Sunday, November 27, 2011

Forged: Thou Art Peter?

“[T]wo books bear Peter’s name [in the New Testament], the letters of 1 Peter and 2 Peter.  Both claim to be written by Peter, but there are solid reasons for thinking that Peter did not write either one … There is less debate among scholars of the New Testament about the authorship of 2 Peter than for any of the other books [in the New Testament] sometimes considered forgeries.  Whoever wrote 2 Peter, it was not Simon Peter.”

~ Bart Ehrman, Forged

“The Prophet Joseph Smith said that ‘Peter penned the most sublime language of any of the apostles.’”

~ LDS Bible Dictionary, “Peter, Epistles of”

Today’s Invictus Pilgrim Book Club post continues a discussion of Professor Bart Ehrman’s book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, moving on to Chapter 2, which addresses writings that are attributed to the Apostle Peter.

As should be obvious from the lead quote, Professor Ehrman and other scholars believe that 1 Peter is likely a forgery.  But, as Ehrman points out, scholarly opinion about 2 Peter’s authorship is overwhelmingly on the side of it being a forgery.  I’m not going to go into all the details of his arguments here; I invite readers to read Ehrman’s book and come to their own conclusions.  In the case of 2 Peter, “one of the reasons virtually all scholars agree that Peter did not actually write this letter is that the situation being presupposed appears to be of much later times.”

Apart from the theological anachronisms in Peter’s epistles, Ehrman argues that the chief apostle was almost certainly illiterate.  He came from a backwater area, Capernaum in Galilee, “ … a backwoods Jewish village made up of hand-to-mouth laborers who did not have an education.  Everyone spoke Aramaic.  Nothing suggests than anyone could speak Greek … According to Acts 4:13, both Peter and his companion John, also a fisherman, were agrammatoi, a Greek word that literally means ‘unlettered,’ that is, ‘illiterate.’”

“[T]he book of 1 Peter,” writes Ehrman, “is written by a highly literate, highly educated, Greek-speaking Christian who is intimately familiar with the Jewish Scriptures in their Greek translation, the Septuagint.  This is not Peter.”

It is interesting to note that Joseph Smith believed that the Epistles attributed to Peter were in fact written by him.  In point of fact, so far as I am aware, Joseph accepted all the books of the New Testament on their face value, making only translation “fixes” in places, but never rejecting any of the books as forgeries – which is still the position of the LDS Church (as per the Bible Dictionary).

So, I thought it would be interesting to look at 1 and 2 Peter to see what verses from these books loom large in LDS usage and doctrine.  I welcome discussion.

A Royal Priesthood

1 Peter 2:9:  “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Wives in Subjection

1 Peter 3:1:  “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands …”

Salvation for the Dead

1 Peter 3:18-20:  “For Christ, also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; [Some of whom] were disobedient [in the days of Noah, while] the long-suffering of God waited, while the ark was preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.” (Bracketed words being corrections made by Joseph Smith)

1 Peter 4:6:  “[Because of this,] is the gospel preached to them [who] are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live [in the spirit] according [to the will of God.]

[Note that this, if I am not mistaken, is the only place in the Bible that discusses salvation for the dead, except for Paul’s reference to those whom are baptized for the dead.]

The Great Apostacy; Second Coming

2 Peter 2:1-2:  “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.  And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of …”

2 Peter 3:3-4: [Joseph Smith translation bracketed:] “Knowing this first, that [in the last days] there shall come scoffers, walking after their own lusts. [Denying the Lord Jesus Christ,] and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things [must] continue as they [are, and have continued as they are] from the beginning of the creation.” 

I highly recommend reading Professor Ehrman’s book to get the full flavor and nuances of his arguments.  They are, needless to say, very thought-provoking for all Christians, but in a special way for Latter-day Saints – on which subject I will defer elaboration until a future post.

In the next post on this book, we will take up a discussion of the books in the New Testament which are attributed to Paul but which are thought to be forgeries.

To join the Invictus Pilgrim Book Club Facebook group, go here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Simply Saturday

"The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference."

~ Elie Wiesel


I couldn't resist including the next two photographs
taken by a friend as he came around the corner of the bargain book aisle
at Barnes & Noble in Murray, Utah:


[Referring to the above photograph]
I just can't stomach this -
the thought of those girls being raised in that kind of a setting

~ Sheri Dew (2004),
Former Counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency,
CEO of Deseret Book


“God created us to be lovers.”
~ Jimmy Creech

“We cannot affirm people
and deny their relationships.”
~ Jimmy Creech

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Reflections: Is Being Gay “Worth It”?

At this Thanksgiving time, I'd like to revisit some thoughts written in response to a comment I received last spring with respect to one of my blog posts.  The gist of the comment was that I should go back into the closet because 20 years of “sowing wild oats” was not worth giving up “exaltation”: 

“Sincere question for you here … Assuming you're 45, and will live to be 76, you're approximately 60% of the way through your life. Up to this point, you've been a faithful member of the Church, paid your tithing, etc. So, you've only got 40% of life to go and if you can just keep on the path for that last stretch, you'll very likely receive exaltation and be together with your family, as the LDS Church teaches.  On the other hand, if you choose to live a homosexual lifestyle, you've got, on average, 31 years (assuming you're 45) left. Keeping in mind that after 65 you're pretty much "old" (no offense intended) which brings the "wild oats" years down to roughly 20. Are those 20 years worth it … [i.e.,] worth what you're giving up?”

In other words, is being gay "worth it"?

Implicit in this question is a false dichotomy.  It is implied that I will be giving up my “exaltation” if I “choose to live a homosexual lifestyle” during the next 20 good years I have left (assuming, for purposes of this discussion, that what is meant by choosing to “live a homosexual lifestyle” is that I will live openly as a gay man, which would include experiencing the gamut of emotional, romantic and sexual emotions and experiences typically associated with life as a heterosexual.) 

A “false dichotomy” has been defined as “a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are other options.”  The false dichotomy in your question is this:  either I can deny who I really am and gain exaltation (by staying in my heterosexual marriage) or I can embrace who I am and lose exaltation. 

The Perverse/Queer Faustian Bargain

My first answer to the question accepts, for the purposes of discussion (only), this false dichotomy, i.e., the premise that I will lose “exaltation” if I choose to live the rest of my life as a gay man.  Having accepted this premise, the short answer to your question as to whether or not it is “worth it” is – YES!

Why would I make such a decision?  Because to do otherwise would result in a perverse (or, one might say, “queer”) Faustian bargain, in which I (continue to) sell my soul, i.e., my integrity or who I really am, in exchange for “celestial favors” (instead of diabolical ones).  You know the story? The legend of Faust, as told for example in Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s play, tells the story of a scholar who, in his desire to acquire even more knowledge and wisdom, signs a pact with a devil, Mephistopheles, to serve the Devil in the post-mortal life in exchange for the Devil’s agreement to serve Faust throughout his life. 

Similarly, put perversely, a queer Faustian bargain would require me to agree to reject, hate and despise my true self and live a lie throughout mortality in exchange for what the Church teaches is the ultimate purpose of human existence, i.e., to gain eternal exaltation.

I have lived by such a bargain for the past 25 years.  I am no longer willing or even able to do that.  My reasons are the same as those expressed by others who commented on my original post.  As Trey Adams commented, “hanging on to misery and living an anguished life of deception and pretense is not part of God’s plan of happiness.”

“A mere twenty years?” continued Trey. “Time is very relative. Twenty years lived well is a life-time; twenty years lived in misery is an eternity. If you haven’t experienced hunger you cannot relate to the hungry; if you haven’t known defeat you cannot fully appreciate victory. You hold up the Celestial kingdom as incentive for hanging on for a mere twenty years more. You don’t understand that a Celestial Kingdom is a disincentive for some of us. I personally have no desire whatsoever to go to the celestial kingdom if that means living with a woman, let alone my wife.

I echo those sentiments, though I loved my wife and, in a way, always will – but not in a way that is natural between a heterosexual male and a heterosexual female.

"Nor past nor future now the soul employ,
The present only constitutes our joy."
~ Goethe, Faust

I wonder:  would a heterosexual member of the Church be willing to live his entire life living contrary to his nature, living a lie, constantly hiding, being taught to hate himself because of who and what he really is, constantly feeling “unworthy,” constantly striving but never truly “hitting the mark” – all in exchange for a promise that, if he does these things – if he gives up who he is for who he may be – he will inherit a condition in the eternities that is also totally contrary to his true nature? 

A Different Paradigm

The second answer to the question remains:  YES! 

This time, however, I arrive at my answer by a different approach which rejects a false dichotomy and is based on the following beliefs: one’s sexuality is innate and not a choice; living one’s sexuality is a natural and God-given expression of self; being gay is not only about same-sex attraction, but about living a whole gamut of natural human emotions; gayness is a God-given attribute and, as such, is “good” in His eyes; God wants gays to fill the measure of their creation and to find joy in this life; and, lastly, in the many mansions in our Father’s kingdom, there are undoubtedly many with same-sex households.

When I first joined the Church, one of the things that appealed to me about the “restored Gospel” is that it rejected the traditional Christian concept of heaven and hell.  Joseph Smith cut right through that Gordian knot that has flummoxed theologians, philosophers and humanists for centuries, shedding light on various statements by Jesus and Paul and creating a new framework in which to view the eternities. 

The composite picture that emerged depicted a loving Heavenly Father and Savior whose purposes are to bring about the immortality and eternal happiness of men and women.  It depicted, among other things, a system of eternal “rewards” that reflects the eternal love, justice and mercy of God by creating an eternity that is perfectly and individually suited to each one of Heavenly Father’s children (see, e.g., Sections 76, 88, 130 and 131 of the Doctrine and Covenants).

The elation with which I first greeted this doctrine faded over the years of my membership in the Church as I saw it mutate into something that looked very much like the standard Christian dichotomy of heaven/hell:  exaltation vs. everything else.  This dichotomy became part and parcel of the Great Mormon Dichotomy (the subject for another post at another time) in which EVERYTHING is placed into one of two piles: one labeled “Good”, the other labeled “Bad”; one white, the other black; one “right”, the other “wrong”; one “correct”, the other “incorrect.”

Well, I reject the Great Mormon Dichotomy and choose instead to embrace the principles enunciated by Jesus and Joseph Smith.  I believe Jesus when He stated that in His father’s house are many mansions and that He was preparing a place for me.  I rest in that.  I don’t know what that place will look like, but I’m satisfied that, if Jesus is preparing it, it will suit me just fine.  Meanwhile, I’m going to get on with the business of living this life – the only one I’ll ever have.

"He who strives on and lives to strive
Can earn redemption still."

Goethe’s Faust
(Act V, 11936–7)