Thursday, June 9, 2016

Interpreting the Scriptures

Editor's note: This is number 30 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.

           It is one thing to know/recognize what scripture is, another thing to accept it, and yet another to correctly interpret/implement it. Many people err at each step. (Recently we have seen examples of gay activists pitting their interpretation of scripture against that of the prophets and apostles, proclaiming themselves right and God’s chosen prophets wrong. Such is one course to pursue and they will one day learn where such choices lead.) Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated: “Orthodoxy in thought and behavior brings safety and felicity as the storms come, including “every wind of doctrine.” (See Ephesians 4:14.)  Happily, amid such winds the Holy Ghost not only helps us to recognize plain truth but also plain nonsense!  (Ensign, May 1993, 78.)

If it comes from an activist or protestor it is likely plain nonsense. If it comes from a prophet or apostle it is likely eternal truth. When one is not sure, it is well to remember that the current practice of the Church constitutes the interpretation of the scripture. If a leadership handbook says something, even if loud people don’t like it or it is not popular, that is still the current interpretation of the scripture.

Elder M. Russell Ballard taught the following, which contains inspired counsel that should be pondered and thoroughly understood by all:

Too often we hear, “why do the Brethren..?”, or, “why does the Church..?” Instead of, “why do the scriptures teach..?” or, “why does the Lord say..?” We need to remember that when the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve speak with a united voice it is the voice of the Lord for that time. . . . So I am saying to you, when you step out into the noisy world, keep your eyes on us. We will not and cannot lead you astray. Do not ever follow those who believe they know more than Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ about the administration of the affairs of Their Church here upon the earth. . . .

In every generation there are those who have partaken of the fruit, but later became ashamed of the gospel. Today is no different. To them and to us, Paul boldly declared, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” The Lord needs an army of faithful, dedicated, and loyal disciples who are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ and who are willing to speak and stand up for the doctrine of Christ, including all principles and practices that flow from us as announced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—even when the principles and practices are not popular with some who may say they are not currently politically correct. . . .

Please remember that public opinion is not God. We must be faithful to Him. Additionally, public opinion is not our judge; God is our judge and He will stand by us. . . .

You will be going out into a noisy world. This noisy world will have some things to say that are nice about the Church and they will have some things [to say] not so nice. There will be those who want to tamper with the doctrine, but you don’t listen to that because you stay anchored to the fundamental doctrine and gospel of Christ. May God bless you with the courage and the strength to stand wherever you are serving and whatever your circumstances may be—that you may stand never never ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ; never with a wonderment or concern about the leadership of the Church. We are led by a prophet; there are fifteen apostles on the earth. We meet together. And I said earlier, we cannot and we will not lead you astray. Keep your eyes upon us.
            Keeping our eyes and ears on the First Presidency and the Twelve will help us to learn to interpret the scriptures correctly for ourselves and also how they interpret the scriptures for the Church. Their interpretation, their teachings from them, are what is important to us, even more so than our own. How many people have stubbornly become interpreters of the scriptures unto themselves, private interpreters so to speak, and have thereby lost their standing in the Church? How many others have learned to study and understand the scriptures correctly and in harmony with the prophets and will be eternally blessed and benefited thereby?

            From Determining Doctrine:

Bruce R. McConkie:

            There is a standard rule by which we understand what the doctrine of the Church is and that is to observe the practice of the Church.  The practice of the Church constitutes the interpretation of the scriptures because this is an inspired Church….  Accept the practice of assuming that the Church knows what it is doing and that what it does is right. (Bruce R. McConkie Correspondence, 1973.)

Bruce R. McConkie:

            The proper course for all of us is to stay in the mainstream of the Church.  This is the Lord’s Church, and it is led by the spirit of inspiration, and the practice of the Church constitutes the interpretation of the scripture. (Mark L. McConkie, ed., Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons & Writings of Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989], 67.)

Joseph Fielding Smith:

            There is not one principle pertaining to the salvation of men that is so clearly stated in the Bible, as it has come down to us, that men do not stumble over—not one thing. There is not one principle they can be united on that has been so clearly stated that they do not find their interpretations of it conflicting.  (Bruce R. McConkie, comp., Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956], 3:178.)

Hugh Nibley:

In a very old text, Peter is reported as saying in a letter to James regarding the use of his own writings in the [New Testament] church: "They think they are able to interpret my own words better than I can, telling their hearers that they are conveying my very thoughts to them, while the fact is that such things never entered my mind. If they take such outrageous liberties while I am alive, what will they do after I am gone!" Much later, Clement of Alexandria expressed much the same sentiment. You see the point: The scholar and learned divine must necessarily get their knowledge from the written word, and then trouble begins. The prophet, on the other hand, who may well be illiterate, gets his knowledge by direct intercourse with heaven. The orientation of the two is entirely different. (The World and the Prophets, 3rd ed. [Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1987], 28.)

From the New Testament:

            Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. (Matthew 22:29.)

From the New Testament:

            As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

            Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.

            But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  To him be glory both now and for ever.  Amen. (2 Peter 3:16-18.)

From the Book of Mormon:

            Now I need not rehearse the matter; what I have said may suffice.  Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction. (Alma 13:20.)

Marion G. Romney:

            Another fundamental to bear in mind in our search is that the manifestations of the Father’s will to this generation did not cease with what is written in the Doctrine and Covenants.  He has not left us unguided to jangle over the interpretations of those revelations, nor does he leave us ignorant of his will on current issues.  He has given us living prophets to interpret those revelations and to declare to us his will on present problems. (Conference Report, April 1945, 89.)

Bruce R. McConkie:

            No wise member of the Church with a sound understanding and a stable testimony would deliberately set forth to use the scriptures and quotations from the Brethren to prove and establish as he supposes, any basic doctrine that is known to be in conflict with the teachings of the Brethren and that has been announced by the Presidency and the Twelve officially as being false.  This is a very perilous course to pursue.  It is destructive of faith.  When such information comes into the hands of spiritually immature people it can have no effect other than to sow seeds of doubt and uncertainty in their minds….

            Jesus said “Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.” (John 18:37.)  Among other things this means that true believers accept, by instinct almost, the true doctrines of salvation when they are taught to them.  It means they reject, almost by instinct, heresies and false views.  Please add to what Jesus said the revealed concept that whether teachings are by his own voice or the voice of his servants it is the same….  Faithful members of the Church almost by instinct, because they are “of the truth” accept these teachings. (Bruce R. McConkie Correspondence, 1982.)

Joseph Fielding McConkie:

            Those advocating questionable doctrines or practices will virtually always seek to give them credibility through the use of proof texts from scripture. Two characteristics are common to such efforts. First, the texts will be obscure, in sharp contrast to the principles of salvation that are taught repeatedly throughout the scriptures. Second, they will be strained; the burden they are being forced to bear will not be natural to them. That is to say, they will not be justified by the context from which they are taken. (Here We Stand [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995], 117-18.)

J. Reuben Clark:

            Read your books. There is a startling parallel between the course that is coming in to us today and the course that was in the early Church, so startling that one becomes fearful. We have these little groups going off on their own doing their own interpreting of the scriptures, more or less laying down their own principles. They are small now, of no particular consequence, but that is the way it began in the early Christian Church, and these little snowballs grew and grew and grew until they became great. (Conference Report, April 1952, 81.)

Bruce R. McConkie:

            There is no question about receiving revelation for the Church; about announcing new revelation to the Church; about expanding, altering, changing, or modifying, in any way, any existing revelation or doctrine—all this rests with the President of the Church, who is the senior apostle of God on earth and the prophet, seer, and revelator who presides over and governs all others.  (Bruce R. McConkie Correspondence, 1984.)

Joseph F. Smith:

            It is a good rule to interpret a passage of scripture which is not clear by another or others bearing on the same or a similar subject, which may be clear and pointed.  All truth is reasonable, if we can only comprehend it. (Hyrum M. Smith III and Scott G. Kenney, comp., From Prophet to Son: Advice of Joseph F. Smith to His Missionary Sons, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981], 68-69.)

Harold B. Lee:

            With respect to doctrines and meanings of scripture, let me give you a safe counsel.  It is usually not well to use a single passage of scripture in proof of a point of doctrine unless it is confirmed by modern revelation or by the Book of Mormon.  I want you to think of that, brethren.  To single out a passage of scripture to prove a point, unless it is confirmed also by revelation or by the Book or Mormon, is always a hazardous thing.  (“Let Every Man Learn His Duty…” Seminar for Regional Representatives of the Twelve, October 4, 1973, 4.)

Boyd K. Packer:

            I desire to share a few thoughts about a basic doctrine of the Church.  What I say is based on these convictions:

            First: instruction vital to our salvation is not hidden in an obscure verse or phrase in the scriptures.  To the contrary, essential truths are repeated over and over again.

            Second: every verse, whether oft-quoted or obscure, must be measured against other verses.  There are complementary and tempering teachings in the scriptures which bring a balanced knowledge of truth….

            Fourth: not all that God has said is in the Bible.  Other scriptures—the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price—have equal validity, and they sustain one another. (Conference Report, October 1984, 81.)

The First Presidency (1912):

            Discussions frequently arise over the meaning of isolated texts of scriptures, most of which would find interpretation in other passages of holy writ. Some of them are needless and unimportant, and these should be avoided; but it is proper to study and arrive at correct conclusions as to the meaning of that which is written for our learning and edification. The published standards of the Church, as has been frequently announced, are the Bible, "so far as it is translated correctly," the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. They have been so accepted by the Church in conference assembled. Thus we have something at hand which can be appealed to as authority in doctrine.

            The Lord has also appointed one man at a time on the earth to hold the keys of revelation to the entire body of the Church in all its organizations, authorities, ordinances and doctrines. The spirit of revelation is bestowed upon all its members for the benefit and enlightenment of each individual receiving its inspiration, and according to the sphere in which he or she is called to labor. But for the entire Church, he who stands at the head is alone appointed to receive revelations by way of commandment and as the end of controversy. Assisted by his counselors, he presides over the whole Church in all the world; thus the First Presidency hold the right to give authoritative direction in all matters that pertain to the building up and government and regulation of the body….

            There are questions relating to doctrine and principle that are proper subjects for class discussion, when that is conducted for the purpose of gaining information. There are topics, however, that are of no particular moment, or on which no definite conclusion can be authoritatively reached, and these ought to be avoided, as a waste of time and a cause of endless dispute. Let the light shine and be sought for in faith, but let contention have no place among the Latter-day Saints!

            JOSEPH F. SMITH, ANTHON H. LUND, CHARLES W. PENROSE, First Presidency. (James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), 4:270-71.)

Jeffery R. Holland:

            Of course in our zeal for identifying the revealed light of truth and hearing faint echoes of a common past, we need to be careful not to be confused by what is not truthful and what may have wandered greatly from the pristine purity of earlier dispensations. We have our standard works—which are standards—and above all we have living prophets who are the oracles of God, the defenders and the teachers of eternal truth. Scriptures and Prophets are always our safeguards against error.  (Jeffery R. Holland, “…Of countries and of kingdoms…” BYU Studies, vol. 18 [1977-1978], no. 1, Fall 1977, 10.)

Joseph F. Smith:

We frequently look about us and see people who incline to extremes, who are fanatical. We may be sure that this class of people do not understand the gospel. They have forgotten, if they ever knew, that it is very unwise to take a fragment of truth and treat it as if it were the whole thing.

            While the first principles of the gospel, faith in God, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost, the healing of the sick, the resurrection, and for that matter, all the revealed principles of the gospel of Christ are necessary and essential in the plan of salvation, it is neither good policy nor sound doctrine to take any one of these, single it out from the whole plan of gospel truth, make it a special hobby, and depend upon it for our salvation and progress, either in this world or in the world to come. They are all necessary. (Gospel Doctrine, 121.)

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