Monday, June 13, 2016

Defining and Explaining the Latter-day Saint Canon

Editor's note: This is number 31 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne, sharing quotes from his book, Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluating Doctrinal Truth. You can read the introductory post here. The first part of each post is a new introduction, placing the quotes in context with contemporary issues. The quotes that then follow are from the Determining Doctrine book, which contains many quotes that are not readily available elsewhere or are exclusive to the book.

            Scripture—the word of God—has been, is now, and always will be the main source of Mormon doctrine and practice. Its importance cannot be overstated. In combination with faith and the gift of the Holy Ghost it becomes the single most powerful defense that exists against the Adversary, along with his spirit and mortal followers and their temptations and deceptions.

President J. Reuben Clark thoughtfully wrote: “It seems sometimes as if the darkness that surrounds us is all but impenetrable. I can see on all sides the signs of one great evil master mind working for the overturning of our civilization, the destruction of religion, the reduction of men to the status of animals. This mind is working here and there and everywhere.” Elder McConkie saw the same danger and exposed it boldly: “Let me speak plainly. Satan hates and spurns the scriptures. The less scripture there is, and the more it is twisted and perverted, the greater is the rejoicing in the courts of hell.”

            President Boyd K. Packer constantly taught how important and effective the scriptures could be in helping keep people from being deceived and following the popular trends and allurements and fads of our modern (last days) society. One of his favorite passages to quote and vigorously impress upon others was from Paul’s letter to Timothy, which laid out our present corrupt society perfectly:

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
For men shall be lovers of their own selves—Check!
disobedient to parents—Check! Check!
Without natural affection—Check! Check!
false accusers—Check!
despisers of those that are good—Check!
lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God—Check! Check!
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such
turn away.
For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly
women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
[See 2 Timothy 3:1–7]

            So it now is, and worse it will become. Thank Almighty God for the scriptures and those who abide by them. Mormons have a much larger canon than other Christians and believe that it will yet be enlarged further (Articles of Faith 1:9). Elder McConkie taught:

Question: When will we receive more of the mind and will of the Lord, and when will the great doctrinal restoration be completed?

We have a revealed answer as to when we shall receive the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. What we have so far received is to test our faith. When we repent of all our iniquity and become clean before the Lord, and when we exercise faith in him like unto the brother of Jared, then the sealed portion of the ancient word will be translated and read from the housetops.

The same is certainly true of the brass plates and the lost portions of the Bible. What we have received so far is to test our faith. Why should the Lord give us more of the biblical word if we are indifferent to what he has already revealed? Does anyone think the Lord should give us the words of Zenos when we are ignoring the words of Isaiah?

There are revelations without end that are available to the faithful at any time they are prepared to receive them.

            Until more is revealed, we have our present canon, which has been enlarged on a number of occasions since the Prophet Joseph Smith’s day. In the 1970s Elder McConkie attempted to enlarge it further by recommending to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve that some items that he believed to be revelatory truth be considered for canonization. These were items like portions of the Lectures on Faith, the Wentworth letter (including two new Articles of Faith), many passages from the Joseph Smith Translation, the vision of the redemption of the dead given to President Joseph F. Smith, and Joseph Smith’s vision of the Celestial Kingdom. Only two of his recommendations were approved, and as tremendously valuable as the other materials are, they yet remain outside of the official Mormon canon.

            From Determining Doctrine:

Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

            In one of its religious senses, the term “canon” refers to the literary works accepted by a religion as Scripture.  The word derives from the Hebrew qaneh (ree), which came to mean “measuring rod” and then “rule.”  It thus indicates the norm or the standard by which all things are measured.  Latter-day Saints accept a more extensive and more open canon of scriptures than those accepted by other Christians and by Jews.  Latter-day Saints accept, in addition to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.  These four scriptural collections are called the Standard Works.  (Daniel H. Ludlow, “Canon,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. [New York and Toronto: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992], 1:254)

Stephen E. Robinson:

            The Greek word kanon means, first of all, a "ruler" or a "straightedge" and, secondarily, a "standard" or "norm." From this second meaning comes the English word canon, which means, when referring to the scriptures, "the list of books recognized as authoritative." The canon of scripture, then, is the standard collection of texts accepted by Christians as the word of God, or as authoritative. If a book is said to be canonical or one of the "standard works" (the LDS equivalent of "canonical"), that means it is on the list of approved and accepted scriptural books. For non-Mormons the canon is the list of books that make up the Bible.

            It is well known that Latter-day Saints have an expanded canon of scripture compared to the rest of the Christian world. In addition to the Bible, they recognize the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price as the word of God. These four collections of inspired writings constitute the standard works, or canon of scripture, of the LDS church. (Are Mormons Christians? [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 45.)

Alexander B. Morrison:

            Permit me to make a few observations about the Latter-day Saint concept of canon.  As you all know, the word canon is of Latin and Greek origin.  Though it has numerous meanings, for our purposes it denotes “a collection or authoritative list of books accepted as holy scripture.”  I leave to others the task of defining—insofar as the Bible is concerned—the content of that list of books, but note in passing that the traditional Christian world has had a long and hard struggle throughout its history to define which writings are sacred, inspired, and binding on believers.  Protestant Bibles (including the King James Version), which Latter-day Saints accept as “the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” (A of F 8), do not include some books accepted as canonical by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.  Even within Protestantism, the question of canon is perhaps not yet unanimously resolved….

            Latter-day Saint views on canon, in the minds of some Christians are so extreme as to deny us the right to even refer to ourselves as Christians.  We are simply unacceptable to some of our Christian brethren, gone beyond heresy to anathema.  While that may be regrettable, what others label us, or even think about us, is of far lesser importance than what is true and thus acceptable to God.

            Basic to the Latter-day Saint concept of canon are two eternal principles.  The first is that compared to the rest of the Christian world, ours is an expanded canon.  In addition to the Bible, we accept as canonical three other books of holy scripture….

            Not only is ours an expanded canon, but it is also open and unended.  We do not subscribe to the finalist and minimalist views of other Christians with regard to holy writ.  We believe in continuing and unending revelation, ever augmented by living prophets. (“The Latter-day Saint Concept of Canon,” in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures [Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2001], 3-4.)

Daniel H. Ludlow:

            The importance of spoken or noncanonized written scripture cannot be overemphasized, because it is the source of all canonized scripture. The usual pattern for the development of canonized scripture is that it is first given by the Lord to his living prophet, who teaches it to the people; then the prophet either writes the teachings himself or has another write for him so the people can refer back to the exact words. The written words are then presented to the members of the Church, usually in a general conference, for their vote as to whether or not they are willing to accept the statement as part of the official scripture. Once the scripture is voted upon and accepted, it is said to be canonized and becomes part of the official written scripture or standard works.

            Thus it is readily evident that when people refuse to accept the words of the living prophet, they in effect cut themselves off from the opportunity of receiving additional canonized scripture. (A Companion to Your Study of the Doctrine and Covenants, 2 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978], 1:9-10.)

Robert L. Millet:

            Why do some feel comfortable accepting the parts of the JST that are in the canon of scripture (the standard works), such as the book of Moses and Joseph Smith—Matthew, but feel less inclined to accept the other JST alterations? There is no question but that we are firmly committed to the canon, the standard works, and that these books of scripture serve as the rule of faith and practice for the Latter-day Saints; they are binding upon us. At the same time, if any people in all the wide world should have reason to be nervous about sealing the canon, it is the Latter-day Saints. For us nothing is more fixed, set, and established than the eternal fact that the canon of scripture is open, flexible, and expanding. What is scripture one day may become part of the canon the next, as was the case in 1976 with the Vision of the Celestial Kingdom (D&C 137) and the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead (D&C 138). These were, according to the definition provided in modern revelation (D&C 68:3-4), scripture from the time they were given; they were just as true before they were canonized in 1976. The same is so in regard to the entire JST before it was printed by the Reorganized Church.

            Further, in our study or our inquiry after the mind and will of the Lord, we as a people are not bound by a single collection of sacred books. We are called upon to "live by every word . . . of God" (D&C 84:44), to open ourselves to new truths as they may come forth through proper channels. The addresses delivered by the President of the Church at general conference are not in the canon, nor are such official doctrinal declarations of the First Presidency as "The Origin of Man" (1909) or "The Father and the Son" (1916) or the Proclamation on the Family (1995), but they certainly represent the mind and will and voice of the Lord to the Saints; the members of the Church are expected to "give diligent heed to the words of eternal life" (D&C 84:43) as they come from the lips of the Lord's anointed servants. Does anyone really believe that what is said in scripture by Alma or Paul or John the Beloved is any more binding on the Saints in our day than President Ezra Taft Benson's messages on the Book of Mormon or President Howard W. Hunter's pleas for greater Christian charity and more devoted service in the temples?

             In writing on the subject of the biblical canon, the respected Evangelical scholar F. F. Bruce observed that "there is a distinction between the canonicity of a book of the Bible and its authority. Its canonicity is dependent upon its authority. For when we ascribe canonicity to a book we simply mean that it belongs to the canon or list. But why does it so belong? Because it was recognized as possessing special authority. People frequently speak and write as if the authority with which the books of the Bible are invested in the minds of Christians is the result of their having been included in the sacred list. But the historical fact is the other way about; they were and are included in the list because they were acknowledged as authoritative." Bruce concludes: "Both logically and historically, authority precedes canonicity." (Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000], 130.)

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