Monday, July 22, 2013

Seek Ye Out of the Best Books: An Approach to Academic Study and Faith

According to one of the early revelations of Joseph Smith, the Latter-day Saints are commanded to "teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."[1]

In a classic article on the inner meaning of the Bible in Medieval Judaism, Frank Talmage provides food for thought on the role that secular, academic study of scripture can play for the believer.

"When the late Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac ha-Kohen Kook, was asked concerning the legitimacy of the findings of modern biblical scholarship for the pious Jew, he replied... that although one need not blindly accept them, neither must one blindly reject them: "For the purpose of Torah is not to tell us simple facts and stories. Its essence is that which lies within (tokh), the inner elucidation of the material." If anything, he continues, should modern biblical scholarship challenge traditional understanding of the Torah, all the better! For it will spur on the pious Jew to probe more deeply and search out the Torah's profounder intents."[2]

In other words, we need not fear challenges posed by secular, academic studies of scripture even when they contradict or challenge our beliefs. Some of the findings are legitimate, others are not. However, even those which are not still serve a valuable purpose by encouraging us to dig deeper into the meaning of our scriptures. We needn't always take a conservative stance in regards to scripture, where the litmus test for the validity of academic studies is whether or not they conform to and confirm our presuppositions. Academic study can transform our understanding and bring us closer to truth when we use it as catalyst for seeking deeper knowledge, even "by faith."

[1]Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.

[2]Frank Talmage, "Apples of Gold: The Inner Meaning of Sacred Texts in Medieval Judaism."

No comments:

Post a Comment