Lord, How Is It Done?

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The Book of Mormon is a collection of writings and commentary by an ancient American prophet named Mormon, who lived around the year 400 AD. It tells histories and teachings of a few different groups of people who were independently guided from the Middle East to the Americas. The main group lived near Jerusalem during the time of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah preached against the sins of God’s covenant people. He taught it was not enough to be covenant people, salvation only comes through following the commandments of the Lord. Who we are is not as important as what we do and who we become.

The people in Jerusalem rejected Jeremiah’s teachings and continued to sin. Sinning against greater light brings greater condemnation. The Israelites in the time of Jeremiah rejected the Lord in the same way most people rejected the Lord and the teachings of Noah before the flood. Instead of receiving safety from an ark of covenant, the Israelites in Jeremiah’s day were swept away by a flood from the east. A flood came to Jerusalem and the house of Israel in the form of the Babylonians. Babylon was a major kingdom within ancient Mesopotamia. It was in what is currently Iraq. Many Israelites were taken captives of the Babylonians and carried away from their homes. Many never returned home to their promised land.

One family who lived near Jerusalem just a decade or so before the destruction of Jerusalem was the family of Lehi. Lehi had a remarkable vision where he saw God and was called as a prophet.

Lehi’s son Nephi wrote of the experience: “[Lehi] saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.” (1 Nephi 1:8-12)

Lehi saw God. He saw Jesus Christ and His first twelve apostles. Then Lehi read words out of the book of God. The Spirit of God filled Lehi when he read. As we read the words of God we too are filled with the Spirit.

Lehi also saw Jerusalem would be destroyed in not many years. After the vision, Lehi preached to the people, warning them of impending danger. He was faithful to his calling. Lehi prophesied of the future coming of the Messiah and of the necessity of repentance. Lehi did what prophets since the time of Adam have done – he testified of Jesus Christ. Many of these prophecies of the Messiah are lost or obscured in the Bible but the Book of Mormon teaches them with great clarity. Lehi pleaded with those around him to repent and be saved. Those in Jerusalem did not believe him; they laughed at him and some tried to kill him.

Nephi wrote of this: “And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world. And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” (1 Nephi 1:19-20).

Lehi testified of the coming of the Messiah – the Anointed One who would redeem Israel and the world. This Messiah would shortly deliver Lehi and his family from destruction through His tender mercies. Jesus Christ watches over us, offering His tender mercies to each of us. He delivers us from destruction as we exercise faith in Him and sometimes even when we don’t.

To save Lehi’s life and for other grand purposes, the Lord sent another vision to Lehi. In that vision the Lord told Lehi to leave his home and depart into the wilderness. Lehi and his family promptly left their home, land, gold, silver, and other precious possessions. The Lord asked them to sacrifice all they had — they did. The Lord offered to save them but in return they had to give up everything. In a faithful and difficult act of consecration, Lehi and his family left the comforts of home as refugees, fleeing for their lives. Thousands of years later, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would flee Illinois as refugees. They were led out into the wilderness, the high deserts of Utah. The Mormon pioneers, like Lehi, followed the Lord in faith.

At first Lehi and his family did not travel far (that was again mirrored by the initial Mormon pioneers, who wintered not too far from Illinois in what is now a suburb of Omaha, Nebraska — a place we call Winter Quarters). The reason Lehi did not travel far soon became apparent. The Lord asked his family to return to Jerusalem and obtain a copy of the scriptures. These scriptures also contained Lehi’s family history. Laban was the keeper of this copy of the scriptures. Lehi’s sons went to obtain the plates from Laban. They were eventually successful because the youngest son – Nephi – boldly declared his faith and trust in God: “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7).

Getting the scriptures from Laban was not easy. Lehi’s sons had their gold and silver stolen by Laban when they tried to buy the scriptures from him. Laban sent servants to kill the boys but they escaped. It was then Nephi demonstrated his remarkable faith in God when he went back to try again. Would you have been persistent like Nephi and go back into the lion’s den, as it were? The third time was a success for Nephi because of his faith in God and faithfulness in doing the hard things asked of him.

The boys returned successful to their parents in the wilderness. They sacrificed much to obtain a copy of the scriptures and their family history. How much effort do we put in obtaining and reading the scriptures? Do we give our all like Nephi or do we casually read a verse or two when we remember? Do we similarly work hard to obtain our family history? We have a gospel responsibility to seek out our deceased ancestors and perform sacred ordinances for them in sacred places. How many of us are fulfilling this responsibility?

The Lord knew Lehi and his descendants needed both the scriptures and their family history. Those items and teachings provided a way to bind them together culturally, religiously, linguistically, and spiritually. The scriptures obtained from Laban would serve them in the way scriptures serve us today; they strengthen, provide counsel, provide insight into God’s plan for His children, and they teach us how to be better people. The scriptures teach of Jesus Christ.

After one more trip into Jerusalem to convince a family to join them in escape from impending destruction — this family conveniently had a number of unmarried daughters — Lehi and his tribe traveled south and then east across the Arabian peninsula, a trip that took them years. This band of refugees then set up camp in a beautiful oasis near the Indian Ocean. This was not their promised land. That would come after more hard work and faith.

The Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship, something he had never done before. Again he was faithful and fulfilled the commandments of God, building a remarkable ship not patterned after other ships of the day. THe Lord gave Nephi revelation about how to build it. We similarly can receive revelation concerning our jobs, our callings, and our responsibilities. The Lord can show us new ways to do new things, particularly when our efforts align with His eternal purpose. God’s purpose — God’s work — is to bring to pass the eternal life of His children (see Moses 1:39). He provides the means necessary to accomplish His plan.

During this time on the beach while starting to build the ship Nephi taught his brothers of the power of God. He reminded them of Moses, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. He chastised his brothers Laman and Lemuel for being slow to repent: “Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God…. he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.” (1 Nephi 17:45). Nephi also testified of his great faith in God: “If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them.” (1 Nephi 17:50). What great faith! Is our faith as strong as Nephi’s? If the Lord commanded us to do all things, could we do them? If our faith isn’t that strong, that gives us something to work towards. We can be perfect, eventually.

Lehi and his family prepared and then got on the ship to sail the thousands of miles to the promised land. Through faith in God they made it to the Americas where they built new homes. Nephi and those of his family who would go left his older brothers Laman and Lemuel. Once again Nephi fled as a refugee, this time to escape his oldest brothers who had murderous intent.

This was the start of the Nephite people. Nephi acted as ruler and prophet. He and his people built a temple. Nephi’s younger brother Jacob became a powerful teacher. Together they taught their people the Law of Moses and the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ. They taught of the necessity of baptism and repentance. They taught their people they must “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now…this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 31:20-21).

Nephi clearly taught salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. This is something prophets in our day also boldly declare. As we press forward in faith, diligently studying the scriptures and the words of living prophets, and endure in keeping the commandments to the end of our lives, we can be saved through the grace of Christ. I also add my witness that it is only through the Savior Jesus Christ we can be saved.

Nephi eventually became old and transferred the duty of keeper of the records and scriptures to his brother Jacob. Then Nephi died. Jacob became old and turned the record keeping to his son Enos. Then Jacob died.

Enos shared a powerful experience with prayer and repentance he had as he pondered the teachings of his father.

Enos wrote: “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins. And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.” (Enos 1:2,4).

After his much praying and supplications Enos heard a voice say, “Thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” (Enos 1:5).

Enos was a man of faith. He testified he knew God could not lie so his guilt was swept away. Then Enos asked one of the most important questions in the scriptures: “Lord, how is it done?” (Enos 1:7).

How were Enos’s sins forgiven? They were forgiven by his faith in Jesus Christ. They were forgiven through the Atonement of Christ.

When we repent, how are our sins forgiven? In same way they were for Enos — through faith in Jesus Christ and through His atonement. When we repent, do we trust God and believe our sins are forgiven? When we repent do we forgive ourselves? How does forgiveness happen this? Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

A prophet who lived hundreds of years after Nephi, Jacob, and Enos testified of the power of Jesus Christ. Benjamin taught his people of the many miracles Jesus Christ would perform. For each one we might ask as did Enos: “Lord, how is it done?” Benjamin said:

“The time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases. And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.” (Mosiah 3:5-6).

Next King Benjamin taught how Jesus would accomplish the many miracles.

“And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people. And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary. And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him. And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.” (Mosiah 3:7-10).

How did Jesus cast out devils? How did He heal the sick, bless the weary, and raise the dead? How did He rise from the dead? He did all those things through His faith and through His divine power. He did them because He is the Son of God. He is divine. Although we are not holy as Christ is holy, we too can perform miracles through faith in Christ and through the Spirit of God.

Benjamin also taught another miracle that comes through Christ: “Even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.” (Mosiah 3:16).

This verse contains important doctrines. We learn little children cannot sin but they too need salvation. We learn little children are saved through the atonement of Christ. Another important doctrine is tied to the salvation of little children. Jesus Christ’s Atonement overcomes the effects of Adam’s fall. It was because of this clarification in the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith wrote: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” (AofF 1:2). How is it done? Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ; through the great mercy of God.

It is because of Christ’s wonderful Atonement we can overcome sin and death. It offers hope to the hurt and solace to the sorrowful.

Seven years ago my sister’s family experienced a shocking loss when their daughter Allison, my 11 year old niece, was hit and killed by a car as she rode her bike. At the time I wrote: “Yesterday as the lights [went] out here on the East Coast, in the West, a different light dimmed and then disappeared. In a moment worlds changed and hearts broke. Bicycle and automobile danced a tragic ballet, extinguishing the light of one so small. As this light faded from earth, leaving a hole in the hearts and darkness in the lives of loved ones, a brighter light grew and radiated with an unfiltered luminosity in an eternal world. The sorrows and tears of earthly separations were balanced by the tears of joy from reunions with other pure lights. [Her] death…brought a dearth of joy to all who mourn [her] passing but [Allison’s] life brought love and joy to those around [her].”

My sister, brother in law, and their family at the time had to start putting the pieces of their shattered lives back together. They started by spending time in prayer and in the temple.

The loss of a child under such circumstances is devastating. It is a hellish darkness of separation – poignant and painful; a pain one might expect would never end. But with the inexorable march of time comes a deadening of the pain. The storm passes, the numbness fades, but still gray skies remain. There is room for laughter and joy but at times the grief can be overwhelming. So would go life, the only solace in the numbness of time, without knowledge of God’s plan for His children. However, there is more solace available; it comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and the knowledge and power of eternal families. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds and burning away the dreary mists of life.

Jesus is like a song in the night. He is a pillar of fire. He restores breaches in our hearts and families. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas. The Lord blesses us with His tender mercies – friends, family, and other loved ones who provide meals and support. There are the mercies of the promptings and love provided by the Comforter – the Holy Ghost. Most importantly, we are blessed to know that because of the sealing power of the Priesthood, Allison can be forever part of her family. All who lose family members to death have a promise of eternal reunion when families are sealed together in the temple. That knowledge is almost unbelievably comforting. At a time when we think we might be completely devastated, we feel some measure of peace even though peace seems so out of place.

Again, we ask with Enos, “Lord, how is it done?” How are these hurts and pains and great sorrows healed? How do we have hope after such loss? It is only in and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify of His eternal love. Through Him we can overcome sin and will overcome death. Through Jesus Christ we can return to our Eternal Father in Heaven as we consistently and persistently do what is right.

Cultivated Forests

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Charles C. Mann wrote an article called 1491 for The Atlantic in 2002. He followed that article with a book, titled 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. A summary of the book is as follows: “Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.”

The book is a terrific read that I highly recommend. If you want a taste of it, first read the linked article in The Atlantic.

Now what does this have to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Not much directly. First, evidence continues to build of a highly populated North and South America with many sophisticated societies. The peoples actively managed the environment – regularly burning large areas of land, planting trees, and improving the soil. The view of Native American peoples living in small groups ‘harmonious’ with nature around them is outdated.

“In a widely cited article from 1989, William Balée, the Tulane anthropologist, cautiously estimated that about 12 percent of the nonflooded Amazon forest was of anthropogenic origin—directly or indirectly created by human beings. In some circles this is now seen as a conservative position. ‘I basically think it’s all human-created,’ Clement told me in Brazil. He argues that Indians changed the assortment and density of species throughout the region. So does Clark Erickson, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist, who told me in Bolivia that the lowland tropical forests of South America are among the finest works of art on the planet. ‘Some of my colleagues would say that’s pretty radical,’ he said, smiling mischievously. According to Peter Stahl, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, ‘lots’ of botanists believe that ‘what the eco-imagery would like to picture as a pristine, untouched Urwelt [primeval world] in fact has been managed by people for millennia.’ The phrase ‘built environment,’ Erickson says, ‘applies to most, if not all, Neotropical landscapes.'” (Mann, 1491, The Atlantic).

How does this fit with the Book of Mormon?

5 Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.

6 And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate.

7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.

8 And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east [possibly within a small region of modern day southern Mexico/northern Guatemala].

9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.

10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.

11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement. (Helaman 3:5-11)

So we have American inhabitants destroying large swaths of forest, cultivating new forests, building cities, and so forth. Now back to the article by Charles Mann:

Indians often worked on such a grand scale that the scope of their ambition can be hard to grasp. They created small plots, as Europeans did (about 1.5 million acres of terraces still exist in the Peruvian Andes), but they also reshaped entire landscapes to suit their purposes. A principal tool was fire, used to keep down underbrush and create the open, grassy conditions favorable for game. Rather than domesticating animals for meat, Indians retooled whole ecosystems to grow bumper crops of elk, deer, and bison. (Mann, 1491; emphasis added).

None of this proves the ancient historicity of the Book of Mormon, nor should belief in the Book of Mormon be tied to science. The truth of the Book of Mormon is independent from outside scientific evidence; truth is established by God and manifest by the Holy Ghost. That being said, articles and books like these written by Charles Mann are interesting.

Five Chapters Per Day

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Just over a month ago I thought that I needed to start reading more of the Book of Mormon each day. Reading quickly (or in my case, listening and reading) isn’t studying the scriptures but I believe there is a benefit to such immersion. Going through quickly can lead to insights about major themes and characters that are not as obvious when going through as a slower pace.

As a full-time missionary I read the Book of Mormon 11.5 times (because of transfers timings I served for 23 months). I also read the other books of scripture and a number of gospel-related books and articles. Depending on what mission a missionary is in (i.e., learning a new language or what a particular expected schedule is), there is a minimum of one hour to study and read. I typically averaged 2-3 hours per day. This is shared only as an example of how much time full-time missionaries have to read and study the scriptures. Currently, I don’t have as much time available to read and study but I knew I could spend more time than I was spending.

So over a month ago I decided to get through five chapters of the Book of Mormon per day. Why five? It was arbitrary. It worked out, however, to be a good number of chapters to listen to during my commutes to work each weekday. I can get through five chapters listening at 1.5 speed within the span on my commute (sometimes including time while walking from the parking lot to my office). When there are shorter chapters (such as the first chapters of Moroni) I listen to or read more but I always try to get through at least five chapters (there were a couple days when I read fewer than five chapters but I made sure I caught up to the 15 chapters by the end of the third day).

How long does it take to read or listen to five chapters in the scriptures per day? Since I typically listen to the chapters at 1.5 speed, I usually get through five chapters in 20-35 minutes. At a slower pace five chapters would take 30-53 minutes of time per day (these are rough estimates based on my  recent experience with the Book of Mormon).

The Book of Mormon has 239 chapters. At five chapters per day, it take 48 days to finish the book (47.8 days to be precise). At this rate, one can go through the Book of Mormon seven times completely and be 63% through it for the 8th time.

What if someone wanted to read through all the LDS Standard Works? Based on the current English versions of the texts that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use, there are 929 chapters in the Old Testament, 260 chapters in the New Testament, 239 chapters in the Book of Mormon, 140 ‘chapters’ in the Doctrine and Covenants (including the two official declarations), and 19 chapters in the Pearl of Great Price. This is a total of 1587 chapters. At 5 chapters per day, one will finish the entire standard works in 318 (317.4) days.

Additionally, there have been an average of 36.75 talks given per General Conference over the past four General Conferences. We’ll round that up to 74 Conference talks per year (this includes the General Women’s Session and the General Priesthood Session). Reading or listening to two General Conference talks per day would allow someone to finish the standard works and all conference talks in just under one year.

The problem with reading and listening at this rate is that it does not count as in-depth study so other time could be spent reading topically or more slowly. I’ll certainly modify my reading pattern over time but five chapters of the Book of Mormon per day has been a wonderful experience.

Nurturing the Seed of Faith and Testimony

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To testify is to declare a belief about, of, or in something. Testifying is the declaration of a fact or a truth – stating something that you know is true. The word testimony is a noun, which means that testimonies can be acted upon; someone possesses a testimony and can share it. The word testimony comes from the Latin word meaning witness. It is also related to the Latin words for three and stand, implying that a witness stands as another – particularly a third – witness.We are taught in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Doctrine & Covenants that the Lord’s pattern is for multiple witnesses to establish truth. Incidentally, testament is the same word as testimony; a testament is also a covenant. So we have an Old Covenant, a New Covenant, and a latter-day Doctrine and Covenants with, of course, the Book of Mormon standing as a special testament of Jesus Christ (and a special covenant between God and the remnants of the people of Lehi). All books of scripture serve to co-establish the truths contained within each other book; this includes God’s word, which shall be established by multiple witnesses (two or three; see Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; D&C 6:28). We have multiple witnesses at church. Bro. [Smith] and I are visiting by assignment from the stake presidency to teach truths; the Holy Ghost also bears witness of the truths we share and the testimonies we bear. We are establishing truth through three witnesses. Even members of the Godhead, though united in testimony, purpose, and glory, serve as multiple witnesses. When Jesus Christ was baptized, His Father bore witness to John the Baptist saying, “This is my beloved Son.” The Holy Ghost also descended like a dove as a sign to John of the divinity of Jesus Christ. God’s pattern for testifying of His truths is well-established.

When Alma and Amulek preached in the land of Ammonihah, the people were amazed that two missionaries bore testimony: “And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them” (Alma 10:12). This is one reason our missionaries go out two by two – there are multiple people to bear witness, to share their testimony of the truths of the gospel.

We gain knowledge about testimonies and how we gain one by listening to the Lord’s apostles. In the October 2001 General Conference Elder Richard G. Scott gave this powerful teaching about testimony: “A strong testimony is the sustaining power of a successful life. It is centered in an understanding of the divine attributes of God our Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. It is secured by a willing reliance upon Them. A powerful testimony is grounded in the personal assurance that the Holy Ghost can guide and inspire our daily acts for good. A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act, or of a warning of pending danger. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that make it difficult to speak and bring tears to the eyes. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Scott; emphasis added).

Let me repeat: “[A testimony] is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions.” A testimony is based on the goodness of our lives, of our characters, and our actions. Our testimonies are strengthened as we live in accordance to the principles and ordinances of the gospel. That is the only way to gain a testimony! Live the gospel principles that you want to gain a testimony of. If you want to have a testimony of tithing, pay it! If you want to have a testimony of Jesus Christ, follow Him! If you want to have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, read it and pray about it! We are taught in Alma 32 to “experiment upon the word.” As we test what God has told us, we can know of its truth.

“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27; emphasis added).

With these words, the prophet Alma taught the poor and outcast how they could develop faith. These humble people were struggling with their faith so Alma taught them how to increase it. My words are particularly directed at those who do not have a testimony or those who feel like they have a weak testimony. I pray that all may benefit.

The word experiment is only found in the scriptures five times. One of those is in the New Testament (see 2 Cor. 9:13). The other four uses of the word experiment are all found when Alma and Amulek taught the Zoramites. Alma developed an analogy of faith as a seed, encouraging those who listened to plant the seed of faith in their hearts then nurture it and watching it grow.

My wife Kristi and I recently taught this principle to our children. We talked about the seed of faith and how by nurturing it, it will grow. Then we planted actual seeds and, as we cared for them, watched them sprout and grow tall. We are still nurturing the plants as we wait for them to bear fruit. We build faith and testimonies the same way – it takes work and time. Alma taught the humble Zoramites to experiment upon the word of God, almost like performing a science experiment. I am a brain scientist by profession and so I spend much of my time doing science.

A foundation of modern science is to seek to discover facts that we hope lead to truth. Scientists study facts, which may or may not be true, by studying what can be observed or indirectly measured. I’m interested in understanding what will happen to the brain as someone gets older or what happens to a person’s brain after a major surgery. My goal as a scientist is to discover things through observation or experimentation that I hope are true and that will help people. While it is not possible to look at a person’s brain directly, I can give tests that measure how well it works. I can also use a machine to take pictures or movies of it.

In some ways, Alma’s faith experiment is similar to a science experiment. For one, Alma tells the people to look for evidence of the growth of faith – sometimes this evidence is not what we expect or is not immediately clear, “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow” (Alma 32:28-30).

Alma told people to not cast the seed of faith out and not resist the Spirit of the Lord; if they accepted the seed, they would feel and understand the seed. They would be enlightened and filled. The seed, with nourishment, would grow into a tree producing fruit of light and purity, fruit which never spoils and is without end. In a scientific experiment, the scientist usually makes a prediction and then tries to show that it is wrong. That’s how many doctors diagnose illnesses – they believe the symptoms might be one thing but they have to rule out other causes. A faith experiment is not quite like this.

In a faith experiment we plant a seed, nourish it, and care for it; we don’t try to kill the seed of faith and then, if it survives, call it a good seed – that’s science. We don’t try to explain away feelings and faith as wishful thinking. We do all we can to try to show that the seed is good – because it is. There are many witnesses of the truth of God. The key is to believe and come to a knowledge for ourselves. We do not need to prove that God exists or that the gospel is true – He does and it is; the gospel is not on trial, we are! We should not fight faith, we nurture it. Neither should we sow the seed of doubt in our own minds or those of others.

Elder Holland said, “In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited…. When…moments [of trial and doubt] come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. It was of [the] very incident, [the] miracle [of healing the mind of a boy], that Jesus said, ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.’ The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.” (April 2013 General Conference)

Or, as Pres. Uchtdorf said, “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” (October 2013 General Conference).

To those of you who are struggling in your testimonies – embrace what you have and help it grow by living the doctrines in the scriptures and taught by God’s living prophets.

I want to talk more about faith. The word faith is often used as a synonym for trust or belief. We’ll say “You just have to have faith.” That use is the main definition of faith as found in the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines faith as “Belief, trust, or confidence.” That understanding of faith, as helpful as it is, falls short of the real power of faith. The apostle Paul wrote of faith: “Now faith is the substance [or assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [or proof] of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

There are things that we cannot see but that do exist. There are truths that are self-evident and self-existent that are not and cannot be observed by us now – the scriptures and prophets teach us this. There are things that are real that we hope for but cannot see or hear or experience until some point in the future. As Alma stated: “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.” (Alma 32:21)

A part of faith is hope or belief but faith is much more than that. Thomas Hobbes explained faith in his work Leviathan: “But what (may some object) if a King, or a Senate, or other Soveraign Person forbid us to beleeve in Christ? To this I answer, that such forbidding is of no effect, because Beleef, and Unbeleef never follow mens Commands. Faith is a gift of God, which Man can neither give, nor take away by promise of rewards, or menaces of torture.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, iii. xlii. 271; spelling and punctuation not modernized). “Faith is a gift of God.” It’s not a gift we give to God – the gift we give God is integrity to the faith we have received. We believe in Him even though we don’t see Him. We believe, hope, and trust our Eternal Father. Faith transcends belief. Faith is a gift from God.

As Paul wrote, faith is an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. That means faith is given to us as proof that our beliefs in God are good and true. Belief and good works lead to faith. Referring back to Alma’s analogy of the seed – we have desires to believe and then we plant the seed of faith. We do not create this seed, it is a gift from God. That seed must be planted and then not cast out by unbelief. To help the seed to grow we have to believe and trust and follow the Lord’s commands. As we do this, we are blessed with further evidence – with more faith – as we see the seed grow, sprout, and produce good fruit.

It is important to recognize that faith is the evidence or proof of God’s love that we desire; it is a great and wonderful power. Many times we feel like we are acting “just with faith” until we receive proof – some big spiritual manifestation that will remove the need for faith. But faith is exactly the proof we are looking for. How many times do we believe, trust, hope, and experiment upon the word but overlook our growing faith as evidence of God’s love because we’re so busy looking for something bigger – an angel or a clear sign from heaven? So often we seek for signs without realizing that faith is the answer to our prayers and the reward of our righteousness. Faith is a glorious gift from God. As Moroni wrote on spiritual gifts: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord.

I want to share an experience when my testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith was strengthened and my faith grew. I’ll quote from my missionary journal: “Tonight we taught Sarah [name changed] the 1st discussion at the stake center. She bought us pizza! What an amazing discussion! Elders VanBebber, Malie, and I taught it. Sarah is amazing. Today Elder Malie and I reviewed the 1st [discussion] for companionship study and how we can apply it to Sarah. While doing that I decided to use the Joseph Smith pamphlet and read the Joseph Smith history in the discussion, something we do not always do. [Sarah] used to go to [the LDS] church [with friends] when she was 8 or so. She even wanted to be baptized but [when she] told [her mom, Sarah was not allowed to] go to that family’s house any more. What a change [Sarah’s mom] has gone through [we taught and baptized her mom previous to this experience]! I got to teach the Joseph Smith principle. While I paused after the First Vision story, the Spirit hit me hard and I started to cry. That is the first time that has happened to me – getting emotional like that in a discussion. As I testified of Joseph Smith I thought, ‘Now I can really…say that I know Joseph Smith is a prophet.’ I have always [believed] but now [my knowledge is sure]! This feeling I received, I shall never forget nor deny.”

I have not forgotten that feeling more than a decade later. That was one of the singularly important moments in my life. I have always believed Joseph Smith was a prophet. That’s not something I have ever doubted. My testimony of his calling as a prophet was based on years of going to church, reading the scriptures, praying, and learning about him. I saw and partook of the fruits the Lord restored through him to the earth. However, before that time I had not had a powerful experience like the one I had that evening as a missionary. That does not mean I did not have a testimony before – I did – but it was strengthened by that experience. How did I gain this witness? What I did not write at the time was how I had been reading my scriptures and praying with a sincere earnestness that I would receive a witness of the gospel. The Spirit I received while teaching Sarah did not come out of the blue, although that can happen; testimonies are most often gained through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the gospel. The Spirit I received while teaching Sarah did not come out of the blue, although that can happen; testimonies are most often gained through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the truths of the gospel. A strong testimony can take years of effort or it might come quickly but for those who seek it, it will come. Even if it takes a long time, God blesses us richly along the path to testimony.

For any who want to receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel, Elder Scott, one of the Lord’s apostles, offers His counsel: “Try reading the Book of Mormon because you want to, not because you have to. Discover for yourself that it is true. As you read each page ask, ‘Could any man have written this book or did it come as Joseph Smith testified?’ Apply the teachings you learn. They will fortify you against the evil of Satan. Follow Moroni’s counsel. Sincerely ask God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, with real intent, if the teachings of the Book of Mormon are true (see Moro. 10:3–5). Ask with a desire to receive a confirmation personally, nothing doubting. There has to be an explanation of that book you can hold in your hand. I know that you can receive a spiritual confirmation that it is true. You will then know that Jesus Christ lives, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church. You will confirm that the Savior guides His Church through a living prophet. These truths will become a foundation for your productive life.” (Elder Scott, Ensign, November 2003).

Most importantly, a testimony helps you draw near to Jesus Christ and partake more fully of His grace.

One final example of how to gain or strengthen a testimony is in the Book of Mormon. We read in Alma 17 of an encounter between Alma the younger and his friends, the sons of King Mosiah. They had not seen each other for years. “Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” (Alma 17:2-3). The sons of Mosiah demonstrated the foundation for developing great faith and a strong testimony – search the scriptures diligently to learn the word of God and spend much time in prayer and fasting. By doing those things, our testimonies will grow. But as Brigham Young said, “More testimonies are gained on the feet than on the knees.” It’s important to live what we read and pray.

I add my testimony to that of the prophets that all can receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel. We can all know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is God’s word. We can know that Jesus is Divine, the Only Begotten Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. We can know that God has a plan for each of us and that plan is to return to live with Him again and to someday see Him as He really is. I have not had an angel appear to me like the sons of Mosiah and Alma the younger but I have had something better; I have had the Holy Ghost – a member of the Godhead – witness unto me the truth of the Scriptures and the truth of the restored gospel. This is a miraculous witness that is no less miraculous than the visible ministering of angels.

Must-read: Joseph the Seer

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just published an article (will appear in the October 2015 Ensign) on Joseph Smith, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the role of seers and seer stones: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/10/joseph-the-seer?lang=eng

I believe that this article is a must-read for members of the church or for those interested in Mormon history. I’m grateful for the continued work the church does into releasing copies of primary historical sources, doing so according to high historical standards for preservation and research. While none of the information in the above article is new, having current scholarship presented in a straightforward and concise manner is helpful.

Also of note in the article is a photograph of one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones (not the ones included with the gold plates), which the church has in its possession. It’s a rock and has no power beyond the power and inspiration given to the seer using it.

Watching the Dogs of King Lamoni

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A couple years ago the ever insightful Jeff Lindsay wondered whether or not Ammon offered to watch over the flocks of King Lamoni’s turkeys. Many church members read the story and assume sheep or goats but there really isn’t evidence of domesticated sheep and goats in the Americas during Book of Mormon times (about 600 BC to 400 AD not counting the Jaredites). Granted, the Book of Mormon is about relatively small groups of individuals in a limited geographic location, so it is possible that groups of Book of Mormon peoples used animals that were domesticated or semi-domesticated but that were not widely used elsewhere.

[Side note: The first people arrived in Mesoamerica at least as early as 8000 B.C. (Warinner, Garcia, & Tuross, (2013)) with domestication of plants and animals occurring shortly after. Thus, the Book of Mormon people came into a land with a settled, albeit sparse, population. There were maybe 10 million people in all of the Americas at that time so population density wasn’t high. The Book of Mormon civilizations would have had some interactions with other peoples but such interactions would have been limited until the Nephite and Mulekite populations grew substantially. Therefore, domestication of crops and animals could have occurred somewhat independently from other groups.]

Now to Ammon and the flocks of the king: “And after he had been in the service of the king three days, as he was with the Lamanitish servants going forth with their flocks to the place of water, which was called the water of Sebus, and all the Lamanites drive their flocks hither, that they may have water—Therefore, as Ammon and the servants of the king were driving forth their flocks to this place of water, behold, a certain number of the Lamanites, who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the flocks of Ammon and the servants of the king, and they scattered them insomuch that they fled many ways.” (Alma 17:26-27).

We read “flock” and assume sheep or something similar but that’s most likely a faulty assumption. If you accept Jeff Lindsay’s hypothesis about turkeys the word “flock” works as reference for a group of turkeys. However, are there other possibilities? Before I address that, we need to briefly cover language in the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon was written in “reformed Egyptian” (meaning that Mormon and Moroni wrote it in some derivative of an Egyptian language that had likely changed considerably over the 1000 year history of the Book of Mormon) but possibly using phrasing and grammar derived from Hebrew/Aramaic. Mormon’s source material for the Book of Mormon was possibly written in multiple languages; thus, when Mormon compiled and edited all the records (scriptures and histories) into one volume he was possibly doing some translating as well. Then Joseph Smith translated it (“translated” meaning direct revelation from God of the translation of the written words rather than translation like we typically think of) to simple 19th century English using early 17th century formal English (King James era) stylings and phrasing. What this means is that there are instances of imprecise words and awkward grammar. It also means that words used in English (and subsequent translations into other languages) are sometimes approximations for what was really meant.

To quote at length from Jeff Lindsay’s writings on this topic:

We must not be rash in assuming that all translated names of plants and animals or other physical objects describe the same things we think of today in 20th century America. Names in many languages are ambiguous and difficult to translate with certainty. For example, the Hebrew word for horse, “sus,” has a root meaning of “to leap” and can refer to other animals as well – including the swallow. Hebrew “teo” typically means “wild ox” but has also been applied to a type of gazelle. The general Hebrew word for ox is “aluph,” which has a root meaning of “tame” or “gentle” that could be applied to describe a human friend as well (J. L. Sorenson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, p. 345) – could it also describe a tapir? One Hebrew word for sheep, “zemer,” has been translated as “mountain sheep” and “rock-goat” in different Bible versions, while Sorenson notes that one Jewish scholar says it means antelope.

The difficulties of assigning and translating animal names are illustrated by the example of the Spaniards in dealing with American animals. Bishop Landa called a Yucatan deer a “kind of little wild goat” (Sorenson, Ensign, Oct. 1984, p. 19). Likewise, bisons were called “cows,” turkeys were called “peacocks,” antelope were described in terms of sheep, and the tapir was described in one source as “a species of buffalo of the size and somewhat looking like an ass” (Sorenson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, p. 346; also see the extensive documentation in Chapter 7 of An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon). The Spaniards called the prickly pear a “fig” and used “plum” (ciruelo) to name a native non-plum species, while some Spaniards used “wheat” (trigo) to name American maize (ibid., p. 338-339). The Nephites and Jaredites might have made similar name assignments to species they encountered in the New World. We should not expect the religious record they kept to be a manual on natural science, and we should not insist that their terminology reflect our modern views – especially if the Europeans could do no better. If Nephites called a tapir an ox, we should not abandon the Book of Mormon when Joseph Smith follows their convention in his translation. And if they called it by a completely new name, how should it be translated?

Please recall that the translation process behind the Book of Mormon was not pure magic in which the thoughts of the original writer were expressed in sublime, flawless English with no effort on the part of the translator. Had that been the case, we could have bypassed all the hassle with preparing, preserving, and translating the engraved golden plates. But God requires humans to do all within their power for His work, and only then makes up the difference when necessary, typically applying miraculous aid rather conservatively. Indeed, considerable effort was required of Joseph Smith and the translation was a genuine translation of what had been written rather than what someone had thought. Joseph had been given a divine tool and gift to allow him to translate, but the human factor was not eliminated. If Mormon wrote a word for “swine” to describe something that we might call a peccary or tapir today, then I believe the translation would give us the word “swine”, especially if Joseph had no word in his vocabulary for peccary or tapir. The results were expressed in the language and vernacular of the translator, based on whatever the original author had written – blemishes and all. Now if it were essential for our salvation that we read about peccaries rather than swine, I suppose that God would have instructed Joseph in the matter and corrected the translation appropriately. But we are dealing with a translation, not direct English quotes from God.

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, please visit the aforementioned essay about plants and animals in the Book of Mormon by Jeff Lindsay.

Now back to the flocks of Lamoni. It is likely that early people who migrated from Asia to the Americas brought dogs with them (van Asch et al., 2013). While I admit turkeys or some other animal are possibilities, given the evidence of dogs raised for meat consumption in Mesoamerica (assuming that’s roughly the area in which the Book of Mormon took place) in the period spanning from at least 1000 BC to at least 250 AD (Clutton-Brock, & Hammond (1994); White et al. (2001); van Asch et al. (2013)) it is also a possibility that dogs were the “flocks” that Ammon protected. We can’t get hung up on “flocks” being used to describe the group of animals (rather than “packs”) given what I wrote previously about translation and word choices. “Pack” is never used in the scriptures. “Flock” or “flocks” are used many times. The Book of Mormon wasn’t really the place (assuming Mormon would have used different words for different groups of animals) to differentiate between flocks, gaggles, packs, prides, murders, herds, and so forth.

In Enos we read: “And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses.” (Enos 1:21). “Flocks” in this instance referred broadly to different groups of animals raised primarily for food or food-related activities. “Cattle” (refer to Jeff Lindsay’s essay) is a broad term just like flock. “Goats” is more specific but still could refer to a number of animals and is probably not what we think of as a goat. “Wild goats” clearly are something other than “goats” but were also kept for some purpose; they also are probably not what we think of when we read “wild goats“. “Horses” has been thoroughly addressed by Jeff Lindsay.

What about other possibilities? It is a possibility but a remote one that Lehi and his family brought sheep and goats with them when they crossed the ocean and then continued to raise them for a period of time. If they did this it’s certainly possible that the flocks did not survive for the entire span of the Book of Mormon. Any animals brought over could have had difficulty adjusting to the climate. They also could have had too much genetic homogeneity and then died out or been wiped out by disease. This is a lot of suppositions but there’s just so much that we don’t know. Just because there is no evidence of domesticated goats (again, is a Book of Mormon goat really a goat?) in Mesoamerica doesn’t mean that animals that were at one point domesticated or at least tamed enough to use for periods of time were domesticated widely. Llamas and alpacas were domesticated in the Andes but didn’t make it to Mesoamerica. A group like the Nephites could have had domesticated animals that other groups didn’t use or end up using for extended periods of time. Remember, this is a group of individuals who migrated directly from the middle east to the Americas (well, via a long journey across the Arabian peninsula). They would have brought skills with them that those in the Americas might not have had. This includes domestication of certain animals. They might have tried to domesticate local animals with success or marginal success (e.g., Egyptian pharaohs trying to domesticate cheetahs; they weren’t domesticated but many were tamed) but then had those advances die out over time due to disease, loss of competence, or difficulty in maintaining the domestication over time. There are instances when groups of people reverted to not using certain domesticated plants or animals (refer to Diamond, J. M. (1998)). It’s thus certainly possible that these flocks were groups of tamed animals. This means Lamoni’s flocks could have been a range of animals. It also means that the flocks weren’t necessarily just one type of animal. Maybe dogs and turkeys, although that’s a bit like the old river crossing puzzle.

I like the idea of Ammon watching over flocks of dogs (dogs tend to be social creatures and would “flock”) in part because it is known that Mesoamericans successfully raised dogs for consumption (although it’s not specified that these flocks were for consumption). Dogs and turkeys are both possibilities for the flocks of Lamoni.

In closing, we know dogs were referenced in the Book of Mormon and not just completely in the abstract (e.g., 3 Ne. 7:8). One scripture might just represent a bit of poetic justice: “And behold, instead of gathering you, except ye will repent, behold, he shall scatter you forth that ye shall become meat for dogs and wild beasts” (Helaman 7:19). The wicked who might have consumed dogs for meat would in turn be consumed as meat by dogs.

References

Clutton-Brock, J., & Hammond, N. (1994). Hot dogs: comestible canids in Preclassic Maya culture at Cuello, Belize. Journal of Archaeological Science21(6), 819-826.

Diamond, J. M. (1998). Guns, germs and steel: a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years. Random House.

van Asch, B., Zhang, A. B., Oskarsson, M. C., Klütsch, C. F., Amorim, A., & Savolainen, P. (2013). Pre-Columbian origins of Native American dog breeds, with only limited replacement by European dogs, confirmed by mtDNA analysis. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences280(1766), 20131142.

Warinner, C., Garcia, N. R., & Tuross, N. (2013). Maize, beans and the floral isotopic diversity of highland Oaxaca, Mexico. Journal of Archaeological Science40(2), 868-873.

White, C. D., Pohl, M. E., Schwarcz, H. P., & Longstaffe, F. J. (2001). Isotopic evidence for Maya patterns of deer and dog use at Preclassic Colha. Journal of Archaeological Science28(1), 89-107.

Image of a Carolina dog by Calabash13 and used under a Creative Commons 3.0 license. The Carolina dog has genetic ancestry from Asia and might have been similar to dogs raised in Mesoamerica thousands of years ago.

The Book of Mormon Provides Clarity

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There is minor disagreement among scholars as to the identity of the “beloved” disciple of Christ. Read this Wikipedia entry for a summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disciple_whom_Jesus_loved. It is postulated that the beloved disciple is John, Lazarus, Mary Magdelene, or someone else. While there is weak to no evidence for the beloved disciple to be anyone other than John, discussion still continues (even though it should never have started).

In the Book of Mormon we have a record of Jesus speaking to three of His Nephite disciples who desired to remain and preach the gospel until Christ’s return: “And he [Jesus] said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.” (3 Ne. 28:6).

Instant clarity. End of discussion.

I use this as an example of the role of the Book of Mormon. It clarifies much of what appears controversial or unclear in the Bible. The Book of Mormon serves as another witness of Jesus Christ and of the Bible. It establishes the truth of the Bible so that we may more fully believe it and believe Christ.

Language of the Brass and Gold Plates

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“And he [Benjamin] also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God. For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time. I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.” (Mosiah 1:3-5).

From the above verses it is clear that the the brass plates were written in “the language of the Egyptians” (the “language of the Egyptians”, however, is a broad and ambiguous statement, which I will not address here). This is why the gold plates were also in Egyptian – their model was the brass plates, which were in that language (some form of Egyptian language). Why were sacred texts of the Jews in this language? It comes down to the fact that it was more efficient than Hebrew was for writing with limited space. Making golden plates appropriate for archival writing was also a difficult process. In essence, the script that they wrote in was a type of shorthand and one patterned off the language on the plates of brass (but likely changed over time). It’s also likely that the writing was an Egyptian script transliteration of Hebrew (or some variant of Hebrew over time).

“And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof.” (Mormon 9:32-34).

Egyptian was an international language of the time. Israel was part of a large eastern Mediterranean trading circuit at the time with a lot of trading and travel in particular between Jerusalem and Egypt. Lehi knew Egyptian and so knowledge of the language was passed down through the generations, although the script and language were modified over the 1000 year span of the main story of the Book of Mormon. This means that the writing on the small plates of Nephi that Mormon included with his abridgment of the larger plates of Nephi, while readable to Mormon, was not necessarily the same script as he used for the rest of the plates (just as Old English is readable to those knowledgeable but qualitatively different from modern English).

What’s also clear from this passage about the language of the Book of Mormon is that “none other people knoweth our language”, meaning just what that sounds like – the particular language that the Nephites developed over time was unknown to anyone else in the world (and still is – well, except for the 3 Nephites). Further, the language used to keep records of the people and prophecies was not the main language that most of the Nephites spoke, at least over time as the civilization expanded. The language of the records (and possibly just those kept on metal plates) was a special language taught to those who would have responsibility for keeping the records. For example, “I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites” (Mosiah 9:1; emphasis added). We have to remember that the Nephites were a small group of people who lived in a fairly discrete area of the Americas. There were always more Lamanites than Nephites (both terms are political and do not necessarily denote ancestry, race, or ethnicity), likely in part because there were other peoples in the Americas with whom the Lamanites mixed (the original Nephites originally might not because that would mean marrying non-covenant people but the term Nephite became more inclusive over time to include many who were not church members). In general though, both groups were small relative to the overall population of the Americas. This is evident in the fact that the Mulekites were living nearby for hundreds of years but were not seen (or at least commented on by the records we have from Mormon) until the time of Mosiah. Also, the Jaredites were nearby (in the last years of their civilization) but did not have much interaction with the other Book of Mormon groups. The Nephites might have had contact with other peoples but such records were not included in the Book of Mormon because they are not relevant in a book of scripture.

After that aside, I’ll return to languages. Languages change quickly, particularly when not written down and maintained. For example, another group of people came out of Jerusalem shortly after Lehi left, arriving at a different part of the Americas: “Behold, it came to pass that Mosiah discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon. And they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth. And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them. But it came to pass that Mosiah caused that they should be taught in his language. And it came to pass that after they were taught in the language of Mosiah, Zarahemla gave a genealogy of his fathers, according to his memory; and they are written, but not in these plates [small plates of Nephi].” (Omni 1:15-18; emphasis added).

Much of the teaching of language by Lehi, Nephi, and on through the generations was to not only maintain the language but also to maintain culture. However, most importantly, it was to maintain the ability to read the scriptures and thus encourage faith in God.

So, in closing and to summarize, the gold plates of Mormon that Joseph Smith translated were written in their “reformed Egyptian” script because that’s what the brass plates were written in (or at least the brass plates were a previous iteration of the particular script used on the gold plates). We don’t really know why the brass plates were in that language (Egyptian – some form of it but not the “reformed Egyptian” of the Book of Mormon). We’ll have to leave that answer until the future.

Isaiah in the Book of Mormon Side by Side with the KJV

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Jesus taught: “And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles. And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.” (3 Nephi 23:1-3).

My brother has a website that shows side-by-side comparisons of all the extensive Isaiah quotes in the Book of Mormon. Differences are shown in color. This is an interesting project and is helpful for those who are want to learn what the Book of Mormon adds to our understanding of Isaiah’s teachings. Many of the changes are minor but some are significantly clarifying.

The Truth of the Book of Mormon

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As he was completing the Book of Mormon Moroni wrote the following exhortation:

“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is. And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.” (Moroni 10:3-7).

Whether or not the Book of Mormon is true is not the question. The question is whether or not we are willing to do what it takes to discover the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. If we pray and ask sincerely, really wanting the answer and with openness to the Holy Ghost, we will know that the Book of Mormon is true. We will never receive the answer that the Book of Mormon is not true. I was once summarily dismissed by someone while I was a full-time missionary when she said that she had prayed about the Book of Mormon and had received witness that it was not true. The fact of the matter is that that is not possible, as audacious as that might sound (but it’s only as audacious as stating that Jesus is the only Way and path to salvation). God will never provide witness that the Book of Mormon is not true.

In other words, the Book of Mormon is True. It’s Truth is independent from us. Our opinions or beliefs or thoughts about its truthfulness do not change its nature, which is Truth. The Book of Mormon is not on trial, we are. It is thus imperative that we deny not the power of God and deny not His word. We can deny His word simply by choosing never to ask about its truth. Many times people make decisions in life by simply choosing not to choose. Choosing never to honestly seek for a confirmation of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is denying the power of God by choosing to remain in ignorance. Being ignorant of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon does not mean the Book of Mormon is not true, it just means one is ignorant and ignorance is not an excuse, particularly when it is a willful ignorance.