There are 14 thoughts on “A Lengthening Shadow: Is Quality of Thought Deteriorating in LDS Scholarly Discourse Regarding Prophets and Revelation? Part Three”.

  1. Dr. Boyce,

    You stated that Brigham Young’s Adam-God theory had been disavowed by a later presiding council. Can you please provide the reference for this disavowal? I have heard of President Kimball, and other various apostles disavowing it, but they appeared to be acting as individually as Brigham Young (in other words, when was the disavowal by a council?)

    Related to the above, how does one know whether a member of a presiding council is acting on his own, or is speaking for the council? It is exceedingly rare for the First Presidency or Qof12 to issue statements as councils, but their members, of course, speak frequently. How do we know that Brigham Young was not speaking on behalf of the First Presidency of his time?

    Lastly, a comment on the priesthood-temple ban: the First Presidency did call the ban a doctrine in its correspondence to Dr. Lowry Nelson. I would consider multiple letters from the First Presidency to count as a council position.

  2. Pingback: "Yes, It's True, But I Don't Think They Like to Hear it Quite That Way": What Spencer W. Kimball Told Elaine Cannon | Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship

  3. I hesitate to comment here, but after the author stated his own misgivings about his work, I just wanted to thank him from the bottom of my heart for the work he put into this. I have read some of the books and essays and talks by the authors Boyce criticises in this discussion and personally felt an unaccountable, very subtle (sometimes strong) discomfort I could not put my finger on. I know this is completely subjective, and an odd note in these scholarly comments, but I am very grateful to Mr. Boyce for helping me clarify my thinking. There is a strange fracturing in all institutions of this world lately I don’t begin to fully understand, though I have a few theories. I find it interesting that I am catching the faintest whiff of some of the dynamics I smell in the world, beginning to waft into some of the attitudes in the popular lay-media of the church. I guess that makes sense. Who knows, maybe I am completely misguided, but I like those boring, old prophets; I’ve spent a good deal of time with some of them and always assumed they were flawed humans. I do find I’m a little irritated at sloppy, over-wrought assumptions about their motives and character. Thank you Mr. Boyce for sticking up for them and putting your finger on a scale that is just beginning to tip in an alarming direction. By the way, I’m not worried about the church; I trust the prophecies in D&C 138:44 and Daniel 2:44. However, I do worry about my own judgement . Thank you for helping me improve it.

  4. Hurrahs to Lynn Johnson (herein).
    But also, Hurrahs to John Lundwall (herein and previously) re: scholarly vs. apologetic standards.
    But, of course, I have my biases, so IMHO: “[Boyce] doth protest too much, methinks.”

  5. Just the tip of the iceberg on gospel contamination

    I am reacting here mostly to part one of the Boyce 3-part article, although I assume my comments apply to all three parts. Boyce has brought up an interesting problem for the academics, and probably did not intend to extend the question as far as I wish to extend it, but as long as we are talking about the reach and accuracy of revelation, it seems that every part of that question might be relevant.

    As far as I can tell, Dr. Boyce restricts his topics to the long ago and far away of ancient scripture, and the commentaries of other LDS writers on those ancient events. However, is it possible that underneath the veneer of everyone trying to better interpret the ancient texts, the real question oozing out from between the lines of these writings is “How accurate are the teachings of current day prophets on critical matters?” That is an explosive question which almost no church member in their right mind would even dare bring up today, but it seems relevant anyway.

    Boyce begins by describing the process of contamination and drift that can happen with any collection of information, such as the LDS gospel scripture library, and those who draw upon it, manipulate it, and comment upon it. Apparently Boyce would like very much to avoid that contamination process, and he should be commended for his concern. So I hate to give him the bad news, but, as I see it, instead of this contamination and drift process just beginning, as he assumes and fears, we are actually more than 100 years into the process, and the damage has already been very extensive and very severe, going far beyond any of the problems he has listed. I would love to point out the major areas I have discovered that need attention, about eight of the most critical items, and hope that he and others would use their powers of research and explication to be a correcting influence. However, at this point, I fear that learning the real truth would leave him in shock and in denial, as I suspect it would do with many thousands of other concerned church members who are capable of understanding such things. It would also take at least eight articles to explain these major points, and I’m not sure there is anyone today who would be willing to publish them.

    The two churches which Christ himself initiated, one in Jerusalem and one in the New World, each only lasted about 200 years before they went up in smoke. Unless the prophets of our time are to be considered far superior to any of the prophets leading the first two churches, including Christ himself, then we ought to expect that, as we reach our own 200-year existence boundary in 2020, there is every reason to believe that we will end just as ignominiously as the other two.

    To me, the question becomes whether our enormous advances in information storage and processing, plus our many opportunities to intercommunicate and become more learned than any other generation of men we know anything about, will be enough to help keep the gospel intact and as pristine as it was delivered to Joseph Smith. I am personally quite certain that no technology we have acquired in the last 120 years, nor anything we have actually done academically in the last 120 years, is sufficient to keep us from failing miserably like all the other restorations that preceded us.

    The one distant hope we have is to start a truly heroic effort to reconstitute the gospel as it was given to Joseph Smith, after identifying and peeling off all the many layers of worldliness we have added. I am also quite certain that there is no existing resource which will give us all the right answers, those right answers that Boyce wants to assume already exist. I am quite confident that I can name the eight most major errors and deviations that have occurred so far, but I only have a few vague ideas about how one might go about fixing them. If a few hundred or a few thousand people were willing to get actively involved in this project, then there is a chance of success. Otherwise it is hopeless, and we should expect the gospel to wither away again for all the same reasons as before.

    As another huge barrier to solving this great religious problem of our time, almost everything that was done would have to be done outside the confines of the existing church organization. It is exactly that nearly blind faith in our current authorities that Boyce relies on so tenaciously that has brought us to where we are, and which would keep us from deviating from the current path, even if that “deviation” was leading us back to where we started 200 years ago. Our current prophets and their predecessors have gotten us into this mess, and, unless things change drastically, they are now the least likely people who can get us out of this mess. The Lamanites had a great deal of trouble with their “traditions of the fathers,” and it appears that we have invented our own version of that nearly unbreakable commitment to ancient error.

    Brigham Young even warned us about the dangers of this kind of “blind faith” behavior among the Saints, and it appears that all of HIS fears have come to pass. Boyce fears that we WON’T believe every word of the prophets, and that will be our ruin, and Brigham Young worried that we WOULD believe every word of the prophets, and that would be our ruin. I personally believe that Brigham Young had it right.

    I am talking about an existential crisis here for the church. The thousands of questions which people inside and outside the church constantly raise, whether intelligently and clearly stated or not, and which are never more than partially answered from inside the church, I believe have reached a level which has essentially neutralized the church. If it can’t solve the many problems it is facing right now, then it is doomed to go no further, and will most likely simply shrink and fade away — probably never experiencing anything as dramatic as the Christian genocide in the New World or the eventual merging with the pagan cult of the Roman Emperor in the Mediterranean area.

    • Interesting on your 200-year-church-imploding hypotheses. Some hope might be found in D&C 138:44 and Daniel 2:44, though I don’t know if you believe in those prophecies. –I’m not being facetious; I honestly can’t tell and don’t want to presume.

  6. Boyce’s argument in Part One simply seemed weak, and in my opinion he does not satisfactorily answer every counterargument. However, although I have not read all or even most of the works he criticizes, I do not think Boyce’s argument can totally be dismissed either, and I am glad he made it.

    He has cited some pretty troubling passages in which certain academics seem to have gone too far in pointing out the alleged imperfections of prophets. Nevertheless, his solution also appears to go too far in the opposite direction. He proposes that we acknowledge that prophets are human, but do not talk about any possible specific imperfections because those particular problems do not exist.

    Boyce and perhaps others who support his argument would have us believe, for example, that the modern priesthood restriction is not only similar but equivalent to restrictions in the scriptures such as Jesus’ command to only preach to the house of Israel in the Meridian of Time. Another claimed equivalency from this point of view has been made between the Priesthood Restriction and Plural Marriage.

    There are several problems with these supposed equivalencies. The most significant of these problems is that there is canonized revelation establishing and ending the scriptural examples mentioned above (see Matthew 10:5-7 & Matthew 28:18-20/Acts 10 and D&C 132 & Official Declaration 1). By comparison, there is no canonized revelation establishing the Priesthood Restriction.

    Boyce rightly points out that true doctrine in the Church is taught by all 15 men in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by quoting a statement from Elder Neil L. Andersen to that effect. However, not only is there no statement from a combined First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve stating that the Restriction began by revelation, but we also have this approved recent statement, “It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church…” (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/race-church). That seems like a strange statement to make if the Restriction clearly began as a result of direct revelation from God.

    Boyce, however, curtly states in essence that there is no need to have any sort of discussion regarding this or other problems because they are not problems and therefore there is nothing to discuss, or even be concerned about for that matter. That approach seems too extreme to be anything but inadequate and misguided.

    There is nothing wrong with observing in wonder what God is able to do with us weak and simple mortals, or perhaps more often, in spite of us (see D&C 1:19-28).

    While should not go to the extreme of speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed, we can state, as did Nephi, that “…all [have] gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men” (2 Nephi 28:14).

    The last two chapters of Jonah give us a memorable example of the Lord teaching a prophet he had called to change his erroneous way of seeing the people to whom he was called to preach repentance. Studying and discussing this example, or others like it, do not necessarily constitute an attempt to detract from a prophetic call or question priesthood authority; instead, they can serve to point us to the Source of that call whose authority it is and not totally trust in ourselves or other imperfect people.
    On that note, and in conclusion, consider this quote by Brigham Young, “What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”

    • Briefly-Boyce correctly states that God has and does give very precise revelation. However, if He gave every word of scripture word-for-word, then there would be no reason to be change the original recorded wording. As many are aware, changes have been made, and this is another area where Boyce needlessly goes to the opposite extreme of the argument. I am not a prophet like Joseph, but I have experienced clear revelation; however, communicating that revelation to someone else in precise words is rarely something that is done for me. And the weakness of our language (D&C 1:24) is such that we can never write about God, love, etc. as powerfully as we feel them (to paraphrase Gregory Peck’s character in the film “The Keys of the Kingdom”).

  7. No doubt, Boyce is addressing a serious topic in these three articles and has stoked a great deal of substantive comment.

    A word that comes to mind about the series as a whole is “disturbing,” with reference both to some of the arguments of others Boyce points out as well as the flawed approach Boyce uses in some of his criticisms.

    I can’t help but think that this same article could have come off much stronger if approached in a different manner. For example, if Boyce set out to prove how important accuracy and prophetic acceptance was and used the authors he cites as selected counterpoints, he would immediately eliminate a significant portion of his tone problem and could both hone his methodology and outline structure to great effect.

    Boyce deserves commendation for tackling a difficult issue and opening up what is likely to be an area of discussion for some time to come. His viewpoint should be strongly considered and would be much more considered with changes to tone, methodology, and argumentative focus. His future writings on the subject are welcome.

    And while this series has some perhaps fatal flaws that unnecessarily weaken his arguments, I am very appreciative of his efforts to call attention to the reality of prophets.

    Thankfully, many of the readers here have a good deal of experience both writing and reading scholarly articles and thus understand how easy it is for mistakes to creep into writings — and how dangerous it can be to exclude prophetic realities while seeking truth and understanding. I think we can appropriately criticize what we read here while also having admiration for the author taking on a big issue.

    Learning by study and by faith is no easy endeavor, but we worship a God who grants both as spiritual gifts. I am grateful for the many ways in which Boyce’s articles have aided me in my own efforts to assimilate truth by study and by faith.

    Prophets are real and our awareness of them can bring us closer to a perfect knowledge of our God. Academics also are helpful in bringing us nearer to God, and it behooves any sincere scholar to understand that errors, even if unintentional, risk contributing to a seriously flawed paradigm in which all future scholarship is discussed. Efforts to identify and address any such errors in the literature should be carefully designed to embody the strong scholarship of the academic and appropriately articulated to defend the objective reality of prophets.

  8. Well, I commented on the previous two articles so I suppose I will finish this out. This third essay is a mixed bag for me. I understand what Boyce is trying to do but I think he needed a good editor to help him do it. Still, props for taking the time to make these arguments.

    His central question is this: Is LDS scholarly thinking suffering in the area of prophets and revelation?

    It’s a sloppy question. What makes for good scholarly thinking in these subjects? Can one have good scholarly thinking and still produce incorrect outcomes? (Ah yes, that is the history of scholarship.) And what does a correct outcome look like? What would a correct outcome look like that goes against the tradition? Further, can one be inspired by God as a prophet and misapply a directive over time to have incorrect outcomes? What constitutes not only good scholarly thinking, but what are the presuppositions one has about prophets and revelation?

    Boyce needed to set these interpretive parameters out in detail up front. He never did.

    Scholarship is a critical approach to sources and interpretations, and it is supposed to have no particular ideology to uphold while it investigates (for example) how a text or prophetic utterance came to be and how it came to be interpreted. Scholarship is committed to a sort of truth, but not to a sectarian truth. It does not always succeed, and often scholars cannot arise past their own prejudices and they end up defending their own “sectarian” truths. Ironically, I think this is what Boyce ended up doing.

    Scholarship is not supposed to be tidy. It does not exist within the all hearts and minds in unison paradigm. Scholarship allows for the holding of ambiguity, disagreement, contrasting points of view, and reinterpretations. Scholarship allows itself to be deconstructed and reconstructed.

    And so here is the paradox, if LDS scholarship is designed only to support the traditional views of historical interpretation of scripture or of the policy decisions of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, while this might be commendable, in the end, it is not scholarship. Scholarship, of course, can do these things, and the Church should and does employ scholars to do these things, but in the end, Scholarship can take its own course and re-examine facts at any time. Ideally, this is to keep people and systems honest. Prophets should have absolutely no problem with this. The only problem is in ascertaining what is honest scholarship?

    In the words of John Taylor: “There is no man nor set of men who have pointed out the pathway for our feet to travel in relation to [obtaining truth]. There are no dogmas nor theories extant in the world that we profess to listen to, unless they can be verified by the principles of eternal truth. We carefully scan, investigate, criticize, and examine everything that presents itself to our view, and so far as we are enabled to comprehend any truths in existence, we gladly hail them as part and portion of the system with which we are associated. JD

    I have a difficult time assessing that Givens and Hardy do not provide an honest or substandard scholarship. They are engaged in the scholarly endeavor. Boyce’s arguments are not in process but in final outcomes. Boyce has confused the methodology with the results.

    One need not agree with Hardy, Givens, or Boyce. One can simply read their arguments, weighing and considering each of their approaches. Scholars can be highly influential in their culture, and so it is necessary to have counterpoints that can be promoted. Boyce’s direct attack on Hardy and Given’s “thinking” and “brand of scholarship” I think short circuits his argument. Hardy and Given’s are giving a scholarly interpretation of the texts from their point of view. Boyce would have done better simply to frame his argument as a counter argument rather than calling into question the scholarship of those he criticizes. Givens and Hardy are not producing revelations but scholarly discourse, and of necessity, it can rearrange interpretations to look at things anew.

    I personally do not agree with all of what Givens and Hardy write, and I do agree with some of the points Boyce has written.

    Frankly, there is a decided lack of critical thought within LDS culture at large when it comes to the interpretation of scriptural texts. The interpretive tools the Church has given the members are very few and are highly authoritarian, despite the constant refrain to personally study the scriptures for personal revelation. The Church has a Catholic desire to interpret the text for all, but a Protestant sensibility to allow members to go and learn their own interpretations. It is not always an even or consistent path.

    There is this additional dichotomy between interpreting the scriptures through proof-texting, presentism, and echo-chamber citation in feel-good devotional study (standard fare in Mormon Sunday School), and the examining of historical context, interpretive context, or just reading the entirety of the text in a more critical approach. I do not think Sunday School should be a place for scholarly exegesis (though it can be) but it would be helpful for the Church to produce another Gospel Topics essay addressing the difficulties of scriptural interpretation in the present and past, and a few of the problematic traditions that have been acquired by Mormon culture (Mormons tend to take scriptural text hyper-literal and as inerrant—sort of like the words of the Brethren. It’s important to address when and when not to do this, and the limits to this kind of allowance, which is the basis of all this spilled ink.)

    After all, Job and Jonah are by no means historical documentaries. Job is a deeply philosophical treatise and wisdom text, and Jonah is a parable. We should bring different expectations to these genres of texts than simple historical exegesis. Meanwhile, I once heard a Jewish Rabbi explain the test of Abraham and Isaac as not a test of obedience wherein Abraham passed, but where Abraham failed the test. The Lord wanted Abraham to tell him no, that he would not sacrifice his son, but Abraham failed and so the Lord had to send an angel to intervene. I think this is a rather brilliant reading of the text, despite the fact that it goes against tradition. But not all traditions are right, or even good.

    So let the arguments continue. But if you are going to take the argument to “quality of thought,” your thinking had better be very clear and consistent, and your methodology honest and self-evident, and your standard should be well defined. I think Boyce talked passed his own argument in this regard.

  9. The Baal Shem Tov was asked to mediate between two men who had been arguing and split their community. He listened to the first man who made his argument. The Rabbi nodded, “I think you are right,” he said. “But teacher,” shouted the congregation, “you haven’t heard the other side.” The Rabbi agreed and listened to the second man. The teacher nodded, and said, “I think you are right!”

    The congregation was in an uproar. “They can’t both be right!”

    The Baal Shem Tov, smiling broadly, replied, “I think you are right!”

    Brother Boyce has made some sound arguments. Some apologists agree, and some, even illustrious and wise, disagree.

    I think that Brother Boyce’s argument has a side effect of making me think God is closer to me than I would have thought. Perhaps revelation is quite accessible, quite immediate. So clearly he is right. Perhaps our leaders are better than we suspect. Perhaps there is more revelation than we would assume. The fruit of the tree is good, so clearly, Brother Boyce is right.

    Yet, the other side has much to commend me. Of course we make mistakes; so also, the authorities are prone to make some mistakes. We all see as through a glass darkly. I am a fool if I take issue with an authority’s teaching and cut myself off. Perhaps Brother Boyce shifts toward attacking the person and not the idea. So clearly the critics are right.

    Can’t we appreciate Hardy’s insights into the Book of Mormon yet allow that he may have carried an argument too far? Can’t we appreciate Givens trying to help those who have feeble knees, and yet believe he goes too far in making prophets all too human?

    These were great articles, and provoked thought and reflection in me, and isn’t that an indication that while even these articles may have many errors, they are good hearted and faith promoting?

  10. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed the ride. Very thought provoking! We all need to be careful how we approach the “mistakes” of others especially those called to lead the Church. In my 50+ years as a member I have seen the numerous general authorities come and go. President Monson is the only one remaining. All were wonderful leaders who provided great examples and wise counsel. I’m forever grateful for the strength and stability the Church offers. Our intellectual endeavors are encouraged but we must always guard against pride and always allow for human error.

  11. Kudos to Duane Boyce for his finely prepared summary of the error creeping into the writings of these scholars. His academic approach to explaining this problem is commendable.

    Another, simpler, method one might use to become aware of these same issues (relative to prophets and revelation) is to compare the teachings of prophets and apostles about revelation and how/when they receive it, to the arguments in Givens’ et. al. writings. The differences, or “lengthening shadow” (as phrased by Boyce), becomes manifestly clear.

    Elder Packer stated: “The very beginning of this Church was initiated by the veil parting and visitations from beyond the veil. That has not ceased. That process, if anything, has been intensified in our generation, and I bear witness to that.”

    Those who would argue that the process of revelation in the Church is diminishing might do well to pay more attention to this Special Witness who says such is intensifying, and who had experienced it. I am familiar with Boyce’s sources and their context in this area and he has generally portrayed them accurately. It follows that his conclusions are also accurate.

    I argue that if a scholar’s interpretation or suggestion of the meaning of a scriptural text departs from that given it by prophets and apostles, than one would be well served to do as Boyce suggests and look beneath the surface and examine the new claim closely for fallacies/error. Boyce has given us many sturdy examples of this.

    If the arguments Givens and company put forth tend to weaken or undermine faith in a prophets calling and service (as one who leads by revelation), then that argument demands further examination. In reading his “Letter to a Doubter”, I found this to be the case throughout the piece. So also with his “We have only the old thing” paper.

    Lastly, I would suggest the idea that when an LDS scholar is making assertions about divine revelation, one would hope that they themselves would have personally experienced divine revelation and therefore have some basis of apples to apples comparison in their minds about heavenly matters–especially when their assertions tend to weaken the position or power of canonized revelation.

    I would suggest that contributing to a lengthening shadow over LDS scholarship isn’t building much of anything but doubt.

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