Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Understanding Mormon – Part IV

Continuing with the website comments mentioned in the last three posts, the list continues with the next of his items:

“4. Book of Mormon terminology will not necessarily be clear to us, even in translation, because language and cultural assumptions change. According to Moroni in Mormon 9:34, major changes in language occurred over the Nephite generations, for none other people knoweth our language. Furthermore, English has changed between 1829 and 2000. We must seek to overcome any problems this causes us by striving to think, feel, and see as if we were Mormon, rather than supposing that we can read the text literally (which actually turns out to mean according to unspoken assumptions of our current culture).”

First. It is unfortunate that scholars and theorists of the Book of Mormon insist that the scriptural record “will not necessarily be clear to us, even in translation.” If that is the case, then Nephi lied to us when he said, “For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3). It is more likely that the scriptural record is written directly to our understanding than Nephi having lied to us by saying this.

Second. When scholars and theorists write: “because language and cultural assumptions change,” they are discrediting the workings of the Spirit upon Joseph Smith as he translated the plates. It matters little how language and cultural assumptions change when the spirit is directing the translation. While such knowledge is helpful and sometimes necessary in understanding the Bible, it is not a factor in understanding the Book of Mormon—the translation was, in fact, directed to us in our day “for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.”

Third. The change of language is not important in reading and understanding the Book of Mormon since the spirit has already made the translation into our day and to our cultural understanding. This is not an academic textbook, an ancient parchment, nor a linguistic exercise that we are engaged in. It is reading the scriptural record as it was translated into our time for our understanding.

Fourth. “For none other people knoweth our language.” We can read the Book of Mormon a thousand times and still not know the Nephite language, the Hebrew used that was altered by them or their Reformed Egyptian. All this was accomplished in the translation. We are not reading an ancient text. We are reading a text written in 1829, translated through the accuracy of the Spirit, for us to understand today.

Fifth. “Furthermore, English has changed between 1829 and 2000.” This is the only legitimate issue under discussion here. The English of Joseph Smith’s day (1829) is different than the English we use today in the interpretation or “meaning” of several words. That is why the Lord directed Noah Webster to create, write and publish his “1828 American Dictionary of the English Language” to preserve for our day the English understanding of Joseph Smith in 1829 as he translated the plates.

Sixth. “We must seek to overcome any problems this causes us by striving to think, feel, and see as if we were Mormon, rather than supposing that we can read the text literally (which actually turns out to mean according to unspoken assumptions of our current culture).” Here again the scholar is thinking like a scholar. How Mormon thought, felt and saw his times is totally unimportant in our understanding the geography he discussed in the scriptural record. What we need to do is take every thought, idea, description and explanation of the topography at face value and then piece a map together using his own words according to their meaning in Joseph Smith’s time. While it may be true that certain items, such as social innuendos and political and evil actions may need to be evaluated in the time frames involved, the topography of the period is not based on social, cultural, or time-oriented factors as written in the Book of Mormon. To make such claims is only clouding the issue of the plain and simple language used by Mormon “for our understanding” today.

(See the next post, “Understanding Mormon – Part V,” for the final comments on the website claiming what needs to be understood to understand Mormon’s writings)

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