Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ex-Mormon Leonard's Eternal Insecurity About Authorial Intent

At the weekly gathering at Village Inn of the Shawn McCraney "Heart of the Matter" post-show studio audience, about 12 or so folks showed up last night. One fellow I have met before named Leonard was there. I was sitting at the far east end of the table, and Leonard walked over to ask me how it was that I would knowingly violate the sacrament covenant each week. I noted that the sacrament prayers don't say that we will never sin, but rather that as we kept the commandments and took upon ourselves the name of Jesus, we would have his Spirit. Leonard first asserted that we did covenant to not sin, and so I started to quote the blessing on the bread, and Leonard joined in, but with the confusion, I recognized I stumbled so I turned to the BoM and got the text of the prayer in front of me. Leonard said "I know the prayer, I had to memorize it verbatim," to which I replied "Then you have forgotten it verbatim, because you got it wrong." We then read the actual prayer, and he acknowledge that the text doesn't require one not to sin, but then he asserted that the LDS god is like a yoyo, since his Spirit comes and goes based on our personal obedience. I told him that was very much a scriptural position.

Leonard is of the opinion that once one is saved, one cannot lose their salvation. Therefore it is impossible for someone to lose the Spirit, or be condemned to hell, after becoming a born again Christian.

I turned to Hebrews 10:26-29 to demonstrate the New Testament does in fact teach that we can be saved and then lose our salvation. Here is the relevant text:

26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
Notice in verse 26 the author of Hebrews says "after we have received the knowledge of the truth", there is no more sacrifice.

I asked Leonard what sacrifice is that in reference to. He said "you know", and I said "Christ?", and he said "of course". I asked if there was any sacrifices after Christ's atoning sacrifice. He said I was missing the "authorial intent". He said there was no additional sacrifices, but that the verse is about unsaved people, not saved people.

Here is why this is important. If it is about unsaved people, the false doctrine of eternal salvation being assured by a single act of a sinner accepting Christ is not threatened. But I pointed out the author of Hebrews uses the word "we". Not thee or you. He includes himself.

If the author of Hebrews includes himself as someone who could "willfully sin" to the point of troddening the sacrifice of Christ under foot, then manifestly someone filled with the Spirit (since scripture is "god breathed")and "saved" by any standard, could lose their salvation. Thus this passage demolishes the concept of eternal security as taught by Evangelicals.

Back to the story.

Leonard said "How many times does it say "we" and mean the unsaved? You don't understand the authorial intent." I had my computer with me, so I said, "Let's check". I then did the search, and it turns out in Hebrews 10, the word "we" is used 5 times spread across four verses. I told him "5 times". He said he meant in the whole Bible.

What? In the whole Bible? Doesn't that violate even the most basic of Biblical interpretation principles? I said the context mattered, let's read how the author of Hebrews uses the word.

Leonard said I wouldn't understand the authorial intent, and he walked off saying "this is such an old conversation", to which I said "Come on, you're losing the argument so you are leaving." He walked off, and I read the four verses with the folks sitting by me, and they agreed.

"We" means "us" in Hebrews chapter 10, according to the context, and not "them".

Which is why Leonard walked away with his two kids. His explanation is manifestly false if one actually reads the text of the Bible.

Authorial Intent is the equivalent of arguing that one's personal theories are more important than the text of the Bible itself, and it is what allows a person to ignore changing their beliefs when confronted by passages which contradict personal theories.

For Leonard, "Authorial Intent" is only to be applied if the Truth conflicts with his personal hobby. In this case, the "Author" is Leonard.

12 comments:

JediMormon said...

Very interesting article. I'd be interested in getting your take on how useful "authorial intent" is in properly interpreting the scriptures. It seems to me--from what you've related--that authorial intent is highly subject to personal interpretation just as many verses in the Bible. "Here's what the writer/author really meant", stated thousands of years after the death of said author seems to be an area that one should tread lightly in. (BTW, I'm the same person who requested your take on why non-LDS believe that LDS have a different Jesus.) Anyway, good story.

Bob the Anti-Anti said...

Thanks Jedi for the comment.

I actually don't think there is much of a place for the use of "authorial intent" in Biblical studies. It assumes things, which then usually poisons real study of the sources. For example, the idea of 'monotheism' as practiced by the Jews in the Bible has been completely obscured because the word "monotheism" has changed in its meaning. I would point you to Michael Heiser's discussion on this from an Evangelical perspective in Farms Review 19/1 pages 238-240. He notes, and he is a respect Evangelical scholar, that "monotheism"' is "inadequate for describing the Israelite religion", and terms such as "Henotheism and monolatry, while perhaps better, are inadequate because they do not say enough about what the canonical writer believed."

If one believes in the inspiration of the Bible coming from God, then only prophets can actually tell us what God, the ultimate author, intended outside of what is expressed. Thus true believers of every ilk feel they are the only ones who can correctly divide the word of God. However, Jesus taught that his teachings were only understandable to those who had ears to hear and eyes to see. I believe that means (authorial intent?) we come to understand at various times and various levels as we become spiritually quickened. At that point we have a personal obligation to understand, and a social obligation to preach without seeming condescending to those who are unenlightened.

The only safe place for authorial intent in discussing the scriptures with those of other faiths is, in my opinion, to stick to the words in the text. In the case of my conversation with Leonard, sticking to the text was devastating to his argument. I find that to be the case with nearly every non-LDS individual who claims to trust and believe the teachings of the Bible, who then flee to an extra-Biblical system of dogma to avoid embracing such clearly taught doctrines as the essential role of Baptism in one's salvation (Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, 1Peter 3:21), the necessity of personal righteousness to obtain salvation in addition to the grace of God (Romans 6:15-23, James 2; Gal 6:7; Matt 16:27), and something as specific as the laying on of hands is how the holy Ghost was conferred (Acts 8:18-20), or that God and Jesus are separate beings (John 1:1-2; John 17:3, 21-23; Mark 10:18; John 10:33-38 & Ps 82; Heb 1:8-9; Rev 1:6).

In the end, my opinion is "authorial intent" is simply an interpretive device used by people such as Leonard to see whatever they want in scripture, and avoid true repentance, which by definition is to change one's thinking, and therefore one's actions. Authorial intent to such people actually takes precedence over the Bible itself, and allows them to explain or excuse their positions with no authoritative recourse to what God meant. In other words, it is why so many people "have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. From such turn away."(2 Tim 3:5)

Anonymous said...

Very nice. I debate a lot in regards to doctrine and find that most people when they find themselves backed into a corner rely on their presuppositions or supposed blemishes in Church history (I simply reference them to "God Is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens for "objective Christian history"). If you find yourself in such a position again, point out that "wilfully sin" is in present tense Greek. Therefore, it literally means "deliberately continue to sin". And vs. 19 makes it apparent that the "we" includes the author and his "brothers and sisters". It is a condemnation of a sinful lifestyle after enlightenment. 1 John tackles this very same subject. Present tense is found all over the New Testament and means a continual, habitual action. I'll just give one more example:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

"Believe" is present tense, as is "have". The literal translation would be, "...whosoever continues to believe in Him should not perish but continue to have everlasting life." Only those that continue to believe continue to have life. Should it cease, so does life. Once again, eternal security demolished. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Bob,

FYI for you and your readers: I have a good friend of mine who is seeing a counselor by the last name of Millicent. Somehow during one of his session the topic of Born Again Mormon followers came up. Turns out the good doctor counsels quite a number of Shawn McCraney’s followers.
Some how they find their way to her and she helps them deal with their anger issues and other problems they face. Needless to say the doctor doesn’t have anything good to say about Shawn and the Born Again Mormon movement.
From what my buddy was told Shawn does a good job of loading hatred on the shoulders of his followers and never quite is able to help them turn to Jesus to forgive themselves or others or find peace for that matter, no big surprise there!
If guys like Leonard are hoping to get follow up stuartshipping after they leave the Mormon church from groups like the Born Again Mormon Ministries, they’d better think twice. Follow up counseling comes in the form of a phycotherapist who helps you deal with your inner demons and charges you $120 an hour over multiple sessions to get your life back on track... Ouch!

MadDog

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be great to address where those inner demons come from?
Couseling may or may not be necessary for some, but blaming the whole affair on Shawn is pathetic.
It comes from having entire lifetime of a belief system (that you were never allowed to question, talk against, research against, think against) come crashing down and being in a state of rebuilding your belief system from ground zero.
Its a hard feat on most.
Has nothing to do with Shawn, it has to do with an LDS theology that is based in fraud from day one being the stack of cards that created the house you lived in your whole life and "testified" of based on feelings...and never ANY facts. Just obey, believe, have faith, listen to all of the arms of flesh around you every Sunday and conference time.
It doesnt take much factual data to come around and knock that house of cards right down....and then comes a possible need for therapy.
Its because you have lived in the Matrix your entire life, and then someone offered you the red pill and you finally saw the Matrix from the other side.
There's not going back.
Blame it on Shawn if you want.
Or just go back to your warm fuzzy feelings and white-washed history on Sunday.
I'll stick with truth now that I have it...regardless of what pain comes with it.
Its better than a self-agrandizing lie.
"Hey...look at me ! I'm a member of the one, the true, the only REAL church on the face of the whole earth!!"

Go Share Your Faith said...

Hmmm...
Authorial intent not important...

Do you know what I think you mean by that?

I think you mean that you really DO think authorial intent is important!

Now what makes more sense; what I; the reader want you to mean...or what you meant when you wrote this article?

Authorial intent in a nutshell.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

Your post oozes with anger and frustration. Sound like you’re in need of a little counseling yourself. If you’re interested and live in the Salt Lake area the name you want to look up is Jan Millicent she might be able to help you see your bitterness for what it really is.
MD

Go Share Your Faith said...

Anonymous,
I guess you know what an "ad hominem" attack is...

It's what get's thrown out when the person has no real logical retort to a person's point and they've been refuted.

It's the last bastion of the unsupported argument.

Go Share Your Faith said...

whoops...thought that was directed at me...I apologize.

Bob the Anti-Anti said...

I would like to respond to Anonymous' comment about my thinking authorial intent is important. As concerns motivating someone to write, I guess it is. As a substitute for trumping what is written, no way. That is the problem with Leonard. His doctrines are directly contradicted by the words of the Bible, so he resorts to 'getting into God's head', so to speak, to avoid bringing his beliefs in line with the written text.

If an author is standing there and able to correct a personal or even widespread misunderstanding of his or her work, then we could put some weight on using authorial intent in our analysis. But inferring any interpretation wholly apart from the immediate text under consideration is beyond risky. It is capricious.

When Moses revealed the Law, he states repeatedly it would be an eternal statute to Israel. Then we see prophets such as Jeremiah amend that position to say there would be a new covenant. Then we have the NT authors telling us that time had come in Jesus Christ. In essence God made his authorial intent known by telling his People via prophets what was intended. They didn't exegete it from the texts, and then try to figure it out. He plainly told them. LDS follow that model of interpretation and revelation. Thus the Church has no "systematic theology", because the revelations of God stand on their own.

Authorial Intent is important in composition and correction, but since it is a matter of doctrine for Leonard and others that God is done talking except through his existing revelation, the Bible, then adding the dimension of "authorial intent" is an invalid interpretive method, seeing that it actually requires assumptions about a text without revelation as to its correctness.

In other words, Authorial Intent has all the benefits of a manipulative cult without the claims to inspired leadership. Not exactly a firm foundation.

Go Share Your Faith said...

Bob anti,
I guess we don't agree on what Authorial intent actually is:

My point was that what the author meant is what the text means...period...we can't do what we want to it to suit ourselves.


In fact ALL historical documents are read in this way..are they not?

You just stated otherwise...if that's the case...then we cannot know anything of history because (except for very recent history) all of the authors are dead and cannot tell us directly face to face what they meant by what they wrote...

Now that's a ludicrous position but one that has to be adopted by the Mormon considering their ever changing doctrinal world.

Bob the Anti-Anti said...

Hey Go Share,
Your explanation of what Authorial Intent is, aligns with exactly what I said. So I am not sure we have a disagreement.

I have repeatedly said that use of Authorial Intent to reach conclusions not included in the text is sheer self-deception, especially in the case of Leonard's use to avoid the need to conform his beliefs with the Biblical text. If you contend that what is written is what the Author Intended, then that is the most logical approach to a text which seems to be intact. There are texts, such as Jonah, which is obviously not complete, so there could be more.

But Hebrews seems to be complete, and for someone who claims the text is perfectly preserved to then leave the text in favor of an unscriptural philosophy (the view one cannot lose their salvation), then one must conclude that their Bibliolatry is actually second to their self deception. Wouldn't it be nice if they followed the Bible's teaching on not attacking other people's faith? My column would disappear, but that is a sacrifice I would be happy to make.