Category: Scriptures

“For he Receiveth them even as Moses”

Several years ago, I had a conversation with co-worker from outside of Utah about various Mormon churches that existed in Utah.  He had been doing some research and we were discussing fundamentalist Latter-day Saint groups (ones like the FLDS or the Apostolic United Brethren that promote polygamy and other doctrines from the early Utah era) when he made the remark that those groups had stayed more true to early Mormonism.  I paused for a moment, then explained that it depended on how you looked at it.  They had stayed true to specific beliefs and practices from the Church from that time, while we had stayed true to others—with accepting revelations from the prophets who lead the Church (such as the one that led to the end of plural marriage) being one of the key points that our religion valued over staying the same in belief and practice.  In a way, it could be said that there is a paradox at the heart of our religion that causes the tension displayed in that conversation—the belief in a restoration that has recreated the primitive Church of Christ, and the belief in ongoing revelation that leads to changes from time to time. On the one hand, we have the concept of a restoration, which leads to conservatism in how we view our religion.  The term restoration, at its heart, means a return to a former condition—a recovery, a re-establishment, or a renewal of…

“It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine”

If the Book of Moroni is an instruction manual to “build a church,” as Michael Austin suggests, with the “nuts-and-bolts how-to-run-a-church stuff that anybody trying to reassemble what the Nephites built will need to know,”[1] then Doctrine and Covenants Section 20 represents an effort to take that manual, adapt it and expand on it for the restored Church of Christ.  Known as the Articles and Covenants, the section is something like a charter for the Church in the early 1830s, capturing how to function as a church and the basic information about the Church (with occasional updates up to the time of publishing the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835).  Want to know the Church’s history?  Read verses 1-12.  Core doctrines and beliefs?  Read verses 13-36.  Requirements for baptism?  Go to verse 37.  Basic ecclesiastical offices, their functions and how to be ordained?  See verses 38-67.  Expectations for church members after joining?  Verses 68-71.  How to perform core ordinances?  Read verses 72-79.  How to handle inter-congregational gatherings and Church discipline?  See verses 80-84.  Several key sections in Section 20 are drawn from Moroni’s writings, including, notably, the sacrament prayers. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and the way we approach those sacrament prayers in Section 20 (and Moroni) has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  When gatherings of church members were suspended worldwide on 12 March 2020, instructions were given that “bishops should counsel with their stake presidents to determine how…

“It is not written, that there shall be no end to this torment”

Years ago, I attended a testimony meeting that began with a counselor in the bishopric talking about how grateful he was to be a part of a religion where believed that God was full of grace and would save almost every individual in one degree of glory or another.  He quoted from the Vision in Section 76, and discussed how all but a very few would be saved in the Telestial, Terrestrial, or Celestial Kingdom and how grateful he was that God loved His children enough to make a plan that allows pretty much everyone into heaven in some form.  What was interesting was what followed—the bulk of the remainder of the testimony meeting was dominated by adults in the ward getting up and rebutting his testimony by “clarifying” that being in a place outside of the top tier of the Celestial Kingdom is still damnation, so we need to work hard to gain eternal life instead of believing that we will have it good in the end, no matter what.  In a way, that meeting captured the complicated relationship Latter-day Saints have with universalism. Joseph Smith lived in a context where Universalism was a major part of the religious discussion.  Universalists argued that God is a benevolent and generous being whose attributes of love and justice were incompatible with widespread condemnation and permanent torment. They also held that God would not allow Himself to be defeated by Satan and…

“You shall obtain a view of them”

What were the three witnesses promised and what did they claim to experience?  The basics of answering this question seems obvious—they saw the gold plates and other artifacts related to them.  What is less apparent is how the Three Witnesses had that experience, since there are indications that they viewed the plates in vision, rather than experiencing them in a tangible way.  There is often a desire to make their experience out as being more materialistic than it was, perhaps as a result of conflating their experience with that of the Eight Witnesses, contradictory recollections of those who knew the witnesses, or a desire to have the experiences seem more real by being more physical in nature.  Whatever the case, it seems that the Three Witnesses saw and heard in a supernatural setting in a direct contrast to the experience of the Eight Witnesses, who claimed to have touched and handled the plates. Both early revelations and the Book of Mormon itself lay out the promises made to the three witnesses.  The earliest promise of a chance to witness the Book of Mormon was a revelation that was received in March 1829 (now D&C 5). The text states that: “three shall Know of A surety that those things are true for I will give them power that they may Behold & v[i]ew these things as they are.”[1]  Next, while translating Moroni’s writings in the Book of Ether, the promise was made to…

“The keys of the ministering of angels”

One of the persistent questions from Doctrine and Covenants, Section 13 is what is meant by the statement that the Priesthood of Aaron “holds the keys of the ministering of angels.”  Answers from general authorities in recent years have varied, including the idea that the Aaronic priesthood comes with a special privilege to have the visitation and ministering of angels;[1] the idea that when men ordained with the Aaronic priesthood serve other people, they act as ministering angels themselves;[2]  and the idea that when men ordained to the Aaronic priesthood administer ordinances that offer a remission of sins to those who receive the ordinances (i.e., baptism and the sacrament), they open the door to the ministering of angels to all Church members, since spiritual cleanliness is generally a prerequisite of communion with heavenly beings.[3]  The fact that there are a few different answers is an indication, to me, that we don’t really know what is meant by the phrase.  This may be, in part, because it brings up a conundrum that we are generally faced with when discussing the priesthood in the Church—what does ordination to the priesthood offer that is not available to faithful, believing, and righteous members of the Church otherwise? First, however, it is worth investigating what the term “keys” might mean in this context.  In one dictionary that was contemporary with Joseph Smith’s time, there are eleven different definitions for the word “key”, four of which…

“I will establish my church”

Doctrine and Covenants Section 10 is interesting in its discussion of the Lord’s church because it seems to use the term in two different ways.  One definition is the institution that we’re most likely to think of when we hear the term—the one we call Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The second is what has been loosely termed the “church without walls” or the “invisible church”—the collective group of people who are in tune with the Holy Spirit and do God’s work in the world.  Both definitions are important to understand and think about in our relationship to the world today. The first definition to be brought up is the institutional Church of Christ that would be established in April 1830.  The revelation paraphrases an earlier revelation in stating that the Lord had said: “If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them.”[1]  This seems to alluding to either an unknown revelation that we don’t have today or a revelation given to Martin Harris in March 1829 about the Three Witnesses, which proclaimed that they would receive their testimony “in this the beginning of the rising up and the coming forth of my church out of the wilderness—clear as the moon, fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,” and that “their testimony shall also go forth unto the condemnation of this generation if they harden their hearts against them.”[2] …

Deny not the Spirit of Revelation-a reflection on Come Follow Me

The story of the First Vision is one of the most beloved in all the Gospel, and many of us have sat through multitudes of lessons on what truths this vision taught, one of which being that the creeds of all of the other religions are an abomination to God. Sometimes this has been interpreted as meaning that the religions are an abomination, but that is not what God said–it was the creeds that God hated. Weirdly, however, while there are some creeds that teach things that we find abominable, there are many that are perfectly fitting with our doctrine. (I don’t think most Latter-day Saints would find it abominable, for example, that Jesus is the son of God, that he saved us from our sins, that he was born of a virgin, etc.) But God did not distinguish between which creeds were an abomination, they were all lumped together. Joseph Smith’s way of defining the gospel was that “Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of [others].”[1] When explaining what God meant when telling Joseph that the religious creeds were all an abomination, he explained, “I want to come up into…

“You have another gift”

In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom[1] rests on the shoulders of a young man.  His name … Joseph. If you couldn’t tell from the text above, my wife and I have been watching the TV series Merlin lately.  We’ve rather enjoyed their take on the Arthurian legends.  To me, there is something fascinating about stories that are told and retold time and time again for hundreds of years.  Now, I inserted Joseph’s name into the opening sequence of that TV series for this post because while the United States isn’t a land lost in myth and legend like Camelot, the early days of our religion were, for many adherents, a time of magic. To be fair to them, they didn’t necessarily see what they were doing as magic—more often they viewed it in religious terms.  For example, in this week’s readings for “Come, Follow Me,” we come across an interesting portion of Section 8 that discusses Oliver Cowdery having “the gift of Aaron.”[2]  While the nature of this gift is obscured in the text of the Doctrine and Covenants, the earliest extant version of the revelation states that Oliver had “the gift of working with the sprout,” which was a “thing of Nature” and that it was “the work of God.”[3]  A subsequent version of the text rendered this as “the gift of working with the rod.”[4]  The Joseph Smith…

“Let God Prevail”

I share here a sacrament meeting talk I delivered recently in my St Louis congregation. I suspect there have been many other such sermons on the same topic delivered in wards around the globe over the past three months. President Nelson’s October address seems to have made a powerful impression on our people in this time of spiritual hunger. I endorse President Nelson’s message and am grateful to have reflected on it at length here.  In one of the most enigmatic scenes in the Old Testament, a man stands alone on the bank of the Jordan river at midnight. The man is Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, a hard-driving trader in a hurry from the moment he was born grasping his twin brother’s heel as if to drag him back into the womb. Jacob has been on the move for many years, first leaving home to escape the wrath of his twin Esau, from whom, after the failed heel-grab, he eventually did manage to take the coveted birthright blessing. Now Jacob has fled from his father-in-law Laban, from whom he has won two daughters and much property. The Lord is calling him back to Canaan, the land of his father, and Jacob is on his way home.  At the threshold of return, the Jordan river, Jacob finds himself at an impasse. His family has crossed, but Jacob himself stays behind. At his back is Laban, before him is Esau; in…

“A man may have many revelations”

We’re four weeks into the year, and we’ve finally reached the beginning of the Doctrine and Covenants.  I know we started the book weeks ago, but what I mean to say is that this week we’re now working with the earliest material in the Doctrine and Covenants.  Section 3 is the first revelation from Joseph Smith for which a text has survived (even pre-dating the text of the Book of Mormon), while for Section 5 is the revelation for which we have the earliest extant copy of any of Joseph Smith’s revelations (a copy created by Oliver Cowdery after his arrival, around April 1829).[1]  The prior two sections that we’ve studied are placed before Section 3 because Section 1 was written as a preface for the Doctrine and Covenants and Section 2 is recalling events that occurred in 1823.  Section 2, however, was written in 1838-1839 as part of an official history and added to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876 (by comparison, our Section 3 is Section 2 in the Community of Christ’s version of the Doctrine and Covenants), while Section 1 was written in 1831.  All three of the revelations we are studying this week were received in the period before the Church itself was founded or the bulk of the Book of Mormon as we have it was dictated, spanning the period of July 1828-March 1829.  As the earliest existing documents of the Latter Day Saint movement,…

“A messenger sent from the presence of God”

I’ve always been interested in knowing what all Moroni said to Joseph Smith during their first conversation.  We have several accounts, both from Joseph Smith himself and from close associates like Oliver Cowdery, Orson Pratt, and Lucy Mack Smith of that visit, but all of them pick and choose what they discuss and all of them were written somewhere between 7 to 22 years after the event occurred.  Cowdery claimed that the visions began around “eleven or twelve, and perhaps later”,[1] and in Joseph Smith’s official account, he recalls that after three visions with the angel, “the cock crowed, and I found that day was approaching, so that our interviews must have occupied the whole of that night.”[2]  If we assume that the visions of Moroni began at midnight, that sunrise on 22 September 1823 occurred around 5:45 a.m.,[3] and that an insignificant amount of time passed between each visit, then that makes for an average of slightly less than 2 hours per vision.  Admittedly, the records indicate that each vision was longer than the last, but that still gives a lot of time for talking on Moroni’s part compared to the number of words we have in the Joseph Smith—History.  What all did he cover in that time?  The accounts we do have of what Moroni told Joseph Smith can give us some insights, even if they aren’t likely to be perfect in their presentation of the details. The…

“Or, are they all wrong together?”

In this week’s chapter in the Come, Follow Me manual, one of the core areas of discussion is “why are there various accounts of the First Vision?”  It’s an opportunity to explore the other accounts of the First Vision in a way that is potentially helpful to members of the Church.[1]   The section mentions that: “Although these accounts differ in some details, depending on the audience and setting, they are otherwise consistent.  And each account adds details that help us better understand Joseph Smith’s experience.”  The manual offers a link to the Gospel Topics Essay, which in turn links to the different accounts, and then asks: “What do you learn from reading all of these accounts?”  While I’ve offered my thoughts on what the messages of the First Vision were according to what’s actually in the accounts (more or less my response to that final question), I want to take some time to look at a relatively minor example of how “each account adds details that help us better understand Joseph Smith’s experience.” Within the canonized account of the First Vision, there is an inconsistency that has often stood out to me.  In discussing his confusion caused by several Protestant sects proselyting and contending with each other, Joseph Smith states that: “I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?”[2]  Later, when he is talking about…

“By mine own voice or by the voice of my servants”

Doctrine and Covenants section 1 is a fascinating document.  Written in late 1831, it would chronologically fall in place right around section 67, but was intended as a preface for the compilation of Joseph Smith’s revelations known as the Book of Commandments.  By extension, it later served as the preface for the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 1 is intended to get people’s attention and make it clear that modern revelations from the Lord are important to pay attention to.  It declares that the text is written in “the voice of him who dwells on high … the voice of the Lord,”[1] and that “the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouth of my disciples whom I have chosen in these last days …, for I the Lord have commanded them.”[2]  Right off the bat, we have a document presented as the voice of the Lord and that voice declaring that He has authorized disciples to give voice to His warnings.  It specifically names Joseph Smith as “my servant” and states that the Lord “spake unto him from heaven and gave him commandments” and that “these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.”[3]  As indicated by the title that was given to the first attempt at publishing a collection of revelations or sections (the Book of Commandments—the title was…

What are the best resources to accompany your study of the Doctrine and Covenants?

We’re wrapping up the end of a year studying the Book of Mormon (whether at home or with our wards or branches) and soon will be turning our focus to the Doctrine and Covenants.  J. Stapley at BCC recently ran a useful post discussing some approaches and resources we can use for studying the Doctrine and Covenants and Ben Spackman also recently posted an updated list of recommended reading for Church History and the Doctrine and Covenants topics. The Church has many meaningful resources available for study including: The Joseph Smith Papers Project site, which include links to the Sources behind the Doctrine and Covenants and the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, which has links out to “Additional Versions” and “Historical Introductions” to the sections An updated e-book published by the Joseph Smith Papers Project, Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion that compiles much of the information from the Joseph Smith Papers project about the Doctrine and Covenants in one place (also available on the Church’s website and Gospel Library app) Revelations in Context, which provides, as the title indicates, historical context for the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants Saints, Volume 1 introduces the historical narrative for the time in which most of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were written I have to admit, however, that I don’t know very many other good books and resources to recommend off the top of my…

Kent P. Jackson on the Joseph Smith Translation

Joseph Smith’s translation projects have been a hot topic this year.  Among many others, earlier this fall we did two posts that discussed the possibility that Joseph Smith relied on the Adam Clarke commentaries for some of the changes he made in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.  Recently, Kent P. Jackson (a retired professor of religion at Brigham Young University) published a response to the articles that we were discussing, which share evidence of Joseph Smith using the Adam Clarke commentary.  In his article, published in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, Jackson expressed his conclusion that “none of the examples they provide can be traced to Clarke’s commentary, and almost all of them can be explained easily by other means. … The few overlaps that do exist are vague, superficial, and coincidental.”[1]  Kurt Manwaring sat down with Kent Jackson for an interview to discuss his viewpoint, and what follows here is a co-post—a summary with some quotes and commentary on the interview.  To read the full interview, click here. As is often the case when we discuss the issue of Joseph Smith’s translations, the issue of whether or not they can actually be called translations came up in the interview.  Called the “New Translation” by Joseph Smith and his contemporaries (Jackson explains that the term “Joseph Smith Translation” was devised for the Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible in the 1970s because they needed…

Pondering on Isaiah and the Abrahamic Covenant

For the past few years, I’ve tried to take some time each year to focus in on a specific subject related to the section of scriptures covered in Sunday School.  Last year, for example, I tried to scratch the surface of understanding Paul in the New Testament and look at some of how scholars approach him.  This year, I focused on understanding how the Isaiah texts are used within the Book of Mormon—particularly in Nephi’s writings.  I shared some very preliminary thoughts from studying Isaiah in 1 Nephi earlier this year, but since then I’ve done a lot more reading and thinking.  I think the most insightful book I read was Joseph Spencer’s The Vision of All, but I also enjoyed pondering on a few other books too. One issue that came up over and over in literature about Nephi’s use of Isaiah was his efforts to reaffirm the Abrahamic Covenant.  Nephi does say, after all, that the “marvelous work” of the Lord in the Latter-days shall be of worth “unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham,” while he explained his interpretation of Isaiah’s words to his brothers.  He also stated that his “soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers” as part of his explanation for including the large block of Isaiah text in 2 Nephi.[1]  What is interesting to me, however, is that while…

A Soft Closing for the End of the World

Let it be said first off that I am a last days cynic. It’s not that I think many current ideas of apocalypticism are weird (I mean, I don’t just think they’re weird). I just really hate them. This is likely partly due to growing up in the 90’s right when apocalyptic fervor was still enjoying a level of mass popularity that put it up in the doctrinal hierarchy somewhere in between the Resurrection and not committing murder. I vividly remember sitting in seminary and Institute and Sunday School classes brooding, teenage-like, as I listened to lesson after lesson about all the cruelty and abuse and carnage hanging like a sword over our heads that was going to fall any moment now and there was nothing you could do about it except get food storage. (How food storage was going to help protect us from the nuclear war which was apparently imminent I did not know, but it seemed to make sense to people.) Since this was a time in my life that I was in desperately profound need of hope and comfort, hearing that God was going to unleash terror unlike anything the world had ever known but that it was for our own good was, needless to say, not super faith instilling. This got to the point that by the time I was an adult I had shut my eyes and ears to the last days. My heart…

Terryl Givens on 2nd Nephi

Terryl Givens—one of the foremost Latter-day Saint authors, theologians, and apologists of our time—recently penned a short volume on 2nd Nephi as part of the brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon series the Maxwell Institute has been publishing this year.  I wrote a review of the book earlier this year, but recently Kurt Manwaring recently did a 10 questions interview with Dr. Givens that is interesting and worth reading.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a summary with excerpts and some commentary), but I do recommend going to read the full interview at Kurt Manwaring’s site here. Terryl Givens states that he chose to focus on 2nd Nephi when he was approached about contributing to the series because “the teachings of Lehi and Nephi are … some of the richest in the Book of Mormon” and because “the Isaiah portions are substantial and daunting.”  In particular, Givens was drawn to the covenant theology expressed in the book of scripture: The nineteenth century religious landscape was saturated with thematic treatments of covenant theology. Joseph frequent invocation of the New and Everlasting Covenant fits squarely into that context. But his version of covenant theology, culminating in his temple theology, is the master framework for all his work of Restoration. I was surprised to realize how much of his theology is implicitly sketched—and the rest foreshadowed—by 2nd Nephi’s treatment of covenant theology. It’s an important insight into understanding…