Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mormon Moment Series - Part Eleven - The LDS Canon and Intellectual Discussions - Section 1

This is Part Eleven of my Mormon Moment Series: I will be doing between now and the election, on an occasional basis.

To get an explanation of the series and see the entire series, click here.

The LDS Canon and Intellectual Discussions - Section 1

Most religions have a basic canon, which are the written words that make up the basic doctrine of their religion.
Wikipedia explains:
A biblical canon, or canon of scripture,[1] is a list of books considered to be authoritative scripture by a particular religious community. The word "canon" comes from the Greek "κανών", meaning "rule" or "measuring stick". The term was first coined in reference to scripture by Christians, but the idea is said to be Jewish.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, The Peart of Great Price, and most of the King James Version (KJV)  of  Old Testament and New Testament, as the official canonized scriptures used as the written foundation of their faith. There are many other things that have been written by Apostle and Prophets, which are also considered to be doctrinal, but they have not been canonized.

The Thirteenth Article of Faith, (contained in the Pearl of Great Price) states:
" 8 We believe the aBible to be the bword of God as far as it is translated ccorrectly; we also believe the dBook of Mormon to be the word of God."
Joseph Smith re-translated parts of the Bible, through out the Old Testament, and New Testament, (known as the JST version of the re-translated verses) which can also be found in the Joseph Smith - Matthew, in the Pearl of Great Price, and in the study helps and Bible Dictionary, printed in LDS printings of the Bible. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also publishes print and online editions of all of the Mormon canon, which is cross referenced with all of other other books in the canon.  For example, the words that have links in the 8th Article of Faith (above) will take you to links of other scriptures, the index, or to the Bible Dictionary that will give you more information about that word or concept, found in the scripture.  In the online versions, these are links.  In the printed version, there are footnotes at the bottom of the page on which the verse appears.

So, if you are reading the online version, of the LDS version(found at, of the King James Version (KJV is the only version used in LDS church services and writings) of the Old and New Testament, there will also be links, or footnotes, that include the alternate translations by Joseph Smith.  All of the translated verses can also be found in one place, in this list of the JST translated verses, and for all of those from Matthew, you can go to in the Joseph Smith - Matthew found in the Pearl of Great Price.

Most non-LDS Christian churches accept the King James Version of the Bible as valid scripture, they often use other versions of the Bible as their primary scriptures for worship and personal scripture studies.  From the New International Version (NIV) to The Message (MSG), there are over 30 versions that you can search at one Bible study tools website, and AllBibles has several additional versions. I have several friends, who are not Mormon, who have 6 or 7 versions of the Bibles that they study, and when they are writing, they often use verses from different versions, within the same piece of writing.  Personally, I find that confusing, but my friends assure me that it is only because I have grown up reading only one version of the Bible, and that there are times where their preachers or pastors used different versions in their sermons, without confusing anyone. ;-)

(I realize that this is a little of a ramble, but Mormons have a difficult time understanding people using anything other than the King James Version of the Bible, while our non-Mormon friends find the King James Version outdated, and difficult to understand.  This difference can create a lot of misunderstanding when a Mormon, who has oftentimes memorized KJV scripture verses, tries to discuss that scripture with someone who reads the Bible in a different version.)

Somewhat ironically, Mormons are strict in only using the KJV, and also believe that God still talks to Prophets, and that there will be new revelations, not currently found in our current canon, that we can expect to receive in the future.  The Ninth Article of Faith says:
"9 We believe all that God has arevealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet breveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."

In fact, The Doctrine and Covenants is modern revelation, received by Mormon prophets and Apostles, (mostly Joseph Smith, within the last 200 years) and is the compilation of the revelations that were most important to the general membership of the church.  The introduction to Doctrine and Covenents says,
"Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, during a special conference of elders of the Church, held at Hiram, Ohio, 1 November 1831 (see History of the Church, 1:221–24). Many revelations had been received from the Lord prior to this time, and the compilation of these for publication in book form was one of the principal subjects passed upon at the conference. This section constitutes the Lord’s preface to the doctrines, covenants, and commandments given in this dispensation."

The Pearl of Great Price is partially made of modern translations of ancient revelations, which Joseph Smith translated in a manner similar to the translation of the Book of Mormon.  The other part of the Pearl of Great Price consists of modern revelations.  Some of the modern revelations are important to the LDS church history, and part are a concise explanation of the basic beliefs that any person should have, in order to be a member of the Mormon faith.

Pearl of Great Price

Translated Ancient Revelations:

-Book of Moses
An extract from the translation of the Bible as revealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet, June 1830—February 1831.
-Book of Abraham
A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus. (See History of the Church, 2:235–36, 348–51.)
-Joseph Smith - Matthew
An extract from the translation of the Bible as revealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet in 1831: Matthew 23:39 and chapter 24.
-Facsimile 1
-Facsimile 2
-Facsimile 3

Modern Revelation:

-Joseph Smith History 
Joseph Smith tells of his ancestry, family members, and their early abodes—An unusual excitement about religion prevails in western New York—He determines to seek wisdom as directed by James—The Father and the Son appear, and Joseph is called to his prophetic ministry. (Verses 1–20.) 
Some preachers and other professors of religion reject the account of the First Vision—Persecution is heaped upon Joseph Smith—He testifies of the reality of the vision. (Verses 21–26.)

Moroni appears to Joseph Smith—Joseph’s name is to be known for good and evil among all nations—Moroni tells him of the Book of Mormon and of the coming judgments of the Lord and quotes many scriptures—The hiding place of the gold plates is revealed—Moroni continues to instruct the Prophet. (Verses 27–54.)

Joseph Smith marries Emma Hale—He receives the gold plates from Moroni and translates some of the characters—Martin Harris shows the characters and translation to Professor Anthon, who says, “I cannot read a sealed book.” (Verses 55–65.)

Oliver Cowdery serves as scribe in translating the Book of Mormon—Joseph and Oliver receive the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist—They are baptized, ordained, and receive the spirit of prophecy. (Verses 66–75.)
-Articles of Faith

The Guide to the Scriptures describes the Articles of Faith in this way,
Thirteen basic points of belief to which members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ascribe.
Joseph Smith first wrote them in a letter to John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, in answer to his request to know what members of the Church believed. The letter became known as the Wentworth Letter and was first published in the Times and Seasons in March 1842. On 10 October 1880, the Articles of Faith were formally accepted as scripture by the vote of the members of the Church and were included as part of the Pearl of Great Price.
Since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded, there have been a number of publications (the Topical Guide at Keepapitchinin has links to a lot of the prior publications, and this link has images from the last 40 years of church publications) by and for members of the Mormon church.  The Ensign (or Liahona if you live in a non-English speaking country) is the official church publication for adults, the New Era is for youth, and the Friend is written for Mormon children.  There are books, usually manuals and other periodicals which are official church publications both online and in print form.

There are also a huge number of books and articles, written and published by Mormon authors, and for a Mormon audience.  None of the books published, even those by Apostles and Prophets are considered to be part of the cannon of the church.  The church does not sanction publications that are not published directly by the church, but there are some things that impact whether a book is considered to be a "Mormon book" as opposed to a book about Mormons or written by a Mormon author. 

The magic "imprint" that gives instant "Mormony" credibility to a book, is to have it published or sold by Deseret Book.  Deseret Book is not directly owned by the LDS church, but it is owned by The Deseret Management Corporation, which the Mormon church owns.  Sheri L. Dew, who currently runs Deseret Book, and has since 2002, has also held a world-wide leadership position (there are very few world-wide positions in the LDS church that women can hold) as a Counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency, and is an biographer and business woman, in her own right.  The invitation to write the book that became The God Who Weeps (we will get into the book itself, and why it is a step that many intellectuals think is a step in the right direction, in the next section of this three part look at the LDS canon) came from Sheri Dew.  While sometimes controversial, (both for some political things she has said, and also because she is unmarried) her position at Deseret Books, the books she has written and edited, the positions she holds on a variety of prominent boards in Salt Lake City, and her church callings, make a good argument for her being one of the most influential Mormon women today. 

Many members of the LDS church don't buy, or read. books about Mormon history or culture, unless it is carried by Deseret Book.  So, while Deseret Book is not publishing books as part of the LDS cannon, it is hugely influential in what books many (especially English speaking) Mormons read.  There has been a long standing tension between Deseret Books and the Mormon academic community.  These three posts (of which this is the first) in the Mormon Moment Series, really came from thinking about a recent post by Ben, and the discussion in the comments. The tension between LDS scholars and authors, and LDS members who are not scholars, (and yet don't find Deseret Book's offerings to give them enough breadth of information) is not evident in the larger Mormon culture.  I wish that more people were aware of the additional resources and scholarship being done by LDS authors and scholars.  I am an actively engaged LDS member, and I think that I am generally open minded. I am engaged in online discussions, and yet I don't know where to find most works by LDS scholars, and those I do find are usually outside of  my price range.  When Ben talks about needing to bridge the divide by LDS scholars and LDS members, it resonates with me. If it is that hard for me to find information that bridges the academic divide, then it is easy to see how why people who are not LDS find that divide to be a huge stumbling block to seeing the general LDS religious community as actively intellectual

Oftentimes missionary efforts are focused on helping non-members understand the gospel, feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, and ask them to take the step of faith, and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We also ask the same thing of our children.  We ask them to go to Primary (the Mormon children's Sunday School program) to learn the basics of the scriptures and gospel principles.  We ask them to learn what it feels like to receive promptings from the Holy Ghost, and then we ask them to prayerfully decide if they feel they should join the church, once they turn eight. 

For children who are baptized and adult converts, we then offer a program of basic study and learning, activities to socialize them into the Mormon community, and opportunities for service within the church.  As new members practice and obey the principles that are contained in the gospel, we then help them progress to a deeper understanding and testimony of the process of prayer, repentance, the beauty of forgiveness and being led by the Holy Ghost, as they make important choices in their lives.  For all baptized members, the desire of the church is to help them understand and live the gospel, so that they will be worthy to go to the temple, and receive further teachings and blessings that are available there.  For many of them we also encourage them to prepare themselves for missions, as young people if they are not yet married when baptized, or as senior couples who will serve missions while during the years after they retire, or both.

After baptism and temple attendance are part of a member's life, most of the emphasis is on how the gospel should impact daily living, and serving in the church.  While lessons are given weekly in Sunday School, and in the men's and women's organizations of the church, there is very little new information presented.  The focus of the lessons is to help us apply the principles of the gospel in our lives, at whatever stage we may be at.  For many members, they have no desire to learn much beyond the simple truths of the gospel that are a support in daily life.  The mysteries and blessings of the temple are a great comfort, and allow for spiritual growth, and for someone who is not particularly academically oriented, the study of the scriptures and gospel in church meetings, will quite probably serve the vast majority of their spiritual needs

Many friends in other churches share that the sermons given on Sundays, and the Sunday School or week study groups they attend fill most of the same functions as LDS church classes provide.  The average congregation may have a group that does a particular subject over several months, but more intense studies usually happen at Christian Universities or Seminaries.  The seminaries prepare men (and sometimes women) for careers as pastors or preachers, and those with a passion for the academic pursuits of their faith become either theologians at a university, theologians within the church structure, or as academics which combine their intellectual pursuits with being a pastor or preacher for a congregation.  There are enough of these ministers who devote time to their flocks, and time to their academic pursuits, that anyone within a congregation who wants to pursue academic topics within their religion, won't live too far from a place where a more advanced and academic group of church members will have a Sunday School, weeknight class, or some other kind of study opportunity.  For young people who are passionate about it, they may church hierarchy.  For older members, they may choose to join the academics later in life, or simply go on various retreats and participate in conferences that are of interest to them.

The unique structure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, make some of the options that are taken for granted in other churches, nonexistent within the Mormon church or culture.  While Mormon youth have access to a 4 year Seminary program for high school students, and Institute of Religion classes, which are often taken by college students but they are available to any LDS adult. While both programs allow for a more in depth study of the scriptures, they are single classes, and do not lead to a degree program. 

Having an all lay ministry, means that most of the ecclesiastical and administrative functions do not require more than a basic understanding of the gospel and a willingness to serve others.  As a church that has been growing exponentially for its entire existence, there is a need for jobs and functions to be broken down into relatively simple sphere of responsibility and influence.  Having no paid clergy, means that all of the burden for a congregation's needs are shared by the members, but it also means that there are no specialists that spend enough time in a calling that they become experts.  One effect is that there are few fundamental shifts in the way an office or calling is performed, at the level.  Most changes in how the functions of a ward are handled, come from the top down, with new instructions for ward positions, or positions (often referred to as callings) being added or taken away. 

There is great leeway given to an individual in a calling to decide how to teach a particular lesson, or to plan activities for a group, but the ability to fundamentally change what a group is, or what its purpose is, does not exist at a local level.  (The real exception that is seen regularly is that a calling is not filled, because the leadership of a ward does not feel that it is a priority.)  There are good reasons for that, especially in a church where no one is being paid, and where (outside of Utah) many, or sometimes all, of the members that make up a ward will not have had more than a generation or two of family experience as Mormons. Without a firm understanding of why something in important, that comes with the viewpoint of more than one lifetime, it could be tempting to change anything someone wanted, without understanding the consequences. 

So, this brings us back to the cannon of the Mormon church.  The three uncanonized, but widely used (as if they were parts of the cannon) resources, are the Church Handbook of Instructions, (the second part of which is now online, the first handbook is still only available in printed form to a limited number of congregational and area priesthood leaders) the articles and books written by Apostles and Prophets of the church, and the books which are published by Deseret Books

While these resources are not likely to be added to the official cannon of the LDS church, adopted by church wide vote, they are often used in class lessons, talks in church, and in the writings of members of the church, as if they had the same authority as the canonized scriptures. In fact, many of the talks given in General Conference, are considered to be more important, as current revelation, and are seen as de facto cannon by church members.  Since the LDS church believes that constant revelation, from God, comes to His prophets and Apostles, there would be no reason for them to speak twice a year at conference, if LDS members did not pay very close attention to the words that they find important enough to share with the entire world.  The fact that so few of the works of Mormon scholars are printed in these three parts of the de facto canon, are part of why there is a constant tension between the official church canon, the de facto church cannon, and the intellectuals (professional academics and wanna-bee's *like me*) who want a deeper understanding of the Gospel and church history, but who don't have a church sanctioned outlet for reading, writing, discussing or learning about those things.

(Section  2 will look at the reviews and thoughts about a new book, published and sold by Deseret Book, called The God Who Weeps, which is written by authors who are LDS intellectuals.

Section 3 will focus of the place blogs fill have deeper discussions about the LDS faith.)

In no way is this meant to be an exhaustive study of the issues related to the LDS Canon, Intellectual Discussions, the LDS Church Structure, or LDS culture. I am a member of the LDS faith, but am not authorized to speak in any capacity for the LDS church.


  1. It does seem silly to have an open cannon, but not to canonize anything. I think it creates confusion that every talk at General Conference is both the word of God, and non-canonized ideas that can be interpreted differently depending on if it agrees with other General Conference talks from the last few years.

  2. I don't know that I would use the word silly, but sometimes I long for more revelations, and I know most people at Feminist Mormon Housewives pray for more light and knowledge to come soon.


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