Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Are Divine Translations "Perfect"?

[The following was written by LDS professor N. L. Nelson in 1913 and was published in the Deseret Evening News. It was part of a lengthy response to the pamphlet written by the Reverend Franklin S. Spalding's, entitled Joseph Smith Jr., as a Translator and addresses the issue of imperfections in Scripture].

Is it not about time, my dear fellow worker, that we gave up that foolish proposition, which forms the backbone of your inquiry, viz., that any document put forward as a divine revelation must be "flawless" by all the human standards that happen to be in vogue at the time?

Suppose a given revelation, touching upon controversial matters, were in fact pronounced flawless by the best human learning of the day; would it not still be full of "inaccuracies" to  advanced intelligences, like the angels, or even to earth-people who are to live a century in the future?

Again, if God's perfection must be mirrored in every document which his voice proclaims to be "true;" then we should have a revelation utterly meaningless to man till such time as he shall attain to the same perfection. To make this plain, we have only to suppose the modern geological explanation of creation to have been given to the ancients instead of the account in Genesis. What meaning could it possibly have had for them? Such a bit of modern truth injected out of relation with all the rest of the thoughts and experiences of the race for several thousand years to come? But could God not have revealed a sufficient arc of creation, as modern science now understands it, so as to bring- the ancients nearer to truth?

The answer is no. First, because to do so would violate the fundamental principle of divine education, the absolute need of self-effort to psychic development; and, second, because the more truth he would reveal, as moderns see truth, the more would the mental life of the ancients have been confused; just as the truths now known to intelligences a million ages in advance of us, would, were they imposed upon our intellects by divine fiat, serve only to blight our spiritual development. For though we might hold such "truths" reverently, they would not be "true" to us, any more than a stone would be digestible, because held in the stomach. That only is true to any one which can be felt to be true; i. e., which can be assimilated, and incorporated  with the body of his experiences. Man may and should hold reverently many things, because of the authority that utters them; but they will become true to him only when the time comes that they can be woven into the tapestry of his soul-life.

In the third place, any considerable revelation of modern science, could not have been made to the ancients, out of sheer failure of being able to voice it. Nay, even the symbols necessary to convey the thought were not in existence.

Consider as an illustration the case of the Prophet Mormon himself. Suppose, after God had commanded him to make, from the tomes of Nephite records at hand, the abridgment now known by his name — suppose, I repeat the divine Spirit guiding him, had held him up, whenever there came into his mind an aspect of botany, zoology, geography, astronomy, or any other such Nephite experience, the expression of which would not be up-to-date with what the Spirit might foresee would be known of these things in the twentieth century. Would not his pen have been paralyzed every little while? Suppose the Spirit of Inspiration had then, against his will, seized his hand and written those passages wherein his knowledge failed to measure up to what would be the exactions of modern truth — would he, Mormon, have stood for such passages? Would they not have seemed unintelligible, not to say false, to him? And would they not have been essentially false as a portrayal of the life of an ancient people?

Now, such a supposition is foolish, from the fact that divine inspiration could not thus have seized the ancient writer's hand, for that would have been violating man's free agency. The Book of Mormon may thus be "true," both as reflecting truly, by its very inaccuracies, an imperfect people, and as being fitted, even by its very short-comings, for assimilation by the poor and lowly of another people 1,500 years in the future.

That is true for us which is fitted to awaken and keep growing our soul-life, however incorrect it may be as measured by a more perfect standard. Genesis was therefore the "truest" document concerning the creation that could have been revealed to the ancient world: and considering the class of souls God meant to draw together for the foundation of his Church in this dispensation, the Book of Mormon is also "true" — truer, indeed, than a more perfect revelation — a revelation classic in diction and flawless as to scientific concepts — could possibly have been.

[N. L. Nelson, “An Open Letter to Bishop Spalding,” Deseret Evening News, February 15, 1913].

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.