The Interpreter Foundation
and an Apostolic Charge

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Abstract: In April 2006, Dallin H. Oaks, in unpublished remarks at the naming of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (as the successor to FARMS), reminded listeners that “this institute belongs to God.” On November 10, 2018, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (also in unpublished remarks, titled “The Maxwell Legacy of the 21st Century”) renewed that commitment: the Institute should be “as faithful as eternal truth, and as bright as the light of truth that is in us.” This is, likewise, the vision of The Interpreter Foundation, in contrast to Latter-day Saint “academic ventures” at some universities. It should be “significantly different from the present national pattern,” Elder Holland emphasized. “There are times when our faith will require an explicit defense.” The Interpreter Foundation aspires to be in the fore of any such efforts.




In unpublished remarks presented on 26 April 2006 at a relatively small dinner celebrating the naming of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and currently first counselor in the Church’s First Presidency), was forthright: “This institute belongs to God,” he said.

It must pursue an unconditional commitment to His cause, without any obsessions or any cultivation of cheering constituencies.

The work of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship must be genuine and pervasive — as broad as the [Page viii]spiritual interests of the children of God, as faithful as eternal truth, and as bright as the light of truth that is in us.1

As one of the leaders of the Maxwell Institute (formerly known as the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, or FARMS) at that time, I was present for that memorable dinner, at which President Boyd K. Packer of the Twelve also spoke to us. (I hope that someday the texts of both speeches will be publicly available.) It was a thrilling evening and an inspiring one. Their vision of the work of the Maxwell Institute was also ours, and I hope and believe it is the vision of those of us involved today with The Interpreter Foundation. It was also an emotional evening for us as well as for others, including members of the Maxwell family who were in attendance. Elder Maxwell, who had died nearly two years before, on 21 July 2004, had been a beloved friend and an open, articulate, encouraging supporter of our efforts.

On Saturday evening, 10 November 2018, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Council of the Twelve delivered the 2018 Neal A. Maxwell Lecture on the Provo, Utah, campus of Brigham Young University. His remarkable address, given under the auspices of the University’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, was entitled “The Maxwell Legacy in the 21st Century.”

“I am speaking only to the work of the Maxwell Institute tonight,” Elder Holland said, “and not to the whole of BYU’s academic effort.” Still, he added, “I hope that much I say will apply across the entire campus and beyond” (1).

In my judgment, his remarks indeed apply beyond his immediate audience at the Maxwell Institute, and in what I hope is the spirit of 1 Nephi 19:23, I will make an effort here to begin to apply them to the work of The Interpreter Foundation, with which I have been associated since it was launched shortly after my departure from the Maxwell Institute in 2012: “I did liken all scriptures unto us,” wrote Nephi, “that it might be for our profit and learning.”

The 2018 Neal A. Maxwell Lecture offers us, along with those at the Maxwell Institute, an opportunity to evaluate what we’re doing in the light of the teachings and priorities of those who have been divinely called to lead the Church at this time — and a chance to correct our course, if that should prove necessary. The Swiss Protestant theologian Karl Barth (1886‒1968), borrowing a phrase associated with St. Augustine, famously insisted that the [Page ix]Christian church must be semper reformanda, “always reforming” or “always reformed.” I like the phrase and the sentiment behind it, and I believe it is true of all of us as individuals and of every organization.

Elder Holland’s speech had much to say about contemporary academia, which, in a sense, is extraneous to The Interpreter Foundation, since the Foundation operates independently, without academic institutional support and without a campus base because many of those involved with it do not occupy academic positions. Still, many of us are professionally or peripherally involved with scholarship, more than a few of us were once deeply involved in the Maxwell Institute, and there is no question — whether the broader scholarly world agrees with us or not — that The Interpreter Foundation is deeply involved in a scholarly enterprise. Elder Holland’s expectation that the Maxwell Institute be “a faithful, rich, rewarding center of faith-promoting gospel scholarship enlivened by remarkable disciple-scholars” (3) is certainly our expectation or hope for ourselves. Scholarship is scarcely limited to college and university campuses; sometimes, in fact, especially when I observe American academic life in general, I worry that scholarship may face some of its most serious threats precisely there, among professors, administrators, and bureaucrats.

Himself a former dean and then, from 1980 to 1989, the ninth president of Brigham Young University as well as the former commissioner of the Church Educational System (1976‒1980), Elder Holland (PhD, Yale University) left no doubt about the authority with which he spoke. “With the humility incumbent upon anyone making such an assertion,” he told his audience, “I come tonight in my true identity as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1).

Although I accept sole responsibility for all inadequacies, limitations, errors, and missed opportunities in this message, I am here with not only the blessing but also the rather explicit expectation of the officers of the university’s board of trustees, whose executive committee I currently chair. In that sense, I speak for all of your governing advisers — not just for myself. (1)

“I can think of few other entities on this campus,” he continued,

that have received the attention from the General Officers of the Church that the Maxwell Institute has — at least lately. I offer my non-campuswide, non‒Marriott Center appearance in this modest venue as evidence of that tonight. The Lord’s Prophet, who chairs your board, and his fellow Apostles, who sit with [Page x]him, sent me to you. We hope it is affirming to you to have their strong, active interest in you at a time when the direction and priorities of the Church are being discussed as almost never before. We hope you welcome such focused attention, as you are measured for your role in these developments. (3)

Elder Holland even quoted from an email sent to him by Russell M. Nelson, the president of the Church, on 25 October 2018, roughly two weeks before his lecture at BYU. “Part of the Maxwell Institute problem is its identity,” President Nelson wrote. He said Church leaders need to help Maxwell Institute leaders “know who they are and why they exist” (4).2

Within the first few minutes of his speech, Elder Holland referred to Joseph Smith’s First Vision, the reality of continuing revelation, the advent of the true King, and the significance of the “end times,” observing that at least some in his audience “must be thinking this opening a bit melodramatic for the purposes of this particular gathering.” However, he continued, “I prefer to see it as apostolic. These are the topics that absorb 15 of us who toss and turn when we would like to sleep and slumber” (3).

Elder Holland noted that “Mormon studies programs on other campuses are designed to be primarily academic ventures, not spiritual ones, which is perfectly understandable” (5). He cited three examples. The first is located at Utah State University, where it proclaims that it “does not promote or reject any particular religion.”3 The second, Claremont Mormon Studies in California, says it promotes understanding of the Church “without necessarily advancing (or disputing) the veracity of its faith claims.” 4 The University of Virginia’s Mormon studies program [Page xi]describes its work principally as engaging “Mormonism both as a significant cultural fact and as a research subject.”5

Remarked Elder Holland,

These programs are, for the most part, a way for other people to look at us, making no particular call upon one’s belief and having no particular covenantal consequence after the course is over or the essay is written or the seminar has ended. (5)

And, as he says, he is fine with that — for such non-Latter-day Saint campuses. However, he declares,

I would be the first to oppose such an effort on this campus if all it meant was a thoughtful exploration of our religion’s “richness” or its “intellectual substance” or its “historic resilience.” … Certainly your trustees would find it troubling. (5, emphasis in original)

In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that initially I was against any proposal to do at BYU what was called Mormon studies elsewhere because I knew what Mormon studies elsewhere usually meant. However, over time I have come to see merit in a Latter-day Saint studies effort at BYU if you are willing to make it significantly different from the present national pattern. If you are willing to be truly unique, I can certainly endorse the idea that BYU should have a hand on any academic tiller dealing with the Church, becoming a place to which other such programs and chairs and lectureships might look for leadership. (5, emphasis in original)

In other words, to the extent that “Mormon studies” (or whatever we eventually come to call it) is to be practiced at Brigham Young University, it can never be merely identical to what is done elsewhere. And faithful Latter-day Saint scholarship will always tend to be different: “Of necessity, we will often be ‘a peculiar people’ in the academy as well as other arenas of life” (5).

One way to maintain balance at the Maxwell Institute, Elder Holland suggested to his audience in November, would be to remember that, while the Maxwell Institute may include a Mormon studies component, “albeit one determinedly unique in its nature,” it cannot reduce itself to that alone.

[Page xii]No, as disciple-scholars who invite others to study us even as we study ourselves and who speak to the faithful every bit as much as to the detached, you will have to be comfortable being true oddballs, in that you are going to speak to both groups. It will usually not be in the same documents, probably not with the same vocabulary, and seldom, I would guess, in the same venue — but both the believers and the merely curious need to be able to see you as a source for some of the answers to their questions, however different that source material may be.

By speaking to two audiences, I’m not suggesting you be two faced. This is not a call to hypocrisy but precisely the opposite. When you’re writing for the household of faith, you should never write anything that would give your doctoral advisor just cause to accuse you of dishonesty. Likewise, when you are writing for an academic journal, you should never write anything that would give your ministering companion just cause to accuse you of disloyalty. Your soul must be one — integrated, intact, and whole — even as your voice may speak in different languages to different audiences. (7, emphasis in original)

This was my own long-standing aspiration for the Maxwell Institute. In a sense, the position of The Interpreter Foundation — and, accordingly, the challenge that it faces — is somewhat different from that of the Maxwell Institute and somewhat simplified. Being academically unaffiliated, the Foundation is under no obligation ever even to affect neutrality on the subjects to which it devotes its attention. We are committed Latter-day Saints, and we don’t pretend otherwise. That said, however, we are committed to the standards of sound scholarship, to rigorous canons of evidence and analysis. In the long term, testimonies will not be sustained or successfully defended by the abuse of evidence or by shoddy reasoning. Moreover, we aspire to create a body of work that, at least eventually, nobody will be able to ignore who is interested in the subjects that we treat and on which we publish.

As part of the background for his remarks which, he quipped, were very much like “quickly step[ping] from one land mine to another” (4), Elder Holland cited an unpublished December 2014 review of the [Page xiii]Maxwell Institute written by Terryl Givens,6 David Holland,7 and Reid Neilson.8 “The current culture at MI,” says their review, “may have lost some of the institute’s founding vision and original purpose” (4).9 The possibility of such drift had been a specific worry of Elder Maxwell himself, voiced (for example) to a 1991 gathering of what would, after his death, come to be known as the Maxwell Institute.10

Over the course of his public ministry, Neal A. Maxwell spoke often and eloquently about his ideal of “the disciple-scholar,” and Elder Holland, recalling that ideal, commented on “that hyphenated noun Elder Maxwell left us as part of his marvelous linguistic legacy.” “Not all truths are of equal importance,” observed Elder Holland, saying that, for Elder Maxwell, “the spiritual half of that union was always the more important.” (3) “Though I have spoken of the disciple-scholar,” Elder Maxwell himself wrote, “in the end all the hyphenated words come off. We are finally disciples — men and women of Christ” (3)11

“But the wonderful thing with Neal (and the thing I want for us),” Elder Holland added,

is that it didn’t have to come down to a choice between intellect and spirit. In a consecrated soul — consecration being one of his favorite doctrinal concepts — they would be aligned beautifully, a perfect fit, a precise overlay. But if it did come down to a choice, it would be faith — the yearning, burning commitment of the soul — that would always matter most in the end. (3, emphasis in original)

To both Elder Maxwell and Elder Holland, apologetics — the word is somewhat foreign to ordinary Latter-day Saint usage, but in the context of [Page xiv]the Restoration it refers, simply, to advocacy and defense of the claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — describes, as appropriate, an important and even essential part of such disciple-scholarship:

Regarding that faith-filled scholarship of which Elder Maxwell speaks, may I note plainly one thing we expect you to do because it is central to your raison d’être. It is to undergird and inform the pledge Elder Maxwell made when he said of uncontested criticism, “No more slam dunks.” We ask you as part of a larger game plan to always keep a scholarly hand fully in the face of those who oppose us. As a ne’er-do-well athlete of yesteryear, I was always told you played offense for the crowd, but you played defense for the coach. Your coaches will be very happy to have you play both superbly well. (3‒4)12

The mission of the Maxwell Institute, Elder Holland declared, extends well beyond a small, narrow, academic elite.13 Referring to the 2014 review compiled by Drs. Givens, Holland, and Neilson, Elder Holland commented that

Whatever else they had in mind, I thought it a marvelous understatement for them to have said, “There will be times [Page xv]when our faith will require an explicit defense.” We want the Maxwell Institute and many others to contribute to that defense — with solid, reputable scholarship intended as much for everyday, garden-variety Latter-day Saints who want their faith bolstered, at least as much as it might be intended for disinterested academic colleagues across the country whose stated purpose will never be to “prove or disprove the truth claims of the Church.” (4)14

Ranking high among Elder Maxwell’s most beloved writers was the great English scholar and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis. And, in his turn, Lewis was vocal throughout the years after his adult conversion to Christianity about his admiration for, and his debt to, the Scottish clergyman and writer George MacDonald. It was entirely appropriate, therefore, that Elder Holland, too, quoted MacDonald in the context of his insistence on the vital need for apologetics.

“Is every Christian expected to bear witness?” asked MacDonald. And then he answered his own question:

A man content to bear no witness to the truth is not of the kingdom of heaven. One who believes must bear witness. One who sees the truth, must live witnessing to it. Is our life, then, a witnessing to the truth? Do we carry ourselves in [the] bank, on [the] farm, in [the] house or shop, in [the] study or chamber or workshop, as the Lord would, or as the Lord would not?

Are we careful to be true? … When contempt is cast on the truth, do we smile? Wronged in our presence, do we make no sign that we hold by it? I do not say we are called upon to dispute, and defend with logic and argument, but we are called upon to show that we are on the other side. …

The soul that loves the truth and tries to be true, will know when to speak and when to be silent; but the true man [or woman] will never look as if he [or she] did not care. We are not bound to say all we think, but we are bound not even to look [like] what we do not think. (8)15

[Page xvi]“I echo MacDonald’s insistence,” commented Elder Holland, “that while we are not obligated to declare everything we believe at any given time or in any one setting, we are also not even to look like what we do not believe” (8, emphasis in original).

In other words, although not every situation calls for testimony bearing or explicit defense, faithful Latter-day Saint thinkers and scholars must never seem or pretend to be neutral with regard to the truth-claims of the Restoration and the Church.

We know you can’t be credible in every circle if you are seen as lacking scholarly substance and categorically defensive all the time. But neither can you afford ever to be perceived as failing to serve the larger, faith-oriented purposes of the Church. (7)

Any scholarly endeavor at BYU — and certainly anything coming under the rubric of the Maxwell Institute — must never be principally characterized by stowing one’s faith in a locker while we have a great exchange with those not of our faith. Neal Maxwell phrased it this way: “A few hold back a portion of themselves merely to please a particular gallery of peers. … Some hold back by not appearing overly committed to the Kingdom, lest they incur the disapproval of particular peers who might disdain such consecration.” And some just hold back. Period. (5‒6)16

Elder Holland even suggested some topics on which the Maxwell Institute and other Latter-day Saint scholars might have something unique to contribute to the broader scholarly world:

What about the current interest in “sacred space” generally? Might we have something to say to our colleagues that would let us elaborate on the significance of holy space in our history and thought?

And we have only begun to mine the wonders of the Joseph Smith Papers. How do we get those gems out to those not of our faith and get them out without compromising their unique Latter-day Saint characteristics? (7)

[Page xvii]I like to think that The Interpreter Foundation is well positioned to contribute to such discussions. We have, for example, convened several conferences devoted to study of the temple — most recently, the Temple on Mount Zion conference held at Brigham Young University on 10 November 2018, the very day of Elder Holland’s evening remarks to the Maxwell Institute — and published three books on the topic.17 And, as resources permit, we intend to expand and deepen our commitment to temple studies.

With regard to Elder Holland’s mention of the Joseph Smith Papers project, I hereby publicly confess that one of my dreams for The Interpreter Foundation is for it to organize and host a conference devoted to what that ongoing research, editing, and publishing effort is disclosing to us about the personality and moral character of the founding Prophet of the Restoration.

There remains much to be done, and much excitement to be had. Part of that excitement will come in doing whatever we can to fulfill the expectations and hopes shared, on behalf of his fellow living Apostles and prophets, by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. I’m grateful for The Interpreter Foundation, and for all those who have made it possible. It is a genuinely marvelous vehicle — not, obviously, the only one, but a good one — for contributing to the Kingdom.


1. Cited in Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Maxwell Legacy in the 21st Century” (unpublished remarks, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, November 10, 2018), 9. The pagination is that of a copy of the text, in my possession, which — including endnotes — runs ten pages. Hereafter, page references to Elder Holland’s speech are provided in the main text. I quote from his remarks with his express permission.
2. There is some small amount of ambiguity in the actual quote used by Elder Holland. He relayed this portion of the email from President Nelson in this manner, as quoted material: “[We] need to [help them] know who they are and why they exist.” The bracketed phrases are in Elder Holland’s remarks. In context, the predicate of “them” is clear — it is the Maxwell Institute. The ambiguity is in the predicate of “we.” It may apply to Church leaders “writ large” (i.e., the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) or it may specifically apply to President Nelson and Elder Holland. Either way, it is evident that President Nelson sees it as a leadership responsibility to help the Maxwell Institute in fundamental, mission-specific ways.
3. “Religious Studies,” Utah State University, accessed December 4, 2018, https://religiousstudies.usu.edu.
4. “About Claremont Mormon Studies,” Claremont Graduate University, accessed December 4, 2018, https://mormonstudies.cgu.edu.
5. “Mormon Studies,” University of Virginia, accessed December 4, 2018, https://mormonstudies.as.virginia.edu.
6. Professor of Literature and Religion and James A. Bostwick Professor of English at the University of Richmond.
7. Elder Holland’s son and John A. Bartlett Professor of New England Church History at Harvard Divinity School.
8. Managing Director of the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
9. Citing Terryl Givens, David Holland, and Reid Neilson, External Review of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (December 2014), 7.
10. For Elder Maxwell’s full remarks, see Daniel C. Peterson, “Elder Neal A. Maxwell on Consecration, Scholarship, and the Defense of the Kingdom,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 7 (2013): vii‒xix.
11. Quoting Neal A. Maxwell, “The Disciple-Scholar,” in Henry B. Eyring, ed., On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar: Lectures Presented at the Brigham Young University Honors Program Discipline and Discipleship Lecture Series (Salt Lake City, Bookcraft: 1995), 21.
12. Elder Holland cites Neal A. Maxwell, “Blending Research and Revelation,” Brigham Young University President’s Leadership Council address (19 March 2004), 2. See also Neal A. Maxwell, in Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple’s Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 509. I was present at that March 2004 address, one of his last public speeches. In it, among other things, he praised the work then being done by what would eventually become the Maxwell Institute, which The Interpreter Foundation now seeks to carry forward. On the idea of “no more slam dunks,” see Daniel Peterson, “Why Latter-day Saints Need to Defend Our Beliefs, Even as We Avoid Contention,” Latter-day Saint Living (1 November 2018), http://www.ldsliving.com/Why-Latter-day-Saints-Need-to-Defend-Our-Beliefs-Even-as-We-Avoid-Contention/s/89635. Elder Holland’s own deep personal interest in the scholarly advocacy and defense of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was demonstrated earlier in the year by his appearance and unpublished comments at a March 14, 2018, Salt Lake City dinner on behalf of the newly formed (and soon to be renamed) organization Mormon Voices, a confederation formed by Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, and The Interpreter Foundation in order to coordinate joint projects and fundraising.
13. My longtime friend and former FARMS and Maxwell Institute colleague John W. Welch has told me that, in the early days of FARMS, Elder Boyd K. Packer exhorted him to “never forget the Relief Society sister in Parowan” — by which he meant (with no offense to anybody living in Parowan) ordinary, mainstream, non academic Latter-day Saints.
14. Citing Givens, Holland, and Neilson, External Review, 7.
15. Citing George MacDonald, Creation in Christ: Unspoken Sermons, ed. Rolland Hein (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 1976), 142. Bracketed insertions and ellipses in quotation provided by Elder Holland.
16. Elder Holland is citing Neal A. Maxwell, “Discipleship and Scholarship,” BYU Studies 32/3 (1992): 8, emphasis and ellipses in portion quoted by Elder Holland. See also Daniel Peterson, “William Law’s ‘serious call’ to holiness,” Deseret News (9 November 2018), https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900041210/william-hamblin-and-daniel-peterson-william-laws-serious-call-to-holiness.html.
17. Matthew B. Brown, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Stephen D. Ricks, and John S. Thompson, eds., Ancient Temple Worship (Salt Lake City and Orem, UT: Eborn Books and The Interpreter Foundation, 2014); William J. Hamblin and David R. Seely, eds., Temple Insights (Salt Lake City and Orem, UT: Eborn Books and The Interpreter Foundation, 2014); and Stephen D. Ricks and Donald W. Parry, eds., The Temple: Ancient & Restored (Salt Lake City and Orem, UT: Eborn Books and The Interpreter Foundation, 2016). See https://interpreterfoundation.org/books/ for these and other books published by The Interpreter Foundation.

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About Daniel C. Peterson

Daniel C. Peterson (Ph.D., University of California at Los Angeles) is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University and is the founder of the University's Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, for which he served as editor-in-chief until mid-August 2013. He has published and spoken extensively on both Islamic and Mormon subjects. Formerly chairman of the board of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and an officer, editor, and author for its successor organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, his professional work as an Arabist focuses on the Qur’an and on Islamic philosophical theology. He is the author, among other things, of a biography entitled Muhammad: Prophet of God (Eerdmans, 2007).

52 thoughts on “The Interpreter Foundation and an Apostolic Charge

  1. When considering so-called problems with the precise language of revelation or translation, I suspect some difficulties arise due to gaps and ambiguities in our language. That is, there may not be easy ways to express perfectly in English what the Lord would have us know. What the Savior prayed before the Nephites, for example, could not be written: “And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak…” So I tend to allow a little bit of slack to those burdened with the task of putting truth into (English) words.

  2. When considering so-called problems with the precise language of revelation or translation, I suspect some difficulties arise due to gaps and ambiguities in our language. That is, there may not be easy ways to express perfectly in English what the Lord would have us know. What the Savior prayed before the Nephites, for example, could not be written: “And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak…” So I tend to allow a little bit of slack to those burdened with the task of putting truth into (English) words.

  3. Rick, suggest reading Brant Gardner’s excellent book about the translation of the Book of Mormon: The Gift and Power.

    And try this: picture God in the room as the Book of Mormon was being translated. His endeavor would likely be to give His own rendering about what was on the plates. It’s obvious that he opted to give the book commonality with our available King James Bible, italicized words and all. I respect God’s decision to put those words on Joseph’s stone. Someone can put together a huge fireworks display of text and language analysis (my own university work was in Religious Studies, studying Greek and Nahuatl), and never bring God into view. And the end result would be ego-play and head-sport. The translation of the Book of Mormon was not Willam Tyndale or His Majesty’s Special Command this time. A differing scenario directly involved God and revelation. I am not really interested in intellectual smoke; the matter boils down to: was God involved or not. It is a matter of belief and testimony.

    God bless you, brother of progressive missive, of brackish broadcast, of salty solution! We can still walk together in trek over barren landscape! Very best to you.

  4. The earliest Greek manuscripts give the name of the mother of the Savior as Mariam, or Marias; likewise Jesus as Joshua. In addition, there are hundreds of “quotations” from the KJV New Testament that are found throughout the BoM.

    Are these words exactly what Mormon carved on the plates originally? i.e. the KJV translators, Mosiah and Alma got the names right, but the 2nd and 3rd century manuscript authors got them wrong. Or did God use the revelatory process to provide a text that was more approachable to its intended, modern audience.

    Note: A cut/paste implies that we might someday get an exact copy of the text, with exactly the formatting that God wants. Do you mean, kinda like the Koran 😉

    I think that that level of fidelity is going to require upgrading our mobile devices to not only seer stones, but celestial seer stones.

    I have also bee told that, until twinkling becomes an option, that communication device upgrade is simply the ultimate; that it is to say, it is “to die for”.

  5. I don’t believe that we have the details and breadth of witness discussing the process that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Abraham; but most of the time, while receiving the Book of Mormon, Joseph didn’t even making a pretext of actually looking at the source material while he was “translating”. Obviously, Joseph Smith used the phrase “translate” and “translation”, when almost anyone today would say “revelation”. However, scholar after scholar has demonstrated the results of both “translations” had roots in the antiquities that preclude anyone in Joseph Smith’s era from creating the documents as pure works of fiction.

    Any review of the prophetic revelatory process shows that God has used the cultural memes of the day and age of the prophet, to provide revelation and direction.

    IMHO, The original plates, and the original papyri, could have contained an ancient’s grocery list. There may, or may not be any direct correlation between the inspired results of the translation process, with the original source material itself. That doesn’t preclude God from using the “translation” process to pass on the message that he wants to share, in a format that he wants it shared in.

    Joseph Smith’s translation processes fit very well with the inspired writings that were produced by Joseph of Egypt and by the prophet Daniel when they were inspired to interpret the dreams the political leaders of their day.

    • I don’t see how the grocery list analogy could possibly apply to the Book of Mormon. There is no reason for anyone to even consider that the plates had anything else on them other than what has been said about them by the church since publication.

      Joseph used a stone to translate, if his were living today and translating he might well as used a translation app on a mobile device (and tongue in cheek, he could still place his head in a hat and dictate – although I’d recommend he cut and paste).

  6. It seems to me that a prophet receives line upon line and precept upon precept. Revelation is given according to the need and capacity of the receiver at the time. After the passage of time that prophet’s understanding is expanded such that the first revelations need revision to bring them up to date with the current and more complete understanding. It is a process. It doesn’t come in one single huge revelation which contains everything all at once.

    In a discourse given in Fillmore, Utah on September 7, 1864 Brigham Young taught:

    “I say to you, as I can to the whole world, there has not yet been a revelation given to this people from the time Joseph commenced to receive revelation but what would be [altered] provided the people were capable of receiving more. The Lord has to speak to the people according to their capacity, not according to his capacity. We are not prepared to receive all the heavens has for us. The Lord gives revelation upon revelation, here a little and there a little. Those precepts he gives we should improve upon them. . . . The Lord is laboring and has been for long time to prepare a people to receive blessings. He sent his gospel, called Joseph, gave the Book of Mormon, to prepare us to . . . receive all the blessings the earth can bestow, and the blessings of eternity. You and I believe alike with regard to the fullness of his power and goodness. He has blessings and wants bestow them on the whole human family. We believe alike. Why are we not blessed then? We are not ready to receive the blessings.” (https://history.lds.org/article/brigham-young-trip-south?lang=eng)

    Brigham Young once said:

    I do not believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church; that is perfect in its fullness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, as far as they go, but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities. (Journal of Discourses, 2:314 [July 8, 1855]).

    Brigham Young also explained why some scripture like the one on plural marriage may be particularly difficult to comprehend: “When revelations are given through an individual appointed to receive them, they are given to the understandings of the people. These revelations, after a lapse of years, become mystified to those who were not personally acquainted with the circumstances at the time they were given.” (Undated statement in Susa Young Gates, papers, USHS, Box 12, fd 2, page 78)

    Such a sentiment is paralleled by similar texts in the Doctrine and Covenants (emphasis added)

    Behold, I am God, and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. (D&C 1:24)

    Your eyes have been upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and his language you have known, and his imperfections you have known; and you have sough in your hearts knowledge that you might express beyond his language; this you also know. (D&C 67:5)

    • Dwight, in the first Brigham Young quote, you changed it by adding your own word thus: “[altered].” Any change in wording will change Pres. Young’s intent in the quote. Wondering why not retain the original wording.

      We know that God will add upon His revelations, but to imply that He changes his mind doesn’t make sense to me. We do know though, that as the affairs of people change, God has given revised instructions. Possible example: Swaths of Church membership are influenced by toxic social movements, so to allay resentments from the five foolish virgin members, He softens His Temple Endowment. I know this idea may be mockable, but it is possible. I happen to believe it.

      Cheers, brother.

  7. Jureo,
    There is no reply button for your question, so I am posting here. Brandt has given one excellent perspective as an answer. Here is another.
    David Whitmer could only speak for himself in his understanding of these early revelations, and not for Joseph or for the church as a whole, small as it was in that day. His interpretations of Joseph’s revelations from God were wrong, thus he did some despicable things and left the Church.
    You can read about his issues and actions in the new “Saints” history, volume 1, and at the Joseph Smith Papers website. The JSPP is putting on their website all the changes made to the D&C, probably in greater detail than Whitmer ever knew. There is your source material.

    But none of this alters the main point that the four standard works are and remain the standards by which all doctrine is measured and determined in the church, no matter how they blend into church history. The accounts in them of how they came to be, to exist, are scriptural, other historical sources bearing on those issues are not and are subject to new historical discoveries, source interpretation, and people’s best judgment–all allowing for new understandings. (For instance, I am not buying some of what a couple of fine BofA scholars are now saying about a certain BofA translation theory, but they could be right). But the fact remains that Joseph received the texts of the BofM, BofA, and JST (and for that matter the D&C) by a process that included revelation or the gift and power of God.

    Joseph Smith was permitted, at God’s instruction, to give as much or as little as he was supposed to in going over and clarifying prior revelations for further printings. For instance, in D&C 128:18, the Prophet indicates he is using some personal discretion in how he is giving the church a translation:

    “I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands.”

    Someday a prophet might finish the JST, the corrections to the Bible that Joseph Smith started but didn’t finish. That prophet may well improve on Joseph’s work, according to how the Spirit might direct him. Such would be completely acceptable and desirable and pleasing to all who love gospel doctrine. So Brandt is right, David Whitmer was wrong and caught up in the rigid limitations of his day.

    Another example is how the Angel Moroni changed Malachi 4:1 when he quoted that verse to Joseph from the Bible, now reading differently in JS–H 1:36-37–where “day” is changed to “they”–a very interesting and eye-brow raising but true interpretation. These are just a couple examples, there are many more.

    Perhaps the greatest scriptural changes will come when the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon is translated (probably near the beginning of the Millennium). The doctrinal knowledge that will then come forth will be deeper and greater and more expansive than probably anything we have now, by far. In other words, newly translated scripture will hugely expand on old formerly translated/corrected scripture. That is the kind of thing a prophet of God can do.

  8. Pingback: The Interpreter Foundation and an Apostolic Charge - Daniel C. Peterson - The Mormonist

  9. On the most tangential of tangents, I would like to recommend that those who want to engage further with the wonderful thoughts of George MacDonald do so by consulting his *unedited* writings. They are available electronically through Project Gutenberg and in print through johannesen.com. In the original, he is easier to understand than Shakespeare or Isaiah, and even highly-respected MacDonald scholars like Rolland Hein have been known to do some draconian redacting when MacDonald veers too far from Reformed theology. (Compare, for example, Hein’s version of “Sorrow, the Pledge of Joy” in _Creation in Christ_ to the original.)

  10. My name is Morgan Davis; I am a fellow at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. I have been with the Institute since its earliest days at Brigham Young University, though I here speak only for myself. I have seen the Institute undergo numerous changes throughout its two decades at BYU during which the leadership of the Institute has always worked closely with the administration of BYU to implement its program. Along the way, numerous leaders of the Church have weighed in on the Institute and our work, both over the pulpit and behind the scenes. Elder Holland’s address to us this past fall was the most recent and arguably the most significant of such statements, because in addition to counsel like what has been given before, it was an explicit and very public apostolic charge. As such, it was specifically directed to the Neal A. Maxwell Institute. It was an important moment for us. We were called (again) to do our best work in the most faithful way we know how, and to do it always with an eye single to the glory of God. We understand this, and take it very seriously, which is why I feel the need to address some of what is being said here.

    I know that there are still disagreements about the changes that happened in 2012 and thereafter. Much of the disagreement is about how radical the change even was. Was it a traitorous conspiracy to abandon all that the Church and the Saints and the Institute’s donors held dear, or was it a thoroughly vetted albeit difficult administrative decision to make an editorial change that was then blown way, way out of proportion? A disagreement of this sort is one thing. But when it gets escalated into expressed doubts about the faithfulness of those involved to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, that is a serious matter. Since 2012, my colleagues at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute have had to adjust to a slow but persistent drip of public innuendo, back-channel campaigning against the Institute, and direct accusations of faithlessness, nefariousness, or even apostasy by people who ought to know better or by people who don’t know us at all.

    For years now it has seemed best not to dignify such accusations with a response, but Elder Holland’s charge to us has changed that, at least for me. We are to “be ready always to give an answer to everyone that asketh… a reason of the hope that is in [us],” but “with meekness and fear,” a qualifier that for some reason has often been omitted by those quoting this verse like a battle cry. And so I come here in fear and trembling to state what I should not have to state—that the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU is staffed by individuals who without exception are faithful, service-oriented, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with active ecclesiastical endorsements. The Maxwell Institute is not “dangerously close to apostasy,” an accusation that says more about those making it or silently approving of it than it does about any member of the Institute. Contrary to representations being made here and elsewhere, everything I have seen and heard internally at the Institute since Elder Holland’s address indicates to me that the Institute continues to enjoy the strong support and confidence of the leadership of BYU and of the Church who recently weighed in on and approved our revised mission statement, allocated substantial new funding, and are constructing a new building to house us at the center of campus. We continue to offer books, blog posts, a podcast, and scholarship that is consecrated to help the average Latter-day Saint appreciate our tradition more fully, defend it, stick with it, and live it with greater confidence and joy. We see our work as allied with the work of the Religious Studies Center, FAIR Mormon, BYU Studies, Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, Deseret Book, and the Church history department. It is irresponsible to suggest that any of these institutions are off the rails.

    We may never agree over the meaning and magnitude of what happened in 2012. But the pettiness and rancor over it have festered for too long. In the potent words of President Uchtdorf (from 2012!), it’s time to “stop it.” We are fellow Saints and ought to show more respect for the covenants and faith that join us to one another in the fellowship of Christ. We all have different perspectives; we approach our discipleship in our individual ways. But we all love the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We all love the Book of Mormon for its ancient witnesses of Christ. We all sustain our living prophets and apostles. And we are all anxiously engaged in building Zion. Let that be enough. Let us love one another and forgive one another as the gospel requires. If this plea raises sincere questions for you or prompts a desire for reconciliation, my contact info is available via the Maxwell Institute; please reach out to me privately and we can begin to seek better understanding together.

    • Great comment Morgan. I’ve no idea what happened in 2012 but whatever happened everyone on all sides should do the Christ-like thing and forgive and move on.

    • Morgan,
      Thank you for your thoughts. I loved FARMS when I viewed it as the main outlet for Nibley’s superb and fascinating work twenty to thirty years ago. As for later events and splits, I haven’t concerned myself with them much. What I do concern myself with is doctrinal orthodoxy and purity.

      You call for everyone to forgive and forget and “stop it” and love one another as true disciples. On the surface, that sounds wonderful, especially since contention is of the devil. Where I get worried, because I have seen it before, is that just when everyone starts holding hands and singing kumbaya, some liberal/progressive/semi-dissident-type uses that as a smoke-screen to throw some gunk in and dirty the doctrinal water.

      When that happens, and NAMI is guilty of it, I try to shine a big neon light all over it, hopefully in a respectful way.

      Exhibit A is NAMIs publication of proceedings from the Mormon Theology Seminar. I notice that in “Christ and Anti-Christ: Reading Jacob 7”, is a chapter by Jana Reiss. I have not read her chapter and don’t care to. I occasionally do skim over her prolific Religion News Service blogs. This woman is an extremist feminist/LGBT activist and doctrinal dissident, who constantly uses her public pulpit to criticize the Church and the Brethren and their policies. She is publicly disloyal, critical, and delights in opposition. Anyone who doubts this should read over her long history of “opposition in all things” blogs. And somehow she remains a member.

      And NAMI is publishing her?!

      I also see certain other (less strident) liberal/progressive voices in other chapters. (These less-or unorthodox reputationed people are interpreting scripture for Latter-day Saints?!)

      Sacred tithing funds are going to support this NAMI work. I am also a church employee. We are called and held to a strict standard for how such sacred funds are spent to further the Lord’s work and build the kingdom, yet NAMI is publishing the work of a semi-apostate masquerading as a faithful member. In my opinion, her work is little different than that of John Dehlin in its capacity to create doubt and decrease faith and weaken readers good feeling toward prophets, seers, and revelators. And someone at NAMI has deemed such as acceptable and fundable and publishable. This gives her other criticisms of the policies and practices of the Brethren credibility it should not have. The Salt Lake Tribune knows this and often reprints her pieces since they align with their own critical and biased agenda.

      Perhaps it would be wise to look internally, as suggested by Elder Holland in no uncertain terms, and clean the inner vessel of gunk, so you have firm standing from which to make your case of love and kindness for all. That way none of these reading audiences will feel hoodwinked and all will be well. I have noticed the same issues with NAMIs publications as others have voiced, and as much as I love my fellow men and Latter-day Saints, it doesn’t mean I will turn a blind eye to impure doctrine and scriptural interpretation.

      I hope NAMI is able to improve in this regard someday.

      • You speak a lot about orthodoxy and “doctrinal purity,” but how do you navigate all the problems with church history in this mode?

        • Jureo, without any examples, it presents a challenge to answer you question. But i think orthodoxy and doctrinal purity are not threatened by turbulence in history.

          Our Latter-day Saint canon is on very solid footing, for example. Critics and supposed friendlies such as Grant Hardy have tossed spit balls at it, saying that the Book of Mormon lacks conclusive evidence. But lack of evidence is not proof against a thing; it merely means that evidence could be seen as lacking, that’s all. I for one am thankful that the Codex Borgia doesn’t depict Nephi holding a Sword of Laban, because if we had a truckload of evidence we Latter-day Saints might end up with a church full of shallow, insincere people who are there only because of museum evidence.

          So much depends on perception and one’s fairness of mind. For example, the media and liberal deities made a big thing of Seer Stones. The Church was fingerpointed for allegedly hiding the issue. None seemed to care that a Church children’s magazine showcased Joseph Smith and Seer Stones decades ago. I for one never saw a Seer Stone as a matter worth chatter. Why would anyone be thrown by the stone? Moses had a burning bush that did not consume; what if Joseph Smith was given an ignited tumbleweed? What if a talking horse? It’s none of our business, really, how the Lord chooses to reveal His sacred stuff. His ways, He says, are not our ways. Yet secularists weirdly demand that all of His ways square with their intellect. It is quintessential seeing through a glass darkly.

          God bless you, fellow traveler on bumpy road!

          • Glen, it would be more appropriate if you didn’t use terms like “supposed friendlies” for Grant Hardy (and I’m guessing you might include others). You may privately opine on someone’s faithfulness, but you are not in a position to judge. I suggest charity as a much more appropriate way of referring to people who disagree with you.

          • Glen,

            I get what you’re saying about Book of Mormon archaeological evidence. The issue is that there had been huge battles of thousands of people with no trace of them found (let alone steel and horses and others). How I navigate that is to take a non-orthodox approach—that is to say that I am open to the idea of the Book of Mormon being inspired fiction.

            Stone-in-hat doesn’t bother me, but the Book of Abraham certainly does.

            And I just read Whitmer’s “Address to all believers in the Book of Mormon.” What is your take on that?

            Thanks!
            J

          • Brant, I made a reference to Hardy’s own statement. I could have omitted the ‘friendlies’ comment.
            On the other hand, maybe you could check your own condescending, patronizing lectures to those who disagree with you.

          • Glenn, I have frequently asked many commentators to have charity. I don’t think asking us to be Christian is condescending, but if it is seen that way I apologize. We really do want civil discussion on the board.

          • Brant, my posts have been civil. I don’t post acrimony. I notice a pattern however, that you like to target my posts. I have seen you pictured shoulder-to-shoulder and beaming with the people whose activities or philosophy I have commented on. It is clear to me you have me on your radar because I disagree with secularists. Your comments to me, past and present, drip with patronizing language. I just don’t buy your sincerity.

        • Jureo,
          Simple–church history does not determine or interpret doctrine for the Church. The four standard works determine doctrine for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

          If a question arises as to the interpretation of scripture, if of importance to core doctrine, such questions of interpretation are (and have been) formally settled by the First Presidency. Not even general conference talks carry precedence over the scriptures, unless it is the President of the Church declaring new or emending revelation (like the official declarations in the D&C). Official documents like the proclamation on the family are pretty much considered uncanonized scripture and are in complete harmony with the canonized scriptures.

          Church history is filled with inspirational events that support and sustain church doctrine, but those events do not by themselves determine doctrine unless they are in the standard works (such as the first vision and story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon).

          My experience, after having researched and written ten books (including a compilation called “Determining Doctrine”) has taught me to love and enjoy and often be thrilled by church history, knowing I will occasionally run into some historical incident or event that shows poor judgement or foolishness evident in mortal men/women.

          Some critics try to throw up smoke-screens to make it look like church history is one huge disaster. That is a black lie that has had too much success and caused a few less educated and testimonied people to leave the church.

          Whenever I read some apostate’s description of leaving the church, I quickly see that they got their doctrine wrong and their church history poorly understood, and they get their new doctrine from the telestial world we live in and find it incompatible with God’s doctrine. That won’t fly very well for them at the final judgment.

          In the case of NAMI, if they are going to publish materials, by whomever, questioning the physical existence of the gold plates, or promoting interpretations of scripture that contradict the prophets and apostles (which I have read), or publish anything by authors whose writings (wherever printed/posted) criticize the Brethren and the Church, in my view such work is not justifiable but highly questionable (especially when done using tithing funds). The way I see it, Elder Holland said BYUs Mormon Studies program must be faith-promoting or stop. NAMI needs to make the right choice or be stopped.

          Meanwhile, I suggest you don’t get your church doctrine or testimony from church history unless it is in the scriptures or church produced curriculum. The material published by Interpreter or FAIR or the BYU RSC is (usually) very helpful as long as you know it is not binding doctrine but good smart educated people’s best research and conclusions that support the Church. That kind of thing will fly very well in the final judgement.

          Thank God for Elder Holland and his 14 apostolic associates!

          • “Simple–church history does not determine or interpret doctrine for the Church. The four standard works determine doctrine for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

            But those two things are deeply connected. How the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Book of Abraham came to be is history.

            But let me ask you (and others) a specific question, because it’s troubling to me, and I don’t want to be seen as a “troll.”

            One of the three witnesses, David Whitmer, said that the Doctrine and Covenants was dramatically edited and added to at the whims of Joseph Smith.

            “I was present when Brother Joseph gave nearly every revelation that is in the Book of Commandments, besides many other revelations that were never printed, and I knew everything that was in them, and when I tell you that I know they were changed and added to, I know what I am saying.” He goes on to talk about how the original revelation to Joseph Smith was that he would be given the gift to translate the Book of Mormon and that’s it–he wasn’t given gifts to do anything else. Well, that revelation was changed by Smith prior to printing the D&C.

            Here’s the source document:
            https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/An_Address_To_Believers_in_the_Book_of_Mormon

          • Jureo, I’ll step in. There were several people, obviously including David Whitmer, who had a very fundamentalist-inspired concept of what revelation was. That is, it was supposed to be the inviolate voice of God dictating every word. When the revelations were given, and then change, this violated the assumption of original perfection. Those changes are fascinating, and instructive, however, for the way in which God worked with Joseph, and probably for us. Many of the larger changes in the revelation were explanatory, to clarify an idea or concept that might not have been as clear in the original. To me, that signals that Joseph understood what the Lord wanted, but might not have expressed it clearly the first time around. So the idea that David Whitmer was later unhappy is hardly shocking.

            I see much of the same concepts being applied to the Book of Mormon. There are expectations for what it ought to be that don’t match with what the text is. So many of the anachronisms parallel translation anachronisms in the KJV. Concerns over archaeology often misunderstand archaeology in general, and New World archaeology most specifically. We still have David Whitmers in (and sadly now many out) of the church.

          • Jureo,

            I recently read something about changes to the revelations and so your comment/reference caught my eye. It was, of all places, in Saints, Volume 1. I realize that’s not really an “academic” source, but it’s telling that the subject was addressed there.

            The context was preparing the revelations for publication–thus making them available to the growing membership of the church. Here’s the quote:

            In council, they resolved that Joseph should review the revelations and “correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the Holy Spirit.” (chp 13)

            It makes sense to me that they wished to review things in preparation of significantly broadening access to the revelations. Perhaps Joseph’s understanding had increased and he felt he could clarify some things.

            Certainly this could be distressing to someone like David Whitmer who, as Brant Gardner pointed out, had certain expectations where revelation was concerned. I can’t deny having felt similarly at times. Yet I’ve learned to manage these challenges simply by recognizing they are based on my own faulty premises and limited perspective. This has actually been quite liberating–a process which freed me from a life of hopeless quantification to one in which I had more room to believe. And that has made a huge difference.

        • Jureo,

          There is just no basis for presenting the Book of Mormon as historical fiction when looking at the experiences of Joseph and the early saints.

          I find the ‘inspired fiction’ teaching the worst of the philosophies on men mingled with scripture pushed from within the church.

          • Islam believe that the text of the Koran is literally the “Word of God”. Mohammad got it from God, Mohammad wrote it down, exactly the way that God wanted him. So, subsequently, any editing of the original text would be considered to be blasphemous.

            I think that most of us start out with the assumption that this is the way that revelation works. Obviously, this is the way that David Whitmer thought that it worked.

            Per the various quotations that are noted above, for a believing latter-day saint, that interpretation of the revelatory process is simply not an option.

            We are stuck with the conundrum that even our most sacred texts are not perfect; and that our God insists on an continuous, open canon.

            As a wanna-be fanatic, that makes my life much more complicated. It makes it much harder to draw big boxes around groups of people that I disagree with.

          • My gosh, Rick, your intimating that faithful believers are mere fanatics is a stark spark in the face of reader! For me, the idea that there exists any conundrum is straw man stuff. I suggest avoid the void of David Whitmer; a reading of his An Address to All Believers in Christ gives a clear picture of an apostate, (though he carefully respected his recollections of seeing the angel and plates). Brother, I think you assume gloom about the issue of the reliability of our canon and of revelation to Prophets. We should use mind, but not to grind. We can overthink things, I think. Scholar-deities may not admit it, but much of history study is seeing through a pinhole; we can gain the illusion that we really know what happened, but our view can be askew.

            Regarding early 600’s Islam: For nearly two centuries, it seems that the Qurʾan was only an oral canon; it would take those years for Arabic to become available for it, (Dan, please correct me if needed). To me, that is a tribute to the devotion of early Muslims—they kept their sacred text alive via memory and recitation for a long, long time. Remarkable. I have great affection for our Muslim friends. I see them as a sister Faith.

            Please be at peace, fellow immigrant! We can trust Word!
            Es-selamü aleyküm السلام عليكم. 💛🕌🕋🙏🏽

          • I agree fully with Ryan Watson’s response to Jureo. If the Book of Mormon is fiction, then so are priesthood keys, and so forth.

    • Morgan,

      You said “I know that there are still disagreements about the changes that happened in 2012 and thereafter. Much of the disagreement is about how radical the change even was. Was it a traitorous conspiracy to abandon all that the Church and the Saints and the Institute’s donors held dear, or was it a thoroughly vetted albeit difficult administrative decision to make an editorial change that was then blown way, way out of proportion?”

      You do realize that this is a hyperbolic false dichotomy, don’t you? Characterizing the events of 2012 in this way seems (to this reader) as a way to dismiss what was done as nothing more than an “administrative decision.” It was not, and you do your cause (the cause stated in your comment here) a disservice by characterizing it as such.

      You rightly decry those in the comments who cast aspersions on the faithfulness of those at NAMI. I, personally, believe that those at NAMI in 2012 were and are faithful. I also believe they were and are wrong. They were wrong in changing from a course that was personally and repeatedly approved by NAMI’s namesake, and they were wrong in how they implemented the change.

      Did the way in which Dan Peterson was dismissed by Jerry Bradshaw exhibit the civility, love, and harmony to which you now appeal? Where was your call for civility, love, harmony, and forgiveness in the days and years after the 2012 incident when the e-mailed ouster of Dan Peterson was hailed by critics (and even some members) as evidence of apostolic action to change course and personally reject him? A good man’s name was summarily drug through the muck and mire in a calculated manner; he was, to turn a phrase, thrown under the bus to the cheers of many onlookers. Nobody at NAMI did anything — then or now — to set the record straight. Nobody at NAMI did anything — then or now — to defend the maligned character of the faithful brother they pushed under that bus. You and I both know that there have been many in the 6+ years since that notorious day who have questioned Dan’s faithfulness. You didn’t feel obligated then (or apparently now) to speak against those injustices, only the injustices you now perceive as being articulated against those who conceived and carried out the events in 2012.

      None of us can change the past; would that we could. As a person with a front-row seat to the events in 2012 you should understand that the actions taken by NAMI in those dark days left a sore spot in the hearts of many. Since those days, NAMI has publicly done nothing to attempt to heal that sore spot. Turning cheeks 70 times 7 has been done, while those at NAMI have stood by in a profound silence that has been interpreted by many as tacit approval. To turn another phrase, NAMI staffed the coat-check room for those who were busy stoning Dan.

      NAMI is not unfaithful, nor are those who work there. They are likewise not perfect. The sooner that NAMI publicly recognizes and articulates that the events of 2012 were ill-conceived and poorly implemented, the sooner your sought-after civility, love, harmony, and forgiveness will occur.

    • Morgan, thank you for this very thoughtful and insightful comment, as well as a call for reconciliation. Us regular members want to see the likes of MI, Interpreter, RSC, BYU studies etc. working side by side harmoniously. Having had much experience of the internal politics of complex organizations I can attest to the corrosive nature of competing factions on personal and group morale. It takes great courage to forgive and move on.

    • I first met Jerry Bradford, the one who fired Dan Peterson as editor of the flagship publication of the Maxwell Institute, over fifty years ago. I had just begun teaching at Brigham Young University, when Jerry turned up in a class I was teaching. He eventually got a degree in the religious studies program at UC Santa Barbara under Ninin Smart, who with Erich Sharpe, another scholar from the UK, created secular religious studies. Jerry then managed a Think Tank in Santa Barbara. Many years later, Dan Peterson and I urged Noel Reynolds, then the Director of FARMS, into hiring Jerry to manage the FARMS office.

      Perhaps a week after Professor Peterson was fired, my wife and I returned from two weeks in Russia. After another week, I phoned Jerry and we had a pleasant conversation. Jerry asked me what I was currently working on. I explained that I was getting ready to fashion an essay on the faith of the Maori Latter-day Saints. He said that I could publish that in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. I said that could not happen, and the reason was loyalty. That ended our conversation–and very long friendship.

      After listening to Elder Holland’s truly remarkable charge, that was directed, as Professor Peterson indicated, to all Latter-day Saint scholars, I hope that the rancor can now end. For this to happen, it will help immensely if those at the Maxwell Institute find ways to quash the false idea that what happened in 2012 was ordered or approved by the Brethren. It has been painful to have to constantly face the false claim that the Brethren no longer desired the kind of defense of the faith of Saints that we had provided. I am delighted to know that Brethren have been working on setting in place what is so eloquently described in that remarkable address by Elder Holland. As I have previously indicated, that address was an Apostolic public vindication for what I have been striving to accomplish with whatever gifts I might have since 1980. I hope that others will find it as genuinely encouraging as I did.

  11. Delightful article, characterized by restraint. It subtly harkens back to the brazen 2012 takeover of the BYU Maxwell Institute by Liberal hostiles who exiled its faithful founding scholars and re-wrote its mission statement to jettison its purpose of defending the Faith. Bizarre happening. It represented a brand-new Liberal Progressives tactical endeavor — take over a faithful Latter-day Saint institution, gut it, fire its officers, and give it a wholly changed self-serving, self-centered direction. The sky darkened a little that day. It’s been a long time since the September Six; I wonder if the Church might endeavor to establish boundaries again. Secularism has made a network of inroads. Books by secularists sold at Deseret Book tout the new, innovative lifestyle that has Doubt as its centerpiece, and in another bizarre turn, calls it “Belief and Belonging.”

    • Glen,
      You have used blunter language than I might, but I largely agree with your perspective and points. Sometimes bluntness is a very fine thing. By a touch of politics, I mean this piece is perhaps being used as an opportunity to say “I told you so” to NAMI. Which may not be a bad thing, as I suggested.

      Another item to be aware of is that the current director of NAMI is also a son of a long-time (but now retired) Executive Secretary to the Quorum of the Twelve (an exceptionally fine man) whom Elder Holland, Pres. Nelson, and most of the other Brethren are well acquainted with and love dearly. I heard Pres. Packer say (when speaking at a funeral) that he would trust this fine man with his life. One might wonder if such an indirect relationship would cause Elder Holland to be more diplomatic, or, if it would affect nothing. When an apostle is sent on an errand, they don’t hesitate to do the bidding of the Prophet of the Lord with exactness.

      And here is another wrinkle pertaining to your comment: one of the fellows (Givens) who collaborated in the report on NAMI as quoted by Dan, is also publishing books touting “doubt” through Deseret Book and other venues. Go figure 🙂

      • Yah, exactly right, Dennis. The new false doctrine of Doubt as a belief system is being sung by the Givens, Adam Miller, and Mason. We would try in vain to find their fad philosophy in the New Testament or see it supported there; the Savior was pointed in his condemnation of doubt. He gave no slack to it. But those mists of darkness are published and showcased by Deseret Book and via that Institute at The Lord’s University which is financed in part by tithing funds. That is what I meant by ‘network of inroads.’
        I know my writing gets a little punchy; I am duly trying to soften it. Thank you for a helpful reminder. I mean it.
        God bless.

        • I just noticed an announcement from NAMI that the Givens’s will be joining them full-time this year.

          This causes me deep concern for the following reasons:

          In their writings they promote celebration of doubt; they teach that doubt is good; the opposite of what the revelations teach.

          They believe that there wasn’t a full apostasy from the truth after the days of the new testament church, but that the church simply hid behind a tree in the wilderness, waiting to jump back out at the right time.

          They believe that the church is only the current “custodian” of the temple ceremonies and that Joseph Smith borrowed most of the endowment and his other teachings from other church’s then existing. In this sense, there really wasn’t a universal apostasy.

          I could add to the list. This move by NAMI does not give me hope that improvement is around the corner. Perhaps NAMI really does need to end.

          Impure and weak or false doctrine doesn’t strengthen anyone’s faith and keep them unalterably converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and that is what President Nelson is trying to help members of the church do.

          • I can’t help but wonder if it is an uncharitable reading of Givens or simply mistaken. My experience firmly contradicts your assertion that Givens encourages doubt as a solution.

  12. I was present when Elder Holland gave this address. I went expecting a devotional of sorts, and got more than I bargained for! Others probably did too. He reached a very large audience at BYU. Attendance was extremely high, with many overflow rooms being used.
    The tone of his address, accurately captured in this article, was one of kind but firm admonition from the leadership of the church. I thought to myself at the time, if he’s willing to course correct so publicly, I wonder what he would be saying to the MI behind closed doors. As a lay-person interested in faithful Latter-day Saint scholarship, I have found the MI’s approach a little confusing. Elder Holland’s remarks are a welcome clarifier of what we might expect in the future.

  13. How my disciple heart sings with this post. Although I am a serious student of the principle of “by study and by faith” quite frankly because my classical college studies were in art, not biblical scholarship, I’ve never thought that I could participate in scholarly discussions. This talk has given me hope. Perhaps I will only be a fly on the wall, or as in social media, a person who quietly lurks in the background, yet the spirit continues to whisper “and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” And thus I sign up!

    • It’s not just you. I have a BS in Ancient Near Eastern studies, but when I read the writings coming out of the NAMI over the past half decade or so I can’t make heads or tails out of what they are trying to say. It is full of so much technical Mormon studies jargon that I can’t help thinking that if it is incomprehensible to me, what hope does a “Relief Society sister in Parowan” have of understanding it?

  14. I detect a slight touch of politics going on here, but that is forgivable and perhaps inconsequential. I am grateful to be given more of Elder Holland’s message to NAMI and I likewise hope it gets published in full soon.

    Over the passing decades, the Brethren have taken occasion to send apostles to BYU to make course corrections when drift was taking place. Elder Harold B. Lee in 1954 is one, and Elder McConkie in 1966 (not yet in the 12) is another, and there have been others. Elder Packer shared some of the history of these events in a fine talk to BYU faculty (Seek Learning, Even by Study and Also by Faith).

    In my own personal reading of these quoted excerpts of Elder Holland’s talk, and also those published in the Church News, I see some gentle but firm rebuke taking place, such that I would not want to be directing NAMI at this time, as that seat seems to be going from warm to hot.

    Let us hope that all who hear and read Elder Holland’s superb message may be benefited and act accordingly.

      • It was printed as a pamphlet and also as a chapter in Elder Packer’s book “That All May Be Edified” which is available on gospelink.com if you have it.
        I googled it and couldn’t find it online.

        I thought it interesting that one sub-heading in the talk is called “Checking the Moorings” and another “Follow the Brethren.” I wonder if these don’t describe what Dan might be hinting Elder Holland’s address should do for NAMI; perhaps their moorings need some close examination and adjustment.

        Here is a lengthy quotation from the Packer talk:

        At about that time (1926), the institutes of religion were established; and soon there was encouragement, both for the men in the institute program and for the teachers of religion at Brigham Young University, to go away and get advanced degrees. “Go study under the great religious scholars of the world,” was the encouragement, “for we will set an academic standard in theology.”

        And a number of them went. Some who went never returned. And some of them who returned never came back. They had followed, they supposed, the scriptural injunction: “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118.) But somehow the mix had been wrong. For they had sought learning out of the best books, even by study, but with too little faith. They found themselves in conflict with the simple things of the gospel. One by one they found their way outside the field of teaching religion, outside Church activity, and a few of them outside the Church itself. And with each went a following of his students-a terrible price to pay. I could name a number of these men, as could many of you. Somehow the mix had been wrong: too much “by study,” too little “by faith.”

        Happily, though, some of those who went away to study returned magnified by their experience and armed with advanced degrees. They returned firm in their knowledge that a man can be in the world but not of the world. They had mastered their subjects without, as President John Taylor had warned,

        Imbibing, at the same time, the spirit of infidelity concerning our great creator and his attitudes and the plan of salvation which he has revealed. (Letter to Presidents of Stakes and Bishops of Wards. The Inquirer, June 10, 1887.)

        This pulling at the moorings by some of our teachers of religion did not go unnoticed in the councils of the Church. Dr. John A. Widtsoe and Dr. Joseph F. Merrill of the Council of the Twelve (I refer to them by their academic titles instead of by Elder for a purpose) were directed by the First Presidency to conduct courses for the teachers of religion to anchor them again to the moorings.

        Such efforts were repeated from time to time. In 1938 all seminary and institute personnel were assembled for Summer School in Aspen Grove. They were not a large group by present standards. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., speaking for the First Presidency of the Church, presented instruction entitled “The Charted Course of the Church in Education.”

        We have, I am sure, all read this document. But some of us have not read it enough. President Clark was a prophet, seer, and revelator. There is not the slightest question but that exceptional inspiration attended the preparation of his message. There is a clarity and power in his words, unusual even for him. I know you have read it before, some of you many times, but I assign you to read it again. Read it carefully and ponder it. For by applying the definition the Lord Himself gave, this instruction may comfortably be referred to as scripture.

        I leave out much that might be said of these most interesting years. This, I remind you, is but an overlay, a transparent page over a well-known background, with a few markings here and there to emphasize this feature or that. The dichotomy between learning “by study” and learning “by faith” was receiving attention when I was hired as a seminary teacher twenty-five years ago. The Brethren had more confidence in the teachers of religion at Brigham Young University then, than in those in the institute program.

        At about that time there was a change in the leadership of Church education. It was time once again to check the moorings. So, in 1954, all the seminary and institute teachers (by this time a goodly number) were assembled for the first time in many years for a Summer School of intensive instruction. The Brethren sent a teacher, Elder Harold B. Lee, of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. We met two hours each day, five days a week, for five weeks. Frequently he would invite other members of the Council of the Twelve and members of the First Presidency of the Church to instruct us in class or in special evening sessions. There was good reason to check the moorings.

    • Dennis:

      None of the remarks by those you mention carried the approval of the Board of Trustees, as ell as all the Apostles, which was the case with what Elder Holland read on November 10th.

      I have been told that Elder Holland’s ten page (single spaced) talk, with 49 footnotes, will be included as an attachment to the 2018 annual report by the Maxwell Institute, which should be available early next year.

      It also appears that Elder Holland gave Professor Peterson a copy of his talk and permission to quote from it. It is an exceptionally carefully written essay–one that is ready for publication. When Elder Holland indicated that the Apostles say awake at night, tossing and turning as the worry about the Maxwell Institute, when they would much prefer have a nice sound sleep, this would indicate the concern they share about the purge and subsequent so-called “new direction” that was taken six years ago. In addition, Elder Holland quoted language from the outside review that was made after the meltdown at the Maxwell Institute by those three Latter-day Saint scholars, which included David Holland, who is Elder Holland’s youngest son, and one of my former students.

      One should also keep in mind that the Brethren have recently endorsed Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter Foundation, and FAIR as independent agencies from whom Latter-day Saints can assess solid scholarship on their faith. Their remarks about the Maxwell Institute were much more guarded, however.

      Elder Holland’s address was for me a full vindication of what I did as a volunteer beginning in 1989 with the very first issue of what became the flagship publication of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). Professor Peterson mentioned the remarks made by Elders Oaks and Packer at the meeting in which the Brethren eventually honored Elder Maxwell by renaming FARMS the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

      One cannot read Elder Holland’s remarks on November 10th without seeing the passion he and the other Apostles have for Elder Maxwell and the agency now named after him. I am now 87, and nothing quite like this address has taken place at BYU during my lifetime. I think it trivializes Elder Holland’s remarks to see then as at all like any other talks given earlier.

      • Louis,
        I am not sure what you are getting at. I don’t consider any of the talks by any of the Brethren trivial.

        The First Presidency was behind and directed all of these efforts at correcting drift mentioned by Elder Packer, and Pres. Clark’s talk is still considered the foundational commission for church education. Elder Packer on more than one occasion said he thought it uncanonized scripture. Perhaps it would be beneficial for the NAMI folks to reread it.

        I rejoice in having a prophet that can say, thus far shalt thou go and no further.

        On a side subject, I notice that Patrick Mason has been hired to lead USU’s “Mormon Studies” program. I hope this Holland address finds its way under his gaze….

    • A touch of politics? Not at all. It just a observation based on current events, and done with delightful restraint and intelligence. Further, no one is more qualified to write about it, using his own vehicle which he himself created with immense amounts of hard word and devotion. To call it politics is, I think, a cheap shot.

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