Setting aside a point-by-point response to Licona’s argument for the proof of the historicity of the resurrection presented indirectly in the previous post (Which, for the record, is not really convincing to me, especially the points where he says that “100% of scholars agree” (seriously, does such proposition really exist?) I think the reliability question that Tim has raised is an important question for both Evangelicals and Mormons and I think there are some interesting differences in how they seem to approach the question.
Of course the Bible is not very reliable on all kinds of things, such as the definition of Pi, the classification of birds and insects, etc. (most Evangelicals agree on this as well) but the critical question is it a reliable witness for the things that are not seen?
I think some Mormons and most Evangelicals believe in some form of the theory that the writers of the Bible were directly guided to write what they put down on paper (metal or papyrus, as the case may be). That through some “mystical” experience these writers were directed to put the words that ended up on the scripture page. If you believe this theory,(which is not established within the text), the bible is almost by definition reliable.
Some Mormons seem to have a more open understanding of how the bible was written. Understanding it was written by men who were essentially similar to the leadership of the church today, they understand that a multitude of different opinions can be expressed in many scriptural genres without a compelling reason to accept each statement as words from God’s Mouth. The New Testament, excluding the Revelation of John is written from some guys’ perspective, the Gospels and Acts are narratives from (ostensibly) one person’s perspective and the epistles are sermons similar to LDS conference talks. I think from a Mormon perspective we can see that the sermons of Paul and the other Apostles could go wrong by overemphasizing things that those men thought was important and underemphasizing other topics, Mormons also can recognize that they might have just got things wrong on some points (just as we can see this in latter-day apostles’ writings and sermons).
I think some Mormons could say that we listen to prophets and believe the scriptures because they resonate with the source of truth that is inherent to us, our spirit and God’s.
I think writings that claim to be direct revelation from God are more problematic, but I think we should read the statement “according to me” after the statement “Thus saith the Lord” when we read the D&C as well as Revelation. Others may disagree but I think it only makes sense to understand all revelation as coming through a spokesperson who has the ability to put words in the Lord’s mouth wittingly or unwittingly to make the message make sense. Those who believe in this sort of revelation simply don’t have the phenomenological equipment to explain how the voice of God speaks through man since 1) extremely few people have ever had the guts to speak in this manner and 2) those that did haven’t explained the process very well and it usually comes to us second hand. Therefore I class the “thus Saith the Lord” scriptures in almost the same category as other scriptures.
I think some Mormons could say that we listen to prophets and believe the scriptures because they resonate with the source of truth that is within us. The Bible is reliable if an when it speaks from the Spirit.
To such an LDS, the scriptures are reliable in the message that resonates with the Spirit of God and if they are unreliable in every other way then we can live with that.
Evangelicals like Tim seem to be much more rigid, appearing to say that if the scriptures are not reliable as historical documents then we can trust the message, and therefore making the historical accuracy a near tenant of faith.
While Christianity is eminently a historical religion, which depends on the historical events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, I think it’s goes a bit too far to allow historical evidence to either make or break your faith, especially considering the multitude of ways you can interpret historical events.
I think an absolutely central principle to my faith (and Mormonism) is that every person has some ability to determine right and wrong and to discern things of God just as children recognize their parents voices. I also think that there is something central to Mormonism regarding knowing the truth through living it. I.e. We can “know of the doctrine” if we do His will. These sorts of measures of are not really mystical at all but they are not particularly scientific either.
I think Brigham Young explained the Mormon position quite well:
“I believe that the Bible contains the word of God, and the words of good men and the words of bad men; the words of good angels and the words of bad angels and words of the devil; and also the words uttered by the ass when he rebuked the prophet in his madness. I believe the words of the Bible are just what they are; but aside from that I believe the doctrines concerning salvation contained in that book are true, and that their observance will elevate any people, nation or family that dwells on the face of the earth. The doctrines contained in the Bible will lift to a superior condition all who observe them; they will impart to them knowledge, wisdom, charity, fill them with compassion and cause them to feel after the wants of those who are in distress, or in painful or degraded circumstances. They who observe the precepts contained in the Scriptures will be just and true, and virtuous and peaceable at home and abroad. Follow out the doctrines of the Bible and men will make splendid husbands, women excellent wives, and children will be obedient; they will make families happy and the nations wealthy and happy and lifted up above the things of this life. Can any see any harm in all this? … “Now, if we can take the low and degraded and elevate them in their feelings, language and manners; if we can impart to them the sciences that are in the world, teach them all that books contain, and in addition to all this, teach them principles that are eternal, and calculated to make them a beautiful community, lovely in their appearance, intelligent in every sense of the word, would you not say that our system is praiseworthy and possesses great merit? Well, this is all in that book called the Bible, and the faithful observance of the principles taught in that book will do this for any family or nation on the earth.” Journal of Discourses, Vol.13, p.176, Brigham Young, May 29, 1870. Cf. JD, Vol.13, p.235 – p.236,
JD, Vol.14, p.99, Brigham Young, August 8, 1869 – “We believe the Bible and practice it, as far as our weaknesses will permit. Not that we do it perfectly; as it has been stated this morning, we have darkness, unbelief, ignorance, superstition, and our traditions to contend with and overcome; and they cling to us to that degree that we can hardly overcome them.”