Wars on Cultural Mormonism: “Prosperity Teachings”
I want to preface this post with a recognition of how important our personal efforts are in keeping the commandments of God. All of the standard works teach that keeping the commandments is necessary. In fact, the LDS standard works contain a surrogate of the phrase “Keep [my, the] commandments] 264 times, 72 times in the OT, 14 times in the NT, 117 times in the Book of Mormon, 59 times in the D&C, and twice in the PoGP. So I recognize that as saints, we SHOULD be trying to keep the commandments. But the real point of my post is this: I hate the false “prosperity teachings”, that teach us to view God as a divine vending machine, or as someone whose blessings can be purchased. Some call this “the gospel of prosperity” but this is no good news, so it is not a gospel, rather a teaching.
For a while I didn’t know how to reconcile this belief (against the prosperity teachings) with some scriptures in the BoM. But recently, a friend shared a different way of interpreting these verses, that all depend on the pre-conceptions that I bring to the text.
Here are two representative examples of this teaching:
2 Nephi 1:20 And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.
Alma 50:20 Blessed art thou and thy children; and they shall be blessed, inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land. But remember, inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
Other examples include: 1 Nephi 2:20,22, 1 Nephi 3:16,21; 1 Nephi 4:1,14; and many, many others. And for my gelly friends, be reminded that Jesus himself told us to keep his commandments to show that we love him (John 14:15), and John told us that those who claim to know God, and don’t keep his commandments are liars (1 John 2:3-4). As Jack pointed out (somewhere), both LDS and regular Christianity confine unrepentant liars to a not very happy place (2 Nephi 9:34, Revelation 21:8).
What, therefore, are the preconceived notions I was bringing to the text? Why the Greek ones of course! Being a child of the Greek society, I’ve inherited a Greek worldview. What is the Greek worldview? According to Stephen Robinson, if you look at the Greek literature, the Greek worldview focuses on the individual. The Illiad is the Greek epic poem centered on what happens to a man, Achilles. The Odyssey is the Greek epic poem centered on what happens to Odysseus. Contrast this with the Hebrew worldview, The Hebrew Bible focuses on God’s dealings with “a people.” The Odyssey describes the failings and trials of a man, whereas the Bible describes the failings and trials of a people. The greatest Greek literature teaches an individual to focus on themselves, whereas biblical literature teaches an individual to focus on the community. Take the example of Achan in Joshua 7:21. He had taken spoils of war that God had explicitly commanded him not to. The result: All of Israel suffered until the matter was made right. The focus is not on the individual (Joshua wasn’t the one who sinned), yet Joshua, along with the whole camp, DID suffer. Of course, proper atonement meant the man had to be stoned and burnt, but that’s not the point. In the Hebrew worldview, the community is the most important, whereas for the Greek’s the individual was most important.
So therefore, when I read the Book of Mormon (from a Greek, individual focuses perspective) I misinterpret the text. I use to read it as a “Any individual who does well (temporally) was obedient to God’s commandments and was blessed (temporally) for that obedience.” Whereas, recognizing that the Nephites were Israelites by culture (“learning of the Jews”), we should read this passage in a communal sense. So, if the people as a people keep the commandments, they can expect to prosper, but not necessarily at an individual level.
I think this viewpoint is further supported by the last chapter of Mosiah (29)
26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.
27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.
The same problem is found when we interpret Paul’s teachings on predestination or foreordination.
Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Ephesians 1:5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
So if we insist on reading scripture by a Jew as a Greek we are bound on misinterpreting it, as most Mormons think our Greek-Minded Evangelicals have for the last 500 years.
I’m grateful to have been reminded of this paradigm shift. I feel a little bit more grounded in the scriptures now that I am applying this interpretive tool. I hope it helps some of you too.
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