A few years ago I read a collection of great Hindu scripture called upanishads, a word which means “an instruction, the sitting at the feet of a master.” I love the idea of canonizing and revering such wisdom–that’s a whole way of life in itself. The cartoons here illustrate a cliché, but we do actually get to live this cliché in real life; we get to hear our own upanishads today: General Conference is this weekend.
For behold, the Lord hath said: I will not succor my people in the day of their transgression; but I will hedge up their ways that they prosper not; and their doings shall be as a stumbling block before them.
Note the two distinctive phrases there: “hedge up their ways” and “a stumbling block.” King Limhi introduces the quote in this verse with the phrase “For behold, the Lord hath said,” but there is no scripture known to us with any quote quite like this.
Was Limhi quoting a scripture we don’t have? Or a revelation given to himself?
Maybe. Or maybe he was alluding to 2 Nephi 4:33 and, since it’s scripture, attributing it to the Lord.
O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
I mentioned in my notes on lesson #1 that I like to picture and even map out the structure of text, but I also find it useful to mark out who’s talking when there are multiple speakers.
Below is a PDF copy of 1 Nephi 11-14 with all the dialogue color-coded. The angel doesn’t have much to say at first, but monologues quite a bit in chapters 13 and 14.
Some of this attribution is speculative or convenient, though, so take it with a grain of salt. For example, in 13:34, I have “Behold, saith the Lamb of God” as spoken by the angel, just to make it clear that the angel is quoting the Lord there, but that phrase might very well be part of the Lord’s statement–in fact, it probably is. Ditto in 14:7.
I’ve been reading Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon again. It does the Book of Mormon a great service: it examines that text with an eye towards figuring out how it does what it tries to do.
He analyzes how each of the book’s three main voices–Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni–organize and present their thoughts, with careful conclusions drawn from close study of those evident agendas.
Here is a brief summary of the largest lessons:
Mormon and Moroni are very close in the narrative—father and son—but their editorial approaches are radically different.
Mormon demonstrates the reality of Christian doctrine by presenting a factual, historically sourced record with very light editorial intrusion.
Moroni demonstrates the reality of Christian doctrine by presenting a didactic, spiritually plaintive record with very heavy editorial intrusion.
Nephi, meanwhile, is largely content to preach directly from scripture and base his attendant remarks primarily on those texts.
Indeed, though Hardy never uses these exact formulas, his book suggests that the three narrators’ messages could be summarized as follows:
Nephi: come to Jesus by studying the scriptures
Mormon: come to Jesus by following the prophets
Moroni: come to Jesus by seeking the Spirit
This 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 lds.org 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 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).
I’m not a people person by nature. I can enjoy company, but I don’t often seek it out. Usually, I try to avoid it, though I’ve been working on this.
Yesterday I re-read something that had jumped out at me when I read it earlier this year. Actually, I’d read this many times before, but it was upon this reading that something new struck me. Such is the experience of those who study the Book of Mormon.
I’d often wondered how to increase my capacity for charity–the inherent desire to know people, to love them, to want to help them. I’ve prayed for growth in this capacity, but I still have a long way to go.
But then I read these verses:
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 .
- Continue reading
A great article in the current Ensign makes this fantastic symbolic connection I had never seen before:
An ancient Hebrew tradition held that the Messiah would be born at Passover. We know that April in the meridian of time indeed fell in the week of the Passover feast—that sacred Jewish commemoration of Israel’s salvation from the destroying angel that brought death to the firstborn sons of Egypt. Each Israelite family that sacrificed a lamb and smeared its blood on the wooden doorposts of their dwelling was spared (see Exodus 12:3–30). Thirty-three years after Christ’s Passover birth, His blood was smeared on the wooden posts of a cross to save His people from the destroying angels of death and sin.
Searching online for illustrations of this powerful spiritual metaphor found an abundance of images. Two of my favorites:
Three things I’ve recently come across that are worthwhile in expanding our understanding of the gospel:
1. Nathan Richardson’s “structured editions” of the scriptures. The Book of Mormon draft needs work, but it’s a great start. The Pearl of Great Price format is excellent. The other resources on his site are worth checking out, too.
2. Steven Reed’s “Through the Veil,” a list of scripture quotes designed to illuminate the temple experience. Very thoughtfully done, but plenty more citations could be added (where’s Deuteronomy 22:12?) Like Richardson’s, his site has tons of useful goodies on it, including my 15-verse summary of the Book of Mormon.
3. Interpreter’s “Temple On Mount Zion Conference.” I can’t believe this is a year old and I’m only now watching these talks. They’re amazing. The ones on Job, the ark, and Latter-day houses of the Lord are especially recommended.
There’s a joke that Mormons are the only people in the world who can communicate a profound spiritual sermon by drawing three circles in a row. This traditional paradigm for teaching the gospel—with its circles for the premortal world, Earth life, the spirit world, and the three degrees of glory—has served very well as a visual aid of the plan of salvation.
Here, I propose a new way of visualizing these things. Instead of the narrative flowchart model, I’m going to describe a great, eternal chiasm. Yes, chiasmus as in the ancient Book of Mormon writing style where a series of ideas or phrases are given and then repeated in reverse order, to contrast parallel variations in the elements of the story and to highlight the central turning point.
Chiasms are typically shown as the left side of a letter X, looking like an arrow pointing to East on a map. This one will be depicted as a letter V, because I want us to see the turning point as the end of a long descent and the beginning of an ascent. You’ll see why shortly.
This new paradigm was inspired by the temple. I won’t make any overt references to the basic floor plan of the average temple or to the content of the endowment, but the reader who is familiar with those things is encouraged to consider how they suggested the ideas presented below.
The elements of this story can be understood as following the ideal progress of each individual person or of “the whole human family of Adam” (Mormon 3:20).
A and A’: The Celestial Kingdom
Our journey, as far as we understand it, both begins and ends in the Celestial Kingdom. This is where, from our point of view, our “descent” begins and our “ascent” ends.
It happened again last night, and not for the first time: I re-read a familiar section in the Book of Mormon and noticed something that had never arrested my attention before.
In King Benjamin’s classic speech, a major landmark in the Book of Mormon, he tells the people this about the the coming change of leadership from himself to his son:
…if ye shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land… (Mosiah 2:31, emphasis added)
Benjamin wasn’t the only Book of Mormon leader to teach about the reason for faithfully following the prophet; Lehi explained it twice:
And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord. (1 Nephi 3:5, emphasis added)
And it must needs be that the power of God must be with him, even unto his commanding you that ye must obey. But behold, it was not he, but it was the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, which opened his mouth to utterance that he could not shut it. (2 Nephi 1:27, emphasis added)
Nephi’s brothers, you may remember, resented being ordered around, against their natural inclinations, by a bunch of old white men in Salt Lake City…oops, I mean, by their younger brother. (/sarcasm)
Near the end of a truly rousing, inspirational sermon, the Biblical prophet Samuel tells his congregation:
Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you. 1 Samuel 12:24
This has now become one of my favorite scriptures. Why? because it explicitly links our faithful obedience to God and our work in His service, to gratitude for all of the infinite blessings that have first been poured out on us.
I actually think that the “thankfulness-leads-to-devotion” relationship is pretty rarely articulated in the scriptures. The next best one that I can think of comes from the New Testament:
We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19
It’s good to be reminded of this. God has shown us great love, and always will. Obedient discipleship is the least we can do in return; indeed, is precisely the one thing that He does ask of us:
And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,
To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? Deuteronomy 10:12-13
A scripture study exercise: if we wanted to summarize the overall message of major collections of scripture, what might they be? We’re probably familiar with the “missions of the Church” formula–preach the gospel, perfect the saints, redeem the dead, care for the poor and needy–so, can we find similar missions communicated in books of scripture?
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, with comments below:
Old Testament : Obey the law
New Testament : Perfect the saints
Book of Mormon : Learn the gospel
Doctrine and Covenants : Build the kingdom
Pearl of Great Price : Seek the Lord
Old Testament: I also considered “keep the commandments” and “follow the prophets.” The first is similar to “obey the law,” but not as inclusive–there’s more to the Old Testament than the “thous shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” Saying to “follow the prophets” resonates with us today, and certainly encompasses a major theme, but the largest idea in the Old Testament is that conforming to God’s whole system of living will bless us.
Latter-day Saints typically see the Atonement of Christ as comprising the suffering in Gethsemane as well as the crucifixion. I’ve been wondering if there’s some kind of duality implied by the contrasting details in these two halves. Consider the following chart, giving some details from Jesus Christ’s suffering in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha:
|Introverted/Psychic Emotional Suffering||Extroverted/Physical Violent Torture|
|Primary instrument = liquid (bleeding)||Primary instrument = solid (cross)|
|Inside of a garden||On top of a hill|
|Cyclical narrative||Linear narrative|
Is it a coincidence that the circumstances of Gethsemane are stereotypically feminine, and the circumstances at Golgotha are essentially masculine? Continue reading
A comment on a news article last week called the Book of Mormon racist because of its references to dark skin in conjunction with a curse. I responded with the usual explanation: the curse is spiritual separation from God (2 Nephi 5:20), and the dark skin was just a useful way to distinguish those who’d been cursed. However, the more I looked at what I’d written, the less satisfied I was. I felt like I was missing something. I went back to the text.
I don’t think the Book of Mormon references to dark skin are literal anymore; I think they’re only a poetic idiom. Subsequently, I now have a different theory for what the mark of the curse really was.
The Controversial Verses
First, look at the relevant text. There are three passages in the Book of Mormon that specifically mention dark skin as the mark of a curse (in 2 Nephi 5, Jacob 3, and Alma 3), and a fourth that bears on them (3 Nephi 2). Here are the most controversial verses: