I had an experience this week that happened to dovetail well with Don’s post on LDS scholarship at Nine-moons. Brace yourselves. I was inspired and edified by a non-LDS commentary on the Old Testament. [/shocked gasp]
Let me back up a little. In Institute and the few other places I can, I often encourage members to go to non-LDS sources when no good LDS source exists. This is most often true for the Bible.
I can think of two reasons why the average LDS doesn’t do that terribly often.
- Though both President Hinckley and Elder Oaks are on record as using commentaries and other translations, at least one General Authority publicly described using anything other than the LDS standard works as “drinking downstream.” There is, perhaps, a feeling of prideful distrust of anything put out by a non-LDS author. What can they possibly tell us?
- Perhaps moreso, LDS are unaware of what resources exist, what’s good, and where to find them. With a few exceptions, such things aren’t available at your local Deseret Book.
I believe that critical use of non-LDS study materials can greatly enhance one’s understanding of the scriptures. Elder Oaks notes that
Latter-day Saints know that learned or authoritative commentaries can help us with scriptural interpretation, but we maintain that they must be used with caution. Commentaries are not a substitute for the scriptures any more than a good cookbook is a substitute for food. (When I refer to â€œcommentaries,â€ I refer to everything that interprets scripture, from the comprehensive book-length commentary to the brief interpretation embodied in a lesson or an article, such as this one.)
My experience this week was fairly simple. We taught Hebrews in Institute, which draws extensively on the ritual sacrificial system of the Old Testament- sacrifice, covenant, and atonement. As part of my preparation, I read Logos edition of the Word Biblical Commentary on Galations 3:13. The discussion and references there, the explanation of how the covenantal curses were carried out on a proxy sacrifice and how that prefigures Jesus’ death and atonement really touched my mind. (I’ll be expanding the covenant section on my Temple Prep page to cover it.)
Reading the Old Testament is like swimming into deep water, but it can also be liberating and enlightening, as it was for me this week. I really don’t have words to describe it.
I believe my type of experience is what Joseph Smith was referring to when he said “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas.” It was inspirational. I gained a deeper understanding and apprecation of both the Old Testament and the Atonement.
Now, I don’t turn to commentaries expecting good doctrine, per se. I turn to them because they reveal connections in the scriptures that I haven’t been able to see on my own, and those connections in turn help my understanding of the Gospel grow.
From my own experiences, I believe that members who don’t use these resources are not “mak[ing full] use of the means which the Lord has provided for us” (Alma 60:21) and depriving themselves of the richness of the scriptures. So, I recommend things.
For myself, I recommend the Anchor Bible Dictionary, the Word Biblical Commentary or New International Commentary, Strong’s Concordance (A concordance is the Topical Guide on steroids), and the NIV Study Bible. I also quite like Bibleworks, which allows one to import the LDS scriptures.
I know some of these aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it. You can also find them at many university and public libraries.
Have any of you had similar experiences top mine?
What non-LDS sources do you recommend? Keep it to a short list.