Plato’s Unwritten Doctrine and Christianity 7: Human Progress or What I Told My Daughter about the Old Testament

By December 14, 2016

This was the same daughter who said she was ready to leave the church over the Old Testament when she was 8.  Not surprisingly, she wasn’t too crazy about the text when she studied it in seminary last year. She felt like she got a lot of lessons on God handing out punishment for what looked like violation of totally arbitrary rules.

I’d been thinking about the topic too in light of a statement in Plato’s Timaeus: “Now to find the maker and father of the universe is hard enough, and even if I succeeded, to declare him to everyone is impossible” (28c). It’s hard to know God, and if you come to that knowledge it’s even harder to explain it. As Paul said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known?”(1 Cor 13:12).

So I told my daughter this: “This is what I think. Knowing God is difficult for humans. We do our best and make our hypotheses, but our point of view and understanding is limited.  So our understanding of God has changed over time, and has gotten better in many ways. In the Old Testament, we’re seeing that process: the long process of the human understanding of God improving.” She seemed to like that idea.

Trying to gain this knowledge of God seemed to have been a major part of Plato’s unwritten doctrine.  More on that in my next post.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Yes, we approach the Old Testament as strangers in a strange land, not as natives of its culture. Consequently, it doesn’t speak to us. But then, it wasn’t meant to. I think the expectations created in the Church (and especially Seminar) orient us in exactly the wrong direction to read the Old Testament. It wasn’t written for us, it has purposes other than Teaching Pure Doctrine and Modeling Good Behavior. We are listening in on someone else’s revelation. If God speaks to us in our own language and culture so we can understand (per D&C 1:24 and others), then he spoke to the Israelites in the ways *they* natively understood.
    Anyway, kind of a soapbox. We are continuously shooting ourselves in the foot with this, because the Old Testament could be one of the most useful books to Mormons.

    Comment by Ben S — December 14, 2016 @ 10:03 am

  2. Yeah, but not really expecting that more sophisticated style any time soon.

    As a side note, as actually think that the Gmirkin argument I mentioned in my previous post could eventually “be one of the most useful books to Mormons,” also. More on that in later posts.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 14, 2016 @ 12:34 pm

  3. Well, I don’t think it would be that difficult to rewrite the manuals… but I look forward to your application of Gmirkin.

    Comment by Ben S — December 14, 2016 @ 8:42 pm


Recent Comments

wvs on News from the Mormon: “Congrats to Chris Blythe!”

David G. on Book Review: Colvin and: “Thanks, Charlotte!”

J Stuart on Book Review: Colvin and: “Can't wait to read the rest of the review in JMH. Thanks, Charlotte!”

Ben S on MHA 2020 Networking Materials: “Thanks for this.”

Th. on Book Review: Jake Johnson,: “. Just commenting on your first paragraph: Egad.”

Steve Fleming on A note on the: “No but haven't really looked.”