Looking at Scripture Mastery – John 7:17
Greek: ἐάν τις θέλῃ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ ποιεῖν, γνώσεται περὶ τῆς διδαχῆς πότερον ἐκ θεοῦ ἐστὶν ἢ ἐγὼ ἀπ’ ἐμαυτοῦ λαλῶ.
My Translation: If anyone would desire his desire to do, he will know concerning the teaching whether it is from God or whether I speak from myself.
KJV: If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
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 So I'm keeping this exploration of it online, but it is no longer applicable to CES.
Well, it's been a wild previous few posts, so let's calm down a bit with this relatively normal and innocuous one. The context for this chapter is Jesus yet again speaking (seriously, he barely does anything else in John's gospel), this time in the Temple at Jerusalem during the Feast of Sukkōt. Previously his brothers had encouraged him to go down to Jerusalem during this very public feast, but he told them to go instead. Then he went secretly down after them. The authorities were looking for him, but couldn't find him. Then Jesus begins teaching in the Temple, and everyone is amazed at how much Jesus knows (John cares a lot more about portraying Jesus as awesome than he does about creating a logical narrative, so if you're a bit confused as to the context of how Jesus arrives in Jerusalem it's not meant to be historical, but to show that Jesus doesn't ever take advice or suggestions from someone else, but is always firmly in control of himself and his own ministry). The statement given in the Scripture Mastery verse comes at the beginning of Jesus's response about what he is teaching, right after he begins, “My teaching is not from me, but from the one who sent me.”
From a translation point of view, the only interesting thing about the verse is the first part, where Jesus says that if anyone *thélā to do his thélāma,* he will know whether Jesus's doctrine is divine or not. See how the two words are similar? They come from the same root, except that one is a verb, thélā (from *thélō),* and one is a noun, thélāma. The meaning is within the range of will, wish, desire, want, purpose, or even hunger (though usually the English word “will” covers most usages, including in this scripture where it's the best choice and the one the King James Version has). So, the first phrase, in a sense, means that if an individual works to make their desires or their purpose to be the same as God's desires or purpose, then they'll know.
For Mormons, this scripture has more application than just to Jesus's teachings in the Gospel of John. For Mormons, this is a promise applied to the entire restored gospel, and a similar scripture is found near the end of the Book of Mormon where readers are promised an answer to prayers about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
However, this scripture introduces an important, and personally troubling, aspect to the Mormon formula for finding truth. If this scripture is inverted, then it provides a ready answer to objections about those who do not find truth in Mormonism.
I have a dear friend who was in a position where they wished to become a member of the Church and were taking the missionary discussions. Their family was relatively tolerant and open to other beliefs, and in sum it would have worked out well for them to receive revelation of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon (and, by extension somehow, the LDS Church). And yet the answer didn't come. They read, they prayed, they attended meetings, they studied, they kept the uniquely Mormon dietary rules, and the result was still nothing. At the time I personally found the experience extremely troubling. I was a few years home from my mission, and I'd spent those two years not just telling people they'd get answers to the Book of Mormon, but promising those answers and believing my promises. While on my mission similar experiences had occurred, but I, like most Mormons, had an answer for those previous situations: the individuals had not truly desired the message. They had not, as Jesus here says, been willing to do God's will. And so since they did not provide the needed effort on their part, God did not answer them.
Of course, this experience with my friend rocked me because I knew this individual well enough to know of their sincerity. I knew that there really wouldn't be anything substantial to hold them back from a message, and I knew that they had more to gain and very little to lose. And yet the answer didn't come.
This scripture was used by some friends who knew about the lack of an answer. This individual must have had something in the way, some personal blockage, some personal failing or fear or willful refusal to listen or obey, that had kept the answer from them. Because Jesus had promised in John 7:17 that if anyone “walked the walk” then they'd know.
But let's be honest here: how much is Jesus here referring to things like the Word of Wisdom, to baptism by immersion by LDS authority, or all of the things that Mormons believe must be done? Obviously, few Christians are going to agree with that. Many Christians like this verse as well, and the idea that it relates directly to Mormonism would be ludicrous to them. The common application outside of the LDS faith is that Jesus is speaking about himself and his message in John: the kingdom of God has already come (John is not very apocalyptic), Jesus is the Lamb of God sent by God to die for the sins of the world (John even rewrites history so that Jesus is crucified the day before Passover when the paschal lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple to reinforce this imagery), and belief in Jesus and his message brings salvation in God's spiritual kingdom. If you want to know this, then you need to align yourself with the followers of Jesus and do what they do (what Jesus followers are actually doing when John's Gospel was written is more than a little confusing, however).
But, in the end, if you feel that the good news of Jesus described in John is the same thing as the Restored Church brought about by Joseph Smith, then interpreting this scripture to be about the whole enchilada of the LDS Church makes sense and isn't wrong. While few would argue that it's a promise by Jesus about how one can know the divinity of Jesus's teaching, I think there's still a lot to be said as to whether or not it is also an explanation for why some people can't seem to receive an answer about the divinity. You know, does “If A, then B” also mean “If not B, then not A”? [I don't think so], and I think it's dangerous and presumptuous to assume so.
Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?
This scripture is included as a New Testament equivalent to Moroni's Promise in the Book of Mormon. It is also included to give an explanation to LDS youth as to why their peers may not agree with LDS beliefs even after giving them what appears to be an honest go.