Looking at Scripture Mastery – Revelation 20:12-13
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.
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.