An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

The Gospel According to Man

Reading the epistles of Paul sometimes makes me wish the New Testament ended with the Gospel of John—although I wouldn’t mind having the Gospel of Thomas included in the canon.

Paul has never been my favorite NT writer even though he composed some beautiful verses such as his 1 Corinthians 13 essay on charity (“love” in newer translations). His extended analogy in 1 Cor.12 equating the various spiritual gifts to the parts of the body and their different, yet equally important functions is brilliant. Much of his advice is common sense and compassionate—such as his acknowledging that eating meat sacrificed to idols (as was most meat sold in the Roman Empire) can’t hurt a Christian. Yet, Paul says he will forego eating sacrificed meat himself in order not to cause converts from idolatry to lapse back into sin.

Christians often have difficulty separating Paul’s wisdom from the cultural baggage of his era. He esteems celibacy over marriage, admonishes slaves to be satisfied with their situation, restricts women from speaking in church, and insists on the need for women to cover their hair when praying, to refrain from cutting their hair, and to submit to their husbands

Mormons have an advantage over many Christians in reading the Bible. The 8th Article of Faith, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly,” gives us wiggle room to deal with advice that makes no sense in our day and age. Unfortunately, we lack the same wiggle room for dealing with our own “modern” scriptures, written more than a century and a half ago.

Except for the Ten Commandments and the words, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” written on Belshazzar’s wall (Dan 5:25), no scriptures claim to have been written by the hand of God. All others have been filtered through human mind and memory and recorded with the limitations of human understanding and language.

Adopting someone else’s version of truth that doesn’t jibe with one’s innate conscience causes good people to do bad things in the name of religion. Anything, including scriptures and teachings of religious leaders, should pass the test of common sense and good conscience before being acted upon by believers.

Comments on: "The Gospel According to Man" (5)

  1. According to The First Paul by Borg and Crossan — what most people dislike about “Paul” happen to also be the portions pseudo-graphically written [condoning slavery, diminishing women’s roles, hierarchical church structure, etc.].

    Whereas, if you stick with the epistles that are unanimously agreed upon [scholarly-speaking] to have been written by the historical Paul — there isn’t that Brigham Young-type figure that egalitarians have such an issue over.

    In other words — you can keep 1 Corinthians 12 and 12 and Romans 14, etc. without trying to reconcile it with Timothy, etc.

    • That last paragraph should read:

      In other words — you can keep 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 and Romans 14, etc. without trying to reconcile it with Timothy, etc.

      • Justin,
        I agree that the authentic Pauline epistles are much less offensive than the pseudo-Paul letters. I find it odd that Gospel Doctrine manuals never mention the controversy over the authenticity of the epistles.

  2. I find it odd that Gospel Doctrine manuals never mention the controversy over the authenticity of the epistles.

    I think I get what you mean by saying you “find it odd” — but I can’t say I find it particular unexpected or strange given the over-all context of LDS curricula.

    The scriptures are not studied as stories in and of themselves — as time-and-space artifacts of a specific culture and era — etc. I think it’s well-acknowledged that there exists the Eternal Doctrines and Platonic Ideas of the Gospel that form an outline into which scriptural passages placed for support.

    For example, we learn how Malachi 3 or D&C 119 can support the current CHI-described and approved method for “Tithing” — instead of learning about what Malachi 3 or D&C 119 say about tithing.

    We do not have lessons on the Documentary Hypothesis of the Hebrew bible — the Deuteronomic reforms — the Source Theory of the New Testament Gospel accounts — etc. So I’ve never seen any reason to expect the official manuals to get into pseudographic epistles.

    FWIW — I’ve heard teachers who get into such historical contexts on their own accord, both personally and from people online. So — we can just be thankful that the church actually isn’t the same everywhere we go, I guess.

    • Justin,

      You are so right about the current Church lessons. This has been the trend for nearly two decades–but 30 years ago both the Old and New Testaments were a two-year, in-depth course of study with much attention given to the historical background. I suspect Sunday School attendance was much higher then–at least mine was.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud