# NoCoolName Blog

## What is the LDS Inverse Old Testament?

I explained the basic idea in the first post, but I'll summarize it again. This is, based on a number of relatively safe assumptions, the collection of scriptures that almost all Latter-day Saints are going to be unfamiliar with as they have almost never read and studied them. The Seminary and Institute programs are an obvious exception to this collection, but these programs are really indented for the youth and the young single adults. Regular Latter-day Saints are unlikely to approach a thorough study of the Hebrew Bible on their own initiative and so their only real exposure to it is going to be through the weekly hour of Sunday School once every four years.

It's a far counter-argument that there is only one hour (often less) a week to devote to Sunday School, and that with less than sixty full hours to devote to the subject it is not reasonable to expect Latter-day Saints to exhaustively cover the Old Testament. And I agree fully. Except that the manual of study has remained almost completely unchanged since the mid-90s. That means that the LDS Church has had at least five full iterations of covering the Old Testament using the current manual. Once or twice I could agree with to spend only covering a small amount of the scriptures, but I find it to be very unsettling that the current curriculum has remained unchanged for so long. Two decades worth of attention to the scriptures covered in Sunday School has more than solidified the LDS conception of this ancient record, but this conception is flawed as the LDS Inverse Old Testament has also solidified during that same time as a sealed book that is often utterly alien to the average Latter-day Saint. The fact that the Inverse Old Testament is often more messy when it comes to other LDS scriptures and doctrines means that many Latter-day Saints have a false impression of cohesion and cleanliness between the various book of their scriptures. This may lead to promoting faith, but it is at the expense of authenticity and a fair understanding of the foreign aspects of an ancient Near Eastern body of literature.

Hopefully, bringing the existence and contents of the LDS Inverse Old Testament to light will help impel the LDS Church to adopt actions that will help expose more Latter-day Saints to more of their scriptures for a richer, deeper, and more complex understanding of their personal and official faith.

## Moving On Past Leviticus

The project now continues from the Book of Leviticus, which is present in the Inverse Old Testament in its entirety, to the Book of Ruth, which is fully covered by LDS Sunday School attention and is thus absent from the Inverse Scriptures.

I'm not surprised that Leviticus is skipped. It's too full of uncomfortable questions in regards to its usefulness after Jesus Christ “fulfilled” the Law of Moses; since the Church still uses many aspects of the Torah in its doctrines the line dividing old law from law still in force becomes fuzzier the closer you examine it.

Numbers is, the name aside, an interesting book. Yes there are a lot of genealogies (why it's called numbers) but there are also a lot of stories, too. It's rather odd that people tend to view Exodus in the abstract as a book of the story of leaving Egypt with only a little bit of boring law material and Numbers as a book with tons of boring law material and only a few stories when the inverse is pretty much true.

Some of the stories I can understand being skipped as they show a very merciless God and prophet, but some of the others that are skipped could have been put to great used, such as the story of Zelophehad's daughters. Interestingly, the divine command to attack the Midianites in Numbers 31:1-16 is covered in LDS Sunday Schools. They are commanded to kill everyone, but they take as prisoner the women and children. The Inverse Scriptures contain the rest of the story, however, where Moses commands them to kill the women and male children and to keep the young virgin girls for themselves, as well as the immense list of booty the Israelites took from their slaughtered foes.

I also think some attention to the varied ingredients and types of sacrifices would be useful for a Mormon audience who seem to think that the sacrifices in the Tabernacle and Temple always consisted of the blood sacrifice of lambs. There are offerings of grains, offerings of wine, offerings using cows, goats, birds. There are even offerings of hair as part of the Nazarite vow that even early Christians such as Paul continued to perform (Acts 18:18). Mormons, like Christians, like the symbolism between Jesus's execution on the Cross and the death of the lamb as part of Passover, but good symbolism is no reason to obscure the depth and complexity of an ancient culture.

## Some Stories and Pericopes contained in the Inverse Scriptures So Far

### Numbers

• God claims the Levites as his own instead of claiming all Israel's firstborn as his because he didn't kill their firstborn when he killed the Egyptian firstborn during the Exodus (Numbers 3:12-13, 45-51)
• A magical ritual to prove the guilt or innocence of wives, though not of husbands, accused of adultery (Numbers 5:11-31)
• The ritual requirements for a Nazarite vow, which even Paul performed post-conversion (Numbers 6:1-21)
• Moses talks with an invisible God (Numbers 7:89)
• Moses changes God's mind by implying he'll look bad to other nations if he kills all of the Israelites (Numbers 14:13-20)
• Moses leads the camp in stoning a man who picked up sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36)
• God puts down internal rebellions against Moses through earthquake, fire, and disease (Numbers 16)
• Moses begins the conquest of Canaan (Numbers 21:32-35)
• Aaron's son takes charge in ending wickedness by throwing a javelin really, really hard (Numbers 25:1-15)
• Zelophehad's daughters make an impressive feminist argument about inheritance rights to Moses (Numbers 27:1-11, 36:1-13)
• God tells Moses that he is going to die just like his brother Aaron died (Numbers 27:12-13)
• Moses tells the Israelites to kill all of the enemy survivors of a battle except the young virgin girls which they can keep (Numbers 31:13-18)

### Joshua

• Joshua circumcises the Israelites who'd been born in the wilderness (Joshua 5:2-8)
• Joshua is visited by the captain of God's army (Joshua 5:13-15)
• Joshua burns the body, family, and possessions of Achan because he stole an idol from a ruined city (Joshua 7:24-26)
• The Israelites take the city of Ai by stratagem and kill everyone, man and woman, and burn the city (Joshua 8)
• The Israelites merely enslave the Gibeonites instead of slaughtering them because the Gibeonites trick them (Joshua 9)
• God holds the sun and moon in the sky to give the Israelites enough time to defeat and kill the Amorites (Joshua 10:12-14)
• The death toll of merely the kings of the cities that the Israelites destroyed (Joshua 12:7-24)

### Judges

• Left-handed Ehud kills the very fat King Eglon with a homemade sword (Judges 3:14-30)
• Shamgar kills six hundred Philistines with an ox goad long before the more-famous Samson (Judges 3:31)
• Sisera is killed by Jael by lulling him into a false sense of security and nailing his head to the ground (Judges 4:17-22)
• Gideon makes a golden coat that becomes an idol and has 70 sons from his many wives (Judges 8:22-32)
• Jephtah makes a rash vow to God and sacrifices his daughter (Judges 11:29-40)
• Samson's wishes to marry a Philistine, which vex his parents, is inspired of God (Judges 14:4)
• Samson carries away the doors of the gate of the city, posts and all, on his shoulders (Judges 16:3)
• A Levite's concubine is cruelly raped and killed, so he cuts her up and sends her to the various tribes around (Judges 19)
• Because of this, the other tribes begin a war that nearly wipes out the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20)
• Because so many of the Benjaminites died, new wives are provided by killing the men of the city of Jabesh-Gilead as well as by kidnapping from the city of Shiloh (Judges 21)

## What is the LDS Inverse Old Testament?

I am assuming that most Sunday School teachers are both lazy and fearful of doing things wrong. For this reason, even though the manual itself suggests that teachers use it merely as a guide and not as the lesson itself, most teachers are just going to use the lessons as written. I am assuming that when the manual says “read Moses 4” referring to an entire chapter that this directive is usually not going to be followed. It takes a long time to read a full chapter and it'd be easier to just summarize it, which introduces our own biases and assumptions far more easily. Scriptures that are more likely to be read are the smaller snippets the manual lists in the catechism-like questions to be read and discussed. From these assumptions it is easy to create a list of scriptures that are likely to be read and discussed by any typical LDS Sunday School class. And from this list of scriptures it is easy to create the inverse of such a list and produce a list of scriptures that are not likely to be read and discussed by any typical LDS Sunday School class. And, assuming that most Latter-day Saints do not read the Old Testament voluntarily or closely as they do the Book of Mormon or the New Testament, it is likely that this inverse list contains chapters and verses that the average member of the Church is likely to never read or discuss.

So I've begun to do just that. I've gone through the lesson manual, highlighted the suggested scriptures, and then inverted the highlighting. I've only spent about two hours on the project so far and have gotten to the Book of Numbers. I'll keep posting more as I get further along.

You can click here to see the actual list of scriptures in the Inverse Old Testament.

## My Thoughts So Far

There is a ton of time spent in the Pearl of Great Price and Genesis compared to the rest of the Bible.

All of Abraham's astronomy is skipped except where it's useful. A few verses about pre-existent intelligences are read from within the midst of conversation about Kokoabeum and how the sun and moon gets their light. And the polytheistic renderings of the creation account in Abraham might as well as not exist since they receive no attention whatsoever in comparison to Moses/Genesis.

The genealogies are skipped (okay, that's actually not very noteworthy, I'd do the same). Also skipped are the lists of instructions on how to build the Tabernacle in Exodus.

There are a number of stories that are skipped, probably because they are either 1) weird, 2) racist, or 3) show someone held up as a moral figure in a bad light.

Some of the verses that are skipped are ones that seem to stretch credulity in regards to these ancient stories by being too physical and real, such as the land that arises out of the ocean that the evil people opposed to Enoch's people retreat to, giants seeking the life of Noah, the angel wrestling with Jacob, or Moses's face shining so brightly that he has to put a veil over his face.

Moses 7:22 is such an obvious omission that I find it laughable. Seriously, the reading of the verses before and after is meant to be a very close reading in class, but the verse itself is 100% absent from the readings suggested by the materials.

While it is recommended to “teach and discuss” the entirety of Moses 4 (the temptation of Eve by the snake) I find it notable that the scriptures listed to read are all about the results of the fall. There is nothing recommended to read in class, unless it's the entirety of chapter 4, that covers the actual mechanics of the snake tempting Eve. My personal speculation is that it is more than a little disturbing that the “Inspired Version” still presents this temptation as occurring through a snake even after introducing Satan as the force of evil trying to thwart the Creation. This flies in the face of the LDS Temple drama where there is no snake and Satan himself does the temptation directly. I think they don't want people to begin messing with the thorny questions of which of these two chapters, both revealed by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is the “more real” and “less symbolic” account of things.

I am surprised that the story of Judah and Tamar is meant to be discussed and even possibly read, but it is, along with the rape of Dinah (though, oddly enough, the following retaliatory murders by the sons of Jacob aren't really the focus of the story as presented in the manuals).

The attention paid to the Ten Commandments is somewhat sad when you consider that these commandments begin a series of several chapters of additional commandments, including such gems as “Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon” and “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day”. The entire Book of Leviticus is also apparently useless for any attention by any given Sunday School.

## Some Stories and Pericopes contained in the Inverse Scriptures So Far

### Moses

• Lamech, the son of the infamous Cain, is betrayed by his wives (Moses 5:53-54)
• The baptism of Adam (Moses 6:64-68)
• The retreat of Enoch's enemies to a land that arises out of the sea where they fight with giants (Moses 7:14-16)
• The seed of Cain is black (Moses 7:22 all by its lonesome)
• Enoch sees all things long before the Brother of Jared (Moses 7:67)

### Genesis

• God commanding Noah not to eat blood or murder (Genesis 9:1-7)
• Noah getting drunk and cursing Ham's son Canaan (Genesis 9:18-29)
• Abraham, not told by God to do so, tells a king that his wife is his sister (Genesis 12:11-20)
• Abraham performs sacrifices and sees a smoking furnace pass between the pieces (Genesis 15:7-17)
• Hagar runs away from Sarah's abuse and is told by an angel to go back (Genesis 16:4-9)
• Abraham is commanded to circumcise his household (Genesis 17:10-14, 23-27)
• Three very physical and hungry men arrive to say Sarah will have a son (Genesis 18:1-15)
• Lot and his family are physically carried out of Sodom by the messengers (Genesis 19:16)
• Lot has unconscious, incestuous sex with his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38)
• Abraham tells another king that his wife is his sister (Genesis 20)
• Isaac is born (Genesis 21:1-8)
• Sarah kicks our Hagar and her young son (Genesis 21:9-21)
• Abraham marries again, doesn't give anything to his concubines' sons, and dies (Genesis 25:1-10)
• Isaac tells a king that his wife is his sister (Genesis 26:6-17)
• Jacob has kids with his two wives and with their two servants (Genesis 29:29-35, 30:1-24)
• Laban tries to cheat Jacob, instead Jacob cheats Laban with bad biology (Genesis 30:25-43, 31:1-16)
• Rachel steals her brother's household gods and hides them by sitting on them and claiming she's having her period (Genesis 31:17-35)
• Jacob meets the angels of God (Genesis 32:1-2)
• Jacob wrestles all night with God demanding a blessing (Genesis 32:24-32, except for verse 28 which is read)
• Rachel dies (Genesis 35:16-20)
• Everything after Jacob arrives in Egypt to see his long-lost son Joseph (Genesis 47-50)

### Exodus

• Moses's wife circumcises her son to save Moses's life from an angry God (Exodus 4:24-26)
• God declares that he will always have war with the people of Amulek (Exodus 17:14-16)

### Leviticus

• The entire book

## LDS Inverse Old Testament

See the first post for a fuller explanation, but these are the scriptures that your average LDS Sunday School, and thus your average Latter-day Saint as most do not read the Hebrew Bible (often called the Old Testament by Christians) is they don't have to, is not going to read and discuss. If for some reason you brought a Hebrew Bible to an LDS Sunday School that only contained the following scriptures you'd never be able to be called on to read aloud. Conversely, the inverse of this collection is the greatly shortened and abridged Hebrew Bible composed only of scriptures encountered during the weekly Sunday SChool class.

* = [this passage is covered technically by the manuals but in such a way that I'd still argue it will almost certainly not be read or discussed.]

## Ruth

• (None of Ruth)

## 2 Samuel

From the manual, summarizing 1 Samuel 25 to 2 Samuel 10: > Soon after David spared Saul’s life, Saul sought David’s life one more time. Again David had the opportunity to kill the king, but he refused to do so. Battles continued between the people of Judah and the surrounding nations, and Saul and Jonathan were killed in one of those battles. David succeeded Saul as king and became one of the greatest kings in the history of Israel. He united the tribes into one nation, secured possession of the land that had been promised to his people, and set up a government based on God’s law. However, the last 20 years of his life were marred by the sinful decisions that are discussed in this lesson.

## 1 Chronicles

(Due to the overlaps between Samuel/Kings and Chronicles not every chapter present here indicates a lack of attention and knowledge to what Chronicles depicts)

## Esther

• (None of Esther)

## Psalms

(The entire book of Psalms has probably been read by most LDS as with the Book of Isaiah)

## Proverbs

(Proverbs contains a great deal of famous sayings and possibly is familiar to many LDS)

## Isaiah

(Much of Isaiah is quoted, with some changes, in the Book of Mormon, so I will be explicitly skipping those chapters as they almost certainly have been read, even if they're not usually understood, by most active members.)

## Jeremiah

(I am surprised that chapter 16 is absent as the hunters and fishers being missionaries is laughably incorrect in context, but it's actually covered in the Sunday School manual as such.)

(None of Jonah)

## Lost Scripture Mastery of the Hebrew Bible Part 3

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.


## Isaiah 55:8-9

Hebrew:

כִּי לֹא מַחְשְׁבֹותַי מַחְשְׁבֹותֵיכֶם וְלֹא דַרְכֵיכֶם דְּרָכָי נְאֻם יְהוָה כִּי־גָבְהוְּ שָׁמַיִם מֵאָרֶץ כֵּן גָּבְהוְּ דְרָכַי מִדַּרְכֵיכֶם וְּמַחְשְׁבֹתַי מִמַּחְשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם

NJPSV: 8 For My plans are not your plans, Nor are My ways your ways —declares [Yahweh]. 9 But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are My ways high above your ways and my plans above your plans.

KJV: 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith [Yahweh]. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I really do not know why this one was removed. In a scientific world where evidence and logic are so important to people, perhaps the Church Education System felt that emphasizing a scripture that, in effect, denies the supremacy of human thought and discovery in the face of what Yahweh says was a poor choice. Isaiah's intent, however, was to show the power and majesty of his god, and to respond to his opponents who perhaps argued that Isaiah's prophecies of the destruction of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were without merit. However, this is all just my own thoughts on the matter. Let me know what you think.

## Jeremiah 16:16

Hebrew:

הִנְנִי שֹׁלֵחַ לְדַוֳּגִים רַבִּים נְאֻמ־יְהוָה וְדִיגוְּם וְאַחֲרֵי־כֵן אֶשְׁלַח לְרַבִּים צַיָּדִים וְצָדוְּם מֵעַל כָּל־הַר וְּמֵעַל כָּל־גִּבְעָה וְּמִנְּקִיקֵי הַסְּלָעִים

NJPSV: Lo, I am sending for many fishermen—declares [Yahweh]—and they shall haul them out; and after that I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them out of every mountain and out of every hill and out of the clefts of the rocks.

KJV: Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith [Yahweh], and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.

This one is easy. This verse was removed because it is obviously, horribly, and laughably incorrect and torn from its context.

This one seems to have gained its last bit of popularity from the support of Elder LeGrand Richards, where it is mentioned in his popular book A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. Wonder was so popular that for over two decades it was included as part of the Missionary Gospel Study Library, a collection of books that missionaries throughout the world were allowed and encouraged to read and study from. Wonder is full of colorful anecdotes, allegories, and scriptural explorations that attempt to show not only the truthfulness of the LDS Church. The Church, unfortunately, has moved on both culturally and doctrinally since its publication and I sadly see this book disappearing from the collective attention of Mormons over the next few years. An exploration of A Marvelous Work and a Wonder is necessary if anyone wants to understand the energetic and excited viewpoint of late 1980s Mormonism before the rise of the New Mormon History and the Internet.

LeGrand Richards argues that this verse from Jeremiah, which is in the middle of a rather negative chapter about the upcoming destruction of the Kingdom of Judah, represents the mercy of God as he will eventually send missionaries that will recover scattered Israel again.

However, when read in context it's obvious that the “hunters” and “fishers” Yahweh is sending represent soldiers and warriors that will find anyone who attempts to hide from the coming destruction. Yahweh has decreed total destruction upon Israel and they're not going to escape. The transformation of Babylonian soldiers intent on death and destruction into an army of modern, clean-cut young women and men intent on happily knocking doors across the world is one that is simply too sudden and jarring to be acceptable.

#### Update

It turns out that while this verse has been removed as a Scripture Mastery verse for the youth, it is still part of the focus of one of the Sunday School lessons for the Old Testament being studied in 2014, completely with the horribly incorrect comparison of the hunters and fishers to LDS missionaries. Wow!

## Daniel 2:44-45

Aramaic:

44 וְּבְיֹומֵיהֹון דִּי מַלְכַיָּא אִנּוְּן יְקִים אֱלָהּ שְׁמַיָּא מַלְכוְּ דִּי לְעָלְמִין לָא תִתְחַבַּל וְּמַלְכוְּתָה לְעַם אָחֳרָן לָא תִשְׁתְּבִק תַּדִּק וְתָסֵיף כָּל־אִלֵּין מַלְכְוָתָא וְהִיא תְּקוְּם לְעָלְמַיָּא 45 כָּל־קֳבֵל דִּי־חֲזַיְתָ דִּי מִטּוְּרָא אִתְגְּזֶרֶת אֶבֶן דִּי־לָא בִידַיִן וְהַדֶּקֶת פַּרְזְלָא נְחָשָׁא חַסְפָּא כַּסְפָּא וְדַהֲבָא אֱלָהּ רַב הֹודַע לְמַלְכָּא מָה דִּי לֶהֱוֵא אַחֲרֵי דְנָה וְיַצִּיב חֶלְמָא וְּמְהֵימַן פִּשְׁרֵהּ

NJPSV: 44 And in the time of those kings, the God of Heaven will establish a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, a kingdom that shall not be transferred to another people. It will crush and wipe out all these kingdoms, but shall itself last forever— 45 just as you saw how a stone was hewn from the mountain, not by hands, and crushed the iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great [Elóah] has made known to the king what will happen in the future. The dream is sure and its interpretation reliable.

KJV: 44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. 45 Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great [Elóah] hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.

I'm sad to see this one go, but it also makes sense to me that it's gone. Like Jeremiah 16:16, this scripture has already seen its day in the sun come and go and its popularity has waned considerably.

It used to be that references to the LDS Church as the “stone cut out of the mountain without hands” could be easily found within the Church in common discussions, in writings, and even in official Church media (I remember a video produced for LDS Visitor's Centers at historical sites that was centered on this image as the Church as the rock, complete with horrible early computer animation, growing to eventually fill the world). As the membership of the Church ballooned during the second half of the twentieth century it was common to assume that this growth would continue until the LDS Church became one of the great world religions. Extrapolations of growth rates led many members to extrapolate numbers in the hundreds of millions before the middle of the twenty-first century. Quotations of Joseph Smith's prophecy that this Church will “grow to fill North and South America; it will grow to fill the whole world” often accompanied this scripture.

However, the growth rate, while still positive, is decelerating. Recent surveys have illustrated just how important the distinction is between members “of record” and members who self-identify as Mormons. For example, while US membership has increased between 2000 and 2010, the number of people who would identify themselves as Mormon in the United States has remained constant during the same period.

Instead, though, it is far more common nowadays to talk about how small the Church will be in the last days in terms of numbers. The rock going forth to crush the kingdoms of the earth is not the LDS Church but rather is the kingdom of God which will establish itself after the Second Coming. Until then, the wheat and the tares will grow up together, the leaven will leaven the bread, and the numerical size of the LDS Church will remain small. Se why would we want to focus on this scripture which has been historically used for the purpose of celebrating growth and potential?

From a translation and higher criticism point of view, I'm sad that this scripture isn't covered anymore. You'll notice that the original language behind this scripture is Aramaic and not Hebrew. The Book of Daniel (and other similar books like Ezra and Nehemiah) are extremely interesting windows into a period of time when they were written, which was long after the events depicted within them occurred. A time during or possibly even after the Greek occupation of Israel/Judah. But we'll not be covering that in detail for now and we'll have to set it aside for another time.

Because it's a relic of the previous few decades celebration of membership growth, but membership growth, while still growing, is quickly slowing down. The message has changed from one celebrating quantity to one celebrating quality.

## Lost Scripture Mastery of the Hebrew Bible Part 2

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.

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.

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!

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.

## Lost Scripture Mastery of the Hebrew Bible Part 1

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.

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).

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).

## Lost Scripture Mastery

The Church Education System of the LDS Church reworked the Scripture Mastery Lists in the middle of 2013, retiring many old scriptures and adding new ones to the list. The old Scripture Mastery lists had been in use for over two decades; they're remnants from a much different time and perspective for the LDS Church which has in the intervening years seen a number of distinct changes in attitude and situation since then. In the world, we've had 9/11 and the fall of America as the international ideal. The CHurch has continued to grow in number, reaching a record number of recorded membership of over 14 million, though active membership remains much, much lower, with the number of people in the United States who self-identify as Mormon remaining constant since the turn of the twenty-first century, and the rate of growth, while still positive, continues a deceleration begun since the mid-1990s. And the rise of the Internet has had a massive impact on world governments, culture, and business and the Church as well has been deeply impacted by the availability of information. A return of high-quality Church historical research has reminded many of the Camelot years of Church Historian Leonard Arrington, but this time around the historians have been a mix between member sod the Church and non-members both writing with a hope for an accurate reconstruction of the past without polemic intent. The 2012 US President Election saw the nomination for the Republican Party of Mitt Romney, previously the Governor of Massachusetts and also previously a Stake President for the Cambridge/Boston area with family ties to many famous Church leaders of the twentieth century. The attention given to Romney's religion brought a lot of favorable and not-so-favorable facts about the Church to the public's perspective and whether or not Romney's run for the White House was a net positive or a net negative for the LDS Church still remains to be seen.

At the beginning of 2013 I started a series where I looked at the Scripture Mastery lists from within their context in an attempt to strip away incorrect assumptions and interpretations and to see how well the scriptures meant to be memorized by LDS youth made us of the ancient materials from within their own contexts. The result was, somewhat unsurprisingly, a very mixed bag with some scriptures being used pretty much as their ancient authors would probably have wanted them to be read and others being used in a context that would have been extremely foreign and alien to a follower of Jesus in the first century.

So I was very pleased (and surprised) to see that a new list was made for all four years of Seminary scripture study. However, upon further review some of the decisions behind the new formulations made very little sense. Some of the new scriptures were just as problematic in their context as the old ones, and some of the old problematic scriptures had been left behind in the new lists.

The lookout for the new lists has changed subtly, though as I renew my explorations for the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) list we'll see that these scripture mastery lists are still primarily tools for LDS youth to use in a defensive, apologetic manner in discussions with others not of their faith and not as tools to overcome the emotional difficulties of young adulthood. All the same, I welcome this change and applaud the intentions of CES.

But the changes are still better than what we had, for the most part. To explore why, I'm also planning a shorter exploration of the dropped scriptures from the Hebrew Bible list and why, at least from my personal perspective, these scriptures were axed from the official lists. Some of them have been dropped to get rid of some laughably bad proof-texting (e.g., Jeremiah 16:16). Others appear to have been dropped because they were more effective against an older, evangelical opposition to the LDS Church that has largely been replaced by a more secular humanist opposition (e.g., Exodus 33:11). And finally, some appear to have been dropped because the doctrines and perspectives of the LDS Church itself have fundamentally shifted during the interim between the formulation of the previous list and the 2010s (this reason especially is what I believe lies behind the dropping of Daniel 2:44-45 and Deuteronomy 7:3-4).

So as I get ready for my study of the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible Scripture Mastery List, I'll spend a bit of time going over the dropped scriptures, along with my own reasoning as to why they were dropped. It won't be a single scripture per post, most of the time, as sometimes the reasons are probably going to be pretty small, but I plan to at least cover, even if only in a small mention, each of the soon-to-be forgotten scriptures than over an entire generation of LDS youth were taught were so important that they deserved memorization. For some, it is sad to me that they will quickly be dismissed back into the seldom-read pages of the Christian Bible, and for others I say good riddance.

I look forward to your own comments, rebuttals, and opinions on this, so please come on back over the next few days as we look at the following scriptures from the Hebrew Bible:

• Exodus 33:11
• Leviticus 19:18
• Deuteronomy 7:3-4
• Joshua 1:8
• Job 19:25-26
• Isaiah 55:8-9
• Jeremiah 16:16
• Daniel 2:44-45

## 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.

## 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.

## 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.

## Looking at Scripture Mastery – Revelation 14:6-7

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.