Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Rule of Interpretation

What is the rule of interpretation? Just no interpretation at all. Understand it precisely as it reads. - Joseph Smith, TPJS 276

In the last post, I noted that current science, if correct, vindicates the literal text of D&C 89 - "hot drinks are not for the body or belly," with the operational word being "hot," which is a word denoting having a high temperature - just exactly that simple.

But even if the science turns out to be incorrect, the interpretive issue remains, for me, settled, leading to the following question: why did I ever listen to anyone tell me what the scriptures mean? Well, once upon a time, I did not have experience and trusted people I thought were trustworthy on topics I knew nothing about. A natural, developmental mistake.

Now, I recognize that the difficulty in understanding scripture comes from lack of experience in the things the scriptures speak of. When we attach meaning to words without understanding, we may well not be speaking of what the scriptures are speaking of when we use the words - indeed, it seems to me this is almost inevitably the case. For example, to those who have not been baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, the phrase "baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost" communicates no real meaning. It becomes an abstract symbol, relating in unknown ways to other concepts. When we assert meanings, and then interpret other things by those asserted meanings, well, our readings are only as true to God's word and intended meanings as our assumptions are.

Better to not pretend to knowledge - direct experience - one doesn't have. The path to experience is calling upon the name of the Lord in mighty prayer, even until one has faith in Christ, and from thence keeping his commandments, praying always. The promise is if we do this, we will always have his spirit to be with us, and will therefore be able to comprehend the things of God.

A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity--thou must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imaginations of the human heart! None but fools will trifle with the souls of men. - Joseph Smith, TPJS p. 137