Ex 7:3: Agency
Robert, I appreciate the way you worded this comment. I wonder, at the same time, whether it concedes too much to the "Mormon theological understanding of agency," which is, as far as I can tell, completely a misrepresentation of every scripture on the subject. This is not to say that this verse does not seem to contradict the scriptural theme of agency (it does), but to say that the problem most Latter-day Saints have with a verse like this is totally misconstrued. I wonder how we should handle very broad misunderstandings (ones that have become part of common parlance) on this site. --Joe Spencer 2006 June 13
- I think using the phrase "Mormon theological understanding" was pretty lazy on my part. I think the focus on this site should be the text of the scriptures and all LDS-cultural notions, and theological implications, must take a back seat to the text that is being analyzed.
- I don't understand your phrase "but to say that the problem most Latter-day Saints have with a verse like this is totally misconstrued." Do you just mean that I should be addressing the scriptural notion of agency instead of the "Mormon theological understanding"? If so, I agree.... --RobertC 03:00, 14 Jun 2006 (UTC)
- On this question "wonder how we should handle very broad misunderstandings (ones that have become part of common parlance) on this site." I agree that such misunderstandings should pretty much be ignored. They may be the reason someone writes commentary but I don't see it as necessary for that commentary to refer to them. --Matthew Faulconer 06:11, 16 Jun 2006 (UTC)
In some way or another it seems that the JST should be addressed. i wasn't sure how best to do that. Thoughts?
I tried rewriting this a few times and ultimately abandoned my rewrites because I was about to throw out the whole thing and begin again. So I thought I should first stop and ask a question here. I wonder if the commentary says something like "we shouldn't read this as contradicting the idea of agency because in ancient Israel they were emphasizing that God was in control of everything." (Please correct me if I am creating a straw man here.) Doesn't the idea that God is in control of everything contradict the idea of agency? This is the classic problem of evil, right? If you just wanted to say in a general sense God is in control of everything (but not specifically make a claim about agency) then it is pretty odd to use as your case, a case where someone's heart is hardened and they make an important decision. --Matthew Faulconer 06:42, 16 Jun 2006 (UTC)
- Regarding the JST, I frankly hadn't noticed it. I think it should should definitely be mentioned somewhere in the commentary. Perhaps the point of tension that the exegesis is emphasizing would be more appropriate somewhere like Deut 2:30 or Rom 9:18.
- I think the point I was trying to make in the commentary is that this phrase may be interpreted as an idiom. If I say "I argued till I was blue in the face," perhaps the statement can be parsed and understood symbolically, but the phrase is not intended to be literal. Exploring the significance of using this terminology may be a fruitful exercise, but to explore the literal significance would be silly. This is what I think is going on here, the writer is using what essentially amounts to an idiomatic expression in describing how Pharoah hardened his heart. I think the JST changes the phrasing to avoid any confusion (but notice there's no JST for Deut 2:30 or Rom 9:18), not b/c the "original text" was written this way (I've seen articles on this topic somewhere—I think there are few scholars who take the view that the JST is an attempt at reconstructing the original text; FAIR may be a good place to start looking for such articles . . . ).
- Anyway, if God is literally in control of everything, then we have a problem. But if God is in control in less of a literal and more figurative way (e.g. the way I have "control of my baby" in the sense that I try to train him to not make too many outbursts during sacrament meeting so that others don't say "that baby is out of control"), then I don't think that contradicts our own agency (it's clear I don't literally have control of my baby, b/c I can't stop him from crying, but I can have a degree of control . . . ).
- Let me know if this isn't making sense and I'll try to explain my point better. --RobertC 11:24, 17 Jun 2006 (UTC)
- I think I just need some more time to think about it. The part I am struggling with is that I know what it means to say someone argues until their blue in the face (after all I've done that too many times). It isn't just that I know it doesn't actually mean the person's face was blue when they finally quite arguing. I also know in what context the blue-in-the-face phrase makes sense. I know what the point is of using this phrase is. On the contrary, though it makes a lot of sense to me to agree that the phrase God hardened pharaoh's heart isn't meant to be taken literally, I don't feel like I understand what the phrase does mean. Of course, maybe this isn't surprising since another culture's idioms are hard to understand. --Matthew Faulconer 05:09, 18 Jun 2006 (UTC)
- To be clear, I don't claim to understand it either. I tend to think of it as related to the LDS view of the fall (esp. how Elder Nelson tends to explain it), that God knew Eve would partake of the fruit and provided the plan of salvation knowing this would happen. So if God is the author of the plan of salvation and the Fall is part of that plan, there is at least some connection between God and the Fall. We typically wouldn't say God caused the Fall, but I do think there's a certain sense one could say that God "authored" the Fall in that he put Adam and Eve in the Garden knowing they'd fall. So if I can conceive of a sense in which God authored Pharoah's hardening of his heart (telling Moses to make the request and knowing Pharoah would refuse) I feel like I'm one step closing to understanding how God could harden Pharoah's heart. . . . --RobertC 01:31, 19 Jun 2006 (UTC)
Perhaps I should avoid opening up difficulties right before heading out on a four-day hike with the priests quorum! My belated response:
Let me deal with the JST first, and then give my thoughts on the verse. The JST is not scripture, except where it appears in full in the Pearl of Great Price. We are not bound to the JST, and I think we ought to take it as we are to take the Apocrypha, for example (see D&C 91). In this particular instance, however, the JST does not at all contradict the biblical text, as it does in other places. I don't see how God's hardening Pharaoh's heart contradicts Pharaoh's hardening of his heart. These might be understood as very complementary explanations of one and the same event. The JST might well be immaterial to the question we are asking here.
That said, the verse says quite bluntly that God would--later that he did--harden Pharaoh's heart. My point in raising the issues I did on this discussion page was to ask, essentially, this question: how does a verse like this, taken as it stands, adjust, call into question, our understanding of agency. A verse like this might well invalidate "the idea of agency" as we have it. My concern, as I stated at the start, was that Robert's phrasing concedes too much to "the idea of agency," which is not at all the scriptural theme of agency. Perhaps we need to begin there. Wherever we find these difficulties in the scriptures, where the ideas we think we have nailed down are questioned, there we ought to let our concepts go in favor of the text. Or so it seems to me.
All in all, here's the point: God hardened Pharaoh's heart. We have two ways of responding to this statement if we take the Bible as here "translated correctly," whatever that means. First, we can demythologize the text, assume a cultural Weltanschauung we have little access to, decide in advance what possibilities lie within a text. Second, we can come to the text to allow it to alter all our thinking. The first option, it seems to me, amounts to a wresting of the text, the second, to a wrestling with the text. If we take the first option, we decide that we see the world rightly, that our task in reading the scriptures is, so to speak, to translate them into our own idiom. If we take the second option, we understand the scriptures as taking up the task to translate us into their idiom, into their world. If the scriptures are the word, or even the Word, of God, then this latter option seems to be the only one open to us. Shouldn't all our thinking bow before these words--given the Spirit does not direct otherwise in the moment?
That seems to me to be what we are looking at in a verse like this. I think this verse calls for a rethinking of agency, for a reworking out of our understanding of the plan in general. What, after all, is agency? --Joe Spencer 17:22, 19 Jun 2006 (UTC)
- I was made aware of this thread in another discussion and felt I should add my two cents regarding the JST. I think we do ourselves a great injustice if we ignore the JST in favor of the KJV. Certainly, the KJV is the church standard, but is is not true to say that we are bound by it in any sense other than that we are to use it as a basis of scriptural discourse and, per A of F 1:8 there is a defined limit to how far we trust the KJV to be the word of God. Once upon a time, the JST was considered apocryphal, as the church did not have the original text and could not vouch for what the reorganized church had put out. However, the church has been able to examine the originals and it was determined that the JST actually was what Joseph Smith wrote and which the Lord commented on in D&C 35:20. The JST then is, definitively, the word of the Lord, whether portions of it be exact translations (corrections), commentary, clarification, or anything else, and if we are to consider ourselves bound by anything, it is the word of the Lord. Certainly we are not bound by the KJV, which the Lord felt required clarification. D&C 91 in fact, if anything, contrasts the status of the JST with that of the apocrypha. It would be very dangerous, indeed, to try to reshape our perceptions of agency based on what we understand from Ex 7:3. It would be better to remain in confusion were it the only other option. (Now clearly, the JST is not considered to be a completely finished work, but what we have from the Lord, I will take.) --Seanmcox 18:54, 17 Oct 2006 (UTC)
Very interesting response, Sean (I'm glad to reawaken this question--I always am trying to understand the JST better). Let me clarify a point or two, and then see where the discussion sits. Looking back at the discussion, I stated my point far too vaguely, and I don't know that I quite agree with what I said even when clarified. When I said we are not bound to the JST, I meant ritually: the Church as a whole, by raising of the hand, bound itself to the four standard works, but not to the JST. The Bible has been adopted by the Church ritually, and so is bound to it. Now, I don't think for a moment that the Church is the end of the story (the kingdom outstrips the Church, and will exist when the Church is no more). Hence, we are bound, in the kingdom, to far more than we are in the Church. I take this site to be an exploration of the scriptures of the Church, and so I spoke as I did. To be quite personal, I take the JST far more seriously than I do the KJV (to a great extent because I read Hebrew and Greek, and I prefer those languages over the KJV, but also because I understand Joseph's primary gift to have been the gift of translation, and the JST is one of his three "ordained" translation projects). That much said, I hope that my language of "binding" does not convey the idea (I'm afraid it did--I hope it does not now) that I think the JST is dispensable. Second, I think we do have to take the text of Ex 7:3 very seriously as it stands in the Hebrew text (along with the Greek, the Latin, the DDS, etc.). I am very hesitant to throw out anything as it stands in the Bible (if anything really "stands" in the Bible), even if there is an alternate JST reading. Especially without a clearer understanding of what Joseph was trying to do with the JST. If a particular biblical text confuses me because it seems to conflict with something in scripture revealed in this dispensation, then there is reason to take the two texts side by side, perhaps, and consider them very carefully. But they had better be perfectly opposing before I have any reason to throw out the biblical text, not just apparently contradictory. In the present circumstance, the conception of agency at work in Ex 7:3 in no way contradicts any text in the BoM, D&C, or PofGP. Hence, I can only assume that I must understand agency according to this verse, not against it.
Now, all that said, let me add a word more directly in response to your post there. You are right to call my comparison to D&C 91 into question. In fact, I had to laugh out loud when I read it, because I hadn't seen the irony implicit in my citing it before. But I still think that we are far too ignorant of the JST to know how to take it. The Church has had access to the original manuscripts, and last year they were published by the RSC (I have the book on my shelf--amazing resource). But the JST as printed for all those years does not match up exactly with the original manuscripts. There are some major difficulties. The JST manuscripts, for example, sometimes present several different translations for a single verse (especially in Genesis and Matthew). The Book of Moses, as Orson Pratt took it over into the 1880 Pearl of Great Price, was taken from a somewhat patchwork interpretation of two manuscripts, and these differ from each other in some very important matters. Besides these issues, there are some major questions that must be answered concerning the process of translating the Bible. Is every correction to be attributed to Joseph? Some of them seem to reflect Sidney Rigdon's explanations of the Bible elsewhere. We don't know enough because Joseph used scribes, and some of the changes might have been at the behest of others, etc. There are too many questions about the Bible translation, and I don't think we have any way around that problem. Except, that is, the Spirit. And that's why I compared it to D&C 91. In the end, we can only wade through the JST manuscripts by seeking quite carefully in the Spirit how to interpret questions raised about any particular text. Where the JST differs from the KJV, we should be all ears, but we should be very wary of just accepting the JST without critical attention to the details, without working things out carefully before making assumptions. I began, in my comments some months ago, with the point that the JST and the KJV do not contradict each other here. In short, the JST is not a way out of the KJV rendering, unless Joseph were specifically trying to soften the text (I don't think that is what he meant by "translation"!). That Pharaoh hardened his heart does not mean that God did not: if God hardened Pharaoh's heart, we should very expect to find that Pharaoh hardened his heart! The point is that we cannot pass too quickly over a question like this, using the JST as a way out of a very real difficulty that is calling us to think, or especially to rethink our concepts and categories. It was this very verse (or rather, one of its partners, but in this same story of Pharaoh's heart) that forced me to rethink agency when I read Brigham's justification of the biblical text (buried somewhere in the DHC). The verse, taken as it stands in the KJV, forced me to read other scriptures harder, but to ignore it in favor of the JST without careful scrutiny leads, I think, to reading the scriptures less attentively.
In the end, that is usually my point on here: I think we have to give these questions all the attention we can, and I am very hesitant to say that the JST is a way out of thinking (which is not to accuse anyone, but just to clarify, again, what I have been trying to say all along here--I always want to be quite clear on that point: I'm not pretending to claim that anyone has said what I have "attacked" here). Anyway, fascinating discussion here. --Joe Spencer 22:59, 17 Oct 2006 (UTC)
- I think I agree with most of that. I didn't know that the JST manuscripts had been published. I'm quite jealous.
- Regarding the verse in question, I think we have to determine that the JST changes the way we look at the verse a great deal. Since the verses are not in direct conflict, I think you're right to say that it's worth keeping the KJV in mind when considering the text as, if anything, it can be said to contain more information then the JST. However, I think it can only be considered dubiously. Here's how I see the situation: If the KJV is correct, then implicitly, the JST is correct. However, if the JST is correct, this does not necessarily imply that the KJV is correct. Hence, the JST is "safe", in a sense, while the KJV is dubious. The JST might just be clarification to promote understanding of the main point, or it might be correction of scribal error, or worse, or it might be something altogether different. If we have an instance of simple clarification, then clearly a closer investigation of the KJV might lead to some benefit in the way we understand either idiom, the principle of agency, or something altogether different. If this is an instance of correction, then trying to force our understanding to accept of this verse as it stands might be very bad indeed. It would seem to me then that the difference begs of us a few questions, but I don't think those questions can be, or ought to be, forced. --Seanmcox 19:10, 19 Oct 2006 (UTC)
- Just as a side note. I'd always been curious about how the comments made during the King Follet Sermon on the translation of the first line of Genesis related to what we have in Moses. The comments he made modified the text to sound more like Abraham. Taking the Book of Moses as you described it makes the apparent confusion seem less significant. --Seanmcox 08:45, 21 Oct 2006 (UTC)
- Yes, indeed. There are a number of these issues. The King Follett discourse was not the only time Joseph offered an alternate translation to the Bible that differed from the JST. Joseph didn't begin studying Hebrew until 1835, and he "finished" the JST (in quotes because there is a note in the manuscripts claiming it was finished, but there were small changes here and there in the next few years) in 1833. Words of Joseph Smith is an amazing volume for studying this issue, because it has the original sources for all of Joseph's sermons during 1839-1844, where Joseph did most of his public retranslation of the Bible. But I think you're right in saying that these things are not a problem if the JST is a separate text from the KJV. Again, we have a great deal still to learn about Joseph and the translation of the Bible. --Joe Spencer 13:47, 21 Oct 2006 (UTC)
So many interesting things to think about. So little time...
Here's my view:
(a) the KJV's point, that God hardens Pharoah's heart, probably expresses something of value that is lost when we say (or only say) that Pharoah hardened his own heart. (What the thing is that the KJV expresses isn't critical to my point. But, for illustrative purposes suppose that it is that even the wicked help fulfill the purposes of God.)
(b) the KJV in Joseph's time and culture (in his language) conveys a wrong idea. (Again, what that idea is doesn't matter--and mayber there is more than one. Two obvious possibilities: 1. that Pharoah was not responsible for his own wickedness related to letting Israel leave Egypt 2. that God does evil.) (As an aside: in my view the KJV still conveys the wrong idea today. This isn't a problem unique to Joseph Smith's time.)
(c) Joseph Smith's translation sacrifices (a) to avoid (b).
I'm not sure that I know how to defend this view. To me it seems obviously right--which is often a sign that I'm wrong. But anway suppose we agreed that this is the right view. There are, then, some interesting implications for how we read other translations by Joseph Smith. Imagine if there were a KJV translation of Hel 12:15 maybe it wouldn't say anything about the earth moving and not the sun. (And for that matter maybe if Joseph Smith were translating in a time where everyone believed that motion is relative (i.e. translating into that language), this verse wouldn't say that the earth moves and not the sun.) Maybe we should read the JST as a type of rosetta stone for understanding Joseph Smith translation. --Matthew Faulconer 06:11, 20 Oct 2006 (UTC)
- You've touched on a few ideas here, Matthew, that I've considered, and that I'd like to think through further. I think the original of D&C 5:4 is of the utmost significance in reading anything from this dispensation: in the Book of Commandments, Joseph was simply told that he had a "gift to translate" and that he should "pretend to no other gift." There was none of the relativization of "until this work is completed, etc." If Joseph's gift was quite simply to translate, then we have three projects, and they must all be considered side by side (more and more like the Rosetta stone!): the Book of Mormon, the JST, and the Book of Abraham. Curiously, the process of translation at work in all three of these projects is somewhat obscure. We don't know how "democratic" Joseph was in the translation process: because he always did translation with a scribe, with a person with him, did he accept suggestions, respond to requests for clarification, or keep a close eye on what his scribe wrote down? Our ability to look carefully at these sorts of questions is all the time increasing: for the Book of Mormon, Skousen's critical text project is opening a lot of doors; for the JST, the recent publication of the original manuscripts has been a very good start to understanding what is at work there; and for the Book of Abraham, the wider availability of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the publication of the Joseph Smith Papyri have together made the process of translation a little more accessible. But no one, as of yet, has tried to consider these several projects side by side in an attempt to provide a broad account of Joseph's gift of translation.
- Now, all that said, I think your (c) as a sacrifice of (a) to avoid (b) is a good reading. At the very same time, I have to admit that my very soul rebels against the reading though, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is because it suggests a sort of demythologization at work in the JST, which is a project I'm not comfortable with for a number of reasons. Perhaps it is because my soul is fired when I read President McKay's response to the editing committee that rejected, one by one, Brother Nibley's lessons in the 1957 Melchizedek Priesthood manual: they wrote to him that the lessons were above the heads of the members, and President McKay wrote back and said, "Let them reach" (the point being that if Joseph/God felt to soften it because too many would misunderstand it, there appears to be an all-too democratic dumbing down of things). Perhaps it is simply a consequence of Brigham's explanation of the verse that seems to be so rich and so meaningful, taken over against the rather dead JST reading (if taken as a way out of a doctrinal difficulty). In the end, whatever it is that undergirds my rejection, I think I choose (Jamesian move here) to read it as an emphasis, rather than as a change. On this reading, the JST amounts to: of course God was behind the whole thing, and of course He has the ability to use someone against his/her will to accomplish His unfathomable designs, but this story might well be read with profit if one takes Pharaoh to be the whole source of the trouble. The JST amounts to very little, I think, if we only read it to clarify doctrinal issues: we ought to be reading it to see how it changes the meaning of a passage, of a narrative, of a poetic structure. That is where the fruit will be found. --Joe Spencer 14:37, 20 Oct 2006 (UTC)
- Joe, you wrote "Brigham's explanation of the verse." Where does one find that? --Matthew Faulconer 06:22, 2 Nov 2006 (UTC)
- I haven't visited Brigham's comment since just after my mission, but I just dug it out again. It is found in the History of the Church (the seven volume set), at 4:263-4. Here's the passage:
- For the Scripture saith unto Pharoah [sic] (Ex 9:16-17), "And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee my power; and that my name may be declareed throughout all the earth. As yet exaltest thou thyself, against my people, that thou wilt not let them go?"
- God has promised to bring the house of Israel up out of the land of Egypt at his own appointed time; and with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and great terribleness (Deut 26:8) He chose to do this thing that His power might be known and his name declared throughout all the earth, so that all nations might have the God of heaven in remembrance, and reverence his holy name; and to accomplish this it was needful that He should meet with opposition to give Him an opportunity to manifest His power; therefore He raised up a man, even Pharaoh, who, He foreknew, would harden his heart against God of his own free will and choice, and would withstand the Almighty in His attempt to deliver His chosen people, and that to the utmost of his ability; and he proved himself worthy of the choice, for he left no means unimproved which his wicked heart could devise to vex the sons of Abraham, and defeat the purposes of the Most High, which gave the God of Abraham an opportunity to magnify his name in the ears of the nations, and in sight of this wicked king, by many mighty signs and wonders, sometimes even to the convincing of the wicked king of his wickedness, and of the power of God, (, etc.) and yet he would continue to rebel and hold the Israelites in bondage; and this is what it meant by God's hardening Pharaoh's heart. He manifested Himself in so many glorious and mighty ways, that Pharaoh could not resist the truth without becoming harder; so that at last, in his madness, to stay the people of God, he rushed his hosts into the Red Sea and they were covered with the floods.
- Had not the power of God been exerted in a remarkable manner, it would seem as though the house of Israel must have become extinct, for Pharaoh commanded the midwives to destroy the sons of the Israelitish women as soon as they were born (Ex 1:15-16), and called them to account for saving the men children alive (verse 18), and charged all his people saying, "Every son that is born, ye shall cast into the river" (verse 22), and yet God would have mercy on whom He would have mercy (Rom 9:18); for he would have mercy on the goodly child, Moses, when he was hid and laid in the flags (Ex 11:3) by his mother to save him from Pharaoh's cruel order, and caused that he should be preserved as a Prophet and deliverer to lead His people up to their own country; and whom He would He hardened, for He hardened Pharaoh by passing before him in mighty power and withdrawing His Spirit, and leaving him to his own inclination, for he had set task-masters over the Israelites to afflict them with their burdens, and caused them to build treasure cities for Pharaoh, and made them to serve with rigor; and made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and brick and all manner of service in the field (Exod. 1st chap.); besides destroying the men children, thus proving to the God of heaven and all men that he had hardened his own hard heart, until he became a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction (Rom 9:22); all this long before God said unto Moses, "I will harden his (Pharaoh's) heart" (Ex 4:21).
- Are men, then, to be saved by works?
- The passage comes from an article in the Millenial Star (no. 9, vol. 1) that was cut and pasted right into Joseph's history (it begins on page 256). The article is called "Election and Reprobation," and it is attributed to both Brigham and Willard Richards. Joseph's comments, immediately preceding the article are: "The Millenial Star contains the following communication, which I have read several times. It is one of the sweetest pieces that has been written in these last days. I therefore insert it entire" (also page 256). It appears to have been written as a general response to repeated questions concerning the LDS stance on election. (It would be interesting to read it again after your dad finally publishes his Romans 9 commentary!) Anyway, there you are. --Joe Spencer 15:42, 2 Nov 2006 (UTC)