Wednesday, September 08, 2010

DMI Dave, Jonah, and the Rant

DMI Dave posted an interesting comment last Sunday over at Keepapitchinin's "Rant about Scriptural Literalism." Today, I'd like to ask Dave a few questions.

First, be assured that I'm ambivalent about whether the Jonah story is literal or metaphorical. What I want to know is how do past and present "senior LDS leaders" — First Presidency and Twelve — feel about it.

You said: "The CES Old Testament manual ... quotes Joseph Fielding Smith’s defense of a literal reading of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish." Here is the passage in question:

"The account of Jonah being swallowed by a  ' great fish '  has been the subject of much ridicule and controversy on the part of the world. They use this verse as one argument to sustain the belief that the book of Jonah is simply a parable and not a record of historical fact. Speaking to those who take such a position, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said:

" 'Are we to reject it as being an impossibility and say that the Lord could not prepare a fish, or whale, to swallow Jonah? ... Surely the Lord sits in the heavens and laughs at the wisdom of the scoffer, and then on a sudden answers his folly by a repetition of the miracle in dispute, or by the presentation of one still greater....

" ' I believe, as did Mr. William J. Bryan, the story of Jonah. My chief reason for so believing is not in the fact that it is recorded in the Bible, or that the incident has been duplicated in our day, but in the fact that Jesus Christ, our Lord, believed it. The Jews sought him for a sign of his divinity. He gave them one, but not what they expected. The scoffers of his day, notwithstanding his mighty works, were incapable, because of sin, of believing.

" ' "He answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the Prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." '  (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:314–15.) " (Religion 302, Third Edition, 2003, pp.98-99)

You said: "I think Elder Smith’s approach is not the approach taken by the senior LDS leaders of our own century."

If you mean they agree with Elder Smith but they would say it differently, I agree with you. But if you're saying they themselves have become the scoffers, then please tell me, Dave, how does CES do it?

How does CES publish a manual with the Churh logo on its back cover and distribute it to more than 300,000 LDS college students (2009 enrollment) without the approval of senior LDS leaders?

And I'm pretty sure the correct answer is: They don't.

The First Presidency and Twelve are in charge, Dave, not CES or Correlation. Therefore, what's in the 2003 edition of a twenty-nine-year-old manual *is* the approach that's been approved by the senior LDS leaders of this century. You can disagree with that manual if you want to, but you can't claim the support of current Church leaders.

You said: "Sometimes we overstate the extent to which LDS leaders and LDS manuals embrace literal readings.... such views are not in harmony with the guidance given in the [class] manual." But wait. Lesson 33 says:

"During his earthly ministry, the Savior spoke about the  ' sign of the prophet Jonas [Jonah] '  (Matthew 12:39). What did this sign mean? (See Matthew 12:39–41. Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish and then was brought forth alive. The Savior would spend three days and nights buried in the earth and then would come forth resurrected.)"  (p.163.)

In what way, Dave, is the CES manual not in harmony with the Gospel Doctrine manual regarding Jonah? Where, in fact, does any official 21st century LDS media suggest that the Jonah story isn't literal?

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