Apocrypha, Bible, and the Status of Scipture

May 8, 2006 | 38 comments
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Consider the following two scriptures about the scriptures:

We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly . . . (A.of F. 8 )

and

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha — There are many things contained therein that are true, and its is mostly translated correctly; There are many things that are contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. (D&C 91:1-2)

Both passages suggest that the texts in question — the Bible and the Apocrypha — are inspired but not entirely so. Should we understand them to be making different claims? For example, I suspect that if one were to substitute the word “Bible” for the word “Apocrypha” in the second passage, many Latter-day Saints would take this to be a fair description of how they regard the Bible. And yet the Bible is part of the Standard Works of the Church, part of the canon upheld by the common consent of the Saints. In contrast, the Apocrypha is not part of the Standard Works.

It seems to me that we have basically three ways of thinking about this. First, we can say that Bible and Apocrypha actually enjoy the same status, but that the Bible has been “translated correctly” in the JST. This would certainly be consistent with the rest of Section 91, where the Lord commands Joseph not to “translate” the Apocrypha.

The problem with this interpretation, however, is that it cannot make sense of the fact that the Bible is part of the canon because Joseph never finished his work of translating it. (Although one might still be able to make an argument about the superiority of the Bible to the Apocrypha in comparative terms on the basis of the JST, i.e. they are both unreliable, but the Bible is more reliable than the Apocrypha because of the JST.)

Second, one could say that actually the 8th Article of Faith and Section 91 are referring to different levels of reliability, with the Bible being “the word of God” while the Apocrypha simply contains some true things. Such a distinction has support in the text of the two passages. Pointedly, the Apocrypha is not referred to as “the word of God.”

This interpretation, however, is undermined by the remainder of Section 91, which suggests that the unreliability of the Apocrypha could be remedied by “translation.” If this is the case, then the remedy would be the same that the 8th Article of Faith envisions for the Bible, suggesting that they suffer from the same infirmity. (Nephi’s discussion of the “book the proceedeth forth from the mouth of a Jew” and its subsequent corruption also seems to undermine the view that Section 91 and the 8th Article of Faith are referring to different kinds of unreliability.)

Third, one could simply say that the Apocrypha and the Bible are equally reliable, but that the Bible is canonized, and hence has more doctrinal and institutional authority. This, I think, is actually the most defensible interpretation of the two passages, but it does have two rather startling implications.

The first is that the basis of a canonized text’s authority is not a function of its reliability, or at any rate reliability is not a sufficient basis for canonization. The second is that there is scripture available to us now that is nevertheless uncanonized. Both conclusions raise all sorts of interesting questions, like why a text might be canonized other than its reliability? What other uncanonized, currently available scripture might we identify? What does it mean for something to be scripture without being canonized? Etc. etc.

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38 Responses to Apocrypha, Bible, and the Status of Scipture

  1. Clair on May 8, 2006 at 2:47 am

    I like to view all scripture, all conference talks, all Ensign articles, all proclamations, and all testimonies in the light of Section 91, especially the verses asking us to seek guidance and confirmation of the Spirit of God. Even the Book of Mormon contains numerous reminders that it comes to us through the instrumentation of weak and limited men, but that it’s testimony is still true. I believe both parts of that disclosure.

    Sometimes we make more of the scriptures than they make of themselves, and less of the spirit than the scriptures would have us make.

  2. Floyd the Wonderdog on May 8, 2006 at 7:00 am

    I heard a talk show interview of the author of a new book called *Misquoting Jesus*. It sounds like it addresses the topic of scriptural errors and outright changes to promote theological leanings. But until I see the book, I can’t tell if it’s just the author’s hype.

    My mid-western rural library doesn’t have the book and I’m waiting for it to come in by interlibrary loan. They know that I’m on the *Mormon diocesan council* and watch what I read and ask my comments. They were quite pleased with the way I dissected the DiVinci Code.

    Has anyone read *Misquoting Jesus*? Your thoughts?

  3. Kurt on May 8, 2006 at 7:27 am

    Nate, you are comparing apples and oranges by means of weak semantics, with nothing connecting the two passages in question besides the word “translated”. If the texts were “equally reliable” in the manner you suggest, then the Lord would have recommended the addition of the Apocrypha to the LDS canon, which He didnt, He dismissed it as a peripheral text which people could persue if they so chose. The Lord has never suggested any such thing for the Biblical text. Quite the opposite as its contents have been explicitly endorsed (e.g., BofM endorsements of contents of plates of brass and the writings of the apostles of the lamb which, while suffering major deletions, are still endorsed as authentic, cf 1 Ne. 13:23-26; numerous BofM admonitions to study Isaiah; numerous OT & NT quotations in the LDS canon).

    Any Biblically literate person who sits down and actually reads the Apocrypha can easily determine which books of text are not true, not in any sense of the word “true” (historically representative and/or religiously instructive versus obviously fictional which could only serve at best as being mythologically informative period texts). Comparing the two and saying they are “equally reliable”, from any standpoint (LDS or not), fails to understand the well-documented history and easily demonstrated relative textual reliabilities of these two bodies of text.

    Additionally, the purpose and intent of the JST/IV was not to make the text more reliable in the sense you suggest, as though Smith were making it conform to the original autographs, but to render the meanings more plain to the reader, in the light of the LDS perspective. The notion that the JST/IV corrects or emends the Biblical texts to their autograph form is one of those Mormon folk doctrines that need to stop being perpetuated.

  4. Kevin Barney on May 8, 2006 at 10:32 am

    I like the formulation in D&C 91, too, and think it can be fruitfully appied to other texts beyond just the Apocrypha. It works well for the DSS, Nag Hammadi Codices, OT Pseudepigrapha, patristic literature, and so forth.

    And personally, I think it works for the Bible itself, too, although I do think there is a qualitative difference between the canonized and deuterocanonical texts.

  5. Kevin Barney on May 8, 2006 at 10:37 am

    Misquoting Jesus is by Bart Ehrman, the evangelical-cum-agnostic, who is in my judgment a fine scholar. I haven’t read this book, but I really liked his earlier and more technical The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.

    You can read a little bit about Misquoting Jesus here:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5052156

  6. John Wright on May 8, 2006 at 11:39 am

    As I read this post I do think some interesting questions are raised. When I read Clair’s comment,
    “Sometimes we make more of the scriptures than they make of themselves”, I reflected on the thought that we sometimes confuse scripture for truth, doctrine for scripture, and policy for doctrine. When to me they are all different.

    Thanks for the thought provoking read.

  7. nate oman on May 8, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks, Kurt. You’ve cleared everything up for me.

  8. John Williams on May 8, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    I think Nate is absolutely right here, and that this section of the D&C isn’t really consistent with the idea of the JST. If you break it down even more simply, the argument looks something like this:

    1) The Bible is imperfect (either through translation or transmission) and so MUST be translated.
    2) The Apocrypha is imperfect (either through translation or transmission) and so NEED NOT be translated.

    If you like the cosmos to make perfect Mormon sense, then you’ve got a little dilemma here. Of course, as Kurt says, the idea of the JST was to bring the bible into line with LDS thought, and not to access some original authorial intent (though JS may have implied as much on occasion), so the reason for this difference in logic probably had to do with the already established credibility of the bible among believing latter-day saints in the early church. Phil Barlow’s book “Mormons and the Bible” explains that the Apocrypha was actually part of the KJV bible that JS used to translate, so that’s probably what led to the question in the first place:

    “The original documents behind [the 1867 Reorganized LDS Church publication of the JST] are an 1828 KJV Bible (with the Apocrypha) having various markings in pencil and ink, purchased by Smith and Oliver Cowdery in October 1829, and hundreds of sheets of paper with writing on both sides by various scribes. These documents reveal that Smith’s revision progressed in stages; many passages contain not only revisions of the KJV but revisions of revisions of still earlier revisions. Other passages show evidence of revisions that were later discarded in favor of the original KJV reading. Some show later revisions of biblical chapters previously marked ‘correct.’ Joseph Smith clearly experimented with the Bible as he sought to bring its text in line with the insights of his revelations and understanding� (50).

    Also, for no extra charge, here’s a brief summary of the six basic types of JST emmendations that Barlow discusses in his book:

    1. Riffing additions to the text: “long revealed additions that have little or no biblical parallel, such as the visions of Moses and Enoch [in the Pearl of Great Price]� (51). The idea here was to fill in “historical or theological gaps in the biblical narrative and expand on already established themes.�

    2. Common sense changes: For example: Jeremiah 18:8: J.S. takes out the idea of God “repenting,� since God clearly needs no repentance (everybody knows that). Also, Mathew 6:13: God would never “lead us into temptation.�

    3. Interpretive additions: commonly signaled by “or, in other words.� For example: Luke 6:29: J.S. adds “or, in other words, it is better to offer the other [cheek], than to revile again.�

    4. Harmonization: Because “scripture� comes from God, and is always true, it cannot be contradictory. So, J.S. “reconciled passages that seemed to conflict with other passages.� For example: Matt 27: 3-8 and Acts 1: 18-19 give contradictory accounts of Judas Iscariot’s death, so J.S. conflates the two accounts and eliminates the discrepancy. Or, in John 1:18, “No man hath seen God at any time,� J.S., who himself had seen God (and read Exod. 33:11), adds this phrase, “…except he hath borne record of the Son..�

    5. Idiosyncratic, “not easily classified� changes: Sometimes these were to heighten the miraculous dramatics involved. For example: Matt 2:13,19, says the angel appeared to Mary’s husband in a “dream,� but J.S. changes it to “vision.� Or in Matt 8:10, instead of Jesus “marveled� at the centurion’s faith, J.S. explains that the multitude marveled (why would Jesus be surprised?)

    6. Grammatical improvements, technical clarifications, and modernization of terms. For Example: the archaic word “meat� in Matt 3:4 was changed to “food.� Or Matt 6:4, the word “God-ward� was changed to “toward God.�

  9. g.wesley on May 8, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    ‘scripture’ is impossible to define, and canonicity cannot be delineated, because, as walter brueggemann writes, “the articulation of any formal criteria concerning authority [i.e. canonicity] or revelation turn out to be in tension with the actual concrete practice (anchor bible dictionary, 5:1049).” why is an excerpt from a letter (which joseph smith himself might not have even dictated let alone written) to some chicago newspaper man considered canonical scripture, when joseph smith’s (pen)ultimate conference address, wherein according to b.h. roberts “he reached the climax of his career,” is not? Why were lectures on faith once considered canonical or at least deuterocanonical, but not any more? Why are only extracts of the extracts of joseph smith’s history considered official scripture?

    moving to the nt, in my opinion folks like ehrman have sufficiently shown that the nt canon (not the nt texts) is the product of just one of the many factions of early christianity–each with its own ‘canon’–and that this ‘proto-orthodoxy’ only established the exclusivity of its canon, doctrine, and practice, after having eliminated the competition, i.e. ‘heretics.’ mormons have happily accepted the winners’ canon, yet in some/many particlars mormon doctrine and practice coincide better with that of the ‘heretics,’ e.g. plurality of gods, esoteric anoiting, baptism for the dead. if one of the ‘heretical’ christian factions had won–i.e. the marcionites, who rejected everything in the ‘nt’ (and the ‘ot’ for that matter) except paul, or the valentinians who used some of the nag hammadi texts–the christian world, including the latter-day saints, would be reading a starkly different ‘nt.’

  10. Harold Curts on May 8, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    Misquoting Jesus came into my library this week.

    It is reasonably well written; seems to me it was probably written originally as lectures.
    He explains the history of textual criticism.
    He explains how the bible, or more particularly the new testament, has so many variations. More variations than there are actually words in the bible.

    These variations arise from:
    1. early nearly illiterate Christian scribal errors.
    2. people deleting things they didn’t like
    3. people adding things, they did like.
    4. misunderstanding foreign language, usually greek, latin or hebrew

    It’s worth handing to some of the solu scriptura types, or the bible is the innerrant word of god types, merely to have them deal with the reality that led the author to his agnosticism.

    I think if he were willing to allow for modern revelation, he might not be agnostic, but of course then he would be a mormon and nobody would read it because it would be too biased.

  11. john f. on May 8, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    nate, is “reliability” what the eighth article of faith is talking about?

  12. g.wesley on May 8, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    harold–ehrman’s scholarship doesn’t just undercut the protestant postition. his work is not a vindication of joseph smith in any way, if that’s what you’re implying.

  13. Mike on May 8, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    I have a question.

    Is it correct that the 8th article of faith as originally written by Joseph Smith was a bit different than the version I memorized in Primary? Apparently he had less confidence in his translation of the Book of Mormon than we place in it today. I think it said something like this (Going by memory):

    We believe the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be the word of God as far as they are both translated correctly.

    Instead of categories, we would have a continuum of different works with variable reliability (perhaps theological usefulness?) over time?

  14. Kimball L. Hunt on May 8, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    But isn’t it — wesley — that Harold simply sees Ehrman’s demonstrations of, well, “plasticity of canonicity” as more /specifically/ damaging Evangelicals’ claims of inerrancy than of Joseph (& company’s) prerogative to take advantage of this plasticity within the role of revelator?

  15. g.wesley on May 8, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    that could be

  16. Wacky Hermit on May 8, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    When I read D&C 91:1-2, this is what I think of it: there are four possibilities for scriptural texts. They are either correct or incorrect, and they are either translated correctly or incorrectly. So it is possible for a text to be incorrect and yet translated correctly (e.g. if I translated the sentence “the sky is green” into French as “le ciel est vert”). A correct translation of an incorrect text would still be incorrect. In my view A of F 8 is saying that the Bible is correct and not translated correctly (but this can be remedied by a more correct translation); and D&C 91:1-2 is saying the Apocrypha is incorrect (at least partly) so whether it is translated correctly or not is immaterial, which would explain why it was not necessary for JS to translate it.

  17. Julie M. Smith on May 8, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    “the evangelical-cum-agnostic”

    Do you mean that literally or do you mean it with regard to inerrancy?

  18. Kevin Barney on May 8, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    Mike #13, I believe you are thinking of Orson Hyde’s 1850 version from the Frontier Guardian (which postdates the 1844 Wentworth Letter):

    We believe the word of God recorded in the Bible; we also believe the word of God recorded in the Book of Mormon, and in all other good books.

    Julie #17, Bart was at one time a believing evangelical Christian but is now an agnostic. I think there was a long article in a Washington newspaper that detailed his loss of faith. Try googling his name and the words evangelical and agnostic and I bet you’ll find it.

  19. Susan on May 8, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate to say that Joseph didn’t finish his translation of the Bible. Rather his translation wasn’t published in his lifetime. But I think most who have looked at Joseph’s work on the JST agree that he thought he was pretty much as finished with that project as he seems to have intended.

  20. Harold Curts on May 9, 2006 at 7:25 am

    Regarding Ehrman and Bible and Joseph Smith.

    As I read Ehrman, he tells how it is that the Biblical Text can not be considered reliable. Because of this lack of reliability, of the biblical text, he rejects Christianity.

    “I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have givem them to them (and possilby even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew). The fact that we don’t have the words surely must show, I reasoned, the he did not preserve them for us. And if he didn’t perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracles of inspiring those words.”

    His attack on the reliabity of the New Testament, and its revelation of God, is at its core what is taught in many explanations of “We believe the bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” ie we believe the bible to be the word of god as long as it is reliable. Ehrman essentially says it is not near as reliable as he wanted it, or near as reliable as the Bible is the innerrant word of god, or sola scriptura types think it is.

    I think most Mormons would accept, verbally, if not in practice, the idea that the Bible is less than reliable.

    This core assumption is what leads us to an opening for modern revelation, or as Ehrman puts it, “If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have givem them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew).”

    It is not that he agrees with Joseph Smith or the Mormons on much. Rather he gives a scholarly account of one of the major problems in traditional christianity, that does not exist for Mormons because Mormons accept the realization of the possiblity he opens, that God can give them his words in a language they can understand.

  21. DKL on May 9, 2006 at 8:22 am

    The interesting thing to me about the issue of the Apocrypha isn’t that it’s any less reliable–in fact, 1st and 2nd Maccabees are more reliable history than anything in the Hebrew Bible (though 1st Maccabees is certainly more reliable than 2nd) and Tobit is no less reliable than Esther. Furthermore, the Apocrypha introduces no doctrines that are terribly novel or disturbing, so there’s no real basis for rejecting it doctrinally. The main discernible difference between the books in the Catholic Apocrypha and the Hebrew Bible is their literary quality, and those in the Catholic Apocrypha are generally lower quality.

    Perhaps there’s something about literary quality that correlates to edification and coming from God, but I doubt it. The Book of Mormon is of lower literary quality than the Apocrypha or even many pseudepigrapha.

    We do know, however, that the Book of Mormon was prepared to be scripture in the latter days. The Mormon reading of the Bible tends to believe that it, too, was prepared (at least partly) for the benefit of saints in the latter days. I tend to read section 91 as saying that the Apocrypha was not prepared in the same manner as the Bible–perhaps its more addressed to the saints of its day than the latter days (like a much of what’s in the Journal of Discourses). So my answer is just that God never intended the Apocrypha to be used as scripture.

  22. g.wesley on May 9, 2006 at 11:02 am

    harold–if you want to say that because both ehrman and the latter-day saints understand that the bible has been corrupted, and therefore have this ‘core assumption’ in common againt the majority of christianity, that works. but in detail it totally breaks down. ehrman’s acount of the corruption of scripture is for the most part the inverse of what latter-day saints envision. he argues that doctrines such as jesus’ divinity and atonement in gethsemane are interpolations, or in lds speak, that ‘many plain and precious things’ were added to the nt not taken away! and i don’t think this is a problem that “does not exist for mormons,” despite modern revelation. in fact in some ways the problem is more severe in our case because we have modern prophetic statements claiming that just the opposite occured.

  23. Harold Curts on May 9, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    re the completeness of the JST
    Robert L. Millet, Robert J. Matthews and Brigham Young and Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce McConkie to name a few did not consider Joseph’s work translating the bible complete. Evidence exists that as late as May 1844 he was still changing things…
    Part of the reason the JST was considered suspect for so many years was that it clearly was not finished and never was prepared for publication by Joseph himself.

  24. TrailerTrash on May 9, 2006 at 2:47 pm

    DKL: The main discernible difference between the books in the Catholic Apocrypha and the Hebrew Bible is their literary quality, and those in the Catholic Apocrypha are generally lower quality.

    This has absolutely no basis. The only reason that these books are considered in the “apocrypha” by the Catholics is because they were written in Greek, not Hebrew. It has nothing to do with something as subjective as “literary quality.” Besides, it is just not true.
    For instance, 1-4 Macc are not only more “historically accurate,” but incredibly powerful literature.

  25. Kevin Barney on May 9, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    The issue of “completeness” of the JST is addressed well in the introduction to the new critical text of the JST/IV mss. It is true that Joseph continued to fiddle with the manuscript for the rest of his life, so in some sense one could say it was never complete. But the common Mormon claim that Joseph never finished it isn’t really true, as Susan points out. He finished the manuscript in July of 1833 to the point of being ready and willing to publish it, which he would have done if he had had the resources to do so.

    If willingness to publish is the criterion for completeness, the JST was completed.

  26. DKL on May 9, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    TrailerTrash, the Catholics definitely consider what we are calling to be the Apocrypha to be cannon. When I refered to them as the Catholic Apocrypha, I was using the term Apocrypha as a synonym for deuterocanonical. Each orthodox religion has its own set of deuterocanonical books, which usually overlap considerably with the Catholic deuterocanonical.

    What distinguishes the Apocrypha from other books (aside from their status as cannon in certain strains of Chirstianity) is the fact that the Catholic church canonized them and the Jews didn’t. In other words, the Catholic Old Testament minus the Hebrew Bible equals the Apocrypha. And as a matter of fact, they are generally inferior in literary quality to the Hebrew Bible (though not always inferior to the New Testament, which, aside from the Epistle of James and some places where Paul has a moment of eloquence, is pretty poor stuff). It does appear that the literary quality of scripture was important to Jews, which makes sense because they’re obliged by their religion to read it daily on a personal basis and to read it ceremonially as part of worship.

    All orthodox deuterocanonical books (Catholic ones included) are considered non-cannonical by protestants, who (IIRC) rejected them in the decades following the publication of the KJV (I’m thinking the 1660′s just off the top of my head) for political reasons in order to distinguish themselves from the Catholics.

  27. DKL on May 9, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    the term deuterocanonical at the end of the first paragraph in the preceding comment should be plural (i.e., it should read “…which overlap considerably with the Catholic deuterocanonicals.”)

  28. Howie on May 9, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    RE JST completeness

    I was gonna say what Kevin said in #25, so I’ll just confirm what he said and stand as a second witness to that.

  29. Harold Curts on May 13, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    re 26
    Just a question, given that the Protestants largely disavowed the deutertocanonical books of the bible, in the 1660′s, how is it that in the 1820/1830s Bibles in the United States still usually included them? I guess I’ve just never seen a good history of the use of the apocrypha.

  30. Kimball L. Hunt on May 13, 2006 at 6:55 pm

    Although Luther had disavowed them, the Church of England hadn’t.

  31. Aletheia on May 13, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    In reference to #10: Ehrman has a series on the New Testament put out by The Teaching Company. In that series of audio lectures, he mentions some if not all of the points you’ve extracted from his new book. Of course, there his focus and thesis are broader.

  32. Aletheia on May 13, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    As part of my own experience as a reader of the Apocrypha, I do sometimes have the feeling that they are less moving as literature than the canonical books (Although, for me, these other books definitelly include the New Testament, a collection of texts whose literary quality is not limited to select Pauline passages; Hebrews, for example, seems to me to be a complex and, at times, eloquent piece of scripture and the Apocalypse is a dark, visionary tour de force in my reading). Even so, I think it’s wrong to simplify the difference in the canonical status of the OT Apocrypha as against the Hebrew Bible to the difference between Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic. The Church Fathers gave the NT Apocrypha a different status based on their debates with Gnosticism and other, for them,, heretical groups; the OT Apocrypha has some content that makes it more difficult to synthesize with Xtian emphases as well (For example, in Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus because of its frequent use in church readings) you find passages like that in Ch. 12 where the reader’s told to only show kindness and give alms to the godly). In any case, at least in the Orthodox Church, the most insistent expression of the differences in levels of authority given to the OT Apocrypha and other scriptures is the fact that, in the yearly cycle of readings, it doesn’t show.

  33. Kimball L. Hunt on May 13, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    Aletheia, your love of the Apolcoypse is interesting, given that to Eastern Orthodox this book is non-canonical/ Apocrypha?

  34. Aletheia on May 13, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    The Apocalypse is a canonical book just not a well-favored one. If you get a priest going on the subject, he’ll tell you that the Church waivered about its inclusion because of the ease to which it gives itself over to speculation and the eagerness of speculators to take it up on its offer. The priest would probably tell you that their reticence has been borne out by the extremes of Protestant eschatology in modern times. Thus, debates that can so divide some Protestant folds – Are you a millenarianist? Anti-millenariast? – seem, at best, ridiculous and, at worst, to be a distraction from the message of the Gospels. Additionally, since Orthodox don’t follow the same theology of salvation as most Protestants (especially the Evangelicals with the “Are you saved?”) – they believe that salvation is a process and is unsure until the end – images of the Rapture and being among the select don’t have as much appeal (A typical Orthodox would probably maintain that, if you think you’re going to be one of those ascending out of your seat on the airplane or caught up out of a cornfield, you’ll probably be one of those staying behind).

    In any case, one of the things I liked about Orthodoxy when I was first exposed to it was that they are not obnoxiously assured of their own salvation and really take the problem of reconciling God’s justice and his mercy seriously, coming down on the side of mercy more often than not. Thus, my priest can come down quite hard on the sins of violence (really the maximum ones for us) and pontificate about how Communists and Hitlerites are sure to find their place in hell one moment and the next admit that there is a strong intimation in the Fathers and tradition (despite Origen’s “heretical” status from whom this all stems) that all (maybe even Satan a la Origen) will be saved.

  35. Kimball L. Hunt on May 13, 2006 at 11:54 pm

    Hey, Aleyth, y’know: Yemen was Christian at the time of Muhammad (and, of course, Muhammad himself, really and truly and as a historical matter, was Christian– ); but in anycase, Yemeni Christians I think still exist. Are they Orthodox, and if so, as “post-Arian” are the rest?

  36. Aletheia on May 14, 2006 at 12:14 am

    Kimball, I’m not fully clear about the status of Yemeni minority Xtians. I did a search on the Internet and found that the group of Xtians was small in number (some 5,000) and my impression, garnered from the Christian advocacy groups that are agitating for their civil rights in the Western sense, was that they belong to a variety of Xtian sects, mostly Protestant. From remembering my history of the Arabian peninsula, Yemen was never fully Christianized (this being more of an urban phenomena) and that the Christians there were Nestorians or some other group. What is for sure is that: 1. There is no national, autocephalous Orthodox church in Yemen (not an indication of the absence of Orthodox, however. After all, the U.S. Church is not autocephalous and autonomous either); 2. If there are Orthodox there, their plight is not advertised in Greek Orthodox churches. This may be because the Greeks are often caught up in denouncing the treatment of their correligionaries in Cyprus by the Turks and denouncing Turkish interference in the Patriarchate of Constantinople (the interference, both historical and current, is pretty egregious). But, you do hear alot but persecuted Orthodox clergy and laity in general from all over the world, with some cases receiving more attention than others (The tensions between the Israeli govt. and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem being an ongoing case that has received alot of recent attention). So, since I haven’t hear about the Yemenis, my hunch is that there aren’t that many, if there are any at all; 3. If there are Orthodox there, I would guess that they are under the Patriarch of Antioch, a patriarchate that gets alot of sympathy because of being headquartered in Syria. The Yemenis might get lost just because they’re part of a generally persecuted body.

    Anyhow, that’s my take. Wish I knew more.

  37. Kimball L. Hunt on May 14, 2006 at 1:11 am

    Well, my supposition is that pockets of “heterodoxy” going all the way to earliest Christian times are non-existant. And this despite that even the Celtic tribes that had been Christianized had originally been “Arian”/ quibbled about the ramifications of how the divinity was incarnated within the mission of the Messiah. Anyways, ’twas Christian Yemenis who’d attacked Mecca when Muhammad was a little boy (resulting in Mecca’s miraculous deliverance, as celebrated in the glorious Qur`an; oh — and also: after Muhammad began to receive its surahs, individual Muslims received refuge in Christian Ethiopia) — But in any case, eventually many of these early, essentially kosher-keeping & heterodox, to us, & self-reputedly Barnabas-ine Christians of that time converted to al-Islam. (Which Arianism fascinates ME ‘caus, I’ve always found the concept troubling that the divinity of the Messiah’s mission would require Him to be understood as not having been “merely” a man but instead being, while He walked the earth, half God et cetera — )

  38. Harold Curts on May 14, 2006 at 11:57 am

    The problem that I have with claiming the JST is complete, however much JS himself was ready to publish it in the early 1830s, is that it implies that we have got our hands on the original meaning of the Bible.

    Yet Joseph himself in the years following his “completion” of the translation got many revelations or deeper understandings that he preached or talked about but that are not found in the JST, meaning the JST doesn’t even contain Joseph’s complete understanding of much of what was translated, let alone the complete Bible. This clearly isn’t what most people would mean when they claim the JST is complete.

    Perhaps what really rankles is that I find the Biblical text less than reliable and the JST being stated as complete leaves me in the uncomfortable position, of saying something like, “well the JST does give some spiritual insight” but…then it leaves so many unreliable texts untouched.