I Believe… the Book of Mormon is Multidimensional

I had a vinyl banner that hung in my bedroom—a gift from one of my Primary teachers. It was distressed to look like an ancient manuscript, and on it were printed the Articles of Faith. Next to each Article, a blank circle hovered. As I memorized each Article, I would check them off with my teacher and she would give me a sticky-backed button to place in the circle… each Article had a different button, and I remember the anticipation I felt as I waited to see the image on the button’s obverse. The whole affair felt like an ancient rite of passage, passed down to me by those who’d paved the way before.

I never completed it.

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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 8-Summary.

[Here’s all the previous parts: Part 1 (Introduction–Construction of the Gospels), Part 2 (Incarnation and the Wisdom Literature), Part 3 (John and his community–The Jews), Part 4 (More on Community, Feasts, Doc. and Cov. 7), Part 5 (John and ecclesiology–Joseph Smith’s Struggle), Part 6 (John and Joseph Smith’s revelations and preaching–Holy Ghost–Election), Part 7 (John and the Historicity of Scripture).]

You can read the whole series here.

I’m summarizing a few things here, so there are spoilers for the previous posts if you haven’t read them.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 7-John and the Historicity of Scripture.

[Part 6 is here. The finale is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

There is an issue with John’s Gospel that’s related to Doc. and Cov. 7, but I avoided it when I brought up the revelation. This seemed like the right place to discuss it, the back end of what I originally planned, since it leads to a natural conclusion and where this whole thing was supposed to end up. But I’ve since realized that it really belongs in an extended study of resurrection texts, so I’m just going to hit a few of the high spots here, and then come back to it in some Easter posts. Maybe.
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Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson #7: 2 Nephi 3-5

This approximates the lesson I taught in my ward today, adding a few things I wanted to get to if we’d had more time.

In 1999 I was a missionary in Helsingør, Denmark (familiar to Shakespeare buffs as the setting for Hamlet). In the good ol’ Danish Mission getting let in to teach was a pretty rare occurrence, but we met this woman, taught her a first discussion, and even came back for a second. When we showed up for the third, though, we found the Book of Mormon hanging in a bag on her doorknob, with a note saying, “God is not a racist. 2 Nephi 5:21.”

Obviously I’m still around, almost 17 years later, so this episode (and that verse) didn’t destroy my testimony, but it does raise questions about what to do with passages, like that one, that grate against our modern sensibilities. (Mike’s recent post has some good ideas!) Conveniently, today’s chapters talk a good deal about scripture, giving us occasion to think about such questions. [Read more…]

John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 6-John and Joseph Smith’s Revelations and Preaching-Holy Ghost-Election.

[Part 5 is here. Part 7 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

While Joseph Smith appeals to John in working out the meaning of Election, at the same time John’s texts in chapters 14, 15, 16 become vital in both the Mormon egalitarian ministry of knowledge and the Mormon temple priesthood (and John 15 is the opening text for Smith’s announcement of choosing apostles in 1835): “God hath not revealed any thing to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve & even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to–bear them.” This comes to a head in John’s treatment of the Spirit. In the other Gospels, and Acts, the word used for the Spirit is a word without gender, pneuma—breath. It appears for example in Gabriel’s speech to Mary, the Greek version (LXX) of Genesis at the creation, and James 2:26, a favorite, though perhaps misused “body” and “spirit” text. John employs a different word to enhance or stand in for “Holy Spirit” that is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, Parakletos (pa-ROCK-luh-toss, is close enough) and it has masculine gender. In other words, John is speaking (writing) of a person.
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The Book of Mormon and the Bechdel Test

Speak up, but don’t talk too much.

When I was in 5th grade, our class was going to put on a classroom play: an abbreviated version of A Christmas Carol.  When I looked at the script, there was only one female part, that of Fezziwig’s wife, and she only had two brainless lines.  I figured that must mean all the parts were open, so I decided to audition for the part of Scrooge, which had a meaty fifty lines, plenty of scene-chewing grumpiness, and even a crying scene.  I borrowed my grandfather’s hat and shirt, and I explained to the teacher that since none of the girl parts were remotely interesting in this play, casting should be open to all comers for all parts.  She agreed with me, and I got the part! [1]

The Bechdel test [2] is used to identify gender bias in movies and literature, but it applies to any narrative story.   [Read more…]

John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 4-More on Community-Feasts-Doctrine and Covenants 7.

[Part 3 is here. Part 5 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

Another unfortunate thing about this divorce between John’s group and the synagogue: they lose a powerful and fulfilling tradition. The feasts, celebrations, and cultural links with the past that acted as a continuing force of discipline, values, and stability drifted away, their meaning diminishing over time. You lose your own identity when something like this happens in some respects. That seems represented in the Gospel.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 3-John and his Community-and the Jews.

[Part 2 is here. Part 4 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

In Paul, and later in the Synoptics, the central act is that Jesus died for us, and God brought him back in resurrection. John keeps much of this certainly, but he draws us back to the Prologue (John 1) in statements like “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son.” That is, God sent Jesus into the world, from a preexistent state. It’s not a reference to the end of Jesus’ life, atonement/resurrection, it’s a reference to its beginninglessness, it’s a passage about Christmas—Word became flesh. God’s Son came down, and brought God’s life with him (life in himself)—the life that he can give (here and now!) is God’s own life—eternal life. That seems to be John’s message, and it’s a message that Joseph Smith extracted and sacralized-sacramentalized. In John’s Gospel, Jesus offers people eternal life while he’s in conversation with them and with the disciples. John never uses the term “apostle”–he’s virtually anti-clerical–this tells us something of his presentism perhaps and the ecclesial nature of his community. The Book of Mormon carries the terminology of John when Jesus chooses Twelve and in many other places.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 2-Incarnation and Wisdom Literature.

[Part 1, here. Part 3 here.]

You can find the whole series here.

John is unique among the four Gospels in that it speaks of incarnation (John 1). The other Gospels never speak of a previous life for Jesus. In John, Jesus lived with God before mortal life. And everything he says and all his acts conform to what he heard and saw with God in a preexistence (John 5). Joseph Smith makes a huge thing of this, and it forms one of the two pinnacles of the final part of early Mormon teaching. Once you start to think this way, and John does it right from the beginning, it changes everything. The other Gospels make it clear that Jesus is speaking for God, but they never give an explanation of the genesis of that teaching. John does this, and it turns into one of the two pillars of Mormon cosmology.
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Are Mormons Anti-Modernists?

As the Ammon Bundy headlines continue to dominate the news cycle, many have been wondering whether these views are inherently Mormon as the Bundy clan claims or if Mormonism encourages these types of attitudes.  While this episode has a libertarian theme, which may or may not relate to the question of anti-modernism, I wanted to revisit a post I wrote in 2013 about the anti-modernist streak that seems to be emerging in various faith traditions, including Mormonism.

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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 1-Introduction and the Construction of the Gospels.

I wanted to say goodbye to our New Testament year and hello to the Book of Mormon. I did a few posts in 2015 about the NT, but nothing much about John. John’s Gospel is a key text in the restoration, and I think it’s important to see how the genesis of the Gospel finds a home in early Mormon works of scripture and discourse. I’m just scratching the surface here. There are book-length treatments that await this point of view. This stands as a kind of prelude to some Easter material I want to post around the holiday.
[You can read the whole series here.]
[Part 2, here.]

John the apostle of Jesus and brother of James | the beloved disciple | John the Evangelist? | John the Elder | John the Redactor | John the Revelator. Five or six identities, possibly six different persons/traditions, associated with the New Testament and in a number of ways, early Mormonism, including the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith’s revelations. To start out, I want to consider the Gospel of John and then to some extent the rest of what usually goes by the name, Johannine corpus. That includes the Gospel, the Letters (1, 2, 3 John) and Revelation.[1]
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Book of Mormon Central, #BOM2016

Example of material available at www.bookofmormoncentral.org (click on the image for a full page view)

Example of material available at http://www.bookofmormoncentral.org (click on the image for a full page view)

Just in time for the Church’s curricular focus on The Book of Mormon in Sunday School during 2016, a new non-profit called Book of Mormon Central with an office and research library in Springville, Utah is launching a new, interactive repository of information and materials about The Book of Mormon, which Book of Mormon Central believes will allow The Book of Mormon to “advance goodness, justice, and faith on personal, family, social, and international levels.” The founder of Book of Mormon Central is Lynne Wilson, John W. Welch is the Chairman, and Kirk Magleby is the Executive Director. [Read more…]

To Be Perfectly Honest . . .

Honesty is cool.

In Gospel Doctrine this week, the class discussion revolved around how we can be more honest, and the subtle forms of dishonesty that creep into our lives.  According to one study [1], 10% of communication in marriage is dishonest.  Another study showed that 38% of interactions between college students were deceptive [2].  And as we all know, 83% of statistics are made up [3].  Why do people lie?  Does everyone do it?  How can we be more honest?

“It’s not a lie if you believe it!”  George Costanza [4]

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Why I Use Other Bible Translations in Gospel Doctrine

I routinely give some version of this spiel both when I teach Gospel Doctrine and in the hallway conversations that follow. Several friends have suggested that I blog it, so here goes. I’m aiming for brevity rather than thoroughness, since the point of the spiel is to give people in class who might be wondering why I tend not to use the KJV a short and accessible argument explaining my reasons. Even though we’re currently doing the New Testament, I’ll also include my bit on the Old. [Read more…]

“The Kingdom of God Is Within You”: Reflections on Gospel Doctrine 18: #BCCSundaySchool

220px-Ge_Tolstoy“The only significance of life consists in helping to establish the kingdom of God; and this can be done only by means of the acknowledgment and profession of the truth by each one of us.”–Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You

Jesus spends a fair bit of time in the New Testament trying to define “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of Heaven.” And he uses some of his most elaborate metaphors and conceits to try to explain what this kingdom is and why it is so important.

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You Can Only Want One Thing the Most: Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine 17 #BCCSundaySchool

Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.  And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. (Mark 10: 21-22)

Mark 10 has got to be the most explained-away chapter in the LDS Standard Works. In it, Jesus goes negative on two things that Latter-day Saints like a lot. The first of these is wealth. Jesus tells his disciples that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (:25). The second is families, as “no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake . . .  but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time” (:29-30). [Read more…]

(Mis)reading Scripture

book-of-mormon-and-bibleA seemingly evergreen issue in the bloggernacle: what do we do about prooftexting? On the one hand, it allows us to apply scripture to ourselves. On the other, it suggests that scripture, as written, is not up to the task of explicating the gospel and, instead, must be stretched and tortured to tell us what we need to know.[fn1]

An example: at church last year, discussion briefly turned to what we do when traditional Mormon readings of scripture turn out to be significant misreadings.[fn2] It came up in the context of God commanding Ezekiel to combine the stick of Joseph with the stick of Judah. The Gospel Doctrine manual explains that the stick of Judah is the Bible and the stick of Joseph is the Book of Mormon.  [Read more…]

Guest Post: New Testament Lesson 1

This guest post is by Brad Masters. He is a judicial law clerk, an Angels baseball aficionado, and a contributor at Normons.com.

It’s been sad to watch friends and family struggle with their testimonies. Lately, we’ve been inundated constantly with tough stuff, from priesthood bans to polygamy to any other number of topics du jour. Far too many have lost faith in Mormonism. (One is too many.)

Interestingly enough, many whose faith is extinguished not only leave the Church, but leave Christianity altogether. Rarely do the exmormon.org boards (which look increasingly like the kinds of caves trolls retreat to after long hours spent pestering unexpecting bridge-crossers) or other “recovering Mormon” blogs showcase testimonies of no-longer-Mormon Christians.  Instead, the posts are mostly from newly-minted atheists. [Read more…]

Thoughts on the first week of New Testament study

Sermon on the MountI’m looking forward to studying and teaching the New Testament this year in Gospel Doctrine. (And thanks Kevin and RJH for helping me with my lesson this week.) I’ve taught the other books a couple times, but never the New Testament, so I’m not as familiar with it as I should be. This year is my chance to figure out some stuff I’ve had on the back burner for a long time. I plan on spending this year learning and reading and talking about Christ, and letting his words sink in and challenge me to rethink things.

Because the teachings of Christ are a lot more difficult and radical than we give them credit for. There’s friction in his words, and there are calls to action. The same guy who said “My yoke is easy” also told a certain ruler to give away everything and follow him. I don’t imagine it was any easier for the fishermen to leave their nets than it would be for us to leave ours.

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How to “know Brother Joseph again” using the First Vision

linford-first-vision[Another part of my ongoing “Tips for Teachers” series. See the associated links here.]

My friend’s ward has an interesting Elder’s Quorum lesson schedule and I’m not sure how wide-spread it is in other wards. It goes like this:

1st Sunday: EQ Presidency Message
2 & 3rd: PH/RS manual
4th: “Teachings for our Times” (usually a conference address)
5th: Bishopric message

As EQ president, he gets to select lesson topics once a month. For the past few months he’s made use of the Church’s new Gospel Topics essays on issues like “Race and the Priesthood,” “Becoming Like God” and “Book of Mormon Translation.” This month he decided to focus on the new piece about the First Vision so I told him about a lesson I put together back when I taught Elder’s Quorum lessons in my Maryland ward.

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Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, or Why I Might Be Okay With the 3-Hour Block

Last night, my wife and I went to hear the final performance in this season’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Chicago residency. Pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel performed all five of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and cello.  [Read more…]

Is the new Sunday School curriculum a step forward?

A while back I gave a sacrament talk about how the Restoration is an ongoing thing. It was tough to gather enough recent rhetorically requisite quotes from authority to uphold my main thesis, so I was particularly happy when President Uchtdorf delivered this one:
Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal.”
It’s wonderful (and for me, paradoxically egotistically self-affirming) to hear from the pulpit that we still have important things to learn as a Church, not just as new converts. But isolated statements like this one are up against some institutional inertia sustaining the view that we have pretty much everything figured out, especially Truth-wise. If we want to know how the “ongoing process” perspective play out in our actual church lives we might take a look at the Church’s recently announced plans for a new Sunday School curriculum for adults. The new curriculum has the potential to paradoxically affirm the idea of an ongoing process of Restoration while also denying or obscuring it.

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Transgressors in Eden

This Sunday in Sunday School, we’re going to study the Fall.[fn1] The lesson quotes Elder Oaks distinguishing sin from transgression[Read more…]

An Eclectic View of D&C 77: Part 1.

This series constitutes a leisurely stroll through the halls of Doctrine and Covenants section 77. I don’t have any particular schedule in mind, future posts will appear as seemeth me good.

One of my favorite sections of the Doctrine and Covenants is 77. It is a favorite because it is a fruitful field for the discussion of the meaning, methods, and interpretation of Joseph Smith’s revelations in particular and to some degree, revelation in general.
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Roman Key

A Roman iron key, c. 1st–3rd century AD. 185 mm (7 1/4″) long, “head” of key measures 2 1/4 x 2 3/4.”

As Rebecca J just noted, the theme for youth instruction for the month of June is priesthood and priesthood keys. In the revelations of Joseph Smith, the Biblical leitmotifs of opening and closing, of binding and unbinding, and of sealing and unsealing all come to be associated in deeply significant ways with the priesthood orders of the Church. In this post, I will focus on the theme of opening and closing as it connects to the imagery of keys.

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Using the Youth Sunday School Curriculum to Train Future Missionaries

I am happy to introduce a new monthly youth Sunday school series at BCC: adapting the youth Sunday school curriculum to train future missionaries.

In my own ward I’m fortunate to teach 17-18 year-olds. Some of them already have turned in their mission papers and are awaiting calls. Others are working on their papers. The Sunday school curriculum adapts itself easily to teaching the youth how to share the gospel both with investigators in a formal setting and with friends. [Read more…]

Revelation and Surprise



This is another installment in a series of posts based on the monthly themes from, “Come, Follow Me,” the new youth curriculum for the Church. Here are the previous posts for January, February, and March

A mother gives birth to her child, a composer writes a new song, and a gardener’s planted seed sprouts, all to some degree of surprise. It’s not that these events were unexpected, but that the specific manner of their unfolding could not be entirely predicted. There was a moment of prestige—of revelation—natural to each. We live in an age of almost constant scientific, historical, and creative revelation, and therefore of surprise. How fitting, then, that this dispensation was inaugurated by a young man who turned out to be—and is still turning out to be—full of surprises as well.

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Gospel Doctrine Lesson #6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart, by the Holy Ghost”

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.

This covers much the same material as the last lesson, historically and thematically.  The emphasis continues to be on Oliver Cowdery’s experiences translating the Book of Mormon and, specifically, his attempts to recognize the spirit of revelation in his own life.  While the emphasis of last week’s lesson was more on preparing yourself to receive revelation, this week’s lesson has more to do with recognizing what on earth is going on when it happens.

First of all, go to the new Revelations in Context resource at lds.org and read the article by Jeffrey Cannon on Oliver Cowdery’s Gift.  While you are hopping around, go to Robin Jensen’s post on last week’s lesson and read that as well.  Now return to this post and feel bad; I’m neither as knowledgeable, nor as good a writer as those guys. Oh well.

If there is one message to take from all of the sections being covered this week (and last week) it is this: revelation is not easy work. [Read more…]

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #5: “This Is the Spirit of Revelation”

Robin Scott Jensen is an editor with the Joseph Smith Papers, working extensively on the Revelations and Translations series. As always, his work represented here is his alone and not representative of the church nor the JSP. He has posted with BCC before on his detailed work with the revelations. And even though he is a Sunday School instructor for the 16-17 year olds, the welcomed youth program put a kink in his planned D&C lectures, so he instead shares one with us today. -EmJen

Two remarkable points stand out to me when I think of Joseph Smith and his revelations: his willingness to share his prophetic responsibilities with others and the ever-evolving way in which he introduced new revelation to the Saints. These two points complement and inform one other and can shed light on our own understanding of what it means to receive revelation.

The revelations to Oliver Cowdery regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon have become more and more fascinating to me as I step back and try to understand what Joseph Smith was actually doing. A man less than thirty years old, with no formal education, claimed visions of an angel, the discovery of ancient plates, and their subsequent “translation.” And he promptly offered his scribe, whom he had known for less than a month, to share in this critically important and spiritual task. Oliver quickly learned what subsequent members would discover. Mormonism was a participatory religion. Joining Mormonism meant joining with full commitment—both temporarily and spiritually. This commitment stretched people beyond their comfort level. In the first revelation to Cowdery, dictated in April 1829, the Lord tells him that he had a gift. This was a gift that “cometh from above” and promised “great and marvelous” mysteries.[1] But there was more. Besides the gift of knowing mysteries, the Lord promises him another gift: “behold I grant unto you a gift if you desire of me, to translate even as my servant Joseph.” What an incredible statement. I would love to have heard a bit of the pre- or post-revelation conversation between Joseph and Oliver.

But it was not to be. The story is well known: Oliver attempted to translate, failed, and received an additional revelation instructing him in the necessity of doing more than simply asking. “Behold you have not understood, you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no though, save it was to ask me.”

But hang on. [Read more…]

The Pedagogy of Sunday School (part 1)

I was recently called for the fifth time as a Sunday school teacher, and once again I am very pleased. I teach professionally — mostly high school, mostly English and humanities — and I find the process of preparing and delivering a lesson comfortable and enjoyable.

Because my professional obligations having shifted in recent years, I have been thinking more about the way we teach and the way we learn in Sunday School, applying the same pedagogical concepts of teaching literature to high school students to the teaching of Sunday School. Today I will talk muse a little about methodology and outcomes.

I generally teach Gospel Doctrine in the same way I teach a literature class. We have a text and we are looking at the text’s apparent purpose and its methods in pursuing that purpose. As I generally do with literature, I make the assumption that the text is successful, doing an analysis of the text rather than an evaluation.

But what reading of the text do we favor? As J. Stapley pointed out there are different approaches, and I am certainly interested in offering flavors of all of those readings. In the end, my job is not to offer a single reading of the text, whether that reading be my own or the authoritative reading.

As a literature teacher, I want students to develop their own reading, supported by the following:  [Read more…]