Looking at Scripture Mastery – New Testament – Introduction

What do I mean by “looking at scripture mastery”? Let me explain the background for this project.

I've spent the past five or so years trying hard to learn as much as possible about the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament in an attempt to save my struggling testimony of the LDS Church. I listened to countless hours of lectures and presentations by some of the biggest names in the field, read thousands of pages in both books and journals, gained a functional understanding and ability in reading Ancient Greek (the language the Christian New Testament was written in), wrote personal papers on a number of topics relating to translation and exegesis, and am currently in the middle of an attempt to write a book about the contextual history of the Council of Nicea in 325 CE for a Mormon audience (or an audience at least informed by a common LDS narrative about the Council and its resulting Creed). And in the end, very little of what I learned helped me as I struggled to make sense of Joseph Smith's approach to and use of these ancient sources as he led his modern restorationist movement. However, I found that it ignited a passion inside of me about these ancient sources that has endured my loss of faith in my childhood religion. No longer a believer in Mormonism, or even the basic Christian gospel to be honest, I have been surprised to find that I love the New Testament even more as an agnostic theist than I ever did before as a devoted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Part of that is because of how my approach to the Christian Bible has changed.

Growing up in the LDS Church I've always been a voracious reader and thinker and I enjoyed Seminary and Institute because I could apply learning towards the scriptures. It also helped that so much of Seminary was based around memorization. I still remember, to this day, tons of references to various parts of the Bible and other LDS scriptures, and I have good Seminary teachers to thank for it. I still remember how those scriptures were taught to me, and why they were supposed to be important. However, going back to many of them now has been an enlightening, if somewhat disappointing, experience as I've found that there were obviously many hidden reasons I was being taught these scriptures and how to read them. I was being primed against common objections to the LDS Church without being given a full understanding of what those objections would be beforehand, and, in the worst cases, being given complete straw men arguments for why the particular scriptures in question were important.

Seminary is a four-year program meant to coincide with the American High School experience. During each of these four years a list of 25 scriptures are expected to be memorized (resulting in 100 scriptures for the full fours years). This list is known as Scripture Mastery. While the purpose of Seminary is overall to improve the students' testimonies of the restored Gospel and of Jesus Christ, the presence of these 100 scriptures can be seen as a baseline expectation for students. In other words, even if the students are goofing off, even if they barely pay attention, even if they are so hopped up on hormones and dating that they don't really learn much about Mormonism, if they can leave the Seminary building with the general gist of most of these 100 scriptures inside their head then the teachers have succeeded. Not everyone will read the entirety of the LDS Standard Works, and not everyone will be touched with a spiritual experience that will strengthen their faith in the LDS Church, but everyone can memorize these scriptures.

So, with that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look at each of these scriptures in turn. Some of them make complete sense and certainly contribute strongly to the central themes and doctrines of Mormonism. However, others are prime examples of a deliberate ignorance of context. And finally, many, if not most, of these scriptures are ammunition in an expected future debate that the students may find themselves in against conservative Christian antagonists against often caricatured LDS beliefs (and sometimes the anticipated arguments are themselves caricatures). These “Bible bashing” scriptures may assist potential missionaries in discussions with other Christians, but in an increasingly secular America these arguments are occurring with less frequency as Christian influence is slowly waning and as Christians themselves are becoming more educated on actual Mormon doctrine and the real issues for LDS theology and history instead of the horrible caricatures of the late 20th Century counter-cult ministries. Not to mention how these scriptures aren't nearly as helpful in other less-Christian areas of the world, such as the Far East or in the face of rising Islamic influence in places like Europe. These are the issues I'd like to look at for these scriptures, and the best part is that with 100 scriptures there's a lot to talk about. There's certainly not enough to spend a full post on every scripture, of course, and some of them are extremely benign and are good scriptures and ideals for everyone to follow whether Christian, humanist, or Mormon. But the secret for readership is consistency, right?

So this project gives me a lot of opportunities for me to keep posting and get some good discussion going. Over the next few weeks I'll be covering the 25 scriptures that Seminary students are expected to memorize during their time studying the Christian New Testament. This is because I can speak personally to issues of translation (which I cannot do for the Hebrew Bible as I know neither Hebrew nor Aramaic), and have spent most of my attention on the world of Classical antiquity. For those who want to get ready, here is the list of scriptures:

For each scripture I'm going to assume a certain level of understanding of the Christian New Testament, but as issues of authorship and perspective are issues I find interesting, I'm sure that much time will be spent with each discussing some of the historical context and viewpoint of the authors. Too often Mormons, and Exmormons as well, approach the Bible as a modern work of history where the authors have few biases and are interested in an accurate portrayal of history. Nothing could be further from the truth, so these issues of understanding the author as well as the text are important, so I hope that everyone will have learned something by the time we're done. And I hope I learn a lot, too. I'd encourage everyone to respond and comment upon each page; point out where I'm wrong and help me out in this project. I think we'll have a lot of fun and I look forward to getting started soon.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical