There are 15 thoughts on “I Do Not Think That WORD Means What You Think It Means”.

  1. Brant,

    I’m just about done with this quick read based on your recommendation. It has definitely been worth it. I do wonder your thoughts about chapter 9 and the misreading we may do when we “tend to read every scriptural promise, every blessing, as if it necessarily applies to us”. This certainly is in line with the non-western way of thinking communally instead of the individuality we use. Nephi however tells us that the Nephites “likened” the scriptures unto themselves. I am wondering what your thoughts are on this. My first thought was that perhaps the book was wrong, but I was feeling the same bristling against the ideas because my cultural attitudes were getting in the way.
    So my question is “Could we be misunderstanding the use of Likening by the Nephites?” It seems that the likening done by the Nephites was done on a communal basis. I also wonder of this likening could have meant something different than the way we do it today. Could the adaptation of the text of Isaiah 29 into Nephi’s prophesy in 2 Ne 27 be an example of what they meant by likening? Would likening be a form of midrashim?

    • Mark, you have highlighted one of the most important issues for scripture reading. There are at least two perspectives in any scriptural text. One is that of the author and the other the reader. What strikes a chord with us from the text isn’t always what the text intended, which is the point of the book. However, if we don’t find a way to make the scriptures relevant to our own lives, then they are dead things for scholars rather than living water. It is a delicate balance.

      Personally, I see the balance in enriching my understanding of the meanings of the text so that I am better able to get a useful interpretation for modern life. When Nephi likened the scriptures, one of his big themes was the redemption of Israel. That was an important issue for him and his nascent community. They were a branch broken off from Israel and the desire to know that they were not forgotten was understandably strong. That particular likening fades from the text as different issues become more relevant.

      The scriptures show, through the stories of past human struggles, ways in which we can cope with our own. That requires some adaptation. What it doesn’t require is an overly literal reading that assumes our understanding was the intent of the scripture, and building too much practice on that. I think that an overly literal reading of Benjamin’s discourse on not turning away the beggar can be difficult in a world where the economic situation is dramatically different from the agricultural society in which he lived. There, a beggar was typically one whose crop had failed. Mine could be next, and sharing was important. In a monetary culture, there are so many reasons that a beggar is on the streets, and so many ways in which they might get real help that I might be best helping those who provide real help rather than providing something that might hurt more than help (of course individual circumstances can vary–but I am referring to a blanket application of Benjamin’s charge).

      As for the reworking of Isaiah 29 into 2 Ne 27, I think there are multiple processes at work. One is the prophetic application of the scripture, and the second the translator’s understanding of the fulfillment of prophecy influencing the language used to describe the prophecy.

      • Thanks for answering me regarding this. Do you feel we will be able to make any headway to understand the way the Nephites thought? To be able to see that things are going unsaid in the text?

        • I do see it as being possible, but always somewhat speculative. Understanding what goes unsaid requires cultural information, and that requires a geography. Since there are lots of opinions on geography, there will be lots of opinions on what the cultural backdrop to the text might be. However, I find that Mesoamerica provides a very productive cultural context. By productive, I mean that Mesoamerican concepts allow us to fill in some of the gaps of the unsaid with information that gives a richer and more understandable picture of the actions in the text. I have not seen that happen with the cultural context from any other proposed geography.

  2. I am a little embarrassed to admit I chose to read this article because the title read itself in Inigo Montoya’s voice in my head. I hope the title made you giggle (or chuckle, or snort, as appropriate) when you thought of it: I snorted happily when I read it. Thanks for a clear and interesting review, and thanks for the authors’ example you chose. It helped me change “Paul is telling women how to dress, and women don’t wear head coverings in church anymore, so doubly irrelevant to me” to “Paul is instructing that sacrament meeting is not a casual social gathering: hey, that’s relevant.”

  3. While it is very true that having knowledge of the context is valuable, not many people even want to take the long years necessary for “original intent” understanding.
    Were that desirable, or even necessary, not many people would get to the Celestial realm. (And JS Jr., would be woefully out of his depth is a world of intensive scholarship, yes?)
    The wonderful things about all Scripture (with capital ‘S’), is that it speaks to every person in the place they are, not in the place they are not. So, who cares if anybody gets it “wrong”? Not only are people admonished to “liken”, but God speaks to people in their own “language” (including the taken-for-granted cultural context.
    My take on it is that books like this are valuable, but not necessary. Why? Scholarship never saved anybody.

    • Well, we agree that personal readings can be valuable. We will continue to disagree on whether or not learning more about the scriptures can enhance our understanding. As for Joseph, everything I know about him suggests that if he had access to that kind of information, he would pursue it to master it. Witness the way he tackled Hebrew. I suspect that he would have seen richer ways to communicate God’s message (though not changing the substance, of course).

      Sometimes our misunderstanding of scripture actually works better than the original. For example, learning “line upon line” is a great principal and very useful to help us understand how to go about learning. It is a misreading of the original and is perhaps even opposed to the original idea. Still, quite useful.

      The idea that Mormon’s are a peculiar people has been adopted as a badge of honor, but it is based on an archaic meaning of “peculiar.” Missionaries in foreign languages who attempt to teach that principal will find quickly that it won’t work.

      Understanding why women cover their heads in Paul’s exhortation prevents us from making up stuff that wasn’t relevant. It might not hurt, but it doesn’t help our proper understanding of women’s roles if we base our ideas on something that didn’t intend to mean what we read into it.

      Randolph and O’Brien have a fascinating reading of the idea of not being hot or cold. From the context, it has a different meaning. It is one where we might get the wrong idea without some understanding.

      I really do suggest that reading the book will help anyone understand that while there are uses for the personal readings, there are important things to be learned from the ancient context.

      • Brant,

        I completely agree with your point. I find it interesting that you are getting a little resistance from others to the idea that understanding the original intent can be valuable.

        While it should be granted that the original intent of scriptures are not their sole or even primary value to us today, I think it is certainly of worth. Not only to glean additional insights but also to defend against popular misreadings that enemies of religion like to use as a club against the Bible and those who believe it.

  4. Even if we can bridge some of the cultural and linguistic gaps through study, we are left with the most important gap, that between us and God

    Isa. 55:8 ¶For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
    9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    John’s comment on the fundamental need for the Holy Ghost, so that the original intent may be transmitted anew, is imperative. It is at the heart of modern scripture and the way they were “transalated correctly.”

    • Ric, I certainly agree that the Holy Ghost will guide our personal reading and application of scripture. While it is also just as certain that God’s ways are different from ours, there are too many times when we interpret cross-cultural differences between our world and that of the Bible (or Book of Mormon, or book of Abraham) as coming from God rather than from the much more relevant and informative cultural background of those who wrote those texts.

      We always read the texts for our own edification, and the principle of likening scripture to our own lives is just as important now as it was when Nephi said it. Nevertheless, we gain a richer understanding of scripture and one that does not lead us into forced applications when we understand the cultural contexts behind the texts. Richards and O’Brien make that very same point–powerfully. I suggest that you read the book as a way of understanding those subtle but important differences.

  5. I have a BS in Ancient Near Eastern Studies and spent 4 years of university studying Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, etc. At one time I would have agreed that learning more about the culture of the scriptures and what the authors of the scriptures meant when they wrote down their words was highly important to understanding the scriptures. But, the older I get the less inclined I am to think that. I’ve come to the conclusion that the scriptures are not the point, the Holy Ghost is the point. The scriptures act as a tool to get our mind into a state to receive revelation from the Holy Ghost. Often I’ve found that the Holy Ghost uses the scriptures to reveal something to me that is at odds with what the authors of that scripture intended or how it is traditionally interpreted, but that is okay since the Holy Ghost is just revealing things that apply to me and my stewardship. Someone else will receive a different interpretation of the same passage of scripture from the Holy Ghost because their situation and stewardship are distinct from my own. Anyway, I know an awful lot about the culture, customs, languages, etc. of the ancients, but I feel like my wife, who knows none of these things and has absolutely no interest in learning these things gets more out of the scriptures than I do since she is so closer to the Holy Ghost than I am. It is the Spirit that matters. Of maybe, the scriptures were made for man, and not man for the scriptures.

    • I bought this volume at Ben’s recommendation almost ten years ago. It’s fantastic. And it’s sitting unfinished in my parents’ shed until I move back to the US. I can’t wait to finish it some day!

      To John and Rick, I understand well your point, and I agree that it’s important to teach people how to gain from their scripture reading now, without having to wait for years till they’ve acquired certain levels of training. I do think this kind of scholarship, though, is very helpful, especially in avoiding certain misreadings that historically have made misapplications normative in counterproductive ways. There’s room and a role for both approaches.

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