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In 2013 the list of Scripture Mastery scriptures for LDS youth to memorize was finally changed.  As part of exploring the Scripture Mastery of the Hebrew Bible (commonly called by most Christians the "Old Testament") I figured it would be fun and interesting to look over scriptures that were *removed* from the lists before I embarked on the new standard list for the Hebrew Bible in my Context series.

Deuteronomy 7:3-4

Hebrew:

וְלֹא תִתְחַתֵּן בָּם בִּתְּךָ לֹא־תִתֵּן לִבְנֹו וְּבִתֹּו לֹא־תִקַּח לִבְנֶךָ כִּי־יָסִיר אֶת־בִּנְךָ מֵאַחֲרַי וְעָבְדוְּ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וְחָרָה אַפ־יְהוָה בָּכֶם וְהִשְׁמִידְךָ מַהֵר

NJPSV: 3 You shall not intermarry with them: do not give your daughter to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. 4 For they will turn your children away from Me to worship other gods, and [Yahweh’s] anger will blaze forth against you and He will promptly wipe you out.

Schocken: 3 And you are not to marry (with) them: your daughter you are not to give to their son, their daughter you are not to take for your son— 4 for they would turn-aside your son from (following) after me and they would serve other gods, and the anger of [Yahweh] would flare up against you, and he would destroy you quickly.

KJV: 3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. 4 For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of [Yahweh] be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.

HOLY COW! (And that's not an ironic statement because we're dealing with the supposed writings of Moses.) I imagine that most people nowadays can understand, even if only a little bit, why this might be a problematic scripture to elevate to the level of memorization for LDS youth.

The context is the entire book of Deuteronomy, which is a retelling of the commandments of Moses from the perspective of the Jerusalem Temple. (For this reason many, though of course not all, scholars consider this to be a much later composition than the rest of the Torah, which some even speculating that it is the book “discovered”, or perhaps even written, by the priests during the reforms of king Josiah)

Throughout the Deuteronomistic History (a fancy, long word for the edited version of Israelite history preserved in 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings based on the ideas of Deuteronomy meant with recontextualizing the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE with the promises of Yahweh to the nation of Israel, which itself was heavily rewritten and edited into 1-2 Chronicles) the problems of the Israelites tend to arise from their leaving the worship of Yahweh to begin worshipping other gods common among their neighbors. Even Solomon the wise is described in as turning the worship of others gods because of some of his foreign wives. From the historical context of a battered people rediscovering (or possibly discovering for the first time) their monotheism in the midst of a polytheistic world, this sort of distrust of foreign people and foreign religions makes some sense.

However, when placed into the context of twentieth century LDS youth in what is likely an American High School system, how are we supposed to take these verses? Are they telling young, missionary-minded young women and men to not associate with their peers unless it's to try and convert them?

From official original materials for this scripture, the main doctrinal teaching of this scripture mastery is to teach young LDS kids that “marriage to people not of the covenant is not approved by the Lord. It can lead to a loss of faith and testimony,” and “marrying in the covenant is the Lord's appointed way.”

In today's modern world where only 20% of Latter-day Saints hold Temple recommends and the lowest activity rates are among young adults just in college, perhaps we should not be surprised that this scriptural admonition is being removed from the spotlight. Also, we have the uncomfortable fact that this scripture was often used during the 1950s and before by opponents to interracial marriage to imply that the idea of segregation was divinely inspired (including even among a number of LDS Church leaders of the 1950s). Of course, that association does not actually make the scripture itself somehow wrong, but it is certainly a troubling aspect of the history of these verses that the modern LDS Church certainly wishes were simply forgotten.

Finally, I can imagine that if the advice is to never enter a mixed-faith marriage, this verse could easily be extended to construe that the advice could also be to never continue within what has become a mixed-faith marriage. In other words, if the advice is to never marry a non-Mormon, it's not very far to go from there to never stay married to an ex-Mormon.

Why Was This Verse Removed?

I would posit that it was removed because it was pragmatically difficult to encourage all LDS youth to only marry other active LDS youth in the face of increasing statistics against such a likelihood. As well, the extremely troubling use of this scripture by previous Church leaders in racist ways also led to a need to de-emphasize its importance among LDS youth, most of whom have modern views that are extremely different from those of forty or fifty years ago.

Joshua 1:8

Hebrew:

לֹא־יָמוְּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתֹּורָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ וְהָגִיתָ בֹּו יֹומָם וָלַיְלָה לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשֹׂות כְּכָל־הַכָּתוְּב בֹּו כִּי־אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת־דְּרָכֶךָ וְאָז תַּשְׂכִּיל

NJPSV: Let not this Book of the Teaching cease from your lips, but recite it day and night, so that you may observe faithfully all that is written in it. Only then will you prosper in your undertakings and only then will you be successful.

KJV: This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

The context for this verse is Yahweh speaking to Joshua after Moses has died, commanding him to lead the Israelites to conquer the land he has promised them. Yahweh in verse 8 here implores Joshua to hold fast to what Moses has written (the Torah) for only by following those writings will Joshua have success. Joshua then tells the people that it's time for them to go, and all of the people agree to also keep the laws Yahweh gave to them through Moses and that they will kill anyone who does not keep these laws. They then commence preparing for the conquest of their promised land.

In a list of only twenty-five scriptures, it makes sense to wonder why each scripture was chosen. What is the point, the usefulness, the utility of the decision? In this case, the point of this scripture probably wasn't the contextual point. It probably wasn't important for students to remember how Yahweh commanded Joshua to keep the teachings contained within the Five Books of Moses. How would that apply to twentieth century students? Mormons don't care about the idea of the first five books of the hebrew Bible being somehow more important than other parts (indeed, most Mormons would probably agree with most evangelicals that the most important book of the Hebrew Bible is the book of Isaiah).

So, outside of it's direct context, this scripture was probably used (and in my recollection, this was indeed the point) to remind students to constantly remember the scriptural lessons and doctrines they've learned.

Why Was This Verse Removed?

My guess is that the utility of a verse from the scriptures meant to implore youth to read their scriptures was pretty low. It seems redundant. If a student is not reading their scriptures, how will a scripture convince them otherwise? Also, the Hebrew Bible is a very foreign book when explored without a trained CES employee or CES manual to act as a micro-managing guide. Asking students to pay attention to the Hebrew Bible may have been leading to more problems than it was worth.

Job 19:25-26

Hebrew:

וַאֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי גֹּאֲלִי חָי וְאַחֲרֹון עַל־עָפָר יָקוְּם וְאַחַר עֹורִי נִקְּפוְּ־זֹאת וְּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶחֱזֶה אֱלֹוהַּ

NJPSV: 25 But I know that my Vindicator lives; in the end He will testify on earth— 26 This, after my skin will have been peeled off. But I would behold [Elóah] while still in my flesh,

KJV: 25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: 26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see [Elóah]:

I wish this one hadn't been taken out. Not because it's useful, but because I could write a ton on this selection. Much has been written about this elsewhere, so let me just summarize a few main points about the context of this verse.

This verse is stated by Job as a defense to the arguments of his friends. Job, a man afflicted with countless catastrophes, is responding to the assertion that his misfortune occurred because of his sins. Job is responding that he knows he has not sinned. Furthermore, he knows that God, or a god, (using a generic term, אלוה, elóah which is the root behind the plural word for “gods”, Elohim) lives and will redeem him from his present situation (which happens near the very end of the book). This is the meaning of the word used in the King James Version, “Redeemer”. Job is testifying that Yahweh will rescue him from the illnesses and sadnesses that have befallen him. Job is not testifying of how Yahweh has (or is) a Redeemer who will save him from hell, death, or sin.

Secondly, the words “in my flesh I shall see Elóah” are very difficult Hebrew and the preposition “in” could just as easily be translated as “apart from,” rendering the statement “apart from my flesh I shall see Elóah”. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the idea of a physical resurrection!

Why Was This Verse Removed?

I believe it was removed because the doctrines that it has historically been used to promote are unfounded, namely that the Hebrew Bible clearly teaches a physical resurrection of the body (it doesn't, and these verses are too shaky to be used as a strong source) and that belief in the “Redeemer” can be found in the Hebrew Bible (many early Christians saw references to Jesus throughout the Hebrew Bible, but many of their Jewish contemporaries obviously read the same scriptures and didn't see it). I think this scripture was removed so that students wouldn't discover just how unstable a foundation it is on which to build a testimony of Mormon doctrine in the Hebrew Bible.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryOT #AcademicBiblical #HebrewBible

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The following is a little snarky at points, so you are fully warned about that. However, I hope that behind the snark, those of you who might feel offended at what I say can hopefully still feel the deep and abiding fascination I have with the individual behind each of these items and the creative vision he had whether or not that vision was itself divine.

Please take a moment to visit the pages linked to in the Joseph Smith Papers Project for each section first so that you can see the page in context. Context is important. Context is fair. Like it or not, this sort of research and exploration is exactly what the Joseph Smith Papers Project is about and seeks to promote: people interacting and engaging with the written word of Joseph Smith.


So Mote it Be

Explanation of Facsimile of Papyrus Drawing, Early 1842 (Page 2)

First off is this fun Masonic reference on the pages of translation for Facsimile 2. Joseph has set up four pages with numbers on them to explain the various aspects of the hypocephalus. As he's going through them, however, he appears to either run out of time or no longer wishes to continue as he abruptly stops interpreting things and instead starts saying that the items “cannot now be revealed unto the world”. Then on the last item on the page he's working on (page 2 of 4, remember), he says

also.—– If the world can find out these nmbers, So mote it be,—– Amen.

The interesting phrase here is “so mote it be”, which was turned into “so let it be” by the LDS Church many decades later.

“So mote it be” is an archaic English phrase from Freemasonry, which Joseph had officially joined on March 15, 1842, though his father and older brother Hyrum had been involved in the fraternity for many years before that. The explanations of the Egyptian hypocephalus in question were published late in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons on March 19, 1842 (they had originally been intended for publication on March 15, the same day Joseph received his first degree in Masonry). It has been proposed by some that the reason the explanations stop after number 7 is that Joseph was under pressure to get this page of material to the printers for publication.

The phrase is used to open and close various Masonic sessions and initiations. Its presence in this list of materials would be akin to me closing a presentation with the words “So say we all”: you would certainly be correct in assuming that I am a huge nerd and a huge fan of Battlestar Galactica.

Apparently, Joseph Smith was also a huge nerd for Freemasonry, but I think most everyone already knew that.


Easy as 1, 2, 3!

Egyptian Counting, circa July–circa December 1835

Ever wondered how the ancient Egyptians pronounced the number 42 (the answer to life, the universe, and everything)? According to Joseph Smith, the answer would have been:

Ni Tah Teh, or four times ten and 2

Unfortunately, from Wikipedia, that horrible cesspit of anti-Mormon lies, evil Egyptologists have reconstructed the sounds of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, which were representational of Egyptian consonants. They claim that forty and two would have been pronounced something akin to:

ḥAmí sínway

Huh... Those two descriptions don't really look all that similar at all. I think someone is making something up. Not to mention that Joseph also has some characters for the Egyptians numerals that look nothing like any form of Egyptians numeral systems yet discovered. Man, those Egyptologists are either really stupid or really dastardly, aren't they?


I Saw a Mighty Angls-man Fly

Sample of Pure Language, between circa 4 and circa 20 March 1832

This is a sample of “pure language” given by Joseph Smith. Apparently the pure language, besides sounding suspiciously similar to a Germanic language like English, can only be easily translated one way (English => Pure Language) because when it goes the other way (Pure Language => English) it becomes extremely long-winded.

Watch as the residents of early Kirtland are allowed to play with a divine version of Google Translate and immediately begin experimenting with the process just as many of us do today: what happens if we take the translation given to us and translate it back into English?

Q What are Angels called in pure language.

A Awmen Angls-men

Q What are the meaning of these words.

A Awmen’s Ministerring servants Sanctified who are sent forth from heaven to minister for or to Sons Awmen the greatest part of Awmen Son. Sons Awmen Son Awmen Admen

Reminds me a little bit of this awesome video.


Katumin, Princess of Egypt, died 980 BCE

Transcribed characters with English entries, circa July–circa December 1835

Here we have an attempt at some translation of Egyptian by either Joseph Smith or one/some of his followers. (Though if, as some apologists would have us believe, some of his followers were attempting this translation on their own without Joseph to help them, how did they come up with translations such as this? They'd be doing their best to honestly imitate the process used by Joseph, so in my mind whether or not Joseph himself produced this snippet is beyond the point: it arose in the same manner as other translations that Joseph attempted.) Whoever is behind the small snippet of translation (the Egyptian that is “translated” is transcribed onto the next page) was working very closely with ideas from the Bible, including the idea of reckoning time from the beginning of the world.

The two dates in question, if we assume that the translator is operating on the assumption that human history began roughly around the year 4000 BCE (a reasonable assumption for a Kirtand-era Mormon), then the two dates as given are 1038 BCE and 980 BCE. This is during the 21st Dynasty of Egypt. Apparently both King Onitas and his daughter Katumin have been excised from Egyptian history, possibly by corrupt and designing priests. Either that or they were actually Greek royalty as their Hellenic-sounding names would seem to indicate. (If so, then the chronology in this snippet is running extremely behind: Alexander's conquest of Egypt, which began a period of Greek royalty, occurred around 332 BCE.)

However you look at it, though, 28 years old is tragically young for someone in the higher classes of a major civilization. Poor Katumin! She was too young to die! Unfortunately, she doesn't appear to have ever been born, either, which is possibly just as tragic.


I know that the Joseph Smith Papyri and Kirtland Egyptian Papers are also up on the site, but those are a bit harder for your average reader to fully appreciate without some extra contextual information. Any other finds of interest that you are aware of that can be found within the project?

#Mormon #JosephSmith #JosephSmithPapersProject #SillyFakeEgyptian

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In 2013 the list of Scripture Mastery scriptures for LDS youth to memorize was finally changed.  As part of exploring the Scripture Mastery of the Hebrew Bible (commonly called by most Christians the "Old Testament") I figured it would be fun and interesting to look over scriptures that were *removed* from the lists before I embarked on the new standard list for the Hebrew Bible in my Context series.

Exodus 33:11

Hebrew:

יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר אִישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵהוְּ וְשָׁב אֶל־הַמַּחֲנֶה וְּמְשָׁרְתֹו יְהֹושֻׁעַ בִּנ־נוְּן נַעַר לֹא יָמִישׁ מִתֹּוךְ הָאֹהֶל וְדִבֶּר

NJPSV: [Yahweh] would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another. And he would then return to the camp; but his attendant, Joshua son of Nun, a youth, would not stir out of the Tent.

Schocken: And [Yahweh] would speak to Moshe face to face, as a man speaks to his neighbor. Now when he would return to the camp, his attendant, the lad Yehoshua, would not depart from within the Tent.

KJV: And [Yahweh] spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.

I do not speak or read much ancient Hebrew (if you do, please get in touch with me as I'd love to have some help here), so I am using some supplementary translations for help. These include the New Jewish Publication Society Version as well as Everett Fox's translation of the Torah, published by Schocken Books. I have also editorially inserted the most popular reconstruction of the Tetragrammon, Yahweh, into each of the texts as the use of the phrase “The Lord” obscures the fact that there is a real personal name for the Hebrew deity underlying this replacement. I plan on discussing my use of the personal name of Yahweh and my particular choice of this reconstruction in a future post.

The context for this scripture was that God has finished telling Moses to begin leading the Israelites out of the wilderness near Mount Horeb (where one of the sets of 10 Commandments had been given) and to the land Yahweh had promised to Abraham. The text then describes how Moses talks with Yahweh.

There is a tent set up outside of the camp. Whenever Moses goes into the tent, the pillar of cloud that followed the camp would move over to the tent while Yahweh talks with Moses. Everyone else would move away (except for Joshua), and Yahweh would talk with Moses. That's what is before this verse.

Most LDS seminary students were taught this scripture as an example of how God is an embodied person who has a face. They were also taught that the pattern for prophets is that they speak to God in a very literal sense. Allusions were made when I was a young man in Seminary between this scripture and the experience of Joseph Smith speaking directly to God (or Jesus, or an angel, depending on which account) as a young man in the woods near his home.

Ultimately, though, this scripture tended to be used as en example that God has a body. However, in context this interpretation becomes problematic, as the rest of the chapter afterwards describes how after Moses asks to see the glory of Yahweh he is told bluntly that nobody can see the face of Yahweh and live. But since Yahweh like Moses so much, he'll allow Moses to hide in the rocks as Yahweh passes by and Moses will be allowed to see his backside but not his face. In context, this applies an entirely different emphasis to the scripture mastery verse in question. Instead of being a scripture about how Moses and Yahweh speak “face to face”, the emphasis now becomes how they speak to each other: in a close manner as shared between friends and neighbors. Moses is almost on an equal level to Yahweh in their relationship. They are friends.

One wonder why, if the importance of this scripture was the physicality of Yahweh, CES didn't instead choose verse 23, where Yahweh says that he has a backside, which Moses will be allowed to see.

Why Was This Verse Removed?

The LDS Church doesn't face as much opposition from evangelical Protestants who are opposed to its doctrine of an embodied God. There are many other points of opposition now that are not based on what is increasingly becoming a non-essential doctrine for Mormonism. I think this scripture was dropped because 1) the defense it offers isn't really needed as much, and 2) because in context it might not actually be saying what it at first appears to be saying. For these two reasons, it makes sense to remove it from the list.

Leviticus 19:18

Hebrew:

לֹא־תִקֹּם וְלֹא־תִטֹּר אֶת־בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמֹוךָ אֲנִי יְהוָה

NJPSV: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am [Yahweh].

Schocken: You are not to take-vengeance, you are not to retain-anger against the sons of your kinspeople—but be-loving to your neighbor (as one) like yourself, I am [Yahweh]!

KJV: Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am [Yahweh].

In context, this is one of a long number of rules given in Leviticus to the Israelites by Yahweh. While I am a little upset that they took it out as it provides a good example of the Priestly source, as described in the Documentary Hypothesis, in the end it is not really that noteworthy. The entire reason that it was selected in the first place, I believe, is merely because it is quoted by Jesus of Nazareth in the Christian New Testament as one of the great laws of Judaism. As such, it is one way to try and tie Jesus and his teachings back into the Hebrew Bible (no easy feat, even though it's been done by Christians for over a thousand years now).

Why Was This Verse Removed?

I believe that this scripture was removed because it is redundant for LDS students. The same scripture appears, in quotation, in the New Testament as a statement of Jesus. Including it in a study of the “Old Testament” merely helps to “Christianize” this ancient Hebrew work. Combined with the loss of Job 19:25-26, this appears to be part of a move to not read Jesus back into the Hebrew Bible (though Isaiah 53 remains as part of the Scripture Mastery list, but we'll look more closely at that one later).

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryOT #AcademicBiblical #HebrewBible

Joss Whedon is Amazing

As with many great posts on the Bloggernacle, even out here in Outer Blogness, let me start with an allusion to a work by the great hero of geek culture, Mr. Joss Whedon, in particular his series Angel. The main character of the show is Angel, a good vampire with a soul introduced in Whedon's first hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (there are some major spoilers for both series ahead, you have been warned). He and his friends attempt to combat the forces of evil in Los Angeles mostly through the form of a small company of private investigators for hire; by the point in the fifth and last season, Angel and his crew of fellow do-gooders have been joined by the sarcastic Spike, a vampire from Buffy that also regained his soul and, with it, the capacity for choosing good (they are also in possession of a large law firm, too).

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Spike and Angel, Vampires with Soul(s)

In the “Buffyverse” vampires are demons who inhabit the bodies of humans. When a vampire is created, the demon destroys the soul of the human and the resulting creature is a monster of pure evil. Vampires don't just kill: they revel in it. They enjoy evil. And vampires are stronger, faster, and all-around better than most humans, so they're dang good at rape, murder, and destruction. Angel was, for decades after his being sired, one of the deadliest vampires of Europe until a gypsy curse “ensouled” him as punishment for his murders. With a soul, Angel now had the capacity for goodness and the years of death and torture he had caused haunted him for yet further decades. Spike was a vampire created by one of Angel's sires, and the two had actually been compatriots in chaos for a while in the late 19th Century. In the course of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Spike obtained a soul for himself, and while not nearly as haunted as Angel was, Spike also feels a deep responsibility for his actions in the past.

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It's the Odd Couple!

In the season 5 episode “Damage”, some of the events of the now-cancelled Buffy have dangerous ramifications in Angel (and it's definitely one of the most twisted episodes of what is already a darker series than Buffy). A girl named Dana has been a resident of a psychiatric ward for years after she was abused by a serial killer that killed her family in front of her when she was a little girl before she was finally found by authorities. Because of actions that took place at the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dana has become imbued with the powers of a Slayer. In other words, think superpowers: Slayers are a special type of humans mystically empowered to be able to fight vampires. She's supernaturally strong, supernaturally aware of her surroundings, and her untrained fighting ability is already past what most trained humans can accomplish. Dana breaks out of the hospital she's in, very violently, and begins a deadly swath of death and bloody violence as she wanders Los Angeles looking for the man who killed her family.

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Omigodshesoscreepy!!!!

Angel and Spike are made aware of her and begin an attempt to find her. Due to the fact that her being imbued with the power of Slayers also means that she has something of a connection to the Slayers of the past, Dana has memories of Spike, who has killed two Slayers in his pre-souled days, mixed in among her memories of being held captive by the serial killer. Confused and thinking that Spike was her family's murderer, Dana captures him and tortures him horribly (I'm not kidding; she even cuts off his hands at one point).

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Poor Spike is unable to play Paper, Rock, Scissors.

Angel eventually shows up and rescues them. The episode ends with both Angel and a physically-recovering Spike (hands magically re-attached), who have a very “odd couple” friendship, sitting in Angel's office reflecting on how even though Spike wasn't actually the man who broke Dana's mind and robbed her of her childhood, the old Spike and the old Angel were the sort of monsters who could have and would have done such a thing.

SPIKE There's hope for the little ponce yet. Though the tingling in my forearms tells me she's too far gone to help. She's... one of us now. She's a monster.

ANGEL She's an innocent victim.

SPIKE So were we... once upon a time.

ANGEL Once upon a time. [They sadly look into the night, as we fade to credits.]

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Victims, once upon a time.

It's an odd and troubling reminder that while these two heroes used to be villains, even before the villainy they both used to be rather normal human men. And in fact, all of the evil vampires seen in the Buffyverse were once regular human beings before they became evil demons lusting for carnage and blood. Behind every evil vampire is a victim.

What the heck does this have to do with Post-Mormons?

Let's step into the TBM mindset a bit.

I am an Exmormon (though personally I think I might be better described by the term Former Mormon or Post-Mormon). In the Doctrine and Covenants, the following description is given of male priesthood holders in the Church who abuse their authority, but it's often applied toward people like me:

... When we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. (D&C 121:37-38)

Some members of the Church ask themselves why people like me exist? I still care about the Church, but I do not believe in it. I poke and pull at the history because it is fascinating and with every new fact I learn, I cement ever further in my mind that this enterprise simply does not measure up to what it claims to be. Why? The reason, according to some, is that I have lost the Spirit of the Lord, and I have been left to myself and have begun to kick against the pricks and persecute the saints and to fight against God.

Also, because many of us found ourselves no longer believing in the truth claims of the LDS Church because of our research, some of us may have heard the words of Jacob in the Book of Mormon:

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28)

So again, the implication here is that my learning has caused me to set aside the counsel of God.

Take a Trip in My Shoes in Your World

That may be all well and good (I don't think it actually is), but have any of the believers ever thought to step into my shoes from their own worldview and see what the view looks like in here?

Have I actually lost the Spirit of the Lord? Maybe I have. I do not know for certain, but it could be. I still feel those feelings that I used to believe was the Spirit speaking revelation to my soul, but those feelings come randomly and not always at what most believing Mormons would view as the most opportune times. At times I can actually cause the same feelings to occur purposefully if I'm already calm. So I'm not sure if I've lost the Spirit or not, but let's assume for the sake of argument that I have. I have been left by God to kick against the pricks and I am now persecuting the saints and fighting against God. You know what, I'll accept that, for now for the sake of the argument.

And did this occur because I was “learned”? Probably. I'll freely admit that I lost my testimony because it could not stand up to the information I learned as I studied Church history from sources that were either believing members or neutral sources that had nothing to do with Mormonism. My testimony was not demolished by anti-Mormons. It was demolished by discovering Joseph's duplicity about his polygamy from both the public and his own wife in Mormon Enigma. It was demolished by learning about polyandry from Rough Stone Rolling. It was demolished by learning from Guns, Germs, and Steel about how beneficial western animals and agricultural technology were to Eurasian peoples to such an extent that if those animals and technologies ever existed in the Americas they would provide such a boon to their societies that we'd never expect to see them all disappear centuries before the arrival of Columbus. Sure, barley was domesticated in the American Southwest long after the timeline of the Book of Mormon, but the Nephites entire economic system was founded around barley, and there's no barley to be found in the time period of the Book of Mormon peoples, let alone in any of the proposed places where the Book of Mormon is supposed to have occurred. Stuff like that.

So did I lose my testimony because of my own foolishness in “setting aside the counsels of God”? I guess so, sure, again for the sake of argument I'll accept that for now. I let my belief in the importance of rationality and historical study blind me to the explanation that somehow everything still fit together in spite of the apparent evidence against it.

Deception

So here I stand, then. I am an Exmormon, unknowingly abandoned by God's Spirit and left to the influence of the devil. Interestingly, there is one more aspect of Mormon scriptures that often comes up about Exmormons. The Anti-Christ Korihor “explains” in the Book of Mormon:

But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth. (Alma 30:53)

Now, setting aside the always hilarious questions of how a person might believe it if a divine being told them there was no such thing as a divinity, Korihor accepts that he was “deceived”. Another opponent of the Book of Mormon prophets, Sherem, also told the people he was “deceived”:

And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment. (Jacob 7:18)

What are we to make of this then? Apparently, it's not just that I've lost the Spirit. It's not just that I was too devoted to learning. I've also been deceived by the devil. Satan has tricked me.

Here's the thing, though: if we accept that I've been deceived by the devil into the loss of my testimony, I don't remember when that actually occurred. I do not remember there ever being a time where I thought to myself, “Self, I think I'm being tricked here, and I will consciously go along with this deception against my mind and my viewpoint.”

Satan has apparently been so subtle in how he gained control of me that I never even knew it occurred. I still don't. I don't feel any different as a person. I mean, I feel smarter, happier, and as though I'm a better human being. But I don't feel somehow more evil, or more devoted to sins. I actually feel less. Well played, Satan! How very devious! In my many compounding sins as an Exmormon I actually feel more morally upright than I felt as a believing member! How blind I am! And I'm completely unaware of it.

How is an Exmormon like a Buffyverse Vampire?

This brings me back to the part at the beginning of the post, with Angel and Spike. As a TBM, we can easily view the loss of a testimony and the transition of a person from a believing member of the Church to a self-identified post- Mormon along the same lines as Whedon's vampires. It can, and does, happen to anyone.

There is no calling that will prevent someone from losing their faith within it. There is no location you can live that will better shore up the defenses of your testimony. Men and women, both old and young, can find themselves leaving their faith. Bishops, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, Temple Sealers, Stake Relief Society presidents, ward librarians, 2nd Quorum of the Seventy, Quorum of the Twelve, Provo, Los Angeles, Santiago, it doesn't matter. Converts and multi-generational members born in the covenant can leave. As with Whedon's vampires, it can happen to anyone. And once it does, it changes people in a way that they'll never be able to return to that faith again. Even if they do recover enough of their beliefs to attend again, their beliefs are now tempered by a flexibility that most average members would find heretical. Belief in a 19th Century Book of Mormon. Belief that Brigham Young was never really a prophet. Belief that Priesthood might merely be a tool God uses to help some of his simpler followers feel superior. Belief in their own personal revelation from God instead of institutional “revelation” from the Church figureheads. Basically, though, they can't go back, at least not all the way. We're changed, forever.

And if this happened because of the Devil deceiving us, then are we not victims in this narrative? Whedon often uses his vampires to illustrate issues with violence and victimhood. In the old story of the hypothetical woman walking down the alley at night alone who gets attacked, Whedon firmly comes down against saying that the woman has any responsibility for that attack. The responsibility lies at the feet of fate and circumstance and the attacker. What woman could stand up against a vampire, for example? What blame could she possibly hold? And in the Buffyverse, there's no such thing as simply being in the “wrong place”. Vampires can attack anyone at anytime. Even the LDS Church has come to officially realize that in the case of actual violent crimes like this, a victim bears no sin or responsibility. Culturally? Well, there's still a long way to go there, but at least in their materials they're better now than they used to be.

Victims

And theologically speaking from Mormon scripture and practice, in the case of other “victims” of fate and circumstance, God also comes down on the side of not punishing. We are told that little children cannot sin, so they are saved through the atonement of Christ if they, through fate and circumstance, die. Are they baptized? No, they are not. It doesn't matter. What about those who, through fate and circumstance, never hear the gospel? God apparently has made allowances, as well, for those “who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12).

So what about those of us who are also the victims of fate and circumstance? I never made a conscious decision to leave my faith. I never made a conscious choice to rebel. I do not remember ever having the option of going one way or the other, and even if I did, I never knew the ramifications of what that choice would be. Perhaps the Spirit nudged me away from picking up Mormon Enigma, Rough Stone Rolling, or Guns, Germs, and Steel, but if it did I was not aware of the eternal ramifications that lay behind that very gentle nudging. The still, small voice was, in this case, a little bit too still and too small because it didn't do a very good job of keeping me safe. I read, I pondered, my perspective shifted, and before I was even aware of it my beliefs had already changed.

This seems to even be part of the first scripture quote way up above: “ere he is aware”. All of this happened even before I was aware of it. I still am not aware of it. I am being brutally honest here: I am not aware of how this change in myself occurred. I cannot pinpoint the time and place where I chose for any of this to happen. There was no light switch for me to flip from belief to non- belief. It was flipped for me before I even knew what was going on.

And I'm still ignorant of it. I know it's common for believing members to assume that I still know “deep down”. I don't. At least not consciously, and if there is not deep part of my heart that is still converted and my mind is unaware of it, well then what's the point of that? What good does that little part do me if it's so powerless that I am completely unaware of its existence? I can't flip that switch back to belief because I don't even know where it was when it got flipped to non-belief in the first place.

I don't believe in the LDS Church anymore. I do not believe in the existence of Satan; there is real evil enough in our human world among us human beings that we don't need him to explain the bad stuff in the world. I believe in human agency, at least in the sense that if humans don't actually have free will then our brains are working in such a way that we believe we do. So I don't believe in a tempter when I believe that humans can choose to be good or evil. I don't even believe in the divinity of Jesus, though I think the case for the historical existence of an itinerant Jewish prophet named “Yeshua” in First Century Palestine who was executed (probably for sedition) is strong enough even without unbiased sources mentioning him.

But this post is about hypotheticals, specifically the hypothetical that I am wrong. And I will always allow that I might be wrong. There is always going to be a chance greater than 0% that the LDS Church's truth claims are actually valid and that I am wrong for rejecting them.

In this world we are exploring together where I am wrong and the LDS Church is right, we've already established that I have been deceived into my current actions even before I was aware of it. I am a victim. And we've established that God tends to make allowances for other victims.

Empathy

In Alma 7:11-12, Alma tells the people of Gideon about the coming Christ.

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Most Mormons point to this verse to state how one of the purposes of Jesus's Atonement, his suffering, death, and resurrection, was so that he would intimately understand us and our lives. Apparently, Jesus knows what it's like to suffer every pain, hurt, heartache, and sin. This means that he knows what it's like to be me: someone who was blindsided by information before I was aware of it. I had as much of a conscious choice in losing my testimony as someone does of walking in front of a truck while texting. Were “bad” decisions made that led to this situation? Sure, but the effects are unexpectedly vaster in scope than I ever realized. But apparently, just as Jesus knows what it's like to be suddenly and unexpectedly smashed out of this life while innocently, and perhaps stupidly, texting, so too should he know what it's like to live my life. To love faith even before I was aware of it. To be so perfectly deceived by Satan that I don't even feel deceived. And I think it's very difficult for someone to understand the troubles and difficulties of someone else and not empathize with them a little.

Humility

So as I close this hypothetical and step back into my normal worldview where I don't believe in a devil and often not even a God, let me just say this: I think that Mormon theology has implications that victims are covered. So I'm not really too worried about being wrong. Unless I'm really wrong about all of this and am looking forward to an eternity of misery. But it's not like my life will be any worse or better if I send time being worried about that, so I'm just going to move on in my life and assume that God's love for me is because he understands me and he knows how honest I am when I will tell him that I lost faith in his Church, and even him, because he just made it so damn hard to believe in the face of so much contrary evidence with only a little happy fuzzy feeling occasionally to reassure me that it was all okay (a feeling that continues even today, sometimes at the oddest times which perhaps indicates that my antenna for receiving such spiritual messages might be a little broken).

And for those believing members who've gotten all the way to the end here, let me just say this. I understand you. I understand your perspective and I understand why I worry you, bother you, and sometimes confuse you. I understand why some of you think I've been continuously lying throughout this piece, and why others think I'm subconsciously lying to myself. Because I've been there. And yes, I've become a big scary vampire (well, maybe not that scary to you) and it was, to me at least, unexpected. And for some of you reading, it will be just as unexpected for you, too.

I'm not expecting you to stop fighting just as I don't expect to stop my own actions within this sphere for a while as long as so many of my family and friends are still part of LDS social circles and as long as LDS terminology and world views continue to permeate our conversations. But in the midst of the war of words between the critic and the apologist, I'm asking for you to have some compassion for us, some understanding.

Because no matter how evil I may seem to you, how scary, how dangerous to you or those you love I may appear, I was a victim, too, once upon a time.

#Mormon #Exmormon #JossWhedon #IgnoranceIsBliss

Update May 2013

The Church Educational System has released an extensive reworking of the Scripture Mastery lists.  A welcome change from the old list, I'm going to keep my conclusions to the pre-2013 list up here.  I am pleased to note that there are four of my suggestions that are in the new lists, though with the glacial pace that the LDS Church bureaucracy takes I doubt that I had anything to do with the new selections.  It is gratifying to see these changes, though.  My concerns as listed below still hold true, however.  I've noted which scriptures appear in the new list.

Conclusion

So, we've gone through the 25 current scriptures (as of 2013) in the New Testament Scripture Mastery list. We've looked at them in context and, perhaps not surprisingly, we've found that in some cases the verses were used appropriately, in most cases the scriptures were in context but the emphasis was incorrect, and in some vases the verses were simply wrong in their interpretation and context. Also, in examining why these scriptures were chosen, a pattern has emerged: most of the scriptures were chosen pre-supposing an attack against LDS doctrine from evangelical Protestant Christians.

These attacks focused on the following ideas:

  1. Salvation is dependent upon our works (and faith?). This is in opposition to what is imagined to be the doctrine of salvation by grace popular among many Protestant Christians.

  2. Mormon doctrines of physicality, such as the idea that God the Father is embodied and that the resurrection both of Christ and of humans is physical. (Which is odd, because while Christians don't believe in an embodied Father, the resurrection stuff is orthodox doctrine.)

  3. Mormon peculiarities can be found within the New Testament, such as references to the Book of Mormon, to Moroni, to baptisms for the dead, to the Three Degrees of Glory. Unfortunately, these references are neither very strong nor impressive.

However, I think it's safe to say that most LDS youth going through the Seminary program aren't facing issues like these anymore in school. I'd wager that the LDS Church's social problems are the major issues brought up by peers now: the roles and opportunities of women and homosexuals in the LDS Church as compared to the roles and opportunities of straight men. And frankly, I don't think there's much that the LDS Church would want to use from the New Testament on these issues, since in the few rare cases where these issues are actually discussed the New Testament shows itself to clearly be a product of its ancient day and has no good PR for the Church on these issues.

My Own List

So, if we're going to be playing slightly fast and loose with the text anyways, why not make a different list? Being a young adult is hard. So many things in life are changing and in flux. It can be a terrifying and depressing time. Hormones provide a mental and emotional roller coaster. In times like these, many LDS students already view Seminary as something of an anchor in this storm. So how about the Church reformats this list around this idea of being a refuge. Below are the 25 scriptures that I would choose from the New Testament. They are from the perspective of a believing Latter-day Saint; I do not personally agree with all of them. However, I think that if this list were actually used by real LDS kids through the Seminary and Institute programs these scriptures could provide a lot of guidance and comfort. Of course, since so much depends upon emphasis and interpretation then it's possible that some of them could go wrong, so I'll pre-empt some of that by guessing how they could be mis-used.

Of course, this is my own list, and I understand that others won't agree with everything here. So what scriptures from the New Testament do you think would help LDS youth actually deal with the living hell that High School can be? And if you think that it's more important to present scriptures that stand behind particular LDS doctrines instead of providing comfort to the kids, why not explain why? Do you think that the lowering of ages for missionaries so that men pretty much leave straight out of the Seminary program and women only one year after that changes anything?

Matthew 6:19-21

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Why I Chose This One?

I think that this message, though grounded within the apocalyptic perspective of a rapidly approaching world where earthly wealth wouldn't matter, can be of great use for LDS youth worldwide. Youth people tend to be rather poor as they're just starting out. Reminding LDS youth that their lack of such wealth shouldn't bother them seems to me to be a good thing.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

While the scripture specifically mentions treasures “in heaven”, this scripture could be used as though these treasures are actually successfully following the Church “plan” of seminary, mission, marriage, parenthood, and church callings.

Matthew 7:7-8

7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: 8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Why I Chose This One?

To encourage the youth that they can seek assistance from the divine. While I personally don't really get much out of prayer anymore, most LDS youth are going through some really difficult times (puberty, dating, school, rebellion) and telling them that they should expect assistance is a very empowering message.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

The youth will probably be taught that their answers must conform to what the Church teaches, at which point I'd argue that there isn't much point to praying about anything anymore if obedience will bring about the same result.

Matthew 11:28-30 [Added to SM in 2013]

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Why I Chose This One?

LDS youth need to be taught that they can find refuge in spirituality. Rest, especially for overworked, oversexed, and undersleeping teenagers, is a very attractive thing.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

The reference to the “yoke” could be drawn out to indicate that following Jesus still requires obedience and servitude (and that's not actually something I'd disagree with, seeing that the source is Matthew, but I think it'd be unfortunate it that became the focus).

John 3:16-17

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Why I Chose This One?

First of all, because it's one of the most famous verses from the Protestant tradition. Familiarity with this scripture will be good when they see other Christians using and quoting it. And secondly, the focus from the second verse on God's love and the implication that God does not wish to condemn can be helpful for the students who struggle with guilt and shame and who feel that God could never love them.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

Frankly, I'm not sure where it could go wrong. It'd be a good scripture to have.

John 11:35

Jesus wept.

Why I Chose This One?

Because I think it's good to have something easy that anyone can memorize, and I think it'd be a good idea to show that even the official Church can have something of a sense of humor. Besides, I imagine that creative teachers can pull some interesting exegesis from this verse.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

The image of Jesus crying could too easily turn into the image of Jesus crying because of the sins of the students, thus increasing their sense of guilt and shame. But I think that's a stretch.

John 13:34

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

Why I Chose This One?

Because it's famous, it's already familiar to them, and I think that it's one of the few beautiful pieces of the New Testament that makes sense in our modern culture.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

It's a commandment, so the focus could be on loving others as simply one of hundreds of other commandments that Mormons should follow.

John 14:1

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.

Why I Chose This One?

Again, young adulthood is a terrible and fantastic time of life. The words of Jesus to not be troubled can be helpful.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

The focus could be on the “believe also in me” part, implying that peace will only come through such belief. In context, Jesus is actually trying to calm the fears of his disciples about himself. He asks them to reflect on their already existing faith in God (the “ye believe” is not an imperative, just a statement) and from that believe in him. But we can't depend upon teachers always giving the full context, can we?

John 14:6 [Added to SM in 2013]

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Why I Chose This One?

Because it's standard Christian doctrine and it's famous. Again, knowing this verse just makes sense.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

The teachers might put the LDS Church in place of Jesus, saying that since this is Christ's Church then it is only through his Church that the way, the truth, and the life can be found. So what is simply a basic definition of Christian doctrine could become an exclusivist claim.

John 17:3

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Why I Chose This One?

This is from the old set. While it can be (and is) misused, it also illustrates standard Christian doctrine. It's also related to Joseph Smith's King Follet Discourse.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

See the post for more info, but it could be used to say that eternal life can only be found through believing that both the Father and the Son have bodies.

Romans 5:8

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Why I Chose This One?

Reminders of God's love for us, even if we're sinners, goes a long way towards providing comfort for LDS youth struggling with guilt and perfectionism. The individuality of the verse also is very powerful.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

The idea that God “commends” his love might be pulled towards an implication that this love is conditional.

Romans 8:28

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Why I Chose This One?

While the wording is a little odd in the KJV (“the called”), the implication that life will eventually turn out the way it should, that there is a grand plan to life, can be comforting. Personally, I no longer believe that but I'm thinking of verses that will help LDS youth get through young adulthood better, and this message can do that.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

If life starts going bad, it could be seen as a sign that the individual is not “called” or doesn't love God enough.

1 Corinthians 13:11

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Why I Chose This One?

Young adults are exploring new areas of life and dealing with transitions. In context, this scripture is talking about how the gifts Christians exercise before the kingdom of God arrives are not perfect, but that the kingdom of God is quickly approaching and these gifts will not be useful anymore. However, out of context (like some scripture mastery verses are already out of context) it can be a great scripture encouraging LDS youth to grow up and embrace adulthood.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

It could be used to try and force “bad” behavior away by declaring it as “childish” (such as video games, for instance). Instead of encouraging the youth to grow up on their own terms, the terms of what it means to be a man and what “childish things” are could be dictated to them.

Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Why I Chose This One?

LDS youth in the 21st Century care a great deal about equality, justice, and fairness. I don't give a rat's ass if the LDS Church itself doesn't care about those things, but letting the youth know that Jesus doesn't care about human distinctions is a good message to hear.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

Instead of being seen as a list of examples, it could be presented as the full list of distinctions that do not matter. Gay and straight, for instance, may not be presented as also being one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 5:22-23 [Added to SM in 2013]

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Why I Chose This One?

Because it's already taught to the youth enough they should have it officially be something they memorize. This list is routinely given as the list of feelings that accompany revelation from the Holy Ghost.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

The absence of these could be viewed as evidence of ideas and people who “drive away the Spirit”. Not feeling these feelings (such as with people suffering from depression) might be interpreted as being abandoned by God. I think the likelihood of this misuse is unfortunately rather high.

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Why I Chose This One?

Because the youth are already familiar with them from the Articles of Faith, and it is a good list of qualities to seek after for anything in life. It encourages them to evaluate things on their own. There are a number of rated “R” films that are “lovely”, “pure”, “of good report”, such as The King's Speech.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

Because it's already similar to the Article of Faith, it could simply be used to tie the New Testament back to Joseph Smith and the Restoration instead of being read for its own value.

Philippians 4:13 [Added to SM in 2013]

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Why I Chose This One?

Because it's empowering to think that Christ will assist you through everything.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

It could lead to foolhardiness, to bad judgements, to poor planning, rudeness, and dangerous situations. Missionaries in particular might forge ahead in very rude and overbearing conversations with the idea that Jesus has got their back.

Ephesians 2:10

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Why I Chose This One?

Because if we're getting rid of scriptures incorrectly used for baptism for the death and the three degrees of glory, perhaps we should have at least one that can be used (still incorrectly, I'd argue, but whatever) in support of the Pre-Earth Life and of foreordination and Patriarchal Blessings.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

The presence of the words “good works” could be used by teachers to bash against salvation by grace instead of focusing on the verse itself. The idea that there are things we've been ordained to do could lead to worries that we might not be able to accomplish them.

1 Timothy 2:5

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

Why I Chose This One?

In a strongly hierarchical religion like Mormonism, it'd be good to give the kids a reminder that in Christianity nobody is supposed to stand between you and God except Jesus, not the Prophet, not your bishop, not your parents, not your husband.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

Frankly, I'm not sure where it'd go wrong. Seems like a good idea to me.

Hebrews 13:5

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

Why I Chose This One?

The grammar is a bit odd and would need explanation (conversation in 16th Century English meant “behavior with others”), but the message of not seeking for riches and money, while not capitalistic, is certainly one of the messages of early Christianity. Also, the message that he will never leave us or forsake us is good.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

It could easily be used against those within the Church who agitate for change and who want more for themselves and others (such as feminists, gays, and intellectuals, oh my!). Pre-1978, for instance, this scripture could have been used against those white members who wanted black members to enjoy all of the Temple blessings the same as other people. “Be content with such things as ye have.”

James 1:5

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Why I Chose This One?

Because it's Joseph Smith's verse and it's part of the Mormon narrative. It just makes sense to have it. Another message about how LDS youth can depend upon asking God for help.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

See the post for more on that, but it doesn't really go wrong much.

1 Peter 3:15

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.

Why I Chose This One?

It encourages LDS youth to engage their own faith, and to be ready to answer questions. Now, personally, I don't think that the LDS faith is logically defensible in all areas, but the idea that LDS youth should be aware of their beliefs enough to be able to explain them would do wonders for their self-esteem.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

Teachers might give students the answers they'd be expected to give to common questions (and these answers might themselves be false). No independent thought would occur in this case.

1 John 1:7

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

Why I Chose This One?

Fellowship with your church community is important. Why else do we even gather together in churches if we aren't going to have fellowship with each other? Also, the message that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin could be very powerful if the “all sin” part is emphasized.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

Those who have difficulty in fitting in, and those who cause other people to experience dissonance through honest questioning might be implied to not be “walking in the light” because they're not in “fellowship”. So instead of being a call for more involvement, it could be used in a divisive fashion.

1 John 4:18

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

Why I Chose This One?

In the Mormon Church, fear is usually presented as the antithesis of faith, but here it is the antithesis of love. The idea that love can help us to overcome our fears (though that's not actually what this verse is technically about) can be very useful to LDS young adults struggling with a world of fear and challenges.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

Again, the presence of fear could be taken as a sign that the individual needs to work on having more love. More work for some teenagers can easily mean more worry and more shame and more guilt.

Revelation 3:20

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

Why I Chose This One?

It's a popular one among Mormons. Also, it represents an opportunity for LDS youth to have a relationship with Jesus. Also, there's some rather odd fundamentalist Mormon stuff from Joseph Smith that uses this scripture as a base. Might make class more interesting if it ever comes up (Seminary teachers are always sharing wacky stuff, even nowadays).

Where Could It Go Wrong?

The door that is being knocked on could be interpreted merely as baptism into the LDS Church, and thus this scripture could be turned from an individualistic scripture into a scripture about the blessings of belonging to the LDS Church. I don't think this is likely, though, as it interprets the verse in even stronger symbolic terms than the surface reading, and Mormons love being as literal as possible with the New Testament.

Revelation 21:3-4

3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Why I Chose This One?

Because it's a beautiful scripture of hope: God living among his people, wiping the tears from their eyes.

Where Could It Go Wrong?

Students could be presented with this vision of a glorious future as being strongly conditional upon their faithfulness. If a student is aware of this and thinks that they'll never achieve it because of their sins that will be painful.

Next Up: The Hebrew Bible Series

But it'll have to be a few months as I get ready for this one. For those who've forgotten, the Hebrew Bible is what Christians call the “Old Testament”, but since the authors were not Christians writing within a context of an old covenant with God that would someday be superseded with the coming of Jesus, it's more than a little rude to call it that. It is the collection of scriptures for the Jewish people, and as such it should be called the Hebrew Bible. So for those who've been happy with this series, there will be more eventually! Thank you for reading.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

Greek: 12 καὶ εἶδον τοὺς νεκρούς, τοὺς μεγάλους καὶ τοὺς μικρούς, ἑστῶτας ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου, καὶ βιβλία ἠνοίχθησαν· καὶ ἄλλο βιβλίον ἠνοίχθη, ὅ ἐστιν τῆς ζωῆς· καὶ ἐκρίθησαν οἱ νεκροὶ ἐκ τῶν γεγραμμένων ἐν τοῖς βιβλίοις κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν. 13 καὶ ἔδωκεν ἡ θάλασσα τοὺς νεκροὺς τοὺς ἐν αὐτῇ, καὶ ὁ θάνατος καὶ ὁ ᾅδης ἔδωκαν τοὺς νεκροὺς τοὺς ἐν αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἐκρίθησαν ἕκαστος κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν.

My Translation: 12 And I perceived the dead ones, the great ones and the least ones, standing in the presence of the throne seat, and books were opened and another book was opened, which is of life, and the dead ones were judged out of the writings in the books, against their labors. 13 And the sea granted the dead ones in itself, and death and Hades granted the dead ones in them, and they were judged each against their labors.

KJV: 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

My translations are purposefully stretched and should not be viewed as more accurate than the KJV translation unless I say so in the post. I'm trying to show the range lying between the original Greek text and the English.

All Done

The last one. 25 scriptures from the New Testament; I hope it was as much fun for you guys as it was for me. I'll probably take a short break before I go back and look at the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) scriptures (plus, as I do not know Hebrew, I need to find someone willing to do some translations and spend some time talking about the implications of words in the various verses with me).

Anyways, appropriately enough, we're at the end of John's visions. Big battles have been fought between the Dragon and the Lamb, plagues have killed many people, and angels have flown all over the place yelling stuff. It's been a pretty crazy ride.

Now we near the end of the vision. This part is relatively straightforward; well, at least as straightforward as Revelation ever gets.

The Context of the Scripture Mastery Verses

An angel from heaven with a big chain is able to tie up the dragon, said to represent Satan by John, ties him up and tosses him into an abyss (which is then locked and sealed) so that for a thousand years he will not deceive the nations. John then says that after those thousand years he'll be released for a brief period of time.

Then he sees the righteous who have been made judges, including those beheaded for not worshipping the beast. They're raised to life and rule during the thousand years.

After this, John draws heavily upon the imagery of Ezekiel 38 and 39 (where Gog and Magog appear to be code names for specific countries, unlike in the Revelation, where they appear to simply represent the human nations of the earth) to present a final conflict of the world. The wicked are destroyed by fire, and the dragon is thrown into a lake of fire forever.

Then John sees a large white throne with a figure on it, and heaven and earth run away from this person. Then we get the verses in quesiton: the dead are raised and are judged before the throne from “the books” and “another book, the book of life”. The ocean gives up her dead, death and the underworld give up their dead, and then death and the underworld are thrown into the lake of fire (the ocean isn't; it would put out the lake I suppose?). Finally everyone whose name isn't in the book of life is also thrown into the lake of fire, ending the chapter.

The rest of the book describes the glory and grandeur of the Kingdom of God, described as a new heaven and a new earth, with a new Jerusalem.

Exciting stuff, I guess, though it's still rather odd to me now to read it all.

Scholars don't really have much to add to these verses except to note that there are multiple books mentioned. Possibly John is describing a book of life and a book of death; everyone's name is written in one of the two books. But it's impossible to tell for sure from the text.

The Mormon Applications – Records and Works

So let's move on instead to the general Mormon approach. There's a number of things we should discuss from this verse.

First, let's look at what Mormons think about those books. Mormons think that the books opened are the records of the Church, recording such things as baptisms, endowments, sealings, and so on. For this reason, Latter-day Saints have tried to keep good records of their rituals and history. Some Mormons even go so far as to say that these records will include our own diaries and journal and stress the importance of such personal record-keeping. In 1842, Joseph Smith wrote in a general letter,

“You will discover in this quotation that the books were opened; and another book was opened, which was the book of life; but the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; consequently, the books spoken of must be the books which contained the record of their works, and refer to the records which are kept on the earth. And the book which was the book of life is the record which is kept in heaven; the principle agreeing precisely with the doctrine which is commanded you in the revelation contained in the letter which I wrote to you previous to my leaving my place—that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven.” (D&C 128:7)

Now I personally don't have much to add to this, except to say that I don't think Joseph's logical extension that the books must hold works is sound, since it is specifically stated that those who are NOT found in the book of life are tossed into the fire. The simple presence of a name is enough to save that individual from the fire. So it seems that the presence of the name in the book occurs because of their works, for good presumably.

This leads to the second point, however, which I imagine is far more important for CES teachers: the judgement occurs because of “works”. So it's just another repeat of what has come up many times before: salvation through faith or salvation through works? Mormons feel that sola fide Christians do not pay enough attention to verses like Revelation 20:12-13. Of course, the reverse is also true where Mormons do not pay enough attention to verses by individuals like Paul and Pseudo-Paul that indicate the supremacy of faith over obedience to the Jewish Torah.

I Don't Get the Obsession With Proving Works Righteousness

Where do I fall on this issues? I think that Matthew, James, and the author of the Revelation, all Jewish Christians, are very clearly of the opinion that salvation in the kingdom of God and from God's wrath is dependant upon the way that you live, probably including adherence to the Jewish Torah. I also think that Paul's theology is about a new covenant established through Jesus and that the Jewish Torah has been superceded and is unnecessary. I don't try and resolve the conflict because I see no need to. These are very different works written by very different people.

However, now that we're at the end of the series, the fact that the very last scripture mastery and the very first one, along with a number of verses in between, can all be put to use teaching how God's judgement will be about works (and, by it's absence, not by faith) makes me mad. It makes me mad not because those scriptures are being used incorrectly, but because those scriptures are being used as representative of the entire collection of the Christian New Testament. They are not. There is not some underlying agreement between all of the authors. There is no secret to resolving how Paul and James look at things. But to give the false impression that the main message of the Christian New Testament is one of works salvation is not only wrong, but it is dishonest. And that is why the selection of this scripture bothers me so much.

We had only one slot left. We could have spent it on countless other things (in fact, my next post will be my own suggestions for 25 scripture mastery selections that I think would be infinitely better than the current list). Instead, the final selection is about works righteousness. It is yet another opportunity for CES teachers to slam the beliefs of evangelical Christians. I don't care if the Mormons are right about salvation or if the evangelicals are right. Frankly, I like both approaches. The love inherent in the idea of grace salvation inspires me, but my own personal sense of justice falls on a works righteousness scale. My own personal theology pretty much consists of living a good life and if there is a god in the next world then he'll honor that good life or he's a jerk who isn't worth believing in anyways. So I guess I'm a salvation by works guy, technically. But it bothers me that alternative theologies are dismissed through this excessive proof-texting.

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

I think this scripture was chosen for two reasons. First, it might be a good opportunity to encourage students to keep their own records (such as journal- writing) which is a good habit to keep. But secondly, it is probably because they want to get the idea of salvation by works presented one last time before the end of the year. While this scripture, in its context, certainly supports this idea, the context of the entire collection of the Christian New Testament does not, as it is a variegated collection of many different beliefs and approaches to God and to Jesus. Ending on this note, with a silent, and false, assumption of the New Testament's solidarity with itself in support of LDS doctrine, is a disappointing end to a list that held good promise. Perhaps in the future, as CES chooses new scriptures they'll encourage LDS youth to memorize, they might select scriptures that do more than just entrench particular LDS beliefs but instead choose scriptures that can actually be used by students to help them get through that insanely stressful time of high school. You know, something useful.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

Greek: 6 Καὶ εἶδον ἄλλον ἄγγελον πετόμενον ἐν μεσουρανήματι, ἔχοντα εὐαγγέλιον αἰώνιον εὐαγγελίσαι ἐπὶ τοὺς καθημένους ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐπὶ πᾶν ἔθνος καὶ φυλὴν καὶ γλῶσσαν καὶ λαόν, 7 λέγων ἐν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ· φοβήθητε τὸν θεὸν καὶ δότε αὐτῷ δόξαν, ὅτι ἦλθεν ἡ ὥρα τῆς κρίσεως αὐτοῦ, καὶ προσκυνήσατε τῷ ποιήσαντι τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ πηγὰς ὑδάτων.

My Translation: 6 And I perceived another messenger flying in the height of the sky, having good tidings eternal to announce upon the sitters on the ground and upon every nation and tribe and tongue and people, 7 saying in a great noise, Be afraid of God, and grant to him honor, because the hour of his selection has come, and y'all worship him that caused sky and land and sea and springs of waters.

KJV: 6 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7 Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.

My translations are purposefully stretched and should not be viewed as more accurate than the KJV translation unless I say so in the post. I'm trying to show the range lying between the original Greek text and the English.

Update May 2013

This scripture has been removed by the Church Educational System from the Scripture Mastery list. However, it had remained within this list for over two decades and as such is still familiar to many graduates of the LDS Church's Seminary program. So I'm keeping this exploration of it online, but it is no longer applicable to CES.

I'll be honest, I can't think of a good introduction. Let's just agree to pretend that I wrote something really kick-ass about John's Revelation.

This book (though it's composed as a letter) was written by a man named John on the island of Patmos. While tradition says that this is the same John as the Apostle John (of Peter, James, and John fame), no further information is given about the author beyond his name. The style of the Greek is very different from the Gospel of John and the Letters of John, all of which have enough similarity between them that many scholars feel there was a common community, possibly even a common author (though this is nowhere near established), for them. The Revelation of John does not seem to be related to this community. Mormons believe that the author is the Apostle John because he is identified as the author in 1 Nephi 14:27 in the Book of Mormon.

Dating the letter can be difficult because often the dating of New Testament writings is done through contextual clues within the text. The text of Revelation is so obscure and vague at times that discerning any historical clues is difficult.

The book contains a highly symbolic vision of the battle between good and evil at the coming of the kingdom of God. Beginning with specific warnings to seven churches in what is today Turkey, the vision continues using the narrative structure of a scroll that has been tied with seven seals. As each seal of the scroll is opened, the vision continues to unfold of the battle between good and evil, until after the final seal is opened then the kingdom of God arrives on the earth complete with the glorification of Jerusalem and the world.

It would be impossible to summarize the many approaches that can be taken to reading the Revelation in just a blog post. For simplicity's sake, I'll try to summarize only two points of view: the traditional LDS view, and the majority scholastic view.

Joseph Smith's Conflicting Views

The traditional LDS viewpoint is mostly contained in D&C 77, where God explains some of the symbolism in John's Revelation. According to this section, each of the seals of the scroll represent a thousand years of human history, beginning roughly at 4000 BCE and continuing to the opening of the seventh scroll roughly around the 21st Century. In this way, the Revelation is an overview of the entire history of the world from beginning to end. However, in a sermon delivered April 8, 1843, Joseph Smith said, “The things John saw had no allusion to the day of Adam Enoch Abraham or Jesus... ” (Willard Richard's Journal) and “None of the things John saw had any allusion in the days of Adam, Enoch Ab[raham] or Jesus... [John] saw that which was lying in futurity.” (William Clayton Journal). So frankly, I'm not actually sure which point of view is the correct one. The current CES manuals acknowledge the quotes from the April 8th sermon (which are actually more extensive on this point than what I've quoted), but they teach according to the idea that the Revelation relates to the distant past as well as the future. However, it seems that near the end of his life Joseph was thinking that the Revelation only dealt with world history after the 1st Century CE. Frankly, I've become quite accustomed to self-contradictory statements by Joseph Smith, so to me this is just par for the course.

General Scholastic View

Scholars usually feel that the Revelation is describing the world current to the author in the 1st Century CE and while it may be expecting some items to occur in the future, that future is expected to be shortly occurring. But the majority of the symbolic events are felt to be concurrent with the author and some of the troubles occurring to Christians in the Roman Empire. Usually, it is felt that the book was written in response to a sense of general persecution of Christians, such as those who lived in the city of Rome after a fire burned a large swath of the city in 63 CE. The Emperor Nero blamed the fire on Roman Christians and had many of the Christians of Rome burned as punishment (later pagan historians would blame Nero himself for setting the fire as an excuse to begin a large building project in the ruined city). While this persecution was only localized to the city of Rome itself, the fate of the Christians there appalled Christians throughout the Empire. Many scholars feel that the book is detailing Rome, both the Emperor and Empire, as representatives of the evil world that will fight and lose against the rapidly coming kingdom of God. John's point of view is that there isn't much time left (Rev 1:3, 22:6-7, 22:10, 22:12, 22:20).

Early tradition stated that the reason John was on Patmos when he wrote the Book of Revelation was that he had been banished there (though there is no evidence for this in the book itself; John merely says that he was on Patmos “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus”). I feel the need to point out that it took centuries for being Christian to ever become a crime. Most Christians during the first two Christian centuries were arrested and executed for the crime of atheism, because they would not sacrifice to the gods and did not claim to be Jews, who were the only group legally protected from being forced to sacrifice. When your entire civilization is founded on the belief that prosperity and destruction are brought about through the good favor and anger of the gods then it becomes your civic responsibility to ensure that those deities are appeased; refusal to honor them could have devastating consequences. Most Roman officials begged and pleaded with charged Christians to simply do a sacrifice and leave prison; they didn't want to be killing normal residents of the Empire, to be killing mother and fathers. They were utterly bewildered by this group of religious individuals who refused, upon pain of death, to offer sacrifices, sometimes even approaching their executions with gleeful anticipation. The early persecutions of Christians by Roman authorities were usually motivated by a fear of the gods and not by a hatred or misunderstanding of Christianity.

However, related to this issue, later Christian historians claimed that there was a severe persecution of Christians by the Emperor Domitian. Domitian had apparently ordered that sacrifices be made to him throughout the Empire, and Christians refused. Sacrifices to the Emperor weren't uncommon as the office of the Emperor was felt to bestow a divine quality upon the Emperor and that he was therefore a god (though that's not quite as hubristic as it may sound to us: Mediterranean religions had gods for everything, and the Emperor, while still divine and important, was nowhere near on an equal level with Zeus, Jupiter, or Ra). Christian historians say that Domitian enacted horrible persecutions against Christians for this refusal, but unfortunately we have no other evidence of this persecution period from earlier sources, neither Christian nor Roman. Also, later Roman authorities seem surprised and curious at discovering the existence of various Christian groups, implying that Christians were still relatively unknown through the middle of the 2nd Century CE. If these persecutions indeed took place, they would have occurred in the mid 90s CE, and this, too, may have been part of the reason for the writing of the book.

Another event that occurred in the ancient world that may have been the impetus for creating this work was the destruction of the Jewish Temple by Roman forces in 70 CE. This was an awful blow for Jews (and Jewish Christians) throughout the Empire. It appears that the historical Jesus had possibly prophesied that it would be destroyed some forty-odd years earlier. If so, then many Christians would feel that the Temple's destruction was a sign that the end of the world was indeed near. Notably, when John describes the “New Jerusalem” that arrives with the kingdom of God, he describes a city without a Temple: God is its Temple. Even if the Book of Revelation was written decades later at the end of the 1st Century CE, the destruction of the Jewish Temple still seems to lie behind some of the work.

The Context of the Scripture Mastery

The scripture mastery verse in question is part of a character motif John uses as he symbolically explores the effects of opening the various seals of the scroll. Various angels have various duties through the vision: seven angels blow trumpets to announce terrible calamities upon the earth, four angels are tasked with killing a third of humanity, one angel is flying in the midst of heaven with the “everlasting gospel”, another angel gives John a scroll to eat, another has a rainbow above his head and shouts with seven thunders. Angels are the main method that God uses to advance the plot of the opening of the sealed scroll.

In the vision, John has just finished describing 144,000 virgins singing a new song to God. After this, he sees, as the above scripture describes, an angel literally flying in the midst of heaven. This angel has the “everlasting gospel” and is to proclaim it to everyone on the earth. This angel is then followed by a second angel who announces that Babylon has fallen (a major theme of Isaiah that is used by John), and yet another angel who declares that anyone who has been marked by the evil side will be tortured with fire and sulfur. The vision then continues on to the seven angels with plagues coming out of the heavenly temple to afflict the earth.

Yeah, it's pretty weird stuff. So in context, what is going on, and then what is the general Mormon interpretation?

First, it's extremely difficult to tell what is going on. The book is written to be carefully analyzed and studied. For instance, in the famous declaration that the number of the “beast” is 666, John tells the reader to “calculate the number” because it is a “human number” (Rev 13:18). John is expecting some very close reading and seems to expect that his readers will already understand much of what is being said. Secondly, the book is very Jewish in nature, echoing (and in many cases quoting and paraphrasing) prophetic books from the Hebrew Bible such as Daniel and Isaiah.

What most seem to agree upon is that John is not using the word “gospel” or “good news” here in reference to what Paul and others termed the “good news” that Jesus rose from the dead. Instead, the good news that the angel is sent to preach is actually quoted in the second verse: “Worship God who made everything.” That's it, followed by another angel declaring Babylon's fall, and another declaring the punishment of the wicked.

The general Mormon understanding is that the angel flying through heaven with the everlasting gospel is Moroni (and, by extension, all of the other angels involved with Joseph Smith and the Restoration). And since it is said that he is to preach this good news to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, so Mormons believe that before the end of the world the message that began with Moroni (the message of the LDS Church) must first go to every country in the world. For this reason, Mormons are confidently expectant that they'll eventually have missions in such countries as China, North Korea, and the Middle East.

Is this correct? Who knows. Do I think it is? No, not at all. John expected the end of the world to arrive “soon”. Last I checked, “soon” was not over two thousand years long. Some Christians use other books from the New Testament to explain how “soon” can indeed be viewed as any length of time, but Revelation is a self-contained work that is not aware of the other books it shares the New Testament with. I don't think John is talking about a future restoration of the truth, and even if he is it's oddly surrounded and mixed in among references to monsters breathing out evil spirits, locusts, plagues, talking animals, trumpets, and disembodied voices. When Joseph Smith once claimed that “Rev[elation] is one of the plainest books god ever caused to be written” (William Clayton Journal, 8 April 1843) I think it was just empty bravado. It wouldn't be out of character for Joseph to make such claims.

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

I think this was chosen because it's been viewed by many LDS leaders as a prophecy of Moroni's appearance to Joseph Smith to lead him to a book. Since “Gospels” are now viewed as books, and since the Book of Mormon is viewed as another book about the Gospel of Jesus, then it makes sense to view this character in John's Revelation as Moroni. And frankly, if they want to view it that way, then more power to them. Revelation is a highly symbolic work that even Joseph Smith himself said many contradictory and speculative things about. Is their interpretation correct? Probably not. Does it matter? Probably not.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

Greek: 17 οὕτως καὶ ἡ πίστις, ἐὰν μὴ ἔχῃ ἔργα, νεκρά ἐστιν καθ’ ἑαυτήν. 18 ἀλλ’ ἐρεῖ τις, σὺ πίστιν ἔχεις κἀγὼ ἔργα ἔχω. δεῖξόν μοι τὴν πίστιν σου χωρὶς τῶν ἔργων, κἀγώ σοι δείξω ἐκ τῶν > ἔργων μου τὴν πίστιν.

My Translation: 17 And likewise belief, if it doesn't have labors, is dead, with itself. 18 Yet someone will say, You have belief, I likewise have labors. You've shown to me* Show me your belief apart from labors, I likewise will show you my belief from labors. * I made a mistake as found in the comments below.

KJV: 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my > faith by my works.

My translations are purposefully stretched and should not be viewed as more accurate than the KJV translation unless I say so in the post. I'm trying to show the range lying between the original Greek text and the English.

Just a Warning: This Scripture Mastery Post is LONG

This is going to be a long discussion. By necessity, we're going to be looking at James's approach to faith and “works” in light of Paul's earlier theology as found in letters such as Romans and Galatians. The extremely short version is this: James and Paul are not reconcilable together. They are in direct opposition. And James fundamentally misunderstands Paul's arguments, much to the detriment of his own argument. This is really only a problem if we're assuming that the Christian New Testament must be a coherent whole that always works in concert with itself. However, if we view these two theologies as systems of thought created by distinct and separate individuals, we shouldn't be surprised to see such a variety of thought present between these two ancient thinkers.

A Fundamental Misreading of Paul

First lets look at Paul's theology. Paul's letters to the Romans and the Galatians were incalculably important in inspiring figures such as Augustine and Martin Luther. However, these figures have read Paul from their own cultural perspective instead of trying to puzzle out Paul's arguments in their 1st Century context. The Protestant Reformation in particular enjoyed Paul because he seemed to be speaking against the abuses of the Catholic Church. Reform Christians saw a direct analogy in Paul's arguments about salvation by works and by faith to their own position and that of the Catholic Church. Pharisees and other Jewish opponents to Paul's theology were interpreted in light of this conflict, with the Jews cast as a rule-bound religion where admission to heaven was governed by obedience to rules and thus could be earned through righteous living.

However, during the later half of the 20th Century, attempts by non-Jewish scholars to study 1st Century Judaism revealed a very different religion (of course, most Jews had been aware of it all along). Instead of being a religion based upon works, it was instead a religion based upon the idea of an undeserved (and thus “grace” based) covenant. Jews believed that God had made a covenant with the human Abraham, and that through him all the people of the earth would be blessed. Because of this covenant, God would “save” all who belonged to this covenant and this covenant continued through Abraham's lineage, so that all of Israel was promised to be saved by God. Thus, salvation was not based upon specific actions, but upon belonging to this covenant community. God's purpose in Israel was that he had selected Israel to bring this community to the world, and to govern who belonged to this community God institute a complicated series of laws (given through Moses as the Torah), including circumcision and dietary restrictions. For early Jews, obedience to these laws was not what brought someone into the community, but disobedience and sin would threaten individuals and the entire nation with being pushed out of the community. Constant attempts at obedience kept someone in a state of belonging to the community, a process now called by scholars “covenantal nominism”. (Most of the following is informed by scholars such as E.P. Sanders and N. T. Wright. In fact, if you have the patience, Wright's Justification is a fantastic approach to Paul's perspectives on grace, law, and salvation.)

It's an important, though very subtle, distinction. The idea was not that at the judgement God would balance all of your good and bad deeds to see if you “measured up” but rather would look at your obedience to his law to see if you truly were a member of the covenantal community. That community would collectively receive entrance to heaven. Salvation was not an individual story, nor was it deserved.

Paul and The New Covenant

So with this view of Jewish religion at the time, what does that mean for Paul? For centuries now, Reform Christians have read Paul's letters to the Galatians in light of the old view of earned-salvation Judaism. In Galatians, Paul rails against Gentile Christians who are being pressured to be circumcised and observe Torah by fellow Jewish Christians, actions which Paul views as equivalent to “death”. Reform Christians assumed Paul was saying that works-based salvation is incorrect and that salvation was only through faith. But what is Paul's theology?

It appears that Paul's viewpoint was not actually to reject the Jewish framework of covenantal nominism, but rather to build upon it. Paul's viewpoint seems to be that God didn't make a mistake in his covenant with Abraham and Israel. God still wishes to use this covenant to save the world from sin and death, but Israel has failed in its mission to do so. They have become too focused on the Law, which was given to them to mark their membership in the covenantal community. So instead of abandoning the covenant, God made the same covenant again with Jesus through his death and sacrifice, standing as a perfectly obedient representative for all of Israel. Now this covenant applies to all who will belong to the community of Jesus (and, through him, will belong to the covenant people of Israel). Membership in this community marks an individual as being “right” or “justified” with God. Justification is a complicated legal term; for many reform Christians, the process of justification has long been viewed as a divine process whereby the sins of an individual are transmitted directly to Jesus (who died for these sins). In the new perspective on Paul, justification simply means that in the final judgement God will view the individual as right. In a court case, generally if a person is pronounced by a judge to be “not guilty” and it later turns out that they actually were guilty, the law is clear that the case has already been decided – there is a difference between the meaning and effects of judgement and actuality. So it is with Paul and justification: membership in Christ brings his followers into a state with God of being pronounced righteous. It doesn't mean that a person is somehow made perfect or sinless, but merely that at the final judgement they've already been pronounced free of the effects of sin and death. For Paul, membership in this covenantal community occurs through belief in Jesus, but this belief must maintain a relationship with the community. So there's no more sin, but there is behavior that is expected of a Christian that marks them as a member of this community.

Paul: Faith and Works

So for Paul, a return to the old method of Judiasm and the Torah is a return to living according to the old rules of the covenant and a rejection of what God has now offered through Jesus. If you want to live by the old rules, then live by the old rules but understand that you are rejecting God's new covenant which has been given and that you are expected to live a harsher law that is now impossible to live. The new covenant, which is actually just an extension of the old covenant made with Abraham, is that we adhere to Jesus and ally ourselves with him through faith that he indeed rose from the dead and our faithfulness to him by freely choosing to be his slaves and him to be our master. This is why Paul rejects Jewish laws for Gentile converts, why Paul argues with Peter about not eating with Gentile Christians, and why some of Paul's opponents accused him of “antinomism,” a fancy word meaning “without law”. Apparently, some of Paul's opponents tried to counter his theology with a “reductio ad absurdum” of saying that if it's amazing that faithfulness to Christ will allow someone who is a little bit sinful the favor (or “grace”) of being justified, then perhaps people should act in a way that is considered to be very sinful so that the favor will be that much bigger and more grand. Paul's response in Romans 6 is “absolutely not” (rendered in the KJV as “God forbid!”), and he goes on to indicate that though humans in Christ no longer belong to sin they should live in a way to show that they belong to Christ. Paul doesn't think that followers of Christ can't continue to sin: he just thinks that membership in the covenantal community of Jesus will have them pronounced righteous at the final judgement. But it's interesting to note that in Romans 6, Paul does not deny what his opponents are saying about his theology, that followers of Jesus are freed from sin and thus are no longer bound to follow the Torah. For Paul, salvation is truly found through a relationship with Jesus that is founded on faithfulness to him. The good works of a Christian are simply evidence that we belong to him, not some sort of mechanic to achieve salvation. Faithfulness to Jesus will produce a Christian who behaves as a Christian should. Faithfulness is supreme.

James: Faith and Works

Well, that's the complicated viewpoint of Paul. What about James? James doesn't agree at all, though again, as we've been talking let's notice carefully that James is not talking about faith and works in the context of salvation but rather is discussing them in generalized terms against each other. In other words, James never says, “Faith without works will not produce salvation” or “Someone only with faith and not works will not see heaven.” Instead, we have statements like the one in the given verse above: faith without works is “dead.”

James seems to be responding directly to Paul's statements about the supremacy of faith and about the dangers of “the law.” However, while for Paul “the law” clearly means the Jewish Torah, for James the “works” described are not the commandments of the Torah, but are good works in and of themselves. From James's point of view, he seems to interpret Paul's theology as this: since faith saves, we don't have to do good things.

The problem is that James fundamentally misunderstands Paul's view of faith. Paul's view is not that faith is a magical process, but rather that faithfulness provides entrance to the covenantal community. James, however, thinks that it is just having the faith that matters for Pauline Christians. And, as James rightly points out, in the Christian worldview even the devils themselves “believe” in Jesus and tremble (but obviously remain evil devils). Simply having faith is not enough for James (otherwise, even the devils would be saved because they believe in Jesus), so it must be faith accompanied by good works. And since James is all about the good works of Judaism (helping the poor and the widows) he rails against this idea of faith without works being important.

James and the Mormons

LDS teachers are fond of pointing out how Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, famously dismissed the Letter of James as “an epistle of straw”. To them, Luther's dissatisfaction with James is emblematic of Protestantism's faulty approach to salvation. Mormons themselves have a rocky history when it comes to salvation by either grace and/or works, but usually come down on the side where works are supreme and grace merely makes up the difference for an individual. So for them, in a world where most American Christians are Protestants who view Paul's Letter to the Romans as of paramount importance, using the Letter of James as a counterpoint helps to establish the importance of works in salvation.

Of course, this is at the expense of Romans. If James's point about works being a necessary expression of faith is so important, what are we to do about Paul's Letter to the Romans, where faithfulness to Christ and the new/old covenant supersedes and overrides adherence to Torah? Frankly, most Mormons either

  1. Ignore Romans (devoting only one lesson for the entire year of Sunday School to Romans)

  2. Reinterpret Romans by focusing inordinately on the few verses within it that seem to indicate a works-based theology (though oddly enough, ignoring one of the changes made by Joseph Smith's Translation project to one of these scriptures that actually turns it back into a grace-based scripture, Romans 4:5), or

  3. Claim that errors in translation or transmission have obscured what Paul was actually trying to say (and that what he was trying to say was modern Mormon works-based theology).

However, in the end the solution is pretty much this: Paul and James are two very different writers coming from very different perspectives. James is a Jewish Christian who hates how Paul's theology is saying that Christians do not need to follow the Torah. Paul has a complicated theology based on the idea of God's covenant with Abraham that technically does include the idea of good works in it, but in a very nuanced way that utterly rejects Torah observance. James fundamentally misunderstands this point of view and thus disagrees completely with what he thinks Paul is saying. Mormons themselves also have a great deal of difficulty understanding traditional Protestant theology of sola fide, and unfortunately their general hesitancy about modern biblical studies will mean that they will ignore the new field known as the New Perspectives on Paul that attempts to reintroduce Paul's theology into its 1st Century context. This new perspective actually benefits the LDS viewpoint immensely, but I have no hope that CES will ever approach it with acceptance. Until then, Mormons will continue to use James as a blunt object in their fights against faith-based theologies when some knowledge of the context might help them to be a bit more charitable in their use of it.

Why Do I Think This Scripture Was Chosen?

I think this scripture was chosen because it's an obvious challenge against the doctrine of the supremacy of faith and faithfulness that arises from Romans. Unfortunately, as Protestant influence itself continues to wane in the developed world, this sort of nuanced theological debate continues to matter less and less. Whether or not salvation is by faith alone or is earned through works is not really an important distinction for most secular humans in the modern world, and in those areas where it is, the Bible is not a coherent whole and supports both. Mormons may feel that by appealing to James they can “prove” that works matter in faith, but while they rightly feel that James is a difficult book to deal with for a sola fide theology, they have just as much problem with the presence of Romans and Galatians and Ephesians and many of the other writings of Paul and possibly-Paul that support the Protestant theology of the supremacy of faith and faithfulness in salvation.

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Greek: 5 εἰ δέ τις ὑμῶν λείπεται σοφίας, αἰτείτω παρὰ τοῦ διδόντος θεοῦ πᾶσιν ἁπλῶς καὶ μὴ ὀνειδίζοντος, καὶ δοθήσεται αὐτῷ. 6 αἰτείτω δὲ ἐν πίστει, μηδὲν διακρινόμενος, ὁ γὰρ διακρινόμενος ἔοικεν κλύδωνι θαλάσσης ἀνεμιζομένῳ καὶ ῥιπιζομένῳ·

My Translation: 5 But if anyone of y'all is destitute of wisdom, beg from God, who grants all openly and does not revile, and he will grant to him. 6 But ask in faith, doubting nothing, for the doubter is like an ocean surge wind-agitated and tossed.

KJV: 5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

My translations are purposefully stretched and should not be viewed as more accurate than the KJV translation unless I say so in the post. I'm trying to show the range lying between the original Greek text and the English.

James the Just

The Letter of James claims to have been written by the historical figure known as James the Just. We know that James was a real figure of history as his violent death is recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus, and he is mentioned independently by both Paul in his letter to the Galatians and by the author of the Acts of the Apostles. According to these sources, James was the brother of Jesus (Jesus having brothers appears in a number of different sources from the New Testament), was an early Church leader, and Paul said he claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus. Is there any evidence that he is the author of this letter? Not really, but there isn't much evidence against it. Scholars today are divided on this question of whether or not the historical James was the author of this letter, but the issues are really when it was written and whether or not it would be reasonable to assume that James was still alive for the various proposed dates of composition. Myself, I'm always more comfortable in a position of careful doubt than one of certainty, so while I'll be calling the author “James” I am not convinced that he's the actual author.

The author could have been the historical James for a few reasons. First, this work is very much a Jewish work. It stands in stark contrast to the theology and writings of Paul (which we'll discuss much more next time) by focusing on issues common to Judaism: the Torah and good actions. Secondly, the letter itself is addressed to “the twelve tribes of Israel”. Again, while Paul has shown us that the early Christ movement had many issues in regards to the place of Gentile converts, this letter is not addressed to them but is only addressed to the Jewish converts. This would make sense for a Jewish author from the Jerusalem Church, which James appears to have been in charge of. Paul refers to him first before Peter (James, Peter, and John – Galatians 2:9), and indicates that Peter had been eating with Gentiles until Christians from James arrived and convinced him otherwise, implying that Peter was following what James had said. Whether or not James was Peter's superior, this event illustrates James's Jewish adherence to the Torah in contrast to Paul's rejection of it. This adherence to Torah is a strong part of the Letter of James.

However, there are a number of issues that speak against James as the author. First of all, the letter appears to have been influenced by Matthew's Gospel (which makes sense, as the very Jewish author would probably love Matthew's Jewish perspective), especially the famous Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5-7. The Gospel of Matthew is a very late composition that certainly occurred long after James's martyrdom. It's possible that James is quoting from the now-lost “Q” source (as parts of the Sermon on the Mount find their way into Luke), but there's no way to be certain of that. Also, James begins his letter by encouraging his readers to patiently endure trials. Since the movement seems to have existed both alongside and among regular Judaism for a number of years, this too points to a relatively late date of composition.

The Context of this Scripture Mastery

James encourages his audience to be happy about their trials, because enduring them will bring them perfection, so that they're not lacking in anything. But if they are lacking in wisdom, they should ask God to give it to them. However, James then cautions them to ask without doubt, because God will not give a doubter anything as a doubter is double-minded and unstable in his ways.

Mormons enjoy this scripture because Joseph Smith, in one of his many varying accounts of his First Vision, mentions that this scripture is what drove him to the woods to pray about the state of his soul. Joseph felt that he needed wisdom in order to either know the state of his soul or which Church to join, depending on the account you read. In response, he said that God and/or Jesus visited him. From this vision, Mormons believe that Joseph began his career as a prophet.

I'm not going to go into the specifics of that story anymore than to just say that the variations between the different stories are enough to convince me that while Joseph may have had a genuine experience, time caused him to expand it greatly with each retelling. But is this view of the scripture, that we should pray if we need wisdom, correct?

My verdict is that this is a correct use of this scripture within its context. However, most Mormons do not read the following verses very closely, where James states that having doubt will prevent the individual from receiving anything from God. As well, the idea is that Christians should already be perfecting themselves through their trials. Asking God is only if they are still deficient in wisdom from these trials. The author probably has questions about these trials in mind when he is talking about anyone “lacking wisdom”, but who am I to say for sure?

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

I think this verse was chosen because it's part of the modern foundation story for Joseph Smith. According to his 1838 account, he received his first vision of God because he was following this advice given in James. I think that most Christians would view this scripture the same way, though it needs to be noted that the context does emphasize this lack of wisdom arising from trials we are enduring than just lacking wisdom in general.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

Greek: καὶ οὐχ ἑαυτῷ τις λαμβάνει τὴν τιμήν, ἀλλὰ καλούμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ, καθώσπερ καὶ Ἀαρών.

My Translation: And someone does not take to himself the honor, except he is bidden of God, even also as Aaron.

KJV: And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.

My translations are purposefully stretched and should not be viewed as more accurate than the KJV translation unless I say so in the post. I'm trying to show the range lying between the original Greek text and the English.

Update May 2013

This scripture has been removed by the Church Educational System from the Scripture Mastery list. However, it had remained within this list for over two decades and as such is still familiar to many graduates of the LDS Church's Seminary program. So I'm keeping this exploration of it online, but it is no longer applicable to CES.

The Anonymous Letter to the Hebrews

The Letter to the Hebrews is completely anonymous and always has been since the earliest records of it. Of the author, an early Christian named Origen who lived in the 3rd Century CE said, “only God knows.” Tradition has assigned it to Paul only because Paul wrote so many other letters in the New Testament (though some of these are written in his name by later authors), but its placement in the traditional order of book speaks to its uncertain status: whereas all of the letters of Paul are placed in order of length, from the longest (Romans) to the shortest (Philemon), Hebrews is placed afterwards. The modern LDS Church assumes Pauline authorship but only because this is the authorship assumed by early LDS Church leaders such as Joseph Smith. The book has no given author, and in the earliest manuscripts doesn't even have a title; it's called “To the Hebrews” because its focus and message is centered in Israelite temple ritual.

Whereas in Paul, the death and resurrection of Jesus are important from an apocalyptic perspective (Jesus's rising from the dead heralds the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God), the author of Hebrews is interested in Jesus from the perspective of what his death means for the Israelite temple; the resurrection is not really emphasized in the letter. The main message of the book is an examination of what the author believes to be shortcomings of the Temple at Jerusalem and how Jesus's death makes up for these shortcomings.

The Shadow of Heaven

For the author, the rituals of sacrifice at the Jerusalem temple were meant to cleanse the people from sin, but the Jewish people themselves, including the priests, were already corrupted by sin by virtue of being human. Thus the cycle of sacrificial offerings needed to continuously occur because the rituals were performed by humans for humans. Their sacrifices were imperfect since they were performed by imperfect people using imperfect animals for the people. The only way for this situation to end was for a perfect human to perform a perfect sacrifice that would end sin for all. The author then presents Jesus as this divine human; divine in that he is perfect and is God, but human in that he suffers and cries out with tears. Of course, when the Jerusalem Temple had sacrifices they were performed on an altar, but Jesus was executed on a cross and wasn't literally sacrificed. The author resolves this by resorting to a complicated dual worldview. For the author, the temple at Jerusalem is merely a physical “shadow” of the perfect temple in heaven. The physical temple is run by High Priests descended from Aaron, Moses's brother. The heavenly temple is run by Jesus, who is a High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (more on this in a bit). The physical temple is continually having sacrifices of bread, incense, and animals for sins (which the people would then take home to eat afterwards), but the heavenly temple has only had one perfect sacrifice for the sin of all the world (celebrated by the Christian eucharist which the people eat). This sacrifice occurred in the heavenly temple, but the shadow in the physical world was Jesus's death on the cross. So for the author, the meaning of Jesus's death is that it takes everything that Jews viewed as important about their Temple and said that Jesus's death accomplished those same things, only better.

Hebrews is a complicated work, but if you keep this “shadow world” idea in mind it's much clearer than just trying to get through it on your own.

After the Order of Mechizedek

Okay, Hebrews contains this odd references to Melchizedek. Remember that the author is presenting the physical temple as inferior to the heavenly temple in every way. The Priests of the Jerusalem Temple were set up, according to Jewish scripture, by Moses himself and that the High Priests were descended from Aaron, his brother (and amazingly enough, there is some genetic evidence among modern Jews that there actually might have been a distinct genetic line among Temple priests that goes far back in time; not that I'm saying Aaron is a real historical person, but the lineage claimed to be his might have existed concurrent with the ancient Jerusalem Temple). How do you then present this ancient lineage as being inferior? The author goes back to Genesis and to a small story about Abraham, the oldest patriarch, whose grandson Jacob has twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel, with one of those lines being the tribe of Levi who officiated in the Temple. The story is that Abraham, after he rescued his relative Lot who had been kidnapped by neighboring tribesmen, stopped at the town of Salem on his way home and was blessed by the King of Salem, Melchizedek, and Abraham gave him part of the spoils of the victory. The author of the Hebrews says that since Abraham was the ancestor of Levi and Aaron, that it was as though Levi and Aaron were also blessed by Melchizedek and gave him gifts and treated him as a superior (in sperm form, if that makes the image any easier). It also helps that Genesis says nothing else about Melchizedek, no explanation for why the ancient hero Abraham would have given him part of the spoils and shown deference to him. Around the time of the 1st Century, it appears that myths and legends had arisen about Melchizedek that because Genesis doesn't give his lineage that he had no lineage, but was a mythical individual of power who had not been born but had always existed (and thus had not died and continued to exist on the earth). Such an individual, with such a miraculous history, was surely an entity that Abraham would have shown deference to, and by extension, so too would Levi and eventually Aaron and eventually the Temple priests.

The Context for the Scripture Mastery Verse

So the author of Hebrews says that while the physical temple is presided over by Aaronic priests, the heavenly temple is presided over by Jesus, who is a priest following the order of Melchizedek.

The verse above, in context, is mentioning that the High Priest of the temple cannot assume that position on their own initiative, which is an odd choice of words, as many High Priests had assumed that office in the previous few centuries; it had become a highly politicized office (this politicization is what led the Dead Sea Scrolls community to remove themselves from Jerusalem and live in isolation above the Dead Sea, waiting for God to purify the world and the Temple). For this reason, it's assumed that he's not talking about any individual in question, but rather about Aaron himself, and about the Aaronic lineage. Aaron had not asked to be put in charge of God's temple, but God had bidden him to do it. The lineage was selected by God. Similarly, God's election of Jesus had not occurred because Jesus had sought it, but rather God had chosen him.

Mormon Priesthoods

What does this matter? It matters because Mormons feel that, just as the Jerusalem Temple required priests of Levi to run it and descendants of Aaron to be High Priests, so too do Mormons feel that authority must be held to administer the modern Church. The LDS Church claims both the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood (though they make little claims to Aaronic ancestry) and the Melchizedek Priesthood mentioned by the author of Hebrews. For Mormons, this authority is not only required for the Church to function, it is the authority by which all things function. It was this authority that was lost through sin and apostasy that made a restoration needful.

For Mormons, this verse is saying that nobody can themselves claim the authority of the Priesthood. They must be called of God first. This means that all of the Christian Churches who baptized their people cannot do so authoritatively, as their leaders have all merely sought this authority on their own.

But this scripture is talking about *Jesus, *not about humans in general. And the purpose of Jesus's Melchizedek Priesthood authority, to the author of Hebrews, is to officiate over the great and lasting sin sacrifice of himself once and for all. It is a perfect Priesthood for a perfect sacrifice.

Modern Christians in general do not view authority as an important issue in regards to the few rituals that Christians have, such as the Eucharist or baptism. When this scripture is viewed in relation to regular human Christians, it is interpreted to mean that people should feel inspired or called by God before they undertake to minister to their fellow Christians.

The Mormon view of this scripture is wrapped up tightly with their historical development of two levels of Priesthood (a development that took a long time to occur as the Melchizedek Priesthood didn't even exist when the LDS Church was officially founded). Their presence in the LDS Church, when combined with this verse in Hebrews, is taken to mean that all men (as the LDS Priesthood is currently limited to only men, and until 1978 also excluded all blacks) are called of God when they receive an ordination to these two Priesthoods. Other Churches cannot make the same claims of authority as the LDS Church because they must be “called of God” before they can do so. Thus it is only the LDS Church that has the authority of these Priesthoods in action. Regular Christians, however, could certainly care less about this issue. And the author of Hebrews isn't talking about two levels of Priesthood present among early Christians, but is rather talking about an earthly Priesthood for the Jerusalem Temple's constant sacrifices and a heavenly Priesthood for the heavenly Temple's single great sacrifice.

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

This scripture is a foundation for why Mormons believe that Priesthood is required for their rituals, such as baptism. Nobody can simply choose to baptise, but they must be called of God to do so, which is what Mormons consider ordination into the Priesthoods to be. However, the scripture in question is talking about how Jesus was called of God to perform his perfect sacrifice, which was performed only once, and says nothing about authority for rituals and ordinances in the Christian Church. Modern Christians either assume that membership in Christ's covenantal community bestows such authority as needed (called the “Priesthood of All Believers”), that authority for these rituals was never lost, or that authority is not needed for the rituals. Many Christians would be confused at an LDS reading of this scripture as a way to exclude their baptisms and sacraments as not being authorized because many Christians feel strongly that God inspires humans to various Christian ministries. To them, being “call of God, as was Aaron,” is a call that can come to anyone and everyone.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

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