Another Way To Look At The Sacrament

I’ve always thought of the bread and water of the sacrament–the body and blood of Jesus–as emblems of his death only. That makes sense–the ordinance is to commemorate the Atonement.

But lately I’ve also been focusing on how it could direct us to his life, as well as his death.

The prayer on the water says, “the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them” (D&C 20:79), that second part explicitly directing us to think of Lord’s infinitely painful sacrifice that last night and day of his life.

The prayer on the bread, however, only mentions “the body of thy Son,” with no added description like there is on the water.

Indeed, the first two of the three Biblical synoptic gospels (John does’t mention the Last Supper), inspires this: both mention the body of Christ, without any further explanation, but then also mention the blood of Christ, with the overt follow-up about it being shed as a sacrifice for us:

Matthew 26:26-28

26 ¶And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;

28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

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A Song and Three Videos

I heard this contemporary cover of “Nearer My God To Thee” on Mormon Channel radio last week and loved it.

Also, I found these three videos to be very helpful in picturing the detailed directions for making the tabernacle, priestly clothing, etc. in Exodus 25-30. The narration isn’t from the King James Version, but it’s easy to tell what’s what. In fact, the updated terminology also helps clarify the KJV text.

The first video covers Exodus 25 (0:00-5:27), Exodus 26:15-30 (5:27-7:07), and Exodus 27:1-8 (7:07-8:09)

The second video covers Exodus 27:9-21 (0:00-2:30), and Exodus 28:1-43 (2:30-9:08)

The third video covers Exodus 30:1-10 (0:00-1:56), and 30:17-33 (1:57-4:30)

The Fake Flanders Bible

By1mwXIIMAAvSBeIt’s been more than 20 years since the episode of The Simpsons aired where Bart and Lisa have to play Bible Bombardment with the Flanders family, leading an exasperated Ned to demand of the Simpson children, “Don’t you know anything? The Serpent of Rehoboam? The Well of Zohassadar? The Bridal Feast of Beth Chadruharazzeb?”

I don’t recognize any of those references, so I finally decided to look them up, and…nothing. I can’t find them in the Bible anywhere. Clearly, Ned Flanders is such a serious scholar that he knows about secret parts of the text that the rest of us can’t find.

*sigh* This is even more disappointing than when I saw Pulp Fiction and went home to look up Ezekiel 25:17. Alas, it’s not even close to the real thing.

A Timeline for the Book of Ether

Ether timelineAs I continue to work on a single timeline integrating all the scriptures of the LDS Church, I’m still worried about how to split up Ether and match it with the Old Testament. In my draft from last year, I have the Jaredite character Lib congruent with King David, and the end of the Jaredite record running well into the Nephite timeline.

Today, I started over on that. My basis for this revision is to start with the very popular and well-supported theory that the Jaredite city of Lib (and the king its named for) is actually the historical Olmec city of San Lorenzo. San Lorenzo flourished from about 1400-1200 BC.

Also, the Book of Omni is actually unclear about how long the Mulekites were established in the Western hemisphere before they met Coriantumr.

For the sake of convenience, I’m dating the meeting of Coriantumr at about 550 BC, and, based on the San Lorenzo theory (and also for convenience), dating Lib at abut 1350.

(There will be lots of estimating and rounding here, since none of this can be precise, and since the splitting and mixing of Ether into the Old Testament will have to still consider creating a coherent narrative. Take all of this with a grain of salt–this is much more speculation than science, after all.)

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Beautiful Bible Audio

A few weeks ago I had to drive out of state alone, and found this dramatized reading of the Book of Psalms on YouTube. I like the voice, as well as the peaceful, yoga/spa music in the background. I listened to most of this on the drive, and it was very pleasant. I should do this more often.

There are some audio files of the Book of Mormon on YouTube–the only really decent voice is on the church’s own version, and none of them have music. Alas, who will meet this need?

Escape to the Mountain: Genesis 19 as a Timely Reminder for Latter-day Saints

Genesis 19 is one of the most sordid, controversial chapters of the Bible. As such, it’s not often seen as a fount of wisdom.

Yet, a perfectly timely spiritual message is in this narrative.

Before “the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire,” an angel warned Lot to take his family and “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (Genesis 19:17)

Was Lot’s response to act like Peter and Andrew, who, upon being called to the ministry, “straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matt. 4:20)? Or like Alma, who was abused and rejected as a minister in one city, but after leaving was instructed by an angel to go back and persist, so “he returned speedily to the land of Ammonihah” (Alma 8:18)?

No. Lot’s immediate instinct wasn’t obedience, but quibbling and negotiation: “And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord…. I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die” (19:21-22).

Not only did he decline to follow the angel’s clear counsel, he proposed following his own inclinations: “Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.” (19:20)

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An Open Letter to Trent Horn

Hi Trent!

I heard you on the radio last Monday talking about Mormonism. I tried calling in but the lines were busy. I tweeted you on Tuesday asking to talk about it, but you haven’t responded yet–maybe you’re busy?

At any rate, I thought this post might be a good way to open a dialogue, if you’re OK with that. Feel free to respond to any and all of the items I discuss here, or proceed as you see fit. I look forward to a friendly and respectful, but candid and productive discussion!

I didn’t hear the entire program, as I was driving around and running errands at the time, but I think I got the gist of it; certainly, I heard enough to be able to address what I think your major points were.

First, I want to offer some general observations, in the form of questions, about what I heard you say on the radio. (I’d love to hear your actual answers to these questions, please–they’re not meant to be merely hypothetical!) Then I’ll cover a few of the biggest specific issues you raised.

10 questions regarding general observations

1. You invited Mormons to call in and discuss your teachings, and this leads me to wonder: have you engaged many Latter-day Saints in conversation about your claims regarding us? Have any of them had the equivalent education and training in their religion that you’ve had in yours? Do you feel you have a solid understanding of what LDS answers to your objections are?

What have their responses been? Have you found any of those responses compelling at all?

If not, doesn’t it strike you as odd that a religion with so many adherents should be incapable of adequately explaining *any* of your claims? Might that seem to indicate the presence of confirmation bias on your part?

Do you ever address these responses in your presentations on Mormonism? If not, why not?

2. If you have not sought out responses from qualified Latter-day Saints, why not? Shouldn’t someone who professionally teaches about the perceived negatives of another group seek out responses and even rebuttals from that group as assiduously as possible as part of their own preparation? Wouldn’t that bolster your credibility and, frankly, be the most civil thing to do?

3. What have been the primary sources of your education about Latter-day Saints? What would say are your top five sources? Continue reading

The Book of Mormon Loves the Bible and Leads Us Back To It

Some anti-Mormon critics have pointed out that the Book of Mormon uses specific and unique phrases from the Bible several dozen times.  They’re wrong, of course.

The Book of Mormon uses specific and unique phrases from the Bible several hundred times.

This amazing presentation by a BYU scholar at a recent conference on the complex language of the Book of Mormon goes into this.  There’s no concrete explanation for how this phenomenon is to be accounted for: for the faithful, we don’t know exactly how so many of these non-quotation uses appear in the Book of Mormon; for the critics, since there’s so much subtlety and deep understanding evident in the phrasing (and it in no way helped any hypothetical hoax), there’s no way to simply write this off as lazy copying.

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A Spiritual Metaphor

Each of us is a complicated congregation.

Paul used this fact in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, where he used various body parts to represent different gifts and callings, showing that just as a body needs all its parts to cooperate in order to work best, so does the church need a variety of gifts and offices to best perform its duties.

It occurred to me recently that we could apply that metaphor to an issue in the church today:

Each of our individual “congregations” is led by a presidency: our spirit is called to preside over the rest of us, perhaps with the mind as first counselor and the heart as second counselor.

The rest of the things that constitute ourselves–the “members,” as Paul put it–have their various functions, but all work best in an established order, cooperating harmoniously and ever submitting to the leadership of the presidency.

Whenever a member decides to disregard the order–indulging in its own desires and placing its own wisdom above that of the presidency–the entire congregation suffers.  Whatever member that is–the stomach, the eyes, the genitals, the ego, etc.–risks apostasy.

In any congregation–the global church, a stake, a ward, or our own individual selves–the best way to live is to follow the order established by God.  That means training ourselves to live under the mentoring of our leaders.

The $1 Study Bible

I’d been looking around for study Bibles to supplement my scripture study when I was at Alexander Library on Wednesday and saw The NIV Archaeological Study Bible on the shelves.  It looked really good–tons of color maps and articles–but I didn’t check it out at the time.

I kept thinking about it, though, and on Friday I was near Aliante and stopped at their library, hoping they had the same one there. As soon as I walked in, I faced their racks of used books for sale.  The first one that jumped out at me was The NIV Archaeological Study Bible.

It was in perfect condition and was on sale for one dollar.  The cover price was $49.99.

I took the hint and bought it.

Complete Chronological Standard Works-DRAFT

CCSWThis graphic on the left is a rough draft of a project I’m working on—organizing all the standard works of the LDS Church into a single timeline. I think this will be a valuable scripture study tool because it will help us see these writings outside of their monolithic arrangement in our books, and inside their chronological contexts.

For example, instead of seeing the Old Testament as the law, and then the writings, and then the prophets—where the timeline actually ends halfway through the Old Testament and then doubles back to fill in the narrative with the writings of the various persons in that narrative—we can read it in the order in which all of its contents occur. It will aid understanding and appreciation. This makes sense.

Not only the Bible benefits from this, though. By integrating its unique scriptures into this timeline, we can really see just how much time the book of Ether occupies, and how much the early Book of Mormon authors were in tune with the events of the end of the Old Testament.

We can see Book of Mormon stories filling in the gaps between the two testaments, and continuing the tragic legacy of the earliest Christian era after the New Testament ends.

We can see how complicated the “flashbacks” in the books of Mosiah and Alma are.

Much of this is speculative. I’m happy to hear from anyone with refinements. I intend to keep revising it, myself. As I said, this is only a draft.

Narratives that take place at the same time—or nearly so—are presented next to each other. This is most important in the four gospels.

I’ve used the gospel harmony available here at for this, as well as the chronological order of the Doctrine and Covenants, available here. These are both products of the LDS Church, not mine, and they belong to the Church.

The Bible chronology is one that is widely available online (for example, here, here, and here); I have modified it only very slightly where I thought useful.

The color coding should help us all to follow the flow and see the connections between the various bodies of scripture. The first three—the law, writings, and prophets—are traditional divisions of the Old Testament (see Luke 24:44).






My New Article on Temples and Families in the Bible

The Integration of Temples and Families: A Latter-day Saint Structure for the Jacob Cycle” was published on Friday.  This is my first peer-reviewed, academic article, so I’m pretty excited.  Anyone with an interest in Biblical literature, or its temple and family themes, would likely enjoy it.

Reviewed: Days of Heaven

I was interested in the work of Terrence Malick after seeing Tree of Life.  As I started watching his much earlier film Days of Heaven, I was at first reminded of Ron Howard’s Far and Away: young lovers brought together and separated by the the trials of pioneer life in an earlier American era, set against the gorgeous backdrops of that unsullied wilderness.

But where Howard’s movie was a fun bit of pop celluloid, Malick’s is art.

The style is wholly ambitious.  Not unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey in this sense, he uses dialogue sparsely, and constructs a deceptively simple plot.  Much of the film’s meaning is communicated symbolically through the physical environment on which the story is imposed.

Days of Heaven begins in fire: the furnaces of a factory and the violence that attends them.  After this prologue, we enter the paradise promised in the title; indeed, the story’s central act is truly a season of heaven on earth, one of those times in life where everything is perfect and you just lose yourself in the rapture of it all.

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Grace: Enabling and Strengthening Power

I recently listened to a talk by David A. Bednar where he said this: “I believe we can learn much about this vital aspect of the Atonement if we will insert “enabling and strengthening power” each time we find the word grace in the scriptures.”

Accordingly, here is every Topical Guide entry for “grace,” with that key word replaced by “enabling and strengthening power.”  Many of these verses truly do open up this way!

  • Noah found enabling and strengthening power in the eyes of the Lord: Gen. 6:8 . ( Moses 8:27 . )
  • thy servant hath found enabling and strengthening power in thy sight: Gen. 19:19 .
  • if I have found enabling and strengthening power in thy sight: Ex. 33:13 . ( Ex. 34:9 ; Judg. 6:17 . )
  • for a little space enabling and strengthening power hath been shewed: Ezra 9:8 .
  • Lord will give enabling and strengthening power and glory: Ps. 84:11 .
  • he giveth enabling and strengthening power unto the lowly: Prov. 3:34 . ( James 4:6 ; 1 Pet. 5:5 . )
  • pour upon the house of David … spirit of enabling and strengthening power : Zech. 12:10 .
  • enabling and strengthening power of God was upon him: Luke 2:40 .
  • enabling and strengthening power and truth came by Jesus Christ: John 1:17 .
  • great enabling and strengthening power was upon them all: Acts 4:33 .
  • gave testimony unto the word of his enabling and strengthening power : Acts 14:3 .
  • through the enabling and strengthening power of … Christ we shall be saved: Acts 15:11 .
  • the ministry … to testify the gospel of the enabling and strengthening power of God: Acts 20:24 .
  • By whom we have received enabling and strengthening power and apostleship: Rom. 1:5 .
  • Being justified freely by his enabling and strengthening power : Rom. 3:24 .
  • it is of faith, that it might be by enabling and strengthening power : Rom. 4:16 .
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When Jesus Needed To Be Alone

Below are all ten times the Bible says that Jesus went alone into wilderness areas, like deserts and mountains, to commune with God.  Even when the text says He took disciples with Him, there’s an implication that He often went alone.

I’ve arranged them in chronological order, and included three brief references at the end from the Book of Mormon:


Matt. 4:1-2, JST
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be with God.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.

Mark 1:35
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.

Luke 6:12
And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.

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