Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Sin Lists

As I read slowly through the first chapter of the Book of Alma tonight, I realized that I have hit upon a specific scriptural phenonomen: the sin list.

It would be interesting to catalogue all of these lists from the Book of Mormon, as well as the Bible. To note in which elements they differ, in the order of presentation, etc.

For example, tonight I focused on "envyings and strife," which appears as a pair in each Book of Mormon list that I have studied so far. Strife is of course the natural fruit of envy. An astute Biblical scholar would remember that the writer of the Epistle of James in the Bible, also paired the two. (3:16). More shameless plagiarism by the pretended prophet Joseph Smith? Hardly. The Palmyra farmboy, I have long ago realized, would have to have memorized virtually the entire New Testament, if he were simply attempting to pad his Book of Mormon, so many quotes are similar.

Other explanations present themselves. As he translated, he translated the Hebrew original into the way of speaking English that was familiar to him in connection with sacred things -- the King James structure. And both he and the ancient writers derived their inspiration and their words from the same source, our Father in Heaven.

My grandfather is fond of calling God the greatest scientist in the universe. I like to think that He is also the greatest writer and poet.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Poetry of Prophecy

One of the pleasures of spending time with scripture -- real time, making the words and phrases into your friends -- is beginning to recognize the sheer poetic genius of the text.

How would you describe the assault of myriad enemies upon you? What metaphors would you use?

The psalmist (118) compares them to angry bees. (dvrm), surrounding and encirling him (sevev). Anyone who has ever been surrounded by a swarm of bees, or hornets, instantly understands the sheer terror of such an attack -- and that you cannot employ normal weapons to defeat it. The comparison is perfect.

What is the solution? The Psalmist draws his strength from the name of God. And when do we invoke the name of God? In prayer, at baptism, in the Sacrament and when administering a blessing. That is when the power of God scatters the assaults of our spiritual enemies.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some pie for the cherry pickers

In a certain discourse relentlessly cherry-picked by critics who attempt to force the late Brigham Young into the same cultural mold that we currently inhabit, rather than allowing him to be a man of his time, flawed and mortal, as all prophets have been, we do find a beautiful quote that those same cherry-pickers consistently ignore.

"All those who have done according to the best of their knowledge, whether they are Christians, Pagans, Jews, Mohammedans, or any other class of men that have ever lived upon the earth, that have done honestly and justly with their fellow-beings, walked uprightly before each other, loved mercy, tried to put down iniquity, and done as far right as they know how, according to the laws they lived under, no matter what the laws were, will share in a resurrection that will be glorious far beyond the conception of mortals."

Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, p. 288.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mormon Culture: Arnold Friberg

Above: Mormon Bids Farewell to a Once Great Nation

Love him or hate him, his work is part of our culture. And I was fascinated to find a painting by this artist on display at Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


This week, this pathetic, weak, sinful soul was given a precious gift. I was asked to lay my hands upon the head of a young child and pronounce a blessing, by the authority of the priesthood of God.

It was a powerful, humbling experience.

She will be going home from the hospital today, not with the feared syndrome that everyone thought she had, but rather in a state of recovery from a virus.

I don't know what to write. I don't know what to say. Just that this has affected me greatly.

Monday, September 14, 2009




The Utopia of scripture.

A place, a concept, a passion.

No human utopias have ever survived. Some noble attempts dissolved or faded away. Others began with awful premises and became horrific nightmares, such as the Third Reich and the Soviet Union.

As a student of history, I have read over and over again of people who attempted to create -- if not Utopias -- then at least better societies. They range from the founders of the ancient Roman republic to the sectaries of Qumran, from the Puritans of England to the Icarians who resettled Mormon-bereft Nauvoo. But none of them succeeded in fully extirpating the evils to which humanity is prone: violence, envy, laziness, greed, etc.

Are we doomed to endure such miseries for all time?

The secularist must concede that it is so. Without an omniscient and incorruptible God above, men below will be forever at the mercy of the ruling human guardians that Plato envisioned, who themselves need guardians, who will need guardians, too, an impossible and intolerable conundrum.

The believer remains hopeful. Jews and Christians both long for the coming Messianic Age. Both speak reverently of Zion, the divine Utopia.

Zion is on my mind this week. Zion must begin with me. Zion is all the members of my ward family, too, and, to quote the prophet Brigham Young, "all those who journey with them." (D& C 136)

Not the amassing of wealth, not the trappings of fame, not the sceptre of power, can truly satisfy the human heart and fill the void in our souls. Legion are the miserable rich and famous. I think of Michael Jackson who pined for a lost childhood and couldn't sleep at night. I think of Marilyn Monroe, eye-candy for a generation and mistress of a president, who died a suicide.

Only in building Zion, can anyone find lasting joy.

I will engrave the letters for Zion (ןויצ ) upon my home, and work to engrave them in my heart and do what I can to build it, with what little talent, time and possessions I have, from this time forward.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I have been reading Eusebius' "History of the Church" and today came across his discussion of Justin Martyr and Trypho. Found it very interesting -- Justin accuses the Jewish religious leaders of "cutting out" passages from the scriptures that referred to the coming Messiah.

What passages? Apparently a few from Ezra and Jeremiah and also from the Psalms.

What is his evidence? That these passages still can be found in the Septuagint but not in the Hebrew (Masoretic) text.

I wonder, if these passages are still not included in the modern Christian Bibles, what that does for those who believe in Inerrancy?

I have been aware for awhile of the nature and history of the Septuagint. Now I realize that I need to include it in my own library, as a student of scripture.

The LDS-authored notes accompanying my copy of the KJV (p. 622) assert, after all, that "[Septuagint manuscripts] in some cases have no doubt preserved older and truer readings."

A point of interest: that men have cut out passages from the Bible is LDS doctrine. However, the Book of Mormon lays the blame, not upon the Jews, but upon the Gentiles.

"...The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews ... and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord ... wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles ... and after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of the great and abominable church ... after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God." 1 Nephi 13: 23-28.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Diagnosis or autopsy?

"In describing the situation at that time Hegesippus goes on to say that until then the Church had remained a virgin, pure and uncorrupted, since those who were trying to corrupt the wholesome standard of the saving message,if such there were, lurked somewhere under cover of darkness.

"But when the sacred band of the apostles had in various ways reached the end of their life, and the generation of those privileged to listen with their own ears to the divine wisdom had passed on, then godless error began to take shape, through the deceit of false teachers, who now that none of the apostles was left threw off the mask and attempted to counter the preaching of the truth by preaching the knowledge falsely so called." -- Eusebius, History of the Church,3:33, written circa 300 A.D.

Eusebius clearly believed that this evil was snuffed out and that the Christianity of his day had triumphed over that campaign of falsehood and apostasy. But every man must judge for himself. In 300 A.D., the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, all lay in the future -- the Church had barely tasted of the temporal power that it would hold for the next 1,000 years.

What were some of the key tenets of the "knowledge falsely so called," Christian-speak for gnosticism?

An incorporeal, unapproachable, incomprehensible God.

De-emphasis -- even abhorrence -- of marriage and family life.

Denial of any literal resurrection.

Judge for yourself how many of these notions made their way into the post-apostolic Christianity.

I first encountered this quote by Eusebius in Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, p. 132, where Nibley states:

"This outbreak of gnostic pretenders ... never could have occurred had apostolic authority remained in the church to overawe the upstarts, or had the true "gnosis" been available to oppose their false ones."

Ultimately, are Eusebius' words the diagnosis of past disease that he intended them to be, or a page for the coroner's report?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What's in a name?

It started with the unusual name: Holy Ghost Living Tabernacle.

Please note: I myself am a member of a church with an odd name – I saw firsthand as a missionary the challenge of translating the title The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into a non-English language – so I am not in any way making fun.

The Holy Ghost Living Tabernacle in McKenney, Virginia is doing a great thing for the school district where I work, and in the process of trying to establish communication with that faith group, I became curious: Was it a new, stand-alone Christian movement, or part of a larger church family?

I’m getting pretty Internet savvy and was quite pleased to untangle the mystery in less than 20 minutes. My initial guess that this congregation were Pentacostals was wrong – but not quite.
The church is in fellowship with the Full Gospel Baptist Church, which consider themselves Baptists of course, but who specifically embrace the kind of charismatic expression more typically seen in Pentacostal congregations.

Their motto is “Giving Baptists Freedom of Choice.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009


We talk a lot about the Tabernacle of Israel, and the ark at its holy center. But far less familiar to us is the ancient craftsman who was called to put it together, Bezaleel son of Uri.

How I would love to have a conversation, someday, on the other side of the veil, with this man of whom the scripture says, "[God] hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship." (Exodus 35:31).

His name has powerful significance, too. It is rendered by the KJV from the Hebrew Be-tsal-el, which means "In-the shadow/protection-of God."

"Tsl" has the meaning of shadow, the symbolism of protection, and also can mean "image." It is virtually the same phrase that appears in Genesis 1:27, in the Creation Story, "In the image of God created He [man]."

So in effect, each time this man's name was called, a piece of the Creation Story was retold, quite fitting for a man whom God blessed with powerful talents of creation himself.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Psalms 118:8

"It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man."

"Trust" is a fine word. But the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation prefers the literal meaning of the Hebrew word thusly translated by the KJV: "take refuge in." (chasa)

I like that better as well. "Trust" can be two people at the same level making an exchange, two businessmen shaking hands. "Take refuge in" implies a certain level of need and humility.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Motormouth Nephi

I came across an odd passage in the Doctrine & Covenants tonight. In the middle of a "missionary chapter," Section 33, v. 8, Elders Thayre and Sweet are told to "open their mouths and they shall be filled and you shall become even as Nephi of old..."

Now Nephi was a great guy and all but he never served a formal mission. So what are we supposed to understand from this?

Fact is, he spent his life sharing the gospel among his family and friends, and the cross reference to 2 Nephi 1:27 answers my question. He opened his mouth, it was filled by the Spirit and "he could not shut it."

Such was the promise for Thayre and Sweet, or any missionary filled with the Spirit. They followed in the footsteps of Jeremiah, who so burned with the zeal of the Spirit that it was "as a fire shut up in his bones and he could not forbear. (Jer. 20:29)."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, Brother Brigham!

Brigham Young, the second prophet of the Restoration, was born today in 1801, in Vermont, the ninth of eleven children.

He was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 15, 1832, a cold, snowy day. A few days before that, he recalled:

"According to the words of the Savior, I felt a humble, child-like spirit, witnessing unto me that my sins were forgiven."

Every prophet is called by God with gifts of the Spirit that are needed for his era. Thus with Brigham Young, too, whose leadership and courage were vital to the settlement of the Mountain West -- not just Utah, but settlements, too, in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and beyond.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


The cool rain fell on my face as I looked up at the elegant marble building before me. The hot car engine pinged beneath its hood, protesting the punishing drive that had brought me here, through some of the worst traffic in the United States.

We were at the temple, my dear wife and I, after too long away.

The sacred, the ceremonial, is nearly extinct in the modern world. The temple preserves it.

Someday, our Virginia will have a temple and no longer will we have to endure the D.C. Beltway drive nor set aside an entire day for such a trip.

Holy to the Lord is the House of the Lord, a place of simplicity, a place of peace, a place where heaven and earth meet.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

If only the Bible ended on page 5

If only Moses had put down his pen in the middle of Genesis, Chapter 3!

After all, the Creation story had been told and the Fall, too, of mankind. The enemy of righteousness had even been introduced. What more was there to say?

Surprisingly, I fail to find a single sect anywhere that would take that drastic a set of scissors to the scriptures, although most of religious history has been a dreary tale of people trying to tell God that He could no longer add to His word, drawing lines in the scriptural sand that they forbid Him to cross.

If the Bible ended in Genesis 3, circa verse 13, then the critics of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ might indeed have a valid point when they attack the doctrine of humanity's birthright as children of a Heavenly Father, our destiny, through the grace of His Son, to become like Him.

You see, page one of the Anti-Mormon Handbook generally goes something like this:

"Satan told Eve that if she ate of the forbidden fruit, then she would become like God, knowing good from evil. This was a lie, the Big Lie -- and those wicked Mormons are deluded by it, too."

Unfortunately for the critics of the doctrine of theosis, the Bible doesn't end with Satan's sneaky little speech. And, in fact, it is God Himself, in verse 22, who throws a wrench in their gears.

For God Himself declares: "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil."

Is this still the Big Lie? Obviously not.

If Satan never told a truth, or mixed truth with lies, he would be far less convincing. His very important omission, in his words to Eve, was that even though knowing good from evil is indeed the first step to becoming like God, a lot more is involved in order for us to get there. Important things like repentance, obedience, ordinances and the grace of Christ. Hence, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden that they might not eat of the fruit of the tree of life without having done any of the above. Immortal beings they would indeed have become, but cut off from God, spiritually still-born.

We are indeed the offspring of God, as Paul declared. And someday we may see Him and be like Him and inherit everything that He has, as joint-heirs with Christ, as the New Testament teaches repeatedly.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Prosperity, continued

The late Hugh Nibley, in examining Egyptian papyri concerned with the exaltation of the soul, draws attention to the formula by which royalty is addressed: Health, Life, Prosperity! This formula is also pronounced just before the candidate for exaltation enters the celestial realm, according to the ancient Egyptian Book of Breathings.

But "wd3" ( the transliteration of the word rendered "prosperity") like the Hebrew tsalach I mentioned in a previous post, is more expansive than the English equivalent. It carries the idea of making vigorous, even of all nature flourishing. (Cf. Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, p. 358.)

So how does this all tie together? A righteous people, a people of God, are even a royal priesthood, as we are reminded in I Peter 2, and all nature flourishes under their care, is in harmony with them, as it was in the days of Enoch and as it is in the Master's hands.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Done with Gnosticism!

I have finished.

I can safely say, that the Nag Hammadi Library was the most difficult canon of literature that I have ever read.

Its often fragmentary nature didn't help.

I found myself saying, over and over again as I tried to comprehend notions of Yaldabaoth and Sophia and Barbelo; of aeons and demiurges and First Thoughts and Second Thoughts -- how could anyone make sense of this stuff? Even the Apostle Paul at his most complex, does not approach these writings in obscurity.

And yet, make sense of it many people apparently did. Gnosticism was enough of a threat to the early Christian Church as to occupy some of its best minds in the battle against it.

Gnosticism approached the problem of evil in the world by deciding that the so-called God of the Old Testament was an inferior, lower being who acted out of ignorance at best, malice at worst. Some strains of Gnosticism continued this line of thought with a blacklist of a number of Biblical personages hailed as heroes by orthodox Christianity, even Jesus Christ; and to call Biblical acts of godly vengeance against evil (the Flood, the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah) attacks of evil against good.

The true Supreme Being remained esconced in an unapproachable, celestial pleroma and was utterly indescribable and beyond comprehension.

My thought on that would be, that this approach doesn't solve the problem of evil, it just pushes the question to another level: So the God we thought we knew is not really deserving of the title and it is to a higher God that we must look for perfection and to whom the question must be posed: Why did You allow evil in the world if You are perfect? But of course, that God, in the Gnostic mindset, wouldn't answer. He is, in their words, a non-being.

It will be interesting to discover, as I continue to read in Christian history, how much of his Gnostic (aka Manichaean) baggage St. Augustine carried with him into the Christian Church of his day.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

On prosperity

Is it naive to believe that a godly life will be a prosperous life?

No, it is not. It is not necessarily the key to heaping sacks of cash in your bank vault, but the godly life is one of order, honesty and diligence -- recognizable attributes for success. In fact, Stephen Covey, in his famous Seven Habits of Successful People, reminds us that lasting success depends upon such deep-rooted character.

The orderly, compassionate, diligent people of the Church described in Alma 1:31, prospered, far more than those who wasted their time and energy in character assassination, disorder and vice.

Of interest: the Hebrew word for "prosper," transliterated tsalach, literally means "to push forward."

So, remembering 2 Nephi 3 and the hymn based upon it, if we as Saints "press forward," we, with God's help, will also "push forward."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A residency question

If God resides at a point within the universe, such that Abraham could be pointed in its general direction (the vicinity of Kolob), then where did He reside when the universe was compressed into the tiny speck from which the universe is believed to have exploded in the Big Bang?

Obviously, neither Kolob nor any other star or planet in our universe was in existence at that time.

It is entirely possible that there are universes beyond our universe and that our God took his place within ours at that time, in the great plan of Eternal Progression.