Elder Holland’s Opus: Do You Love Me?

Elder Holland has carved out a niche for himself as arguably giving the most powerful conference talks in recent years, a tradition into which his most recent address falls as well. This post is a summary of Elder Holland’s conference address from the Sunday morning session and is intended to spur a discussion of the talk.

Summary of Address:

Elder Holland (hereafter “EH” for convenience) begins by expressing great sympahty for the remaining 11 apostles after the death of Jesus Christ. How totally dependent on him they had been; how unprepared they were. Three years had not been nearly long enough from their perspective. Jesus had warned them he would not remain with them, but they could not comprehend his words; now they were left alone. After the crucifixion, the struggling little church he left behind seemed doomed.

EH announces that he will use not only paraphrase but elaboration of the scriptural text here, a technique he employs to good effect, I think. The forlorn apostles turn to their chief, Peter, who in effect says “It has been a glorious three years. But that’s over. He has finished his work and risen from the tomb. What do we do now? We return to our former lives rejoicing. I intend to go a-fishing.”

But the fishing was not very good that day. Indeed, they caught nothing. In the distance they see a figure who called out to them, “Children, have you caught anything?” “Nothing” was their despondent reply (and to add insult to injury, he had been called them “children”).The figure tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. A spark of recognition flares. Three years earlier they had undergone a very similar experience when the Lord had called them the first time to be his apostles; now it was happening again. They could not draw in their nets the multitude of fish (153 to be exact). And so John says simply, “It is the Lord.” Peter in his exuberance leaps over the edge of the boat.

(Aside: EH here says something like “moving this great rock of a man.” This is an allusion to Peter’s name. His given name was Simeon (often shortened to Simon in the NT), but he had an Aramaic nickname, Kaipha, which means “rock, stone.” That name comes to us via transliteration through Greek and English as Cephas, and via translation into Greek (petros) and transliteration into English as the name by which we know him best, “Peter” [or “Rock”].)

Jesus said, “Peter, do you love me more than you love all this?” He replied, “Yea, thou knowest that I love thee.” Jesus asks the same question again. Confused by the repeated question, Peter gives the same response. A third time the Savior asks, and a third time Peter replies, albeit the repeated question has no doubt forced a deep introspection in him. Perhaps he is thinking of how just days before he denied him thrice.

So Jesus finally responds, “Then why are you here? Why are we on this same shore having this same conversation that we had three years ago? If I want fish, I can get fish. What I need now is disciples, to feed my sheep, to save my lambs, to preach my Gospel, to defend my faith. I need someone who really loves me.”

Ours is not a fleeting message, but the work of almighty God, to change the world. Go, teach and testify, until the day when they will do to you exactly what they did to me. Turning to the others, he says “Did you like the Scribes and Pharisees think that this work would be killed simply by killing me? Did not my life and love touch your hearts more deeply than this?”

EH is not certain what our experience will be on Judgment Day. But he would not be surprised to hear “Did you love me?” In our mortal, childish grasp of things, do we at least understand the greatest command, to love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, soul, might and strength? The crowning characteristic of love is loyalty. We have neighbors to bless, children to protect, poor to feed. Devoted discipleship demonstrates [alliteration alert!] our love of the Lord. We can’t quit, can’t go back [sort of like the Matrix]. The Lord’s crucifixion is a beginning, not an ending. That handful of Galilean fishermen became Apostles. Those keys have been restored to earth, to be found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

To those who have not joined, please come. (At this point there was a comment about people who pick and choose a few choice morsels from the banquet rather than feasting fully, but I didn’t quite catch the upshot; something about facing many long and empty nights.) He includes in this call every RM who once stood in a baptismal font. Yes, it changes the convert forever, but it does you as well. To the youth of the Church, love God and remain clean from the blood and sin of this generation. Father in Heaven expects your love at every stage of your life. He asks us each, “Do you love me,” and we need to be able to answer honestly “Yea, Lord, I love thee.” We must never look back until this work is finished, until love of God and neighbor rules the world.

Some Discussion Questions:

1. What did you think about the paraphrase technique EH used with his scriptural text? Did you like it or find it distracting? (As I indicated above, I was fine with it, but I’m curious what you thought.)

2. What did you think about the equation of “love” with “loyalty”? He doesn’t come out and say it that way, but do you read that as loyalty to the Church as an institution, or to the Savior himself? Is there a difference?

3. He broaches the time honored question of cafeteria Mormonism. What do you think he had in mind when he mentioned those who pick at a few hors d’oeuvres from the banquet? Can we pick and choose what we will believe and practice in this Church? On some level, aren’t we all cafeteria Mormons?

4. I saw on FB a returned sister missionary who commented on the image of the RMs who when they raise their arms to the square in the baptisml font, they change the convert’s life forever, but that raising of the arm to the square should change their own lives as well. She commented that as a sister, she was never able to have that experience. Any thoughts from that perspective?

Please feel free to discuss any other aspect of the talk you found to be of special interest.


  1. I’m a huge fan of Elder Holland (and I love the abbreviation “EH;” it’s so wonderfully…Canadian). You raise some good discussion questions, though.

    1. I love EH’s paraphrase technique. I could see it becoming distracting, but for me it’s a great exegetical technique that reveals aspects of the text I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
    2. Love = Loyalty is an interesting concept. I’ve never connected the two personally, though it connects with John 14:15 (“If ye love me, keep my commandments”). Disloyalty from those we love stings more than disloyalty from acquaintances or strangers, so I can see where EH is coming from on this.
    3. The cafeteria Mormonism notion is one where I have to pry myself away from my unabashed love of EH. I agree with the insinuation used in your question, that is, that everyone in the church is a cafeteria Mormon to some degree or another. However, when I heard his talk I thought of it more as a reference to communion together than doctrinal sampling; that is, why come to a banquet only to eat a few items and leave, when you could instead sit and feast with everyone else? The Lord has invited us to come and eat, and it would be rude to grab something to go. Again, that’s just what I felt.
    4. I’m not sure actually how I would address this question; I think I’ll fake taking the high road and say that, as a man, I’m not qualified to answer, and that I’ll leave this for a sister to answer later.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Brett. I like your community take on the banquet feasting notion; that resonates with me.

  3. I would be very surprised to hear the question “Did you love me?” on judgement day because he knows my mind and he knows the answer is yes. What puzzles me is why EH would not be surprised to hear it!

  4. A wonderful summary, Kevin, and good questions to ask.

    I was at first distracted by Elder Holland’s paraphrase. But even as I argued in my mind about it, I thought, “He is an apostle; if anyone can get away with this, he can.” I would still prefer that my gospel doctrine teacher not do it (unless, I suppose, I had an apostle for a gospel doctrine teacher). Having said that, the conclusions that Elder Holland draws out of his paraphrase seem completely consistent with the John 21 account.

    Elder Holland was not the only one to speak of loyalty at conference; some were more direct in their appeal to loyalty to the church, especially in times of doubt. In Elder Holland’s case it seems likely that as an apostle, he sees little difference between the Savior and His church — loyalty to one goes with loyalty to the other. But certainly he speaks of loyalty to the Savior. He also said the Savior needs disciples *forever*.

    I like Brett’s view on the question of hors d’oeurves. It resonates with me, too.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    Elder Holland used a similar paraphrase/reliance on alternate translation last conference as well. I haven’t checked, but I’d be interested to see if any of his modern English rendition has parallels in other translations of the text.

  6. I also loved the talk. My thoughts:

    1. I did not find the paraphrase distracting. In fact, I love thinking about the people in the scriptures as real people, not just as characters locked into a small number of pages. I love thinking about the passionate, impulsive Peter. I’ve often thought about the remaining saints after the crucifixion (or after the death of Joseph), and about how lost they must have felt. For me, Elder Holland’s elaboration was a beautiful way of thinking about those same issues.

    2. I’m not sure that it’s love equals loyalty, but love produces loyalty. I also think it is worth noting that being loyal to someone means, in my opinion, always seeking what is best for the person, NOT necessarily always agreeing with the person (although there is no such distinction when the object of our loyalty is perfect). I think this distinction is critically important when dealing with imperfect people or organizations. Being loyal to the Church doesn’t mean agreeing with every policy decision–it means wanting to help the Church fulfill its divine mission.

    3. Elder Holland mentions people picking at the “cultural” hors d’oeuvres of the Church and leaving the rest behind. I’d love Brett’s reading here–I’m not sure it’s exactly what Elder Holland had in mind, but I love it anyway. I understood Elder Holland as meaning that some people come only for the social aspect of the Church, or to appease family members or whatever, but that they are missing the best part of the Church by not partaking of the “meat”. To stretch the analogy a little, I’m not that you need to eat everything at a smorgasbord to get the whole experience, but if you just have the breadsticks, yeah, you’ve missed the point.

    4. I thought of this same thing when I heard the talk. Frankly, I’d have preferred that he choose a different image, or offered an alternative for the sisters. Having a wife who served a mission and always feels like sisters are treated as second-class missionaries, I’m especially sensitive to this issue.

    I thought it was an excellent talk. Thanks for the opportunity to discuss it.

  7. Howard- Christ will know the answer to every question he asks. We are asked questions to see if we know the answers, not to see if He does. I wouldn’t be surprised if Christ asks us to lay out the parts of our lives that “prove” our love and discipleship.

  8. Holland’s a rock star! His books are as great as his talks. I miss the ‘Pat & Jeff show’ from BYU days of yore.

    Whenever EH skipped over parts, I filled them in. “Feed my sheep” and “I know not the man”, etc. However, won’t this technique just feed other teachers to then take more liberty in their teachings a la EH?

    I agree we are all cafeteria style Mormons. Plus, I’m on a diet and trying to cut back….

  9. It was a stunning sermon, as good as any I have heard in years.

    1) I had no problem whatsoever with his creative elaborations upon the text. I think this is what we’re always supposed to do with stories: tell them in a way that gets across the point which we believe each particular story happens to hold for us.

    2) Clearly, and especially in light of 3), one can understand the “loyalty” he speaks of to be loyalty to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it’s reasonable to presume that he believes exactly that. Nonetheless, he only actually made that connection once, at the very end of his sermon; the rest of the time, the literal reference that his sentences pointed to was loyalty to Jesus, to His commandments to love and serve and mourn and protect and repent and praise. There were many times in his sermon where he could have done the fairly typical Mormon thing of connecting love for God to obeying the prophet…but he never did. And I, at least, find that important.

    3) In line with what I said in 2), one can, of course, read this as a rebuke to those who pick and choose which church policies or authorities to sustain, and construct their own “Mormonism” accordingly. Holland himself would presumably agree with that reading. But, again, what were the references actually given here? It would seem to point towards those who only selectively love, repent, sacrifice, serve, and feel joy. They don’t embrace the totality of the gospel, only those parts which are convenient for them.

    4) I’ll agree that Holland unintentionally (or so one would hope) made use of an image which has sexist implications, given that it’s not, at present, available to all who make covenants. But that doesn’t take away from the overall talk.

  10. Jeannine L. says:

    As to the question 4: A baptism is witnessed by everyone else at the time. I think it can affect the witnesses on the same level that it does the one person actually performing the service. Many more people than the actual physical baptizer are involved in helping a convert come to that moment–including the other missionary(s) who aren’t standing in the font. What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t diminish their experience, so why would it diminish a sister missionary’s?

    I served a mission and count as some of my “converts” some VERY inactive members that I helped to come back to activity and even begin to gain a testimony for the first time. It seemed as important as a new convert baptism to me, and I assume meant as much to the Lord.

    I also loved Elder Holland’s talk. And I liked the smorgasbord analogy. I think there is a real attitude difference in being willing to take the Church as a whole–even though you might not understand or like everything about it– just accept it, rather than rejecting out of hand entire segments of it.

  11. I remember thinking when I listened to this talk, “Another Holland Home Run!” I have loved his recent conference addresses.

    To a couple of your questions:
    #1 I also found his paraphrasing of the scriptures very illuminating. It shows a willingness to look beyond the words and really engage with the text and frame it in context of what the apostles were actually doing vs what they should have been doing. Using language that is more culturally relevant to his listeners in this case was very helpful, I submit.

    #3 At first I thought he was referring to the concept of cafeteria Mormons, but after listening to the rest of the talk, it came across more like what I have heard others call “starving at the banquet,” ie, not taking full advantage of the feast being served. Yes, I do think there was some gentle chiding going on, but mostly a reminder that we are all invited to feast in the fulness, not just sample a few offerings cautiously.

  12. Julia,
    That is nonsensical; if he knows the answers there is no need to ask the questions to learn if WE know the answers.

  13. 1/ In response to the paraphrasing, I hope that I can convey my thoughts clearly and don’t get piled on too much for them.

    As is often the case, Monday morning quarterbacking is always easy. And as an intelligent, literate man with advanced degrees, looking backward over the years appears to give EH a perspective that the original apostles may have lacked. However, for him to paraphrase as if he had some special insight is somewhat pretentious, IMO. I mean, has EH ever seen the Saviour? Has he had further revelation of the KJV stories of the Bible?. Did he actually walk and talk with the Lord?

    My point is this; That EH is putting the events after the Lord’s resurrection with a distinct 21st century spin to make his point (which BTW, is good and reasonable). However, my objection is that EH appears to almost denigrate the spirituality, capacities and understanding of those original 12. They walked with GOD, for heaven’s sake! For almost 3 YEARS! For EH to imply that they just “didn’t get it” (to paraphrase him :-)), seems rather proud. I think that I could read the events that EH spoke of in quite a different way. Those original 12 could actually testify that they did see the resurrected Christ (unlike any of our modern 12, who are “special” witnesses), and they had the task of carrying on the work in a time where there wasn’t modern communications. They were not the typical “corporate” type of guy who fill the ranks of the upper echelons today. They were fishermen with a profound spirituality, and actually hand-selected by God himself (pretty good credentials, IMO).

    Could it be in some future conference, that some authority will discuss how immature and how little the current leadership knows? We seem to do this continually in the church, where we look back only as far as even the past 150 years and talk about how the gospel was growing and we (the church) was still in it’s infancy, as if we are now the mature, all-knowing church, and have such wisdom!

    Anyway, my $0.02.

  14. 1) I like it when Elder Holland uses this technique. I’m also thinking of how he mentioned (2-3 years ago?) that Peter may have received private counsel to deny his association with the Lord for his own protection. That same instance was referred to in yesterday’s talk as well, and I always get the feeling that he has deeply pondered–and possibly received very specific revelation regarding–these scriptural instances. I have always felt that a little imagination greatly benefits my reading of the scriptures, if only because it forces me to be deliberately cognizant about what the scriptures actually say and what they leave out.
    4) I noticed this at the time, but it didn’t bother me. (Female, non-RM here.) Due to the directness of that sentence, I got the feeling that he was referring to a specific person, group, or type of person–the male RM who does not maintain the faith-promoting memories and practices from his mission. Maybe this is a bigger problem among male RMs than female RMs?

  15. @Paolo – I guess I don’t think that Elder Holland portrayed the original apostles in any “worse” of a light than the NT already portrays them. For instance, Jesus says, “Oh faithless and perverse generation […] how long shall I suffer you?” in Matthew 17(originally recorded, of course, by one of the twelve himself).

    It’s pretty clear to me from reading the NT as well as scholarly depictions of the early Christian era, that it was a long time before Christians settled on A) a common identity as Christians, and B) a common understanding of the role and identity of Christ. We today have a huge head start when trying to understand those things, simply because the books are already published and the identity already intact. (And yet it’s still a lifelong task for most people today to even begin to grasp the Savior’s life and Atonement.) So I guess I do agree with Elder Holland’s depiction of the twelve, but I wouldn’t chalk it up to their personal failings, rather that they were remarkable people (Jesus personally chose them, after all) who were living and working in a very confusing time and under a remarkable set of circumstances.

    Also, I would in fact assume that Elder Holland has had specific revelation on New Testament events. See my previous comment.

  16. I’m 54 years old and have been listening to conference talks since I was a child. EH’s talk stopped me dead in my tracks. I don’t think I have heard a better talk in a conference – ever. I feel that I want to give more of my personal energy to serving Christ and his sheep. It is a time to set aside intellectual pontificating and get on with serving.

  17. Peter, I agree EH is a great motivational speaker, fact based or not.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    I just noticed that Dave has a commentary on this same talk as well:


  19. #2 Henlost me at love = loyalty. He’d been talking about what Christ had been telling Peter (i.e., if you love me feed my sheep). So when he said love = loyalty, I thought huh? Where did loyalty come into the picture? I expected to hear “feed my sheep”, something along the lines of how the first great commandment implies the second and we should love our neighbor and feed the sheep. I expect God to ask not “Do you love me”, but “Did you show your love for me by loving your brothers and sisters on earth?”

  20. @Shawn H – I had exactly the same train of thought. I’m still thinking about that one.

  21. Antonio Parr says:

    Love may not equal loyalty, but loyalty is an essential element of love. If I have emotive love towards my neighbor, but am lacking in loyalty to them, especially in their hour of need and/or in my hour of inconvenience, then I am hard-pressed to say that I truly love them in the way that Christ showed us how to love each other.

    I thought Elder Holland’s talk was soul-stirring. It made me want to be a truer disciple of Jesus, and a more loyal Latter-Day Saint.

  22. Maybe I totally misunderstand my relationship with Christ, but many of my promptings come when they confirm an answer that I have thought and reasoned out. So, a question like, “Do you love me?” Would lead me to examine my life, looking at those things that would fall into loving Him, and those which might not be able to “convict” me of loving Christ. I almost always prefer having questions given to me, and then being able to have a conversation with Christ, in my head. I don’t think that is likely to change in the eternities. I do not see this life as the end of the time that Christ will teach me.

    My husband, who has almost been a member for a year, really liked the talk, especially the “retelling” of the story. For him it felt like EH was likening the scriptures unto us. :-)

  23. I consistently use that same device in my talks–retelling in my own words and embellishing the scriptural account. But not as effectively as Elder Holland does it.

  24. Yes Julia I agree questions like that tend to be introspective, perhaps that is why EH was posing them but I doubt they are actually a part of judgement day unless you’ve waited until then to finally consider them!

  25. I think Holland’s blurring of love and loyalty is justified. It’s that way in the OT (and likely into the NT as well.)
    “It is sometimes difficult for a modern person, who associates love with uncontrollable feelings, to understand how the Bible can command love of God, neighbors, even enemies. But in the Bible the many terms translated as “love” do not refer primarily to feelings. They refer to decisions of the will.” (See here for source and short NT-focused discussion.) Love in the OT has strong overtones of covenantal fidelity, i.e. loyalty.

  26. EH always brings the passion – which I appreciate. This talk though, was passionately negative in my view.

    First: The looking down on the first apostles always rubs me the wrong way. These guys did not live in free education system America and certainly didn’t understand how to live in cultural context beyond their own. Plus, if you follow the NT, you understand that as soon as they received the Comforter, they were speaking in tongues, raising the dead and seeing regular miracles. Oh how I wish we could hear about the faults and shortcomings of recent and living apostles the same way we fling about condescension at the ancient men who walked with Jesus.

    Second: Calling out those that struggle to swallow the whole of Mormonism is salt in the already large wound for many. We should have empathy for these people, not derision and contempt. Even if we take a charitable interpretation of this comment (that he was talking about a feast of love) then he was most certainly talking to each and every one of us. But it did not seem that way – instead, declaring it to “some”.

  27. @Ben S I don’t think it’s unjustified ( I’m not accusing you of accusing me :-), it just seemed to me to be a very jarring transition. Everything up to that point had been about love equaling service and doing what The Lord expects of you in service to others. In the scripture in question Christ doesn’t say “Be loyal to “. He doesn’t say “Keep my commandments”. He says “Feed my lambs” and “Feed my sheep”. That’s why he lost me, because he completely left the message he had been giving up to that point and veered off in a completely different direction. It’s not that it was a bad direction; it’s just a very different one than he had been heading in up to that point.

  28. 1. Okay with it. I don’ t think EH and others who do it are saying their “version” of events is doctrinal. We only have a minute fraction of those sacred conversations. Maybe the scriptures are purposefully sparse, in many cases, so we can use our imaginations and personal experiences to fill in the gaps.
    2. I think loyalty to everything – Christ, His church, even the corporate church. If you believe we have fifteen prophets, seers and revelators at the head of the church, then you don’t need to fret so much about all the sideline issues that arise from time to time.
    3. On any given day, I’d agree we’re all cafeteria Mormons because all of us stuggle with some commandment or another. Kind of gets into the difference between what you believe and what you do. We don’t always do what we know we should.
    4. I’ve baptized on my mission as well as my children. Maybe I take that opportunity for granted, but I don’t feel like it changed me forever. It was just an exercise of my priesthood, the same way I exercise it whenever I bless or pass the sacrament or give a blessing and so forth. I’d rather think my own baptism changed me forever. I think if we help bring a soul unto Christ, it matters not if we actually are the one who stands in the water or if we stand at the waters’ edge.

  29. It’s obvious from the comments that we have some Elder Holland – excuse me, EH – lovers in the crowd. I know we’re not supposed to have favorites among the Brethren, but if I did I am sure that he would be very near to the top.

    1.) I enjoyed EH’s paraphrasing technique. Me and one of the missionary’s serving in my branch were discussing afterwards. It is unique that in the Handbook it says whenever there is a “presentation” in which the Savior is portrayed we are NEVER to add to or take away from what written words we have from the Savior in the scriptures. This is good counsel. I’ve seen folks, member and nonmember alike, here in backwoods Alabama that have paraphrased Jesus to the point I wasn’t even sure if they read the same Bible I did. I’ve often paraphrased what I felt the Savior was trying to convey when speaking in church meetings, but I’ve always added the disclaimer: “This is what Stan thinks may have been said”. All in all, I like Apostolic Paraphrasing.

    2.) I liked the Love = Loyalty aspect. Of course the root of our faith, loyalty, and devotion is always the Savior. As a simplistic church member I believe that true love and loyalty to Jesus Christ equal true love and loyalty to His Church.

    3.) The approach to cafeteria Mormonism was excellent! And I loved hearing from an apostle who was willing to plow into the matter head first. As society is changing the Church is changing. Some would say for the better. Some would say for the worse. But as our membership numbers swell ever larger there will an ever increasing amount of Latter-day Saints who want to pick and choose. “Priesthood Authority sounds good,” some might say, then adding as an afterthought, “but Joseph Smith was obviously a charlatan.” EH made it clear that that’s not how we work. Of course many will disagree, but that’s the beautiful thing about the Church; we have a wide spectrum of accepted beliefs before we cut anybody off. As you pointed out, we are all to some degree or another “cafeteria Mormons”; that’s what repentance and that whole “conversion” process we heard so much about is for.

    4.) And yes, sisters don’t get to stand in fonts with their converts and raise their arms to the square with their converts, but if that sister wanted to experience that “change” she would have. Standing in a font to baptize a convert doesn’t make you any more of a Saint than wearing a white shirt and tie does. Any unworthy or uncommitted missionary could baptize someone. It takes a true disciple of Christ to help that person change their hearts, and to let their own hearts be changed.

    I’ve loved this post Kevin. However, Elder Holland has some real rigor in him, and I have a feeling we haven’t came close to hearing his magnum opus yet. And for that I am very grateful.

  30. Regarding the loyalty/love referring to the church or to Christ, I suspect that he was covering that rare middle ground where they overlap. If you’ve got one extreme representing our personal relationship with the Savior, accountable to none other than Him, and at the other extreme you’ve got the relationship to “Church-only” things, the full extent of which is up for debate. I personally feel that there is the most comfortable overlap between the institutional church and the body of Christ in ministry, especially as it relates to mentoring the vulnerable, teaching each other, and providing service generally. I’ve observed that lack of loyalty to those endeavors is much more wounding to a ward’s health than beefs with cultural/institutional aspects of the church, and I suspect that the crux of his loyalty/love focus was on those aspects of discipleship.

  31. 4. Priesthood holders take the place and do SOME of the work of the Father, so that it both changes their own lives and benefits God’s children. Reading sexism into a convert’s baptism is rather bizarre to me, considering that Sister Missionaries also do the work of the Father, as several posters have noted. All the laborers receive full pay. And the Elders I associated with never gloried over the sisters or tried to claim performing the ordinance as actual convert “baptisms.”

    I have always thought of priesthood as God’s specific call to the men. God is essentially calling them to come act like Savior-Fathers in a few specific instances. Why not include women within that call? I don’t know. But 99% of what we do in life and the Church is open to both genders. Maybe when both genders perfect our work in those areas, we’ll get our answer.

  32. Paolo, # 13, and CTJ, # 26, I guess I did not catch any hint of condescension in Elder Holland’s remarks regarding the Apostles. Ironically, it might seem to some that you are doing the same thing to one of our current Apostles, ie, acting in a condescending manner by judging him on your standards without knowing what is really going on. And EH clearly stated that he was doing a little speculative interpretation of the scriptures. I think you are conflating the apostles in their pre-Pentecostal situation as something more than mere mortals like the rest of us, just as many do with today’s Prophets and general authorities. Both Brigham Young and Joseph F. Smith, as good examples, certainly had their less than supernal aspects of their characters that they struggled with, and yet both were remarkable prophets whose long term contributions far outweigh the mistakes they made along the way.

    EH clearly conveyed what he perceived as the lack of leadership and vision that the eleven apostles had in those days and weeks following the crucifixion. The fact that they overcame those shortcomings and then followed through for the rest of their lives on their mission speaks volumes about both their character, and the possibilities for us, as we make mistakes, commit sins, and fail in our vision from time to time.

  33. Howard in #12:
    I have a story that might go toward undestanding why the Lord might ask us that question on judgement day.

    When I was a new Bishop, my wife and my temple recommends came up for renewal. I knew that we both needed to interview with the Stake President but I also knew that there were 2 signatures required. I called the Stake Exec. secretary (also fairly new) and asked if I was to just sign the recommends or if a member of the bishopric was to interview us. He counseled that he was unsure, but that he thought that it would be fine to just sign them.

    I informed my wife that I was going to sign her recommend and then we would go see the SP. She said, “wait a minute. Are you my Priesthood leader, as well?” I resonded that I was. She said, very wisely, “Then ask me the Temple Recommend questions. I have a right to delcalre my worthiness.”

    In the years since, that lesson has gained more and more strength and has made more and more sense to me. So hearing EH speak this way was very in line with that. On judgement day, I will have the right to declare my love and worthiness.

  34. Liked the talk a lot, but count me as one who didn’t like the paraphrasing. I found it unnecessary. It’s not like “lovest thou me” is difficult to understand and needs some kind of paraphrase in order to illuminate it. I don’t think there is anything magic about the wording of the KJV, but its words are familiar and if there’s no need to change them, why do it? I kept wondering why he was doing it that way throughout the talk, so for me, it was a distraction from the message.

    Howard #12, I think Julia has it right, and there is purpose in that kind of question on judgment day because it will be a just question. Our actions will speak louder than our words and answer the question for us. He asked it three times of Peter even though he knew the answer. Why? To make a point with Peter. The point is the same for us.

    “On some level, aren’t we all cafeteria Mormons?” I think we are, but the level of our willingness to pick and choose is important I think, and says a lot about us. I’m thinking along the lines of being “doers of the word and not hearers only” kind of thing. It’s ok to decline to believe the Church’s teachings on same sex marriage, for example, but not to decline to do home teaching.

  35. Thank you Klutz. I am always pleasantly surprised when I learn something on a blog from someone I do not know, and the Spirit confirms that it is true. Every once in a while I wonder if I am simple “fiddling away” my time thinking about the gospel instead of living it. Certainly not all of the gospel can be learned online, and more than it could be in a Sunday School class. That does not mean that The Lord will not send inspired answers into our lives.

  36. I think you are conflating the apostles in their pre-Pentecostal situation as something more than mere mortals like the rest of us, just as many do with today’s Prophets and general authorities. Both Brigham Young and Joseph F. Smith, as good examples, certainly had their less than supernal aspects of their characters that they struggled with, and yet both were remarkable prophets whose long term contributions far outweigh the mistakes they made along the way.

    kevinf, Maybe I wasn’t clear. That God calls deeply flawed individuals is not my gripe. Its that we dare not speak that way about living prophets – or even modern prophets when its so obviously true! Its a double standard that I don’t appreciate.

  37. Klutz,
    Did you know your wife’s mind? If not there was a purpose in her declaring her worthiness. If so, what was the purpose of her declaration? The Godhead knows my mind and the answer is yes so what would the purpose of the question be on judgement day for me or for EH unless he hasn’t had this discussion with deity yet?

  38. CTJ, thanks for your response. In one sense you are right that we don’t generally hear about the shortcomings or failings of modern or living prophets over the pulpit in sacrament meeting, or in gospel doctrine class, and that somewhat reflects our culture. Yet we are seeing more reflection and historical context applied to modern prophets, recognizing their faults and trying to understand the context of why they may have made certain decisions or said certain things. I think that is exactly what Elder Holland was trying to do.

    The church’s recent history is more open now than it has been at any time in my adult lifetime, but many prefer not to look, and others would prefer that none of us look. We are growing and that does not come without pain. Even with the limited involvement I have with the church history community, I have observed a lot of effort to help us understand the human shortcomings and limitations of both church members and church leadership in context. Many do “dare to speak that way,” but not all receive it in the spirit in which it is intended. After being misunderstood and wounded by our enemies so often in the past, there is a lot of institutional flinching about who are friends, who are enemies, and what the intentions really are.

  39. 4. As a return sister missionary I did pay attention when he mentioned the Elders who raise their arm to the square – but I did not get hung up on it. When I served I carried a card in my bag that stated I was a “Commissioned Minister of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” I was commissioned just as much as the Elders were.

  40. Recently I’ve been reading some of then work of von Bathazar (one of the two or three greatest 20th century Christian theologians by most accounts) and his comments on love and service strike me as powerfully consistent with EH’s ideas. First, he suggests that love has the structure of a vow, a powerful idea that helps us understand EH’s relating of love and loyalty: if we do not pledge ourselves, and then try to remain faithful to that pledge, do we really love in the first place? Second, he suggests that those who cannot find God in prayer and sacraments will not find him in the poor, even as he stands right in front of them. Extending this into our LDS context, it suggests that serving others is good and it makes us feel good, but it only becomes truly spiritually enriching and saving if we connect it to ordinances and the priesthood.

  41. I confess that I did not get that much out of Elder Holland’s talk. I doubt that there are many with my approach to persuasion, but I am much more impressed with someone who is using cool and clear logic to reach me (say in the manner of a C.S.Lewis or Dallin Oaks) than one who is hyperventilating and histrionic in trying to get or keep my attention. In fact the more emotional a speaker is, the more suspIcious I become that he or she has hit bottom with reasoning and can only appeal to emotion to keep the talk going.
    Tha sounds overly severe as I am writing, but I found Elder Holland’s emotion distracting as I tried to focus on the content of what he was trying to say. As for Kevin’s questions:
    1. Elder Holland was aware that he was going beyond the scriptural text in his sermon. This was in the spirit of rabbinic targums, where Jewish rabbis or other commentators explained or paraphrased or expanded on the language of scripture in order to make it more intelligible to their less tutored audience. Nothing wrong with this so long as one understands that the targum is not scripture and could reasonably be explained in a number of different and possibly inconsistent ways. However, I believe that more is going on in the threefold “Do you love me” sequence that a mere reflection of Peter’s earlier threefold denial, which may actually enhance Elder Holland’s concluding point. This is an example of where the Greek matters. In the first two exchanges, Jesus uses the word agapao for love, which has the same root as Paul’s word for charity, agape, and Peter tells Jesus that he phileos him, which is the Greek for, to put it loosely, he loves Jesus like a brother. In the third exchange, Jesus asks Peter if he (to targumize, even) phileos him, and Peter replies again that he phileos him. The gist thus seems to be: Jesus asks Peter if he loves him without any rivals (say fishing), unconditionally, with his whole and undivided heart, and Peter only understands Jesus in terms of, well yes, of course, you’re like a brother to me. Jesus repeats the point, with the same reply. And then Jesus a third time seems to settle for Peter’s current comprehension, knowing that in time he will learn that there is a more excellent way, the way of charity, or the pure of Christ. This fits with Elder Holland’s final plea that we learn to love God with our whole being.

    2. There is a difference. I believe that I have given my whole soul to God with a resolve, however stumbling, to try to do whatever he asks me do. But if I were living under President Young, however much I would have accepted that he held the keys of Peter, and he taught and expected that I accept that Adam occupied the position that all other prophets have reserved for God the Father, among other things, or that God is still progressing in knowledge, I would, with Orson Pratt, have declined and in that sense not been loyal. If Elder Holland intended loyalty to God, then I have no disagreement with that. He did once in another talk speak about the need for conformity in the Church, and President Hinkley once spoke of his expection of absolute loyalty from members, so he may have meant loyalty to the Church, or possibly both God and the Church.

    3. From the perspective of Heavenly Father, we are to strive to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, so I do not see any plausible cafeteria approach here. On the side of the Church, we are to give heed to all of the words and commandments of the living prophet (Section 21). As for other apostles and church leaders, they are to write not by way of commandment but by wisdom (Section 28:5), which I understand to imply that I am to receive their words by wisdom and not by way of commandment. So if I hear something from any Church leader that doesn’t comport with the Standard Works or the living prophet or the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Apostles, I may exercise my cafeteria option.

    4. I regret that sisters do not have the experience of baptizing along with all other priesthood ordinances. To talk about their “sharing” in these ordinances does not seem to say very much. Temple language suggests a future change in that respect. In the meantime, all gifts of the Spirit are gender neutral, including prophecy, healing, the working of miracles, interpretation of tongues, and so on. This may not be of any comfort to the sister you spoke with, especially where a sister may have been critical in helping to bring a person to the point of baptism or entering the temple. Kevin, I am sure you have a better answer than my feeble attempt.

  42. Just a quick addendum. One of the values of putting one’s thoughts to print is that one can more readily spot one’s inconsistencies. I suggested that Section 21 requires that one not cafeterialize when it comes to the words of the living prophet, but I did precisely that when referring to President Young’s Adam God and God’s qualified omniscience teachings. So I do reserve the right to decline to follow the living prophet when his views don’t comport with the Standard Works. I realize that this is perhaps living dangerously but I have a low threshold for nonsense.

  43. I loved the talk.

    I like to ponder the people behind the stories and events, and I like to try to understand what might have caused those people to do and say what they did and said. For example, I think we might see the Book of Mormon very differently than we tend to do, collectively, if we stopped and thought about the people in it as “real” people with motivations and personal perspectives and faults and blind spots. Generally, we just don’t do that – and I think that’s a real shame. Thus, I really like it when an apostle opens up and shares the results of his own pondering – especially when he states upfront that it is only his opinion and a possibility. I appreciated Elder Holland doing that so clearly.

    I have no problem with what I perceived to be Elder Holland’s warning about the cafeteria, even while I have no problem admitting that every single member in the history of the Church has had to choose what they can and can’t believe and/or do. That is true especially of those of us who look back on our own history with more years and apostolic statements to consider. The apostles themselves have disagreed about some things (even some central things), so I’m fine with the average members believing differently about lots of things. I see the way Elder Holland used the term much like Brett’s initial comment – that sitting down and feasting together (eating a hearty meal as a community) is important. I really don’t care if I love meat and the person sitting next to me is a vegetarian – as long as we can sit together and enjoy the entire time that is allotted for the meal.

    As has been mentioned, in the Bible, love is an action verb rather than a feeling – and the chief aspect of action as a sign of true love is loyalty (or willingness to do what one is asked to do by one’s leader). That is the core of the word “discipleship” – the willingness to “follow” someone and act as they require (and I use the word “require” intentionally). We conflate “love” and “charity” in many of our modern conversations, but they often were used to mean very different things back then.

  44. Just another thought…for fun.

  45. Antonio Parr says:

    I listened again last night to Elder Holland’s talk. Equally as powerful the second time around.

    As I listened, I put myself in the place of Peter as he received the thrice-repeated inquiry about his love for Jesus. Each time, my answer was two-fold: (1) “yes”, but (2) “not enough.” Elder Holland reminded me of my genuine, heartfelt love for my Savior, but reminded me, also, that I can and should love Him more.

  46. We loved Elder Holland’s talk because it was an actual sermon rather than a talk in the style of a corporate board presentation or a Covey-esque motivational speech.

    As to the “paraphrasing”, it wasn’t so much paraphrasing as providing a midrashic interpretation that filled in narrative gaps in the relatively sparse scriptural account. He changed nothing and the narrative material he supplied was entirely consistent with the substantive content of the available material. There is no reason to assume he did this based on some extra revelation about what the characters actually said under the circumstances because it is entirely natural to provide this kind of “elaboration”, as he put it, in such a homiletic use of the story. If I recall correctly, the Pope does some similarly uplifting elaboration in his Jesus biographies from the last decade. It’s effective and uplifting and Elder Holland skillfully used it to our edification.

    I’ve tried to use this approach myself in some of the past talks I’ve given. I don’t think that my efforts in doing so were illegitimate because I am not an Apostle. For example, I tried to envision/imagine, based on the scriptural text, how disciples of Christ were feeling about recent developments as the Day of Pentecost approached and so provided similar “elaboration” to a homiletic reading of Acts 2 for a baptismal talk a couple of years ago.

  47. Where does the text say that the apostles thought they might as well go back, rejoicing, to what they were doing before Jesus came along? I see where Peter says he’s going a-fishing (John 21), but is there something else in the text, or is this EH’s interpretation? I found that part odd because as disciples, we do still need to eat and work as well as preach. The fact that Peter was fishing didn’t mean he wouldn’t also preach…?

  48. Kevin Barney says:

    By the way, there was probably no intended distinction between the two verbs for “love” Jesus used, agapao and phleo. John alternates between those verbs for stylistic reasons. See for example this brief explanation:


  49. Kevin Barney says:


  50. Thanks Kevin for the Biola article. I’ll give it some more thought.

  51. Latter-day Guy says:

    To those who were once with us, but have retreated, preferring to pick and choose a few cultural hors d’oeuvres from the smorgasbord of the Resotration and leave the rest of the feast, I say that I fear you face a lot of long nights and empty nets. The call is to come, to stay true, to love God, and lend a hand [emphasis mine].

    It sounds to me less a criticism of cafeteria-style theology and more a poke at the NOM phenomenon. (I don’t see them as quite the same thing.) That the tidbits picked are specifically “cultural” is telling; also, the fact it’s followed by a plea to RMs to stay in/faithful to the Church. It was one among several comments that seem directed at stemming the membership hemorrhage that MKJ mentioned several months back.

  52. Okay, I’m late to the party here, but I’m catching up. I can’t seem to absorb all the talks in one weekend, so I spread them out over the next few days. I thought EH’s talk was powerful and good, and I got from it a feeling that I don’t do enough, that I should renew my commitment and strengthen my loyalty to the teachings of Christ.

    I heard the smackdown on cafeteria Mormons, and I believe he truly feels that way, that there’s no picking and choosing between church teachings, but I don’t know what he would say about Adam-God and other historical ideas we no longer accept, whether he would do what most people who don’t look into history extensively do, and just believe that things are now as they have always been with the church. I don’t think he’s unsophisticated or unread, but maybe he just sort of thinks we ordinary members mostly are and perhaps should be, or something. When I joined this church I knew there would be some things I disagreed with, because that would be true of any church other than the church of Tatiana, at which I had been worshiping for most of my life, and with which I was very unsatisfied. ;) So I accepted up front that there would be some cognitive conflict, in a similar way that I accepted before I went to work on nuclear plants that there would be some silly rules but I decided I would just not worry about that and follow the rules, even the stupid ones, because I can’t see all ends, and there must be some reason they are there. So even while I’m following the rules, such as no tattoos or only one earring, no female priesthood or exercise of spiritual gifts, (or 11 signatures needed for a single setpoint change), I reserve the right to believe the rules are sometimes silly and even ill-advised. That’s one part of the talk I think was for me: the not picking and choosing part.

    About sister missionaries not being able to baptize, I think he truly forgot the existence of sister missionaries at that point, and it was just a slip up. Obviously the senior apostles don’t think that much about us women. If they did they would let us talk more in conference, or at least give an invocation just once, even. But we are usually pretty far out of their minds, I think. This, to me, is a given. So I accept that my importance isn’t that great to apostles in their religious thought, except of maybe just being a helpmeet or whatever. I believe we count more with our Heavenly Parents than we do to senior apostles. And I’m cool with that. I think that part was also meant for me: the you ain’t so important part.

    But finally, the most important part was prompting me to ask myself the question in Christ’s name, “How much do you love me?” and examining what the answer is based on my actions. That part applied to everyone equally, and was the main point of the talk, I think. This faith is not something to believe, to think about, to argue endlessly, or to accept intellectually. It’s about doing. And if we aren’t feeding the sheep and teaching the lambs, we aren’t doing it. That’s what he asks of us. Not just following his commandments, but taking care of his little ones. The little girl who was 14 in India on Half the Sky the other night, who was being taken back to her village to almost certainly be pressed into prostitution by her mother and older relatives comes to mind here. All girls being trafficked are too. They are certainly the little ones of which Christ speaks when he talked about millstones. How much share in that millstone have I earned if I watch and do nothing? How much giving up of my lavish (compared to hers) lifestyle do I consider enough that I’ve done my part? That little girl, so sweet and bright and intelligent, speaks to me directly. I don’t want to see her ill-used and brutalized. I don’t want her taking 20-30 clients (rapists) per night. I want her studying and safe, and empowered to change the world. Is what I’m doing enough? I have to say with discomfort that it isn’t. I have to do more. I felt it very powerfully from Elder Holland’s talk. I need to be more of a doer of the word and not just a believer.

  53. Meant for me figuratively, of course, and not literally. Elder Holland doesn’t know me personally. =)

  54. Kevin,

    I initially found Elder Holland’s phrasing distracting but like #41 I recognized what he was doing in rephrasing in the form of a targum. It seemed entirely appropriate for an Apostle to rephrase extensively in a manner intended to expound on his point to help those he was addressing capture the message. If you go back and read/listen you find that he remained true to Church understanding and was very careful in his phrasing. Sometimes it is necessary to stop, which we do frequently with our girls when reading the scriptures, and see if they understand the words. Comprehension and spiritual definition comes only if the vocabulary is making connections to the mind and spirit.

    I’m going to skip the next two questions because I think they’ve been well addressed by others and I have little to add beyond what has been said.

    But as for #4, I find it interesting that none saw a deeper meaning in what he meant by stating the convert’s life is changed forever and that the commission changed the life of the missionary as well. Each missionary is extended a call and takes upon them the mantle of being a representative of Jesus Christ sent forth as the Seventy and the Apostles of old were to go forth to teach all nations. This means both Elder and Sister carries this mantle and if we are to understand James 5:20 correctly, then we must realize that the ordinance is a demonstration of a change of heart.

    Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

    That change of heart happened in the quiet hours of discussion and study encouraged and led by the Sisters or Elders who were the tools in the Lord’s hand to help one of his lost lambs return. But whose soul is saved in that process? And whose sins are represented in that multitude? I’ve always understood that the missionary is equally impacted for their acts of love. So there is no sexism in reminding every missionary that their commission and service in acts of love should have changed their hearts as well.

  55. The timeless words of the New Testament of olde were reduced to the language of a 20th century Utahn lecturing his boy scout troop.

  56. But I DO love the olde musical question of Broadway!

  57. Yeah, Jesus’s words were a whole lot better in the original English.

  58. Ha! That’s a good one! I wanna hear Solomon Rabinovich’s olde musical question in the original English too.

  59. “The timeless words of the New Testament of olde were reduced to the language of a 20th century Utahn lecturing his boy scout troop.”

    Vernon, those “timeless words” are Greek vernacular, common every-day speech, not elevated majestic prose. That is something we get from the KJV, but it’s an imposition on and wresting of the original Greek tone.

  60. Thought I don’t enter the waters of baptism with the new convert who I have been most instrumental in bringing to the Gospel, and I don’t raise my arm to the square at that moment, I am also bathed in the rich Spirit that fills all the hearts ready to receive and joyously celebrate that great moment with their new brother or sister in the Gospel. And I do have the life changing opportunity to raise my arm to the square in Sacrament Meeting when I sustain that person as the newest member of our ward, and I covenant then that I willing to bear their burdens that they may be light, and mourn with them, and comfort them, and serve them, and stand as a witness to them always, and to be a light to them forever more. Yes, my life is changed forever as I raise my arm to the square as a new convert is baptized and joins our ward family. Gender plays no part in this. Unto the least of these….

  61. Thanks, I messed-up. I didn’t realize what the tone of the spoken Aramaic was.