Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-Day Saints in American Religion

Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-Day Saints in American Religion

Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-Day Saints in American Religion

Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-Day Saints in American Religion

Synopsis

The Mormons have been one of the most studied American religious groups; still, no consensus exists about the essential nature of the movement or its place in American religion. In this study, Barlow analyzes the approaches taken to the Bible by key Mormon leaders, from founder Joseph Smith up to the present day. He shows that Mormon attitudes toward the Bible comprise an extraordinary mix of conservative, liberal, and radical ingredients: an almost fundamentalist adherence to the King James Version of the Bible coexists with belief in the possibility of new revelation and surprising ideas on the limits of human language. Exploring this unique Mormon stance on scripture, Barlow takes important steps toward unraveling the mystery of this quintessential American religious phenomenon.

Excerpt

Joseph Smith grew up in a Bible-drenched society, and he showed it. Like those around him, his religious conceptions and his everyday speech were biblically informed. He shared his era's assumptions about the literality, historicity, and inspiration of the Bible. He read its narratives with presuppositions about the immutability of truth and the direct relevance of prophecy (the imminent millennium; America as chosen) that were common to his place and time. Like others, he viewed the Old Testament through a New Testament lens, was affected by the perspectives of "Christian primitivism," and embraced both a long tradition of typological thought and an emerging train of dispensational thought.

But if Smith participated fully in his culture, he also struggled against it, in some ways outgrew it, and even changed it. He differed from his evangelical contemporaries in that he found the unaided Bible an inadequate religious compass. and unlike the minority who agreed with him on this point, such as Unitarians and Catholics, Smith did not turn to scholarly or ecclesiastical authority to address this lack. Instead, setting himself apart even from other visionaries who used personal revelation as an exegetical guide, he produced more scripture--scripture that at once challenged yet reinforced biblical authority, and that echoed biblical themes, interpreted biblical passages, shared biblical content, corrected biblical errors, filled biblical gaps, was built with biblical language, and restored biblical methods, namely, the prophetic process . . .

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