Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gay Gospel Doctrine Class: So How ‘Bout them Hebrews?

This is another in the Gay Gospel Doctrine Class series of posts that takes a lesson from the LDS Church’s (Adult) Gospel Doctrine class and presents it from a gay perspective.  Today’s lesson is based on Lesson #37 in the Gospel Doctrine Manual (“The Author and Finisher of Our Faith”) and was prepared by yours truly.

It never ceases to amaze me when, upon looking at a lesson in the GD manual and wondering how the heck I can present it from a gay perspective, ideas come and the results are, well, amazing – at least to me.  I always learn new things and gain new insights.

This happened with today’s lesson.  I looked over the material.  Stuff we’ve all heard dozens of times.  How lots of stuff in Hebrews bolsters LDS doctrine and interpretation of scriptures, etc.  Teachings I have taken for granted for years, which are encapsulated in this description from the LDS Bible Dictionary:

“The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jewish members of the Church to persuade them that significant aspects of the law of Moses, as a forerunner, had been fulfilled in Christ, and that the higher gospel law of Christ had replaced it. When Paul returned to Jerusalem at the end of his third mission (about A.D. 60), he found that many thousands of Jewish members of the Church were still “zealous of the law” of Moses (Acts 21:20). This was at least ten years after the conference at Jerusalem had determined that certain ordinances of the law of Moses were not necessary for the salvation of gentile Christians, but had not settled the matter for Jewish Christians. It appears that soon thereafter, Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews to show them by their own scripture and by sound reason why they should no longer practice the law of Moses. The epistle is built on a carefully worked-out plan. Some have felt that the literary style is different from that of Paul’s other letters. However, the ideas are certainly Paul’s.”

So, I thought:  What the heck am I going to do with this?  When I started Googling Hebrews, however, my eyes were opened to a whole world of Biblical scholarship of which I was totally unaware, and a broader perspective gradually started taking shape.

For example, the Bible Dictionary casually comments that “some have felt that the literary style [of Hebrews] is different from that of Paul’s other letters.”  Numerous websites that I consulted, however, all confirm that the overwhelming consensus among Biblical scholars is that Paul did not write Hebrews, for a number of reasons.  See, for example, the expositions here and here.

The Bible Dictionary also states that that the main purpose of the epistle was to persuade Jewish members of the church “that significant aspects of the law of Moses … had been fulfilled in Christ.”  Contrast this with, again, a wide consensus among the rest of the Christian world that the epistle was written “to a group of Jewish Christians who had endured persecution and who were therefore considering giving up their Christian faith to return to Judaism.”

“They had suffered a severe persecution in which they had been made a public spectacle (cf. Hebrews 10:32-36). Their persecutors had publicly insulted and troubled them for sympathizing with other Christians who were being mistreated and imprisoned. The Jewish Christians themselves had not been imprisoned, but they did have their homes and property seized and confiscated. None of their number had been martyred for their faith in resisting sin, though they faced this possibility in the future (cf. Hebrews 12:4). To escape such persecution, they were considering abandoning the Christian faith and returning to Judaism. For this reason the author urged them not to throw away the confidence of their faith but to endure and stand fast.”[1]

So what’s the big deal?  Only this:  As I read this material and was confronted with the stark contrast between the official LDS interpretation of this book of scripture vs. what the vast majority of Christian scholarship posits in respect thereof, I found myself becoming angry.  It made me angry that I had simply accepted the “party line” for so many years.  It made me angry when I wondered how many other times I had been fed correlation pablum that props up an “official” interpretation of scripture that is not based on revelation but on someone’s own interpretation (probably originating with Joseph Fielding Smith or someone of his ilk).  It made me angry when I thought of how the Church turns its back on scholarship from other faiths and disciplines in favor of its own interpretation which, in the eyes of someone, supports a unique LDS worldview and theological superstructure.

It was then that I thought particularly of the Church’s 19th century-ish party-line interpretation of the biblical passages that supposedly condemn homosexuality.  (And keep in mind that the Church’s views on homosexuality are based solely on these Biblical passages – as there are no scriptures in any other book in LDS canon that speak of homosexuality – and implied interpretations of LDS “plan of salvation” doctrines that have gradually become “doctrine”, as for example was the case with the “Negro” issue.) 

We in the Church have simply accepted the leaders’ interpretation of Biblical passages dealing with homosexuality (which no church leader in recent memory – at least insofar as I am aware – has had the courage to quote publicly, relying instead upon oblique references thereto), when the fact of the matter is that there is a growing consensus among Christian Biblical scholars that these passages do not condemn homosexuality.  See, for example, my blog posts listed here.

So, the moral of this week’s lesson should be obvious.  Comparing what the rest of the Christian world teaches about the Book of Hebrews to what the LDS Church teaches about Hebrews should open our eyes and our perspective that all of this difference, as well as a number of other differences (such as with respect to the scriptures dealing with “homosexuality”) cannot simply be explained away by “continuing revelation.”


  1. Thanks for the research on Hebrews! Like many Mormons, I know little about the book outside LDS orthodoxy.

  2. I've been reading a book which discusses a lot about this issue. It's called, "Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are" and it's by Bart Ehrman. It's incredibly well researched and written in a very accessable style.

    Of course it makes it rather difficult when I teach New Testament in Gospel Doctrine because there is quite a bit of material which the lesson rely upon which is just not historically supported; such as books which scholars agree were written after the time of Paul; stories which were added even later.

    When these truths are ignored and when the modern church relies on the "doctrinal" passages which were, let's be honest, forged by others who had a point to make, it makes me feel like they're being disingenuous.

    Anyway, it's a good read, and I highly recommend it.