Baptist or Beloved?

The debate over who was “speaking” the testimony of Jesus Christ in the beginning of the Gospel of John has been one of the longest-standing questions in Christianity. Heracleon addressed this at about 165 a.d. He was a Gnostic and from the school of Valentinus. Valentinus was an early Gnostic, claiming to have secret knowledge passed from John (the Beloved). He attributed early material in the Gospel of John to John the Baptist.

Origen wrote early in the Third Century, disputed Heracleon and argued that it was John the Beloved who was responsible for the composition. Origen’s Commentary on John, Sixth Book, Chapter 2. The debate has never ended.

The term “logos” which is rendered “word” in most English translations of the Gospel of John, has a pre-Gospel of John history. The most recent use of the term, prior to the composition of the Gospel of John, was Philo of Alexanderia. He was born two decades before the birth of Christ and wrote just a few years prior to the composition of John’s writing.

Philo considered the “logos” to be an intermediary between man and God, a Divine being that bridged the gap between fallen man and perfect God. There is a great debate over the extent to which Philo’s writings influenced John’s composition.

John the Beloved’s composition begins by placing Christ in a pre-earth, creative role that is cosmic in scope. This introduction was intended to alert the reader that the individual described in the text that would follow was God. Then the often mundane events build with proof upon proof that the man Jesus was indeed the cosmic creator and God in very fact. By the end of the account, the proof has been assembled to demonstrate that the opening description was true beyond dispute. Christ was God.

Origen’s writings make it clear that a pre-earth existence for mankind, not just Christ but all men, was part of early Christian belief. That belief has been lost for most Christians. Origen wrote: “John’s soul was older than his body, and subsisted by itself before it was sent on the ministry of the witness of the light.” He extends this to us all: “if that general doctrine of the soul is to be received, namely, that it is not sown at the same time with the body, but is before it, and is then, for various causes, clothed with flesh and blood; then the words ‘sent from God’ will not appear to be applicable to John alone.” Origen’s Commentary on John, Book II, Chapter 24.  Meaning that not only did John exist before he was flesh and blood, but all men likewise existed before they entered this world.

The pre-earth existence of mankind is taught in the Bible. Jeremiah was told he was “ordained” before he entered his mother’s womb: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 KJV.

Job likewise describes the joy of the spirits of men when they learned of the plan for creating this world: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Job 38:7. Christ’s apostles inquired about the pre-birth sins of the man born blind. John 9:2. A question that could only be asked if it were possible for him to sin before birth because he existed prior to his birth.

Although Christians today do not recognize the doctrine of pre-earth existence of man’s spirit, it was once a part of Christian belief. Like the confusion about who is speaking in the earliest verses of the Gospel of John, Christianity has lost clarity that can only be restored by another revelation from God. As Roger Williams, a late Protestant Reformer in the American Colonies, said: “The apostasy… hath so far corrupted all, that there can be no recovery out of that apostasy until Christ shall send forth new apostles to plant churches anew.” He recognized that no man has authority to perform even the basic ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ unless Christ has authorized that man.

Reading the New Testament is like reading another person’s mail. It was written to a specific body of believers who had been taught by those who knew Christ. Today it is just as necessary to have that same vital connection to Christ in order to be saved. How can we believe the truth if we are not taught the truth? How can we be taught the truth unless someone is sent from Christ to teach a message from Him? How can anyone pretend to teach the truth if Christ did not send them? See Romans 10:14-15.

John the Baptist

John the Baptist was the last messenger sent by God in the dispensation of Moses. (John 1:6.) He represents the end of one dispensation and the beginning of another. He overthrew the kingdom of the Jews and wrested all the authority that remained with the Jews from the original commission delivered through Moses.

John the Baptist’s message was to repent, warning that the “kingdom of heaven” was at hand. (Matt. 3:2.) The Jews were concerned at his message and sent representatives to inquire from him about the authority he had to start something new. (John 1:21-25.)

John the Baptist’s authority to baptize was recognized and accepted by Jesus Christ. He came to John and submitted to baptism because only by doing so would Jesus follow the requirements of righteousness. (Matt. 3:14-16.)

John was sent by God (John 1:6) and his right and authority was undisputed by both Jesus and the early Christians. Ignatius wrote about Christ’s baptism: “[He] was baptized by John, that He might ratify the institution committed to that prophet.” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter XVIII.) And, “was baptized by John, that all righteousness may be fulfilled.” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter I.)

Jesus posed the question to Jewish leaders of John the Baptist’s authority. He asked, “The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” A question that the Jewish leaders knew if they answered would expose the problem of rejecting John. “And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?” (Matt. 21:25.) They concluded that they could not answer this question. (Id., v. 26.)

Jesus Christ described John the Baptist in these words: “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist[.]” (Luke 7:28.) Jesus said of him: “He was a burning and a shining light[.]” (John 5:35.)

John was born to a Levite father. (Luke 1:5.) But he was taken into the Judaean wilderness and hidden there to protect him from the authorities. (Luke 1:80.) When he returned from the wilderness, he came dressed in camel hair, wearing a leather girdle, eating locusts and wild honey. (Matt. 3:4.) These details suggest he lived without employment, home, or wealth, surviving on what God provided, as if Christ had John in mind when He taught in the Sermon on the Mount:

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matt. 6:28-34.)

These things, which describe the life of John the Baptist, seem to us both fanatical and impractical. When cast out of the Garden, mankind was doomed to obtain bread by the sweat of our labor. (Gen. 3:19.) We are commanded to labor for our support (2 Thes. 3:11) and not steal (Eph. 4:28) nor expect another man’s bread to be given to us (2 Thes. 3:8). If a man will not labor, he should not eat what others produce through their labor (2 Thes. 3:10). Yet John seems to have abandoned everything to serve God, and in turn lived only on what God provided for him.

Would we have recognized and accepted John as a messenger sent by God? How would we have determined that this “homeless’ man was “‘sent by God”? If he had no pulpit, how could we know, that for a brief time, he alone could perform an ordinance required for salvation? If he was not part of the established system of religion, why would we give him any heed? If there was an existing temple, a presiding high priest, a governing board in the Sanhedrin, and established synagogues where scripture was recited and messages were delivered each week, why would we expect John to be more relevant to our salvation than the religious system in place? If the entire religious landscape was attributed to Moses, who was known to be a prophet (John 9:29), what makes us think we would choose to believe God sent the outsider, John? Why think salvation today will require anything less of a test than was required when John first appeared and began to preach? Why think we are any different than the Jews who rejected both John and Jesus? If our religion is a comfortable part of our lives, then what is its value?

Christ described what is required to follow Him:

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Luke 12:51-53.)

And again, the Lord taught:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12.)

If our religion does not cause others to revile us, members of our families to be offended, or help us understand the life of Christ and the prophets, it is not Christ’s religion. If religion takes us to a comfortable church each week where we are assured we will be saved in heaven, it is not truly Christian. If it does not require sacrifice, then we have nothing in common with either Christ or the prophets.

It is still possible to practice Christianity, but not in comfortable pews, listening to flattery and praise. The Bible warns that the time will come when God will: “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.” (Isa. 6:10; New American Standard version.) This happens every week in most “Christian” churches throughout the world.

Would we have recognized John the Baptist as a burning and shining light? How?

Guarding the Pathway

The Lord limited Nephi by commanding that, “the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write”(1 Ne. 14:25.)  This may have been to prevent different prophetic accounts from introducing errors, disputes and open conflict. Both Oliver and Joseph described and quoted John the Baptist. But their accounts relate it differently. They quote the angel differently:

Joseph: “…and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” JS-H 1:69. [Implies it will remain until an event, and then be removed.]

Oliver: “..which shall remain upon the earth, that the Sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness!” JS-H footnote, taken from the Messenger and Advocate, vol. 1, October 1834, p. 14-16. [Implies it may be here to stay, and will accommodate a righteous offering by Levites while here.]

It is not a significant difference. But it is just such different accounts that have produced disagreements, and disputes follow disagreements, and those grow into fanatical opposition between religious communities and eventually we have wars.

What if the Lord’s instruction was not to limit Nephi, but it was instead because God recognizes us as insecure, hasty and foolish beings. What if Nephi could have given a cogent retelling of the same events that were assigned to John. But since John was going to retell them so differently using cosmic imagery, drawn from heavenly constellations,(dragon-Draco; woman with child-Virgo; altar-Ara; the lamb-Aries; the lion-Leo; pouring out judgments/plagues-Aquarius; etc.) that we would make mush out of reconciling the two different approaches. Nephi talks about gentiles, waters, wars, books, and history in much simpler metaphors. Nephi may have understood Jewish learning, but he tried not to use it apart from quoting Isaiah.

Nephi may have understood the cosmic plan as well as John. John wanted to point to the testimony above, in the stars. Nephi may have given even a plainer version of it than did John. But Nephi was required to couch everything he taught in the words of those who already “had written them.” 1 Ne. 14:26. So Nephi employed Isaiah to teach his (Nephi’s) message. Thus a seeming conflict between two visionaries was averted–for our benefit.

Similarly, today we have people whose notions, visions, dreams and experiences are being promulgated through blogs, lectures, seminars, books and sermons. Most are unanchored in scripture. Because the scriptures are not being used to anchor these messages, there are widely disparate views of what is going on now and what is supposed to happen in the future.

What if the Lord restricted today’s visionaries the same way he restricted Nephi? What if the visionary information was used by the recipient to explain, expound and preach from holy scripture? Things would be much clearer for His people in these last days if we were given the assurance that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. This is the message of the scriptures. The scriptures are how God gets His word out to His people. Using the scriptures to expound the word of the Lord is not an antiquated notion. What if the Lord wants His word vindicated by referring to them now? Using them now? Expounding them now? What if the Lord’s example on the Road to Emmaus is to be taken seriously? His example was to teach using the law and all the prophets to show how in all things He was to suffer as He did.

It should be relatively plain to judge between what the Lord commissions and wants preached and what comes from the foolish imaginations of men and women. Apparently the best way to sift sheep and goats is to allow every wind of doctrine to come upon mankind and see which are wise and which are foolish virgins. Who keeps themselves unspotted and who runs to and fro with itching ears to consume on their lusts every new thing.

What a perfect test we are taking. Everyone knows they ought to be grounding themselves on a rock, but then mistake sand, leaves, air, wood and dung for the rock. There are people waste-deep in excrement who are certain they are standing on holy ground.

How much sooner might we be able to agree on the things that matter most if we put our understanding into words of scripture? How can we ever come to unity if we do not share a common scripture; an anchor to hold us together?

The pathway back is guarded by shiny trinkets that get all the wayfaring fools to step off a cliff to their ruin. Just because you are in the largest crowd leaving the pathway doesn’t mean the landing is going to be any less destructive. To stay on it the iron rod is needed.

Virtue and Righteousness

There is a difference between virtue and righteousness. Virtue is laudable, required and necessary, but righteousness has priority. Virtue surrenders to righteousness, not vice-versa. The point can be illustrated from scripture:

It is not virtuous to kill. Nephi was repulsed at the idea, but the Lord required it, and Nephi complied. The doctrinal reasons justifying the killing are set out in The Second Comforter, and there were sufficient reasons both under the Law of Moses and the Lord’s standards of judgment to vindicate the Lord’s decision to kill Laban. The killing was offensive to virtue, but it was righteous.

It is not virtuous to mockingly taunt others. Yet Elijah was pursuing a righteous course against the priests of Baal when he did just that: “And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.” (1 Kings 18: 27.) Mocking is both unvirtuous and uncouth, and in this context would qualify only as righteous.

It is not virtuous to rail against the religious leaders of any faith. Yet John the Baptist rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees as a generation of vipers: “Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3: 7.) This term of derision, “generation of vipers” is graphic and in context it is both offensive and uncouth. Yet he was a righteous man, moreso than any other apart from Christ. (Luke 7: 28.)

It was not virtuous for Christ to rebuke His accusers: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! … for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, … ye fools and blind…” (Matt. 23: 14-17.) The language of the Lord here is quite blunt, uncouth and in the context of that language, gutteral. It was righteous, but not an example of virtuous language.

It was worse still for Christ to call Herod “that fox.” This is a term of derision comparable in our own language to calling someone a “son of a bitch.” (Luke 13: 32.) Yet it was righteous, justified and appropriate.

It was blunt and threatening for Joseph to tell his guards in Liberty Jail: “SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT!” (Taken from The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, emphasis in original.) Calling another a “fiend of the infernal pit” is quite abrasive and offensive; it was intended to be so.

Those who prefer virtue to righteousness will handicap their ability to work for the Lord’s ends. He will always require righteousness to be done. When someone prefers virtue and neglects righteousness, or condemns the righteous for their lack of virtue, their inappropriate standard serves only one purpose. It gets applied against the one proposing to use it. They get to be measured by the standard they apply. (Matt. 7: 22.)

I choose to look at Elijah, John the Baptist, Christ and Joseph Smith, as well as any other person moved to rebuke me or anyone else by the power of the Holy Ghost as fully justified and Christlike. I do not resist the challenge of a righteous rebuke. I welcome them. No one should feel they cannot “damn” me. I’ll consider it important and will respond with my defense, or an apology if I think it is warranted.

It is important for you to know that I do not think Christ is a limp-wristed, lisping chap who dotes on us and has nothing but bouquets of flowers to dispense to us. I think He’s about to return in judgment, dressed in red to burn the wicked. He has said that is who He is and I believe Him. I would like to have as many people take that seriously and consider repenting. We are mistaken in our belief that we are chosen. We are mistaken when we think we are too good to be in need of continual repentance. We are nothing before God. We are about to see His judgments. I know these ideas make me irritating.

As Hugh Nibley put it, “there is nothing so irritating as being awakened from a sound sleep.” But my hope is to awaken some few. Therefore, it is worth offending a great number if the result benefit a few. That is the way things work here and I am quite realistic about it all.

It is also important to be clear about some things. First, the Strengthening the Members Committee is a real group, although its existence was denied for a while by the church. Second, they are not supposed to be pressuring local leaders to harass church members. When they do, it is considered a violation of the process because all church discipline is supposed to be 1) local, and 2) independent. When they interfere it is inappropriate. Third, I WANT them to know there are leaks, and they have spilled onto the Internet. They should do what they need to do to plug them. It should be noted that there have been several forum discussions related to me shut down and deleted since my earlier post. Fourth, I want everyone to know if there is a problem which has offended a distant and imperial committee, it is not because I believe too little in the Lord, but too much in Him and too little in men. Fifth, they are misbehaving in a cowardly, unmanly way by this stealth attack. It would be far better, if they want to be credible, for them to address it openly. Do as I have invited them to do. Show me where I’m wrong. Let me respond. Let some sunlight on the matter. It is shameful, even cowardly, to avoid and accuse from a shadow, only to later pretend they weren’t involved. Pressuring local, reluctant leaders who know better from personal experience with their local members is manipulative.

I consider the words chosen by me to be measured, appropriate and inspired by the right reaction to a cowardly and shameful act by this subversive committee. They are wrong to behave this way. They have probably engaged in illegal activity by leaking onto the Internet what should be kept confidential. I have done them a service by alerting them to this misconduct. Surely, no matter how misguided their deliberations may be, they intend to preserve their legal protection to claim to have privileges under the law. That protection is forfeited when they act this way.

Joseph Smith History, Part 5

Joseph’s education did not open his mind. Translating the Book of Mormon did not open his mind. He clarifies in his history the point at which his mind did open up. He writes of it: “so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation. Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.” (JS-H 1: 73-74.) This was the moment of greatest change. At that moment Joseph’s mind greatly expanded.

Later he would provide a description of the effect the Holy Ghost has on one who receives it: “This first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence. It is more powerful in expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge, of a man who is of the literal seed of Abraham, than one that is a Gentile, … for as the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene, and his whole soul and body are only exercised by the pure spirit of intelligence.” (TPJS, p. 149.)  This is in stark contrast to what some people think the “Holy Ghost” is about. They associate sentiment and emotion, rather than enlightenment and intelligence with the presence of this member of the Godhead.

Joseph could understand the meaning of the scriptures because he acquired access to the same source of intelligence which animated the authors when they composed the scriptures. He did not need to seek an “interpretation” or study the methods of Biblical exegesis. He knew what they meant because the enlightenment from God laid open to his understanding the true meaning and even the intentions of things that before were merely “mysterious.”

This is what Peter was referring to when he asserted: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1: 20-21.) In other words, no one has the right to assert any prophecy means anything because they think they can “interpret” the words, because such right belongs exclusively to the Holy Ghost. The words came (and still come to those who have received priesthood  —D&C 68: 2-4) from the Holy Ghost, and therefore, the meaning is only given from that source. [Section 68 was addressed to one of those who, in June 1831, was given the Melchizedek Priesthood at Isaac Morley’s farm. According to Joseph Smith, that was the first time the Melchizedek Priesthood was given to the Elders of the church. That is another topic.] Notice also, the appearance of John the Baptist was only to provide the means to be baptized. He specifically speaks about some future visit of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood. (JS-H 1: 72.) Yet Joseph and Oliver received the Holy Ghost without any other ordinance and immediately following baptism. (1: 73.) This mirrored my own experience.

So in Joseph Smith’s History, we end at the same point where we began: His ministry as a prophet was directly connected with scripture. He walks through events that happened, including an audience with the Father and Son, repeated visits by Moroni, educational instruction given there, and the appearance of John the Baptist, but for Joseph, it was the Holy Ghost which enlightened his mind. When enlightened, the result was his capacity to understand the scriptures. He tunes into the very same frequency from which they originated. Sharing the mind of those who composed scripture, Joseph could understand what the authors meant. Therefore, when Joseph explained scripture to us, it was his right to tell us things we hadn’t known before, interpretations we hadn’t considered before, and the true meaning of what seems to us mysterious.

As people debate the meaning of latter-day prophecies, and think they can unravel the correct interpretaion of such topics as Zion, gathering, priesthood, sealing power, the “one mighty and strong” and many, many other things we learn of from our unique body of scripture, we should remember Joseph’s ministry. We ought to stop researching the threads of comments from oftentimes mystified commentators, and instead “ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally” to find the answer. Joseph did. It took him on a journey which resulted in him gaining a dispensation of the Gospel. He did not need to build on another’s work, because heaven worked with and through him.

Joseph was above all else, the prototype of a Latter-day Saint. Would that all men were similarly Latter-day Saints, who actually believed and practiced the religion restored through Joseph. A religion in which people are able to ask God and get an answer. A religion which Joseph began, but which God has yet to finish. One where no one needs to say to another: “know ye the Lord” because all know Him.

Little wonder the prophecy of Joel spoken of by Moroni was yet to be fulfilled.

3 Nephi 12: 46-47

3 Nephi 12: 46-47:

“Therefore those things which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled. Old things are done away, and all things have become new.”
 
Christ will elaborate on this later as the audience puzzles over what is removed and what remains. But here Christ introduces the concept that the Law of Moses is now “fulfilled.” Importantly, He says: “in me are all fulfilled.”
 
When He walked on the Road to Emmaus on the day of His resurrection, He began with the Law of Moses and explained: “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24: 27.) I’ve spoken on this and then published the talk in the Appendix to Eighteen Verses. The talk shows how the rites and temple of the Dispensation of Moses testified to the details of His life. It ought to be noted that the thing “under the law, in [Christ were indeed] all fulfilled.” His life was foreshadowed by the rites of Moses. His healing and His ministry, His history and His sacrifice, all were foreshadowed by the Law of Moses.
 
Since the Law pointed to Him, and He came to live His mortal life in conformity with that Law, it was now completed. The signpost was no longer necessary. The event had happened.
 
When He says, “Old things are done away” it is not because they are terminated. It is because they were fulfilled. He completed the circle. He lived and died under the Law, fulfilling every jot and tittle of its requirements.
 
Now it was time to push the meaning of the earlier Law deeper into the souls of His audience. “All things have become new.” It is a new beginning, a new Dispensation, a new message. This message was delivered by the author of the Law of Moses not through an intermediary. This message comes from the Author in person.
 
Dispensations have their bounds. Beforehand, the prophets give, through prophecy, a limit on the things which are to come. When the prophesied events have unfolded and the measure has been met, then one Dispensation comes to an end while another opens. John the Baptist closed the Dispensation of Moses. Christ opened the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time. He recognizes the transition in this statement.
 
Whenever things are “become new” again, it is important to recognize the signs of the time. (Matt. 16: 2-3.) Those living contemporary with Christ who did not recognize the signs remained at Jerusalem and were destroyed. (JS-M. 1: 13-18.) It is important that you be on watch, for in the very hour you think it unlikely for Him to act He will act. (JS-M. 1: 48.)
 
Everything was fulfilled by Christ, and everything prophesied will happen before He comes again. There is no more scrupulous a follower of the prophetic promises than the Lord. He inspired the prophecies, and intends that they all come to pass. In Him have all things been fulfilled, and in Him will all things yet remaining be fulfilled.

3 Nephi 12: 1

 
“And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.”
 
Nephi and the other twelve heard and recorded the words we’ve been reviewing in Chapter 11. But here Christ makes certain all others who were present also knew the same doctrine. Notice the following:
 
“He stretched forth His hand.” What does that mean? Why is it noted in the record? Why would the fact that He stretched forth His hand be significant enough to etch into metal plates? 
 
Why does it say Christ “cried unto them?” How loud would He need to make His voice before it would be considered “crying” out to the audience? This suggests that what was covered in Chapter 11 was not loud enough for all those present to hear. But what follows He wants everyone to hear.
 
The Sermon at Bountiful begins with a new beatitude. “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you.” A commenter recently suggested this means that any person ever called to any council of twelve is entitled to the same kind of status. Is that correct? Does membership in a group entitle someone to respect? Would receiving power directly from Christ entitle a person to respect? What if someone were to receive power from Christ, but not be included in some presiding group? For example, John the Baptist received power from an angel to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews at eight days old. He was never among a presiding group. (D&C 84: 28.) Paul was given power directly from heaven, calling himself “born out of due time” because he became a witness after Christ’s resurrection and was not among the leadership when first visited. (1 Cor. 15: 8-10.) Which does this apply to: those called to preside, or those called directly by the Lord (as the scriptures testify is sometimes the case)? Or does it only apply to the twelve disciples the Lord was referring to standing before the crowd on that day? Is limiting it to that narrow an application appropriate? Is expanding it to include anyone ever called to preside too broad an application? How are you to decide that question?
 
Is it appropriate for Christ to couple “minister to you” with “and to be your servants?” Can a “servant” exercise authority over you as the gentiles do? (Luke 22: 25-26.) Why not?
 
When Christ says these people have “power to baptize you” and then promises that He, Christ, “will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost” does this promise mean that Christ will send the Holy Ghost if you are baptized by one having power from Him? Always? If it hasn’t happened, does that mean the one who baptized you did not have this “power?” Why or why not? What is the relationship between the power to baptize, and the promise of the Holy Ghost? What role does your own repentance have to play? Christ has previously given the order of things, and included repentance first.
 
What does the statement mean: “blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.” How likely would it be for you to “believe in [Christ] after that ye have seen [Him]?” Do you suspect any of those who were present would not believe in Him? Why?
 
Would you expect those present to believe in Him after seeing Him descend from heaven, hear the voice of the Father testify of Him, see His wounds, witness Him healing all their sick, and beholding angels minister in tongues of fire to their young children? Would you be able to do so? What about reading the record of the events in the Book of Mormon; is that enough to testify of Him? Can you ask in prayer if these things about Christ are true and get a testimony of them for yourself? Have you done so? Have you acquired belief in Him as a result of praying to know if they are true? Can you then believe in Him? Are you “blessed” for it? Do you “know that He is?” What more do you need to do in order to “know that He is?” Why haven’t you done that yet?

2 Nephi 31: 3

2 Nephi 31: 3:

“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.”
 
This raises an interesting side issue.  Nephi’s explanation of how God speaks to different people “according to their language” is something worth explaining. We have a great example in the visit of John the Baptist to Joseph and Oliver found in JS-H 1: 68-70 and Oliver’s account in the footnote there. The language they quote from John the Baptist is phrased differently by each of them, although both are quoting the angel. Angel’s leave an impression. Notwithstanding Joseph Fielding Smith’s teaching that memory from such things fade with time, my experience tells me quite the contrary. Such things are distinct and memorable. Often, if you need to hear a quote, the person who received it can quote word-for-word what they were told many years later; particularly when the quote is a declarative statement of what is to be or what is conferred. When, therefore, Joseph and Oliver give two different accounts of the quote, I understand this not to be a contradiction, but an example of the thing Nephi is referring to in this verse.
The communication of angels is not usually verbal in the traditional sense of verbal communication. That is, no air is being vibrated. Rather, the form the communication takes is for the angel to “speak” by delivering to the mind of the person spoken to the concept or declaration to be understood.  Then the person, receiving the concept or declaration into their mind, is obliged to  convert into words the message received. If the vocabulary of the recipient is German, they will use German to reduce the message to words. If English, they will use English. If their vocabulary is rich and complex, the words may be more exact. If their vocabulary is simple, the words may be simple.
However one comes into the presence of God or His angelic ministers, once there, the thoughts that come to the person will conform to their understanding, their vocabulary, their manner of phrasing. The underlying purpose is always the same: to make the communication plain to the understanding of the person visited. 
 
It is also true that the Lord “giveth light unto the understanding” and does so according to the heed and diligence we give to what we have already received. (Alma 12: 9, see also D&C 50: 24.) We cannot understand some things even if they are explained to us if we do not have the necessary light to permit that understanding. Light and truth attract one another.
When we approach God, we do so by degrees not merely by study. We find ourselves gaining light that quickens our understanding. What we cannot understand at first, gains clarity only after a period of living true to the things we already have. 
 
The commandments are not something we follow to please God, but something we do to understand God. Living true to what we believe He expects of us, allows us to gain an appreciation for what kind of Being He truly is. In that sense, the commandments are not so much burdens to bear, but revelations to understand. The greatest understanding, of course, does not lie in strict conformity to the letter of any law or commandment, but the insight obtained from the underlying principle you discover as you follow it. Commandments should soften or break your heart, not harden it. When a commandment hardens the heart of the follower, they have misunderstood the commandment altogether. This was the case with the accusers of Christ, who followed the underlying intent with perfection, while breaking the superficial requirements regularly.
 
None of it will become “plain” to the follower until they have done and understood what the commandments were attempting to reveal to them. When, however, you encounter a Nephi, you have someone who now sees the issues plainly. It was meant for us all to see them plainly.

3 Nephi 21: 10-11

 
“But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.  Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant.”
 
This statement has caused endless conjecture. Who is the “servant?” Was this Joseph Smith? Wasn’t it Joseph who was “given power to bring forth the words to the gentiles?” If Joseph was this “servant,” then what does it mean he will be “marred,” but the Lord will “heal him?” Is he coming back? Will Joseph be resurrected? Will he be born again?
 
Although Christ is speaking, this raises a matter worth addressing in connection with the statement. Therefore we’ll take a bit of a detour and address it. First, the purpose of prophecy is not always to make a matter clear before it happens. Prophecy may not have a clear meaning before an event happens, but once it has happened it becomes apparent that the event was foretold. This keeps the prophecy from controlling the event, but allows those who have faith to see the Lord’s hand in operation. Therefore, having some difficulty in attaching specific meaning to the prophecy is exactly in keeping with prophecy’s traditional way of communicating an event.
 
Second, the words of prophecy are not always established in the same way. In fact, there are a variety of ways in which the language is fixed. Below are descriptions of the various ways the language of a prophecy comes about:
 
The Lord may give, announce or dictate the language and the prophet takes it down word for word. If this is the case, then the one who receives the language may not understand their meaning, even though they received the message. (In this case it is Christ who is speaking. We assume He would know fully the word’s meaning.  However, Christ has explained that His Father knows things that have been withheld from Him. See, e.g., Mark 13: 32. So, you cannot rule out that even in this case the language was given and the meaning withheld.)
 
Sometimes it is not the language or the words that are given to the prophet, but a vision is shown or opened and then the prophet is left to craft a description. In such cases the words are the prophet’s, but the underlying meaning is the Lord’s.
 
Sometimes a vision may be shown or opened, but when the prophet takes to write the description, the language is prescribed, or limited by inspiration. In this instance, the prophet’s understanding may be greater than the words used, and the language will be designed to accomplish the Lord’s purposes rather than to make what the prophet understands clear to the recipient.
 
With respect to when one or another form of language is in scripture, we may not always be able to tell. Section 76 is one example we know how the language came to us. There was a vision, opened to both Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon, and as the vision proceeded Joseph would dictate the words given to him by the Lord to describe what he and Sydney beheld. The words were the Lord’s.The vision was greater or included more understanding for Joseph and Sydney than the words of the revelation. Hence Joseph’s comment: “I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.” (TPJS p. 304.)
 
It is not important to fully understand the statement of Christ in this prophecy until AFTER it is fulfilled. Before it is fulfilled the following questions are interesting to contemplate as you think about its meaning:
 
Is the “servant” who will be “marred” and then “healed” a single individual, or a people with whom the Lord is working?  If a people rather than an individual, then who is this servant?
 
If the ones who will cause the servant to be “marred” are plural, who are they? Are they a group, or groups? If groups, which are they? What is their affiliation with the “great and abominable church?”
 
What does it mean that the “servant” will not be “hurt” but will be “marred?” How can one be “marred” without being “hurt?”
 
Is the “servant” in verse 10 the same as the “him” in verse 11? Have the subjects changed? That is, can verse 10 be speaking about a people, but verse 11 be addressing a person whose work it was (or is) to bring forth Christ’s words?  If an individual, is Joseph Smith the only one who can qualify? Can others also bring forth words of Christ to the gentiles, and the gentiles given an opportunity to accept or reject the words at their peril?
 
If they risk being cut off by rejecting the words, then can more than Joseph Smith be qualified to be “(even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant.” That is, when the latter-day prophets are sounding alarms and warning, is the message from Christ–no matter who speaks it– something, if rejected, will cause people to be cut off from the covenant?
 
How does one cut themselves off from the covenant? If you will not listen to Christ’s words, do you thereby cut yourself off by not listening? Would that be true if Joseph Smith is a prophet and you reject him? Would that be true if Brigham Young were a prophet and you rejected him? What about an angel sent to you? What about someone like Abinadi, or John the Baptist, or some other unexpected messenger? Would the same be true anytime someone decided to reject a message authorized or sent from the Lord?
 
Now go back and re-read verses 10 and 11 with these questions in mind and see if you get a different meaning from them.

Repent and be humble

As the Apostle John closes his Gospel, he adds this comment: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written ever one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21: 25.)

In D&C 7’s headnote we read that Section 7 is a “translated version of the record made on parchment by John and hidden up.”

In D&C 93 we read, “John saw and bore record of the fulness of my glory, and the fulness of John’s record is hereafter to be revealed. And he bore record, saying: …” (D&C 93: 6-7.) From verses 7 through 18 it is an excerpt from John’s more complete, and as yet unrevealed account.

[Bruce R. McConkie concluded that this was the testimony of John the Baptist, and not John the Beloved. I have accepted Elder McConkie’s position in books I have written, however, I believe the account in Section 93 is more likely John the Beloved’s record. Since the issue is only a 3 to me on the earlier scale I proposed, I have simply accepted Elder McConkie’s view in what I have written.]

John likely had a good deal more to add concerning the Savior, but deliberately withheld it. Similarly, we have the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon as a reminder that not everything has been revealed to us which prior generations had given to them.

We ought to have a bit more humility about our “Restoration” than we have. The fact is, we have never been given what the ancients were trusted to possess. We have never been equal to them. We certainly aren’t now. Until we take seriously the Book of Mormon (which will require us to both repent and become more humble than we’ve ever been), we aren’t qualified to receive more. (See, e.g., 3 Ne. 26: 7-12; D&C 84: 54-58.)

Of what then do we have to boast?