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So Who Wrote the Bible? — A Conversation with Terryl Givens
So Who Wrote the Bible? — A Conversation with Terryl Givens

Faith Matters

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As we have collectively turned our attention to the study of the Hebrew Bible, what is known to most Christians as the Old Testament, we at Faith Matters turn our attention to a perennial question: Who actually wrote these books?

We plan to have at least a few conversations in the coming year on how to engage the Hebrew Bible. To kick it off, we invited Terryl Givens to our studio to help us frame some of the big-picture issues, for example:

Who wrote the Bible?

How should we read it?

What theological and ethical dilemmas does it force us to confront?

How is it relevant today?

As you might expect, it was a candid and fascinating conversation. We hope you’ll leave this conversation asking better and deeper questions as you engage the books of the Hebrew Bible.

Tim Chaves: Hey everybody. This is Tim Chaves from Faith Matters. Recently, there’s been quite a bit of conversation among the Faith Matters team about our own study as we plow through the Old Testament this year. Obviously, this is a book that can be at its best uplifting and inspiring, and at its worst troubling or even faith shaking. Sometimes it presents view of God that is aligned with the loving parental God that we talk about at church. And at times a darker, angrier God seems to take over. One thing that we can say about it with certainty though, is that it’s a book more than capable of starting a conversation.

Tim Chaves: So today we’re doing that and we’re asking what’s going on here? What is the Bible and where did it come from? What are the different genres that it presents to us and how can we approach each in healthy ways?

Tim Chaves: And is there anything particularly special about the King James Version? We brought in none other than Terryl Givens for this conversation. And we absolutely loved the insights that he shared. For most listeners of this podcast, Terryl needs no introduction. But suffice it to say his insights were as expansive, helpful and hopeful as they always are. And just a heads up. We are planning to have at least a few conversations relating to the Old Testament throughout the year, getting various perspectives and voices to add layers of understanding and discernment as we move through it. Thanks so much as always for listening. And we hope that you enjoy this conversation as much as we did.

Aubrey Chaves: All right. Well, Terryl, welcome back. We’re always excited to have you.

Terryl Givens: Thanks. Good to be here.

Aubrey Chaves: We’re excited to talk about the Old Testament today. This is, I think probably arguably the most difficult text that we study with our church congregation. So, we’re hoping that you can establish some basics for us today. We’re going to talk about some context, how the Bible was compiled and by whom and how to most effectively engage the text.

Terryl Givens: Sure. Just with a caveat that I’m not an Old Testament scholar.

Aubrey Chaves: Right, but you’re our favorite scholar.

Terryl Givens: So, let’s get that straight.

Aubrey Chaves: So, we were curious if as you consider this year in all 30,000 plus congregations of our church studying the Old Testament together, is there anything about this that worries you?

Terryl Givens: Yeah. It keeps me awake at night.

Tim Chaves: And I also know you are a Sunday school teacher.

Terryl Givens: I am a Sunday school teacher. Yeah. A lot of the enterprise of studying the Old Testament as a lay church without a professional clergy or trained scholars concerns me because the Old Testament is deeply problematic in a number of ways. Or maybe I should say, our culture has made it problematic unknowingly.

Terryl Givens: It strikes me that if a visitor were to step into a typical gospel doctrine class studying the Old Testament, he would come away thinking, “Oh, these people subscribe to the Chicago statement on inerrancy. They’re all fundamentalists.” Because there is this drive in our scripture culture to make everything consistent, to make everything seamless, to make everything speak with one voice.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: And you just can’t even begin to do that while respecting the nature of the Old Testament and its history and composition.

Terryl Givens: And so, that’s the first, I think, red flag that comes up in my mind. I think there’s much of benefit, much of value in the Old Testament, but we have to start with, I think, a recognition that it’s not… I mean, even the Book of Mormon isn’t one book, right? You have a couple of voices that dominate. Mormon’s editorial work and Nephi’s small plates. And so, there’s a kind of consistency to the tone and vision of those two voices, and it makes sense to think of them and as editors authors. But we know virtually nothing about the authorship of the Old Testament. It is a compilation that arose over time in phases, but in no systematic, organized way that we have record of. There weren’t councils that deliberated and then said, “Well, this is canonical and this isn’t.” There isn’t one presiding editor.

Terryl Givens: And so, for a long time now going all the way back to German scholarship in the 19th century and even beyond, there’s been a general recognition that there are many authors, many traditions feeding into even the first five books. The Pentateuch or the the Torah. And so even today, there are various schools of criticism, contending hypotheses as to how many traditions there are.

Terryl Givens: Many scholars still talk about the documentary hypothesis. The J-E-P and D. That we have one tradition that uses Yahweh for God. One tradition that uses Eloheim. So those are the J and E. There’s a priestly tradition and there’s a Deuteronomic tradition. So the P and D. Today, they’re more likely to talk about the priestly tradition and non priestly traditions. So, all of that stuff is very complicated and the subject of controversy.

Terryl Givens: But the point is that we can see even in the text that has come down to us, inconsistent voices.

Aubrey Chaves: Right.

Terryl Givens: Even within the space of a few verses. And so we have to stop, desist from this effort to try to make everything kind of cohere in a simple, straightforward way.

Tim Chaves: Yeah. And what do you say to the listener who says, “Well, we believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly.” And so, potentially we only have that one out. Right? Which is if something’s wrong, it must be a translation problem. Otherwise, I’m all in, which is not too far from inerrancy.

Terryl Givens: Yeah. Yeah. That’s true. First of all, I point out a number of things about the articles of faith. First of all, they were written for a non-Mormon audience. Right?

Tim Chaves: Right.

Terryl Givens: And so it’s clear that part of what Joseph Smith is doing with these articles of faith is trying to allay the concerns of a suspicious uneasy public that we are in fact Orthodox in most of the essential ways. Right?

Aubrey Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Terryl Givens: I mean, think about article faith one, we believe in God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost. We’re not going to tell you that we think they’re embodied, in separate means.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: But we’re going to … So, it makes it sound like we’re Trinitarians for heaven’s sake.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: And so …

Tim Chaves: Well, that’s interesting.

Terryl Givens: As an evangelizing faith, we want to have common ground with those that we’re teaching and talking to. And so sharing the Bible is an important step in that direction. But you need to counterbalance that article of faith, with the many statements made in the book of Mormon and by Joseph Smith, where he talks both about those, the loss of plain and precious things. And then he also uses the word, the interpolations of men.

Terryl Givens: And so Joseph Smith made it abundantly clear that he was not part of this liberal Protestant tradition that was, excuse me, of the evangelical tradition that was working toward a model of inerrancy. Quite the contrary. Much of his work, as he understood it was to repair the damage. He retranslated the Bible and it’s as if there was just too much damage. And so he gives us the Book of Moses as kind of, an addendum, but also corrective to many of the incorrect definitions, descriptions of God and his interactions that take place in the Bible.

Terryl Givens: So, it’s also the case that in very recent years, both Elder Oaks and Elder Holland have used almost identical language to say, “We do not believe the scriptures are the source of ultimate truth.” They both use that exact language. Right? They say the spirit is the source and the scriptures are an imperfect kind of reflection.

Aubrey Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Terryl Givens: That is filtered through culture and history and individual fallible minds.

Aubrey Chaves: Over and over.

Terryl Givens: Over and over and over again. Yeah, absolutely. And so I think the important thing is to approach the Old Testament with respect and with deference and with a kind of intellectual humility that we don’t have all the answers and we can’t all make pieces fit together perfectly.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. And I totally recognize that we cannot become biblical scholars in an hour, but I think it is really helpful to understand a little bit more about what you mentioned about documentary hypothesis, because if you’re really holding on to trying to make everything feel cohesive and looking for meaning in every verse, it can be almost instantly problematic. So, and I feel like there’s low hanging fruit. There’s low hanging fruit where you could actually open up your own Bible and recognize a few different voices.

Aubrey Chaves: So, could you just introduce us, for someone who has never heard of the documentary hypothesis? What do you mean? What do you, what are you talking about, the J and the P.

Terryl Givens: Right. Well, there is a school of Jewish thought Hebrew thought in which Elohim is generally used as the name of God. But sometimes the name Yahweh is used. And so that is generally attributed to a different strand of thinking.

Aubrey Chaves: People say Yahweh, some people say Elohim.

Terryl Givens: Exactly.

Aubrey Chaves: And that’s like your tell. That’s how you know who’s talking.

Terryl Givens: Exactly. So both terms make it into the text of the Old Testament. There’s another tradition that is extremely preoccupied with the law, with legalism and with the book of Deuteronomy. And so those are called the Deuteronomists. And then there is another tradition that is generally called the priestly tradition that is particularly oriented around priestly observances and rituals and rights and so forth.

Terryl Givens: And so sometimes, like, there’s a moment in Exodus where Moses goes up to the Mount to receive the plates. And one can actually see, you can just read it today and you can see that there are three different versions that are indiscriminately mingled, because one moment, Moses going up with Joshua, the next moment he’s going up with 70 elders and in the third moment he’s going up by himself. And there are three different occasions in which the text says, and then Moses went up into the Mount.

Terryl Givens: So it’s as if, and this is how I really like the scholar, John Barton, who’s written a wonderful history of the Bible. And he says, it seems clear from the patchwork nature of these narratives, that the compiler wasn’t trying to make a story, a seamless story, like a novel, he was compiling an archive. And I think that’s a magnificent image to have in mind that it’s like this repository of numerous accounts, versions, traditions, stories, and the editor isn’t taking upon himself to reduce it to one coherent narrative. But it’s there as a library of stories and myths and legends and prophecies and so forth.

Tim Chaves: So, tradition has it that Moses was the author of the Torah essentially. Right?

Terryl Givens: Right.

Tim Chaves: The first five books of the Old Testament. Has that been successfully refuted at this point?

Terryl Givens: Well, it’s certainly is the consensus among biblical scholars that that’s erroneous. In the same way that very few classical scholars think there was a Homer who wrote the Ilian and the Odyssey. Homer is more the name of the culmination of various oral traditions that took a certain form in the eighth century.

Terryl Givens: The problem with Moses as author has been recognized ever since we find in those first five books an account of Moses’ own death. So that’s little peculiar.

Aubrey Chaves: Right.

Terryl Givens: That you could narrate your own death. So I don’t … One principle in fact, when I was teaching gospel doctrine to start this year, the first thing before we opened the Old Testament is I wrote on the board, a statement. It’s attributed to John Wesley, but it was pretty much just a reformation principle.

Terryl Givens: And he said, “I wish the Christian world unity in essentials, liberty in things indifferent and charity in all things.” And I think that should be a mantra for our study of the Old Testament, is that I think our problem is over belief, more than under belief. We think we know more than we do. And so we back ourselves into corners all the time by taking as dogma, what is really just speculation or trying to fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of the gospel.

Terryl Givens: And so if we could just hold more things in a neutral abeyance, while we wait for either revelation or scholarship to fill in some of these blanks.

Tim Chaves: Yeah. Let me lay out a potential series of dominoes falling for a more traditional, or literalistic believer who’s hearing this and saying, “Well, if Moses didn’t … If Moses didn’t write the Torah, essentially, then we don’t know who wrote it. It may not have been a prophet, a prophet by the traditional Latter Day Saints understanding, and if that’s not the case, then where did this story of Adam and Eve come from? Is it literal? And if it’s not literal, then what do I even know about the creation of the world? Or the purpose of what does that mean about the fall? Which, what does that mean about the atonement?” So how do you deal with that?

Terryl Givens: Well, I think you’re asking a good question.

Aubrey Chaves: A slippery slope.

Terryl Givens: And there’s the answer is, well, there isn’t any simple rule or metric or standard that we can appeal to. There just isn’t. And that’s why I think in our restoration tradition, especially what’s emphasized again and again, and again is the personal confirmatory experience of the spirit. We have to be our own interpreters when the brethren have not authoritatively spoken on these matters. And as a rule, they don’t speak a lot on matters of scriptural interpretation.

Terryl Givens: So I think there, again, the question is what are the questions that matter most? And I remember asking Richard Bushman once. We were having a conversation about the flood, and I said, “What are your feelings about a God who would destroy the entire planet in a flood?” He said, “Well, I don’t think the question is whether that particular story is true in its details. I think the more important question is what’s the lesson we’re supposed to learn from that?”

Terryl Givens: So I think it’s also important to recognize that revelation and inspiration take place on sliding scales. And I think the church itself has acknowledged that in very public ways in recent years, especially. If you think about the Joseph Smith Papers Project and the publication, and the facsimile edition of the Book of Revelations, and what do we have there. We have a holograph of the recorded revelations, in the scribe’s hand on one page. And on the other page, we have a transcript with seven different colors of ink capturing seven different editorial intrusions that Joseph Smith asked his colleagues to contribute. And so obviously Joseph didn’t think that in these cases, revelation was just stenography of a divine voice. It was an attempt to grapple with intonations and heavenly inspiration.

Terryl Givens: And so I think different prophets have different agendas and preoccupations and have different cultural frameworks. And so I think we get varying degrees of inspiration in the scriptures. Some that are more relevant and I think more pure as they came from the mind of God, and we should expect that. And I think we need to remember that in the New Testament, which has a much less complicated history, even there we find discordance between the apostles. And we find discordant voices, seemingly discordant between James and Paul.

Aubrey Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Terryl Givens: To which Luther’s response was, “Well, let’s just throw out the book of James.”

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: And so just recognize that these flaws and imperfections are part of it. In fact, can I read something that I brought?

Aubrey Chaves: Oh, please, yeah.

Terryl Givens: I thought it would be particularly useful. Many of us have heard the phrasing from a letter Joseph Smith wrote to W.W. Phelps about the frustration of working within the limits of language. But I’ve never heard the entirety quoted and the entirety bears repeating because he complains about quote, “The little narrow prison almost as it were total darkness of paper, pen, and ink, and a crooked, broken, scattered, and imperfect language.”

Terryl Givens: So this is a prophet, saying, “I am continually constrained by the limitations of language.” And trying to get this into concise, accurate grammar and diction. But this is the rest of the quotation that I think is so powerful. He anticipated a future day when God would quote, “Hold up the dark curtain so that we might read the round of eternity to the fullness and satisfaction of our immortal souls.”

Terryl Givens: So, do you get what he’s … Right? This is the prophet in his capacity as prophet and seer and revelator saying, “I don’t have the full picture. I’m struggling with an imperfect language.” So we’ve got to, I think, reshape our expectations of prophetic discourse.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: Accordingly.

Tim Chaves: Yeah. And is it possible that this interpretation that’s by the spirit that is required of us can’t or shouldn’t at least happen in isolation. That it’s … I think Peter N says that the Bible should open onto a wisdom conversation.

Terryl Givens: Well, yeah. I’m glad you asked that question. I’m glad you asked it that way because I expected one of the questions today might be, well, then what is the value of the Old Testament?

Aubrey Chaves: Well, that was the question I just wrote down. Why is it a holy book?

Terryl Givens: And so, let me just say a few words about what it means to be part of a cannon.

Aubrey Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Terryl Givens: One of the functions of a canon is to provide a basis for common conversation and community.

Tim Chaves: Love that.

Terryl Givens: And so, that in and of itself is a hugely important function. We have this book of inspired discourse and it creates the basis for our interactions and our struggles to understand ethics and morality and the divine will. It’d be kind of a useless anarchy if everybody brought to Sunday school class, their own favorite text, right?

Terryl Givens: Just all engaged in free for all.

Aubrey Chaves: That would be fun sometimes.

Terryl Givens: So, I also love the analogy that has been used by a Jewish writer on the scriptures. He said, compares it to the Temple Mount. And he says, look, we know, somewhere on that Temple Mount was the actual temple, but we don’t know exactly where. And so, we take off our shoes and treat the whole Mount with the reverence. And, that’s at least how I try to approach the scriptures. I know that God’s fingerprints are there.

Aubrey Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Terryl Givens: I know not everywhere. Brigham Young said some parts were written by man, some by angels and some by the devil. That’s not a quote you’re probably going to hear at General Conference.

Aubrey Chaves: That’s another mantra that would be useful. Yeah.

Terryl Givens: But if we treat the entirety of the canon as this Holy Relic that has its flaws and cracks, then I think that’s the proper attitude with which to approach scripture.

Aubrey Chaves: I like that. And then even when you are running into something that is causing a lot of dissonance, that in itself can be a holy activity. Recognizing, this is not the God that I believe in.

Terryl Givens: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. It reminds me of Nicolai Berdiov who’s my current favorite inspired, prophetic voice. And, he says in one of his books, he was a great Russian theologian, wrote in the early 20th century. And he said, “Sometimes the most moral activity you can engage in is atheism.”

Aubrey Chaves: Wow.

Terryl Givens: And what he meant by that was, it depends on what your options are.

Aubrey Chaves: Right.

Terryl Givens: And what kind of God is available to you through your culture and sometimes …

Aubrey Chaves: Wow.

Terryl Givens: Rebellion and discontent is the most godly response we can have to a troubling episode.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: I think we need to imitate the Jewish mindset more in their willingness to treat God as a grownup. And what I mean by that is we tend to be so afraid of disappointing or challenging or, and there’s a Jewish saying that whenever a rabbi wins an argument with God, God dances. And so I think he can take it if we push back and we question and we interrogate in ways that reflect the pain of our souls.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: And the agony of our search.

Aubrey Chaves: Wow. That’s such a great point. Before we move on from just the structure of the Old Testament, can we just finish walking through the rest of the book? So we have, we talked about the Torah. After that, do we know anything about how those books were compiled?

Terryl Givens: We don’t. The Hebrew scriptures, which is the Jewish name for what we call the Old Testament, is divided into three fundamental parts. The Torah, the way, the teachings or the law, first five books of Moses. And then you have the Nevaem, which means the writings of the prophets. And then you have the Ketuveem, which is a kind of miscellaneous of other writings. And so there’s a recognition right there that there are radically distinct genre. And if I learned anything from 30 years in the literary profession, it’s that rules of interpretation shift from genre to genre. Patterns of meaning change and shift. Authorial stance and perspectives change. And so you don’t read a Psalm the same way you read …

Aubrey Chaves: Leviticus.

Terryl Givens: The Chronicles or Leviticus.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: And so Latter Day Saints especially seem reluctant to appreciate what it means to talk about writings as a group of stories, in many cases. John is a story and Jobe is a story and Esther’s a story and heaven help us if we think that Jobe’s opening scenes are an accurate eyewitness account. If God and Satan gambling over human destinies in this frivolous way.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: So the book of Job, especially is clearly written as a kind of drama, where it’s so tightly structured in scenes and acts and highly stylized in its speech. And so, instead of wasting time asking silly questions about how historically accurate are these details, can we just get to the moral of the story that is being narrated?

Aubrey Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Terryl Givens: We have Psalms which even within the book of Psalms, we have multiple genres. We have Psalms of protest and Psalms of lament and Psalms of supplication and Psalms of celebration and praise and many times, the Psalms do no more than give expression to anger and frustration and hatred against enemies and conditions. And so, it isn’t the case that we should read the Bible as literature, but we should read it with sympathy and respect for the literariness of the prophecies and the Psalms and the stories that are there.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Tim Chaves: So, as we move through the year then, let’s say somebody’s really wanting to do that and read it with those things in mind. But, they don’t know necessarily where to go to understand which genre are reading and maybe what those best practices are for reading and interpretation of that genre. Do you have rules of thumb or where could someone go to learn?

Terryl Givens: I don’t, there isn’t any one source. There are many, many good reliable sources and reference works, I think, for Old Testament studies or biblical studies in general. For the New Testament, I like Raymond Brown’s introduction to the New Testament. For the Old Testament, like I said, I like The History of the Bible by John Barton. My favorite and most utilized reference is probably The Interpreter’s Bible, which is, I don’t know, 12 or 15 volumes.

Aubrey Chaves: Wow.

Terryl Givens: And it’s magnificent because it gives two different translations of every passage. It gives background, it gives cultural context and it gives interpretive commentary. And so I think, in my view, the most important talk given in the last 50 years by an apostle was Elder Ballard’s 2016 talk to the CES educators around the world. And among other things, he said, “We have failed to prepare our young people for the challenges of the real world.:

Terryl Givens: And he’s talking about courses of instruction. He also said that if you don’t know something, if you’re having questions about an important point or issue, he said, “Go to the scholars, go to the experts.” So, it was really the first time in my lifetime, that the brethren have said, “Look, we need to broaden our perspective and our purview. And we need to appreciate and avail ourselves of the best scholarship that exists.” And for too long, we’ve had this boogeyman of the apostacy there in the background. And that we’re the only ones that have access to truth.

Aubrey Chaves: Right.

Tim Chaves: Right.

Terryl Givens: And so I think we need to avail ourselves of really good scholarship on both the Old and New Testaments. So that’s something we can do.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. I’m curious. Looking for the moral of a story feels pretty intuitive when a story is complicated and you don’t want to believe that God and Satan were gambling. I think that’s generally what people do is like, “Okay, well, what can we learn from this story?” But, what is there to learn from the law? Those books, feel really out of reach.

Terryl Givens: Yeah. Well, okay. Let me give a concrete example.

Aubrey Chaves: Okay.

Terryl Givens: I had a close friend back at Richmond who was an observant Jew, and so he didn’t eat hamburger, cheeseburgers.

Aubrey Chaves: Okay.

Terryl Givens: And if they can afford it, observant Jews will even have two separate kitchens, one for dairy, one for meat. Okay. Why is that? Well, it’s because a non-Jewish person looks at that and says, “Well, that’s a bit extreme.” And that’s a bit fair say, but if you understand that what’s at the root of that, there is a prohibition given in the Old Testament that thou shalt not see the kid in its mother’s milk. Okay? Now, I don’t know why. I can imagine. There’s just something grotesque about boiling a young child in the mother’s milk.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: But for whatever reason, the Jewish attitude to that is, “I have such a love for God and for his law, that I’m going to make sure I can’t even by accidents, do that.”

Terryl Givens: So, I will keep the kitchens separate so that I never mingle those two things. So. I think if you understand the law as the Jewish mindset does. As an expression of God’s love and, and you want to revere and reverence it, I think reading something like the Book of Leviticus that might be deadly, dull, and seemed so absolutely irrelevant to us, but it tells us something about the attentiveness to detail, the desire to comply with God’s commands in the least particular.

Aubrey Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Terryl Givens: And I think that’s something that we should be able to read and appreciate and learn something about the love of law. There was a prophet, I think, was it President Benson who said, “The true disciple makes obedience a quest.” I’ve always loved that. Because what he meant is if you love God and understand the reason for the law, then you’re not looking for reasons to escape it. You’re looking for reason to comply.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: And so I think that’s one way of thinking about the value of those books.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. That’s great. Yeah. Thank you.

Tim Chaves: Can we do one other example genre?

Aubrey Chaves: Oh.

Tim Chaves: If we were to talk about the Book of Ecclesiastes, for example.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Tim Chaves: All is vanity. I read this recently and felt like I’m depressed and I think potentially the author of the book of Ecclesiastes is depressed.

Aubrey Chaves: So is, and so is he, yeah.

Tim Chaves: He’s depressed. There may be a mental health issue going on here. What do you get out of that or what might be the conversation to be had around a book like that?

Terryl Givens: I think if one puts it in the context of the larger assemblage of books, that constitute the Bible, it’s as if we are having … We’re being validated.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: I think, in moments of despair and crisis, we’re being told that even a godly people striving to keep the covenant have occasions when they are completely incapable of seeing the light behind the darkness. And so I think that the book of the … That the Bible is in many ways a record. If there is any thematic unity to it, it would be the record of a people striving to live up to the promises that God has made to them.

Terryl Givens: And so we see their successes, but we also see their failures and we see their moments of despairs well as their moments of jubilation. And so, I think we should be no more disconcerted by the bleakness of Ecclesiastes than we are by Psalm 137, which is by the waters of Babylon we wept and we wanted to dash the brains of the little children against the … Right? That’s horrific. But it, how else can we empathize with the trauma of a people who feel their God has abandoned them after centuries of being people of the covenant.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Aubrey Chaves: So, and just an extension when it comes to the, even more horrific stories, the genocides, do you even wrestle with it? Do you just say, that’s just not my God. How comfortable are you just moving on? I’m uncomfortable finding meaning in it. I’m uncomfortable every time it comes up in a Sunday school class and we all try to make it beautiful. It’s just not the God I know. I just want to throw it away.

Terryl Givens: Yeah. There’s some pretty prominent voices in the Mormon academic community today who are writing and have written recently on the subject of the violence of God in 30:59, for example. They’ve come up with some pretty interesting justifications and rationalizations, I respect them all. I and Fiona, however, think that Moses seven was given by direct revelation in our day, in the context of trying to correct the damage done to the plain and precious truths. And so it has a higher place in our canon of inspired writ. And so for us, the God who weeps with us and sorrows with us is the standard by which we evaluate what we think are some less than inspired depictions and scriptures. And I think a lot of times what you get in scripture is writers trying to justify themselves by invoking God’s name and authority.

Terryl Givens: And sometimes I think that’s sincere. They really believe they are instruments of God’s will. And other times I think it’s bald rationalization. But yeah, I think we have to come to terms in a way that we feel consistent with the spirit as he, she is communicating with us. I’m mindful, especially of remarks that Elder Holland made just this past week at BYU where he said, “God never inflicts destruction on an individual or anything dest-” And he used that word.

Aubrey Chaves: Really?

Terryl Givens: Doesn’t inflict.

Aubrey Chaves: Wow.

Terryl Givens: He wasn’t talking about 13:59. So I don’t want to be taken to misquote or misuse him here.

Tim Chaves: Sure.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: He’s talking about the lives of individuals.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: But even that, it seems to me is a really striking pronouncement to make that God does not inflict pain on you. He does not inflict travail.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: That stuff happens.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: That’s part of the composition of this planet. And so I tend to think that, yeah, God would not personally massacre the firstborn of every Egyptian mother.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: In the court of Pharaoh that he would not glory in burying men, women, and children alive. But that one could justifiably attribute to God, those things, if one has a particular narrative.

Aubrey Chaves: Right. Yeah.

Tim Chaves: Well, okay. This is, I’m just going to run with this tangent for a second because this question has come up on the podcast before, but not with you. So 30:59 has the distinction of being written in God’s voice. So, every other instance of genocide is a human voice.

Terryl Givens: That’s right. That’s right.

Tim Chaves: Speaking about what happened in potentially their interpretation. So in that special case, how do you deal with it?

Terryl Givens: Well, once again, it may be written in the first person, but the words are being written down by a prophet who conceives himself as hearing those words. And he may indeed have heard them, but it may also be the case that that was his spiritual intimation. And that was his interpretation of what he was feeling and seeing and witnessing.

Terryl Givens: And so, I try to be open to those possibilities. Our perspective is limited. It may be that in the eternities God says, well, their suffering was brief, but now they’re back with me. Death isn’t the horror that you think it is. So I’m open to those possibilities. I continue to wrestle.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. And I love that, that reaffirms this idea that these are living books. There’s something really beautiful about the fact that we feel troubled and have to pause and really consider what we believe about God. And isn’t that, wouldn’t that be better for my own growth than a perfect book about beautiful stories of God answering prayers.

Terryl Givens: Yeah.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. Can we talk about different translations? Was it this last conference I think that Elder Ukdorf quoted from the new international version. Wasn’t it Elder Ukorf? Are you remembering this Terryl? Someone quoted not from the KJV and I was so excited because I use the NIV a lot. Just it feels like sometimes I’ll read through the NIV version quickly and then I’ll go to KJV and it’s beautiful and more poetic. And I feel like I absorb a little more because I got the gist of it from something very simple.

Terryl Givens: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Aubrey Chaves: So, but before we go into translations, can you talk about just how we came to hold such reverence for the King James version?

Terryl Givens: King James Bible?

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: Yeah. I think the explanation is pretty simple. I think the fact that it was the, by far the dominant translation in Joseph Smith’s day.

Aubrey Chaves: Okay.

Terryl Givens: It was the one that all of the founders and apostles and prophets and members were familiar with and to clinch the deal, the Book of Mormon gets translated into King James English and cites verbatim King Jamesian language and passages.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: And so that kind of locked us into that.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: There would be a kind of weirdness and disconnect if we’re looking at third Nephi, reading the Sermon on the Mount and then we cross reference it and wait a minute, now the language is different.

Aubrey Chaves: Right. Really different. Yeah.

Terryl Givens: So, I think that’s it. But, I think there is a widespread sense that we need to be open to enhancing our understanding of the scriptures by availing ourselves of other translations.

Tim Chaves: So as far as, would you say that there has never been a prophetic pronouncement of any kind that says that the KJV is the most correct of the Bible translations or …

Terryl Givens: I don’t know that to be the case. And I don’t think anybody would try to make that claim today because we all know that the NRSV for example is more accurate.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: Than the King James.

Aubrey Chaves: So can we go through a few other others that you appreciate or use?

Terryl Givens: Yeah. My favorite …

Aubrey Chaves: For someone who has only ever read KJV, what should you go look up?

Terryl Givens: Okay. My favorite translation is by Kevin Wust and it’s called the Expanded Translation of the New Testament or the Expanded New Testament. So he only did the New Testament.

Aubrey Chaves: Okay.

Terryl Givens: But, let me give you an example of how different the ending of Matthew five is. We all know by heart, therefore be perfect.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: This is how he translates that. Therefore, as for you, you shall be those who are complete in your character, even as your Father in heaven is complete in his being.

Aubrey Chaves: Wow.

Terryl Givens: Sometimes it’s just a matter of tone, but in this case, he’s actually interpreting the grammar very differently. In the original Greek, there is an imperative, excuse me, excuse me. There’s a future indicative. You will be perfect.

Tim Chaves: Rather than the imperative, you said.

Terryl Givens: Rather than the imperative. Now it can, in some circumstances be interpreted legitimately as an imperative. But there are a number of Bible translators who say, well, no, the clear sense of it here is just a future.

Terryl Givens: And, it gives a completely different meaning. In this rendering, what Christ is saying is, okay, I’m giving you all of these directives and challenges and promises, but let me just finish by saying it’s going to be okay.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: You’re all going to be whole. And so to me, it’s one of the most beautiful moments of comfort and assurance to his disciples rather than this imperative that gets debated for the next centuries in Christian theology. Can we be perfect? Would he give us an … right?

Aubrey Chaves: Right.

Terryl Givens: And so that’s probably one of my very, very favorites.

Tim Chaves: That’s really beautiful. Especially because that verse, the KJV version of that verse can be so anxiety inducing.

Terryl Givens: Yeah. Yeah.

Tim Chaves: Just because we …

Terryl Givens: Nobody reads that and goes, “Oh yeah, I’ll get right to it.”

Aubrey Chaves: That’s so inspiring.

Tim Chaves: Exactly.

Terryl Givens: Yeah.

Tim Chaves: Okay.

Aubrey Chaves: That’s a great example.

Terryl Givens: Then there’s just really simple instances of key shifts in translation, David Bentley-Hart, as a whole, I’m not a great fan of his translation, but let me just say a few things about translation theory.

Aubrey Chaves: Okay.

Terryl Givens: There’s really no theory of translation as a science until almost Joseph Smith’s day. And then we get from the Germans like Schliermacher. They start thinking about, well, what are the philosophical and theological problems involved in translating from one language to another? Because there’s a recognition that there is no such thing as a perfect transparent rendering from one language into another. So, Schliermacher says there are two ways we can approach translation. We can either move the writer into the world of the reader. So a good example of that would be, oh, like the blue jeans translation. Right?

Tim Chaves: Right.

Terryl Givens: We’re going to just translate in a hip jargon.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: And the other is you move the reader into the world of the writer. And it seems to me, that’s what David Bentley-Hart is trying to do. So he’s being much more literal in his translation.

Terryl Givens: He uses phrasing that at times is jarring and unsettling or even indecipherable. Because he wants us to experience the weirdness of the New Testament, which is radically undermining and overturning all established understandings of morality and religion. And he thinks we just water it all down with this sweet, nice King Jamesian English.

Aubrey Chaves: Wow.

Terryl Givens: And so there’s also a few key changes he makes like we know in Greek meta no eoh, which we translate as repent. But this is how he translates it in Mark 1:4 for example. King James has that John has baptized in with a baptism of repentance and Hart says he has baptized him with a baptism of the heart’s transformation.

Aubrey Chaves: Ooh.

Terryl Givens: Now that’s one change, but it’s momentous. It’s really enormous. If we really, really could start thinking of repentance as just the ongoing process of the heart’s transformation, it would lose all of the negative pejorative. Penance strewn kind of …

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: Feelings and tone. So, that’s really important too. Robert Altar has done a new translation of the Bible. It’s very highly acclaimed, many, many people love it. One of the very first lines is very memorable there. Set of the earth was, was what, what now? I can’t remember empty and void or oh, and now he calls it welter and waste.

Tim Chaves: Oh wow.

Aubrey Chaves: Really?

Terryl Givens: And the world was welter and waste.

Aubrey Chaves: And is he the one that has multiple, that tells you multiple ways that each word could be interpreted?

Terryl Givens: I don’t think so. No. No. He’s just does a straightforward translation, but with a commentary.

Aubrey Chaves: And his is multiple volumes.

Terryl Givens: Yeah.

Aubrey Chaves: As well?

Terryl Givens: Yeah. It’s three volumes.

Aubrey Chaves: Okay.

Terryl Givens: It’s three volume translation. And then the Jewish Publication Society has a … It seems to me that there should be an inherent interest in reading, well, how do the Jewish people read their Bible that we have appropriated and you get a very different rendering in the very beginning where the Holy Ghost is hovering over the world. And so it kind of evokes a notion of the spirit in a kind of birdlike, brooding over the nest.

Terryl Givens: Whereas, other translations describe the spirit sweeping across the face of the Earth. I have an app that I use, I can really highly recommend it. It’s just called ESOR. And so at a glance, I can open this app up and I have the translations of Luther, the International Standard Version, the Jewish Publication Society, the Latin, the literal version, the art NRSV and a couple of others.

Aubrey Chaves: Cool, yeah.

Terryl Givens: And so you can actually compare them all at once.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: And so I think that’s, I mean, I never study the scriptures without having this ready to hand so that I can …

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: I can kind of triangulate all the possibilities.

Aubrey Chaves: Right. Yeah. Oh, I love that. That’s so useful. Thank you.

Aubrey Chaves: Well, as we, do you have any others?

Tim Chaves: No.

Aubrey Chaves: As we wrap up, maybe could you just leave us with an argument for why we should spend a year together studying the Old Testament? What are your real top reasons?

Terryl Givens: Yeah. Okay. Let me, I’ll give two reasons.

Aubrey Chaves: Okay.

Terryl Givens: One is Joseph Smith seemed to learn from his immersion in the Book of Mormon text, that his one way of thinking about his calling, his mission was to bring together the old and new covenants. So Christianity has been very quick and willing to relegate the Old Testament to relative insignificance.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: Because the general covenant theology throughout the Christian world has meant the Old Testament represents an old covenant, which is replaced by Christ and the New Testament.

Aubrey Chaves: Right.

Terryl Givens: Joseph Smith to my knowledge is the first Christian who comes along and goes, “No, that can’t be right because the covenant originates in the premortal world. And so both the old and new testaments are versions of that covenant.” And so that gives us an incentive to reveal Testament, believing as the Book of Mormon shows that there’s a way to reconcile the law of Moses and the grace of Christ. There’s a way to find a wholeness and a continuity in God’s dealings and interactions with us. So that’s one reason.

Terryl Givens: And the second reason is because if you search the Old Testament, you will find the God of Enoch there. He’s not on every page and you don’t even find him frequently. But let me just give two of my favorite examples of this god. One is in Judges 10 and Judges, of course is notorious as one of the most blood drenched.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: Accounts in the scriptures. But there’s this moment where once again, Israel has disappointed God, once again, he seems to be contemplating just writing them off.

Terryl Givens: And the children of Israel said unto the Lord, “We have sinned. Do thou unto us whatsoever, seemeth good unto thee. Deliver us only. We pray thee. And they put away the strange gods from among them and served the Lord. And the Lord’s soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.”

Aubrey Chaves: Whoa.

Tim Chaves: Wow. I did not remember that.

Terryl Givens: That’s pretty powerful.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: Right? It’s like he sees them, he sees their contrition, he sees their genuine grief and he shares.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Terryl Givens: In their sorrow. And then the other one is, I just think there’s something absolutely incomparable about the relationship that develops between Moses and God. Anybody who thinks of God in Trinitarian terms or in absolutes or philosophical abstractions seems to me, hasn’t really read the story of Moses’ encounters with God, in Verse 30, section, chapter 33 verse 15 of Exodus.

Terryl Givens: The Lord has once again, effectively said I’m just, I’m done with you. And Moses said unto God, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not a pence. For where, and shall it be known here that I, and thy people have found grace in thy sight. Is it not that thou goest with us? So shall we be separated? I and thy invite people from all the people that are upon the face of the Earth?” And the Lord said unto Moses, “I will do this thing also that thou has spoken for thou has found grace in my sight. And I know thee by name.” It doesn’t take more than a few verses like that to tell me this is a record worth studying because God can be revealed in it.

Tim Chaves: Beautiful.

Aubrey Chaves: Thank you so much, Terryl. Yeah.

Tim Chaves: Brilliant as always Terryl.

Terryl Givens: Well …

Tim Chaves: Really appreciate you.

Terryl Givens: Thanks. Good to be here.

Tim Chaves: Okay. Thanks so much for listening. And we really hope that you enjoyed this conversation with Terryl Givens and as always, if faith matters content is resonating with you and you get a chance, we’d love for you to leave review on Apple podcasts or whatever platform you listen on. It definitely helps get the word out about faith matters, and we really appreciate the support. Thanks again for listening. And as always, you can check out more @faithmatters.org.

For more resources on scriptural historicity and the origins of sacred texts, check out these episodes of the Faith Matters podcast:

Thom Wayment – A New Translation of The New Testament

Does Book of Mormon Historicity Matter? Terryl Givens with Joseph Spencer

God’s Many Voices — A Conversation with Michael Wilcox

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