Professor Kent P. Jackson’s 6 Jan 07 Church News article, “Sacred Study” proposes a uniquely LDS form of Biblical scholarship and defines LDS Biblical scholars as those who practice this discipline. According to Professor Jackson, this methodology “embraces revealed sources and uses them at every stage in the process of understanding and interpreting the words of scripture.” Clearly, this method can only be practiced at BYU. And if I have understood him correctly, it is the only exegetical methodology to be used at BYU. So let’s take a look at the inside of this one-room schoolhouse which will be training future general authorities and auxiliary leaders in how to approach scripture.
Since this is an article in the church news, there are limited details but this is how Professor Jackson describes it:
In using modern revelation in their scholarship, Latter-day Saints are simply using all the sources available to them, which is a necessary scholarly practice. The restored gospel does not give Latter-day Saint scholars an excuse to be smug, lazy, or uninformed. Latter-day Saint scholars, like others, need to challenge unproven assumptions, question unfounded traditions, and demand evidence for historical and interpretive claims.
Sounds good, eh? One quick point before we move on: rigorous scholarship involves weighing all sources, not necessarily using all of them. And that point leads to the remainder of Professor Jackson’s description, drawn from the very same paragraph:
Where the Restoration provides answers, we must rely on those answers and use them in our continuing quest for truth.
What happened to challenging unproven assumptions, questioning unfounded traditions, and demanding evidence for historical and interpretive claims?
In his next paragraph, Professor Jackson begins to modify the absolute demands of that last sentence. To do so, he draws a distinction between what he calls “important matters” and issues that do not share this distinction. As an example, he cites the reality of the resurrection as “non-negotiable,” while the authorship of the Second Gospel is an indifferent matter:
The New Testament teaches the Resurrection of Jesus in several passages…The Resurrection is confirmed in modern revelation as well, explicitly and repeatedly…Latter-day Saints cannot reject it in good conscience.
In contrast, and I select this only as an example, neither the New Testament nor modern scripture identifies Mark as the author of the second Gospel.
Although I certainly agree that the resurrection is important and the authorship of Mark much less so, I’m not sure how illuminating this example actually is. There are a variety of reasons why it is emotionally reassuring rather than substantive.
First, it is not clear how a scholar unconvinced by the NT witness of the resurrection might be moved by any modern witness. From this perspective, modern revelation on the subject does not provide more “proof.” Second, there is nothing uniquely LDS in considering the reality of the resurrection to be a given matter. I don’t think I know anybody who doesn’t so regard it. Third, from a practical standpoint it raises but does not resolve the matter of who is going to rule which topics, statements, and opinions are “important” and which are not.
Finally, in six years of exegetical study the topic of the reality of the resurrection has NEVER come up. This is not an accident. To the best of my knowledge, there are no exegetical practices that can evaluate the reality of the resurrection. None. This sort of information comes by testimony or not at all and good exegetes know it. A similar argument can be made for the reality of the Restoration. What is really wanted is an example that deals with an important, exegetically defined point.
Since Professor Jackson’s article is limited, I’ll suggest a thought experiment. Section 77 gives an interpretive commentary on the Book of Revelation. One passage (D&C 77:7) is an interpretation of the seal septet (Revelation 6) indicating that the activities of the horseman associated with each seal represent the events of a one thousand year period. This reading is not supported by the text. Can you propose a reading of Revelation 6 that takes Section 77 (canonized LDS scripture) as an incontestable source and meets the standards of an SBL seminar as an “intentional” reading.