JOSEPH FIELDING MCCONKIE and ROBERT L. MILLETT. First and Second Nephi. Volume 1 of Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987.
JOSEPH FIELDING MCCONKIE and ROBERT L. MILLETT. Jacob through Mosiah. Volume 2 of Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988.
Mormons have traditionally viewed theology and theologians with suspicion. Without a tradition of continuing revelation, other churches must rely on theologians to interpret scripture and chart doctrinal direction. But in the Mormon tradition, which proclaims that living prophets resolve doctrinal issues—and even supplement the canon—of what use are theologians? Allowing a place for theology seems to suggest either that the prophets have been insufficiently clear or that there is something worth knowing that they have not told us. Mormonism’s practical bias also militates against theology: isn’t our time better spent doing the word rather than merely studying it?
This is the dilemma facing Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet as they undertake their Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon. On one hand, they are adamantine in their conviction that “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . . is led by prophets and Apostles, men with seers’ vision” (2:169). For them, the corollary to this truth is that all essential and relevant questions have been answered. But if that is true, what need is there of mere scriptural explicators like themselves? The authors’ response to this dilemma is bold: “In writing a commentary on the Book of Mormon it is not the authors’ intent to suggest that a proper understanding of this marvelous book of scripture requires the interpretive helps of trained scholars. Further, we make no pretense to being such” (2:xiii, emphasis added). I emphasize the last sentence because I find it remarkable that professors of ancient scripture, writing about ancient scripture, would not at least make a pretense to being trained scholars. Nevertheless, their point is clear: you don’t need a scholarly commentary to properly understand the Book of Mormon.