The Unfinished Endowment

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Cory B. Jensen is a longtime temple worker and author of Completing Your Endowment, which traces the history of the endowment.

In May of 1842, Joseph Smith first introduced the temple endowment to nine men in the room above his Red Brick Store. Over the next eighteen months, Joseph continued to add to this basic endowment. He introduced separate prayer circle meetings, sealing for time and eternity of a husband and wife, and a capstone two-part ritual sometimes referred to as the second endowment or second anointing. By the time of his death in 1844, Joseph had endowed about thirty-seven men and thirty-two women.

Unfortunately, Joseph never had the completed Nauvoo temple to work with and he left Brigham Young a charge to complete the work. Brigham Young recalled: “Bro. Joseph turned to me and said: ‘Brother Brigham this is not arranged right but we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I wish you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies with the signs, tokens, penalties and key words.’ I did so, and each time I got something more, so that when we went through the temple at Nauvoo I understood and knew how to place them there. We had our ceremonies pretty correct.” [1] [Read more…]

Three sub-degrees in the Celestial Kingdom?

Shannon Flynn is a life long student of Mormon History and a member of the Mormon History Association. 

About four weeks ago a discussion was started on the Mormon Historians Facebook page that asked about the common belief that there are three distinct sub-degrees or separate places within the celestial kingdom.  The reference that is usually pointed to is D&C section 131 verses 1-4 especially verse 1. “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees.”

In the discussion that followed it was my contention that there are not, in fact, three sub-degrees or divisions. Moreover, this idea and all of the variations and speculations on the nature of the sub-degrees has become one of the most significant pieces of false doctrine that pervades the LDS church today. Part of the discussion came from Kevin Barney who linked a post he had done back in 2006 on BCC, that the three sub-degrees was not the original interpretation of the verses in section 131.  I had an experience similar to what Kevin describes in his post when he said he heard it from a friend who heard it from California temple president. [Read more…]

Lesson 6: Noah Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Moses 8

Genesis 6-9, 11

Learning Outcomes

To understand the importance of the story of Noah and the flood.

To come away with an appreciation for the complexities of Godhood, prophethood, regularpersonhood.

Introduction

I know there are many spiritual lessons to be learned from the story of Noah and the flood, but what I really want to focus on is exactly how large the ark was, how many cubits deep the water would have been, and how the animals managed to not eat each other. [Read more…]

Lesson 2: God Knew Abraham #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Abraham 3, Moses 4:1-4

Learning Outcomes

By the end of class, class members will be able to

  1. Describe strategies for profitably reading Abraham.
  2. Evaluate what it means that God knew us before we were born.

Introduction

Eight years ago, I was sitting in a Sunday School class in Chicago with my daughter in my lap. I was probably half paying attention to the lesson, when suddenly the discussion started getting heated. People were arguing that we definitely, most certainly don’t believe in predestination. We’re foreordination people! Then others would pipe in that they didn’t see any substantive difference between predestination and foreordination. [Read more…]

Baptism, Resurrection, and Women Witnesses

Mormon-landia is abuzz today with the news (broken by This Week in Mormons) that youth can now more fully participate in baptisms for the dead on youth temple trips.  Specifically, Priests (age 16+) can now perform and witness temple baptisms, just like they already perform and witness live baptisms.  And young women (age 12-18) can perform any baptistry assignment (i.e. logistics, temple clothing, towels) currently done by adult women.   Previously, all of these functions could only be performed by endowed members.

There is much to celebrate here.  I fully support increased responsibility and participation in the workings of the church for our incredible youth.  Hopefully, these additional spiritual and service opportunities will help all youth feel closer to Christ and strengthen their faith.  This change also reduces the burden on finding sufficient adults to officiate youth temple trips, hopefully increasing the total number of opportunities to perform baptisms.  In addition, it may help those young women who are uncomfortable being baptized while on their periods (despite temple pronunciations that this is permitted), feel more comfortable having an awkward-question-free opportunity to serve.

And yet.  This policy change was a major missed opportunity to increase the spiritual role of young women in the Church.  [Read more…]

What if Beehives Passed the Sacrament Too?

I can still remember turning 12. At least the church parts of it. After I turned 12, my dad ordained me to the Aaronic priesthood, and then I got to pass the sacrament.

And I continued to pass it for the next two years.[fn1]

Passing the sacrament was an important part of my development as a Mormon. It provided me with a tangible connection to the church. My participation in the church stopped being passive, the receipt of knowledge and culture, and started being, well, participatory. I felt a certain amount of pride, a certain amount of responsibility, and even a certain amount of ownership over my church experience. I remember intricately figuring out who would go where, negotiating the pews to make sure that everybody got the sacrament, watching the priests, waiting for them to stand up so I could return my tray.

And lately I’ve been thinking, what if Beehives passed the sacrament, too? [Read more…]

Adam Miller’s The Sun Has Burned My Skin

Boom-chic-a-wah-wah. This is Adam Miller’s hot take on a sexy Biblical classic, so put on some Barry White and slip into something a little more comfortable, because it’s business time.

I remember as a young Mormon being made aware of this titillating book of pseudo-scripture. It was also a welcome loophole to the missionary injunction against reading novels (scriptures only!). Reading it secretly every now and again made me feel like a normal human being for five minutes, a feeling that never seemed to last as a missionary. Partly this was because it was clearly erotically themed, but also because some GAs had angrily suggested that it not be read, or even, in Dead Poets’ Society fashion, that it be ripped out of the Bible! Doing something forbidden was the easiest path to feeling normal. [Read more…]

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the JST?

One of the most important facets of Mormonism that sets us apart from other faiths is that we don’t believe the Bible to be inerrant. We believe that it contains errors. This belief alone causes us to be viewed as unChristian by many evangelicals and other sola scriptura believers who consider any alteration of the Bible to be heretical. Reformists, in breaking with the Roman Catholic church’s authority, placed greater weight on scripture as the sole voice of God (not through the filter of papal authority, but accessible to all believers directly through reading the Bible). For some, if the Bible is fallible, then Christianity has no leg to stand on in proclaiming it has access to God’s truth. [Read more…]

Death by (Correlation) Committee

Image result for primary teacher ldsA topic that often comes up in online discussion groups among Mormons is the teaching manuals. As most of us know, these are written by a committee called the Curriculum Committee (under the oversight of the Correlation Committee). [3] “Correlation” was a byproduct of decades-long efforts to standardize materials, culminating in the 1960s, a huge effort to amass all leadership, budgets, publications, and teaching materials under one hierarchical, priesthood-overseen umbrella rather than separate auxilliary heads as it had been in the past. (See footnote 3 for a much more thorough explanation of the history.) This was to quash rogue teaching that might occur when these things were being done under separate oversight. As with anything where uniformity is the goal, blandness and groupthink is often the result (whereas rogue teaching, inequity, and folklore is often the result of the other approach). Because teachers in the church are average church members using these manuals to the best of their ability, lesson quality varies greatly. Additionally, everyone who has held a teaching calling (and that’s most active members) has an opinion on the materials they are provided and how effective they are.

You can listen to a podcast describing the curriculum process here. Just reading the overview of it on that same page is very interesting. You can read the transcript of an interview with Dan Peterson about his time on the Curriculum Writing committee here.
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Lesson 17: The Law of Tithing #DandC2017

Learning Outcomes

At the end of class, students will be able to

  1. Describe the roots of tithing in the Hebrew Bible and in American Protestantism.
  2. Assess how scriptural text relates to contemporary practice in Mormonism.
  3. Explain how the blessings from tithing compare to Prosperity Gospel ideas.

[Read more…]

Lesson 14: The Law of Consecration #DandC2017

Learning Outcomes

At the end of class, students will be able to:

  1. Identify commonalities between the Law of Consecration and other communitarian religious movements.
  2. Explain the roots of consecration in the Mormon church.
  3. Assess how consecration fits in the modern church.

What Is Consecration?

In October of 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Parley Pratt, and Ziba Peterson went west on a mission to the “Lamanites.” As they travelled, they came to the Morely farm near Kirtland, Ohio. Morely, along with fifty or sixty others, were part of “the Family” or “the Big Family.” Eleven core families moved onto the Morely farm and established a communitarian society, where they held goods and property in common. [Read more…]

Lesson 6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart” #DandC2017

This week’s lesson is a continuation of the aborted Oliver Cowdery translation attempt. Bummer for you teachers who rotate weeks with another teacher; there’s a BIG overlap in chapters here with both this week and last week’s lesson focusing on the same three sections of the Doctrine & Covenants: 6, 8, and 9. This one throws section 11 in the cart, but really, the majority of the lesson is still focused on the same material as last week. You’re the loser who drew the short straw because your rotating cohort got first dibs on the good stuff.

The first “attention activity” is the suggestion to bring a radio to class. Apparently, a radio is an old-timey electronic device that was used to receive transmitted sound waves from the air. People used to use these devices to listen to talk show programs as well as music, all interspersed with housewives gushing about the newest dish washing soap and doctors recommending their favorite brand of cigarette “for your health.” Radios were also used in the Netflix series Stranger Things to communicate with the Upside Down. Since it’s probably impractical to drive your car into the classroom, perhaps there are some functional portable radios at the Desert Industries or in your grandfather’s attic you could pick up for your object lesson. [1] [Read more…]

On Moral Issues and Trump – Updated

iwasastranger_siteToday, the church is hesitant to enter into the political sphere. For the most part, I think that’s the right decision: church leaders don’t have any expertise in public policy or governance.

The church has, however, reserved the right to speak to “issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences.” Over the last couple years, it has invoked its right—duty, even—to speak to issues ranging from the legalization of recreational marijuana and physician-assisted suicide to alcohol laws in Utah to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

It has been outspoken in its support of religious liberty. As far back as 1992, Elder Oaks testified in support of of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and he has continued to emphasize the importance of religious liberty. [Read more…]

Lesson 3: “I Had Seen a Vision” #DandC2017

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of class, students will be able to:

  1. Describe the religious and cultural context in which Joseph Smith had his First Vision.
  2. Compare the various accounts of the First Vision.
  3. Summarize the relevance of the First Vision to contemporary Mormon belief and practice.

Vermont, New York, and Religious Liberty

Joseph lived in Vermont until he was about 10. In Vermont, there was no state-established church. Rather, each town could select its own minister, effectively establishing a church. Most towns chose a Congregationalist (or “Puritan”) minister.  [Read more…]

Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation

I’ve got a book in the editing process at Greg Kofford Books [it’s about D&C 132]. With luck, it may appear this December or possibly February 2017. Here’s a bit of the preface (excuse typos, it’s in progress):

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Adam Miller’s Nothing New Under the Sun

I just finished reading Adam Miller’s latest modernization of ancient scripture: Nothing New Under the Sun.  This is a very quick read, a modern version of Ecclesiastes:

Because the modern language made the parallels to modern wisdom literature so clear, I was curious about the links to Buddhism. According to Wikipedia, Ecclesiastes was written between 450 and 350 BCE.

The presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaisms points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE, while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it. The dispute as to whether Ecclesiastes belongs to the Persian or the Hellenistic periods (i.e., the earlier or later part of this period) revolves around the degree of Hellenization (influence of Greek culture and thought) present in the book. Scholars arguing for a Persian date (c. 450–330 BCE) hold that there is a complete lack of Greek influence; those who argue for a Hellenistic date (c. 330–180 BCE) argue that it shows internal evidence of Greek thought and social setting.

Is Ecclesiastes Buddhism in the Bible?  Or is it simply the case that all wisdom is roughly the same and there is nothing new under the sun.  Buddha dates to 600 BC. Adam Miller’s book doesn’t dwell on these parallels, but merely hints at them.  Wisdom is wisdom, no matter the source. It’s an interesting question, though. His modernized take on Ecclesiastes also demonstrates that there really is nothing new under the sun, including Christian wisdom.

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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XX. Crucifixion part 1. Mark and God’s Compassion on the Downtrodden.

Part 21, here.
Part 19, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Crucifixion 1. Mark and God’s compassion on the downtrodden.

Crucifixion was designed as a public event, meant to control by fear. People were meant to be allowed up close and personal to the cross. Of all the people who show up at Jesus’ cross, the most historically certain are the soldiers. Also likely are passersby, it’s entirely plausible that Jesus would be seen by those moving about in normal activity. However, the Psalms are so evidently used as framework, and the pictured audiences so contemptuous, it seems impossible to know whether there are specific memories of events of crucifixion in John and other Gospels. It’s certainly not implausible that members of the Sanhedrin might show up, for various reasons (but the priests are more problematic–it’s Passover eve for John, and lambs must be killed).
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XV. Matthew and the Fate of Judas. The Theory of Innocent Blood. Zechariah. Ahitophel again.

Part 16, here.
Part 14, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Matthew and the fate of Judas.

One the three predictions Jesus made was about the betrayal of a disciple, and that it would be better if he had not been born. Matthew tells us what happened to Judas in the aftermath of the kiss in Gethsemane. As the chief priests et al. are taking Jesus off to see Pilate, Matthew interrupts the story to tell how Judas dies (Mt. 27:3-10). The first thing to note is that not only is Peter following the action, Judas is too. Matthew is vague about this, maybe he’s thinking that Judas is outside the palace.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIII. Luke and John on the Jewish Trial.

Part 14, here.
Part 12, here.

You can read the whole series here.

The Trial. Luke and John.

Luke doesn’t have a trial at night, whereas Mark and Matthew have one at night. All three have Peter’s denials at night however. In Luke the trial is in the morning. Luke does have a Sanhedrin meeting at night, but the High Priest plays no role, and he also has mocking at night. Luke’s sequence is better from a legal standpoint. Luke’s rearrangement of events probably comes from a desire for a better sense of order. Trials at night suggest some kind of secretive hurried kangaroo court atmosphere, Luke doesn’t like that sort of thing.

On the questioning, Luke has “if you are the Christ, tell us.” Luke splits Mark’s question in two. He’s emphasizing the dual role of Jesus: Christ, Son of God. Jesus responds in a strange way: “if I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.” It’s incredibly ambiguous. Maybe this is Luke’s way of saying that Messiah has become a complicated term that means something different to Christians of his era than it did to Jews of Jesus’s time. Then he has Jesus go into the “right hand of the Power” thing.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus X. Gethsemane part 8. Passion as Parable. Bloody Sweat, or Just a lot of Sweat?

Part 11, here.
Part 9, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane VIII. This is it for Gethsemane. On to the arrest next time.

The Passion is a parable in itself. The kingdom is not coming in power. It comes by having the King become powerless. (Now, John would not like that idea, he has a much different vision of Jesus’ psychology, his position.) This is remarkable because Jesus has demonstrated power previously, conquering death (Lazarus), calming the sea (storm on sea of Tiberius), healed the sick merely by the touch of his clothing. Now he will soon be in the power of “sinners” as Mark says at the end of the Gethsemane story. And Jesus has to live through this, he doesn’t have power to stop it. He’s asked God to stop it, the answer is no. Finally, he comes to a point of utter aloneness on the cross. It’s through this weakness, isolation, impotence, suffering, that the kingdom will finally emerge. The sleeping disciples fulfill the tale at the end of Mark 13. They aren’t ready for the end trial, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak–they aren’t ready, Jesus must do it alone.

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Easter. The Passion of Jesus VII. Gethsemane part 5. Where? And Variety is Spice.

Part 8, here.
Part 6, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 5.

The location of Passion events is not certain. For Gethsemane, it’s obviously related to an olive grove, the name means oil press. It seems to be located near the hillside. Olive trees can live for millennia, but the trees that exist there now, are not those from Jesus’ era. When Titus was crushing the Jews at the end of the war in 70, he cut down all the olive trees around the Mount of Olives (Josephus mentions this specifically), he needed the wood and it removed any cover for fugitives. Present landmarks you might see on a tour of the area are merely guesses. About the only things one can say with some slight assurance is that the spot was near the base of the hill, the trees do much better in that area.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus VI. Gethsemane part 4. Luke: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Part 7, here.
Part 5, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 4. Luke + Mark – Matthew in between. John: off the ledger.

Luke doesn’t have anything on the conversation at Kidron, but he puts it in the supper. Luke has a more upbeat narrative, he doesn’t like to speak badly of the legends of the church (his Gospel is partly shaped by Acts). So he tempers a lot of it. The prophecy about Peter is still there, but in Acts he tells how Peter is fearless in preaching, he’s a heroic figure. This is always true of venerated religious people of the past. We always ignore or minimize their faults and failures. We did the same thing in writing about Joseph Smith in the 1850s. He was practically sinless by some lights. Of course he was nothing like that, but it’s natural and that’s Luke. Remember, he’s writing 50-60 years after the fact. Luke can’t help Judas, there’s nothing really that can be done to mitigate that story. But for the other disciples and Peter in particular, he puts in positive statements about their ultimate fate:
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus V. Gethsemane part 3. Predictions, Failure, and Mark.

Part 6, here.
Part 4, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane III.

Last time I ended with the predictions and they are negative. Going back to Mark 14:27, Matthew 26:31, and Zechariah 13:7. Mk reads “And Jesus said to them, You will all fall away (you will all be scandalized, offended); for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ Yet after my resurrection I shall go before you into Galilee.” The last part is the only positive phrase in the whole Markan Passion account (Luke expands on this a lot because he doesn’t care to have Jesus unsure about himself, Luke covers up much of the negative). Matthew has it somewhat differently: all of you will be offended IN ME this night. Offended, or scandalized begins to take on the sense of losing faith. They will be so disturbed that their faith will be completely threatened. In Mark’s audience, he is perhaps looking at a situation in the community where people have failed in some drastic way. Many believe Mark was written in the aftermath of the Nero persecution, when Christians betrayed other Christians to the empire in the threat of martyrdom. It was a time of shock, loss, and depression. Mark’s negative tone, he even has Jesus wavering in his resolve, seems meant to show that the worst kind of failure can be healed by Christ. Take courage he seems to be saying. We are all human, but God can heal us.[7]
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus, IV. Gethsemane part 2. Locations: Old Testament Influences, Judas as Antitype.

Part 5, here.
Part 3, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane II.

The Mount of Olives is a large hill, east of the city, separated from it by the Kidron Valley. Kidron is a wadi, it only has water during part of the year, in this case, the winter. So Jesus crosses this winter flow.

Gethsemane (lit. oil press) means a place where there were oil vats. There are olive trees about, and they need oil presses to press out the oil. Gethsemane is a place where this is done. This seems to be part of the earliest tradition, that there was this place called Gethsemane. Mount of Olives has interesting theologizing around it, and it’s mentioned in Luke that on Easter Sunday night Jesus ascends to heaven there, and in Acts, he again does this after 40 days. It’s usually inferred that he will come back to that spot in the future.[5]
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus, III. Gethsemane part 1.

Part 4, here.
Part 2, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 1. Where to begin? The Gospels give us different pictures. John’s Gospel has the Last Supper, chapters 13-17 and then a break, crossing the Kidron Valley in chapter 18. The break in the other Gospels is not so clear, especially in Luke. It’s hard to make a break there, but the Supper is a complex thing in itself, so I’m just going to start things with Gethsemane, even though that’s not always how the Passion is defined. But this thing has to be finite. It’s a blog post. The same thing happens at the other end. Matthew doesn’t make a sharp divide between death and burial. I think the latter belongs in a treatment of resurrection, something I don’t want to get in to, and I haven’t really carefully reviewed the texts anyway. That’s on purpose. This series focuses on issues we don’t consider with much frequency.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus I. Preliminaries.

Part 2, here.

You can read the whole series, here.

Latter-day Saints don’t often use the term “Passion” in referring to the last hours of Jesus’ life. I like the term however, so I will use it in this series of Easter thoughts. One can think of its historical meaning as “suffering.”

I’ll begin this with a word about the nature of the Gospels. If you’ve managed to get through some of my posts lately, then you have probably already encountered this. There are various levels of meaning in scripture, and the longer scripture has been around the more this is true. I’m going to assume a centrist position, one that can accommodate faith, and scholarship. What I mean is this: you can, I think, err on a “fundamentalist” side, or a “liberal” one. It’s somewhat complex to illustrate this in general, but since we will be discussing the New Testament Gospels, the two positions might go like this. The fundamentalist notion is that everything we find in the Gospels is precisely what Jesus said and did. The liberal position is that virtually nothing is historical in the Gospel accounts (in both cases I’m stating the most extreme view). Each has been argued for but each has drawbacks. The first is really not tenable because when you compare the Gospels (and we will see this as we go along) you find deep divergences. It’s obvious that something has happened between the time of Jesus’ words and acts and the time the Gospels were written down. The liberal argument uses such divergence to conclude that nothing can pass the test of being historical. I think that position (one that exists in the literature) goes too far in the other direction.[1]
[Read more…]

Mormon Deepities

What is a deepity?

Something that sounds profound but intellectually hollow.
Usually has the following characteristics. 1. True but trivial 2. False but logically ill informed. 3. Usually a use-mention error or (UME)  To the extent that it’s true, it doesn’t matter. To the extent that it matters, it isn’t true.

What is a UME?  Confusing the word used to describe a thing, with the thing itself.

Daniel Dennett, the prominent atheist author who coined the term “deepity” in 2009, argues that theology is full of deepities.  To which I say, I know you are, but what am I? [Read more…]

Bankruptcy and a Book of Mormon

Note that this isn't the Book of Mormon the debtor got to keep

Note that this isn’t the Book of Mormon the debtor got to keep

I was walking through the mailroom at work today and, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the word “Mormon” in newspaper headline. Mormonism doesn’t come up much in the news around here, so I took a second look. On the front page—in fact, above the fold—of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, a legal newspaper here, was the headline “Debtor can keep rare Book of Mormon.”[fn1]

Now, I’m not a bankruptcy person,[fn2] but the story is too good to pass up, so here goes: [Read more…]

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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