I Love Gellies

Mormonism, Evangelicism and Chaos Theory

What “Being Biblical” means to Mormons vs Evangelicals

So several times, I’ve had disagreements with various disagreements with Evangelicals with what it means to “be biblical”.

I wrote to Tim, here:

I’m more than OK with you all interpreting the biblical verses to mean what the Nicean creed teaches. I’m OK with you using it as a tool to express your interpretation of the biblical verses.
What I’m not OK with, is anyone stating that one must understand the Bible (and the nature of God) as the creed explicitly states it.
Most scholars today recognize that the creed was not what the authors meant when they wrote their portions of the Bible. Paul certainly wasn’t Nicean. Scholars still talk about forgiving Paul for not understanding the nicean understanding of God. So why can’t we get the pastors to understand that Nicea is only 1 possible way of interpreting the biblical data? If they would recognize that there are other ways, and that the Bible doesn’t authoritatively expound Nicean dogma, then we could have good conversations.


What is wrong with saying that “Document X lays out the correct understanding of Doctrine Y as found in the Bible”?
My problem is that Document X is really one possible way of parsing Doctrine Y as found in the Bible. I have no problem if they think it is the correct way of analyzing the statements found in the Bible, but it is not the only “Biblical” way of reading Doctrine Y. If they think they are right, fine. But unless the Bible says X, we should only say the Bible teaches Y, as the Bible clearly doesn’t teach X (or better yet, the bible doesn’t clearly teach X).

If the Biblical authors didn’t care enough to write Y as clearly as the authors of X did 400 years later, why should anyone claim that it is a Christian necessity. That’s a definition of Christianity that excludes everyone before X was written.

But the key phrase is Here, I think by Brian.

You’ve stripped “Biblical” of its meaning here. Nobody uses “Biblical” to mean “something that could somehow be construed from the Bible.” The purpose of the word is to connote accurate understanding, not any number of remotely possible readings.

Then BrianJ went on a rant where he essentially defines Tim’s beliefs as biblical because Tim synthesized several things from the Bible into a belief that isn’t directly stated in the Bible. Read it here.

With Tim, he doesn’t like Mormons saying that the unbiblical trinitarian statements such as co-eternal, consubstantial, etc, are non-biblical.
With Darrel,
he insists that only his way of understanding the Bible is the correct one, everything else is unbiblical, and therefore flawed.

With that as an introduction, let me state how I understand the word “biblical”, and you all tell me if I’m misunderstanding how you’re using the term. Is it just as simple as a different definition of Christianity, as Kullervo wrote about here? Or is it truly a breakdown of logic?

To me, for something to be Biblical, it must be explicitly said, it can’t be interpreted differently. Thus, “Jesus said loving God is the most important commandment” is a biblical statement, whereas “We are saved by grace alone” is not a biblical statement. While I agree with both statements, I recognize the second statement as having been interpreted by Luther (and incidentally, something similar by Nephi). It is true that Ephesians 2:5 says “(by grace ye are saved;)”, but it does not say by grace alone. That interpretation was added in by Luther when he wrote the word “alone” in the column during his translation. So I would say, “We are saved by grace” is biblical, while “we are saved by grace alone” is not, because I can’t do a word search and find the phrase or any of it’s cognates. Sure we have sermons from Paul that contrast the law of Moses, and its lack of saving efficacy, with the greatness of Christ’s grace, but the level to which we interpret any sermon is great, and unless a statement is clear and unequivocal, I won’t concede it is biblical.

So is it different for Evangelicals? Do they interpret biblical as being “Whatever I can force the text to say based on my personal interpretations” or do they limit it to what the “text actually says?” Do they include Luther’s, Calvin’s, their pastors interpretations, or do they rely solely on the text? If they rely on someone else’s interpretations can they fairly judge LDS for using Latter-day Prophetic homoletic teachings for our interpretations? Is it possible to come to a reading without anyone elses interpretations? Do they use 50% of the words of Jesus and 50% of his apostles on interpreting? How do they choose which passages to include to come up with the “right” biblical interpretation? Should we call everyone’s extra-biblical synthesis a biblical interpretation just because they use biblical data? Or should we with-hold the term “biblical” for things the text actually says, and term “interpretation” anything we assert about collections of texts?

What think ye?


August 29, 2009 - Posted by | Religion


  1. PC,

    Please notice that on Jessica’s blog (which you linked to) I never once, as you say, “insisted [my] UNDERSTANDING OF THE BIBLE is the only correct one.” You are putting words in my mouth. I did, however, state that the Bible teaches that God is trustworthy and honest to keep His promises to lead those who are seeking to the truth and to keep His promises. I stand by that statement.

    For the record, I believe I am prone to error (I am human just like everyone else) and I am learning, growing and seeking truth daily and would never lay hold to the claim of having an all correct understanding of The Bible. Seminary is pushing me along in this venture but I have a long road ahead of me. I am sorry you took my comments the way you did and felt the need to construe me this way on your blog. I also apologize for not making myself clearer earlier.

    That being said, I do believe that there is only one CORRECT interpretation of The Bible and I do believe God can and does lead people who are seeking for it when it comes to essential doctrines. Personally, I find the Mormon understanding of scripture, in many cases to be terribly offbase and noithing more than the product of a a priori position supplied by extra-biblical methods (supposed prophets, non-biblical texts, etc.).

    The bottom line is there really is only one truth. While it might make us feel good to tell someone we disagree with that they just have a “different version or understanding of truth”, it is truly hogwash to do so. Truth is truth and it is absolute. Either the sun revolves the earth or the earth revolves the sun, either God was once a man or he wasn’t, either JS was a prophet or he wasn’t, either the Bible is sufficient or it isn’t. You can’t have an in- between.



    Comment by Darrell | August 29, 2009 | Reply

  2. I am typing too fast… it is bath time for the kids and I need to get going. I probably should have just replied later when I have more time. Sorry for the typos above and I did not complete one of my statements correctly. I said on Jessica’s blog that God is “trustworthy and honest to keep His promises, to lead one who seeks to the truth, and to preserve His Word”. I know many Mormons such as Seth don’t agree with it and will call it a “false interpretation” of the Bible but I, obviously, believe they are wrong on this one.

    Have a good night!


    Comment by Darrell | August 29, 2009 | Reply

  3. “I do believe that there is only one CORRECT interpretation of The Bible”

    I wonder how extending this train of through to things like parables works? Were these type of teachings meant to have only one correct interpretation? If not, is it logical to assume that a larger work can be constrained when some of its parts can’t be or were not meant to be?

    Comment by sigo | August 29, 2009 | Reply

  4. Sigo,

    I think there is a difference between an interpretation and truths/messages when talking about scripture. While a parable may be seeking to communicate many teachings/messages/truths, it only has ONE correct interpretation. That interpretation may involve commmunicating several teachings – grace, love, mercy, etc – but it has only ONE fully correct interpretation none-the-less.

    Parables are wonderful aspects of Christ’s teachings as He used them to communicate deep, complex messages/truths (and to keep the pearls away from the swine) so it is not surprising that many mi interpret them.


    Comment by Darrell | August 29, 2009 | Reply

  5. I guess that is where Mormonism and some Christian forms of christianity differ. I suspect Mormonism is much more pragmatic (philosophically speaking). Ideals are approached through a triangulation process. Because knowledge growth is chaotic and, often complex, (in the technical scientific use of those terms) the balance we play as interpretants is more of a factor than radically precise big T Truth.

    Other paradigms based on something like a neo-plantoinc World Soul idea (of which I’ll admit I don’t have a thorough understanding) to which I see you appealing, certainly are possible, but definitely not the only way. They may be logically consistent internally, but hey, so are a heck of a lot of other paradigms that get to set some of their own ground rules.

    I think that is where the argument between Mormons and Evangelicals is breaking apart. From what little I understand, one camp is saying “hey there is a way to rationalize everything and whatever is required for this to happen must be correct because it creates (or has the possibility of creating, or replicating/ mirroring) a perfect system. The other camp is saying “we are not dependent variables that fill in the gaps as needed to create one of many possible logical paradigms, but active constructors, or even co-constructors in a dialog”.

    Perhaps that last point is one way to sum up the differences in Biblical interpretation: Mormons often see Biblical interpretation as an active dialog, other Christian christians see it as a one-way dialog where we are the ones who change to hear more.

    Comment by sigo | August 29, 2009 | Reply

  6. Darrell, FWIW, I also agree that there is only 1 truth. I just think God’s a little more forgiving to our mortal and fallen intellects than Evangelicals tend to be.

    Comment by psychochemiker | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  7. Psycho,

    I believe God is very forgiving and I am eternally grateful for this fact. As a sinner, I would have no hope were it not for this fact.

    However, let us not forget that God is a God of wrath and judgement as well. This is a very unpopular teaching today but a true one nonetheless. When one chooses to ignore what God has told us about Himself via scripture, discounts parts of scripture as errant, and clings to un-biblical teachings about His nature, the nature of man, and the pathway of salvation, I believe they are treading into dangerous territory.


    Comment by Darrell | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  8. If one assumes the whole process of scripture creation is meant to be part of a larger lesson, or part of a larger Truth, then what are the implications of the warning just given? Is failing to account for multiple levels of messages not equally as damning? Why is Biblical Truth limited to pure didacticism when parables and much of Jesus’ teaching obviously not?

    Comment by sigo | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  9. That larger truth would never contradict a previously revealed truth. Truth is truth and it is absolute. For example, if God has always been God and does not change, which the Bible teaches, then He was never a man who progressed to become a God, which has been taught by the LDS Church and is still eluded to in the Temple Ceremony today. I realize not all Mormons believe this today but it was once taught as a truth, there are many who still accept it as a truth, and it is still part of the larger body of acceptable beliefs one can hold and still be in conformity with the Brethren.

    After being Mormon for many years, my wife and I chose to leave the LDS Church. We found there to be multiple areas where the teachings of Mormonism contradict what God has previously revealed to us via the Bible. I, therefore, reject it as false and do not believe it is part of “multiple levels of messages”.


    Comment by Darrell | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  10. I think it’s much easier to detect “goodness” than “objective truth”. It seems that most truth is subjective. Just look at how many ways we can interpret the Bible. And yet a majority of those interpreting the Bible think they have objective truth.

    Comment by Clean Cut | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  11. CC,

    There is no such thing as “subjective” truth. All truth is absolute.


    Comment by Darrell | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  12. While it is just my opinion I don’t think one needs to interpret God as changing just because he is involved in a dialog where we continually learn more about him because he reveals more. For instance did Jesus change because some of his teachings to his disciples were of a different style (or dialog type) than those other groups?

    I think good socratic dialogs don’t resort to low pejorative blows, so forgive me for ignoring most of the baggage in your post Darrell and just trying to focus on what I think was the core of your message – the inferred changeability of God, & scriptural contradiction.

    As an additional comment – is there any contradiction between the Bible and say Macabees? What about other non-canonical works? What if John hadn’t been included in the cannon? Would any contradictions between it and other canonical books be possible? How does this relate to perceived contradictions between the Bible and other Mormon cannon?

    I am happy whenever someone finds a belief system that works for them, and am more than happy to support them in it. I think too often we err thinking precision is always more important that the human factor. I like to think the example set by the creation production and interpretation of scripture teaches this lesson – like parables, there are multiple meanings and layers of truth revealed not just by the content described in a story but by the process of its dissemination and the purposeful latitude in how it will be received and interpreted.

    Comment by sigo | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  13. “There is no such thing as “subjective” truth. All truth is absolute.”

    Am I right in assuming a circular definition here when anything that may be subjective can’t be a truth?

    I like Stuart Kauffman’s “reinventing the sacred”. He makes a rather good case that subjectivity may be an essential and fundamental aspect of reality. If so, truth must incorporate subjectivity into its domain -absolute precision in all areas and all things is not itself a true position. Of course its possible to hold on to absolutism as a philosophical device, but its also possible to deal with things on a more pragmatic plane.

    Comment by sigo | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  14. Darrell, it would be very arrogant to claim that your interpretation of the Bible or of correct “truth” is absolutely objective. Yes, truth is truth, and one can find truth almost anywhere one looks. But no one has a monopoly on truth. Truly discovering what is “truth” can also be a subjective experience. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”…

    Comment by Clean Cut | August 31, 2009 | Reply

  15. Over the past few years I have embarked on a detailed study of the development of the New Testament canon. To say that journey has been eye-opening is a gross understatement.

    The reality is that we don’t know who wrote most of the books of the Bible. Of the New Testament books, we can only determine reliable authorship of 7 epistles of Paul. The rest of the books, including the Gospels, are of dubious authorship, and the concensus of Biblical scholars is that at least some are almost certainly pseudepigraphal.

    The point is, if you don’t even know who wrote the books you are claiming as authoritative, how do you then establish absolute truth (to the exclusion of any other possibility) from your interpretation of their message? If some of the books in the New Testament are not actually apostolic, then you have to look at how they came to be included in the canon. It doesn’t take much research to see that those decisions were subjective, with different churches and leaders expressing different views for centuries.

    I personally don’t see how you arrive at absolute truth through a subjective process like trying to determine what is “biblical”. If you want to make an argument for absolute Biblical truth, then you have to establish the authority of the canon based on something less subjective than common usage by churches in the first four centuries A.D. and dubious traditions about authorship that developed long after the original works were penned.

    Comment by Don | August 31, 2009 | Reply

  16. “The purpose of the word is to connote accurate understanding, not any number of remotely possible readings.”

    Well, there’s a bunch of different readings on baptism. And, try finding the word “Rapture” in the Bible. Then, there’s 4 different descriptions of what the sign on the cross said.

    Comment by Mike H. | August 31, 2009 | Reply

  17. “Truly discovering what is “truth” can also be a subjective experience.”

    On this we agree. Ones personal views are subjective. However, truth itself is absolute. The earth orbits the sun; however, some people, due to their subjective perceptions, have chosen to believe otherwise. Their belief is not true no matter how you slice it. It is true that the earth orbits the sun no matter what you, me, or anyone else chooses to believe. So it is with all truth. Truth is absolutely true for everyone, everywhere, at all times and is not effected by what someone chooses to believe.

    Where you and I might disagree is whether all interpretations of the Bible are equally valid. Given the fact that truth is truth and it is absolute, I would say the answer to this is absolutely not. Just like the earth orbiting the sun is not effected by what we think about it, so the meaning of a scripture in the Bible is not effected by how we interpret it. It means what it means despite what we think and the only valid interpretation is the correct one.

    This can be an unpopular stance in today’s world where everyone wants to make everyone else feel good by telling them their truth is ok for them. Unfortunately, no matter how much the liberals may scream and fight and want to read into the Bible that homosexuality is not a sin, they are wrong. Clean Cut, being a Mormon, I imagine you would agree with me on this one, right? Homosexuality – defined as a man having relations with a man or a woman having relations with a woman – is a sin, no matter what someone believes, correct? This is an absolute truth, correct? However, where we may disagree is me taking this view and applying it to other things the Bible says… for example, no matter how much Mormons want to scream and yell and tell me their reading of the Bible to support the idea of man becoming a God is equally valid, I say they are wrong. So the real question is, where do we draw the line with saying other people’s interpretations are wrong, for we all do it.


    Comment by Darrell | August 31, 2009 | Reply

  18. “On this we agree. Ones personal views are subjective. However, truth itself is absolute.”

    Amen. I’m glad you seem to understand what I meant. Yes, truth is truth, and absolute. But it’s hard to figure out or to distinguish what is absolute truth and the degrees of importance, etc. Not even all Latter-day Saints agree on what is absolute truth. That subjective process doesn’t mean that all interpretations are equally valid–only that different interpretations of truth are subjective.

    “Where do we draw the line with saying other people’s interpretations are wrong, for we all do it.”

    That’s the million dollar question. And since I don’t know the answer (and I don’t actually trust anyone to have all the answers), it would be dangerous to draw a line that may turn out to be wrong. And I’m okay with ambiguity. Therefore, I try to be very careful in how I approach other interpretations. My usual approach is to think twice before I dismiss others as “wrong”. I try to see what I can learn from others’ interpretations, as well as recognize the limits/boundaries of my own. We all have our “blind spots”.

    I do know that even those who say/think that they’re following “absolute truth” better be very careful, because I believe that we’re all going to be very surprised in the hereafter in regards to absolute truth and some of the views we may have held in mortality. In the meantime, I appreciate the charitable approach articulated here: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

    Comment by Clean Cut | August 31, 2009 | Reply

  19. Very nice summary Clean Cut.

    Even things like the Sun’s orbit is not fully determinate if one goes to ridiculous extremes. There is absolutely no way of determining position below the Planck length. While this obviously doesn’t matter for lots of things, it does suggest some level of ambiguity, even in the most seemingly absolute of domains, is fundamental. I can’t imagine things with people and their interpretations would be more deterministic.

    Comment by sigo | August 31, 2009 | Reply

  20. ambiguity, even in the most seemingly absolute of domains, is fundamental

    Darrell, meet Heisenberg.

    Now that we’re all acquainted, I think sigo is really on to something here. We should be careful about trying to pin an interpretation down as absolute, because we may find that things are not as “clean cut” as we’d like them to be (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun…)

    From God’s frame of reference, there may be a lot of absolutes. But from our mortal frame of reference, there are hardly any absolutes, because we have an INCREDIBLY limited data set from which to work.

    Comment by Tomchik | August 31, 2009 | Reply

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