A week and a half ago, I wrote a post arguing that the Bible is actually more of a weak point than the Book of Mormon for fundamentalist, literalist attitudes toward Latter-day Saint scripture. That post—like this one—was inspired by an Introduction to Scripture class that I’m currently taking through Community of Christ’s Temple School. The first lesson did a lot of work to play up the Bible as the main scriptural foundation of Community of Christ and is doing some respectful but firm downplaying of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.
I understand why the denomination is making that emphasis, and at the end of the day, I don’t know that I disagree with it. There are good reasons for my denomination to keep these additional books of scripture without playing them up as much as they have in the past (and even making some efforts to play them down). At the same time, though, it got me thinking about something I’ve been noodling on since literally minutes after publishing that last post (and even for months prior to writing that post).
My thesis for the last post was that issues with the Bible are actually just as profound and troubling to members of Restoration churches as issues with the Book of Mormon. This can be reasonably disputed, but I feel pretty strongly about it—again, the historicity of the resurrection narratives in the gospels is on even shakier ground than the historicity of the Book of Mormon story. My goal in that last post was to use that thesis to say that even if conservative Mormon apologists could explain away concerns about distinct Restoration scripture, they shouldn’t ignore that there are perhaps even more challenges to literal faith in the standard Christian canon.
However, you can make a different, inverse point with this thesis: Once we acknowledge the weaknesses of the Bible and learn to define its value through lenses other than historicity and literalism, arguments for downplaying the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants might actually become less compelling. This is where I sometimes get frustrated with Community of Christ’s approach to the Book of Mormon—sometimes it’s the same people who are arguing for members of the denomination to take a less literalist, more nuanced approach to the Bible who are also dismissive of the Book of Mormon.
Again, there are compelling reasons for Community of Christ to put its main emphasis on the Bible, and I’m not arguing against that general approach. Furthermore, the Bible has thousands of years of history compared to the not-quite-200 of the Book of Mormon, and between that and the Book of Mormon’s obvious dependence on the Bible, it would be disingenous to say that the Book of Mormon exists on the same level as the Bible. And yet, I’m not aware of any major problem with the Book of Mormon that doesn’t also exist in the Bible, and there was a point at which each book in the Bible was “only” two hundred years old, so it’s not clear to me that the longevity of the Bible is itself reason to elevate it above newer volumes of scripture.
At the end of the day, I guess what I’m getting at is that the more I’ve read about the Bible over the past five years, the shakier ground it seems to be on—that is, in terms of being clearly historical fact and/or the word of God. None of that has done anything to shake my belief that there’s great value to the Bible. Having that experience with the Bible has actually made it easier for me to have the same experience with the Book of Mormon, too. I don’t think we need to elevate it to the level of the Bible, but I hope we don’t miss out on the gems that are in there that we can find through a responsible reading of any scripture.
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