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|My beef with our cross-referenced standard works, and the questions it raises|
Jan. 13th, 2007 at 11:22 am
On many levels, of course, an index to scripture makes sense; so many levels as to on the face of it not even need justification. However, thereâ€™s one way I think that causes problems. The indexes and crossreferences level out scripture. They allow us to dip into our quads selectively via the artificial concept of the â€˜verseâ€™ and stand snippets of thought written miles and generations and cultures apart next to each other as though they were the product of a single voice. This encourages prooftexting and discourages consideration about context, author, and narrative style, a tendency which leads us down the dangerous path of using carefully clipped passages to prove that scriptural authors (or God) think the same way we do about a variety of issues. In sum, the index allows us to reconstruct the standard works according to our own devices as a single, unified body of inspiration in which every sentence is functionally equivalent to every other. In a practical sense, of course, this is exactly how we treat them. In a conceptual sense, however, the concept is more difficult.
Many biblical inerrenists specifically assert that the Bible as it stands is the product of revelation down to the word choice and commas. Mormons, however, have it less easy. Despite common belief (of those like an old seminary teacher who endorsed the Bible Dictionary by claiming that â€œeverything between the coversâ€ of the quad is scripture â€“ even, I must assume, the maps and tab abbreviations) we do not hold to biblical inerrency; rather, our scripture is uneven. By its own word it is not necessarily an even plain of uniform inspiration. There are any number of examples for this â€“ the D&Câ€™s lukewarm opinion of the Apocrypha; the Book of Mormonâ€™s famous â€œthe errors of menâ€ corollary; the Eighth Article of Faith.
For me the most interesting question raised here is the uncertainty about exactly what â€œscriptureâ€ is. D&C 68:4 claims that whatever is spoken under the influence of the Holy Spirit is scripture, but demonstrably, all that is so spoken is not included in the canon. The first distinction, then should be made between uncanonized inspired discourse, and one of “scripture,” defined here as canon. The latter seem to hold to no consistent literary type – all four books in our Standard Works are composed of an amalgam of writings, revelations stitched together, letters, public proclamations, poetry, and histories. Often they are produced by prophets; sometimes they are of uncertain provenance. The Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price add to this mixture selections from newspapers and dictated autobiography; their fragmentary nature is more obvious than that of the Bible or Book of Mormon. Throughout history parts of this amalgam have been added or dropped; the Reformers rejected the Apocrypha and Joseph Smith followed them; more recently the Lectures on Faith were dropped from the Doctrine and Covenants (they were the doctrine part, according to the introduction) in the 1920s.
This sort of ad hoc assemblage speaks of course to the openness of canon, but it also calls into question exactly what the qualifications for that status are. Why are some prophetic texts scripture and some not? Indeed, does all scripture have to be of prophetic provenance? Current procedure, of course, binds to us as canon whatever is presented to the Saints in General Conference and accepted by them, as was done with the Book of Commandments in 1835, the Pearl of Great Price in 1880 and both official declarations. The question, then, is whether canonized scripture somehow inherently different from other text. Is scripture possessed of some essential scriptureness that the canonization process merely acknowledges? This would justify the index, certainly, if Leviticus shared some essential inspiration with Official Declaration 1 that the Apocrypha or the King Follett Discourse – both useful, perhaps, as per D&C 91, but of a lower status – somehow do not have. Are the latter simply inspired discourse? What is the difference? Or is scripture simply selections, but â€˜madeâ€™ and unmade by virtue of the body of Saints naming it canon? This would justify the index in a different way, and it feels more right to me; it also, however, lends scripture a certain temporal, utilitarian quality that might make millions who converted on the strength of the Book of Mormon uneasy. Most importantly, what would happen if the First Presidency got it into their heads to, as is technically possible, decanonize the Book of Jarom, or Section 62? What if they decided to add the King Follett Discourse to the Pearl of Great Price?