Sunday, September 7, 2014

Faith and the OED


Usually in English a monosyllabic word has a good chance of being a native English word, but faith is not. Although many French and Latin words were imported into English during the Hundred Year's War (AD 1337-1453), faith is actually brought in earlier. Here are the definitions of faith listed in the Oxford English Dictionary according to first usage:

1250 the duty of fulfilling one's trust, fealty, the obligation of a promise or engagement
1250 faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty
1300 confidence, reliance, trust
1300 the Christian faith
1325 a system of religious belief
1380 what is required to be believed on a subject
1382 assurance given, formal declaration, pledge, promise
1382 belief in the truths of religion
1393 attestation, confirmation, assurance
1551 belief preceding from reliance on testimony or authority
1638 power to produce belief

When the term faith entered the English language it meant loyalty (which the editors of the OED listed last). Later, it came to mean trust. After that time it came to mean a system of religious belief, about the same time when it came to mean a pledge or promise. Only much later did it come to be a belief based on something someone else said. (Ironically, the last meaning developed is listed as obsolete.)

So at first faith in God meant loyalty to God. A little later it came to mean trust in God. Only later did it weaken to belief in God. Far from being merely an intellectual assenting to the existence of God, faith in God was originally a loyalty to Him.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Quote from William Gay

I just stumbled on this quote from William Gay that I rather like:
Godly responsibility always precedes individual opportunity. Ours is a choice to see if we will take the talents, the resources, and the blessings God has given us and blaze new paths to realize His purposes or sit on the sidelines content in our individual successes or failures. … In the world of faith, you always stand at this crossroad.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Being Held an Offender for a Word

It is hardly a secret that I have persistently and publicly argued that the Book of Abraham is historically authentic.

Some people are spreading the gossip that I do not believe in the Book of Abraham. They are taking something I said out of context for their own malicious ends.

Here is what I actually said two years ago at the FAIR conference:
It will probably come as a surprise to many that I do not have a testimony of the Book of Abraham. That is, I have never received a spiritual confirmation of the truth of the Book of Abraham. I do not need one. I have those for the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the gospel, the calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the continuation of those keys and authority through the present day. If you have these things confirmed to you, you do not need to get a cold from every wind of doctrine that blows.
I have never had a spiritual confirmation of the truth of the Book of Abraham. I do not know many Church members who have. I have never really heard a convincing case that one is necessary. No question on the subject shows up in the baptismal interview or the temple recommend interview. In the Church, we are urged to get a spiritual confirmation of the Book of Mormon, but not the Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price or the Bible.

Without a spiritual confirmation I rely on scholarship, that is on evidence and argument. Perhaps there are better means but that is what I have to work with and I have no other authority.

Based on the research I have done, I am convinced that the historical setting that most closely matches the Book of Abraham is: for the first chapter, an Ur located in the area of north-west Syria or southern Turkey during the end of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt (the reign of Sesostris III or more likely Amenemhet III); by the time the text has reached the end of the published account we have moved into the area of modern Israel during the Thirteenth/Fourteen Dynasty in Egypt. That setting is based on a careful reading of the text and current scholarship. Like everything based on scholarship, it is subject to refinement and revision as new evidence comes in.


Friday, August 1, 2014

We're #9

At least according to Money magazine's college list. The premise of this list is supposedly how long it takes to repay your tuition. Brigham Young University beat out both of my other alma maters, UC Berkeley (#13) and Yale (#15).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

An Important Book

I recently finished an excellent and important book:

Lois M. Farag, ed. The Coptic Christian Heritage: History, Faith, and Culture. London: Routledge, 2014. (It is available here and here.)

There are many books on Coptic Christianity but what makes this one interesting and important is that it was written by Coptic Christians about their own faith. Their insider perspective is missing from most works about Coptic Christianity. I, like most outsiders, might write differently about their faith than they do; and they certainly write differently than most outsiders do, and that is the point. That is what makes this book so special and important. It is an insider's account. They emphasize the sorts of things that are important to them, not the things that are important to outsiders. Although I am familiar with the Coptic faith, I learned a great deal from this book. Their account is to be preferred to the accounts of outsiders. If one is interested in Coptic Christianity, this is a good place to start.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Church on the Book of Abraham

The Church has released a statement on the Book of Abraham. I, of course, did not write it. I do like it. It seems to be cautious and careful general statement of the issue. People who want to say what the Church's position on the Book of Abraham should take it as a starting point.