Relief Society Teachings for Our Times
March 30, 2008
based on the October, 2007 General Conference session:
by Elder Russell Nelson
In this month’s Teaching for Our Times, Apostle Russell Nelson addresses questioners who choose to cast dispersions about the Book of Mormon. In his remarks called, “Scriptural Witnesses“, Elder Nelson makes the point that the Scriptures of the Restoration which include the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price do not compete with the Bible; they complement the Bible.
The lesson today traces similar themes to last month’s lesson on Truth. Remember the ways Elder Scott recommended to determine truth, specifically as a foundation for correct decisions? Scientific method? Divine Inspiration? When we are seeking truth, these methods work. Another way to determine Truth is through witness.
Jesus said, “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
Jesus spoke these words about 2,000 years ago. His words and deeds were confirmed by many witnesses – his Apostles and others. At that time, thousands of people went out to hear Him and many received truth and understanding through his words. Much of what He said was written down and preserved for us today as scriptures collectively known as the New Testament found in the Holy Bible.
But there are other books that are also a testament to Jesus Christ. When we as humans have a need to understand the things of the spiritual realm, we need to suspend the way we learn about our physical world through our five senses. Instead, we need to go directly to the words of Jesus Christ and pray for confirmation that the words of the restoration are true.
Elder Nelson begins his talk with definitions so everyone is on the same page as to what is meant by the words, “Scriptural” and “Witness”.
1. Pertaining to the Bible and Restoration
2. The Bible is the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly
3. The Book of Mormon is also the Word of God
4. Scriptures of the Restoration also include: Doctrine & Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price
1. Defined by the dictionary as an attestation of a fact or event: testimony
2. Special significance when applied to the Word of God
3. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established”
4. Ensures Divine doctrine is confirmed by more than one scriptural witness
Elder Nelson tells us that The Bible and the Book of Mormon are both witnesses of Jesus Christ. They both teach that He is the Son of God, that He lived an exemplary life, that He atoned for all mankind, that He died upon the cross and rose again as the resurrected Lord. They teach that He is the Savior of the world.
Importantly, scriptural witnesses authenticate each other. This concept was explained long ago when a prophet wrote that the Book of Mormon was “written for the intent that ye may believe it [the Bible]; and if ye believe it [the Bible] ye will believe the other [the Book of Mormon] also”.
Each book refers to the other. Each book stands as evidence that God lives and speaks to His children by revelation to and through His prophets.
In the course of my research for this lesson, one question kept entering my thoughts: Why was the Bible ‘revealed’ to us first? What if it had been the other way round? What if the King James Version of the Holy Bible was Another Testament of Jesus Christ?
We know Mormon lived and buried the Book of Mormon around the year 400 AD. We know that our Prophet Joseph Smith translated the entire Book of Mormon through the gift and power of God from the ancient gold plates in a brief time-span, about 65 days.
So think about this: the King James version of the Bible was first published by the Church of England in 1611. Even the earliest surviving complete manuscript of the entire bible, the Codex Amiatinus, dates to 8th century England, a full 300 years at least AFTER Mormon lived. There are some historical references that the Emperor Constantine commissioned 50 Bibles for the Church of Constantinople around the year 331; however, there is no proof or additional witnesses to testify whether the Bibles were written, and, if they were, whether they contained both the old and new testaments.
I also got to thinking about the sources. The Book of Mormon equals a singular source (gold plates)for multiple authors over successive generations and a singular translator (Joesph Smith) who spoke only one (known language) and who produced the text of the Book of Mormon within a 2-month time period.
Contrast the relative simplicity with the Holy Bible. Let’s just start with the challenges of language and translation. Jesus and his Disciples would have likely spoken Aramaic. From archeology, we know that the early Christians and New Testament writers used Greek. The original Torah that Jesus held sacred was written in Hebrew. 3 different languages. From an etymological perspective, this is like the difference between Spanish, French and Italian: all sharing the Latin root but from there the differences in language construction and meaning are substantial. Additionally, the context of each of these languages and the meanings of the words have shifted and evolved significantly over time and from translator to scribe.
Let me use an example everyone who speaks English is familiar with. Think about how much our own English language has changed in 350 or so years from that English stalwart, Beowulf 900 – 1000 AD to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales c. 1385 AD.
Here’s an example from Beowulf:
ðæm eafera wæs æfter cenned,
To him an heir was afterward born,
geong in geardum, þone god sende a son in his halls,
whom heaven sent
folce to frofre; fyrenðearfe ongeat to favor the folk,
feeling their woe
þe hie ær drugon aldorlease
that erst they had lacked an earl for leader
lange hwile. Him þæs liffrea,
so long a while; the Lord endowed him,
wuldres wealdend, woroldare forgeaf;
the Wielder of Wonder, with world’s renown.
Beowulf wæs breme blæd wide sprang,
Famed was this Beowulf: far flew the boast of him,
Scyldes eafera Scedelandum in.
Son of Scyld, in the Scandian lands.
Just looking at the language of Old English, it is incredibly difficult to read, nevermind understand the cultural context within which it was written. Let’s move onto Middle English, a scant 300 -400 years later. Here’s an example, as we are in Relief Society, from the Wife of Bath’s Tale by Chaucer:
And whan that I hadde geten unto me,
And when I had gotten unto me,
By maistrie, al the soveraynetee,
By mastery, all the sovereignty,
And that he seyde, `Myn owene trewe wyf,
And that he said, `My own true wife,
Do as thee lust the terme of al thy lyf;
Do as you please the rest of all thy life;
Look at how much our own English language evolved in that relatively short time-span from Old English to Middle English. And we aren’t even close to the timespan of 1600 years between Jesus Christ’s lifetime and when the King James version of the Bible was published. And again, this is only one language, which evolved significantly in a relatively short time period.
Let’s move on from Middle English to Modern English. I guess I should cite Shakespeare but, for obvious reasons to those of you who know me, I will share an example from one of Shakespeare’s peers, Christopher Marlowe showing how much English evolved in about the same amount of time:
From The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, c. 1589
Come live with me, and be my love;
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.
It is much more recognizable to us in so-called “Modern English” even though it has been 400 years since Marlowe penned these words. Nearly the same amount of time as between Beowulf and Chaucer.
Why is it more recognizable to us? In between Chaucer’s example (c. 1380 – 9) and Marlowe‘s example (c. 1589) a man called Gutenberg developed a handy gadget called the printing press. With this important technology, texts were reproduced inexpensively and consistently, effectively halting the rapid natural evolution of language. Look at how much English had changed from the Old English of Beowulf to the Modern English of Marlowe, Shakespeare and their peers over a 600 – 700 year timespan. Yet, from Marlowe to the present times, a scant 400 years, the language has barely any changes, comparatively speaking.
So that is our English lesson for today. Just kidding. But I wanted to share with you an example that you could relate to to understand my question about the Bible and The Book of Mormon, understanding why I think the Book of Mormon in many ways is a more accurate scriptural witness.
Just from a pure etymological perspective, even the language used in the King James version of the bible was “outdated” the minute it was published. Look at the texts themselves: the 1611 version should have been informed by Marlowe, Shakespeare and their contemporaries yet it seems to have more in common with earlier texts and writers.
The Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets, just as the Bible was written by prophets and apostles of Christ. The writing of the Book of Mormon was done in the spirit of revelation and prophecy. Both books had many authors, some of whom were witnesses of Christ and others who developed strong testimonies about Christ, directly contributed, were quoted or had their stories told.
Interestingly, Joseph Smith, an uneducated farm boy, who relied on the Divine power of God to translate an unknown language from the gold plates, produced text at a pace of 8 to 10 full pages per day. To put that into context, modern translators produce one or two final pages per day. And by comparison the King James Bible, which had the benefit of prior translations, was produced by a team of 50 scholars over a 7-year period, delivering about 1 page per day.
And those scholars enjoyed the best of life at Court while they produced their translation. Joseph Smith faced persecution and many hardships as he cared for a young family under reduced circumstances. We know that Joseph’s translation was assisted by a divine tool called the Urim and Thummim that he had received from the angel. The Urim and Thummim is mentioned several times but never explained in the Bible:
And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually.
And he put the breastplate upon him: also he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim.
1 Sam. 28:6
And when Saul enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim nor by prophets.
From the Book of Mormon, there is a verse that addresses seers who can use a tool like the Urim & Thummim for translation of ancient texts.
Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
Perhaps most importantly, both the New Testament of the Bible and the Book of Mormon share the same purpose: to bring souls to Christ. They are both powerful witnesses of Jesus Christ and are both centered on Him. The title page of the Book of Mormon states that the purposes of the Book are:
1. Convince both Gentiles and Jews that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal God
2. To show the remnants of the House of Israel the great things that the Lord had done for their ancestors
3. To teach them the covenants of the Lord
As you can probably hear, I do have great love for the Book of Mormon. When the missionaries first visited me, they left the Book of Mormon. I promised to read it and pray about it, which I did that very evening. I immediately knew that the Book of Mormon is true. It is the Word of God restored to us through Joseph Smith.
Elder Nelson tells us that this love for The Book of Mormon expands one’s love for the Bible and vice versa. Scriptures of the Restoration complement the Bible. These scriptures establish the everlasting nature of the gospel and of the plan of happiness.
Thinking about scriptural witnesses, it brought me to the literal witnesses who saw the Book of Mormon gold plates. After Joseph Smith completed the translation, the angel Moroni showed the plates to three other men, witnesses: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. They bore solemn testimony of what they experienced – testimony which was never retracted and often affirmed, even after persecution and even in spite of subsequent personal apostasy from the Church.
The Book of Mormon is a second witness for the message of the Bible, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and our Savior. The message is consistent with the Bible, while clarifying some things that are unclear – such as whether or not infants need baptism, and what happens to us between our death and resurrection.
Many sections in the Book of Mormon resemble Bible passages because many direct quotes are used. Just as much of the New Testament consists of citations from the Old, so the Book of Mormon authors cite the ancient Hebrew scriptures.
Lehi and his family left Jerusalem in 600 B.C. carrying with them a set of brass plates that contained many Old Testament writings, such as those of Moses and Isaiah, as well as some writings that have since been lost but perhaps will be revealed in the future. These scriptures – especially Isaiah – are heavily quoted.
When Christ ministered to the peoples in the West after his resurrection and ascension, he taught again much of the Sermon on the Mount and quoted a passage that the Book of Mormon people did not have.
Clearly there is an interrelationship between the two books. Together, though, they serve as independent witnesses for the divinity of Christ.
We know the scriptural story of Jesus Christ takes place in both the East and the West. While Mary and Joseph in the East were making preparations for the holy child’s birth in Bethlehem, Nephi was being taught by the premortal Messiah. To Nephi the Lord said, “Be of good cheer; . . . on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.”
So, do the scriptures of The Bible testify of the Book of Mormon? I believe they do. Consider these verses from Ezekiel 37:15-22:
The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying, moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick and write upon it, for Judah and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions. And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.
Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.
And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes. And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all.
Ezekiel prophesied about the joining of two “sticks” from different parts of the House Israel. These “sticks” refer, at least in Elder Nelson’s talk, to two volumes of scripture. The Hebrew word used in Ezekiel 37 is not the usual word for stick, but is “etz”, which means a wooden tablet. The wooden tablet, based on modern archaeological data, may refer to a writing tablet on which a layer of wax was coated for writing with a stylus. These tablets appear to have been a major medium of writing in the ancient world, though few survived because, well, wood rots. The tablets were like individual leaves of a book that could be bound together to make a book or smaller books could be joined to make larger ones.
Based on the Hebrew and based on what we now know about the use of “etz” as a writing medium, Ezek. 37:15-17 makes sense as a prophecy of two volumes of scripture that would be united in the last days. These volumes are the Bible (from the tribe of Judah) and the Book of Mormon (from the tribe of Joseph).
The prophecy of the gathering of the tribes of Israel from all over the earth into a single people following God, living in a covenant relationship with God, with His sanctuary in their midst. We see the gathering of ancient scripture – that of Judah and Joseph – as part of the process for the gathering of Israel, which occurs by the preaching of the Gospel and the restoration of the covenants of God with His people. Those who are baptized into the Church are brought into the House of Israel. To those not descended directly from the tribes of Israel, it is by adoption.
But the work of the Church is that of gathering people into the everlasting covenant of Christ, the Holy One of Israel. And the Book of Mormon is an important part of that process, intended to show the scattered remnants of Israel who they are, to teach them of the covenants that God has made with His people, and to convince them that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised Messiah.
Most of us are familiar with John 10:16 where Christ also referred to other sheep to whom he would also minister – they would hear his voice and become converted. This does not refer to the nations of the “gentiles” – people not of the House of Israel – for they would hear the Gospel through the mouths of Christ’s servants, not from him directly, for he was sent only “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24).
Another relevant passage is Isaiah 29, which seems to contain similar prophecies about Israel near the time of Isaiah and the gathering of Israel in the last days. Several items in this chapter appear to refer to details of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. This chapter talks of a time of apostasy when prophecy would cease, followed by a revelation containing a “vision of all” that would be in “a book that is sealed.”
For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.
And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed. And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men. Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
Several details in the verses correlate with the history of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, if you consider Prof. Charles Anthon as the learned man and Joseph Smith as the unlearned man.
The Book of Mormon is, I believe, this book referenced from a lost and destroyed civilization which would “whisper out of the dust” to future generations. The Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ seem to be anticipated by Isaiah in chapter 29.
As Elder Nelson states: those declarations of the Lord summarize who He really is and who He really wants us to be. He wants us to come unto Him and, in due course, be embraced gloriously in His loving arms. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.