Tuesday, March 7

And by that I mean...

I'm a fan of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (hereafter referred to as MST3K). It's one of those annoying 'quotable' shows. Rather than delve into what could be a long drawn-out explanation of the plot I will jump right into the quote I want to share. One of the characters has just finished explaining a risky plan of action. Another character then asks, "So what's in it for us? And by 'us' I mean, 'me'."

I've been wondering lately, especially after reading The Grammar of Inequity, why we still use words in church discourse and scriptures that need to be explained? Why are many phrases followed by "and by [X] I mean [Y]" in a fashion similar to the line I quoted above. There are many, formerly gender-neutral words that are now gender specific. There are other euphemisms, and all sorts of archaic words. I can think of all sorts of good reasons to publish/retranslate the Bible (and maybe the Book of Mormon too), but can only think of a few reasons to keep it how it is.

I think that the major reason that the Church still uses the KJV Bible is because of the many slanders we have recieved due to the Book of Mormon. While other denominations have re-translated the Bible endlessly in efforts to make it easier to understand, easier to read, and (subconciously) more favorable towards their doctrines. I think the LDS Church is afraid to retranslate, (or even publish with JST in line) the Bible lest they be accused of altering what is there. We're condemned enough for 'adding' to it, that we'd rather use the older versions to increase our credibility. Almost as if to say "See? We still use this old version of the Bible! We don't want to change anything about it because we think it is correct enough as it stands."

The next most LDS reason to keep it how it is would be: distribution. If the church did put out whole new translation of the Bible then all the members would eventually have to get a new one. For many members they are lucky enough to have scriptures at all, buying a new set would be a huge burden. If the new translation altered, or deleted verses, then all of the Manuals, and church publications would have to be checked and edited for accuracy. That also brings up the questions of old General Conference talks, and magazines that are available to the membership. Should we go through those and change those quotes to match? Should we just provide the new references for the correlating verses? It would be a correlation committee nightmare!

The next reason would be the perks of ambiguity. If the meaning is ambiguous then members have to pray and research to understand. Such prayer and research shows committment and sincerity, which is rewarded with deeper understanding and companionship of the spirit. Were the scriputres easy to understand we would take everything at face value, and feel little need to put serious effort into scripture study.

A bigger reason may be a fear on behalf of the leaders of being 'the next Bruce R. McConkie.' Br. McConkie may have felt he was inspired in everything he wrote in Mormon Doctrine, but it later became painfully clear that he was not. No matter how legitimate anything else he had to say was, the statements that were untrue haunted him until his death, and continue to tarnish the image of the church. No one wants that legacy, and so the brethren fear to make any statements or interpretations that they are not certain is divinely inspired. The Bible is a veritable mine-field of potential misinterpretations.

Lastly, these men aren't career scriptorians, or theologians. They don't have the greek, the hebrew and the ancient middle-east history to put much of the scriptures into context. The people who do have that knowledge don't have the priesthood keys.

A few other reasons are: Sometimes ambiguity is good. No one wants to explain to an 8 year old why Lot had sex with his daughters, but kids just gloss over Lot 'knowing' his daughters (normally). Archaic language sounds cool, and just feels more formal. We tend to think more of respecting God when we use 'thees and thous' though it comes at the expense of intimacy. Lastly we can always say "and by [X] they mean [Y]" allowing us a great deal of flexibility in interpretations that may later prove to be false.

So, I'd just like to say that I know the scriptures are true, and by that I mean I'm pretty sure that most of what they say is probably what God wants them to say.


Anonymous said...

I read the chapter realizing full well that Women and Authority  was in the bookshelf directly behind me. I'm not sure what that says about me...

I'm facinated by English bible translations--I collect them, and I think I have 7 or 8 different ones now. The KJV is by far the most poetic, but my favorite for modern clarity and greater gender-inclusiveness is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). There's also some fun ones out there, like "The Word on the Street" Bible.

I like the points you brought up about our tenacious grip on the KJV. I think that other churches have had to struggle historically with the move to different translations (my favorite story is about a parishioner who said, "the King James Version was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me!"). I think the distribution and quote hurdles were there for them, but the church culture adapts over time. I occasionally read the same scripture in different translations in Elder's Quorum, and the class seems to appreciate the greater clarity.

I've got Barlow's book on Mormonism and the Bible staring at me on my desk (a Christmas gift from Jana's mom). I'm curious to see what he's found.

What do you think about Lavina's comments on praying (and her hymn-singing acrobatics) with inclusive language? 

Posted by John

Anonymous said...

I have thought about buying a new translation of the Bible but the orthodoxy in my makes my palms get all sweaty when I enter that part of the bookstore. (Not really, but it sounds cool).

Re; Lavina's hymn singing. I would do that at home with my family, but I wouldn't do it at church. I think that it just ends up as more of a distraction than an effective statement on church policy. If I did that I probably get a reputation as "that crazy lady who changes the words when she doesn't like them." I am, however, all for including 'and women' while reading scriptures aloud in church. 

Posted by Starfoxy

Anonymous said...


I think most of what you express here has merit, especially the part about a desire among leaders to keep some things ambiguous doctrinally (evolution for example). I also find some popular (among Protestants) translations rather distasteful, and as a result have little if any desire to own them. The KJV is a work of art centuries in the making, and much of it is exquisitely beautiful. Better to encourage the masses to look up to art than dumb it down for the masses to consume it upon their lusts. Who for example would want to read the Reader's Digest abridged version of Shakespeare? The only thing I sometimes find annoying is the stubborn insistence on keeping all the archaic spellings of common words (e.g., "alway"). I also think that to some extent the wrangling over translations is pointless, since there's this underlying assumption that the original must be more correct (I concede that it may be, but not necessarily so), with its corollary assumption that it was God-dictated ("God breathed") or even written by HF/HM him/herself.

The fact that ANY of it needs clarification is sure proof that such a sentiment is nonsense. It's all written by men, with all their failings and weaknesses and opinions. And given that perspective, what we have IS rather remarkable and amazing (for the most part).

I also do not find everything in the JST palatable. Some of it is unnecessary, and even a few things I find less appealing or clear than the "original". My opinion of course. 

Posted by Rich

Rich said...

FWIW (you might find this of interest), I found that "thee" and "thy" have their old-English roots in Germanic expression that in fact are the more intimate, more familiar form of "you":

Du hast -- thou hast
Sie haben -- you have

Du is used with loved ones, friends, family, children, pets and God.

Sie (pronounced "zee") is used with strangers.

BTW, the Luther translation (in German) was declared by JS to be "the most correct translation" of them all.

Anonymous said...

German is a great language, that I really need to learn sometime.

I think what mostly fuels my fear and distate for alternate translations was looking at one of my friends 'study bibles' in high school. I was reading the story of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac and the part that said Sarah laughed when told that she would bear a child. My friend's Bible said that Sarah's laughing was derisive, in a "Yeah, right, good joke." sort of way, instead of the rejoicing laugh that I think it was. 

Posted by Starfoxy

Anonymous said...

Starfoxy, I'm curious--did the "derisive" information come from the translated text or from a footnote?

I like to use multiple translations in conjunction with one another. It makes for cumbersome reading, but I find it helpful. Sometimes the kids and I will read in a circle--my youngest with her plain English version, my son with his KJV (he's the most orthodox of all of us), me with my NRSV, and we'll compare what each of them say. It's fun, and we learn a lot from the experience.

I guess I'm okay with modern English versions of the Bible. We don't frown upon children reading from simplified versions of the Bible, and I'm glad that modern English translations have made the Bible accessible to people who struggle through the KJV.

But I agree with Rich on the beauty of the King James Version. No other translation comes close.

In Japan, the Book of Mormon has gone through three translations since Heber J. Grant went over early in the 20th century. The first and second are praised for their classical language and poetic beauty, but the current version is definitely the most accessible and the one the Church is choosing to use there. I wonder why Japan is subjected to a different standard than the English speaking Mormon world? 

Posted by John

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