Looking at Scripture Mastery - Conclusion

Looking at Scripture Mastery - Conclusion

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.

See other posts in my Scripture Mastery New Testament Series

Tom Doggett

Tom Doggett

I'm a programmer, Ancient Greek reader, feminist, spouse and partner, and a dad.

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