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.
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 5-John and Ecclesiology-Joseph Smith’s Struggle.

[Part 4 is here. Part 6 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

At first glance, John seems agnostic about community structure. But this can’t be an ignorance of the issues. In fact, John does have structure (I mean in terms of pecking order in the church of the early 2nd century). John writes a lot about sheep and shepherd and there is the vine metaphor from the Wisdom Literature. But John seems to want this in terms of individuals. It’s an individualistic Gospel, at least it has much more of that than the other three. Every branch gets life from the Vine. If you don’t get that life, you are cut off. John is full of Jesus encountering people and these are really tests: either the person chooses light, or darkness (there is a lot of Mormonism and especially preaching and rationalization of missionary approach that has support here). John never uses the word “church” in the Gospel (it does appear in the letters). It’s not that John wants to neglect the body. It’s that salvation is very individualistic. However, not in the way that antebellum American Protestantism advertised. It’s Joseph Smith who picks up on this through a liturgical actualization of John’s picture of Jesus offering Eternal Life in the here and now, not just somewhere out in the distance.
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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]
[Read more…]

Book of Mormon geography, archives edition

I read Ardis’ recent report on her Gospel Doctrine introducing the Book of Mormon (you should too). Her section documenting the shifting language about the ancestry of Native Americans reminded me of a couple of relevant documents. I don’t know how many Mormons believe that Lehites are the primary ancestors of Native Americans; I would suspect that most of the readers here don’t. But I’ve heard people in my ward talk about the “heartland” theory, and I’ve spoken to more than one person who found the admissions in the Book of Mormon DNA essay released by the church to be incongruous with the worldviews expounded in their childhoods. I think it is worth pointing out that church leaders haven’t really held unanimous and monolithic views, though some have been very influential. [Read more…]

The Christmas Story (XII). The Christmas Hymns

[Part 11 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

I’ve said something about the early hymns that Luke introduced in the nativity story and here for your enjoyment then, are some of the earliest Christmas Songs in various settings. That’s the end of our Christmas journey together. All of us at BCC wish you a Holy and a Merry Christmas, and, repeat the sounding joy.
[Read more…]

The Christmas Story (XI). Luke: The Temple

[Part 10 is here. Part 12 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

The first born child of a Jewish marriage at the time of Jesus had to be in effect, given to God. In place of actually turning the child over to the temple cult, a sum was paid (this was symbolic since only Levites could perform the temple service–it was a remembrance of the Golden Calf episode–Num. 18). The parents are not really involved here, but the mother must come after a waiting time for a purification rite (offer a sacrifice). (Lev. 12)

When priests like Zacharias offered sacrifice or incense, they had to be purified. They had to come out of the secular, leave it behind, so that they could enter the presence of God. They had to change their clothing, put on special vestments, wash, and so forth. There were well defined rituals to create this separation.[1] Birth was seen as a creative act (see the second post on the status of Mary) and much like the priestly acts, there was a holiness about birth, a participation with God.
[Read more…]

The Christmas Story (X). Luke: The Scene of Jesus’ Birth.

[Part 9 is here. Part 11 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Luke has told us about the birth and the circumcision of John the Baptist, and now he begins his narrative of the birth and presentation of Jesus. He spends more ink here since obviously this is his main point in the prologue of the ministry.

In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled [RSV Luke 2]

It’s a census. It’s known that Augustus had a census now and then to get an idea of the population in various places, however he never commanded an empire-wide census. But remember that Luke’s view is a global one, and he wants this to follow that picture. Another thing to recall is that Luke is writing many years after the death of Augustus (August 14AD -yes the month is named for him) and the other events he’s telling us about. Consider trying to recall the highlights of the years of the U.S. presidency of William Howard Taft. It gives you some idea about Luke’s story. You have some general ideas about Taft perhaps, but probably not details about him. You probably don’t recall details of his role in the “Big Burn” and the forest service in 1910. But you may have some kind of general picture, legends of Augustus, if you’re Luke. Luke wants us to understand that this is an event that has world-wide significance.
[Read more…]

The Christmas Story (IX). Luke: Mary, Elizabeth, and Prayers/Hymns of the Early Church

[Part 8 is here. Part 10 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Luke has given us two traditions, one about Zacharias and Elizabeth, one about Mary, and both involve Gabriel and angelic announcements. Now Luke is going to bring them together by telling us about a visit Mary makes to Elizabeth. This cements the blood relationship between Jesus and John. Luke is the only one of the Evangelists who knows about this, and he uses this to blend the two traditions.

Now that Luke has this backstory of John and Jesus, what does he do with it? Essentially nothing, directly, at least. The other Gospel writers seem ignorant of it, and in the Gospel of John, the Baptist actually says that he never knew Jesus! So this is a little like the infancy stories in general. They create this backstory of Jesus, they provide an Israelite foundation, there are these spectacular events: stars, wise men, murder of children, shepherds who tell the story of angels, and then no one knows about this at all later on. It’s as though Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, never see each other again. The story of this linkage comes to us and then disappears.
[Read more…]

The Christmas Story (VIII). Luke: Gabriel- – -Mary as Disciple

[Part 7 is here. Part 9 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Luke sees Mary as the model disciple. He gives us a picture of Mary as the first to hear, however frightening it might be, and she believes though not fully understanding (hence Luke’s repeated, “and Mary pondered these things in her heart” phrase). Luke has Gabriel come to Nazereth. Thus, Luke tells us that Mary lives in Nazereth. Matthew doesn’t: he thinks Mary (and Joseph) lived in Bethlehem. She is betrothed to a man named Joseph “of the house of David.” Again, it’s Joseph that is a descendant of the great king. David is a symbol for the kingdom itself. Luke writes that Gabriel tells Mary that she is favored of the Lord, God wants in effect to bestow grace on her, and that’s the way St. Jerome translated it, full of grace.

El Greco: Mary meets the angel. Note the dove. (Image: Wikipedia)

El Greco: Mary meets the angel. Note the dove. (Image: Wikipedia)


The calling, grace, power, she is about to experience is that she is to conceive a child. God’s Son. The words seem to mean that Mary is already a graceful, a faithful person, one who already stands in favor with God. Now she is to stand in greater favor with him.[1]
[Read more…]

The Christmas Story (VII). Luke: Gabriel, Zacharias/Elizabeth, and John

[Part 6 is here. Part 8 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Matthew doesn’t tell anything about John’s nativity. He pops onto the scene baptizing. He’s part of the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry. John (the Evangelist) puts him in his Gospel in a very weird way. He’s talking about Jesus existing before creation and all of a sudden he inserts the Baptist into the narrative. It’s a powerful part of the message for him.
[Read more…]

They Have Their Reward

In Matthew 6, there are several behaviors called out as public displays of righteousness:

  • Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them (v. 1)
  • And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. (v. 5)
  • Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. (v.16)

[Read more…]

The Christmas Story (VI). Luke and the Roman World

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

[You can find the whole series here.]

Matthew sees things in terms of God’s plan, and the last times are at hand. He sees parallels between the birth of Jesus and the Christological events of his death. Matthew has these very dramatic Jewish motifs that are quite characteristic. Stars, the quaking earth, darkness, turmoil in the elements, angels and the intervention of God. Luke contrasts with this. His is a global view, one that extends to the world as he understood it. He’s not much interested in the kinds of events Matthew emphasizes. He knows the Roman empire as the boundary of the known world and that’s where his story takes us. The (Luke’s) Gospel and Acts were probably in a fluid state after being written ca. 90AD and there is manuscript as well as historical evidence for this. Indeed, it is not until the turn of the third century (200 AD) that the New Testament texts settle into a more fixed state. The key here was the attitude of Christians about these texts and their status compared to the Hebrew Bible.[1]

Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome were raised by a wolf. Some people say Romulus killed his brother, but we know he hid out and later worked at Hogwarts.

Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome were raised by a wolf. Some people say Romulus killed his brother, but we know he hid out and later worked at Hogwarts.

Luke’s structure is tripartite. Part one is the story of Israel, the Law and the Prophets. Part two is the life of Jesus–the Gospel of Luke. Part three is the story of how the message moves out into the gentile world by direction of the Spirit–Acts.
[Read more…]

The Christmas Story (V). Matthew: A Wicked King.

[Part 4 is here. Part 6 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

One of the things about Matthew and the other gospels is their very essential orality. Meaning that, at least in part, they arise out of a naturally fluid oral tradition. Christians were rather late in taking up the pen. It’s useful in dealing with these texts to remember that they developed out of preaching.[1] For example: Herod. A Herod appears at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, and there is a Herod at the end of the Gospel. It seems hard to believe that people who heard the Christian preachers understood that they were two different people. The Herodian family is complicated, mostly because of all the wives. Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Archelaus, Herod Agrippa, people would not have understood the distinctions, and I suspect that most people still don’t who hear or read the accounts.[2] Matthew and Luke have this theme of a Herod as antagonist either to Jesus himself, or to Christians. Matthew has this at the birth of Jesus (Herod the Great), Luke has another Herod at the trial of Jesus, Herod is trying to kill Jesus, and in Acts another Herod kills James the apostle, the brother of John, and another Herod shows up in Paul’s trial.
[Read more…]

The Christmas Story (II). Matthew’s Genealogy.

[Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here.]
[You can find the whole series here.]

In a lot of the posts in this series, I’ll quote from the Revised Standard Version (RSV). It’s still a very good translation and a great study Bible. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is also quite good. One of the things no one thought about in producing the RSV was inclusive language. the NRSV rectifies that, but it may go too far in representing some passages as inclusive, when they are intentionally not. Anyway, the RSV is online and free, it’s nearly always superior to the King James Version (KJV) [see also here] and I’ll point out a few places where that’s important for the story of Jesus’ birth as I go along. (Sometimes I use the New English Translation (NET) also free online, and the English Standard Version (ESV) a few times. As I often tell my wife, I like to do different things.)

Matthew’s two chapters begin with the phrase (RSV) “The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, the son of David, and the son of Abraham.” Matthew knows what he is going to write in his Gospel, and this introduction is perspicacious. Two things: people at the time (ca. 70AD+) will not likely read this, they will hear it, and it is written in Greek.[1] Matthew begins with the word “genesis” (in Greek) and that’s the same Greek word for the first book of the Hebrew Bible, and this is styled as a New Genesis. There is a new creation, a new “God’s people” if you will, and the colophon above has things in a new order. Jesus comes first, then Abraham. And of course, David. The kingdom is always in view. And it’s clear that for Matthew, the Christmas story begins with Abraham. Right away you can feel the tension over Jew and Gentile, and what it means for a gentile to become a Christian.
[Read more…]

The Christmas Story (I). Introduction.

[Part 2 is here.]
[You can find the whole series here.]

This begins a series of posts on Jesus’ birth, and how the New Testament tells that story. The Twelve Days of Christmas, New Testament style. Your December bedtime reading fodder. No guarantee of twelve installments, however. See you every evening for the next 12? days.

The canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John make up about 40% of the New Testament. That 40% amounts to about ninety chapters. Of those ~ninety, four discuss the birth and childhood of Jesus. This is a tiny section of the New Testament, but it has had an enormous effect on human culture and of course, Mormonism is a subset of that culture. Whatever one thinks about the commercialization of Christmas, it cannot be denied that Christmas and the Christmas story stand at the center of much of religious consciousness.
[Read more…]

Priesthood

Once upon a time, Judaism and Christianity were one. That is, Christians were seen as a Jewish sect. You can see this in Luke’s account of what Paul says at Rome, Acts 28. The Jewish community there (it was pretty important, some Jewish high priests ended up there) speak about the believers in Jesus as a sect, a division of Jews.[1] While Paul does a lot among Gentiles, it’s mainly because he can’t get Jews in the diaspora to listen to him. And of course then he grows angry over Jerusalem Jews coming into to his Gentile branches and breaking the rules agreed to about preaching to Gentiles—a long story I won’t engage here.
[Read more…]

Footnote 2 #ldsconf

By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. – Alma 37:6

There was a small, tiny really, and simple footnote in the October 2015 conference talks that were just released in print form that succeeded in taking my breath away. It was in Elder Maynes talk: “The Joy of Living a Christ-Centered Life” footnote 2.

2. Matthew 13:44 (Revised Standard Version).

[Read more…]

The Gift of Faith (Elder Andersen, Priesthood Session) #ldsconf

Elder Neil L. Andersen, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (source: http://tinyurl.com/od5vv2v)

Elder Neil L. Andersen, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (source: http://tinyurl.com/od5vv2v)

Faith, or lack of it, is a rather divisive issue and always has been. An Oxford-educated, well spoken LDS friend of mine, for example, frequently directly engages Richard Dawkins and a number of his new atheist “groupies” in massive twitter brawls. These forays into the twitter badlands are, however, defensive, as he responds to the criticisms of religion and faith that constantly emanate from those quarters. These dust-ups are not merely a product of our “secular” age in which secular society derides religious people and their faith. The twitter angle is. And there’s no mass murder associated with it in this situation, which makes it very different from previous ages of time. Things are much better now; virtually every aspect of human existence is exponentially better than at any other time in all of recorded history. For example, in this situation, the new atheists can deride, criticize, and mock without burning at the stake, and religious people can believe without being rounded up into concentration camps or murdered in killing fields. [Read more…]

At the Feet of Christ

We’re glad to feature another guest post by Ashley Mae Hoiland. See her first post here.

When I was in high school, I was compelled by internal forces to spend a good amount of time celebrating birthdays of people I hardly knew. I spent many nights baking cookies, painting small cards with notes and putting together assortments of birthday packages from treasures I found in my room. Like my mom, I remember dates and people very well, and I was astute in garnering birthday knowledge from kids across the social spectrum.

The only problem was that I would often get too shy to actually deliver the gifts in person, so I also spent a lot of time devising plans to leave the goods on desks before class, strung up to lockers and given through another friend. I was dogged in my efforts, despite the uncomfortable position it often put me in. A lot of these kids I didn’t know well: many of them were the social hang-ups, the kids who did not climb the rungs of high school sociality with ease. For some reason I still cannot fully explain, I felt responsible for helping them to know that someone was celebrating their birthday.

I laugh when I tell these stories now, but partly, I am entirely intent on returning to this place of intuition—this place where I did not question the absurdity of what the spirit compelled me to do, and because I didn’t question, my life was replete was quiet moments of connection and joy that would have otherwise not have happened. [Read more…]

Rules & Relationships

It is common for westerners in India to be amazed at the utter chaos and yet the seemingly laissez-faire attitude of the Indian drivers.  One of our Indian drivers remarked about the traffic:  “In India, nothing is impossible because I-M-Possible.”  He chortled over his cleverness, and repeated that saying many times in our nine day trip. [Read more…]

Mormon Lectionary Project: The Book of Mormon

It’s not often that an angel chooses the lectionary scriptures for the day, but that’s exactly what Moroni did when he appeared to Joseph Smith three times during the night of September 21-22, 1823. In addition to instructions about where to find the plates that would become the Book of Mormon, Joseph reports that Moroni’s visit consisted largely of the angel’s reciting scriptural texts focused on the dawning of a messianic age when the wolf will lie down with the lamb (Isaiah), when God will, through prophetic calling (Acts) and the spirit of Elijah (Malachi), gather his scattered people (Isaiah) and pour out spiritual gifts on them (Joel) before judging the earth (all of them). [Read more…]

It’s a Good Story

I know that the story told in this Youtube video is true. My talented brother-in-law, Gregory Welch, prepared this video and released it today. [Read more…]