Five Approaches to the Bible by the LDS Church
- ISBN: 9781666716139
- Published By: Wipf & Stock Publishers
- Published: May 2022
Jeffrey S. Krohn’s Mormon Hermeneutics: Five Approaches to the Bible by the LDS Church offers a “brief introduction to Mormon hermeneutics and proposes five LDS approaches to ancient Scripture”: the literal, the allegorical, the sociological, and the emendatory, as well as an approach that relies on “reauthoring” (xix, 49–50). Krohn argues that the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints focus “on the modern horizon of the interpreter to the neglect of the ancient horizon of the text” (16). Despite his stated intention to “present LDS hermeneutics as a worthwhile object of study” (16), the book largely attempts to disprove Latter-day Saint readings.
The “philosophical framework” Krohn claims to use is critical realism, which will “allow [the author] to view the LDS worldview as a reality that exists independently of [his] perception of it” (14–17). This is a commendable aim, since outsiders to the LDS tradition tend to misunderstand it, but Krohn has not been entirely successful in removing his own perspective from his study of the LDS biblical tradition.
The book makes ample use of LDS writing about the Bible to illustrate each of the five methods stated above. Yet in each method, Krohn seems to have only found things he dislikes or disagrees with in LDS readings. For example, the chapter on literal readings takes James 1:5 as its example. This literal reading, without reference to the communicative effect that the author intended, or the “illocutionary aspect,” demonstrates for Krohn the ignorance of Smith and the church regarding the “ancient horizon” of the biblical text. Whereas Smith read the verse as “an aid for personal decision-making,” Krohn argues that the authorial intent of the verse must be considered to interpret it properly (63). In doing so, he sets the LDS thinkers against “mainstream thinkers” (63).
Even in cases of relative scholarly disagreement, Krohn privileges those “mainstream” voices as correct. His example of “re-authoring” as interpretive method is Isaiah 28:10: “For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (NRSVUE). LDS thought and scriptures understand this verse to refer to the delivery of Latter-day revelation: “the receptive are instructed line upon line, as Richard Bushman puts it in Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (Vintage Books, 2007) (quoted by Krohn on 153).
This verse enjoys wide discussion both in the academy and in devotional contexts. Krohn cites more than a handful of “mainstream” voices, arguing that Smith misunderstood the verse, and the LDS faithful continue to misunderstand it. Admittedly, the Hebrew is muddy, and biblical scholarship is not in agreement on what precisely is meant. Krohn simply declares, though, that “LDS citation of the debated phrase from Isa 28:10 for their doctrine of continuing revelation . . . is ironic at best, excessive at worst. They have taken a suspect translation from the KJV . . . and re-authored it to become a central doctrine” (162). In Krohn’s view, LDS authors have not taken “seriously the intended sense of Isaiah 28:10” (163). Commentators from Rashi to J.J.M. Roberts interpret the verse quite broadly, yet despite its meaning being so unclear, Krohn finds the interpretation that the Church uses incorrect.
Krohn’s work is well-researched and clearly organized, despite occasionally unclear prose. I imagine for some readers the work is highly successful, having proven that LDS interpretative practices make the LDS Church member the “type of believer whose only interest in the Bible is what he gets out of it for himself and his own comfort,” who is “pre-occupied with himself, instead of being occupied with Christ and God’s great, glorious redemptive plan.” (The language, including the emphasis, is from Stuart Allen’s The Interpretation of Scripture [Berean Publishing Trust, 1967] quoted in Krohn xxi.) This quotation reappears in the conclusion of the work, with Krohn adding the last word: “May all Bible believers honor the ancient and modern horizons, live out the biblical text, and be occupied with Christ and God’s glorious plan” (196).
So in the end this is quite a denominational work—that is, one focused on the author’s theological commitments, rather than the LDS Church’s own engagement with their holy text. I anticipate this is a work with somewhat limited appeal to scholars of religion, the LDS faithful, and believing scholars themselves. It provides an outsider’s perspective on LDS biblical interpretation, and not the most generous perspective, either. It does not only describe, but attempts to disprove, LDS readings. The work rather disappointed me in this respect, and it would have benefitted greatly from maintaining the critical distance—and thereby viewing “the LDS worldview as a reality that exists independently of [one’s] perception of it”—the author espoused in the introduction.
Jared Bennett is a graduate student in history at Utah State University.Jared BennettDate Of Review:January 23, 2023