Please review this explanation on the purpose for this section before reading the information here.
The common fundamentalistic-literal view of the Old Testament is that the first five books were written by Moses, who lived around 1500 BC. After that, each book was written by its title namesake. These men were inspired and wrote the words of God. The writing took place as the events happened, so we can trust the stories were literally accurate.
The way we now understand the Old Testament is a lot different. The prevailing understanding is that the Old Testament came together by piecing together four works, ranging from 1000 BC to 500 BC, and these four works were pieced together by scholars not before about 500 BC. These authors had different doctrinal understandings of God and the meanings of the stories that were represented. A sample doctrinal issue might be a polytheistic set of Gods vs one monotheistic God for the earliest Genesis stories. In addition, each work we can see as evolving from oral legends and even combining and drawing from other texts. The final work is a combination of all of them. We can see the thought process sometimes of how the works came together into the final Old Testament document, and that process doesn’t always correlate to what a traditional LDS view of that process should be.
The historicity of many Old Testament stories are suspect, such as the creation, the Garden of Eden, the global flood, the Tower of Babel, Abraham-Isaac, Joseph in Egypt, even the stories related to Moses. These are likely best understood as non-historically-accurate stories that have common elements from various oral and written legends.
This is called Old Testament Documentary Hypothesis. The LDS Church formerly was opposed to this, with some statements 100 years ago when this field of study was newer and less mainstream. Now, it is becoming more and more common for faithful LDS scholars to accept this view of the Bible and adjust our assumptions.
Another Old Testament issue is that we see God behaving in ways that just don’t seem like God. God at times seems racist, vengeful, angry, cruel and inconsistent. We don’t believe in a God that would authorize wholesale genocide. The nitty, gritty details of the Law of Moses as defined in Leviticus seem man made and not from God when you really look at them.
One can view these as literally or metaphorically, and there are trade offs for each. A negative side of believing literally would be the difficulty in reconciling science, as well as attributing characteristics of God which could cause one to justify harmful views and practices. Then a negative side of believing metaphorically could be to doubt the involvement of God in human lives as much as a literal believer would.
How do informed LDS members view this information?
churchistrue.com sacramental paradigm view:
Scripture is seen as metaphorical. Faith is an expression of loyalty, devotion, worship and doctrinal alignment but not necessarily a belief in the factual accuracy of scripture or historical religious origins. Challenges to scriptural historical events are not damaging to faith. Some scripture is more valuable than other. I believe there are many powerful stories and metaphors in the Old Testament that can inspire and help us grow closer to God and live better lives. But it’s OK to ignore parts of the Old Testament. I don’t believe Adam was a literal person. I think the stories of the Old Testament Patriarchs like Noah, Abraham, or Joseph are not meant to be taken literally as actual historical figures. The miracles of Moses also were likely a symbolic story to teach about God.
Literal believing LDS view:
Some aspects of the Old Testament might be metaphorical, such as the story of Job or some parts of Noah’s ark story, but most of the Old Testament are literal, actual historical people and stories. Abraham was real. Moses was real. Although the Bible might not be translated correctly, we know from modern revelation that these are real prophets. Documentary Hypothesis is not accepted by a lot of scholars. It is dangerous to literal Mormonism because of its effect on the Book of Mormon and other modern scripture and teachings that reference the Old Testament.
Nuanced LDS view:
The actual reality lies somewhere in between the two above views. Old Testament Documentary Hypothesis becoming more and more mainstream, even within the church. It’s OK to believe some of these stories and even prophets might have been metaphorical. The fallout to the Book of Mormon or other modern teachings can be explained through our belief in fallibility of prophets.
Shared view by all LDS:
The Bible is the word of God. The Old Testament contains narrative, wisdom, and prophetic literature from ancient Israel.