The Means the Lord has Provided

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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 “commentaries,†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.)

(Ensign, January 1995).

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.

FARMS has a recommended Old Testament list and New Testament list of readings and resources.

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.

Some of these I buy in electronic format, from Logos or Koorong (that’s Australian dollars! Much less in US $.)

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.

9 thoughts on “The Means the Lord has Provided

  1. I have found the online bible study tools at http://bible.crosswalk.com to be quite useful.

    They have an online Hebrew/Greek Interlinear Bible. You will probably have to download the appropriate fonts from the site first, but you can choose to display the interlinear Hebrew/Greek with either the KJV or the NAS and the Hebrew and Greek words can be clicked to look them up in their online Biblical Hebrew or Greek Lexicon. The lexicon provides transliterated and phonetic spellings as well as the number and location of occurances in the biblical text. It also includes RealAudio pronunciations of each word with alternate pronunciations if available.

    Crosswalk also has an online Parallel Study Bible where you can read various translations of the bible side by side (both different English translations as well as Arabic, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish).

    More in line with your post, they have Biblical Commentaries, Concordances, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias from such historical biblical commentators as John Wesley, John Gill, Matthew George Easton and the 1599 Geneva Study Bible.

    If you search for words or verses using their Online Study Bible, it will automatically list links to the commentaries etc. that have to do with the verses you are reading.

    For an interesting read check out their entry in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology for the word “temple“.

    Sorry, that is probably a bit longer than you wanted.

  2. Also this entry discussing anthropomorphism and anthropopathism in relation to the nature of God is helpful in understanding the Evangelical understanding of the quiddity of God.

  3. Ben wrote Brace yourselves. I was inspired and edified by a non-LDS commentary on the Old Testament.

    This makes me wonder if you aren’t shooting down straw men a little bit here. Do you really think that most Latter-day Saints are loathe to open a scripture commentary to learn about the historical context of the scriptures or to get an analysis of the scripture in question? I think it is much more realistic to think that a Latter-day Saint will shrug off a bizarre interpretation of the scripture coming from a non-believing Protestant historian (that is, bizarre when looked at in the light of modern revelation) than to think that the Latter-day Saint will blow off the commentary all-together. Rather, what you are facing is a general ambivalence of the average Latter-day Saint to open the commentaries for the same reason that average Latter-day Saint doesn’t want to read the Federalist Papers or a history of sixteenth-century France. They just aren’t interested like you are in the historical, theological, and linguistic minutia governing 1 Kings 19:6 (take a look–there is a cool old-school KJV past participle in it). Sure, this might fly in the face of admonitions to feast upon the word, but our leaders would have the same reaction if they had admonished us to “feast upon modern philosophy.” The majority of people will learn the names of the players and the key works and the “doctrines” distilled in them, and they will likely even read the primary sources themselves, albeit in translation. But they won’t learn the original languages to read the primary sources in those languages, and they won’t read a pile of secondary sources unpacking and interpreting the primary sources. What you have here is apathy to intellectual and academic rigor, not a decided “kicking against the pricks” with regards to non-LDS commentaries.

    You have acknowledged that both Hinckley and Oaks look positively on commentaries, etc. You also note that “at least one General Authority publicly described using anything other than the LDS standard works as ‘drinking downstream.’” If that is the case, I don’t think that could be construed as the majority view, nor can it be imputed to the body of saints as a whole. The real issue is that the average Latter-day Saint is not a Ph.D. student in Near Eastern Studies and, in truth, has no use for the commentaries, not because they are non-LDS, but because they are more interested in the doctrine as given by the Church leaders at general conference and in the Church manuals than the interesting tidbits that solid research provides us in these commentaries.

    I can see the prideful distrust in relation to some other things, however. For example, with regards to Mel Gibson’s Passion, which is not a scholarly commentary but an artistic depiction of the primary source, I have heard the assertion that “why should we watch that? What can Gibson tell me about the Atonement? I have the Book of Mormon, which gives loads of insight into the Atonement that Gibson doesn’t have.” This might indeed be prideful, but there is a point to that, isn’t there?

  4. This makes me wonder if you aren’t shooting down straw men a little bit here.

    I’m not sure if I am.

    In one way, I’m responding to the comments on the nine-moons post, which wonder why we don’t have detailed LDS verse-by-verse commentaries. My response is, why do we need LDS commentaries when we have good non-LDS commentaries?

    In another way, I’m being slightly sarcastic, because I assume that the same people who would read these posts online are also the kind who would pick up a non-LDS commentary if they knew what and where to get it.

    A third factor is that I’ve not been in a “normal” ward for a long time, and that makes gauging the “average” member difficult.

    I would also guess that most members don’t regard such things as evil or tainted, but it was a loudly trumpeted view, and such things are still vaguely institutionalized (thinking perhaps of CES and the Ensign here).

    The real issue is that the average Latter-day Saint is not a Ph.D. student in Near Eastern Studies and, in truth, has no use for the commentaries, not because they are non-LDS, but because they are more interested in the doctrine as given by the Church leaders at general conference and in the Church manuals than the interesting tidbits that solid research provides us in these commentaries.

    Mostly true. However, part of the point I’m trying to make in the post is that the members who aren’t ANE PhD students do have a use for them. They can get something out of them, something they won’t typically find in the Ensign or in conference- scriptural depth that leads to understanding and spiritual growth.

    You don’t need a PhD to use a commentary, and LDS commentaries do exist. The problem is that the LDS commentaries don’t do what they’re supposed to, in my opinion. Namely, they help you understand the scriptures at a deeper level, and I have yet to see an LDS commentary do that. Hence, I turn to non-LDS commentaries, which I believe God has provided :)

    As to ambivalence, I think that’s a huge problem in the Church. I don’t know how to deal with it in the realm of scripture study, other than to say, in effect “Hey, look how cool this is! You learn this through good scripture study!” That catches some.

    This might indeed be prideful, but there is a point to that, isn’t there?

    I’m not sure. Isn’t this attitude the antithesis of being humble and teachable? You can’t learn anything if you already think you have a monopoly on knowledge.

  5. I did the post on Nine-moons and appreciate the insightful comments here.

    I am always interested in more places to go to enhance my scripture study.

    Ben’s comment: “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.” is exactly my feeling and point on this subject…put much better than I could.

    I don’t expect to find doctrine, but the connections and understandings I do find help my testimony and help me to be a better teacher.

    Thanks Ben, good post

  6. Well, I agree with you Ben # 4. You wrote,

    However, part of the point I’m trying to make in the post is that the members who aren’t ANE PhD students do have a use for them. They can get something out of them, something they won’t typically find in the Ensign or in conference- scriptural depth that leads to understanding and spiritual growth.

    I was a little vague in my comment: I agree that the members do have a use for them; what I was trying to express is that the members themselves don’t see the usefulness of them, but not because they are non-LDS; rather, it is because they are not scholars and don’t consider themselves scholars and they often downplay their own ability to digest such material. I agree that the only way to influence more people to delve into such commentaries is to do so yourself and highly recommend them to others.

  7. One of these days I would like to put together a best of references page. T&S had an essential references thing for a while and I have seen a couple pop up here and there. Like these, I will put them on my list and when I invariable will choose to need them, I will have forgotten where they were.

  8. Too many Latter-day Saints are content with skimming the surface, rather than diving deep into the scriptures. How many times do we hear scriptures misread, resulting in garbled meanings, without a correction by a teacher, who presumably is afraid of embarrassing the stumbling reader? How many times do we skip past the references to Rezin and Pekah and Syria and Ephraim and Remaliah’s son in Isaiah 7 (or 2 Nephi 17) without enough historical reference to understand what Isaiah is talking about? Or how often do we read Isaiah’s great Messianic prophecy in verse 14 “Behold a virgin shall conceive . . .” without reading on to the verse that says that before he shall know good from evil the land thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings? How does that square with a prophecy of the Messiah? Does anybody care? I’m afraid that too few of us do, and it’s not just a matter of some people being scholars and having interest, and the rest being interested instead in whether some hirelings in blue and white can put a round ball through a steel hoop.

    As Ben says, reading the OT can be like swimming in deep water, and it’s not just the scholars and the dilettante wannabes who should be out dogpaddling or crawling through it. And, if a commentary will help people get to some level of understanding, so much the better. Then they’ll have a chance to return to the text, and read again with greater chance for understanding.

    The problem is

  9. dang. The problem is that I must have blocked some of the text by mistake and hit an enter or something. more to come, later. If I can remember what on earth I was saying.

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