Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why didn't anyone tell me -- about literal interpretation vs. allegory

Many people claim to believe "literally" in the Bible.  More or less.  They read it as God speaking to them.

But if we start with the creation story, it turns out no one literally believes in the Bible.

After all, the literal story in the Bible is that God separated the primal waters so that half are below the world (which floats on them) and half are above the great vault of the sky (and where rain occurs when God opens the windows of the heavens to let water fall on the earth).

Using the New English Translation (a scholarly work by evangelicals, well regarded), Genesis, Chapter 1 (the relevant footnotes following the text):

1:2 Now  the earth  was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water. 1:3 God said, Let there be light.”And there was light! 1:4 God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness1:5 God called  the light “day” and the darkness night.” There was eveningand there was morningmarking the first day. 
1:6 God said“Let there be an expanse 23  in the midst of the waters and let it separate water 24  from water. 1:7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. 25  It was so. 1:8God called the expanse “sky.” 27  There was eveningand there was morninga second day.
23 tn The Hebrew word refers to an expanse of air pressure between the surface of the sea and the clouds, separating water below from water above. In v. 8 it is called “sky.”

sn An expanse. In the poetic texts the writers envision, among other things, something rather strong and shiny, no doubt influencing the traditional translation “firmament” (cf. NRSV “dome”). Job 37:18 refers to the skies poured out like a molten mirror. Dan 12:3 and Ezek 1:22 portray it as shiny. The sky or atmosphere may have seemed like a glass dome. For a detailed study of the Hebrew conception of the heavens and sky, see L. I. J. Stadelmann, The Hebrew Conception of the World (AnBib), 37-60.

24 tn Heb “the waters from the waters.”

25 tn Heb “the expanse.”

1:14 God said“Let there be lights 34  in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the nightand let them be signs to indicate seasons and days and years, 
34 sn Let there be lights. Light itself was created before the light-bearers. The order would not seem strange to the ancient Hebrew mind that did not automatically link daylight with the sun (note that dawn and dusk appear to have light without the sun).

That is, in the initial creation the literal story is  that God separated the primal waters so that half are below the world (which floats on them) and half are above the great vault of the sky (and where rain occurs when God opens the windows of the heavens to let water fall on the earth).

I could go on.  No one, even the most literal of believers, thinks that the world consists of an island floating on endless waters with a solid firmament above that has water on the other side (where we would think of outer space beginning), light independent of the sun radiating it, and the sun and the moon moving across the solid dome of the heavens.

[Note that game designers do create worlds just like that -- I even worked on a project with such a world in the 1970s].

Once you realize that you can't get anyone who believes in a literal translation of the Bible through the first 10-20 verses, but that they re-interpret the Bible into their own understanding and in some ways as an allegory or as a figurative understanding. With that you start to realize that the Bible cannot be taken literally, but rather as a communication limited by language, context, intent and understanding.

At that point, other things begin to make sense.

The genocides in Exodus that did not happen (since the same people who are recorded as completely exterminated are still around in the book of Kings -- I've written about that elsewhere).  The flood occurred, and didn't cover the entire earth (since the Nephilim are recorded as predating the flood, missing the Ark, and showing up later).


Numbers 13:33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.
In the Bible, the universal language was shared by all men, yet Noah's family, while he was still alive, divides the land with other peoples, according to their languages -- they encountered humans who spoke different languages than they did and reached treaties with them, well before the Tower of Babel.

To quote about Genesis 10:25:

Rather, it is more likely referring to the human population of the Earth. Contextual indicators point to this latter conclusion. 
First, the Hebrew term for “Earth” (‘erets) may be used figuratively to refer to the Earth’s inhabitants. In fact, two separate figures of speech employ this use: “synecdoche of the whole” and “metonymy of the subject” (Bullinger, 1968, pp. 578,638). A sampling of Old Testament verses where the figure of speech occurs just within Genesis include Genesis 6:11; 9:19; 11:1; 18:25; 19:31; 41:30,57 (Gesenius, 1979, p. 81; Bullinger, p. 578). 
Second, verses both before and after Genesis 10:25 provide furtherindication that Moses was referring to a linguistic/political/human division rather than a physical division of the land mass. Earlier in the same chapter, he alluded to a separation of the peoples— “everyone according to his own language, according to their families, into their nations” (Genesis 10:5, emp. added). Later in the same chapter, Moses referred to the generational divisions of Noah’s descendants “in their nations; and from these the nations were divided on the earth after the flood” (Genesis 10:32, emp. added).  
I know.

Someone should have told you that even the most literal of readers of the Bible can't make it past the first chapter without treating it as something other than the literal words, and that the further you get, the more everyone has to acknowledge that they are either going to re-read the Bible to say something else than what it says or to expand it into a re-translation or an allegory or treat it differently?

So what to do with allegory?  Great question.  We will have to talk about that sometime.

Until then, let me mostly quote from a developmental analysis (borrowed from a recent book by Thomas Wirthlin McConkie [link]):

"Because adult development has been so poorly understood until recently, many of us have  naturally assumed that if others don’t see the world as we do, it was because they were missing crucial information, critical pieces of the puzzle. Provide them with all the puzzle pieces, the thinking goes, and they will snap together the same picture that the rest of us are looking at. 
We know now that this reasoning is folly.  We have learned from looking at children
Children make meaning according to capacities in their own awareness—meaning that is logical and consistent within itself. In other words, it’s not just an erroneous view of the “real world” that children offer in their speech, behavior, and play. It’s a perfect representation of their own world, the world their minds construct

"As it turns out, we adults are still doing the exact thing we did as children. At the end of childhood and adolescence we do not graduate, cap and gown, into a perfectly accurate, “adult” view of the world. How we perceive and make meaning of the world continue to develop throughout our lifespan.
That is, the language used, and the descriptions used in the Bible are a communication in the construct of the awareness of the listeners.  To understand we need to go beyond to the message that construct was intended to convey.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite Brigham Young quotes:  

"When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities…. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation."
There is a lot more to the discussion.  But the takeaway is that a literal reading is probably a wrong reading -- and no one gets even twenty verses into the scriptures without moving away from a literal reading.  And, perhaps, someone should have told you that.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sacrament talk, November 29, 2015

Brothers and Sisters, the Apostle Paul wrote:

o   But whether there be prophecies, they shall fail;

o   whether there be tongues, they shall cease;

o   whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits me nothing.

I was asked to speak on the love of Christ, and what it means.  Which means I have been asked to speak on Charity, which is the pure love of Christ.

Though everything else will fail, still the Lord has promised us that there will yet remain “faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

o   So, what is charity?

o   How does charity relate to Christ?

o   How do we act so that we express and encompass Charity?

What is Charity?

          When I was younger, I began to look at just what the love of Christ meant from how it acts, how it fits in our lives.  That led me to a different definition of what charity is than you might expect.  I was looking at where charity fit and what charity meant to each person who might seek it.

          I started where I read where Paul taught:

We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.

And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.

But if any man love God, the same is known of him.

          Paul was stating that knowledge tended to make us proud, to keep us from what we need to know, while Charity edified or made us what we needed to be, and that charity led us to know God, because we were known by God.

          Paul, and other apostles were fond of talking about how we would be known of God and that we would learn what we were to become, what we truly were, by encountering the Spirit of God.  They spoke of how the Spirit of God would make us like God. 

          Thus in 1 John 3:2.

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

          Or 1 Cor 13: 12.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

          In that context, the striking part of what they taught is that by loving God, and by showing God’s love to others, we are known of God, and that by being known of God we come to know God.

          Which means that charity’s place in our lives is that charity is the key to being known by God and to knowing God.  It is by learning Charity, learning love, we become like God.

          So while in definition charity may mean “loving kindness” or “tender kindness” in action, in our lives, the place that charity fits into our lives is that charity is the key to salvation, because it is the method by which we become like God.

So, how does Charity relate to Christ?

In my own life, when our daughter Jessica was sick, she was transferred to a hospital in Fort Worth.   That left us with two other small children in the home.  A babysitter we had used told us that since our two children had been exposed to their sister, they were not welcome.

A family friend, Kathy Warnock, called my wife, said that she had nine children who had been exposed to everything under the sun, and that she would gladly take in our other two children while I had work and my wife went to be with our daughter.  She kept them until family was able to come in from out of town to help.

That was Christ-like love and charity realized in our lives.

          Realizing that charity is the key to being like our heavenly father and that “charity is the pure love of Christ,” means that charity is how we become like Christ.  It is how we learn Christ’s will and participate in Christ’s work.  It is how we become his children and are reborn through him.

          The atonement is the great focus of the charity of Christ towards us.  Charity is a spiritual power that comes through Christ, and thus is connected to Christ in an intrinsic way.

          In his great sermon, the Prophet Mormon brought together the lessons I’ve talked about so far that were taught by many Prophets and Apostles.  He said:

39 But behold, my beloved brethren, I judge better things of you, for I judge that ye have faith in Christ because of your meekness; for if ye have not faith in him then ye are not fit to be numbered among the people of his church.

 40 And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?

 41 And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.

 42 Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.

 43 And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.

 44 If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.

 45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

 46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

 47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

 48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.

          That is how Charity relates to Christ.  It is the culmination of faith and hope in Christ. Charity is what makes us true followers of Christ and it is what makes us like him, to see him as he is, to be purified as he is pure and to be able to be saved.

So what do we do, where does Charity take us, how do we express Charity?

          In the Book of Matthew in the New Testament, Christ’s sermon on this point is recorded.  Christ said:

31 ¶When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

          Christ was clear that it was the expression of charity, of loving kindness, in our lives that was key to salvation.  The expression is how Christ will judge us. Christ did not care what people called him, or what they thought they knew.  He cared how they expressed his love, his tender mercy, to others.

          Thus he said:

46 ¶And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

          And Christ also taught:

20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

 21 ¶Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

So what are we to do, what does this mean?

          In studying charity, it became clear to me that:

o   But whether there be prophecies, they shall fail;

o   whether there be tongues, they shall cease;

o   whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away

But Charity never faileth

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

          We must be kind.  We must avoid vaunting ourselves up, we must avoid pride in our knowledge and pride in our own righteousness.  Instead if we wish to know God, if we wish to be like Christ and if we wish to be purified by him so that we may be saved in the kingdom of God, we must:

  • ·    Feed the hungry.
  • ·        Administer to the sick.
  • ·        Reach out to the impoverished and to strangers.
  • ·        Visit those in prison, those who have brought disaster upon themselves by their own actions and who are without merit.

For we are without merit sufficient for salvation and are saved only by Christ reaching out to us in our sins. This means that to be like Christ we must also reach out in kindness and love to others, who lack sufficient merit to deserve it.

That is what the love of Christ means and that why Paul would say: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” 

In our lives, and in our salvation, there is nothing greater than the love of Christ.

I bear witness to that in the name of Jesus Christ.



This is the talk I gave today. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lesson 19

In leading the Twelve, President Benson encouraged quorum members to express their thoughts candidly, even if he had a different opinion. When Elder Russell M. Nelson was a new member of the quorum, he thought perhaps he should not speak up. “But [President Benson] wouldn’t have that,” he said. “In fact, if I was silent on something he would draw it out.

1.    Is it important to draw out the silent?
2.    Is it important to learn from those who disagree with you?
3.    Does a leader really need counselors or just “yes men?”

Although President Benson solicited opinions from all, he did not let discussions wander. President Howard W. Hunter said he “knew how to get open and frank discussion from [the] Brethren and [was] able to direct and control it and arrive at a unanimous decision with everyone united.”3 When “he felt that adequate discussion had taken place, he typically said, ‘I think we’ve got enough hay down now. Let’s bale a little,’ bringing the issue to resolution.”

1.    How do we arrive at decisions with everyone united?
2.    What is the difference between open discussion and wandering discussion?

President Benson cared for those he led, and he taught by example. “I know of no man more considerate of his associates or more concerned for their well-being,” President Gordon B. Hinckley said. “He does not ask others to do that which he is unwilling to do himself, but rather sets an example of service for others of us to follow.” President Benson was also effective in delegating work to others, teaching and building them through that process.

1.    Why does leadership include delegation?
2.    Why is consideration and service for others an important part of leadership?

The power of Christ’s leadership grew from the challenge of His example. His clarion call was, “Come, follow me!” … His [success in gaining] the loyalty and devotion of men to principles of righteousness depend[ed] upon love as the great motivating factor.

If you are to provide future leadership for the Church, [your] country, and your own homes, you must stand firm in the faith, unwavering in the face of evil, and as Paul said, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

1.    What is the full armor of God?
2.    What parts does the full armor of God include?
3.    How does love fit into being firm?

Our young people need fewer critics and more models. You are the models to which they will look for a pattern in life to which they can follow and adhere. They will need the inspiration which can come from you as you square your lives fully with the teachings of the gospel.
1.    Do “older” people need the same things as “young people?”
2.    Why don’t people need critics?
3.    Why do they need models?

Spiritual strength promotes positive thinking, positive ideals, positive habits, positive attitudes, and positive efforts. These are the qualities which promote wisdom, physical and mental well-being, and enthusiastic acceptance and response by others.

Only the wholesome have the capacity to lift and encourage one another to greater service, to greater achievement, to greater strength.

Inspiration is essential to properly lead. … We must have the spirit of inspiration whether we are teaching (D&C 50:13–14) or administering the affairs of the kingdom (D&C 46:2).

There is no satisfactory substitute for the Spirit.

1.    How do these factors fit into the “whole armor of God?”
2.    Is there a difference between leadership in the Church and the kinds of leadership you see other places?

A genuine leader tries to stay well informed. He is a person who acts on principle rather than expediency. He tries to learn from all human experience measured against revealed principles of divine wisdom.

One of the best ways for leaders to understand correct principles is to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the scriptures and the appropriate handbook. Most situations have already arisen before, perhaps many times, and policy and procedure have already been determined to handle the problem. It is always wise, therefore, to refer to and be familiar with existing written instructions and Church policy on questions as they arise.

1.    How often have you had a leader who acted contrary to the handbook?
2.    How often did they feel they were right?
3.    How often did it cause problems?
4.    What about people who just did not know?

A good leader expects loyalty. He in turn gives his loyalty. He backs up those to whom he has given a job. The loyalty extends to matters beyond the call of duty. He is loyal when honors come to those with whom he serves. He takes pride in their successes. He does not overrule unless he first confers with him whose decision he overrules. He does not embarrass an associate before others. He is frank and open with him.

1.    Have you ever dealt with leaders who think of loyalty as a one way street?
2.    How does love and service fit into not embarrassing those you would lead?

A love of people is essential to effective leadership. Do you love those whom you work with? Do you realize the worth of souls is great in the sight of God (see D&C 18:10)? Do you have faith in youth? Do you find yourself praising their virtues, commending them for their accomplishments? Or do you have a critical attitude toward them because of their mistakes?

Even harder to bear than criticism, oftentimes, is no word from our leader on the work to which we have been assigned. Little comments or notes, which are sincere and specific, are great boosters along the way.

We know … that the time a leader spends in personal contact with members is more productive than time spent in meetings and administrative duties. Personal contact is the key to converting the inactive member.

1.    Have you ever dealt with someone who seemed to have a critical attitude rather than a caring attitude?  How did it affect you?
2.    Have you ever tried to operate in a vacuum?  How does that effect you, especially if you have a critical leader?
3.    How important is personal contact?

In the Church especially, asking produces better results than ordering—better feeling, too. Remember to tell why. Follow up to see how things are going. Show appreciation when people carry out instructions well. Express confidence when it can be done honestly. When something gets fouled up, it is well to check back and find out where you slipped up—and don’t be afraid to admit that you did. Remember, our people are voluntary, free-will workers. They also love the Lord and His work. Love them. Appreciate them. When you are tempted to reprimand a fellow worker, don’t. Try an interesting challenge and a pat on the back instead. Our Father’s children throughout the world are essentially good. He loves them. We should also.

1.    How does appreciating and loving people in situations where things didn’t go as you wanted or expected fit in with being supportive rather than critical?
2.    Should we really love people like God loves them?

Jesus gives us the master example of good administration through proper delegating. … Many of His delegated missionaries traveled without purse or scrip. Men suffered great hardships in carrying out His instructions. Some of them died cruel deaths in His service. But his delegated disciples went forth into the world bold as lions through His charge. They accomplished things they had never dreamed of. No leader ever motivated men and women as did He.

The Church of Jesus Christ builds leaders through involving people delegated through authority. When [Jesus] was on earth, he called twelve apostles to assist him in administering the church. He also called the seventy. He delegated [to] others. There were to be no spectators in his church. All were to be involved in helping build the kingdom. And as they built the kingdom, they built themselves.

1.    What do you think of delegation?
2.    Is there risk in delegation?
3.    Why would Christ delegate to us, as flawed and weak as we are?

Jesus aimed to exalt the individual. …

Jesus aimed to make of every man a king, to build him in leadership into eternity. On that memorable night after the last supper, He said to the eleven … , “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth in me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12.) Through delegating, Jesus desired to lift, rather than suppress, the individual. And all through the Church today, men and women are growing in stature through positions delegated to them.

1.    Is delegation part of love and trust?
2.    Is delegation part of how you teach and care for others?

Wise delegation requires prayerful preparation, as does effective teaching or preaching. The Lord makes this clear in these words: “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). And we might add, ye shall not delegate without the Spirit.

A wise administrator in the Church today will not try to do the job himself, giving the impression that no one else is quite qualified. And as he delegates, he will give an assurance that he who has been delegated has his full backing.

When responsibility has been given, the leader does not forget the person assigned nor his assignment. He follows with interest but does not “look over the shoulder.” He gives specific praise when it is deserved. He gives helpful encouragement when needed. When he feels that the job is not being done and a change is needed, he acts with courage and firmness but with kindness. When the tenure of an office has been completed, he gives recognition and thanks.

No wise leader believes that all good ideas originate with himself. He invites suggestions from those he leads. He lets them feel that they are an important part of decision making. He lets them feel that they are carrying out their policies, not just his.

1.    How easy is it to believe that not all good ideas originate with yourself?
2.    How hard is it to fully back someone you have delegated a task to?

We must remember that … the Church … is not the business world. Its success is measured in terms of souls saved, not in profit and loss. We need, of course, to be efficient and productive, but we also need to keep our focus on eternal objectives. Be cautious about imposing secular methods and terminology on sacred priesthood functions. Remember that rational problem-solving procedures, though helpful, will not be solely sufficient in the work of the kingdom. God’s work must be done by faith, prayer, and by the Spirit, “and if it be by some other way it is not of God” (D&C 50:18).

1.    Is that hard to remember?

The whole purpose of the Church is to build men and women who will be godlike in their attitudes and in their attributes and in their ideals.

1.    What can a leader do to encourage that to happen?
2.    What have you experienced when you have acted as an instrument in the Lord’s hands to help other people?