Scripture, Prophecy and Covenant

There is a new download titled “Scripture, Prophecy and Covenant” available in the downloads section. It is a brief exposition on accepting scripture as covenant.

The quotes are taken from the Restoration Edition of the scriptures.

Joseph Smith History, Part 3

Joseph Smith’s entire ministry was connected to scripture. It began with an encounter between him and God which he was only able to describe using the language of scripture. It extended to an encounter with Moroni which he again described using a host of scripture to convey the meaning of what the angel impressed into his mind.
It turned to translating a volume of scripture. This required him to take every thought of the ancient prophets and translate them from one language into another. The language of the Book of Mormon repeatedly adopts phrases from the King James version of the Bible to weave together the ancient narrative. Given the circumstances, and what we have been told of that process, Joseph’s mind was embedded with phrases that would have seemed familiar to him as he struggled to capture in his own tongue the ideas of the long dead authors. It would not have been derivative from the King James’ Bible, but would have sidled alongside it in phrasing, structure and concept.
Just like Nephi’s vision of the fullness of God’s works, Joseph Smith likewise saw God’s unfolding plan. Nephi was forbidden from disclosing what he beheld. To bear testimony, however, Nephi adopted the language of Isaiah to explain his own (Nephi’s) testimony. It is important for us to recognize that when Nephi was writing Isaiah, and then expounding on the material he’d etched into the plates, he was acting the role of a prophet. Isaiah’s words WERE Nephi’s testimony. They allowed him to tell us what the Lord wanted us to know, and to do it using the words of scripture composed by Isaiah.
Jacob accomplished the very same thing. Jacob adopted the words of Zenos, and the allegory we’ve been reviewing, to testify of the things he had seen and heard from the Lord. I went over how Jacob had, like his brother Nephi, been visited by the Lord. Jacob was also looking for the language to express his own vision. He invited his people to the temple where he was going to deliver to them his own prophecy. When they arrived, he read them the allegory, Zenos’ prophecy, the story of the olive tree. When he completed that retelling, Jacob announced the following: “as I said unto you that I would prophesy, behold, this is my prophecy—that the things which this prophet Zenos spake, concerning the house of Israel, in the which he likened them unto a tame olive tree, must surely come to pass.” (Jacob 6: 1.) Jacob, who behleld the Lord and was ministered to by Him, bore his testimony and established his prophecy by retelling Zenos’ olive tree story.
Christ’s great Sermon on the Mount was based on the Law of Moses. The law of retaliation (lex talonis) set out in the prior law was contrasted with what the Lord now established as the underlying meaning for that law. Instead of striking back, bear the blow and forgive. Instead of refraining from adultery, remove lust from your heart. Instead of rebuking, harbor no ill will toward your brother.
Christ’s entire ministry was based on expounding the scriptures. Interestingly, He forbid us from calling one another “fools” in His great sermon. (Matt. 5: 22.) Then He called men “fools” for their blind misapplication of scripture. (Matt. 23: 16-19.) The same scriptures which, in the hands of the Lord will save a man, are the tools for deceiving men and leading them into destruction when used by the Pharisees and Scribes.
For Nephi, using Isaiah was the perfect means to preach salvation. For Jacob, using Zenos was the perfect means to preach and prophesy about his people and us. For Joseph Smith, using the words of scripture to translate into English the words of earlier prophets was a master work of a man who received a dispensation of the Gospel. For Christ, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He was able to show how necessary His own sacrifice and offering was to fulfill all righteousness.
However, for the blind guides, the use of scripture to develop as commandments the doctrines of men, the Lord only had the term “fools” to describe their wickedness. They would not enter into heaven, and would instead hinder others who followed them from entering.
Joseph was commanded to “translate” the Bible. His Inspired Version was a work which led in turn to some of the greatest revelations of our day. Reading about “heaven” in John 5: 29 led to an inquiry which provided Section 76 to us all. The Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory was given because of an inquiry about scripture. Earlier John the Baptist came because of an inquiry about baptism as a result of translating scripture. The work of the Prophet Joseph Smith was intimately linked and could not be separated from the words of scripture.
At one point a calm Lord told His critics to search the scriptures, because His detractors claimed they would have eternal life from what was contained in them. But, He added, they testify of Him. (John 5: 39.) So it is not merely claiming the scriptures support a proposition that deserves respect, but instead whether the matter taught has underlying it the truth. Joseph’s history shows what an adept prophet can do when employing scripture to inform the reader of God’s will. In that respect, Joseph Smith does not take a back seat to Nephi or Jacob. It is a marvelous thing to behold; assuming you recognize it as one of the signs that testifies Joseph was indeed a prophet.

Joseph Smith History, Part 2

Joseph was still a young man when Moroni visited with him. He was practically a child when he first saw the Lord and the Father. In both encounters, as Joseph recorded his best retelling of the incident, he used the words of scripture to weave his account together.

In the First Vision, when the Lord addressed Joseph, the account tells it in these words:

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

Or, in other words, Joseph has the Lord borrow from Jude 1: 4: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And Isaiah 29: 13: “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.”

And from Titus 1: 14: “Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.”

And 2 Tim. 3: 5: “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”

Or, the Lord conveyed into the mind of Joseph an indelible impression of truth, which would remain with him and expand and distill as he pondered on its meaning. When at last Joseph was able to set it out in an inspired retelling, the words of scripture flooded into his mind and equipped him to compose an account that would ring with truth, convey what happened, and testify of the authenticity of the words of ancient prophets, while letting the world know what the Lord’s message was to Joseph. But the language, even the quotes, are not what transpired. They are an accurate retelling, but reduced to our form of communication. The Lord’s manner of telling is quite different. It is unencumbered by our vocabulary, and conveys pure meaning and intent. Therefore Joseph was able to capture and compose the information with power and meaning to us. But to do so Joseph had to resort to scripture.

Which again, begs the question: “Why?” Why do prophets resort to the scriptures to explain the truth as revealed to them? Why does a new revelation get put into the words of an earlier revelation? Why does a stunning new truth come forth as an exposition of the already familiar words of scripture?

In perhaps his greatest sermon, Joseph drew from and expounded on the scriptures to proclaim new doctrines, unheard of by those who had studied the Bible for two thousand years. As he did so he remarked: “It has always been my province to dig up hidden mysteries –new things– for my hearers. Just at the time when some men think I have no right to the keys of the Priesthood –just at that time I have the greatest right.” (TPJS p. 364.) He goes on to expound from the Bible on the true meaning of “eternal judgment” and the resurrection, “salvation for the dead,” the plurality of Gods, Abraham’s teachings, eternal glories and the pre-mortal exaltation of some who lived on the earth. “Sons of God who exalt themselves to be Gods, even before the foundation of the world.” (TPJS p. 375.) He used as his text the Bible.

Prophets see the meaning behind the words of scripture, and not the words themselves. This is because having been taught by angels and the Lord, they know the intent. Hence Joseph’s proclamation that it is his “province to dig up hidden mysteries –new things” using the scriptures. They are not a sealed book to them.

In like manner the Lord spent most of the day of His resurrection opening the scriptures in a private conversation between Himself and two disciples while they walked on the Road to Emmaus. “Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24: 27.) The Lord could do this because the Lord was there when they were written, and they reflect His mind and His teachings. Therefore, He could see clearly within them the teachings about Him.

To bear testimony of his encounter with the Lord, and with Moroni, Joseph Smith employed the scriptures to expound unto us in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. How like his Master was this servant! Joseph completely mirrored the pattern of the One who can save! We should be able to recognize the Master in the servant! In Joseph’s case, the parallel is unmistakable.

Because he had received a dispensation of the Gospel to him from heaven, Joseph proclaimed the truth using scriptures to confirm the message. “It is the order of heavenly things that God should always send a new dispensation into the world when men have apostatized from the truth and lost the priesthood, but when men come out and build upon other men’s foundations, they do it on their own responsibility, without authority from God; and when the floods come and the winds blow, their foundations will be found to be sand, and their whole fabric will crumble to dust.” (TPJS p. 375-76.)

Joseph, having secured the truth from heaven for himself, did not need to build on other men’s foundations. He was privileged to declare the truth to us from his own understanding, from his own knowledge and in conformity with his own dispensation of the Gospel.

The scriptures weave together the truth from dispensation to dispensation because those who wrote them had seen the same vision, conversed with the same heavenly hosts, and found the inspired language that allows the truth to be declared.

When Joseph wrote his account in 1838, he had pondered and gained the insight to be able to weave into his history the corroboration of his Divine mandate employing the words of scripture to justify what he taught. He was a prophet indeed! He knew the things of which he spoke. All he needed to do was expound the scriptures to be able to dig up hidden mysteries, new things, for those who would hear him. Those who heard him were amazed, just as the disciples on the Road to Emmaus.

Nephi’s Brother Jacob, Part 3

When Nephi composed his small plate account, it was approximately 40 years after they left Jerusalem. He included his visionary experiences, but stopped short of giving a full account. (1 Ne. 14: 25.) As he prophesied about the coming of a Messiah to his brothers, they challenged Nephi’s teaching of a future Messiah. In that context, he resorted to quoting Isaiah “that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer.” (1 Ne. 19: 23.) Nephi’s use of Isaiah in his first book is limited to the single topic of whether the scriptures confirmed his own prophesy that there would be a Redeemer. (1 Ne. Chapters 20 and 21.)

The next quote of Isaiah occurs in Nephi’s second book. There the material is quoted by Nephi’s younger brother Jacob in his first recorded sermon. In Jacob’s use of Isaiah, the scope expands dramatically. Jacob uses it to cover the history, the scattering and regathering of Israel, the latter-day Zion, and then he preaches and expounds on these materials to give context to the Nephite experience. (See 2 Ne. Chapters 6-10.)

It is Jacob’s more expansive use of Isaiah that seems to have inspired Nephi to turn to the Isaiah materials to complete his own record. When Jacob’s sermon is finished, Nephi then adds 14 additional chapters of Isaiah material to complete his record. Then, to end his message Nephi takes Isaiah’s themes and gives his final lessons in an American setting, elaborating on the Isaiah themes.

These transcripts raise the possibility that it was Jacob, rather than Nephi, who saw the fit between Isaiah’s materials and the Nephite/latter-day Americas. Nephi no doubt used the Isaiah material first, but confined it to the promise of a Messiah. He used it defensively to respond to his older brothers’ criticism. Jacob, on the other hand, uses it expansively.

If Nephi was giving credit to Jacob for this expansion (as his two books seem to indicate), then it tells us a great deal about Jacob, and even more about Nephi. For Jacob, we can know:
-He was a careful student of scripture.
-He saw what was possible, not only what was evident on the surface.
-He could apply Isaiah prophetically into the distant future.
-He could put his life and his people’s position in history into a prophetic context.
-He was more concerned with the future than with the past.
-He saw their time as important, but not the end of times.

What it would tell us about Nephi is that:
-He was meek.
-He gave credit to his younger brother.
-He allowed truth from the younger brother to instruct even him, the elder brother.
-He refused to fall into his own older brother’s jealousy and resentments.
-He was a ready student of Jacob’s – the younger brother.
-He recognized inspired truths.
-He wanted others to rejoice in the truth, even if he took a step back in allowing them to be presented.
-He rejoiced in the learning of others.

There is a great deal about the interplay between these two brothers that ought to inform our own approach to authority, truth, learning, “presiding” and recognizing inspiration in others. The Book of Mormon is a treasury of lessons applicable to us. We do not adequately appreciate them.