Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Temple in the Book of Mormon

I posted a version of this over at Joel Martin's blog, A Living Text.

In the Book of Mormon (BOM), a group of Israelites leave Jerusalem (right before the exile, as I understand it) to establish a new promised land. The BOM states that a temple is built in the new land (and, ultimately, more than one), and that there are groups and times in which the people are entirely obedient to the Law of Moses.

While there are details in the BOM with which one may quibble, my initial difficulty with it is the inconsistency of the BOM's overall narrative with the history and practices the Spirit reports in the Old Testament.

As an initial matter, there is a huge problem with the idea that a group of observant Israelites would purport to build a new Temple in a land that is not Israel.

We might initially locate the Temple in the broad sweep of OT history: After Babel, redemptive history narrows to Abraham and a people gathered specifically to the land in which Abraham sojourns and is promised (Gn 12.7, 17.8). Redemptive history doesn’t open up again to all peoples until the anti-Babel on Pentecost. (This doesn't mean that there weren't a lot of saved Gentiles in the OT. There were. What it means is that God did not dwell with the OT Gentiles as he dwellt with OT Israel, and as he again dwells with Christian Gentiles and Jews in the NT.)

In between Bable and Pentecost, God works uniquely through Israel in the land of Israel. And God dwells uniquely in the Temple at Jerusalem. The Scriptures describe the unique locus of the temple in the promised land; it was where God would uniquely dwell among men (Dt 12.5, 13-14).

So, too, in the establishment of the Temple, those from other nations would look to Jerusalem — not other places — to pray to God (2 Chr 6.32-33). And when Jews traveled to other countries, they faced the Temple in Jerusalem, because that is where God promised his unique presence.

The Temple in Israel is the center of OT piety. Exile was a curse (Dt 28.26) because it meant being away from God’s presence in the Temple. As I understand it, the BOM picks up just prior to the exile. But God’s faithfulness is demonstrated in that, even while Israel was in exile, God loved his people and would redeem his promise, restoring them to Israel, the promised land (Dt 30.3-5).

The idea that a group of Jews would embrace permanent exile by pioneering some foreign area would be a frank repudiation of the God of Israel. God’s promise for an Israel that repents in exile is not that he would permanently establish them away from the promised land in other countries, but that he would restore them back to the land promised to Abraham, Israel's forefather (Neh 1.9).

While I find much that is edifying in the BOM on the level of a sort of Narnia-like narrative (a comparison which I do not at all mean as an insult), nontheless, as a candidate for revelation, it is tone deaf to one of the most important lessons that the Spirit seeks to teach us through Israel in the OT.


Blogger Paul Buckley said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 04, 2007 10:21 AM  
Blogger Paul Buckley said...

I appreciate this sort of critique and hope you'll do more. I think it's a valuable addition to the usual orthodox critiques of the Latter-day Saints' theology. A few years ago when I hosted a couple of missionaries for two or three hours, we ended up talking a lot about worship (their use of water in communion, their lack of psalmody, etc.), which wasn't at all what they anticipated.

August 04, 2007 10:23 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hmm, that's interesting (the stuff about worship).

I'll post more when I get a chance. Considered abstractly, the "new" doctrine in the BOM is relatively tame stuff. About on the wavelength, say, of a free-will baptist.

But as I believe the LDS themselves suggest, the important thing about the BOM is not the specific doctrine it teaches, narrowly considered, but rather the claim that God revealed it to Joseph Smith. I.e., that it is true prophecy. In that sense the BOM is a gateway book into distinctive LDS doctrines.

August 06, 2007 10:12 AM  
Blogger CPA said...

In this sense, Mormonism is like Islam in that it takes what is implicitly an ethnic cult and then universalizes it, without the rather radical recasting you find in Paul.

A friend of mine (Bill Wood at Point Loma) often pointed out the similarities of Mormonism and Islam.

But their doctrine of god and the cosmos: numerous worlds, ability of man to become god of a world, reincarnation (at least between worlds), revelation by discovering metal plates left by lost precursors, even the spiritual marriage as progenitors of a new world, bears distinct similarities to Buddhism, particularly in the Tantric form.

August 13, 2007 6:09 PM  
Blogger J.M.W. said...

I wish I had more time to flesh out my thoughts on the Book of Mormon. Keep up the good work.

August 13, 2007 7:54 PM  

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