NoCoolName Blog


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.


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

These attacks focused on the following ideas:

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

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

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

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

My Own List

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

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

Matthew 6:19-21

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

Matthew 7:7-8

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

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

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

John 3:16-17

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

John 11:35

Jesus wept.

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

John 13:34

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

John 14:1

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

John 14:6 [Added to SM in 2013]

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

John 17:3

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

Romans 5:8

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

Romans 8:28

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

1 Corinthians 13:11

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

Galatians 3:28

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

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

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

Philippians 4:8

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

Philippians 4:13 [Added to SM in 2013]

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

Ephesians 2:10

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

1 Timothy 2:5

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

Hebrews 13:5

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

James 1:5

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

1 Peter 3:15

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

1 John 1:7

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

1 John 4:18

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

Revelation 3:20

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

Revelation 21:3-4

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

Why I Chose This One?

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

Where Could It Go Wrong?

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

Next Up: The Hebrew Bible Series

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

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

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

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

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

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

All Done

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

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

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

The Context of the Scripture Mastery Verses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mormon Applications – Records and Works

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

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

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

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

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

I Don't Get the Obsession With Proving Works Righteousness

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

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

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

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

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

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

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

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

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

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

Update May 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Smith's Conflicting Views

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

General Scholastic View

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

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

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

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

The Context of the Scripture Mastery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

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

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

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

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

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

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

Just a Warning: This Scripture Mastery Post is LONG

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

A Fundamental Misreading of Paul

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

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

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

Paul and The New Covenant

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

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

Paul: Faith and Works

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

James: Faith and Works

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

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

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

James and the Mormons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do I Think This Scripture Was Chosen?

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

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

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

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

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

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

James the Just

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

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

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

The Context of this Scripture Mastery

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

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

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

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

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

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

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

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

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

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

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

Update May 2013

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

The Anonymous Letter to the Hebrews

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

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

The Shadow of Heaven

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

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

After the Order of Mechizedek

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

The Context for the Scripture Mastery Verse

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

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

Mormon Priesthoods

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

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

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

Greek: 15 καὶ ὅτι ἀπὸ βρέφους ἱερὰ γράμματα οἶδας, τὰ δυνάμενά σε σοφίσαι εἰς σωτηρίαν διὰ πίστεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, 16 πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος πρὸς διδασκαλίαν, πρὸς ἐλεγμόν, πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν, πρὸς παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ, 17 ἵνα ἄρτιος ᾖ ὁ τοῦ θεοῦ ἄνθρωπος, πρὸς πᾶν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν ἐξηρτισμένος.

My Translation: 15 And because from a baby sacred writings you've known, those which can make you wise through faith in the Christ Jesus, 16 all god-breathed writings, profitable towards instruction, towards evidence, towards improvement, towards chastisement in righteousness, 17 in order that the human of God may be fitted, accomplished towards all good labors.

KJV: 16 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good 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.

Again, this scripture mastery verse is simple, and thus to me is boring. Not looking forward to this one.

Pseudo-Paul has just finished explaining the many dangerous kind of people who would arise at the last days and warns Timothy against them (somewhat implying that Timothy lives in the last days). In the previous post we read the warning.

Here Pseudo-Paul is explaining how Timothy can be prepared: he can fall back to what he already knows. According to Pseudo-Paul, Timothy is third-generation Christian (another mark against actual Pauline authorship, as three generations of Gentiles within the movement would have been hard to achieve within Paul's lifetime), and he has been raised knowing the scriptures.

That's the context, but there are two things I find interesting about this verse.

First, this is a verse commonly used by individuals who feel that the Christian Bible is without any errors. It doesn't same “some scripture”, or “those scriptures”, but instead says “all scriptures” are inspired of God. Of course, at the time of Pseudo-Paul the writings of the New Testament were only just beginning to be viewed as scripture themselves (and in the time of the historical Paul various Christians may have been writing letters and gospels, but they weren't yet viewed as scripture), so the author might only have the Jewish scriptures in mind when he writes this.

Secondly, and interestingly, the Joseph Smith Translation actually tackles this issue by shuffling a few words around to result in the following:

16 And all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

Now the scripture is saying that all inspired scripture is useful. Big change from a few word changes. Unfortunately, while this change is very easy to make in English, it's extremely difficult to produce in the Greek and the idea that Joseph Smith's rendering is the actual original is nearly impossible. But it's still an interesting look at how some Mormons respond to the use of this scripture as a statement of biblical inerrancy.

In the official CES manuals on this chapter neither the inerrancy interpretation nor the JST edits are discussed. Instead, the focus appears to be on the last phrase, that the man of God may be perfect, fully accomplished toward all good labors. It seems that someone in the CES department decided that this was another verse about the importance of works in salvation. But, again, that's not what the scripture itself actually says. It just says that the result of using scripture as a tool of various uses is that people are perfected and filled with good works. Nothing about salvation here.

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

I think this verse was chosen because it speaks of how works arise from the use of scriptures, with the unspoken assumption that this is the purpose of the scriptures: to help humans have good works. In the end, though, I think it's a very odd and boring choice of a scripture.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

Greek: 1 Τοῦτο δὲ γίνωσκε, ὅτι ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις ἐνστήσονται καιροὶ χαλεποί· 2 ἔσονται γὰρ οἱἄνθρωποι φίλαυτοι, φιλάργυροι, ἀλαζόνες, ὑπερήφανοι, βλάσφημοι, γονεῦσιν ἀπειθεῖς, ἀχάριστοι, ἀνόσιοι, 3 ἄστοργοι, ἄσπονδοι, διάβολοι, ἀκρατεῖς, ἀνήμεροι, ἀφιλάγαθοι, 4 προδόται, προπετεῖς, τετυφωμένοι, φιλήδονοι μᾶλλον ἢ φιλόθεοι, 5 ἔχοντες μόρφωσιν εὐσεβείαςτὴν δὲ δύναμιν αὐτῆς ἠρνημένοι· καὶ τούτους ἀποτρέπου.

My Translation: 1 But know this, y'all, because in the last days fierce seasons will be present. 2 For humans will be selfish, loving money, empty boasters, haughty, slanderous, not compliant to parents, ungracious, unholy, 3 unsociable,truce breakers, false accusers, without self-control, savage, opposed to goodness, 4 betrayers, reckless, puffed up, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, 5 having holy form but denying the strength of it; and shun these, y'all.

KJV: 1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

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.

Without Natural Affection

One quick translation issue: occasionally, I've heard multiple CES teachers (both Seminary and Institute) interpret the phrase “without natural affection” to mean “homosexuality”. This is not a correct interpretation but is based entirely upon the word choices of the English translation. The word under the phrase is ἄστοργος ástorgos, where the initial alpha is a negation like the English prefix “un” and negates the word στοργή storgā, meaning “deep love or affection” and usually used for affection between parents and a child or between good friends. It's not sexual in nature, and the term “without natural affection” might be better translated as “sociopathic”. This idea can still be found in the official LDS Church Institute manual, unfortunately, where they quote Elder Spencer W. Kimball:

There are said to be millions of perverts who have relinquished their natural affection and bypassed courtship and normal marriage relationships.

Spencer W. Kimball, “Voices of the Past, of the Present, of the Future”, April 1971 General Conference

If you hear anyone using this phrase in reference to homosexuality, even if they're an LDS Apostle, you have my permission to interrupt them boldly and declare their usage of it to be highly mistaken. And I don't give permission for that sort of thing lightly! :–)

The Pastoral Epistles

The Letter to Titus and the Letters to Timothy are commonly known as the “Pastoral” Epistles, from the Latin word for “shepherd”, used by the early Church for the office of bishop. In the early Christian movement, after an ecclesiastical structure emerged through years of chaotic ecstatic self- governance, the office of Bishop quickly became the highest office of a local church. Over the course of the 2nd Century, a complicated organization structure began to emerge: deacons (male and female), teachers, bishops (almost always men), evangelists, widows, (widows were women who, after their husbands had died, were set apart in service to the local Church), elders.

The story of the Pastoral Letters is that Paul, on the sunset of his life, is writing to two leaders of Christian communities: Titus, and his old friend and oftimes missionary assistant, Timothy. Paul's perspective here is a calm acceptance of his impending death, but he wants to give a final word to these younger leaders he loves. The letter are rich with emotion, mostly of kindness and grandfatherly advice, though he does state some rather passive aggressive statements against his enemies.

The only problem is that Paul almost certainly didn't write these letters. Their perspectives are extremely different from the genuine letters of Paul that we've already covered. Genuine Paul seems to have given little care to issues of church hierarchy and authority. In the Pastorals, he gives clear instructions on who is (and, by negation, who is not) allowed to serve in specific offices. Genuine Paul seems to have had little to say about women (apart from a few verses in 1 Corinthians that seem to have been interpolated by a later scribe), never mentioning gender as a qualification for belief or of spiritual gifts and going insofar as to be the only New Testament writer to refer to women leaders by name (Phoebe, a deacon, and Junia, an apostle). In the Pastorals, Paul infamously teaches about the lower roles of women in the local congregation. Genuine Paul fully expects to see the Kingdom of God in his lifetime. In the Pastorals, Paul has very vague references to the coming day of the Lord, but gives a strong impression of much longer time scales. And, as with 2 Thessalonians, he indicates a number of signs that need to occur in the “last days”. And there are many other reasons why the vast majority of scholars reject the Pastorals as being authored by Paul.

But while we aren't dealing with Paul, we are dealing with letters written by an early member of the Jesus movement. For simplicity's sake, let's call him Pseudo-Paul. What does the purpose of this letter appear to be? The author was certainly familiar with other letters of Paul, often employing famous pauline phrases, and Pseudo-Paul does an immense amount of name-dropping and story creating to cast the illusion of an early letter from one leader in the movement to another (both Paul and Timothy were probably long dead when this letter was written). He really wants these letters to be read as though Paul wrote them.

The Context of 2 Timothy for this Scripture Mastery

The majority of the letters seem to be focused on the issue of doing things correctly. Turning specifically to 2 Timothy, Pseuo-Paul makes reference to martial training and sports training and compares this to Timothy's efforts to resist the challenges ahead of him. Pseudo-Paul warns Timothy:

  • hold to correct words
  • protect that good thing entrusted to you
  • do not wrangle over words: it will bring ruin
  • avoid profane chatter
  • do not engage in heated disputes
  • avoid evil people
  • evil people and charlatans will go from bad to worse
  • preach the message whether or not its convenient
  • reprove, rebuke, and exhort
  • be self-controlled and endure hardship

It appears that the author wants his audience to follow this same advice. Perhaps the community he lived in was experiencing severe internal conflict. Perhaps he wants to do more than just say that his enemies in the Christian movement are wrong: he wants Paul to say that they are wrong. Perhaps he could point to this letter and say, “We're in the last days, and Paul warned us about people like you!”

In particular, the verses of this Scripture Mastery are a complete and utter laundry list of every bad quality you could ascribe to a person. The historical Paul would have felt that these people were already present in the world because this world is by it's nature evil, fallen, and under the control of evil men and angels. Pseudo-Paul warns Timothy to be ready for even worse things. Notably he warns Timothy and Timothy's charges personally, without much mention of how they should be passing this message on to others. Timothy should be ready for this stuff, because it's going to happen to him. (He does mention how this is already affecting other Christians just a few verses later, but that will be its own post.)

Often when modern readers approach the Bible they think it's a book written for us in the 21st Century. The Book of Mormon is really rather strong in supporting this misguided idea, because some of the writers actually are aware of their modern readers, and modern readers are explicitly told by LDS Church leaders that the Book of Mormon was written for them. The Bible is not like this at all. Nobody in it was writing for the future (mostly because they thought there wouldn't be much of a future left), not even the author of the Revelation of John. Whatever Pseudo-Paul wanted to say with his letter, it's not written to warn people in a long-distant time about what conditions in the world would be like after nearly 1800 years. Pseudo-Paul was writing about his own day and age, possibly with specific enemies in mind.

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

I think this scripture was chosen because it helps support the apocalyptic perspective of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That “Latter- day” means the last days, so Mormons believe that Pseudo-Paul is describing their day and age. However, the authorship is almost certainly a later writer than Paul who was willing to use Paul's name and fame to advance their own objectives. There have been Christians thinking that their days are the “last days” since at least the 400s; Mormons are not unique in this respect, and frankly I'd not be surprised if there are pockets of Christian communities 500 years from now that each believe that their day and age is at the end of human history. Mormons are not misusing this scripture, though, and so if they want to keep it in Scripture Mastery I say more power to them.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

Greek: 1 Ἐρωτῶμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, ὑπὲρ τῆς > παρουσίας τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ ἡμῶνἐπισυναγωγῆς ἐπ’ αὐτόν, 2 εἰς τὸ μὴ ταχέως σαλευθῆναι ὑμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ νοὸς μηδὲ θροεῖσθαι μήτεδιὰ πνεύματος μήτε διὰ λόγου μήτε δι’ ἐπιστολῆς ὡς δι’ ἡμῶν, ὡς ὅτι ἐνέστηκεν ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου. 3 μή τις ὑμᾶς ἐξαπατήσῃ κατὰ μηδένα τρόπον· ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ ἔλθῃ ἡ ἀποστασία πρῶτον καὶἀποκαλυφθῇ ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας,

My Translation: 1 But we ask you, brothers, for the presence of our lord Jesus Christ and the assembling to him, 2 that you not be suddenly shaken in understanding or troubled, not through inspiration, not through speech, not through letter from us as it were, as that the time of the lord is present. 3 No one should deceive you through any manner, because it must not come except a rebellion first and uncovered is the man of iniquity, the son of destruction,

KJV: 1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of > our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

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.

Did Paul Write These Scripture Mastery Verses to the Thessalonians?

1 Thessalonians is regarded by most scholars to be the oldest written part of the Christian New Testament. Written by Paul to his followers at Thessalonica, his first letter impressed upon them the immediacy of the end of the world. It appears to have been written in response to events in Thessalonica where old members of the Christian community had died and neither the resurrection nor the arrival of God's kingdom had yet occurred. Paul told them that when God's kingdom arrived, the dead would be raised and that “we will meet them in the air”, including himself in the description. That was how close everything was to being accomplished when Paul was writing 1 Thessalonians.

We're not talking about Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, however, but about a letter that claims to be a follow-up letter to that first letter. And, as you can tell by my use of the word “claims”, the authorship of 2 Thessalonians is disputed. However, unlike Colossians or especially Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians is viewed by many more scholars as actually being written by Paul, but it is nowhere near beyond dispute.

Part of the issue is how Paul's perspective has changed in this letter from the first one. In his first letter, Paul encourages his followers to comfort themselves with the thought that the end was near and that their loved ones would be soon raised and they would all arrive in the coming Kingdom of God. In this second letter, Paul is responding with a much more cautious approach, now detailing several signs that he feels must first occur before the end. Also, whereas in the first letter, Paul, as a good Jewish Christian should, talks about the coming judgements of God, in this second letter he talks about how Christ will judge the people.

Of course, nobody stays the same throughout their lives. Bruce R. McConkie in his younger days as a regular General Authority felt that D&C 20:1 indicated that Jesus must have been born on April 6, 1 BCE, but near the end of his life he'd softened on this point considerably, indicating that it was an exercise in futility to determine when Jesus had been born. It's entirely possible that as Paul himself aged and saw friends and acquaintances age and die before Jesus returned with his father's kingdom his mental position started to shift towards a more uncertain approach to the end.

Of course, 2 Thessalonians is not written as though much time had passed. It's written as though in response to the first letter causing a great laziness among the Christians at Thessalonica. Paul is encouraging them not to simply quit their jobs and live in expectation of the end.

That's where the scripture in question occurs. After the introductory chapter, Paul launches into his more cautious approach, telling his followers not be concerned by different sources of information they trust that the “day of the lord” has come.

Interestingly, the author mentions that the Christians should not be concerned even if they receive a letter written as though it came from Paul. If this is truly a letter written by Paul, then it appears that people were already forging letters in his name, and in this case someone pretending to be Paul had written a letter to the Thessalonians saying that the end had come. And if 2 Thessalonians is itself a forged letter, well you've gotta admit that the author's got some boldness to assert his “Pauline” authorship by telling his readers to beware of forgeries. Related to this, the end of the letter features Paul signing the letter with his signature (obviously, in the versions we have today there's no such mark, since we depend upon later copies of the letter) and saying that he signs “all of his letters” this way. Again, either the real Paul is very concerned about fake Pauline letters (like Ephesians or Colossians?) flying around the ancient world, or the author himself is attempting to distract attention away from this letter by claiming other letters are forged (perhaps even real letters of Paul that don't line up exactly with this one?).

In many respects, 2 Thessalonians reads very similarly to 1 Thessalonians. In many instances, entire phrases are copied, leading some scholars who doubt that Paul wrote it to assume that it was either written soon after Paul died by someone who knew him, or was written by someone in order to reinforce 1 Thessalonians. Of course, if Paul didn't write it, and it says many of the same things as 1 Thessalonians, then we're at a loss as to why anyone would feel the need to forge it. That's not the same thing as saying that there's no reason, just none that we can know about. Personally, I find the introduction of signs before the end and the subtle changes in doctrine from the first to the second letter enough to convince me that this second letter was not actually written by Paul, but it's a tenuous approach at best, I admit.

The “Great” Forsaking and the Son of Perdition

All right, what's all this about a “falling away” or a “forsaking”? Mormons feel that Paul is here prophesying about what is known by Latter-day Saints as the “Great Apostacy”, where the early Christian Church fell from God's favor and required a restoration, which began in 1820 with the First Vision of the 14-year-old Joseph Smith. This falling away included changing doctrines, loss of authority, and loss of scriptures. A Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, prophecies of this process occurring where many “plain and precious truths” are lost, and the world must wait for the Book of Mormon to be revealed by Joseph to bring those truths back.

The word underlying “falling away” is ἀποστασία apostasía, literally means “falling away from”, but can mean a forsaking, a rebellion, or a divorce. Paul does not indicate what this apostasía is occurring from or any other details about it, but instead moves onto the second sign he feels must precede the coming of the Kingdom of God: the man of lawlessness must be revealed, the son of destruction.

Mormons are familiar with the term son of “perdition”, but the word itself is ἀπώλεια apōleia, meaning perdition, destruction, perishing, and loss. It's a negative term. Paul doesn't identify who this character is, but the next few verses go into more detail about him (NIV version):

4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not > believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Now, I'm not going to go into all of the crazy Christian speculation about this “man of lawlessnes”. He's been identified with hundreds of unpopular figures from various Roman Emperors to various Popes, to various political leaders, religious leaders, and just about everyone else in the world it seems sometimes. The wide variety speaks to the vagueness of this particular character as described by Maybe-Paul. My personal opinion? I believe that the author of this letter, whether Paul or not, was an apocalyptic. While the tone is more cautious than 1 Thessalonians, the end is still near. The coming Kingdom of God is coming to overturn this fallen and unjust world and set up a reversed world where justice occurs and the oppressed of this world become the rulers. In many other apocalyptic religious movements, from Jewish purity movements such as the groups that produced and hid the Dead Sea Scrolls to Zoroastrianism of ancient Persia, the end of the world was accompanied by great battle between the forces of evil in this world and the forces of good in the next, a battle which would be won by good. I think that this man of lawlessness is a character the author feels is to take part in this last battle much as Christ will take part. Does that make him the so-called “Anti-Christ”? I guess so, but as an agnostic non-Christian I don't take stock in this as a real prophecy of the future so I make no statement about what this means for the future of the world. Many scholars feel that the author possibly intended for this figure to be identified with a Roman Emperor like Nero, who killed the Christians of Rome after claiming that they started a fire that burned a good portion of the city (later Roman historians would put the real blame on Nero himself to free up land for building projects he wanted to pursue).

Interestingly, attention to this verse for regular Christians tends to focus on this individual, the man of lawlessness. This is borne out as the author's intended focus by the numerous following verses describing him and his roles before the end.

For Mormons, however, this verse is about the Apostasy and the loss of truth that occurred before Joseph Smith was called to begin the Restoration.

Since we're talking the language of prophecy, I find it difficult to make much of a statement as to which approach is superior or more “right”. In this case, there's not much out of context because the context itself is so vague. The LDS perspective could make sense with the only problem being that it goes directly against the imminent theme of the coming Kingdom of God that permeates Paul's other letters. For the author, if this “falling away” indeed was meant to be a falling away from the truth it was not going to last very long, and was something that the Thessalonians should be on the lookout for to inform them as to when the Kingdom of God was approaching. An apostasy lasting roughly 1700 years seems like a very useless fact to tell a bunch of 1st Century Christians who expect the end to come afterwards. Long time to wait, right?

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

I think these verses were chosen because Mormons only care about finding Biblical justification for their insistence that the Christian movement “fell away” and that thus Joseph Smith and the Church he founded were necessary. Since, apart from this verse, the idea of a universal apostasy is not found in the Christian New Testament (probably because most New Testament writers felt that the end of the world was too close to their own times for any such apostasy to take place) it's not surprising that one of the necessary doctrines for the Restoration is part of scripture mastery. Because of the vagueness of the scripture itself, I'll personally say that I think this scripture, while deeply problematic within context, is appropriate for inclusion among the scriptures that LDS youth should know in studying the unique doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They just shouldn't be surprised when their Christian friends and associates make a bigger deal of the “son of perdition” than they do of the “falling away” since that's also what the author of the letter does, too.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryNT #AcademicBiblical

Greek: 11 καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, 12 πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν τῶν ἁγίων εἰς ἔργον διακονίας, εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, 13 μέχρι καταντήσωμεν οἱ πάντες εἰς τὴν ἑνότητα τῆς πίστεως καὶ τῆς ἐπιγνώσεως τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον, εἰς μέτρον ἡλικίας τοῦ πληρώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, 14 ἵνα μηκέτι ὦμεν νήπιοι, κλυδωνιζόμενοι καὶ περιφερόμενοι παντὶ ἀνέμῳ τῆς διδασκαλίας ἐν τῇ κυβίᾳ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐν πανουργίᾳ πρὸς τὴν μεθοδίαν τῆς πλάνης

My Translation: 11 And he gave, on the one hand, apostles, and on the other hand prophets, and on the other hand bringers of good news, and on the other hand shepherds and teachers 12 towards the perfecting of the saints in labor of service, in the building up of Christ's body, 13 until everyone has attained unity towards faith and knowledge of the son of God, towards the perfect male, and towards the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we are children no longer, tossed and carried about by every wind of doctrine with the cunning sleight of humans in craftiness with methodical deceit;

KJV: 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

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.

A Translation Issue With This Scripture Mastery

A translation of this verse is problematic as it is a list of groups God gave to keep the “church” unified. Because of the construction of the lists, these are meant to be read as discrete groups of people. The final group, the “shepherds and teachers” could be read as being the same group or a continuance of the listing. So we either have four groups named or we have five. The grammar, however, seems to indicate four groups. The author uses the same conjunction, δἐ de, which is much like saying “and on the other hand”. Think of Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” where is his internal discussions with himself he keeps jumping from one thought to another by saying, “but on the other hand”. That's what the author is using to jump from one group to the next, except for the last two groups named. Unlike in English where we get weary from having too many conjunctions (such as only saying “and” before the last item in a long list), Greek has no problems with endlessly using the same conjunction. So the grammar seems to indicate that the last two groups are to be seen as a single unit: the shepherds and teachers. So the list seems to be a list of four groups. But it could simply be an artistic flourish to end a list differently than how it was begun and perhaps the author meant to list five separate groups. The grammar thus leans more towards four groups, but it would not be impossible for five different groups to be intended.

Anyways enough about the actual translation. We're in a different letter now, Ephesians. What's going on here?

Did Paul Actually Write Ephesians?

First off, we need to talk a bit about pseudepigrapha. There are generally three groups of letters that are claimed to be by Paul: the pastorals, the disputed letters, and the genuine letters. Nearly all scholars recognize that the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are not actually by the historical Paul but were written many years later by someone else. This writer was writing as though they were the now-dead Paul, possibly because they felt their ideas would be easier to accept if the readers thought it was by Paul, possibly because they believed that the letters contained teachings that Paul himself would have given had he actually written the letter, or both. The second group, the disputed letters, are letters where scholars are still divided on whether the historical Paul wrote them. Some of these letters are more uncertain than others, and if one was actually written by Paul it does not mean that all of them were. The disputed letters are Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians. The genuine letters are the ones that the majority of scholars feel were actually written by the historical Paul. They are Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. And while he was traditionally viewed as the author of the anonymously written Hebrews, the evidence against Paul's authorship has been known for so long that today there is no debate that Paul is not the author of Hebrews.

So the letter this verse comes from is still disputed between scholars as to whether or not Paul really wrote it. Part of the problem is its similarity to many parts of Colossians. Though there is still debate about both letters, many scholars who believe that Paul might be the author of one posit that the other was almost certainly constructed from it and is not by Paul. In other words, if Paul wrote Ephesians, most scholars believe that someone else used it to construct Colossians, and vice versa. And many scholars feel that Colossians is the more likely of the two to be the original work, and that Ephesians copied much of its contents from Colossians.

Did Paul Change His Perspective?

One of the main reasons is that the Paul of Ephesians and Colossians has a very different view of himself and of the Christian movement than the Paul we've been reading in Romans and 1 Corinthians. In the genuine letters, Paul celebrates what Jesus's death and resurrection means for him and all believers. Genuine Paul feels that the Jewish Torah has been superseded by the new covenant of Christ. For genuine Paul, sin can only occur when a Christian is attempting to live within the old covenants, or in other words is attempted to keep the Law of Moses. With the author of Ephesians andColossians, sin occurs always when a Christian depends upon “good works” for salvation as opposed to trusting in the “grace” of God. There is little mention of the Law meaning the Jewish Torah. And the apocalyptic perspective of the genuine letters is gone. While genuine Paul is concerned about being saved from the violence of the rapidly approaching Kingdom of God and believes the resurrection will occur before the end, the author of Ephesians believes that he has already been saved and even seems to indicate that the resurrection has occurred! These may seem like very small distinctions, but even small distinctions matter. If I were to give you a General Conference talk written by either Jeffrey R. Holland or Thomas S. Monson, chances are that a Mormon familiar with their particular styles would easily be able to tell which one had written the talk. They're both Mormons who believe very similar things, but they have very different styles.

Also, when genuine Paul is writing to churches he uses the word to mean “congregations”: the Church in Rome, the Church in Corinth, the Church in Galatia, etc. But the author of Ephesians and Colossians uses the word ekklesia “Church” much the same way that the author of Matthew uses it: as a general word meaning all believers in Jesus. Whether they live in Rome or Corinth the author of Ephesians is referring to everyone when he uses the word “church”. This is very different than how we've been reading Paul before now. For these reasons and more we should be extremely cautious about approaching this letter assuming that the historical Paul wrote it.

Do Mormons Have Evangelists?

Chapter 4 of Ephesians has the author employing that the Church be unified. He states that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”, and implies that the various offices within the Church were given for the purpose of helping Christians remain unified through life. That is the context for the verses as given: unity.

One of the “articles of faith” formulated by Joseph Smith in 1844 reads:

We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church: namely, prophets, apostles, pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.

So most Mormons look at this verse as a description of a well-ordered Church with many different roles. Part of the problem, of course, is that some of these positions do not exist within the LDS under the same names. The solution is usually to claim equivalence between a term listed by Paul and a role within the LDS Church. Pastors are usually interpreted by be bishops, and there is a very definite linguistic connection between these two words. However, “evangelists” are said to be Patriarchs. In the LDS Church, a Patriarch is an actual position whose calling is to provide a ritualized blessing upon members o the ward. This blessing is usually prophetic and mean to provide guidance for the member's life. However, the term Paul uses, εὐαγγελιστάς euangelistás, is a complex word meaning “speakers of the good news”. It is the word behind “evangelist” (change the u to a v and you'll see it) or “evangelism”. For Paul and other early Christians, the word is usually related to missionary work. While Paul could be referring to a position were someone delivers “good news” in the same way that a Patriarch is usually expected to offer a divine guide for the future, it is an odd choice of words to use a term that is already used almost exclusively in another way elsewhere.

Also, when Joseph Smith made the statement that the LDS Church “believed in the same organization that existed in the primitive church” (which is different than saying that they have the same organization) the hierarchical structure of the 1844 LDS Church was extremely complex beyond this listing given by Paul. Also, the structure of the LDS Church has always been in flux among the Latter-day Saints. Joseph's first official calling within his Church was not as Prophet or President, but was rather as it's “First Elder”. High Priests and the office of President appeared after Sidney Rigdon joined; some of the Book of Mormon witnesses felt that the introduction of these positions only occurred because the sophisticated Rigdon argued that Joseph's simple church should have more positions. Apostles were introduced in Kirtland soon after, first designed to be a group of missionaries that only fully developed into purely leadership roles after the movement of Brigham Young's followers to the Great Basin. Joseph Smith also had many other groups that did not last beyond the 19th Century, such as the Council of Fifty and the Annointed Quorum. Under Brigham Young the Priesthood callings were organized as a youth program (before this, deacons, teachers, priests, and elders were all adult men and advancement in the LDS Priesthood did not necessarily move from deacon to teacher to priest to elder). In the 1970s the office of Seventy was removed at the local level, reserved only to a collection of Church-wide Quorums of Seventy that assist the LDS Apostles. Who knows what changes the future will bring to the structure?

Throughout all of these changes, members have continued to recite this article of faith, usually believing that all early Christians had the same organization they enjoyed. However, finding this organization in the New Testament requires a lot of assumption. And everything we currently understand about the early Christian movement reveals a collection of very different groups with very different approaches, beliefs, practices, and organization.

When Paul is writing his angry letter to Galatia or to the unvisited Christians in Rome, or is answering questions and responding to internal problems in Corinth why doesn't he write to the local leaders? In most letters outside of Ephesians/Colossians and the Pastorals (which nearly all scholars feel were not actually by Paul), Paul doesn't refer to a Church structure or to Church offices apart from servants (deacons, both men and women), apostles (again, both men and women), and widows (which soon after the time of Paul when the Christian communities began to be more organized, were an actual office for women in the Church that were set apart to serve as widows).

So while this is a good list showing groups that some early Christians felt belonged to the Jesus movement, it would be very difficult to say that either 1) this verse lists offices that must be found in the Christian Church, or 2) this verse matches up very well against the current 21st Century structure of the LDS Church. It's not misused or misinterpreted (well, apart from claiming that “evangelists” are Patriarchs), but it isn't a very good selection to define what the LDS Church should look like.

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

I think this scripture was chosen because it is quoted by Joseph's Articles of Faith. It's reference to “Prophets” and “Apostles” is seen as evidence that the original Christian movement still have prophets within it. However, even if there were prophets, this verse doesn't actually mean that they were in charge or even that the Church continued to have them. The author could be referring to the Prophets from the history of Israel. Besides, there is good reason to be cautious about assuming the authenticity of these verses as having been written by the historical Paul. The most they show is that some early Christians believed in various offices within the Christian movement that mostly seem to line up with similarly named offices in the LDS Church, but the relationship between both churches is much more problematic than it may originally appear.

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