Monday, March 28, 2011

Modern Prophets & Ancient Prophets - One Standard

Modern prophets probably should be held to the same standard that can be applied reasonably to Biblical prophets. If some of the actions of those prophets still allowed them to be considered prophets (think Samson and Moses) and some of their teachings are allowed to be considered products of their less enlightened cultures (think Paul and nearly the entire OT), I'm not sure exactly where the line should be drawn. 

I just know that many people now hold modern prophets to a standard that essentially would eliminate all former prophets from consideration - especially since we only have a very limited, subjective, carefully-constructed, airbrushed snapshot of those former prophets. Too often, people forget that basic fact.


Doug Towers said...


Just a technicality for interest sake. Samson was classified as a judge in Dan. He can't have been "the prophet" in the sense we talk of, as he didn't even hold any priesthood.

I'm a little confused on your comment on Paul. Paul was far better informed of the gospel of Christ and its application than the backward version we have these days. Ours was taken backward into the law of Moses even during the days of Joseph Smith (note D&C 119 Heading for an example). We still practice that backward concept, due to "failure."

Knowledge of the higher law of consecration doesn't exist within the church in spite of the temple. Hearing and saying words doesn't make a person an expert in how to practice a principle.

Paul would have known how to do this. Paul understood the application of love in its fulfillment of the law of Moses. Paul understood the freedom the gospel brings.

Paul taught that the law of Moses is a stumblingblock to the Jews. This is the way it still is to the Jews (church members generally).

It is Paul that has it right, not us.

Leaving this aside I agree with your point that we can't expect Gods out of learing men. It is sad that people hold up their words as being all correct regardless, then become disillusioned when it becomes evident they made some mistake.

Matthew said...

Doug, I think what PapaD was getting at with Paul was more along the lines of his rules of dress / hairstyle and perhaps his attitudes towards women. (Not trying to put words in your mouth, Ray, of course :D)

Paul was a product of his times and was subject to all the cultural blind spots that were common to his era, as are we all.

Papa D said...

Doug, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I really do appreciate it. Just a few things:

1) Matthew is correct about the teachings of Paul that were the product of his time and culture. However, I chose him intentionally to make my point - that even the most learned, theologically educated apostle of all time was not immune to such biases and influences.

2) You are correct about Samson. I should have used Isaiah, Jeremiah, Malachi or some other OT prophet. Using Samson was sloppy.

3) I understand that the higher law of consecration is not practiced organizationally or communally in the Church, but I don't agree that it doesn't exist. It does - but it's at the individual level now. It's not as widespread as it would be ideally, but it does exist.

4) Obviously, I agree totaly with your last paragraph. *grin* Well said.

Doug Towers said...

Matthew & Papa D.

Thanks for the qualifications.

I would pose, however, that I feel you have misunderstood Paul. Which isn't surprising as he is as clear as mud at times. He, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young all suffered from being early preachers of the faith. Thus they just blurted away without consideration of how their words could be misunderstood.

Paul was married to a Jewess who didn't follow him into the strange sect that she despised. He couldn't re-marry as she was still alive and he would have been considered in error of the law if he fed etc another wife yet not his first.

So Paul remained as if unmarried. A careful reading of 1 Corinthians 7 notes that he says, "now concerning the things that you wrote to me regarding." What were those things? His answer compared to Christ's answer to Peter in regard the same thing answers the question. He was not opposed to marriage in the slightest, pointing out that a man wasn't without a woman, nor a woman without a man in the Lord.

His statements in regard women and coverings aren't physical. He is saying that a woman needs a man for a covering before the Lord. He points out that the man was made in the image and likeness of God but that the woman isn't like God in the full sense (she being a woman). He presents that the woman has her relationship with Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father through her husband.

His points in regard women speaking in church are related to the idea that women don't hold priesthood and should conduct any church business of such nature through their husbands.

These points weren't made by a man opposed to women. They were made by a man concerned for women, and the problems that could arise.

Papa D said...

Doug, I never said Paul was opposed to women - and, fwiw, your interpretation of those passages is one of MANY possibly correct interpretations. If it was as simple as your comment implies, there wouldn't be as much disagreement among Mormon and non-Mormon Bible scholars. It's not that I'm right or you're right; it's that there really isn't any way to be absolutely certain in this case.

"Thus they just blurted away without consideration of how their words could be misunderstood."

I don't see it that way. Paul was a meticulous, lawyerly scholar, and what we have of his words are from letters he dictated - NOT off-the-cuff comments or even speeches summarized by others. I think he was very careful to say what he meant, even when he spoke figuratively.

Let's leave it at that and just agree that modern prophets ought to be held to the same standard as previous ones.

Joshua said...

Hey, PapaD.

I thought it was interesting that you would say that the accounts we have are "very limited, subjective, carefully-constructed, airbrushed snapshot of those former prophets." Then at the beginning of the post, you mentioned that "some of the actions of those prophets still allowed them to be considered prophets." I say interesting because if they were "carefully constructed" or "airbrushed," why wouldn't they get rid of those things that made them look bad? (Moses killing an Egyptian. Paul laying waste the true Body of Christ. Jesus calling Peter "Satan." David's adultery. Solomon's polygamy, which Israel was warned about.) And if they didn't get rid of the things that made them look bad, can we really say that we have a less than genuine account of who they actually were (if that's what you were implying we had in the Old and New Testaments)?

Contrast that with the man whom Mormons claim was a prophet, Joseph Smith. The embarrassing facts of his life are not part of the official Mormon canon, are they? He eloped with Emma, against the wishes of her father. He was involved with money-digging. He was secretly involved with polygamy for years, marrying, according to "In Sacred Loneliness," about 34 women, 11 or so teenagers and 11 or so women with living husbands. (And I'm not saying a prophet has to be perfect, either. But would they actively work to hide facts about their life?)

Can any of those facts be found in the 4 standard works that Mormons call scripture? And if not, is it not the case that The Book of Mormon, the D & C, and the Pearl of Great Price are, in fact, "very limited, subjective, carefully-constructed, airbrushed snapshot[s]?"


Papa D said...

Joshua, I'm going to say this pretty bluntly, because I can't think of another way to say it:

We have EVERY ONE of those things about Joseph Smith in print and in our official historical records - every one of them. Not one of those things is "secret". For example, the Seminary lesson this morning about polygamy was explicit that Joseph practiced polygamy - and eloping with someone is nowhere close to being ANY kind of "sin". Those things aren't part of our canonical scripture simply because we don't have biographical modern scripture, but we DO have direct records about every one of them. It's not more complicated than that.

Also, we have Moses committing murder and fleeing Egypt to avoid the consequences; Paul killing Christians just because they are Christian; and what you mention about Joseph Smith. Given the comparison, I'll take the actions of Joseph - IF I was making such comparisons and choosing one over the other. I'm not - which is the central point of this post. Please don't derail that point and make it about something else.

I think your comment proves my main point - and, yes, we do have a very limited account of MOST prophets and disciples in the Bible and the Book of Mormon - especially when we look at the New Testament.

Joshua said...

Hmmm. Thanks for putting it bluntly. I wouldn't want you to put it any other way.

So where exactly could a person find Joseph Smith's polygamy (his personal practice of it; the names of his wives) in 1 of the 4 standard works? (I'll pick this one out because a family member of mine, still a Mormon today, was shocked when she learned that Joseph Smith practiced it; she says they were never taught that. Even the latest PR film, "Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration" shows NOTHING of the his polygamy or his killing of two people right before his death. So, who's airbrushing history?) Don't just say, as you have, that the records exist here and there. After all, if it's not in one of the standard works that Mormons accept, many Mormons are not going to admit to it or accept it as "official doctrine" or even true. (For example, I know because just these past few days a Mormon has taken issue with the Adam-God Doctrine that Brigham Young taught, stating that it wasn't in those, so it isn't official.)

And, by the way, why don't you share with us here an official statement from an official Mormon authority on what consitutes a prophet?

Joshua said...

In saying that the accounts are "air brushed" or "carefully constructed", you seem to be implying that they are less than accurate. And if you could, can you give us a source of extra-biblical information that would show that the accounts less than accurate and give evidence for your assertion?

Also, would you admit the same thing about The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price? What about History of the Church?

Papa D said...

Joshua, you are derailing the point of this post, again - but I will respond this one more time:

1) I've already said that our modern scriptures are NOT biographical. If you aren't even going to acknowledge my answers to your questions but just repeat those questions even after I answer them, why in the world would I continue to type the exact same answers repeatedly. I won't, so don't ask the question again.

2) I have no idea why your family member didn't know that Joseph practiced polygamy, IF she was raised in the Church, especially. It is taught explicitly in the Doctrine and Covenants and in the Seminary and Institute manuals, at the very least. It is not hidden.

3) There is absolutely NO proof that Joseph killed anyone right before his death - BUT the FACT that he had a gun in jail and fired it in self-defense is recorded in our historical records and even is part of the presentation at the Carthage Jail. It isn't hidden in ANY way. That also is a ridiculous charge, so drop it here.

4) Yes, absolutely, my description covers ALL of scripture. It covers almost all of recorded history, frankly - at least in the sense that all history is written with at least a little of the bias of the writer. I am a history teacher by training, and that is the first thing that any good history teacher mentions when studying ANY historical record - that NOTHING can be taken automatically as accurate, especially the older the history is and the more time passed between the events being described and the recording of them.

Both the Old and New Testaments AND the Book of Mormon include LARGE portions that were recorded at least second-hand LONG after the events described in the occurred, so, of course, I don't accept them as completely accurate historical accounts.

5) Again, the central point of this post is that there is NOTHING that Joseph Smith did (or any other modern Mormon prophet) that is worse, objectively, than things that Biblical prophets did - and your own comments have verified that. Everything else you've mentioned is not relevant to this post, and I won't allow the post to be derailed any more. Address that point, please - not some other complaint you have about the Church. This isn't a place for a limitless free-for-all; it is a place for focused discussions about the posts I write.

Joshua said...

Papa D.

You are always so impatient with me. What about other non-Mormons?

If my questions were repetitive in your opinion, allow me to explain the logic a little more clearly:

You were drawing the comparison to the way that people measure ancient and modern prophets in light of what they did. How do we know what ancient prophets did? We can look into the Old and New Testaments! Although they are not biographical, we still see things about their lives, many embarrassing things. So that is why I asked you where one could find similar information in the four standard works of Mormonism. Am I'm a wrong for trying to extend the logic of your comparison?

Next time your in a meeting, bring up Joseph Smith's polygamy or the fact that he married other people's wives and even multiple teenagers. See how many people know about it. For what it's worth, I recently heard from a source in Salt Lake (NOTE: this is second-hand information) that in some parts of seminary, students now are being taught what Emma Smith taught later in her life, that polygamy began with Brigham Young.

I was waiting for you to make a bold statement like you did in point #5. Let me ask these questions rhetorically:

Where did Moses ever say "God told me to kill the Egyptian" and lie?

Where did Paul say "God told me to destroy the Ecclesia" and lie?

Compare to:

Who told Joseph Smith to start up polygamy and lie to the women involved, even to his own wife (!)?

Who told Joseph Smith to lie (selling BoM copyright in Canada; return to get plates with Alvin; the list could go on...)?

And don't write this all off as "irrelevant" or "going off topic" as you do nearly every time. (Yawn.) These are related because we're talking about standards for prophets, ancient and modern.

So posting something complaining about why people seem to hold modern and ancient prophets to different standards is overlooking the facts as we know them. Maybe people have a reason for accepting some people as prophets and not accepting others.

Simply put: No true prophet is going to lie and use God as an excuse for his character failings or his inability to curb his own passions.

I'll leave you alone because we're getting nowhere again. And, honestly, I think we're just making each other upset. And I know we've both got better things to do.


Papa D said...

Fine, one more time:

"You are always so impatient with me. What about other non-Mormons?"

Quite patient, generally. Seriously.

We have PLENTY of biographical information about LDS prophets, including LOTS of weaknesses and examples of Joseph practicing polygamy - but they aren't in our standard works (with the exception of the D&C, which includes quite a few chastisments of Joseph and a section that deals with polygamy and Jossph's practice of it). Our standard works are NOT biographical in nature, so your question is ludicrous. It's like asking why math isn't taught in history textbooks. They only answer is, "Because it isn't."

End of discussion about that question. It literally is pointless as phrased.

"Next time your in a meeting, bring up Joseph Smith's polygamy or the fact that he married other people's wives and even multiple teenagers. See how many people know about it."

I've done so - in just about every conceivable type of meeting. The vast majority of members knew about it - and nobody ever challeged me about it.

Papa D said...

"For what it's worth, I recently heard from a source in Salt Lake (NOTE: this is second-hand information) that in some parts of seminary, students now are being taught what Emma Smith taught later in her life, that polygamy began with Brigham Young."

Not worth the electronic paper it's written on. The Seminary manual is EXPLICIT that Jospeh instituted polygamy. It is crystal clear in the manual and in the scriptures being studied. Can I conceive of someone teaching that despite what's clearly stated in the manual? Sure, in theory as an intellectual exercise. In practice? Impossible to do while teaching the actual material that is the basis for the class.

That's my biggest problem with positions like those you take. Even if your claim is correct that "some" (read, "a very, very few") Seminary teachers are denying polygamy, extrapolating that to a Church-wide effort to hide it is non-sensical when it is taught openly in EVERY manual used in Seminary. It's not hidden; it's taught without qualification.

Finally, to the central point of this post, I still think you can't admit that we have a very filtered, subjective, partial account of the prophets in the Bible - and I get that, given your theological perspective. We simply disagree.

Yes, this conversation is over. There really is no agreement between us about the point of the post.