Sunday, April 11, 2021

April 5-11: D&C 30-36

 


This lesson covers the Mission to the Lamanites.

I discussed this lesson separately on another blog, so I'll repost that here.

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This week's Come Follow Me lesson focuses on D&C 30-36. Sections 30 and 32 discuss the Mission to the Lamanites.

Because Church members hold a variety of theories about the identity of the Lamanites, it's always useful to review the scriptures on this topic, as well as what Joseph Smith taught, and then compare the teachings of other theories, such as the hemispheric theory and M2C. 

People can believe whatever they want, but they should at least make informed decisions.

And we know from long experience that people will confirm their biases regardless of the facts. But sometimes there are people who are willing to change their minds when they learn new information, especially when the new information comes from the scriptures and from authentic Church history instead of spin from the scholars.

For those few who have open minds, here are some facts to consider.
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There are 12 references to the Lamanites in the D&C. Five of these focus on the mission to the Lamanites.

8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.

9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.

14 And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 28:8–9, 14)

6 And be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance; for I have given unto him power to build up my church among the Lamanites;
(Doctrine and Covenants 30:6)

2 And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 32:2)

There is a nice summary of the Mission to the Lamanites here:


Separately, the Lord referred to Missouri as the borders of the Lamanites.

8 And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 54:8)

These verses are the only scriptural references that identify specific people as Lamanites; i.e., the Lamanites include the Indian (Native American) tribes these missionaries visited in New York, Ohio, and Missouri/Kansas. These are the tribes Joseph Smith met with when he told them the Book of Mormon told them about their ancestors. These tribes are predominantly haplogroup X2, not the Asian haplogroups ABCD that predominate in Latin America.

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Outside of the scriptures, several traditions have arisen in the Church about the identity of the Lamanites. Orson Pratt, especially, taught that the native peoples of Latin America were Lamanites. 

For example, in his 1840 pamphlet, Orson Pratt spent several pages of commentary to describe his hemispheric model of the Book of Mormon:

This remnant of Joseph were also led in a miraculous manner from Jerusalem, in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah. They were first led to the eastern borders of the Red Sea; then they journeyed for some time along the borders thereof, nearly in a south-east direction; after which, they altered their course nearly eastward, until they came to the great waters, where, by the commandment of God, they built a vessel, in which they were safely brought across the great Pacific ocean, and landed upon the western coast of South America.

In the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, at the time the Jews were carried away captive into Babylon, another remnant were brought out of Jerusalem; some of whom were descendants of Judah. They landed in North America; soon after which they emigrated into the northern parts of South America, at which place they were discovered by the remnant of Joseph, something like four hundred years after.

... The persecuted nation emigrated towards the northern parts of South America, leaving the wicked nation in possession of the middle and southern parts of the same. The former were called Nephites... the Lord gave unto them the whole continent, for a land of promise...

The second colony, which left Jerusalem eleven years after the remnant of Joseph left that city, landed in North America, and emigrated from thence, to the northern parts of South America; and about four hundred years after, they were discovered by the Nephites, as we stated in the foregoing.
They were called the people of Zarahemla....

And in process of time, the Nephites began to build ships near the Isthmus of Darien, and launch them forth into the western ocean, in which great numbers sailed a great distance to the northward, and began to colonize North America. Other colonies emigrated by land, and in a few centuries the whole continent became peopled. North America, at that time, was almost entirely destitute of timber, it having been cut off by the more ancient race, who came from the great tower, at the confusion of languages...

The Nephites and Lamanites were all converted unto the Lord, both in South and North America...

The Lamanites, at that time, dwelt in South America, and the Nephites in North America.
A great and terrible war commenced between them, which lasted for many years, and resulted in the complete overthrow and destruction of the Nephites. This war commenced at the Isthmus of Darien, and was very destructive to both nations for many years. At length, the Nephites were driven before their enemies, a great distance to the north, and north-east; and having gathered their whole nation together, both men, women, and children, they encamped on, and round about the hill Cumorah, where the records were found, which is in the State of New York, about two hundred miles west of the city of Albany. 


When Joseph Smith wrote the Wentworth letter, published as "Church History" in the March 1842 Times and Seasons, he adapted some of Orson Pratt's pamphlet. The Joseph Smith Papers notes that "“Church History” echoes some wording from Orson Pratt’s A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records."


In writing the Wentworth letter, however, Joseph deleted all of Orson Pratt's speculation about the hemispheric model. Instead, he reiterated D&C 28, 30, and 32, as well as Moroni's explanation during his first visit.

"Church History" (aka the Wentworth letter):

"The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."


"This country" is the same phrase Moroni used when he first explained the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith.

"He [Moroni] then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham." 


Orson Pratt outlived Joseph Smith. Orson inserted his hemispheric theory into the footnotes of the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, and many Latter-day Saints accepted the hemispheric model. 

Others accept the designation in D&C 28, 30, and 32; i.e., the Lamanites are the Indians who live in the U.S. circa 1830-1842 (the northeastern tribes and those who had been removed to the borders of Missouri).

In the early 1900s, RLDS scholar L.E. Hills proposed a limited geography based on Mesoamerica, with Cumorah in southern Mexico (M2C, or the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). Eventually, LDS scholars such as John Sorenson, Dan Peterson, and Jack Welch adopted M2C. They have been promoting it ever since.
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Orson Pratt's hemispheric model retains some vitality, however. Lots of people over the years have alluded to it. 

In the modern world, people have traveled and migrated so much that bloodlines and DNA are mingled everywhere in the world. In that sense, just as Abraham's descendants are everywhere, we could say Lehi's descendants are everywhere.

The demographics of Latin America show that, apart from the indigenous populations (Amerindians) whose ancestry is north Asian (mtDNA Haplogroups A, B, C, and D), the ancestors of most of the population originated in Europe. It was the incongruence between the DNA evidence and Orson Pratt's hemispheric model (Lamanites are the ancestors of all the Latin Americans) that caused such confusion and led to rewording the Introduction to the Book of Mormon from "principal ancestors" to "among the ancestors" of the American Indians. Introduction (churchofjesuschrist.org)


The studies summarized in Wikipedia indicate that "Whites presently compose the largest racial group in Latin America (36% in the table herein) and, whether as White, Mestizo, or Mulatto, the vast majority of Latin Americans have white ancestry."

In Latin America as a whole, 36% of the population is "white" (mainly Europeans from Spain and Portugal), 30% is Mestizo (mixture of European and indigenous), 20.3% is Mulattoes (mixture of African and European), and only 9.2% are Amerindians. 


You can see the data here (click to enlarge):



As we saw at the beginning of this post, people will confirm their biases no matter what the facts are. We have M2C scholars who claim the Book of Mormon took place entirely in a limited geography of Mesoamerica, yet who also claim the descendants of Lehi are found throughout Latin America. It's unclear why they designate Latin America to the exclusion of North America, but maybe this is merely the legacy of Orson Pratt living on.

Which is fine. 

People can and will believe whatever they want.

But if you look at this issue from the perspective of missionaries teaching nonmembers, Orson Pratt's theory is probably not the strongest argument in favor of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. 

You can decide yourself whether it is a strong argument to reject D&C 28, 30 and 32 by claiming that the X2 Haplogroup Indians to whom those sections refer are not Lamanites, because the Lamanites are the A, B, C, and D Haplogroup Indians in Latin America.

But again, people can believe whatever they want.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

March 29-April 4 Easter

 

The Book of Mormon and the experiences of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (especially in the Kirtland temple) affirm the reality--the historicity--of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There is no more important message in the world than "He is Risen."

The fundamental principles of our religion is the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, “that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended up into heaven;” and all other things are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/questions-and-answers-8-may-1838/3 

Historicity--historical authenticity-- is a  critical prelude to faith.

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A thoughtful article by Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, published in the Wall St. Journal, points out the difference between historicity and mythology.

Especially today, it is imperative that Christians recover the sheer strangeness of the Resurrection of Jesus and stand athwart all attempts to domesticate it [meaning to rationalize away the historicity of the resurrection]....

Another strategy of domestication, employed by thinkers from the 19th century to today, is to reduce the Resurrection of Jesus to a myth or an archetype. There are numberless stories of dying and rising gods in the mythologies of the world, and the narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection can look like just one more iteration of the pattern. Like those of Dionysus, Osiris, Adonis and Persephone, the “resurrection” of Jesus is, on this reading, a symbolic evocation of the cycle of nature. In a Jungian psychological framework, the story of Jesus dying and coming back to life is an instance of the classic hero’s journey from order through chaos to greater order.

The problem with these modes of explanation was well articulated by C.S. Lewis: Those who think that the New Testament is a myth just haven’t read many myths. Precisely because they have to do with timeless verities and the great natural and psychological constants, mythic narratives are situated “once upon a time,” or to bring things up to date, “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” No one wonders who was Pharaoh during Osiris’s time or during which era of Greek history Heracles performed his labors, for these tales are not historically specific.

But the Gospel writers are keen to tell us that Jesus’ birth, for instance, took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria and Augustus the Emperor of Rome—that is to say, at a definite moment of history and in reference to readily identifiable figures. The Nicene Creed, recited regularly by Catholics and Orthodox Christians as part of their Sunday worship, states that Jesus was “crucified under Pontius Pilate,” a Roman official whose image is stamped on coins that we can examine today.

If not for the historical authenticity of the resurrection, there would be no basis for faith in Christ. The Book of Mormon affirms the reality that the resurrected Christ visited people who lived not in or around Israel, but on the other side of the world. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, to whom the resurrected Christ appeared in the Kirtland temple, affirmed the reality of the resurrection yet again.

Continuing with Bishop Barron's article:

For believers ever since, if the crucified and risen Jesus is divine, there is a moral imperative to make him unambiguously the center of our lives. But we also have the assurance that God has not given up on the human project, that God intends fully to save us, body and soul. One of the favorite phrases in the writings of the Fathers of the Church is Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus, which means, God became man that man might become God. No religion or philosophy has ever proclaimed a more radical humanism than that.


Sunday, March 28, 2021

March 22-29: D&C 29

 

"Be glad."

Section 29 summarizes the plan of salvation, which can be summarized with verse 5:

Lift up your hearts and be glad, for I am in your midst, and am your advocate with the Father; and it is his good will to give you the kingdom.

(Doctrine and Covenants 29:5)

This is a fascinating contrast to the "tribulation and desolation" described in verses 8-21. These verses describe things that most people would rather not focus on, such as "there shall be weeping and wailing among the hosts of men," and "I the Lord God will send forth flies upon the face of the earth, which shall take hold of the inhabitants thereof, and shall eat their flesh, and shall cause maggots to come in upon them; And their tongues shall be stayed that they shall not utter against me; and their flesh shall fall from off their bones, and their eyes from their sockets; And it shall come to pass that the beasts of the forest and the fowls of the air shall devour them up." (Doctrine and Covenants 29:18–20)

How can we "be glad" in light of all this tribulation?

One answer is found in verse 34.

Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.

(Doctrine and Covenants 29:34)

When we remember that everything is spiritual, we remember that mortality is a school, an essential experience for us. As I often say, the hardest thing about mortality is how real it seems.

The reality we can have faith in, the reality that endures, appears near the end of the section.

"And thus did I, the Lord God, appoint unto man the days of his probation—that by his natural death he might be raised in immortality unto eternal life, even as many as would believe."
(Doctrine and Covenants 29:43)

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Section 29 reaffirms the literal creation of Adam and that he was cast out from the Garden of Eden. t also emphasizes that we cannot be agents under ourselves without the temptations of the devil (verse 39), thereby reiterating the reality of the devil.

And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet—

(Doctrine and Covenants 29:39)

In the scriptures, the term agent(s) appears only in the D&C and PofGP (Moses 6:56). Jonathan Edwards used the term hundreds of times, usually in the context of moral agent(s). I see the influence of Jonathan Edwards as evidence that Joseph actually translated the plates, but it is also evidence of how the Lord gave revelations to Joseph Smith "after the manner of his language," meaning the words, phrases and concepts he had learned in his lifetime.

Here's an example:

The Scriptures are so very express in it, that all mankind, all flesh, all the world, every man living, are guilty of sin; that it must at least be understood, everyone that is come to be capable of being active, in duty to God, or sin against him, is guilty of sin. There are multitudes in the world, who have but very lately begun to exert their faculties as moral agents; and so are but just entered on their state of trial, as acting for themselves.

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The combination of "lift up your hearts" with "be glad" appears only in the D&C and PofGP (Moses), but both elements are found in the scriptures.

The "be glad" message appears throughout the scriptures (see sample list below).

The idea of "lifting your hearts" may allude to Lamentations. 

Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
(Lamentations 3:41)

More likely, it alludes to David Brainerd's journal as published by Jonathan Edwards, which used the phrase several times. (see list below) 

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At ten, rode away with a heavy heart to preach to my Indians. Upon the road I attempted to lift up my heart to God;

If I attempted to lift up my heart to God, as I frequently did by the way, on a sudden, before I was aware, my thoughts were wandering "to the ends of the earth" Job 28:24

Enjoyed some sweet meditations on the road, and was enabled to lift up my heart to God in prayer and praise. 

In the evening, could not but lift up my heart to God in prayer, while riding to my lodgings: And blessed be his Name

I was enabled to " lift up my soul to God" Psalms 25:1 early this morning... I found freedom to lift up my heart to God for myself and others
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"Be glad" references:

The righteous shall be glad in the Lord, and shall trust in him; and all the upright in heart shall glory.
(Psalms 64:10)

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
(Psalms 118:24)

And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
(Isaiah 25:9)

And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart shall rejoice as through wine: yea, their children shall see it, and be glad; their heart shall rejoice in the Lord.
(Zechariah 10:7)

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
(1 Peter 4:12–13)

And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
(Revelation 19:6–8)

And Israel shall be saved in mine own due time; and by the keys which I have given shall they be led, and no more be confounded at all.
Lift up your hearts and be glad, your redemption draweth nigh.
(Doctrine and Covenants 35:25–26)

And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look.
(Moses 7:44)



Sunday, March 21, 2021

March 15-21: D&C 27-28

There are several aspects of Section 27 to notice. Here is the overview. 

1–4, The emblems to be used in partaking of the sacrament are set forth;

5–14, Christ and His servants from all dispensations are to partake of the sacrament;

15–18, Put on the whole armor of God.

(Doctrine and Covenants 27, Heading)

First, notice that a "heavenly messenger" met Joseph and gave him the first part of this revelation. Here is the explanation from Joseph's journal:

Early in the month of August, Newel Knight and his wife paid us a visit, at my place at Harmony, Penn; and as neither his wife nor mine had been as yet confirmed, and it was proposed that we should confirm them, and partake together of the sacrament, before he and his wife should leave us.— In order to prepare for this; I set out to go to procure some wine for the occasion, but had gone but <​only​> a short distance when I was met by a heavenly messenger, and received the following revelation; the first paragraph of which was written at this time, and the remainder in the September following.

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/57

Who was this heavenly messenger? Among the candidates identified as "heavenly messengers" are Moroni, Peter, James and John, and John the Baptist. 

I don't think it would be Moroni, because verse 5 refers to Moroni in the third person. For the same reason, it would not be John the Baptist (verse 7) or Peter, James or John (verse 12). This is why I think it was probably Nephi or another of the 3 Nephites because their mission is specifically to "tarry" and work with mortals.

People often forget that Joseph met with Nephi, also a heavenly messenger who was probably the messenger who took the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah before bringing the plates of Nephi to Fayette. David Whitmer's mother said the messenger identified himself as "Brother Nephi." Joseph said he was one of the 3 Nephites.

This has led to some confusion because the original version of Joseph Smith's history said it was Nephi who visited him. Brigham Young explained in a letter to his son that "There is really no discrepancy in the history about these names. It was Moroni who delivered the sacred records and Urim and Thummim to Joseph, but Nephi also visited him." See the explanation here:

http://www.lettervii.com/2020/08/moroni-and-nephi.html

The historical introduction to D&C 14 in the Joseph Smith Papers explains: David Whitmer later recounted that during their journey to Fayette, he, Cowdery, and JS briefly encountered a “pleasant, nice looking old man” whom JS identified by revelation as a heavenly messenger transporting the plates. Whitmer also recalled that soon after their arrival in Fayette, his mother, Mary Musselman Whitmer, was met “by the same old man,” who showed her the plates.

Note 5: "Joseph F. Smith, New York City, NY, to John Taylor et al., [Salt Lake City, Utah Territory], 17 Sept. 1878, draft, Joseph F. Smith, Papers, CHL; Stevenson, Journal, 23 Dec. 1877, 9 Feb. 1886, and 2 Jan. 1887. While the Joseph F. Smith account did not identify the person transporting the plates, Stevenson’s accounts variously identified him as “one of the Nephites” and “one of the 3 Nephites.” (See also [Andrew Jenson], “Eight Witnesses,” Historical Record, Oct. 1888, 621.)"

Note 5, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-june-1829-a-dc-14/1#historical-intro 

BTW, it's great to have this note in the Joseph Smith Papers. It demonstrates there is no basis for identifying the messenger as "Moroni" except for Mary Whitmer's grandson's claim that his grandmother was wrong and it had to be Moroni who showed her the plates. Nevertheless, as we all know by now, the Saints book teaches it was Moroni, after all!

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The historical introduction to Section 27 is well worth reading to understand the background and composition of the section.

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-circa-august-1835-dc-27/2#historical-intro

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Verse 2 explains an important point: For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory. (Doctrine and Covenants 27:2)

This is one reason why we use water, which some Christians find strange. It also accommodates alternatives to wheat bread.

The non-biblical phrase "it mattereth not" is used 11 times in the Book of Mormon and 7 times in the Doctrine and Covenants. There are a lot of things that "mattereth not" and we should always distinguish between what matters and what does not matter.

Some say the identity of the messenger who showed the plates to Mary Whitmer doesn't matter, but identifying that messenger as Moroni creates a serious doctrinal issue about the nature of resurrected bodies. If a resurrected being (in this case Moroni) can change his shape and appearance, what does it mean to have a resurrected body?

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There's a lot more to be said about these sections. For now, let's end with verse 5.

5 Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim; (Doctrine and Covenants 27:5)

This is a fascinating passage because it reflects the Eastern Orthodox view of the sacrament as a memorialization of the great feast at the last day.

The Eucharist is preeminently the sacrament of Christian hope. It is a foretaste of the eschatological banquet. Saint Thomas Aquinas, in the antiphon for the Magnificat on the feast of Corpus Christi, described the Eucharist as the pledge of future glory. It contains within it the memorial of Christ's Passover and the anticipation of his coming in glory. Filled with hope, Christians celebrate the Eucharist as 'a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us' in anticipation.

https://acuresearchbank.acu.edu.au/item/88z41/the-pledge-of-future-glory-the-eschatological-dimension-of-the-eucharist-a-systematic-exploration

This is awesome because it shows a path toward harmonizing our understanding with that of the Eastern Orthodox faiths (a topic I've discussed elsewhere in more detail). 

I like to think of the Sacrament as looking forward to this future reunion. It adds an important dimension to the ordinance that Section 27 sets out.

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Another detail here is the point that Moroni has "the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim." This passage is the reason I titled one of my books "Moroni's keys" and why I describe my interpretation of Book of Mormon geography as "Moroni's America."

Orson Hyde once delivered a 4th of July sermon in which he referred to Moroni as the "Prince of America." I discussed that here:

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2020/07/moronis-america-prince-of-america.html

As always, there's lots more we could discuss but at least we looked at a few things!

We'll discuss the mission to the Lamanites next week.

 


Sunday, March 14, 2021

March 8-14: D&C 23-26

 

We can appreciate these sections when we get a feel for the context. The persecution that preceded these revelations is summarized in the lesson and in Saints, but the actual account is more detailed and interesting. You can read it in the Joseph Smith Papers here:

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/47

Notice how the spiritual experiences these early Saints had compensated for the fierce persecution they faced.

This passage is a good example:

Much exhortation and instruction was given; and the Holy Ghost was poured out upon us in a miraculous manner many of our number prophecied, whilst others had the Heavens opened to their view, and were so over come that we had to lay them on beds, or other convenient places: 

Among the rest was Brother Newel Knights who had to be placed on a bed, being unable to help himself. By his own account of the transaction, He could not understand why we should lay him on the bed, <​as​> he felt no sensibility of weakness. 

He felt his heart filled with love, with glory and pleasure unspeakable, and could discern all that was going on in the room, when all of a sudden a vision of futurity burst upon him. He saw there represented, the great work which through my instrumentality was yet to be accomplished. He saw Heaven opened and beheld the Lord Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, and had it made plain to his understanding that the time would come whe[n] he would be admitted into his presence to enjoy his society for ever and ever. 

When their bodily strength was restored to these brethren, they shouted “hosannas to God and the lamb” and rehearsed the glorious things which they had seen and felt, whilst they were yet in the Spirit.

Such scenes as these were calculated to inspire our hearts with joy unspeakable, and fill us with awe and reverence for that Almighty Being, by whose grace we had been called to be instrumental in bringing about for the children of men, the enjoyment of such glorious blessings as were now at this time poured out upon us. To find ourselves engaged in the very same order of things, as observed by the holy Apostles of old; 

To realize the importance and solemnity of such proceedings, and to witness and feel with our own natural senses, the like glorious manifestations of the powers of the Priesthood; the gifts and blessings of the Holy Ghost; and the goodness and condescension of a merciful God, unto such as obey the everlasting gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, combined to create within us, sensations of rapturous gratitude, and inspire <​us​> with fresh zeal and energy, in the cause of truth.

That sense of renewed energy and zeal often accompanies powerful spiritual meetings and other experiences.

Yesterday we had a leadership conference and one key point that came out was that every meeting and encounter among Latter-day Saints should produce faith and a spiritual experience of some kind. I find that the most common such experience is "joy unspeakable" as described above.

This is an awesome passage:

8 Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days.

(Doctrine and Covenants 24:8)

When we recognize the Lord's involvement in our lives, such as by a daily expression of gratitude, we don't lose sight of the reality that God is always with us.

We could discuss every verse in these sections, but this next one is fascinating.

10 And thy brother Oliver shall continue in bearing my name before the world, and also to the church. And he shall not suppose that he can say enough in my cause; and lo, I am with him to the end.

(Doctrine and Covenants 24:10)

Can we ever say, "I've done enough?" Yes and no.

In one sense, our daily efforts are enough. We don't get discouraged because we haven't walked faster than we have strength.  

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

(Mosiah 4:27)

On the other hand, we always want to do more, help more people, learn more, etc.

32 But all things must come to pass in their time.
33 Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.

(Doctrine and Covenants 64:32–33)





Sunday, March 7, 2021

March 1-7: D&C 20-22

Section 20 is awesome. In just a few verses, it sets out the basic doctrines of the Church and then explains the basic organization and ordinances.

Here's the outline:

1–16, The Book of Mormon proves the divinity of the latter-day work;

17–28, The doctrines of creation, fall, atonement, and baptism are affirmed;

29–37, Laws governing repentance, justification, sanctification, and baptism are set forth;

38–67, Duties of elders, priests, teachers, and deacons are summarized;

68–74, Duties of members, blessing of children, and the mode of baptism are revealed;

75–84, Sacramental prayers and regulations governing Church membership are given.

(Doctrine and Covenants 20, Heading)

Let's look at the first few verses.

1 The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April—

This diagram is useful for remembering the relationships among Christ, the Church, and the people. We each have a direct, personal relationship with Christ. We have a related but separate relationship with the Church, the organization Christ established for all the reasons described in Section 20.



In this diagram I wrote "people" instead of "members" because the Light of Christ influences everyone, and because the Church is intended and designed to bless everyone on Earth. 

2 Which commandments were given to Joseph Smith, Jun., who was called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the first elder of this church;

This verse refers specifically to the commandments to organize the Church, but it applies more generally to the commandments and revelations leading up to that organization. Here the Lord emphasizes that Joseph was called of God and ordained an apostle, which implicates the restoration of the Priesthood as well.

3 And to Oliver Cowdery, who was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the second elder of this church, and ordained under his hand;

This verse is important for those who disregard what Oliver Cowdery said and did as an Apostle. Like Joseph, he too was called of God. 

4 And this according to the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory, both now and forever. Amen.

Here we have a reference to "grace" that, for various reasons, seemed to be overlooked for a long time among Latter-day Saints.  

5 After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;

This verse specifically refers to Joseph Smith, but it is reprised with a more general application in verses 32-34 below.

This passage refers to the First Vision, during which Joseph received a remission of his sins. The language alludes to 2 Peter 2:20 "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein...", substituting "vanities of the world" for "pollutions of the world."  

The phrase "vanities of the world" does not appear anywhere else in the scriptures. 

However, Jonathan Edwards used the phrase 9 times. In one sermon, he said, "the People of Christ and as those that have been with G. & have been Conversing with Christ & that & here we should walk as the Children of the light and of the day. we should take heed that we bent entangled in the Cares & vanities of this world that we dont set our hearts upon such things...

6 But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness;

This refers to Moroni, whom both Joseph and Oliver described this way. Neither of them described Moroni as an old, portly man with a heavy beard in a wool suit and a knapsack on this back.

Here's Oliver's description from Letter IV.

"The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam."


7 And gave unto him commandments which inspired him;

The commandments Moroni gave Joseph are spelled out in a few places, including Letter IV.

8 And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon;

Throughout their lives, Joseph and Oliver always said Joseph translated the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummim, aka the Nephite interpreters, that came with the plates. The Book of Mormon itself explains that this was the instrument prepared for the translation of the plates. 

4 Behold, I have written upon these plates the very things which the brother of Jared saw; and there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared.
5 Wherefore the Lord hath commanded me to write them; and I have written them. And he commanded me that I should seal them up; and he also hath commanded that I should seal up the interpretation thereof; wherefore I have sealed up the interpreters, according to the commandment of the Lord.
(Ether 4:4–5)

Obviously, Moroni did not seal up a stone Joseph found in a well.

9 Which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also;

The phrase "fallen people" occurs only in this verse and in four passages in the Book of Mormon, all in Alma. 

Here's how Moroni explained it to Joseph the first night:

"He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightned and intelligent people, possessing a correct knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record."


10 Which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them—

A reference to the Three Witnesses, presumably. No one else (other than Joseph) testified about the ministering of angels.

11 Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old;

The Book of Mormon proves the truthfulness of the Bible (the "holy scriptures") by reiterating the historical reality of Biblical events.

3 And as I suppose that the first part of this record, which speaks concerning the creation of the world, and also of Adam, and an account from that time even to the great tower, and whatsoever things transpired among the children of men until that time, is had among the Jews—
4 Therefore I do not write those things which transpired from the days of Adam until that time; but they are had upon the plates; and whoso findeth them, the same will have power that he may get the full account.
(Ether 1:3–4)

[BTW, this passage leads me to infer that our Book of Moses came from the plates, a topic for another day.]

12 Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.

The Book of Mormon explains that God speaks to all his children all around the world.

13 Therefore, having so great witnesses, by them shall the world be judged, even as many as shall hereafter come to a knowledge of this work.

The Bible and Book of Mormon both address the topic of judgment, although that is not emphasized in our modern world. But the passages speak for themselves.

14 And those who receive it in faith, and work righteousness, shall receive a crown of eternal life;

The phrase "crown of eternal life" appears in only one other passage in the scriptures:

Continue in these things even unto the end, and you shall have a crown of eternal life at the right hand of my Father, who is full of grace and truth.
(Doctrine and Covenants 66:12)

The phrase alludes to two New Testament verses:

12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
(James 1:12)

10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
(Revelation 2:10)

Jonathan Edwards combined the concepts a few times.

for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. James 1:12 (The doctrine was that those who love Christ shall receive of him a crown of life. You have heard the explication of this doctrine in the forenoon, wherein we have told you who those are that love Christ and briefly described the crown that they shall receive: it is that eternal life, joy, beauty and glory with which they shall be crowned in the other world. 

(2) Love to Christ is spoken of as the general character of those to whom the promises of eternal life are made. So James 1:12, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him."


15 But those who harden their hearts in unbelief, and reject it, it shall turn to their own condemnation—

"harden their hearts" appears only once in the Bible (Exodus 11:20) but 24 times in the Book of Mormon and 5 times in the D&C.

16 For the Lord God has spoken it; and we, the elders of the church, have heard and bear witness to the words of the glorious Majesty on high, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Joseph and Oliver as the two elders of the Church at the time fulfilled the law of witnesses (2 or more witnesses).

17 By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them;

The term "framer" is not found in the Bible. It's unique to this passage and it could lead to an entire lesson itself some day.

18 And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them;

This passage, which is consistent with the Family Proclamation, was never controversial until the last few years.

19 And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.

The commandments are for our benefit, not God's.

20 But by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man.

"Sensual and devilish" is unique to the Book of Mormon.

21 Wherefore, the Almighty God gave his Only Begotten Son, as it is written in those scriptures which have been given of him.

This refers to the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

22 He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them.

Giving no need to temptations is the example for us to follow.

23 He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day;

This is the essence of the gospel.

24 And ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father;

Joseph once wrote, "The fundamental principles of our religion is the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, “that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended up into heaven;” and all other things are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.


25 That as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved—

Again, enduring in faith.

26 Not only those who believed after he came in the meridian of time, in the flesh, but all those from the beginning, even as many as were before he came, who believed in the words of the holy prophets, who spake as they were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost, who truly testified of him in all things, should have eternal life,

This is the doctrine that the Gospel was presented to Adam and Eve.

27 As well as those who should come after, who should believe in the gifts and callings of God by the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and of the Son;

The universal opportunity for salvation.

28 Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.

This is basic Christian doctrine, although people disagree on what it actually means.

29 And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.

"Endure in faith" is a phrase unique to the D&C, where it appears three times. 

30 And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true;

Justification is a topic that deserves a longer discussion.

31 And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength.

Sanctification also deserves a longer discussion. 

32 But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God;

Joseph was an example of this when he fell into temptations after the First Vision.

33 Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation;

A warning for each of us.

34 Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also.
(Doctrine and Covenants 20:1–34)

Saturday, February 27, 2021

February 22-28: D&C 18-19


This lesson focuses on the concept that "the worth of souls is great." 

Notice how the verse begins:

Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;

(Doctrine and Covenants 18:10)

One way to understand this is emphasis; i.e., the Lord emphasized to Joseph, Oliver and David that the worth of souls is great.

Another interpretation is that the Lord was reminding Joseph of something he already knew, or had read previously. I like this interpretation because it shows the Lord interacting with Joseph, similar to the way he interacted with Oliver when he reminded him of a previous experience.

22 Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

23 Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?

(Doctrine and Covenants 6:22–23)

This interpretation also shows us how the Lord works with our individual "mental language bank," meaning the words and concepts we learn. As we "treasure up" the things we learn, the Lord can draw on them in the future.

85 Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.

(Doctrine and Covenants 84:85)

I think this verse explains how Joseph translated the plates. From a young age, Joseph "treasured up" the scriptures and writings of Christian authors, and the Lord "meted" those words through the translation. That's the gist of my book, Infinite Goodness, which will be released in March 2021.
_____

The phrase "worth of souls" is unique in all the scriptures to D&C 18:10. In fact, the word "worth" doesn't appear at all in the New Testament and appears disproportionately more in the Book of Mormon. Here are the statistics from WordCruncher:


This raises the topic of intertextuality, which we discussed in this week's podcast. Because we used a lot of PowerPoint slides, I'm providing a link to a version of the PowerPoint for your reference here.

https://www.mobom.org/intertextuality

Intertextuality points to Joseph as the translator and it's an exciting new approach to understanding the Book of Mormon as the fulfillment of Christian hopes and aspirations for centuries.

We'll discuss this more in upcoming podcasts and blog posts.