Question: How can a Latter-day Saint reconcile claimed theological anachronisms in the scriptures?

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Question: How can a Latter-day Saint reconcile claimed theological anachronisms in the scriptures?

Introduction to Question

Critics of Restoration scripture allege that it contains many theological anachronisms. An anachronism is an item that is considered to be out of place for its claimed historical existence. For example, someone say that Abraham Lincoln called his wife Sally on his cellphone would be an anachronistic statement given that cellphones didn’t exist during Abraham Lincoln’s time.

Theological anachronisms are theological ideas that are thought to be out of place given contemporary intellectual trajectories. For example, critics claim that the Book of Mormon’s anti-universalist rhetoric is merely a product of Joseph Smith’s religious environment and not historical prophets responding to historical groups with their own ideas.

This article seeks to outline a few principles for when a person wants to respond to claims of theological anachronisms in Restoration Scripture.

Response to Question

1. Look hard at the historical context

It is important to be certain that the historical context does not offer a plausible enough environment for an idea to emerge. Take, for example, FAIR’s response to the criticism of anti-universalist rhetoric in the Book of Mormon. We found several scriptures that pre-date Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem (and that would have been on the brass plates) that have been interpreted to justify universalism by modern interpreters and its all but plausible that ancient interpreters could have used those scriptures the exact same way given a belief in the afterlife.

Looking at the historical context of scripture might take acquiring good tools. Latter-day Saints have found excellent resources for discovering the historical context of scripture in resources listed in the citation.[1]

2. There’s no new idea under the sun

An old saying tells us that there isn’t really a new idea under the sun. That’s generally true. There’s merely the first person to articulate, record, and/or promulgate an idea.

One should keep this in mind. The writers of scripture could be the one’s to be the actual firsts in articulating a new idea.

3. Revelation is real

An assumption that many Latter-day Saints forget (or otherwise discard) when approaching these types of questions is that revelation is real and it’s a valid source of knowledge. Revelation could have been given spontaneously to the ancient writers of scripture for them to record. This revelation could have taken place outside the recorded text in some instances. We learn that God speaks unto one nation as he does to others. We learn that he’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. Why can’t he reveal important concepts to multiple prophets at any time he wants?

Conclusion

It is the author's hope that this article will serve productively in buoying the faith the Saints in scripture.


Notes

  1. See Brant A. Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015); Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007); John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2013); John Welch, ed., Knowing Why: 137 Evidences that the Book of Mormon is True (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2017); Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997). For the Book of Abraham, see John Gee, An Introduction to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2018). For evidence for the Book of Moses see Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, In God's Image and Likeness (Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Books, 2009); Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and David Larson, In God's Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel (Provo, UT: Interpreter Foundation, 2014). For the Doctrine and Covenants, see Steven C. Harper, Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants: A Guided Tour Through Modern Revelations (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2008); Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000). For the Joseph Smith Translation, see Robert J. Matthews, "A Plainer Translation" - Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1985).