Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion

Latter-day Saints are Bible-believing Christians, but with a difference (xx). Such is Philip Barlow’s central thesis. According to him, that difference lies in part in the unique relationship which existed within Mormondom between the Bible, the American religious climate of the early nineteenth century, and the prophetic and creative spirit of the Mormon founder, Joseph Smith. In addition, Barlow indicates that over time an ecclesiastically sanctioned, doctrinal conservatism diminished the impact of some of the more creative luminaries within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, thereby leaving Mormons with “no developed theory or doctrine of scripture adequate for a modern world” (226). In essence, the book attempts to examine the sociological context in which LDS biblical interpretation arose, along with how the Bible was interpreted by select representatives of the Latter-day Saint faith. In the later portions of his book particularly, Barlow contrasts the principles he perceives to be at work among Mormons with the interpretive practices at work in other Christian traditions. Chief among the practices used for comparison is the historical/critical methodology currently employed by numerous Protestant and Catholic biblical scholars.

This book contains an extended preface, an introduction entitled “The Bible in Antebellum America,” and six chapters on various aspects of Latter-day Saint biblical interpretation: (1) “Before Mormonism: Joseph Smith and the Bible, 1820-1830”; (2) “From the Birth of the Church to the Death of the Prophet”; (3) “Diversity and Development: The Bible Moves West”; (4) “The Mormon Response to Higher Criticism”; (5) “Why the King James Version?”; and (6) “The Bible in Contemporary Mormonism.” The content of each chapter is sketched below. My main interest is to make clear Barlow’s methodologies and main presuppositions.

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