Category Archives: Marginalia

The Problem with Laughter

Last night I attended a baptism that was accompanied by much laughter and merry-making, which was at times shushed by many of those in attendance. The LDS practice of “reverence” as a means of producing the conditions for spiritual experience sets boundaries around certain kinds of laughter. In other contexts, “loud” laughter is prohibited. When we fast, we are supposed to abstain from laughter as well as food (D&C 59:15). These particular ways of regulating laughter are not unique to Mormonism.
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Filed under Doctrine, Marginalia, Mormon Culture, Sexuality

Priesthood, Temple, and Semantics

Most people know that in our current arrangement, young men tend to receive the priesthood at age 12, when they are ordained to the office of Deacon in the Aaronic priesthood. This has been the case only since the 1880’s or so, according to this fascinating Journal of Mormon History article. (That page it opens to isn’t blank. You just have to scroll to see the text.)

What we don’t really have is a good definition of priesthood in terms of offices or ritual. For those readers mumbling “uh, yes we do,” let me confuse the issue for you.
First, we know that “priesthood” is not synonymous with “priesthood office,” according to D&C 107:1-5.

Second, in terms of etymology, “priesthood” means something like “the condition or status of being a priest; the order of priest.”

Third, the biblical way one becomes a priest is not by laying on of hands. (At least, we have no record of Aaron undergoing laying on of hands.)

Rather, according to Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8, it involves a ceremony of ritual purification, entering into sacred ground within the temple boundaries, being washed, anointed, clothed in priestly clothing, “filling the hand,” and some other things. We certainly don’t do that with 12-yr olds (anymore), although we do something similar with adults.

The question then, becomes this. Does an LDS male become a priest when he receives the (Aaronic) priesthood and becomes a deacon, when he is ordained to the office of priest (in the Melchisedek priesthood), or when he undergoes the LDS equivalent of the Biblical ritual which makes one a priest?

(It has been pointed out in print that if one goes by the Biblical standard, than the LDS Church  has de facto female priests who are not ordained to any particular office.)

The OED notes in its definition of priesthood that it can also refer to “Priests collectively; a body of priests.” That certainly applies to the 12-year old, who, upon being ordained, joins that collective body of males. But it doesn’t provide us a good definition of priesthood with regard to the offices and LDS rituals.

Some of the semantic issue here is due to the LDS doctrine of priesthood as some kind of authority instead of priesthood as service (ie. teaching and performance of ritual). That is, the usual definition of priesthood given is “the authority to act or speak for God,” but that definition is not entirely consistent with the role of priests in the Bible. Nota bene, I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying that we view things differently today. Our view of priesthood (definition, responsibilities, offices) doesn’t map very well onto the OT, the NT or the Book of Mormon.

Food for thought.


Filed under Bible, Doctrine, Marginalia


A discussion I had recently with a friend of mine reminded me of one of my other favorite soap boxes that I haven’t stood on in this forum before. No, it has nothing to do with swearing (in a traditional sense at least). Today I’m more interested in the sort of curses that God lays on peoples. Like on the Lamanites and stuff. And yeah I know that there is nothing new in the ‘Nacle so I’ll just say outright that I haven’t even looked elsewhere to see who has already broached the subject and what they said. Feel free to restate and/or link. Continue reading


Filed under Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine, LDS Church History, Marginalia, Personal Issues, Speculation

The myth of applying all scripture

An argument that I occasionally see floated in blogs is the argument that ideas are to be shunted aside simply because they neglect to consider all the scriptures. This is a strange argument to me. No single argumentative notion is capable of encompassing all scripture, or even most scripture. There may be one or two exceptions, but I would tend to think that they would be promoted by ideologues who dismiss counter-arguments without real consideration. Sure, all scripture may testify of Christ, but that argument reduces the Jews to a group of incompetents and ignoramuses. We need to accept that it helps us, in seeing the obviousness of Christ being testified of everywhere, that we are already Christian.
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Filed under Doctrine, Marginalia

Is the “Family” the problem?

It is evident that the LDS church has made the institution of the nuclear family its centerpiece in both its external PR and internal emphasis. There are many wonderful things that can be said about such an approach. The rise and fall of the nuclear family in the 20th century is certainly an interesting moment in history and much can and should be said about this trend in the coming years. I have been doing a bit of reading lately that has got me thinking about the role of the family and the critiques it has faced by different religious thinkers.
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Filed under Doctrine, Marginalia, Speculation

I know that Mitt is true.

In testimony meeting this month, a good sister bore testimony of Mitt Romney. She stated that she knew that God had prepared Gordon B. Hinckley to be the prophet is these days. Then she said that she knew that God had also prepared Mitt Romney for this day. She went on to talk briefly about having recently read the Hugh Hewitt book on Romney and how much she liked it (“…and he is not even a member…”).

The best part was watching the bishop squirm. It obviously made him nervous. Of course, it is nothing like the time when a high counselor went on for 30 minute about secret combinations plotting to destroy our national sovereignty and bring about world-wide communism. The bishop was ready to jump him, though all ended peacefully.

I expect that talk about Mitt at church (and in testimony meeting) will become more common. Maybe I lack faith. Do I need to pray and find out for myself whether Mitt is really true?


Filed under Marginalia, Politics

The “Vote of Thanks”

I’ve been a Mormon all my life. Sadly, I mostly tune out during sacrament meeting, and I usually bring something to read because 99.9% of the time, I come away from sacrament meeting feeling less in tune with God than before. With a good book in hand, I can have some face time in the ward but simultaneously worship God my own way (currently reading Grant Palmer’s Insider’s View of Mormon Origins – IT’S EXTRAORDINARY!). Last week, I heard something I’ve heard all my life, and like a good intellectual, I questioned it. It was a “vote of thanks” for Brother Jones who had “served diligently” for two years in the Boy Scout troop.*

Just exactly what is a “vote of thanks?” Where did it come from? (Duh. The obvious answer is Utah. What I meant was When did it come from?). What if someone votes against it? If a vote of thanks is just some quirky motion we go through with no basis in anything, why can’t the leadership just ask members to go thank Brother Jones individually? I suspect the latter might even generate more feeling of true gratitude than a robotic motion of raising the hand in order to thank Brother Jones.

* I have issues with the mixing of Church and Scouts because the BSA is not affiliated with a religion of any kind. I have blogged on this before at FPR.


Filed under Leadership, Marginalia

Scholars and Prophets

I presented a paper at the Yale conference in February in which I argued that the reason that most people don’t read the works of Biblical scholars (LDS or otherwise) is that most people don’t read scripture in order to understand what scripture says; most people read scripture in order to interpret it in light of their own experience or to have a revelatory moment with God. Actually understanding the original intended meaning of the words is secondary to this personal divine experience and it is possibly entirely unnecessary to having this experience.  This explains, I think, why most scripture readers don’t seek the original meaning. Continue reading


Filed under Doctrine, Marginalia

A Note on a Footnote in Mt 28:20

Last Sunday as I was preparing to teach GD I noticed an odd footnote associated with the word “teaching” in Mt 28:20.  This verse is part of a larger passage, the Great Commission of the First Gospel.  The speaker is the resurrected Jesus and the occasion is his departure.  This is the text in the AV:

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsover I have command you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

This is one of the most theologically dense passages in the entire Gospel so I was not surprised to find various footnotes.  But I was surprised to find this particular footnote, associated with the second occurrence of the word “teaching” in v. 20:

The Greek text suggest this would be post-baptismal teaching.

Weird, eh?  That’s definitely not an answer to any of the first ten or so questions that spring to mind when reading the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel!  So what gives?

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Filed under Marginalia, Speculation

Pharisees and Anti-Judaism

Modern Mormons often claim to be philo-Judaic through kinship claims and belief in a shared persecuted history. However, we have also inherited a Christian tradition of anti-Judaism which is pervasive in the church. Our insulation from larger trends in Christianity has also made us less reflective about our language about Jews and Judaism as other Christian denominations (though certainly not all) have reeled from the scandal of WWII and the role that Christian theology, supersessionism, and Biblical scholarship played in that scandal and propped up the scientific racism of the 19th and early 20th century.
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Filed under Marginalia