Do You Unknowingly Share the Mormon View of Divine Inspiration?

When I say that all scripture is literature, I mean scripture in the broadest sense of the writings of every world religion, but I mean literature in a very narrow sense.  I don’t mean it as everything that is written, but rather specifically as literary works, narrative and prose that can be read and analyzed for literary value.

Scriptures can certainly be approached from perspectives other than literary, such as meditative or inspirational, but skipping the crucial step of literary analysis can be hazardous.  As I’ve shown already, books like the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon require believers to accept them as divine revelation before even evaluating their claims or content, and a result of this is that their followers almost never approach their books as literature; doing so would not only suggest human origins, but completely unravel all claims of divine origin.  If we skip the literary analysis just because a text is considered sacred, however, we’d ultimately have to accept the word of a parking ticket if it was claimed to be divinely inspired.

A big difference between the Judeo-Christian Scriptures and other sacred texts is just how human of a book the Bible actually is.  Its books are genuinely ancient and relevant works of literature, so that they function the same whether read as the writings of man or the inspired words of God.  The Bible is not dictated directly by God as is the claim of many other religions for their holy books; every book of the Bible is unashamedly authored by a human writer, in their own language, vocabulary, idioms, and frame of reference.  Really, no supernatural belief is required to accept the Bible for what it is.  Biblical literature essentially follows the rules of literature and can be appreciated as such without diminishing its claims of divine revelation.  On the other hand, the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an can only function as one or the other, and if they are human, they cannot be divine.

Source material often betrays the claims of authenticity for most holy books, but especially the Book of Mormon.  A self-evident quality of literature is that references to other writings cannot precede or exist without an original source.  If I quote another work of literature, then that indicates I had access to that work of literature.  All scholarship depends on this axiom, which is otherwise plagiarism, yet Mormons expect people to make an exception to the rule for their concept of divine revelation.  The Book of Mormon, which claims to be authored on the American continent by Jewish inhabitants called Nephites starting before the first century, quotes extensively from New Testament literature that would have been unknown to its writers.  The only Mormon solution is that these identical passages were divinely inspired independently to both the Nephites and the early church.  Thus, the Book of Mormon contradicts the literary logic of source material, and can only function as “the word of god” to the faithful, which renders its claims of human authorship completely irrelevant.  Why does it even need a Nephite author if it wasn’t a unique Nephite composition?  In fact, the only way the Book of Mormon can function on any practical level as literature is from the position that Joseph Smith and/or his contemporaries with access to the New Testament were the true author(s) of the text.

Ironically, Joseph Smith was aware of the logic of source material in his writing process, as he borrowed from sources that were available to him.  Yet he apparently failed to understand that this was also how his bonded-leather King James Bible was written originally, not through his method of fabricated divine revelation.  As he quoted the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7, he demonstrated ignorance of the shared source material between the synoptic Gospels.  Regardless of whether Matthew borrowed from Mark or from the hypothetical Q, the passage in Matthew is a compilation, a speech recreated into a specific context from a variety of common sources, and unique to that particular book.  The sermon in Matthew is also unique in that it alternates material common to the other synoptic gospels with passages which have parallels in the Talmud.  It’s highly unlikely that Jesus delivered the exact same sermon twice, because he never actually spoke this sermon in that order to begin with.  For two authors on two different continents to have arranged the same quotes into the same order is one of the most under-stated literary miracles in the history of the world (indeed, Matthew, Mark, and Luke were in the same time and proximity and even they couldn’t accomplish this feat).  Of course, Mormons don’t emphasize this “miracle” unless it’s brought up, showing that they really don’t believe it themselves.  No supernatural apologetics can override man’s a priori understanding of source logic.

Yet Christian fundamentalists and Biblical literalists who (presumably) ought to know better have the highest conversion rate into Mormonism.  From my experience, they’re also the most likely to challenge my claim about the speech recreation of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, believing instead that this content was delivered verbatim and recorded intact, as the similar content in Mark and Luke were also perfectly preserved speeches through the miracle of divine inspiration.  This position actually shares the same flawed beliefs about divine inspiration as the Mormons (and yet somehow they call me the apostate for viewing scripture as literature, even though this really isn’t even a threat to literalism).  The reality is that all quotations, parallels, and allusions in the Bible can be traced to source material.  Quotes of one work in another are evidence of that author’s access to the work cited, and no Biblical authors ever cited materials that wouldn’t have been available to them.  It’s unreasonable for the Book of Mormon to require divine inspiration as a source for unavailable materials when such a requirement is unprecedented in all of Christian scripture.

The rules of literature are absolutely and all-inclusive; they work no matter how you approach the Bible, whether as a Christian, a Mormon, or even an atheist.  No belief about the nature of the text is required for literary analysis, believers and unbelievers alike can use this methodology to ascertain the true meaning of the text, and from there draw conclusions.  Unlike the Book of Mormon, whose literary analysis betrays itself as a fraud that could not be inspired, the Bible’s literary analysis works from either approach, writing of man or Word of God.  If more Christians only had a literate understanding of scripture, there would not be so many converts to Mormonism.  Sadly, these converts are unaware that they never had an accurate view of scripture, and were essentially embryonic Mormons until their conversion.  It’s the duty of all Christians to have orthodox views on both scripture and divine inspiration, and to promote this among our peers.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Do You Unknowingly Share the Mormon View of Divine Inspiration?

  1. Pingback: The Case for the Sermon on the Mount | seerstone

  2. Pingback: When Joseph Met Pliny | seerstone

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