Love Which Sheds Itself

I’m writing a paper, and in the course of my work I came upon 1 Nephi 11:21-22:

21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.

I was quite taken by the expression “the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men.” I had never noticed that fascinating usage before!

The word is spelled sheadeth in O and shedeth in P. Skousen does not mention this passage in his textual commentary, which indicates that his critical text would retain 1981 sheddeth (with the orthography corrected).

What does this mean? How does love shed itself?

My first two thoughts were:

1. Since the love is symbolized by a tree, maybe this refers to a tree shedding its leaves, which then cover all the ground [world, children of men].

2. Perhaps this is proleptic for the blood of Christ which he would one day shed for all.

The English verb shed comes from Middle English sheden and ultimately is related to Latin scindere to cut, split and Greek schizein to split [cf. English "schism" derived from this Greek verb.] Its most basic meaning is to separate or divide, which doesn’t work in our passage. Among its meanings are the ones I came up with: to let fall (as leaves from a tree) or to cause (blood) to flow by cutting or wounding.

But it isn’t necessarily the case that the word has such a specific meaning here. One of the meanings listed in the OED is to emit, give forth, pour out. So the expression could simply be archaic for something like “the love of God which sends itself out, pours itself abroad into the hearts of the children of men.”

Have any of you ever noticed this interesting usage before? Any thoughts on how we should take it in this BoM passage?

Comments

  1. One of my old high-council talks focused on chapters 11 & 12, Nephi’s interpretation of Lehi’s dream. The central features, as they seemed to me, were the tree, on one side of the “great gulf”, and the spacious building, on the other side.

    The word shedding struck me as a wide spreading, perhaps as leaves are shed and cover the ground. It affects the hearts of “the children of men”, not just a subset of them. Likewise, pride is “of the world”, not restricted to one group or another. They are both available in abundance to each of us. We choose hourly between them.

    The ultimate contest, in this dream, is not between good and evil, but between love and pride.

  2. Mark IV says:

    I have noticed it before, but only because it is a beautiful phrase. I’ve never thought about it much, but assumed it meant the same thing as the phrase in America the Beautiful, where we sing “God shed His grace on Thee”.

  3. From Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:

    {SHED}, v.t. pret. and pp. {\I shed}.
    1. To pour out; to effuse; to spill; to suffer to flow out; as, to {\I shed} tears; to {\I shed} blood. The {\I sun} sheds light on the earth; the stars{\I shed }a more feeble light.
    This is my blood of the New Testament, which is {\I shed} for many for the remission of sins. Mat 26.
    2. To let fall; to cast; as, the trees {\I shed} their leaves on autumn; fowls {\I shed }their fethers; and serpents {\I shed} their skin.
    3. To scatter to emit; to throw off; to diffuse; as, flowers{\I shed }their sweets of fragrance.

    http://www.verselink.org

    Perhaps the citation about a star shedding light is apt to this verse. That’s how it strikes me, anyway.

  4. Christopher Smith says:

    Romans 5:5:

    And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

    The verse in 1 Nephi is evidently dependent upon this Biblical passage.

  5. CS, I get so tired of these simplistic attacks.

    The word “abroad” is commonly used throughout the OT to describe anything the Lord does that branches from a single source. There are way too many verses to include here.

    The most common usage is to “spread abroad”, but there are other uses, as well. “The hearts of the children of men” is found three times in the OT; nine times in Nephi; six times throughout the rest of the BofM; – and exactly NO times in the NT. In fact, “children of men” is even more lop-sided – occurring dozens of times in the OT and BofM but not once in the NT.

    Linguistically, the differences (plural) between these passages is MUCH more significant than their similarity (single).

    Give it a rest.

  6. I have been struck each time I have read these verses by the active imagery focused on the blood itself. The blood “sheddeth itself” abroad. I actually was going to juxtapose this wording against every other instance of using the passive “is shed” – including the one in Romans, since this verse is the only one in all of our scriptures that talks of the blood “shedding itself” in this way.

    Most of our discussions of the Atonement focus on the blood “that was shed” for us – again, in the passive voice. Nephi takes this and flips is on its head, putting the focus more, I believe, on the true “shedder” – not those who killed the Savior, but He who actively chose that role. Nephi’s unique wording makes the Atonement, to me, much more of a conscious, purposeful, active decision – which I absolutely love.

  7. Christopher Smith says:

    Ray,

    I did not engage in a “simplistic attack”. Presumably you thought I was attacking the Book of Mormon because if the book is dependent on a text written later than it was, then that would indicate it is of modern authorship. But it is well-established that the Book of Mormon utilizes anachronistic sources; think KJV Isaiah, for starters. Many Mormons are aware of this, and yet they maintain their faith. So my observation that the Book of Mormon is apparently dependent on Romans 5:5 should not come as a surprise, and frankly shouldn’t seem like an “attack” of any kind. Both verse contain share several elements. That suggests dependence. Best,

    -Chris

  8. Sorry, Chris.

    I understand the anachronistic source issue; I just don’t see it in this passage – given how it conforms to the OT much more closely than the NT and is a truly unique application to the tree imagery. I actually think this is an instance where anachronism is read into the text out of default – and I have seen that happen in lots of other cases, as well.

    I have heard other real attacks that sounded almost exactly the same too much in the past concerning these exact verses (and others that I read as not anachronistic), so I read your comment based on those experiences. I apologize for making that assumption.

  9. Joshua Madson says:

    Any takers on the tree being the Asherah, mother of God?

    Sounds cool. Don’t know if I’m convinced.

  10. Christopher Smith says:

    Ray,

    Compare:

    1. the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men
    2. the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts

    Here several shared elements occur in the same order:

    1. The love of God
    2. shed[deth]
    3. abroad
    4. in the/our hearts

    Any one of these elements on its own would probably be a coincidence. Even two of the elements together could be coincidental. But all four of them together in the same order I think is more than coincidence.

    Then again, I could be wrong.

    In any case, I just thought that perhaps the Greek or the context of Romans 5:5 might help some light shed itself upon the interpretation of the BoM passage in question.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Mark IV, I had forgotten about that line. I guess I just never focused on it before, and was unfamiliar with this particular archaic meaning.

    Thanks for the scripture, Christopher. (Ray, I didn’t read it as an attack of any kind.) That is very useful. I had meant to check for any biblical usage, but I had to leave for a movie and ran out of time. The Greek verb used in that passage is ekcheO, which means to pour out, to bestow or distribute largely. Since in the BoM context the English meaning I was partial to was “to pour out,” I found this passage very helpful background for understanding the 1 Nephi verse.

    Joshua, yes, I’m a taker. In fact, the article I’m writing is on Mother in Heaven, which is why I was reading this particular passage.

    Thanks all for the comments.

  12. Kevin, I really enjoyed reading this post. I enjoy anything that helps us see deeper into a specific word usage in the scriptures – and what it might mean on different levels. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

  13. Christopher Smith says:

    By the way, Kevin, I do like the proleptic idea.

  14. I looked up the Spanish, and indeed the word I commonly use for shed–“derramar”–is used in these verses.

    There are two words I can think of offhand which talk about the ways our hearts are touched by the love of God: pierced and shed abroad. Both have clear reference to Christ’s body. No time to explore implications at the moment…

  15. I understand, Chris, and I don’t want to turn a discussion of a beautiful verse into a linguistic argument. You emphasize the similarities that show possible NT influence; I emphasize the similarities that show possible OT (Brass Plates) influence. I just think we have enough cases of obvious anachronism (with which I have NO problem whatsoever) that I hesitate to add one that, to me, is not at all obvious. We don’t disagree with the validity of the overall theory; we just aren’t in full agreement about this particular application.

    Another aspect of this imagery that inspires me is the picture of how something from a tree can “shed itself” among hearts. The only part of a tree that I can imagine doing that “naturally” is the fruit, as it is eaten, internalized and literally enters into and pulses from our hearts. I immediately think of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – and the sacrament. Again, I absolutely love the imagery available in this passage.

  16. I’m also going to echo the idea that the tree is the Asherah/Shekhinah. Then the “shedding” imagery is one that serves to tie Jesus’s atonement into oneness with the feminine aspects of God. Beautiful stuff.

  17. Kevin, I haven’t forgotten your promise to write more on the Asherah and I’m looking forward to it with bated breath!!

  18. Christopher Smith says:

    Coincidentally, someone just posted the following quote from John Wesley over at MADB:

    “Love is kind.” Whosoever feels the love of God and man shed abroad in his heart, feels an ardent and uninterrupted thirst after the happiness of all his fellow-creatures. His soul melts away with the very fervent desire which he hath continually to promote it; and out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. In his tongue is the law of kindness. The same is impressed on all his actions. The flame within is continually working itself away, and spreading abroad more and more, in every instance of good-will to all with whom he hath to do. So that whether he thinks or speaks, or whatever he does, it all points to the same end, — the advancing, by every possible way, the happiness of all his fellow-creatures. Deceive not, therefore, your own souls: He who is not thus kind, hath not love.

    http://www.raptureme.com/resource/wesley/serm-139.html

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