How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 1: “That Ye Might Believe that Jesus is the Christ”
Lesson 1: “That Ye Might Believe that Jesus is the Christ”
The first lesson of the new year is an introduction to the New Testament. The “additional teaching ideas” suggest looking at the structure of the New Testament; the main teaching ideas are general concepts of the scriptures as witnesses for Christ. Although these lessons from the 1971-72 Sunday School class for 17-year-olds are not particular to the New Testament – the class that year examined scripture-as-scripture from all the standard works – these older lessons may help some teachers better understand the nature of scripture and various ways in which they can be considered. Because our current manuals never have any meta-discussion of scripture, I am posting all eight of the scripture overview lessons from that earlier manual (Scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union, 1971.)
Subdivisions in this article:
THE MAKE-UP, BACKGROUND, PURPOSE AND AUTHOR OF SCRIPTURE
The Makeup of Each Scripture
Background, Setting, and Purpose of Each Book
THE CORRECTNESS OF TRANSLATION
Finding the Correct Translation
Which Bible to Use
THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF SCRIPTURE
Scriptures Not Scientific Texts
The Religious Intent of Scripture
THE SCRIPTURES ARE RELIGIOUS – NOT CHIEFLY PHILOSOPHICAL, HISTORICAL, NOR THEOLOGICAL
Scriptures Are Not Primarily History
Scriptures Are Not Theological Texts
READ SCRIPTURE IN CONTEXT
In the Context of the Passage
In the Context of the Book
IN THE CONTEXT OF THE GOSPEL
Three Kinds of Context
INSPIRED OF GOD – IN MAN’S LANGUAGE
In Man’s Language
The Lord – A Teacher
Variety in Scripture
CHRIST: OUR STANDARD
Christ and the Law of Moses
The Old Testament and Christ
Disciples of Christ
FURTHER STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES
A Source of Culture
To Qualify for Service
How to Study the Scriptures
Reading Scripture Aloud
THE MAKE-UP, BACKGROUND, PURPOSE AND AUTHOR OF SCRIPTURE
When the General Authorities speak to us in general conference, they usually talk about things they feel are vital to those listening today. The gospel. is applied by them to the problems which face us here and now. Often they will make reference to an eternal principle of the gospel, but it is applied and illustrated in the present life of those listening. Their messages would have less meaning to someone who knew nothing of life in the twentieth century.
The writers of scripture were no different. Except on rather rare occasions when they were inspired to look down the path to the future, they too were examining and evaluating conditions in their day in the light of basic principles – talking to their own people, who were living in the circumstances they knew about. That their words have rich meaning for us in another age and circumstance is simply witness of the universal and eternal significance of much of their inspiration.
To know something of the background of the writer and of those to whom he addressed himself – their language, customs, problems, and general circumstances – enhances our understanding and appreciation of any book of scripture. In this day more is known of these things than ever before; we have the opportunity to learn the history, languages, and culture of ancient peoples.
The Makeup of Each Scripture
As we studied the four standard works, considering the Bible in two divisions, we noted that each is composite in character, consisting of several or many writings which were later collected and arranged to make each of the scriptures. The one exception is the Book of Mormon, which was kept as a continuous, ongoing record; but even this book is based on several separate writings – the small and large plates of Nephi and the Jaredite record kept by Ether, the later two of which were abridged by Mormon and Moroni.
Hence, it is helpful to keep the structure of each scripture in mind, and to see how the individual books or other writings, such as we have in the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants, fit into major groupings. The Jewish classification of the books of the Old Testament into the Law, the Prophets and the Writings places its 39 separate books into perspective. The New Testament classification of Gospels, Acts, Epistles of Paul, the Universal Epistles, and Revelation, gives structure and clarity of organization to the 27 books of this scripture. This division of the Pearl of Great Price into ancient ;and modern writings is simple but helpful. A knowledge of the diversity in the Doctrine and Covenants helps us to read each revelation with the expectation appropriate to its content.
The ambitious reader who undertakes to study the Old Testament from cover-to-cover may soon be confused. He will come, for example, to the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel before he reaches the books of Amos, Hosea and Micah, who lived from 150 to 200 years before Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
Likewise, Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants is not the earliest revelation received by the prophet Joseph Smith, but was given as a preface to the first collection of modern revelations, The Book of commandments (1831). It has been used appropriately ever since as a preface or introduction to all editions of the Doctrine and Covenants. When we read it with this in mind, its meaning is richer.
Background, Setting, and Purpose of Each Book
As stated in the beginning, each book or piece of writing included in a scripture was written by a person (or persons) in a given situation, and with a particular motive in mind. The Lord does not inspire his prophets in a vacuum, but in a real and often critical situation, and for a very definite purpose. To know something of these things is to add greatly to our appreciation of and interest in these scriptures. Let us illustrate with each scripture:
1. The Old Testament:
The prophetic books of the Old Testament are particularly difficult to understand unless we know something of the history of Israel and the surrounding nations and of the struggle of the prophets to save the people of Israel and Judah from destruction. Amos and Hosea were prophets to the Northern Kingdom of Israel shortly before its captivity to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Micah and Isaiah witnessed the fall of Israel and then turned their major interest to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah was the prophet to Judah for about forty years, from 626 to 586 B.C. prophesying and witnessing the fall of that kingdom to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Ezekiel was the prophet of Judah in Babylon during their captivity, helping the Jews to adjust to life in a foreign land and to look with hope towards a restoration of Israel. Let us place these prophets on a chart:
We see how each of these prophetic books becomes much more intelligible and inspiring if we know the circumstances which obtained in the day they were written. The Book of 2 Kings, beginning with chapter 14, lays some historical background to the study of the prophets. A good Bible commentary is also most helpful. And what is true of these prophetic books is also quite true of each book in the Old Testament.
2. The New Testament:
The Epistles of Paul are read with more interest and meaning if we know a little about Paul, his character, background, and purpose in writing. The Epistle to the Romans is, for example, Paul’s most theological and abstract letter. No branch of the Church had yet been established at Rome, so Paul did not become involved in the specific problems of the saints in that ancient city. he was, therefore, free to write more systematically and with a different purpose.
The Book of Galatians illustrates the importance of knowing the author’s purpose. when word came to the saints and leaders in Jerusalem that Paul was baptizing Gentiles into the Church, the Palestinian Christians became alarmed that the Gentiles were coming into the Christian fold without first accepting Jewish rites of cleanliness. (See acts 15.) when Paul heard this, he went to Jerusalem at real risk, to explain to other Christians why and how Gentiles qualify for discipleship of Christ.
Paul acted wisely and with inspiration and good judgment and allayed the fears of the Palestinians. Gentiles were given the right hand of fellowship in the Christian faith, providing “they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20), and enter the fold through faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy ghost.
The Book of Galatians reveals the struggle Paul had with those Christians who did not understand that a man need not first become a Jew and practice all the Jewish rites before he could become a Christian. Christianity embraced much of the faith an ethical life of Judaism, but it was also a new faith, with a new cornerstone: faith in Jesus Christ and acceptance of him through baptism and the sacrament.
In reading Paul’s epistles, it is helpful to remember that he had been a Pharisee, a devout and ardent worshiper of the Torah, before his vision and call to Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9.) Throughout his epistles, especially Romans and Galatians, he contrasts faith in Christ as the foundation of religion with obedience to the letter of the law. He exults in his newly won faith and almost minimizes obedience in order to exalt grace. These verses from Galatians illustrate the contrast between the old and new covenant:
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:16, 19, 21.)
But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:11, 24-27.)
3. The Book of Mormon:
To illustrate the value of putting ourselves imaginatively into the setting of the author as we read the scripture, try this in reading the little book of Mormon within the Book of Mormon. This contains an account of the last deeds and words of Mormon as he witnessed the destructions of the Nephites, his own beloved people, about 400 A.D. It is characterized by pathos and Mormon’s love for his people.
And it came to pass that when I, Mormon, saw their lamentations and their mourning and their sorrow before the Lord, my heart did begin to rejoice within me, knowing the mercies and the longsuffering of the Lord, therefore supposing that he would be merciful unto them, that they would again become a righteous people.
But behold this my joy was vain, for their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.
And they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but they did curse God, and wish to die. Nevertheless they would struggle with the sword for their lives.
And it came to pass that my sorrow did return unto me again, and I saw that the day of grace was passed with them, both temporally and spiritually; for I saw thousands of them hewn down in open rebellion against their God, and heaped up as dung upon the face of the land. And thus three hundred and forty and four years had passed away. (Mormon 2:12-15.)
And in the three hundred and sixty and second year, they did come down again to battle. And we did beat them again, and did slay a great number of them, and their dead were cast into the sea.
And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens, that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies.
And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land.
And it came to pass that I, Mormon, did utterly refuse from this time forth, to be a commander and a leader of this people, because of their wickedness and abomination.
Behold, I had led them, notwithstanding their wickedness, I had led them many times to battle, and had loved them, according to the love of God which was in me, with all my heart; and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them; nevertheless, it was without faith, because of the hardness of their hearts. (Mormon 3:8-12.)
4. The Doctrine and Covenants:
Many, if not all, revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants represent the Lord’s responses to the prophet and his people. They were born of need, of earnest supplication, of pleading and even suffering. A beautiful example of this is the 121st section. The Saints had endured nearly a decade of persecution and harassment in Missouri: they had been driven from their homes and farms without redress and even with loss of life. The prophet had been in Liberty Jail for months; his patience and despair were near the breaking point. He pled for mercy, and even, at one point, that the Lord would avenge him and his people of wrongs suffered at the hands of their persecutors.
The revelation which came was perhaps not what was expected. Promise of justice and compensation was made and the ultimate triumph of righteousness was assured. Hope and courage were provided.
How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? as well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven, upon the heads of the latter-day Saints. (D. & C. 121:33.)
But even more significant, the most beautiful statement on the purpose and spirit of the priesthood ever penned by man climaxes the Lord’s response. And Joseph and his people learn that more important than vengeance or even justice is to exercise the authority of God with “love unfeigned” consistent with the righteousness of heaven. (Read Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-46.)
5. The Pearl of Great Price:
Joseph Smiths’ own story in the Pearl of Great Price is a choice piece of writing by itself. If it is read in the larger context of early Mormon history, its meaning is enhanced for it is a brief synopsis of nearly twenty years of his eventful life and that of his people.
The scriptures can be read with meaning and value just as they are, but they will mean much more to the reader if he knows something of the setting, the author, his purpose, and where the particular book he is reading fits into the larger canon of scripture.
THE CORRECTNESS OF TRANSLATION
The eighth Article of Faith reads:
We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
it is interesting that the Prophet Joseph recognized that we must allow for limitations of translation in the Bible. No work can be translated perfectly from one language to another because languages differ, and each has its fine shades of meaning. Furthermore, the original writings of the bible were copied for centuries by hand on leather scrolls and papyrus rolls. The first Bible was not printed until 1456, by Johann Gutenberg. Since men are fallible, errors were doubtless made in copying as well as misinterpretations in translation. Some editors and copyists, in all good faith, may have corrected a passage or added a sentence to enlarge a thought, to qualify a statement, or to build faith.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew – except Daniel and Ezra, which are believed to have been written in Aramaic, a spoken version of Hebrew which developed in Palestine and was used in Jesus’ day. The New Testament, scholars believe, was written in Greek, which was the language of cultured people in the Mediterranean world in new Testament times. It is possible that some of the Gospels may have been written in Aramaic, or at least that they were based upon Aramaic sources.
The first known and most famous translation of the Old Testament is called the Septuagint, which contains the Pentateuch and the Prophets and was made from Hebrew to Greek between about 250 and 200 B.C. It derives its name from a Latin root meaning “seventy,” from the belief that 70 Jewish scholars did the work.
In 450 A.D. Jerome made a translation of the Bible into Latin, known as the Vulgate, which was the Bible of the Western (Roman0 Church until the Douay (Douai) translation, which was completed in the early seventeenth century (the New Testament in 1582 and the Old Testament in Douai, France, in 1609 – whence the name). Catholic translations into modern languages have usually been based on the Latin Vulgate.
Beginning in the 1100s, ardent Christians began to translate the Bible from Latin into the vernacular or the common language of the people – French, Italian, Spanish, English, and German. Wycliffe translated the New Testament in 1382, and Tyndale made a translation into English in 1525. Early Protestant translations of the bible into English have followed that of Tyndale very closely. It took great courage, and men paid dearly to translate the Bible into common modern languages, because the Catholic church at the time opposed the move.
The most famous English translation of the bible is called the King James Version, because it was authorized by this ruler. Completed in 1611 by 54 great scholars, it is generally acknowledged as the most beautiful of all English Bibles. Even so, for decades its acceptance was contested, and it had to win its way by its own high merit.
Luther gave his people a Bible in appealing and high German. He completed the New Testament in 1522 and the whole Bible in 1534. His work did much to establish a single language of high quality for all Germans. In like manner, the King James edition has greatly enriched and blessed the world of English letters.
Especially in the last 100 years scholars have produced new translations of the bible in many languages. Their justification is two-fold: (1) Languages change. The English or German of this century is not the language of 1534 or 1611. Beautiful as these classic translations were, some of their words and expressions are difficult to understand three or four centuries later. (2) Since these early efforts, scholars have discovered earlier manuscripts than those available to 16th century scholars. Knowledge of languages, history, and archeology relating to the Bible have also increased. Recent translations have had before them all that Tyndale and Luther knew, plus much more.
A Revised Version was begun in English in 1870 with the purpose of retaining as much as possible of the King James Version while updating the English. Dr. Edgar J. Goodspeed, renowned Greek scholar at the University of Chicago, published a New Testament in everyday language, which was, in his judgment, closer to the style of the original Greek. It makes obscure passages very clear but it cannot compare in beauty and inspirational feeling to the King James Version. Goodspeed’s New Testament, and J.M.P. Smith’s Old Testament were combined to form The Bible: An American Translation in 1931. In 1952, a monumental effort of many Protestant scholars over a period of 15 years finally culminated in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. In 1961 The New English Bible, a New Testament in modern English, was published in England.
Finding the Correct Translation
how can a person know what is a correct translation of the Bible? How can one know when a passage is in error because of translation? There is no simple answer to these parallel questions. The truth is that there is no perfect translation. None of the original manuscripts are still in existence. We have to rely on copyists and translators and men are fallible. this need not discourage us, because there is a good deal of consensus about the biblical text among students of the Bible. May we suggest a number of ways to approach nearer to the true meaning of the Bible.
1. Learn the original languages, Hebrew and New Testament Greek. Knowing either or both of these classical languages would prevent some errors and greatly enrich our feeling for the Bible. This check is not available to many of us, so we shall suggest others.
2. Compare a number of translations in your own native tongue. There are several reputable translations in English, and no doubt in many other modern languages. These can be read side by side along with a Bible commentary. Those who are able to read the Bible in a modern foreign language can compare across modern languages.
3. Compare Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version with any other translation you may choose to read. The Prophet made some changes which clarified the meaning of the Bible. For example, in King James Bible in Exodus 7:3 we read:
And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.
In the Inspired Version the same verse reads:
And Pharaoh will harden his heart, as I said unto thee; and thou shalt multiply my signs, and my wonders, in the land of Egypt.
The Prophet Joseph’s translation of this verse is much more consistent with the character of God and the free agency of man than that of the King James Version. It would seem that Joseph Smith was seeking inspiration to get at the correct meaning more than he was indulging in exact translation, for which he was not trained. It should be recalled, too, that the prophet did not finish his work of revision, therefore we should use his work with some caution, along with other ways of testing the accuracy of translation.
4. Latter-day Saints, believing in the divinity and value of the other standard works, can also study these to see what light they throw on the Bible. In doing this we should remember, however, to respect the individuality and integrity of each scripture, for each has its own unique character and its own basis for authenticity and should be judged basically on its own merit. The scriptures do, however, confirm and enrich each other. According to Nephi, the Bible and the Book of Mormon are to strengthen each other. (See 2 Nephi 29.)
5. Another test of the correctness of a passage of scripture lies in the study of the Bible as a whole,. Does a saying ascribed to Jesus, for example, “square” with everything else he has said on the subject. Does it fit – suit his spirit and emphasis? The same approach can be used with Paul’s writings. Here again this method presupposes a vast knowledge, and suggests great caution and care.
6. A final and most meaningful test of the validity of a scripture is the witness of the Holy Ghost to our minds and hearts. The scriptures were written by men as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost; why should they not be read in the same spirit, as we humbly and prayerfully seek their truth? Paul recommends this approach:
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:11.)
Which Bible to Use
The question is often asked: Which Bible to Latter-day Saints accept? English-speaking Saints have a great love for the King James Version for several reasons. It contains the language of the Restoration. It was the Bible Joseph Smith read and quoted from in his own story. Mormon tracts and literature from the beginning have used the King Jams Bible to present the message of the restored gospel. This Bible was in general use among the Protestant and English-speaking peoples to whom the story of the Restoration was taken. It facilitated communication and acceptance of the message we had to offer the world. And this Bible is beautiful in language, dignified and reverent in tone, and inspiring to those who have come to know it.
Latter-day Saints, however, do not have an official Bible. German saints use Martin Luther’s Bible, as do English-speaking missionaries to Germany, and they love it. Other Saints around the world will use the Bible as translated into their native tongues. And there is no reason why Latter-day Saints should not read other modern translations. Each reputable translation may have its unique contribution to make. We should read any or all of them prayerfully and thoughtfully in our search for the truth of scripture. The truth of the Latter-day Saint cause does not hinge on the translation of any particular passage or even on any single translation of the Bible. We have four standard works, the voice of a living prophet, and the witness of the Spirit to guide us.
THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF SCRIPTURE
Each type of book has its unique character. When you read a dictionary you expect precise and exact definitions of words. In a textbook on science you anticipate a well organized, comprehensive, substantive treatment of the subject matter. When you study a good work of history you find a balanced treatment of all phases of culture. On the other hand, when you read poetry you look for great insights, for particular moods, and hope to experience aesthetic feeling. You would not demand of poetry the exactness and literalness of a dictionary.
When you read scripture, what do you expect?
The scriptures are as unique as any other type of writing we have mentioned. Read them expecting dictionary-like definitions, comprehensive histories, scientific treatises about heaven, earth, and man, philosophical arguments concerning the existence of God, and you will be disillusioned. The scriptures are not works of history, science, and philosophy. They are not even theological texts. They are records of the religious life and aspirations of peoples and the exhortations and teaching of inspired prophets and writers. The scriptures are religious works. This essentially religious character of scripture is so important that we wish to illustrate it in some details.
Scriptures Not Scientific Texts
For many centuries Christians believed that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun revolved around it. The predominant view in Greece in Aristotle’s day (4th Century B.C.), for example, declared the earth to be motionless and the center of the universe.
Then as Europeans began to study the heavenly bodies and their motions scientifically in the 16th and 17th centuries A.D., building on the earlier observations of the Greeks and Arabs, they developed the foundations of modern astronomy. The early and dramatic theories of men like Kepler, Bruno, Copernicus and Galileo were terribly upsetting to the religious men of their day. Bruno was burned at the stake, and Copernicus and Galileo were compelled to keep their views quiet. Copernicus’ major work was published only after his death.
Today Catholics and Protestants accept the interpretations of modern astronomy. No longer do they consider them to be in conflict with the teachings of religion. But 300 years ago, these same scientific views were believed to be contrary to God’s word in scripture.
The truth is that the authors of the Bible never intended to present a factual, scientific picture of the heavenly bodies. The stars and the sun are referred to in scripture to glorify the Creator, not to explain the exact nature and process of his creation. Sometimes they are used to teach or illustrate great religious ideals and truths, but never are they presented in the spirit or language of science. For instance, in the creation story in Genesis we read,
And God said, Let there be light and there was light. And god saw the light that it was good … (Gen. 1:3, 4.)
The Lord created light, but how, we know not. nor do we know from scripture what light is. these are questions in which religious men, living in a pre-scientific age, were not interested. these religious men were content and thrilled to know that God had created heaven and earth and this knowledge satisfied their souls.
It was a mistake of Christians of an earlier age to obtain their views of astronomy from an ancient religious record and then to hold to them tenaciously and with a closed mind.
By the time of the Restoration, there was no basic conflict between scripture and the views of modern astronomy. As Latter-day Saints we did not get caught in the battle between men of religion and astronomers. However, Latter-day Saints have run into other struggles in trying to reconcile their scientific knowledge with interpretations of scripture which have been just as heart-rending and devastating to faith as this ancient battle discussed above. Let us give one illustration.
Latter-day Saints do not all agree on the age of the earth. Some, in their very sincere and genuine desire to defend and accept the scripture faithfully and literally, believe the earth was created in six “days,” each of them 1000 years; others, who have had training in geology and related sciences believe the earth to be very old. Some who accept the findings of the great majority of the scientists regarding the age of th earth sometimes lose faith in the Bible because they believe that it teaches that the earth was made in 6000 years.
In our judgment, it is unfair and unwise to try to determine the age of the earth on the basis of the bible, or of any scripture. The earth may have been 6000 years in the making, or two billion or more, but the essential points stressed by the bible are not the exposition of the age of the earth, but the attempt to persuade us to love God and man and to come to Christ. The truthfulness of the scriptures cannot be judged by incidental references to nature, but rather by their religious and moral teachings, by their interpretations of man’s relationship to God and to fellow man.
Moreover, a man’s salvation has nothing to do with the age of the earth or with his particular belief in it. we have had general authorities in the Church who have held various views on the age of the earth, all fine men and deeply committed to the Restored gospel and the work of the Church. Their views have been varied because the scriptures do not explain this kind of issue clearly.
The word “day” in scripture, for example, is used variously and not in an exact, consistent way as scientific terms are used. In Genesis, “day” is spoken of in the language of a 24 hour day; in 2 Peter 3:8 we read that one day is with the lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” The language is not is 1000 years, but as a 1000 years. The word day is also used in scripture as we use the word time; for example, in Genesis 2:4, 5, the whole of creation is described as having taken place “in the day.”
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord god made the earth and the heavens,
And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. (Gen. 2:4, 5.)
And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the children of men – among as many as shall believe. (Moses 1:41.)
The Book of Abraham speaks of six times of creation (Chapter 4).
Depending on one’s point of view and purpose, scriptures may be used to describe creation according to one interpretation of time or another. It is our belief that the scriptures do not deal with such questions intentionally nor conclusively. Alma had a wise, sensible emphasis, we believe, on such issues. In discussing the resurrection he noted that some persons were much agitated over the exact time and number of resurrections. In response, he put things in proper perspective.
Now whether there is more than one time appointed for men to rise, it mattereth not; for all do not die at once: and this mattereth not; all is as one day with God; and time only is measured unto men. (Alma 40:8.)
We would all be wise to follow Alma’s point of view and let the Lord create in the context of his perceptions of time. Let us not limit his ways by human conceptions of time and creation.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8, 9.)
Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend. (Mosiah 4:9.)
The Religious Intent of Scripture
All scriptures illustrate on every page their essential religious purpose and intent. In the Bible the story of creation is told twice in about two and one-half pages – and even here the emphasis is on God as Creator, on purposes in putting man on the earth; and then for some 1542 pages, religious issues are discussed with hardly a reference to creation, except to praise God, as in the Psalms and Job. A beautiful example of how a scriptural reference to nature is used for religious purposes is found in Proverbs:
The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.
By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.
My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion.
So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck.
Then shalt thou walk in the way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble.
When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.
Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh.
For the Lord shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken. (Proverbs 3:19-26.)
This passage is scientific in spirit, speaking of the knowledge, understanding and wisdom which have gone into the divine creation but its language is poetic, not scientific. Its reason for speaking of creation is to build trust in God, to bring to man serenity of spirit.
While the Bible certainly illustrates its religious character, the Book of Mormon both illustrates and declares its purpose to be religious. Note the words of the first two authors, Nephi and Jacob:
And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God.
For the fullness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.
Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world, I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those whoa re not of the world.
Wherefore, I shall give commandments unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men. (I Nephi 6:3-6.)
And he gave me, Jacob, a commandment that I should write upon these plates a few of the things which I considered to be most precious; that I should not touch, save it were lightly, concerning the history of this people which are called the people of Nephi.
For he said that the history of his people should be engraven upon his other plates, and that I should preserve these plates and hand them down unto my seed, from generation to generation.
And if there were preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying, that I should engraven the heads of them upon these plates, and touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our people.
For because of faith and great anxiety, it truly had been made manifest unto us concerning our people, what things should happen unto them.
And we also had many revelations, and the Spirit of much prophecy; wherefore, we knew of Christ and his kingdom, which should come.
Wherefore we laboured diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness.
Wherefore, we would to God that we could persuade all men not to rebel against God, to provoke him to anger, but that all men would believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world; wherefore, I, Jacob, take it upon me to fulfil the commandment of my brother Nephi. (Jacob 1:2-8.)
Read also 2 Nephi 33 and Moroni 10 to gain an understanding of the chief and whole concern of these Book of Mormon prophets of God.
THE SCRIPTURES ARE RELIGIOUS – NOT CHIEFLY PHILOSOPHICAL, HISTORICAL, NOR THEOLOGICAL
Another lesson is needed to point out what the scriptures are not. Unlike the Greeks, ancient Jews were not philosophers. A philosopher examines religion and all of life in a rational, critical, and comprehensive way. he tries, in the words of Plato, to see life steadily and to see it whole and to be a spectator of all time and all existence, a task too large for any human. The philosopher takes nothing for granted and is fond of questioning everything, including his own experience. His view never pretends to reflect more than human wisdom. Moses, Amos, Isaiah and the Psalmist did not look at life in the rational, reflective, dispassionate way of the philosopher. They experienced God; they heard his voice, felt his Spirit and were propelled into action by the reality of the revelations they received. They spoke for God.
The first and only Jew of Biblical days to turn philosopher, to our knowledge, was one Philo of Alexandria, who lived about the time of Christ. Having become acquainted with Greek philosophical thinking, he tried to reconcile Jewish faith, based on revelation with Greek thought, based on reason, just as Church fathers like Augustine later tried to reconcile the Christian revelation with Greek thought. Philo did not contribute to the Old Testament. he was a philosopher and not a prophet in spirit and effort, and he illustrates the difference between the two callings.
Philosophy literally means “the love of wisdom.” Philosophers have had and still have much to contribute to our view of life. The world needs men to be rational, logical, and critical about the nature of the universe, the meaning of life, the essence of logic and so forth. Many, such as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle of ancient Greece, and Kant, Hegel, Spinoza, Hume, Locke, Whitehead, Bergson. William James and John Dewey have contributed much to our view of the world. Their views are also not without error and much disagreement.
The point here is that the scriptures were not written by philosophers and should therefore not be read as philosophic treatises. As we observed in the last lesson, they were written rather by religious men, in a religious idiom, and with a religious intent.
Scriptures Are Not Primarily History
As noted in Chapter 21, on the Book of Mormon, the scriptures are not history texts. Some of them, particularly the Old Testament, New Testament, and Book of Mormon, contain a historical thread and continuity. And the Doctrine and Covenants can be best understood in the context of history. Still, the history in these scriptures is incidental to their religious teaching and persuasion. Scriptures might be called, in one aspect, a religious interpretation of history. The history in scripture may also be likened to the frame of a picture; but remember that the picture itself is the religious teaching and record.
To test the validity of the point of view in the above paragraph, read a book in any scripture. Try 1 Nephi, Alma, or Moroni in the Book of Mormon; read 1 or 2 Kings in the Old Testament, or Acts in the new Testament. These Biblical works are called the historical books of their respective canons of scripture. They certainly reflect the intense religious interest of their authors and a lack of detailed information on many things in the society of the day. For example, time and again the unknown authors of Kings summarize the work of an Israelitish king by saying, “and he did evil in the sight of the Lord.” [Read 1 Kings, chapters 11 to 24.]
As an increasing body of the latest scholarship shows, there is history, and much valid history, in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon. Our only point is that it is incidental to the larger and more primary purpose of religious persuasion. As we read the scriptures, our first concern ought not to be historical if we would discover their real intent and greatest value. In the farewell remarks of Nephi of old, we learn what the purpose of his writing was:
… it persuadeth them to do good; it maketh known unto them of their fathers; and it speaketh of Jesus, and persuadeth them to believe in him, and to endure to the end, which is life eternal.
And it speaketh harshly against sin, according to the plainness of the truth. … (2 Ne. 33:4, 5.)
Scriptures Are Not Theological Texts
Scriptures are not essentially theological texts any more than they are primarily historical works. Our theology is found in the scriptures; it can be extracted from the standard works, but the scriptures for the most part were not written in a theological format, nor with theological intent. This assertion may not make sense nor be convincing until we examine the difference between theology and religion.
Theology literally means the “study of God.” a theologian is a thinker, a person who examines carefully the basic beliefs of a people or the bible or some other revelation, and builds out of this examination an organized body of thought. Theology is the product of careful thinking about religious matters. The theologian must define and explain the meaning of concepts; he must come up with a comprehensive, consistent view of his subject matter – of God and man and their relationship to each other and if he is a Christian theologian of Christ’s role in salvation.
Elder James E. Talmage’s Articles of Faith is an example of a theological undertaking. Drawing upon all of the scriptures, Dr. Talmage pulls together ideas and passages which illustrate and establish the Articles of Faith in systematic order. His Articles of Faith and Jesus the Christ also cover much material that is now theological as well.
Seldom in scripture do we find a doctrine of the Church treated exhaustively in one place. Only occasionally in the New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants are any basic doctrines carefully defined in scripture; and nowhere in scripture are the doctrines of religion taught as a whole in systematic order. The authors of scriptures were not abstract thinkers nor armchair the9ologians, but men inspired by the spirit of God, vigorously engaged in trying to save their peoples – urging faith and pleading for repentance; threatening or comforting as the occasion required. The scriptures reflect their religious experiences with God and men.
The distinction between theology and religion can best be understood with some illustrations. How many definitions of faith do you know of in scripture? Here are two from the standard works.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1.)
This is a thoughtful, rational statement and calls for much reflection to comprehend. It is not complete, but may be called theological in character.
Here is the other definition:
And now as I said concerning faith – faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore, if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. (Al. 32:21.)
Even in these books, the authors hasten on to use the rest of the chapters in which these definitions are found to illustrate what it means to live by faith. While these seem to be only two limited but interesting efforts to define faith in scripture, how many examples of faith are there? how many references to men living by faith? Think of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, the young David, Moses, the other prophets, the countless examples in the life of Jesus and Paul, of Alma, the sons of Mosiah, Moroni, Joseph Smith, and on and on. Where there is a sparsity of definition, there can be found a thousand examples of faith. Consider “The Lord is My Shepherd.”
Another illustration of the relative emphasis in scripture on theology and religion respectively can be explored in reference to God. In a theology text, one examines the nature of God, arguments for his existence, his relationship to the universe and to man. In the scriptures, men experience God. Consider the words of Amos, speaking to Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, who did not care for his message and tried to send him home to his native Judea, said:
… I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit.
And the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, go, prophesy unto my people Israel. (Amos 7:14, 15.)
And Micah, in conflict with the popular, professional priests of his day, denied their claim to inspiration, and said of his own call:
But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin. (Micah 3:8.)
Why should men like Amos and Micah, who knew the power of God in their lives, who heard his voice in their minds and hearts, stop and argue for his existence or discuss abstractly his relationship to the world? they had the far more urgent responsibility to be on their way to declare his will, to save if possible his and their people from ruin.
In theology we think about God; in the name of religion we worship and adore him, trust and serve him, we stand in awe and reverence before his holiness. The scriptures are records of the relationship of God to men – of their straying away, their return, their fears, hopes, and pleading requests. Read Enos in the Book of Mormon, or Nephi’s Psalm (2 Nephi 4:15-35.) Review the 23rd Psalm, or any Psalm, Isaiah 6 or Acts 17:23-31, or the Doctrine and Covenants, sections 1, 76, or 93, and note how thoroughly religious rather than theological the scriptures are when they speak of God.
By stressing the religious character of scripture and by pointing out that the standard work were not written with a theological purpose or emphasis, we do not wish in any sense to depreciate the importance of theology. there is value in searching the scriptures for the purpose of finding doctrines on which one can build a solid, reasonable, organized theology. A good theology can give added meaning and direction to the religious life. If we know the nature and character of God and his purpose in human existence, we should be able to achieve a finer religious life. We need to understand the meaning of salvation and the Savior’s and our own role in achieving eternal life. A good theology put into practice makes good religious living; a bad theology leads to evil and immoral living in the name of God.
The point of view emphasized here is that the scriptures are a record of the living word and the real life of the prophets and their people in relation to God and Christ. They are religious records and not theological treaties. Those who would extract the theology of the scriptures from its religious context, must use great care lest they come up with only a skeleton and leave the flesh and blood and life of scripture behind. Indeed, in all of our scripture, theology and religion are inseparable and the predominant tone is always religious.
This same balance should characterize our own lives. Theology has saved no man, but the right relationship with God, Christ, and fellowman will save any and all of us both in this life and in the Kingdom of our Eternal Father and his Son.
When the scriptures speak such words as “ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” and “… this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3.) The word know is used in more than an academic or intellectual sense.
To know God means to trust and love him as well as to understand something about him. To know the truth includes living the truth. In short, religion and theology become one in the scriptures.
READ SCRIPTURE IN CONTEXT
All parts derive their meaning from the whole. A chapel is made of single bricks, but once they become part of the finished building, they take on added significance and beauty. Verses in poetry can be analyzed line by line, but their full meaning can only be derived from the poem as a whole. The human eye is interesting by itself, but its beauty comes from being part of the face and its function from its relationship to the brain and nervous system.
Scriptures have been broken down into chapters and verses by well-meaning editors. This makes it possible to refer easily to given parts, but it should be remembered that they were not written that way in the beginning. scriptural verses are parts of larger wholes. Verses were not written to stand alone; they receive their fullest significance as parts of the larger context of which they are a part. Scripture out of context can easily lead to error and at best to only partial insight.
There are, of course, many single verses in scripture which can stand alone, such as, “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, …” (Matthew 13:57.) Even such a proverbial saying, however, is enriched if we know that Jesus is describing his unfavorable reception in his own country, which was in such sharp contrast to the response of faith and wonder which he had experienced elsewhere.
The use of isolated verses of scripture to prove a point of history or doctrine, is called the proof-text method of using scripture. The Bible is such a large book and so diverse in content that it is not hard to use short passages out of context to support almost any position on a wide range of subjects. Bernard Shaw remarked that the Bible was a wonderful book because one could prove anything by it. This is an exaggeration, but it is not without an element of truth. And Shakespeare, with his usual eloquence and charm, remarked:
… in religion, What damned error but some sober brow
Will bless it, and approve it with a text,
Hiding the grossness with fair ornament? [Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene 2.]
In their sincere desire to establish religious truth in any era, it is natural and proper that men should refer back to past revelations of God to man. Peter, Paul, the authors of the Gospels and Jesus himself did this to show that the Christian gospel had been heralded by prophets of the Old Testament. [Note Luke 4:16-19 (Jesus); Acts 2:1-21 (Peter); Romans 1:1-3 (Paul).] Believing the wonderful news of the Restoration, early leaders such as Orson and Parley Pratt searched the Bible with a fine-toothed comb to ferret out every idea and passage which would clarify or substantiate the fact of the Restoration. And they found much to support the Restoration. The gospel, as we know, is not new – it consists of eternal principles which have been taught again and again in former dispensations.
There are, however, limitations as well as values in using scripture in this proof-text manner. We can easily misinterpret and err in pulling verses out of their context. We can also miss much of the rich meaning of a given passage if we are not acquainted with the larger setting. A truth can best be established by seeing it in the context of a broader truth. it is not necessary to misuse the scriptures in any way in order to establish the truth of the restored gospel. the end does not justify the means; rather it should determine the means. Let us turn, then, to a discussion of what it means to interpret the scriptures in context.
There are three kinds of context of which any verse or brief passage is a part: (1) the context of the immediate passage, (2) the context of the book or writing from which it is taken, such as a particular section in the Doctrine and Covenants or the books of Amos or of Romans in the Bible, and (3) the context of religion as a whole, especially the fundamentals of the faith.
We shall explain and illustrate each of these three kinds of context and try to show how much more meaningful passages become when they are seen as parts of larger wholes.
In the Context of the Passage
It is perfectly proper to quote a single verse or two of scripture, but in doing so we should have read what has gone before and what follows to make sure that we are not misrepresenting the author’s idea. Let us illustrate:
In a city in Switzerland a Mormon missionary was giving a talk one evening to non-Mormons on the nature of God. he endeavored to demonstrate that the Father was a real person – a Creator, Revelator, and Father in whose image man was made – when a minister in the back of the hall cried out, “God is a spirit.” He was quoting from John 4:24. In this verse, Jesus was not trying to describe the whole nature of God; he was emphasizing the role of spirit in God and man as part of a brief discourse on how to worship. He was trying to teach the Samaritan woman to worship “in spirit and in truth.”
In that same meeting in Switzerland a few moments later the same minister spoke up again, saying, “God is love.” Here again he was quoting correctly from 1 John 4:8. He was using the verse to try to prove that God was love and nothing else. If we turn to this verse and read the verses before and after, which complete the thought, 9verses 7-12), we see again that the author’s main interest is to inspire people to love one another. to achieve this, he stresses God’s great attribute of love. The Father is love – his love for us is so great and perfect that in a sense, he is the embodiment of love, this is one of his greatest attributes. But he is also more than love. The next verse says: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only Begotten son into the world, that we might live through him.” Love does not sens us a savior, create worlds, [speak to] prophets in all ways which the Lord has spoken, nor bring to pass the resurrection. Love cannot exist except as part of a lover.
Latter-day Saints are also guilty of quoting verses out of context. Isaiah 4:1 speaks of the day when seven women shall take hold of one man and ask to be called b his name. In the past, it was common for missionaries to defend the practice of plural marriage by reference to this verse, which in their mind was a prophecy of the practice of this form of marriage. We might gather this notion by reading this verse alone.
If, however, we go back and begin reading in chapter 3 from verse 16 to the end, we readily see that 4;1 belongs to the same train of thought as 3:16-26. Isaiah sees that war is coming to Judah and the proud women of Judea, who are more concerned with decorating their faces and bodies than they are with the affliction of the poor in Israel, have made their contribution to the downfall of the nation. Not only have they lived in vain and idle luxury, but they have encouraged their masters to cheat and lie to get gain, living lives offensive to God and destructive of national unity and strength.
What happens to women in time of war? Their men fall in battle and they become widows. marriage meant much to the women of Israel; hence, in the day of calamity (which was near at hand) there might be seven women to one man. Isaiah was depicting the consequences of war brought on by unrighteousness. His prediction applies widely and is not necessarily nor likely a prediction of plural marriage.
In the Context of the Book
Various passages of scripture make up a complete psalm, story, revelation, or book within a given scripture. each passage should be read with an understanding of the writing as a whole, of which it is only a part. Let us illustrate.
Part of one verse in that beautiful 23rd Psalm reads: Thou anointest my head with oil …” In a Sunday School class one day, a teacher was using this statement to prove that the anointing of the sick was practiced in the Old Testament. It may have been, but this was not the verse to use to prove it. the entire psalm is a song of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord. “Thou anointest my head with oil” is a symbolic way of acknowledging the bounteous blessings of the Lord; his goodness – as the entire psalm attests. If you wish to prove that the anointing of the sick was used in biblical times, turn to the Book of James, a work of forthright admonition and instruction, and there you will find this explicit teaching.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. (James 5:14-15.)
In Ezekiel, chapter 37, a vision of this prophet is recorded wherein he saw a valley full of dry bones and then saw flesh and sinews come upon them, “Breath came into them, and they lived …” (Ezekiel 37;10.) This passage (verses 1-14) has been used to prove the resurrection.
It is probably not Ezekiel’s purpose in this passage to establish the doctrine of individual resurrection. It is quite obvious, if one reads the entire Book of Ezekiel, that the prophet is talking about the restoration of Israel as a nation, as a people, and dry bones are a symbol of their condition in captivity. The resurrection can be established much more clearly and abundantly in the New Testament or Book of Mormon. (Note Alma 40, Luke 24 and 1 Corinthians 15.)
Latter-day Saints should also read the rest of chapter 37 with Ezekiel’s purpose in mind. Verses 15-28 tell the oft-repeated account of the prophet being commanded to write upon two sticks, one for Judah and one for Joseph, the one being interpreted as the bible (Judah) and the other as the Book of Mormon (Joseph). If you read the entire passage in the context of the total Book of Ezekiel, you will find that the prophet is predicting not only the coming forth of two books or records but also the restoration and reunion of the two nations – Israel and Judah. The bible and Book of Mormon are records of Judah and Joseph, respectively, and the coming forth of these two records heralds the eventual reunion of the two nations and will some day even contribute to Israel’s unification. The coming forth of the book of Mormon fits into this larger hope and faith of the prophets which is too seldom mentioned when Ezekiel 37 is read and quoted.
To illustrate how a great passage of scripture assumes even more meaning when read as part of an entire writing, we refer to 1 Corinthians, one of Paul’s most interesting epistles. Word had come to Paul that there were contentions among the Saints (chapter 1:10), and all manner of strife, divisions and sin (chapter 3:1-3). Some of their strife was over the gifts of the gospel. Some could speak in tongues, some not; others could interpret, still others could not. In chapter 12 Paul explains the gifts of the gospel and how they are enjoyed by different members and not by all. In chapter 14 he explains that the gift of tongues is not the most important gift of the gospel nor is it necessary. Then in the most meaningful eulogy of brotherly love ever written in scripture, Paul points out the supremacy of love over all other gifts. without charity (meaning brotherly love and in Moroni’s words, “the pure love of Christ”) we are nothing.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3.)
Read the entire chapter, which is even more rich in meaning as one visualizes Paul trying through this chapter to lead the Saints of Corinth to the true meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In this lesson we have discussed the meaning of the proof-text method of using the scriptures and have tried to show that it is more fair and enlightening to read verses in the context of larger passages and also of the entire writing of which they are a part and of all scripture, ancient and modern. In the next lesson we shall point out the importance and value of interpreting single passages in the context of the gospel as a whole.
IN THE CONTEXT OF THE GOSPEL
A young architect once gave the writer a choice insight into how to interpret scripture. He was talking about architecture – a field that is highly complex, embracing art, science, mathematics, and personal taste. In telling of how architects work, he said the architect has three basic guides which he always keeps in mind, whether he is planning a garage, house, or a cathedral:
1. Is it sound?
2. Is it functional?
3. Is it beautiful or aesthetically pleasing?
These are wonderful guidelines and very comprehensive. They are equally useful to the client who is buying or building a home.
Religion too is a vast, complex comprehensive field. The scriptures, our best record of religion, are tremendously composite and complex, varied in style and origin, written by scores of authors living over centuries of time. To interpret scripture fairly, intelligently, and most meaningfully, we also need some guidelines within religion comparable to those of the architect in his field.
Three Kinds of Context
One of these guidelines in religious study is to study scripture in context. In our last lesson, two kinds of contexts were recommended: (1) The context of the passage: Single verses should always be read with a knowledge of what goes before and after – and (2) The context of the book or writing: Passages should be read as part of the writing or particular book of which they are a part. Any passage in Amos, for example, can be appreciated best if the reader knows the entire book and sees the passage in relation to the whole.
There is still a third context in which to read scripture – the context of the gospel. There is a logical, meaningful, conceptual structure to the gospel, just as there is to architecture or any other discipline. Gospel principles belong together; they support and enrich one another. the gospel may be likened to a mosaic: It has a design, a set of ideas that are consistent with each other and which together give meaning to life.
the person who would understand religion should not pulverize the gospel and think of it as an array of separate facts and ideas, like miscellaneous objects lying on the ground or sand on the seashore.
Like architecture, the gospel also has its fundamental concepts and principles. These need to be kept in mind as we read single verses or contemplate individual ideas in scripture. Let us suggest some of these fundamental concepts in religion which should always be remembered.
Our Conception of God
What are some basic beliefs which we hold concerning God, the Eternal Father?
1. He is the Father of all men.
2. He has certain moral attributes:
a. Justice, impartiality, integrity.
b. Love, mercy, forgiveness.
3. He is law-abiding.
4. He is more intelligent than all other persons.
Our Conception of Man
What are some basic beliefs which we hold concerning man?
1. All men are children of God.
2. All men are brothers.
3. Men are that they might have joy.
4. Men have the capacity through obedience to the gospel to progress eternally.
5. Men have free agency.
6. Men were created in the image of God.
In listing the above concepts concerning God and man we have not tried to name them all, but just enough to illustrate the value of interpreting scripture in the light of fundamentals.
A Case Study
In an Old Testament class in Sunday School, the issue before the group was the meaning of the following scripture:
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them [graven images] for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:5-6.)
In this class of college students a mother was visiting. she remarked: “I had a child born seriously handicapped 25 years ago. After reading this passage of scripture, I have always blamed this tragic event on my sins.”
The teacher inquired, “What sins, may I ask, did you commit that God would send this misfortune upon the child and you?”
She replied, “I cannot name any in particular. I was not a bad girl, nor was I an angel.”
This fine woman was interpreting this passage of scripture by itself, in isolation, without any reference to the fundamentals of the gospel. Such as the character of god and the nature of man.
How would you have responded to this woman’s interpretation of exodus 20:5-6? Which fundamentals of the gospel would you relate to this passage? Here are some examples:
We believe in free agency: Does it not violate one person’s agency to be punished for another person’s sin? What about the Article of Faith – “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression’ (or anyone else’s).
We believe in the justice of god: Would it not be unfair to punish a child for the sins of his mother?
We believe in a God of love and mercy: It is hard to believe that God would afflict a child with a severe handicap intentionally for the sins of his mother or for any other reason.
As we think about this good woman’s interpretation of her life, based on her understanding of this scripture, we question it. it does not seem to “square” with the basic concepts which we hold regarding God and man listed above.
This does not mean that the verse of scripture discussed is not true. It contains a profound truth. But her interpretation was not correct because it contradicted so many fundamentals of the gospel. the sins (and ignorance) of the fathers are visited upon the generations which – not by an angry or revengeful God (for this is not his character), but by the nature of life as the natural consequence of our actions influence each other through time and space.
Parents who are hateful, mean, and unloving toward their children often cause irreparable damage to the children’s character and personality. the effect of this damage may be passed on for generations. In fact, whole societies suffer from the sins and follies of earlier generations. One generation sows the wind and the next reaps the whirlwind.
But many handicaps in this life are not in any sense due to the sins of the parents; they are accidents of nature. this good woman in the Sunday School class had debased herself and suffered all these years because she did not interpret her problem in the light of God’s character (a loving and just Father) or the free agency and purpose of her child’s life.
That the teaching in Exodus 20:5-6 is not the only or final view on the subject is clear from Ezekiel 18, in which this point of view is superseded by another emphasis:
The word of the Lord came unto me again, say8ing,
What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.
… the soul that sinneth it shall die. (Ezekiel 18:1-2, 4; note the whole chapter.)
Jesus’s teaching disagreed with the interpretation expressed by the mother when he was asked:
… Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (John 9:2-3.)
Both Ezekiel and Jesus were, we believe, thinking in terms of the nature of man and God as they spoke to this problem.
A Second Case
In Alma 34 – which is a profound and rich chapter – we read,
And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you, that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness, wherein there can be no labor performed.
Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in the eternal world.
For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance, even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked. (Alma 34:33-35.)
How do you interpret this passage? Is there no opportunity whatever for repentance in life beyond the grave, except perhaps for those who died ignorant of the law? Some people think so and may be right in regard to those who are spiritually dead. Taking this passage by itself with no reference to other gospel fundamentals, one could easily conclude this.
But let us remember that God is our Father – a loving, merciful Father – and that his work and glory is to redeem his children. he is not likely to give up easily nor quickly. Judging by the attitude of his Son, the father would, we believe, never close the door to repentance for his children.
Some, such as the sons of perdition, may sink so low that they lose the power to repent because they “die as to things pertaining unto righteousness.” (Alma 12:16.) Perhaps others who have procrastinated their repentance may find the faith and power to repent in the eternal world. This is our faith when we do work for our kindred dead, some of whom were, no doubt, first-rate sinners.
We are not discrediting Amulek’s plea to repent now. it is the sensible thing to do, for happiness in this life as well as for our eternal welfare. And no one knows who will have the strength to repent hereafter.
In giving a sermon, one should be as forceful as he can, but he cannot possibly teach the whole gospel in one exhortation. Therefore, as we read a sermon, we should keep the basic principles of the gospel before us. One of these is God’s love; another is his long-range purpose in the lives of all of his children. And we must also bear in mind that he is a God of justice working in a law-abiding universe. We must not rationalize our sins away, saying, “all is well in Zion, all is well.”
INSPIRED OF GOD – IN MAN’S LANGUAGE
Two extreme views have been taken towards the origin of the bible. One view, held by certain sincere and devout Protestants, holds that every word and every verse of scripture is equally true and valid because it is literally the Word of God. Then there are, at the other extreme, those who look upon the Bible as being wholly the product of man, a purely human record which some men have erroneously believed came from God. to prove their point, these critics find it not too difficult to point out the human element contained therein.
The Latter-day Saint position disagrees with both of these extreme points of view. We see in the Bible – and in all four scriptures – both the handiwork of God and the hand of man. One cannot fully appreciate scripture without recognizing both the human and divine features contained therein. In this lesson we shall seek to establish this very reasonable and interesting view of scripture.
From the beginning of the Latter-day movement, it was recognized that the Bible was not a sufficient guide in matters of religion. It did not answer the youthful Joseph Smith’s burning question concerning which Christian faith he should join. It did lead him, however, to the vital source of religion, to God. From this experience we see that the Bible is not religion itself, but a remarkable record of some of man’s past religious experience and understanding. President John Taylor, in a very perceptive way, distinguishes between religion and a recording of it:
The gospel is a certain, living, abiding, eternal principle. That which is written in the New Testament is like a chart of a country, if you please; but the gospel is the country itself. A man having the map of the United States in his possession would be considered foolish if he supposed he possessed the whole United States; and because a man may have the Old and New Testaments in his possession, it does not argue that he has the gospel. …
Well, but is not the gospel contained in the Old and New Testament? It is not, nor in the Book of Mormon, nor in the revelations we have received. These are simple records, histories, commandments, etc. The gospel is a living, abiding, eternal, and unchangeable principle that has existed co-equal with God and always will exist, while time and eternity endure, wherever it is developed and made manifest. [John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, Volume 78, pages 361, 362.]
Not only is the Bible not religion itself, but wonderful as it is, it is also not a perfect, complete record of religion. In the 12th Article of Faith, we read:
We believe the bible to be the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly …
The prophet Joseph recognized that party of the biblical record had not come down to us as originally given or intended. This fact is attested by his incomplete effort to revise the bible. Though his work was far from finished, he did make quite a number of changes by virtue of his knowledge and inspiration. (This effort has been published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is known as The Inspired Version.)
In Man’s Language
If the Bible were available to us without any errors of translation, it would still contain imperfections and limitations. The reason for this is that the Word of God comes to us in the language of man. It is adapted to man’s weaknesses, his thinking, and his needs. therefore, it reflects something of man as well as the inspiration of Deity.
The above statement may be surprising and even disappointing to you at first, but with reflection the thought becomes most reasonable, helpful, and even inspiring. It will help you to appreciate both the Lord’s and the prophets’ great contributions to these priceless religious records. That is probably the finest statement on the nature of revelation and scripture found in all of the standard works is given in the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants. Note the sequence of thought:
Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time. (D. & C. 1:24-28.)
A similar thought was expressed earlier in the Book of Mormon:
For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding. (2 Ne. 31:3.)
Elder John A. Widtsoe expressed the same idea in succinct language:
The message of the scripture is divine; the words in which it is clothed are human. failure to make this distinction has led to much misunderstanding. Intelligent readers will separate the message of scripture from its form of presentation. [John A. Widtsoe, Religion and the Pursuit of Truths; page 163.]
The Lord – A Teacher
No one can teach another person unless he leads him from the known to the unknown. All learning takes place in the context of the learner’s experience. When we speak to a child, we use his language, words he will understand, if we wish to communicate. When a scientist speaks to a lay audience, he uses a non-technical language – that of his listeners – if he wishes to be understood.
The Lord lives in a different world than that of man. His perspective, knowledge, and wisdom are higher than man’s, even as the light of the sun outshines the light of the smallest star. Isaiah was aware of this exalted state of Deity:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Is. 55:8-11; Note also Abra. 3:19-21.)
It is impossible for man in his limited position and with his inadequate perspective to receive the word of God in its fullness or in the light of the Lord’s full understanding. Like any other teacher, our Father in Heaven must adapt his word to man’s weakness, language, and thinking to get through to us. Brigham Young understood this and expressed it with his usual vigor and concreteness:
I am so far from believing that any government has constitutions and laws that are perfect, that I do not believe there is a single revelation among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fullness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrines and principles, as far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, groveling, sinful inhabits of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfection. he has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities. [Journal of Discourses, Volume 2, page 314.]
This reminds us of the feeling Moses had, after having beheld some of the workmanship of the almighty!
… Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed. (Moses 1:10.)
Even if the Lord could reveal his full mind and word to man, it is doubtful if he would do so. Spiritual growth comes to man by his own effort, by his search, his errors, his struggle, his upward reach. It is evident from the Doctrine and Covenants 1:24-28, and from the witness of history, that revelation is the Lord’s response to man’s own need: to man’s experience. Revelation is interaction between God and man – two-way traffic – not a simple giving and receiving. This is pointedly brought out in a revelation to Oliver Cowdery, who had begged for the privilege of translating the Book of Mormon, at which task he failed. The reason for his failure is clearly stated and sensible:
Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.
Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong: therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
Now, if you had known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now. (D. & C. 9:6-10.)
As we read the scriptures, then, we should not only look for the divine inspiration and message, but also for the circumstances and personality of the writer-0- his limitations and his strengths. the errors of man sometimes creep in, but there is also always the greatness of man as a son of God – his courage, faith, humility and love – which have become blended with the will and mind of God in scripture. The character and style of the prophet and writer are stamped indelibly on his work. This calls for illustration:
The prophets Amos and Hosea were spokesmen for God to Israel in the eighth century B.C. Their message is essentially the same. Israel, the chosen nation, had turned true religion into idolatry and gross immorality, and, therefore, all of her sacrifices and professions of worship were no longer acceptable ot Jehovah, a God of justice and mercy. But the language, the style, the illustrations, and the emphasis in each book is remarkably different and uniquely meaningful. Amos is the stern prophet of justice; Hosea teaches justice, but is also tender and reveals God’s great love for Israel despite her sins and forthcoming destruction. Hosea’s own tragic marriage to an unfaithful wife, whom he still loved and forgave, helped him no doubt to understand and express the Lord’s love for Israel.
Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were both prophets of God and men of great stature, but they were not alike, and they led their people under different circumstances. Joseph was the great revelator, receptive to the mind of the Lord in receiving direction and guidance in matters of doctrine and in the practical organization and functions of the church. Brother Brigham, as he was affectionately called, was the able colonizer, who fearlessly and successfully established the Kingdom of God in forbidding valleys and desert country. He too could speak for God, in spiritual as well as material matters, but his practical, resolute temper always came through.
Some of us remember President Joseph F. Smith, others have read compilations from his sermons called Gospel Doctrine and recognize in him an exceptional gospel teacher. His interpretations and applications of the gospel to life are simple, lucid, and fundamental. President Heber J. Grant was a vigorous, forthright, candid witness of God to his people and to all the world. His practical experience as a widow’s son and as a leader in business enterprises expressed itself in his spiritual leadership and in the content of his sermons. George Albert Smith was the personification of kindness and consideration, of tolerance for Jew and Gentile, of gentleness, of trust in his Heavenly Father; and at the same time, of great moral courage, which he exercised defending the right. President David O. McKay’s eloquence, high idealism, and exceptional skill as a teacher, have manifested themselves in his prophetic ministry.
Variety in Scripture
Because scripture is given to men “in their weakness, after the manner of their language,” and to meet their needs and circumstances, it does not all hold equal meaning and value for us today. Parts of scripture deal with themes of such eternal and universal significance that they mean as much to us as they have ever meant to man. We refer to such things as the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, the Word of Wisdom and many other teachings of scripture. however, there are other parts which are more local and limited in application. Let us illustrate:
Much of the Law of Moses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy is still valid. Other commandments, pertaining to sacrifices and ritual, have been done away with and are not part of the gospel of Christ. Of this part, Abinadi said,
Therefore, if ye teach the law of Moses, also teach that it is a shadow of those things were are to come –
Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father. Amen. (Mos. 16:q14, 15.)
Likewise, the Apostle Paul spoke of much in the law of Moses as having been a schoolmaster to prepare man for the higher law of Christ:
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up into the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3;23-26.)
Some of the books of the Old Testament are narrative in character, written by unknown writers. These often detail the weaknesses and sins of the people as well as the will of God. We should read Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles with this in mind. They do not carry the authoritative voice nor the uniformly lofty level of teaching which characterize the writings of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Paul and the words of Jesus. The Song of Solomon, though written in beautiful Hebrew, is not a religious work but a song of romantic love. The Jews canonized it because they read things into it, thinking that it allegorically described the Lord’s love for Israel. Its beautiful imagery seems also to have endeared it to the Hebrew people.
Other works, such as Proverbs, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes, though very inspiring for the most part, also contain passages which reflect the life of man in their day more than the great eternal principles of the gospel. A few of the Psalms written in Babylonian captivity express the spirit of hate and revenge, which is, from a human standpoint, very understandable. Ecclesiastes, with all of its good sense and wisdom, reflects the cynicism of a foreign, non-Semitic culture. this cynicism is not characteristic of the rest of the Old Testament. But, taken as a whole, this book too is instructive and contributing to life.
God speaks to men only according to our language and need. Therefore, the scriptures reflect both the divine and the human in rich measure. We can be grateful to both Deity and human writers for their spirit and messages in Scripture. The limitations of scripture – as Nephi and Moroni remind us – are explained by the weaknesses of men. This includes errors and changes in transmission and translation. Their truths and greatness reflect Deity, and also the strength of men. the words of Christ are not only true and beautiful because of God’s influence but because of Jesus’ purposes and personality: he was the Son of man and God, a wonderfully sensitive spokesman for his Father.
CHRIST: OUR STANDARD
The Apostle Paul, well aware of the imperfections of human nature, indicated that Christ gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
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 fullness of Christ:
… speaking the truth in love,  may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. (Ephesians 4:12, 13, 15.)
Christ is our standard – the revelation and exemplification of the character and will of the father. He exemplifies all that we should aspire to be. the gospel is to help us, as Paul says, to “grow up into him in all things.” He is our Savior and Redeemer, the Son of God, the Author of our salvation.
If Christ is our ideal of life, then his words, his spirit, and his deeds should also guide us in our interpretation and application of the scriptures to our lives. He was a revelator to his people from the beginning, and so much of the writing in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants especially was inspired of him. This is all the more reason why we should read the scriptures with our fullest understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ in mind to guide us. We need to sift out and emphasize those principles and teachings which are most significant to our lives as his disciples.
Christ came not to do away with the revelations of the past, but to fulfill them. This he clarifies both in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19.)
Then after he had thus affirmed the teachings of the Old Testament, he declared:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, … But I say unto you, … (Matthew 5:21-22.)
It hath been said, … But I say unto you, … (Matthew 5:31-32.)
Although Jesus did not repudiate the old, he did not hesitate to strike out boldly with a new emphasis and to leave much of the old unmentioned.
The Book of Mormon in its original way explains how the Law of Moses is fulfilled in Christ. To the Nephites Jesus said:
For behold, the covenant which I have made with my people is not all fulfilled; but the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me.
Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.
Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me. (3 Nephi 15:8-10.)
Christ did away with burnt offerings among the nephites and called for a “broken heart and a contrite spirit”:
And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.
Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin.
Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved. (3 Nephi 9:19-22.)
In the eleventh chapter of the same book he again, in beautiful and simple language sets forth the foundations of the Christian life. (See 3 Nephi 11:23-41.)
Christ and the Law of Moses
Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses in more than one way – in his redemption as well as in his teaching. Let us illustrate one way in which his teachings fulfilled the Law. Consider the Ten commandments. The first four deal with man’s relationship to God; the second six, with man’s duty to his fellowmen. (See Deuteronomy 5:7-21 or Exodus 20:3-17.) when the Savior was asked which was the great commandment in the law, he replied:
… Thou shalt love the Lord thy god with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40. Italics added.)
These two great commandments were not original with Jesus. he had heard them from his Jewish teachers. The first is found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second in Leviticus 19;18. But Jesus brought them together, made the second “like unto” the first, and greatly enriched both by the quality of his own life and teachings. (The prophets before him had also stressed this intimate relationship between man’s worship of God and his service to man.) Jesus made it the heart of religion. By keeping these two commandments, we will fulfill the Ten Commandments and many more:
1. No other gods
2. No graven images
3. Not take God’s name in vain
4. Remember the Sabbath
– All encompassed in the Love of God
5. Honor father and mother
6. Shalt not kill
7. shalt not commit adultery
8. Shalt not steal
9. Shalt not bear false witness
10. Shalt not covet
– All encompassed in the Love of neighbor
If we love God, we will keep the first four commandments and find many other positive ways to serve and worship him. if we love our neighbor, we will keep the last six commandments, be kind, respectful, forgiving, merciful, and much more. the Ten Commandments did not include the whole of the moral life of the Jews – they were taught many other rules of conduct. But Jesus had a remarkable insight into the relative importance and relationship of ideas and knew how to pick the basic, most important concepts expressed by these rules and teach them clearly and effectively.
The Old Testament and Christ
Much of the Old Testament is on just as high a plane of ethical and religious teachings as the New Testament. Why should it not be, since Christ was probably the revelator to the ancient prophets much of the time, just as he was to Peter and Paul and the Prophet Joseph Smith? And yet there are teachings and ideas in the Old Testament which are not wholly consistent with the teachings and attitudes of Christ expressed in the New Testament. Here are some examples:
In the Old Testament, there are a number of passages in which a particularistic point of view is taken: Some Jewish writers thought that God loved their people only, and hated other nations. In some respects the Israelites had one standard of conduct for the Jews and another for the Gentiles.
Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury:
Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury: but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it. (Deuteronomy 23: 19, 20.)
And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.
And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty:
Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.
And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day. (Deuteronomy 15:12-15.)
The treatment of Gentile slaves was also to be humane, but they were not to be set free as were the Hebrew slaves:
Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.
Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.
And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour. (Leviticus 25:44-46.
Passages of scripture speak of the Lord’s hatred for other nations, but from Christ we learn that all men are brothers – all are children of the same Father. Christ does not hate his brother, regardless of what nation, race, or creed. He even loved his enemies, as he taught us to do. When ancient scriptural passages reflect negative attitudes toward fellow men, inconsistent with the character and actions of Jesus Christ, we must look for the human element and limitations in the point of view of man for an explanation. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt; they came forth as nomads in the desert in a life-and-death struggle with the elements and with other tribes. It is understandable that they were foremost for their own survival and that they did not fully comprehend the large and universal view of God. Gradually they learned from men like Amos, Isaiah, and the author of Jonah that God is universal and that his laws and purposes apply equally for all men. But this took time, and there were many lapses into views incompatible with those of the Savior.
Disciples of Christ
We should not be too harsh in our judgment of ancient Israel. The Israelites paid bitterly for their failure to understand and live I harmony with the will of God.
O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.
Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me. (Hosea 6:4-7.)
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou has forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. (Hosea 4:6.)
Our task is to interpret scripture and live religion in the full light of the restored gospel. Christ is our standard. Those things in scripture which are consistent with his life and teachings are true for us. Whatever is found in scripture which clearly contradicts his spirit and teaching should be questioned – either we are misinterpreting the passage or it is an error of the copyist or translator or it reflects the language, weaknesses, or circumstances of the men who wrote it. Unchristian attitudes and practices are not part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are to be overcome as we try to grow in the image of the stature of Christ.
Brigham Young expresses this thought very clearly:
We have taken this book, called the Old and the New Testament for our standard. We believe this book and receive it as the word of the Lord. Not but there are many words in this book that are not the words of the Lord, but that which came from the heavens, and which the Lord has delivered to us, we receive, and especially the sayings of the Savior. (Volume 12 page 308.)
FURTHER STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES
Just after the turn of the century, Franklin L. West left Utah to do graduate study in physics at the University of Chicago. There was no ward or stake at the time in that big city, and his opportunity to work in the Church was minimal. So he set for himself the goal of studying the standard works regularly by himself. He was not a missionary nor a teacher at the time; he simply read the scriptures for what they had to say to him.
And they said a great deal. In them he found faith and also drew great strength of character and a strong desire to teach the gospel to youth. As he read, he marked passages that had special significance to him. For over half a century Frank West kept those same scriptures with their marked passages close at hand. They gave warp and woof and rich meaning to his distinguished life as a Sunday School teacher, college professor, Church Commissioner of Education and as a fine father, husband, and friend of youth.
In 1888 an eighteen-year-old youth left his small town of Taylorsville in the southwest part of the Salt Lake Valley for a mission to New Zealand. Most of his work was among the Maoris, with whom he shared a simple life and primitive living conditions. At one time he was practically confined to a little private hut for six weeks while it rained incessantly. Natives brought boiled potatoes twice daily. He was alone with a coal-oil lamp and his New Testament in Maori.
He read and re-read it and practically memorized this scripture. From then until his death sixty-five years later, Milton Bennion loved the New Testament, made its teachings a very real part of his life, and wrote a book on the Moral Teachings of the New Testament.
The first reason to read the scriptures is to see what they can do for you. Take an unmarked copy of any of the four, read it and let it speak to you. What does it say to you about your life? Your neighbor? The world in which you live? Your Creator? Use a red or green ball point pen and mark the passages you wish to read again soon.
Some passages are food for meditation; others will inspire you with feelings of humility and gratitude; still others will fortify you against temptation, or give you courage to bear up under poverty, illness, or discouragement. Here too is the wisdom of ages kindled by the light of divine revelation. Others will have little meaning at this moment for you, but perhaps will take on significance later.
We live in a very secular age, rich in fine things intellectual and cultural but also caught up in trivia and superficiality. A regular study of the scriptures brings life into balance, keeps us aware of our divine origin, and closer to the Father, His Son, and the Holy Ghost. These need to be and wish to be our constant companions.
A Source of Culture
No one in Western civilization can claim to be educated if he is unacquainted with the Bible. Through its influence on Judaism and Christianity it has left its indelible and deep mark, not only on religion, but also on the literature, the political and social institutions, the laws, the philosophy, and the values of Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, and the isles of the Pacific. No single book has had comparable influence. Read the bible as part of becoming an educated person.
The world is fast shrinking in size due to rapid transportation and varied and effective means of communication. Saints in the Far East and in all of Asia need to know the Bible even as Europeans and Americans in the Western Hemisphere need to know the sacred scriptures of India, China, and the Near East – of Iran and Islam. Mankind is one; the family of God.
The reading of the bible also enhances one’s knowledge of native tongue. Years ago an ambitious college youth wrote an article for publication. He handed it to a friend who was a n English major. The friend read it and wrote at the end – “Read the bible an hour a day and try again.” The article was wordy, abstract, and fuzzy. The critic made his point.
To Qualify for Service
The Latter-day Saint Church is a lay institution. All of us are called upon to serve – to teach, to preach, to be missionaries, to guide our own families. There is no better preparation for service in the Church than the study of the scriptures, particularly if the study is done with an open heart and mind, and we let the scriptures take hold of us and shape our lives. Anyone who has read Amos and understood him cannot be dishonest in business – at least not with a clear conscience. Anyone who has read the book of Alma and believed its teaching cannot doubt that the Lord will forgive him his sins on condition of repentance. Anyone who has read job and understood him will be able to face his own tragedy with the strength of two – his own and Job’s. it is not simply a knowledge of scripture which will prepare us for service in the kingdom; it is feeling, believing, and living the truths of scripture which will qualify us for eternal, celestial life.
How to Study the Scriptures
Everyone will have his own way of studying the scriptures once he decides to do it. The following are suggestions which may help you to create ways of your own:
1. As already hinted, scriptural reading will be effective and constant if it becomes a part of your regular schedule. Try setting aside 15 to 30 minutes a day or several hours per week at the same time for this purpose. Let scriptural reading become a tradition, a part of your life – not something like cramming for the final examination.
2. Many of you belong to a group of young people who associate together. if so, try to have a group date once a month either on a Sunday night or perhaps a Saturday evening in which you report to each other what the books of the Bible or another scripture means to you. Read to understand and evaluate, not to argue and find faults. Friendship – whether among those of the same or between sexes – is built on common interests and shared experiences. It will be very revealing and interesting to share your thinking about ideas in scripture with friends – boy friends and girl friends. You will come to know each other far better than you do mingling mainly in recreational and romantic settings.
3. Try building your own annotated concordance of scripture. Buy a looseleaf notebook of good size. As you read through each scripture and come across a great idea, passage or illustration of a gospel principle such as faith, write the word “Faith” at the top of a page in its alphabetical position. And then on that page write your passage with a brief statement to remind you of what is there, e.g.,
Alma 32 – Great chapter showing how faith grows and describing the fruits of faith. Uses the word “experiment.”
As you read each scripture, you will build up your own ready reference on many vital subjects. Each refe4rence will be yours, chosen because it means something to you. Then through the years, as you teach a class, do missionary work, prepare a talk or discussion, or write an article, you will have your own rich fund of resource material to draw upon. You may wish to include on a separate page other choice illustrations and writings on scriptural subjects gleaned from nonscriptural works,.
Reading Scripture Aloud
4. It is good practice to read scripture aloud. This will help you to read it with more meaning and better articulation when you have occasion to use it in Church service,. Moreover, you will learn to enjoy hearing the scripture, and your impression will be strengthened by hearing as well as seeing the words.
You do not have to be a speech major to read scripture well. You need only to be able to read with sincerity and conviction and with suggestions from friendly critics. Concentrate on the meaning. Stress the important words; read thoughts and hold longer onto the vowels as you read. Work for comprehension and clearness, not for dramatic effect.
Read aloud with members of your family, with friends, or in the Sunday School class, and make suggestions to each other. Be constructive. Name one thing you like about a friend’s reading and then one way in which you feel he can improve. Do this often.
5. Try memorizing passages that you really appreciate. Learn short ones first and say them to yourself as you shave, walk to school or go to work. This practice will be a source of learning, of inspiration, and pleasure to you.
6. Look at larger messages as contrasted with verse-messages. You may wish to write these verse-messages down as your personal summary of a chapter of a book. What did the author’s message mean to you?
Learn the scriptures. Enjoy the scriptures. Use the scriptures to enrich your life.
This year we have studied the scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have learned something about the nature of scripture, the unique features and distinctive content of each of the standard works. Finally, we have considered guides to keep in mind as we read the scriptures so that we can best understand and appreciate them. This year’s study has only been an introduction, an effort to gain perspective, a preview and an overview. The real opportunity to know the scriptures lies ahead; it takes a lifetime; and it enriches a lifetime.
The scriptures are a unique group of books, meaty in content, interesting and varied in style, often eloquent and moving in language, religious in emphasis and purpose, revealing of human nature and life and, most of all, the finest written source of the word of God to man. May they become your very own as well as his.