A monk enjoying the fulness of the winepress.
Antonio Casanova y Estorach (Spanish, 1847-1896). Monk Testing Wine, 1886. Oil on canvas, 16 3/16 x 12 3/4 in. (41.1 x 32.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum

What is the fulness of the gospel, and how does the Book of Mormon contain the fulness of the gospel when it seems to omit so many of the distinctive concepts taught by Joseph Smith (sealing rituals, individual initiation in temple worship, baptism for the dead, the tiered structure of the heavenly kingdoms, etc)?

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Melchizedek initiates Abraham. “The Offerings of Melchizedek,” by James Tissot

Someone wrestling with their religious beliefs was asked to read 3 Nephi 17. They were negatively impressed by the secrecy in verses 15-17:

15 And when he [Jesus] had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him.

16 And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;

17 And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.

The reader said:

Those are the only verses that gave me any kind of mental or emotional response. It drives me nuts. I readily accept that there are things that cannot be expressed PERFECTLY in any form. The emotion conveyed with music is hard to write in words. That doesn’t mean you can’t TRY.

This is the culmination of The Book of Mormon. This is CHRIST not just speaking but praying to the Father! We can’t get a general idea of what he said? Maybe “racism is bad k” could’ve been added somewhere in there? Or something unique he could be teaching US right? The Book is for Our day right? Why bother writing down that you can’t write down what was said…

Maybe I’m missing something. But it’s always seemed like a giant let down or rather empty. Like the guy who can’t stop telling you about how great a movie or game is, but can’t tell you why.

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Mortally wounded St. George is revived by the ancient spring; Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

What is the balance between God’s grace and our works? Why does 2 Nephi 25:23 say “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” and not “saved, so we do all we can do?”
I read that phrase as “It is Christ’s grace which saves us, notwithstanding all we can do,” because clearly the Book of Mormon portrays Christ’s grace as actively intervening in people’s lives before they begin to serve him at all.

Mosiah 3:19, Helaman 3:35, and Lecture on Faith 5-6 all describe what is required from us, which is the complete sacrifice of ourselves and a full yielding to the spirit of God.

What we hope to become is Christ, exactly as he is with the capacity to do what he does. So in that sense, ultimately the works required of us are Christ’s works, flowing from a sanctified heart like water out of a spring. His grace can show us the way from here to there and empower us to walk, but we have to choose to walk every step. He can’t force us along the path.

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Paiute Suzie McGowan and daughter Sadie in Yosemite Valley, Ca. 1901, taken by J. T. Boysen

I recently encountered a couple of interesting conversations that highlighted an overlooked insight in Joseph Smith’s teachings.

The first conversation was on Reddit, where someone asked the following:

Where did pop Christianity get the idea that people become angels when they die, when this isn’t suggested anywhere in the Bible?

https://www.reddit.com/r/AcademicBiblical/comments/r9bmey/where_did_pop_christianity_get_the_idea_that/

The second conversation was the following interview with Margaret Barker. After describing at some length how Mary the mother of Jesus inherited the veneration previously rendered to the Lady Wisdom, the host asks Margaret the following question:

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I was supposed to teach Sunday School yesterday, and was looking forward to it. Unfortunately I have a cold which has dragged on for a full week and didn’t want to cough, croak, and whisper my way through an hour of discussion. It is disappointing. I had prayerfully reviewed the material and prepared a lesson and we were going to discuss some very important things. The lesson material included Official Declaration 1 concerning the public cessation of plural marriage in 1890. I wanted to share here some of what we would discuss about Official Declaration 1, known as “The Manifesto,” and its surrounding material.

The Manifesto

The Declaration itself is only five short paragraphs, and appears to be a straightforward public statement disavowing the continued teaching and practice of plural marriage. There is an acknowledgment that some reports of recent plural marriages had been received and that the leaders had torn down the Endowment House in a demonstration of solidarity against providing venues for the practice to continue. In reality the practice would continue in secret until 1904, but its public disavowal in 1890 created a crisis in the Church. For 38 years the members had been taught that plural marriage was celestial marriage, and that acceptance of it was essential for individual and collective salvation. They had been taught that monogamy was one of the chief vices of apostate Christianity, and that the to abandon polygamy in the face of social or governmental pressure would be apostasy for Mormonism as well. It had been the boundary-defining doctrine of Mormonism from 1852, and so to stop the practice threw the Church and its members into an identity crisis.

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The First Council of Nicea, fresco, Basilica of St. Nicholas in modern Demre, Turkey

For over a century, Latter-day Saints have had their mental map of the gospel selectively edited by committees appointed specifically for that purpose. The majority of this work has been reductive, with doctrines and concepts being removed until what remained seemed like a more or less cohesive and coherent system. In 1921, for instance, a committee removed an entire book of scripture from our canon by fiat; so, 100 years later, the Lectures on Faith and their saving doctrines are effectively absent from Latter-day Saint discourse and practice. Daymon Smith, drawing on his dissertation research, tells of a meeting between then-Apostle Harold B. Lee and members of his relatively new Correlation Committee:

Daymon: …During this meeting, they took 72 note cards on which they wrote important “ideas.”

Brad: Abstract principles, abstract nouns.

Daymon: “Faith,” “repentance,” “obedience,” these kinds of abstractions—he organizes them on a wall in his office. This organization becomes a kind of representation of the mind of God and of the mind of the Ideal Mormon. They’re supposed to have these ideas in their head hierarchically organized.

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the_wicked_husbandmen_Jan_Luyken_etching_Bowyer_Bible

The Wicked Husbandmen, Jan Luyken

1 Nephi chapters 11-22 raise some threads which will wind conspicuously through the rest of the Book of Mormon. In this post, I will trace those threads only as far as I would if I were teaching it in a Sunday School class, providing a high level structural overview. These threads are worth following more deeply and closely in personal study, but the overview in this post will be a good departure point. In 1 Nephi 11-14, Nephi sees the future of Lehi’s descendants including their destruction, their dwindling in unbelief, and their restoration and triumph in the last days. Between their dwindling in unbelief and their triumph, he sees an interlude in which the Gentiles are repeatedly offered the gospel. The Book of Mormon goes on to address both topics repeatedly: the triumph of the Israelite remnant and the offer given to the Gentiles to avoid destruction. If we want to truly understand the Book of Mormon we need to see these prophecies clearly, unencumbered by vanity, flattery, and wishful thinking. If we misread them, we will miss a central purpose of the Book. Read the rest of this entry »

I believe that passages of scripture can have multiple layers of meaning, allowing people at differing levels of understanding to see the same words differently and both be correct. I don’t believe that means that any or every interpretation is correct or equally helpful. Some interpretations are incorrect. I have heard teachers  describe the fruit of the tree of life in Lehi’s vision as though any member who had received sweet and sacred spiritual witnesses had tasted of the fruit of the tree of life. Another commentator said: “Partaking of the fruit of the tree represents the receiving of ordinances and covenants whereby the Atonement can become fully efficacious in our lives” (source). The Book of Mormon gives us some significant keys to interpret the meaning of the fruit and the other symbols in the scene. It can help us evaluate the helpfulness and validity of these interpretations. Put together, these keys reveal that Lehi’s vision is a story of heavenly ascent. Read the rest of this entry »

inviting


God Inviting Christ to Sit on the Throne at His Right Hand
Pieter de Grebber, 1645

There is an interesting detail obscured by the versification of 1 Nephi 1. Here are verses 8-10 without verse divisions:

And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. And it came to pass that he saw one descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.

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There is a tension within Mormonism revealed by studying two general definitions of the word “oracle”. I alluded to this tension in my previous post, but I think the idea is worth exploring explicitly. 

The first definition is given by Webster’s 1828 Dictionary as follows:

“4. Among christians, oracles, in the plural, denotes the communications, revelations or messages delivered by God to prophets. In this sense it is rarely used in the singular; but we say, the oracles of God, divine oracles, meaning the Scriptures.”

The second definition is outlined by two other entries from the same Dictionary: 

“6. Any person or place where certain decisions are obtained.

    1. Any person reputed uncommonly wise, whose determinations are not disputed, or whose opinions are of great authority.”‘

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