Changes to the Bible Dictionary

scripture_study1_400 (1)The church recently announced a new edition of the scriptures noting that “more than 99 percent of the adjustments are in the study aids.” I spent some time looking at one of those aids — the Bible Dictionary (BD) and compared some entries with the old version.

A summary of types of changes to the BD lists spelling, capitalization, reference corrections, reformatting (including the creation of subtopics) and factual / historical corrections.

I found examples of all of these, such as changing the spelling of “Judaea” to “Judea,” or changing historical data in the entry for “Temple” (the date of the destruction of the temple is changed from 600 B.C. to 587 B.C, and the reconstruction “almost a hundred years later” is changed to “almost 70 years later”).

Other types of changes provide slight shifts in meaning. For example under the entry for “Spirit” the reunion of the body and spirit will result in a body that “will be immortal and perfected” rather than “not [being] subject to aging and death.”

I found some of the other changes to be more interesting. They seem to serve a purpose other than the categories described in the summary of changes. Below are a few examples. I’ve added emphasis to underscore the changes.

Adultery

To the rather clinical description of adultery, the new edition adds a stern warning to readers:

Severe penalties were given in the Old Testament for adultery; and unrepentant adulterers will suffer the judgments of God in the world to come.

The added sentence seems to infer a relationship between suffering from God’s judgments in the next world, and punishments exacted in the Old Testament for adultery. [1]

Revelation

This entry was adjusted to remove the once prominent position of Presiding Patriarch from the list of revelators. The office was discontinued in 1979 when the previous edition of the scriptures was being released (1979 & 1981). The old entry reads:

In the Lord’s Church the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, and the Patriarch are prophets, seers, and revelators to the Church and to the world.

In the new entry, the Church Patriarch is no longer included with those considered prophets, seers and revelators.

This office was first held briefly by Joseph Smith, followed by his Father Joseph Smith Sr., and through various descendents (and a brother) of Joseph Smith Sr. The office held high prominence, considered above that of the Council of the Twelve for a period of time. Some thought the Patriarch had the right to succeed the president of the church and become the next prophet.

However, problems with various Patriarchs plagued the patrilineal office leading to its eventual demise. Problems started when the last surviving brother of Joseph Smith, church Patriarch William Smith, was excommunicated by Brigham Young. Further problems occurred over time with substitute patriarchs, gaps in the office, a release for immoral behavior, etc… Eventually President Spencer W. Kimball did away with the office.  Today the last church Patriarch Eldred G. Smith remains alive at age 106, and would have been the longest living and longest serving General Authority if he had not been granted emeritus status 34 years ago (for perspective, Thomas S. Monson was six years old when he was first considered for the office).

Eldred G. Smith, Emeritus Patriarch of the Church

Holy Ghost

Several lines in this entry had modifications. For example,

More powerful than that which is available before baptism, it acts as a cleansing agent to purify a person and sanctify him from all sin”

becomes

For those who receive this gift, the Holy Ghost acts as a cleansing agent to purify them and sanctify them from all sin.”

The idea of a less powerful influence of the Holy Ghost for those not baptized apparently needed to be removed. The new entry goes on to use the gender-inclusive “them” rather than “him.”

Fall of Adam and Eve, Resurrection, and Death

The title of the entry “Fall of Adam and Eve” was originally “Fall of Adam.” I’ve reproduced the portion of this entry that has modifications. Underlined items were removed, and bolded items were added.

… The fall of Adam and Eve is one of the most important occurrences in the history of man. Before the fall, Adam and Eve had physical bodies but no blood. There [were / was] no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations. With the eating of the “forbidden fruit,” Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, blood formed in their bodies, and death became a part of life. …

Three changes occurred:

  1. Eve is now included as part of the fall[2]
  2. The idea that blood formed as part of the fall was removed
  3. The absence of sin, death and reproduction stands by itself, no longer qualified by “any of the earthly creations”

adam-eve_580x399Related changes occurred in other sections. For example the old entry for “Resurrection” says resurrection “means to become immortal, without blood, yet with a body of flesh and bone” but the new version removes “without blood.”

The old entry for “Death” says “there was no death on this earth for any forms of life before the fall of Adam” but the new entry omits “for any forms of life.”

Joseph Smith taught there would be no blood in resurrected bodies. [3] The idea that Adam was without blood in the Garden of Eden may have originated with Orson Pratt. [4]

Some questions came to my mind as I looked through these changes:

  • Why was the concept of blood being generated as part of the fall removed? Why is it no longer listed as part of the resurrection?
  • Could the changes to the Fall of Adam and Eve be to lessen Adam-God ideology?
  • Why remove the suggestion that investigators have access to a less-powerful influence of the Holy Ghost?
  • Why choose to emphasize the severity of the Old Testament punishments rather than a gentler New Testament approach (such as Jesus’ “go and sin no more”)?
  • What can be inferred by removing “among any of the earthly creations” from a description of conditions before the fall?
  • How do feminists feel about including Eve as part of the fall?

1. The BD entry for “Punishment” describes stoning, burning, and even hanging the dead punished body in a tree, all punishments applicable to adultery.

2. The entry for Eve is the same except for the addition of 1 Tim. 2:13 as a reference verse, which states “For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”

3. Joseph Smith said “Flesh and blood cannot go there [where Adam and Jesus are] but flesh and bones quickened by the Spirit of God can” [Faulring, Scott (ed.), An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, Oct 9, 1843]

He also stated “when our flesh is quickened by the Spirit, there will be no blood in the tabernacles” [Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, May 12, 1844]

4. See WWE blogger David Tayman’s 2011 critique of the Bible Dictionary’s discussion of blood and the fall where he traces the origin of the idea of Adam gaining blood at the fall to Orson Pratt in May, 1853. It appears David’s proposed changes to the BD were either prophetic, or his advice was taken.

Comments

Changes to the Bible Dictionary — 22 Comments

  1. Thank you for taking the time to compare the new and old editions.
    As excepted the changes are rather subtle.

    I don’t think the changes to Fall have anything to do with A-G ideology. It’s probably just to make the entry more scriptural. Scriptures don’t say anything about blood being formed as result of the fall. It might be that it was in A-G context that this theory originated, but it has long ago detached from it.

    The emphasis on OT punishments is interesting.

  2. Awesome! Thanks for this work, Clair. And thanks for linking to my old blog post re: No Blood Before the Fall. Before I made that post, I did send an email to the Curriculum Department with an early version of it, noting that the BD entry made that assertion without any scriptural or authoritative references, and suggested its inclusion was more of a hindrance than helpful. I then set out my research for the origins of the concept. I received an email back with a note thanking me for my thoughts, and that my concerns would indeed be forwarded to the Scripture Department for review.

    I’ll probably never know if this directly led to its removal, but in my world, I like to think it did *grin*

  3. Given that, according to Jesus, to “look on with lust” is adultery, for the sake of understanding how many will yet be Redeemed may yet deserve a refreshed entry in the dictionary on “Repentance” and “Grace,” et al.

  4. The key problem with the Bible Dictiionary – and also all biblcial study helps – is that the Church really doesn’t have an official department for biblical studies. It has an official Church History Department, with access and experts for all the material.

    The Church doesn’t have an ‘Ancient Scripture Department’ – and it doesn’t count BYU’s wings to be such at this point. The Church still relies on earlier GA’s quotings of outdated scholarship (Talmage. McConkie, JFS) to be the official allowable quotable word when it comes to correlated material. Unless we get at the very least a Seventy assigned as Ancient Scripture Historian (perhaps under the direction of the official Church Historian and Recorder?) to oversee a scholastic endeavor, we will continue to see fantastic scholarship in regards to modern church and doctrine, while our official biblical scholarship continues to lag far, far behind.

  5. Well, something you bring up here is rather disappointing for me – not because you bring attention to it, but because you confirm something I’d feared: that they’d changed the entry on the Fall to allow for evolution (as you’ve quoted it) only to change it BACK to being Creationist. Here’s how one part of it reads now on the Church website:

    “After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal. Adam’s Fall brought both physical and spiritual death into the world upon all mankind (Hel. 14:16–17).”

  6. Also, I remember hearing sometime a whole theology of blood that linked having blood to the ability to reproduce, with reference to Moses 6. The things people dig up on the mission and hold close, eh?

  7. I am grateful for all of you who study the scriptures prayerfully and with real intent. I know these changes will continually take place until we are all perfect and one in Christ Jesus. Thanks. Every new find gives us greater understanding and commitment that we are headed in the right course for our eternal salvation. Press forward and carry on, I will continue with thee alway. Reading this made way for more light and understanding. We are all human and err.

  8. “Why choose to emphasize the severity of the Old Testament punishments rather than a gentler New Testament approach (such as Jesus’ “go and sin no more”)?”

    Because that doesn’t instill fear… ;)

    In all seriousness, though I could be remembering wrong, but in a course I took from Bart Ehrman (it’s probably in his books as well) he stated that the earliest Greek versions of the NT didn’t include the Adultery story.

  9. Riley (#9): It’s not necessarily that early NTs didn’t include the adultery story, but that scholars are pretty certain it wasn’t an original part of the Gospel of John. (But that would assume a full-on plunge into higher criticism, and I think the GAs -in a church without many resources to deal with that- are understandably wary of doing so.)

  10. Fascinating post, Clair. With the removal of the doctrine of bloodless resurrection bodies, the Church becomes a little more credible but also a little less interesting. As someone who cares more about the latter characteristic than the former, I must confess I’m slightly disappointed. :)

  11. Dave T., I can’t help but wonder if your idea of taking blood out of the fall was given serious consideration by the church — and then they took it even further, and removed blood from the resurrection too (even though taught by Joseph Smith).

    Removing such stuff from the Bible Dictionary may be part of the de-McConkie-ization of official church materials (Mormon Doctrine is no longer in print and references to it were removed from the Gospel Principles manual. Today we prefer to emphasize our similarities with other Christians rather than our differences).

  12. “I must confess I’m slightly disappointed.”

    See what you’ve done, David. =)

  13. Michael H., while there may be an item removed that could open the door towards a more evolution-friendly Bible Dictionary, it would still be difficult to make a case for an evolution tolerant view in the Bible Dictionary IMO. As I read the “Fall of Adam and Eve” entry, I can’t see how one could make such a case. Take a look:

    ‘Before the Fall, there were … no death, and no children. With the eating of the “forbidden fruit,” Adam and Eve became mortal… and death became a part of life. Adam became the “first flesh” upon the earth (Moses 3:7), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal. After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal.’

  14. Clair (#14): I’m not only talking about the removal of the “blood” line. I see now that my first comment was unclear. In an earlier online version -from which the author of the OP seems to be working, and which I remember reading- there was also no reference to the idea that “the whole creation fell” with Adam and Eve.

    This would leave the BD open to the idea (forwarded by some LDS, so I’ve heard) that the world, plants, and animals were created mortal, but Adam and Eve alone were immortal in the Garden, while removing a good number of McConkie’s objections to evolution as a principle. While it wouldn’t wholly be concordant with evolutionary thought, believing in human special creation is better, IMO, than complete Young Earth Creationism.

  15. Without Eve’s transgression, there would be no children.The spirit children would never be born. There would be no chance of return to Heavenly Father. Eve’s transgression was necessary.

  16. Mike, Re#15: Ah, I see where you’re coming from. Yes, removing that line takes a step in that direction.

    These materials really don’t help those who want to try to build some sort of evolutionary framework from church materials.

  17. Pingback: An (Updated) Bible Dictionary?

  18. This is very ironic. I joined the Mormon church precisely because it wasn’t like other Christian churches. The distinctive doctrines that upset everyone else are exactly what I was looking for: baptism for the dead, me as a younger brother of Jesus, etc. I still have McConkie’s books and read them. Ditto Brigham Young.

  19. bonkers – I think in and of itself, acknowledging the fallibility of the understanding and interpretive lenses of earlier apostolic and prophetic figures (ancient and modern) while being willing to welcome further divinely inspired adjustments to the understanding of the Sacred Narrative is, in fact, a significant point of departure between LDS and many other Christian groups.

  20. David Tayman – I think that makes you sound like you don’t have very much actual experience with “many other Christian groups.” The fact that you grew up Pentecostal notwithstanding.

  21. Kullervo,

    I think I expressed my thoughts in terms that were perhaps more general than I had intended. What I have observed in many (and I was very careful not so even say all or most), is that while there is a willingness to acknowledge and embrace doctrinal adjustment, it generally comes in the form of acknowledging new clarity on the full meaning and intent of the original scripture. IE, there is not often room to say Modern Leader X has received information that corrects Ancient Scripture Y, but rather that through study, we have found that our earlier expositors misunderstood Y. The concept of authoritative declarations that trump scripture, or having modern expositors that have more insights and can authoritatively correct biblical errors appears very rare, and those that do are generally viewed outside the mainstream anyway.

    It’s a double-edged sword, and still faces tension on the LDS community. While many are quick to accept as authoritative new statements and meanings by modern leaders that trump the ancient canon, it also finds it hard to reconcile modern ideas that trump strongly stated ideas from earlier modern apostles.

    In many ways, in many streams of LDS thought, it can be easier to adjust to an updating of the Canon than it is to update the ideas of Post-Canonical Apostolic thought.

    This, I think, is a key reason why many LDS are far more troubled by a less-than-perfect view of their history and apostolic figures than other traditions are.

    For LDS, Church History is part of the Sacred Story, and on par with scripture. I know of very few other Christian churches where their modern legacy is given any where near as much a status as the Ancient Canon.