribes, it means a lot.

  40. Tara,

    You said to FireTag “To not really care to differentiate between inerrancy and literalism is troubling to me because there is a significant difference.” But to me you said, “the definition of the two terms can overlap.”

    I don’t know where you really stand.

    In practice you say that you believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. However, unless Joseph Smith (or other prophet) specifically tells us of a mistranslation, it seems to me that you accept that the Bible is in fact translated correctly, which in my mind puts you a practical literalist/inerrancy position. While theoretically, you hold that there “might” be mistranslations, you are extremely loathe to admit any: “I don’t really keep a catalog of all the scriptures that I think perhaps God didn’t breathe.”

    It seems you like to cast stones at me for taking a position on polygamy, Abraham, etc as being errant, but you don’t want to take a stand on any scriptures as possibly being errant/non-literal. I say that you need to really come up with an example, or it seems to me that you do in fact (in a practical sense) believe the Bible to be inerrant and literal, excepting in the cases where Joseph Smith has clarified specific scriptures in the JST. Is this correct?

    As a test, do you accept Pres Kimball’s assertion that Peter was essentially commanded to deny Christ, or do you accept 2000 years of scholarship saying Peter was so scared that he denied Christ? Which of these two options would be inerrant/errant or literal/non-literal (pick the term which best defines your position–I’m still not sure I understand your distinction)?

  41. One more thing. It seems to me that Tara’s position is that doctrine can change. For example, polygamy was doctrine from Smith to Snow, but hasn’t been doctrine since. Am I correct in this interpretation?

    I think that is not a typical definition of doctrine. It certainly seems to fix the semantic problems of Pres Hinckley, but is sure makes the definition of doctrine extremely fuzzy, thus introducing a whole new can of worms. No wonder LDS people don’t know the difference between a doctrine and a policy any more–the definition can change.

  42. Wow Tara, MH is right you know. I have never seen you NOT defend any scripture in the OT or NT. You have to admit, that leans on the side biblical inerrancy.

    FWIW, my definition of a biblical literalist is someone that believes that all events mentioned in the bible actually happened…that it’s not possible the event could be a parable or some equivalent.

    And for me, biblical inerrancy means that the bible is word-for-word the word of God. That is why I separate the 2 definitions, and I thought Tara used the same definitions, but now I’m not sure.

  43. “The essay very clearly states that the standard works are the “yardstick” by which we judge whether something is doctrinal. Therefore, what is contained in the standard works is doctrinal. That means that plural marriage, for example, was a doctrine until it became forbidden.”

    I guess the problem boils down to how literally one views the scriptures. The scriptures are full of contradictions (“thou shall not kill” –> it’s OK for Elisha to wipe out some kids for making fun of his bald head), (“cleave unto your wife and no other –> polygamy), (“thou shalt not kill” –> God orders genocide), (“all are alike unto God” –> blacks are agents of Satan).

    You name it, and you can probably find support for it in the scriptures somewhere: killing, polygamy, death penalty, war, discrimination against women, incest, racism, genocide, etc.

    And at the same time, all of these things are probably forbidden somewhere in the scriptures. Everything is OK and yet nothing is OK.

    It sort of reminds me how liberals and conservatives both see “proof” and support in the Bible for their respective political convictions. It all depends on how you look at it.

    “If a statement is made and it is consistent with what is taught in the standard works, we can consider it doctrine. If it doesn’t or if it might not be clear if it does, then we can consider it possibly true or speculative or possibly false.”

    Now, for those who take the Bible literally and view it as inerrant, there isn’t really a problem. EVERYTHING in the Bible is justified and the Word of God. But you yourself have expressed doubts about this, and it’s also apparent in the 8th Article of Faith that we should assume that Bible contains mistakes. So, I’m not sure I trust the standard works as the yardstick of determination as to whether something is doctrinally correct or not. What if we’re establishing doctrine based on passages that are inaccurate, amended, or wrong altogether? We’re told that the prophets of today are as the prophets of old. The prophets of today make mistakes. We can assume the prophets of old did as well, and that these mistakes probably made it into scripture.

  44. Bishop Rick, those are interesting definitions. I’m curious if Tara supports them. Using your definitions, I lean toward Biblical literalism, though I am willing to make exceptions, such as believing the Flood was localized. I believe it literally happened, rather than is a myth. So that’s why I said I lean toward literalism–I think events happened, but I believe there can be exaggerations in the Bible. I’m open to the idea that they could be myths, but I lean toward toward literalism over myth.

    As for inerrancy, I think I’ve made it clear that I think there are errors in the Bible, and I even think prophets misinterpreted God when they wrote down the Bible.

  45. Yes, I agree with BR’s definitions.
    I don’t believe that the Bible is word-for-word the word of God. For instance, in the creation account that MH mentioned earlier, I don’t believe that when the word “day” is used that it literally means a 24-hour period of time. When the word “create” is used, I don’t believe that it necessarily means create out of nothing as many take the word create to mean. The example FD gave of Elisha killing some kids is probably missing some information. That is one example where I would be willing to concede that the event may not be factual, though I lean toward believing that we don’t have the complete picture there. There are a number of examples in the four gospels where events contradict each other. Those are obvious examples of error in some form or another. There are also examples where you can go back to the Hebrew and find where the translation is incorrect and the meaning changes significantly. Without going into details about the contents and their differences, because that would take a lot of time, some of the scriptures in this category are Hebrews 10:5-10, Psalms 40:6, Acts 2:26-28, Psalms 16:9-11, Ephesians 4:7-8, Psalms 68:18, and Deut. 32:8-9. There are many instances in the OT where large numbers don’t match up from one book to another. In the book of Daniel, chapters 3 and 4, are supposed to be about King Nebuchadnezzar, but are actually about King Nabonidus. There is an instance where Moses classifies a bat as a bird and a hare as a cud chewer. There are references to unicorns and dragons, which probably didn’t exist, but which probably refer to some other type of animal. Lev. 11:20 talks about “fowls that creep, going upon all four”. There are misattributed quotes. There are the different versions of Paul’s conversion story.

    I could probably come up with more, but this is already time-consuming enough, since like I said, I don’t keep a catalog. I had to search for these examples. I do hope, however, that this is sufficient evidence for me to no longer be considered a believer in Biblical inerrancy.

    Yes, I agree with Pres. Kimball’s assertion that Peter was commanded to deny Christ. I believe I stated my position on this in the Judas post.


    The examples of problematic behavior in the OT you gave did occur, but they are not all supported in the scriptures. But of the few that are supported, they are done so with God’s consent, and he has every right to give commands which contradict previous commands. The Book of Mormon also attests to this fact. I don’t know why all of this is so difficult to understand.

  46. I don’t think that concept is tough to understand, it think it is tough to believe.
    Tough to believe that God would be so inconsistent.

  47. Tara, I looked over the scriptures you listed. I’m sure it took you some time to find them: they are pretty obscure, and I’m not sure your point, because in reading them, it is not obvious to me what the problem is. It seems to me like you are saying that the KJV is a mistranslation of Hebrew for these verses. Are you advocating that we either read it in Hebrew, or go to a more accurate translation like the NIV to understand these scriptures? I did look at the NIV, and still couldn’t figure out the problem you were trying to point out.

    Most of these things that you listed seem relatively unimportant, IMO. For example, Classifying a bat as a bird isn’t really central to my testimony of Christ. If I mistake a bat for a bird, I don’t think God is going to send me to hell. These seem to be more “policy” than “doctrine”, as we talk about today. Frankly, I think most people think bats are birds even today. I’ve never gotten into a theological (or zoological) argument with anybody about it. It certainly is not on the scale of crashing a plane into a building, or wiping out the Canaanites as Joshua did.

    I guess I’m more concerned with bigger issues: was the flood localized or global? Did God command human sacrifice with Abraham and Isaac? Are blacks cursed through Cain?

    If we use Bishop Rick’s definitions of inerrancy and literalism, I come to the following conclusion. On these issues, it seem to me that Bishop Rick calls these “bigger issues” myths, and non-literal. I think they’re literal, but errant. They’re either exaggerations, or man’s poor ability to understand God’s revelations. It seems to me that Tara refers to these all as literal, inerrant, and God’s will. Would you (and BR) agree with this characterization?

  48. I figured my possible errors wouldn’t be big enough for you. But I’ve stated previously that while I believe there are errors, I didn’t believe that those errors seriously affected doctrinal teachings, unless of course you count ommission as error, which I do, but that’s an obvious one.

    So, the way I see it, I have to take issue with something really big in order to join the club, right? Apparently Elisha isn’t big enough. I like how I have to meet your standards or else I must believe in scriptural inerrancy. Since when did the definition say how big the errors have to be?

    Well, let me just say that I am open to a number of possibilities when it comes to the flood. I’ve read a few different arguments with regard to a localized or global flood and I think both arguments have their merits. So I don’t take a stand on either right now. I think both are possibilities. But I don’t see how the issue of whether or not the flood is local or global significantly affects the doctrine.

    But with regard to Abraham, I believe that God did command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. I suppose that you could say that if only the Bible contained the story of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac, then maybe it’s not true, but when latter-day revelation repeats it, I can’t see how it was a mistake in communication. Otherwise, God is either a poor communicator, or he chooses prophets who are poor at receiving communication. I’m not saying that mistakes can’t be made, but not on the scale that you are talking about.

    With regard to those “obscure” references I gave you, the first one from Hebrews and Psalms are referring to Jesus’ resurrection. But in the Hebrew, it is referring to David. In Deuteronomy 32, it seems that editors were apparently trying to erase the distinction between Yaweh and El, making them one instead of separate. That is a significant error in doctrine, IMO.

    Well, it’s time for me to go to work, so I don’t have time for further comment at the moment.

  49. “I don’t think that concept is tough to understand, it think it is tough to believe. Tough to believe that God would be so inconsistent.”

    The inconsistency is what is troubling to me, as well as to many others. Maybe some of you can relate, but when I read the scriptures, I end up feeling more troubled and confused by who and how God really is, as opposed to when I ponder my concept of God in my mind and heart. The God in the scriptures displays hints of love and compassion, but seems to be equally petty, harsh, and lacking in compassion. (Of course, though, I realize that this impression of mine is perhaps the result of humans putting their spin on things that made it into the canon.) He comes across as being terribly inconsistent, almost schizophrenic in his dealings with mankind. I should probably fear being struck by lightning for even saying this, but I’m just being honest. My personal concept of God seems at times vastly different from the impression I’ve gotten in the scriptures. I think this is especially true where D&C is concerned.

    One thing that I’ve taken from my study of Church history and doctrinal disagreements is that personal conscience and revelation have become paramount in my life. I realize that there needs to be a careful balance of obedience and humility, as well as respect for prophetic inspiration, but to be perfectly honest, I’m through with “follow the prophet” without asking a lot of questions and, if I feel compelled to do so, to take a different path. I think that if God really wanted us to have 100%, complete (perhaps even blind) trust in the prophets, there wouldn’t be all these inconsistencies and discrepencies in the standard works and throughout Church history. I can accept that much of these errors were not deliberate. I think they are simply the result of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and human weakness. I know I’ve probably said this before, but I think the “follow the prophet” mantra can do more harm than good for many because we get mentally/spiritually lazy, not to mention very judgmental of those who don’t follow prophetic teachings to a tee. As well, we end up having unrealistic expectations as we put these men on such a pedestal that we hold them to an impossible standard.

  50. MH, I don’t believe all major events in the Bible to be myths. If we take the flood for instance. I am on board with the localized flood theory. In fact, we know that the Black Sea was involved in a catastrophic flood around the time of Noah, and that would have been the known world at the time. And, there are other documents outside the Bible that talk of a great flood involving a King Noah who took his animals onto his boat and saved them. I can easily see how this story changed over the years to Noah saving ALL animals in a flood that destroyed the ENTIRE world.

    The difference between a local or global flood might not seem to be doctrinally significant, but if it was local (it really couldn’t have been global) then many other portions of the Bible would be false. An example is where Egypt has a continual record of existence that well pre-dates the flood. This would also change the common ancestor bottleneck event from Adam to Noah which would also mean that the entire world would have been populated to 7 billion through Noah’s 3 sons (per Genesis) in only 3,450 years. There is much much more. Suffice it to say that there was NO global flood. This is a case of biblical errancy.

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