We are excited to announce the publication of a new book in the BYU New Testament Commentary Series: Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. This book is the result of years of research by Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes.
Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians is a rich and powerful text that addresses many issues that are relevant for Latter-day Saints today. Paul deals with topics such as forgiveness, hope, affliction, faith, service, leadership, and reconciliation. He also bears a strong witness of Jesus Christ and his gospel.
This book offers a comprehensive study of Paul’s epistle, based on the original Greek text and informed by the Latter-day Saint doctrine and teachings of modern prophets. It includes a new English version of the text that serves as a companion to the King James Version. It also provides extensive commentary that explains the historical and cultural background, the literary structure, and the doctrinal implications of Paul’s words.
This book is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding and appreciation of Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians. It will help readers to apply Paul’s teachings to their own lives and circumstances. It will also inspire them to follow Paul’s example of being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in a challenging world.
Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A New Rendition (all versions free)
This conference will be held in the Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium, Brigham Young University. The conference is free and open to the public. Presentations will be recorded and posted later.
9:00 — Welcome and Conference Announcements — Cecilia M. Peek
9:10 — “‘Becoming One in Thine Hand’: The New Testament and the Book of Mormon”
— Elder Tad Callister, keynote address
The Most Recent Volumes
9:40 — “Excavating Ephesians” — D. Corydon Hammond (reviewer) and S. Kent Brown
10:10 — “Unpacking the Ancient Meanings of Faith and Grace” — Brent J. Schmidt
10:40 — Break
10:55 — “Creating the Commentary on Second Corinthians” — Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes
11:25 — “Enticements in the Introductory Volume” — Joshua Matson
11:55–1:00 — Lunch Break
Food courts and buffets are available at the Wilkinson Center. Books for sale at the BYU Studies office, 1063 JFSB.
1:00 — “Diving Deep into the Book of Acts” — Andrew C. Skinner
1:30 — “Discovering the Celestial Reach of Matthew and His Message” — John W. Welch
2:00 — “Lacking Wisdom: Insights from the First Verses of James” — John Gee
2:30 — “Uncovering the Majestic Letter to the Romans” — Brent J. Schmidt and Tom Roberts
3:00 — Conclusion and benediction
Video recordings will be made and posted later on this website.
The commentary The Epistle to the Ephesians, by S. Kent Brown, is available now. Order online at BYU Studies or call the BYU Studies office at 801-422-6691 during business hours (Monday-Friday, 9 to 5 MT).
The New Rendition of Ephesians is free to read online here.
Tucked into the New Testament after Galatians and the Corinthian correspondence, the Epistle to the Ephesians casts a warm, quieting glow when compared to the strident character of Galatians and the rather tough lines that Paul penned to former associates in Corinth, one of the first branches established on European soil. In Ephesians, by contrast, the Apostle Paul has shown a bright light on both an overly generous God the Father, who “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that
we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20), and the Gentiles whom he has recently welcomed into the celestial fold, making them “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (2:19). These are two aspects that commentators always feature. But there is much more, for the letter opens on the scene of the premortal council and ends with church members clothed in God’s sacred, protective armor that helps them “to stand against the wiles of the devil,” an indicator of the looming apostasy (6:11). In addition, enfolded within Ephesians are not only
a tightly woven strand of family-centered interests, including an expectation of eternal families, but sharpened pointers to sacred rituals. Furthermore, the letter spells out the joyous assurance to believers that Christ “hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6). This exalted position is made possible because of one of the grandest gifts that comes from the Father through the Son—“redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (2:7). Hallelujah!
Terry Hutchinson, a friend affiliated with the Interpreter Foundation, has interviewed S. Kent Brown about his volume The Epistle to the Ephesians, the newest volume in the BYU New Testament Commentary series. The interview is posted at https://interpreterfoundation.org/interpreter-radio-show-december-11-2022/. It’s the third segment of the broadcast, titled “General Discussion: S. Kent Brown’s volume on The Epistle to the Ephesians.” This segment is 31 minutes long.
The volume is now available for sale at BYU Studies for $29.99. Please contact the BYU Studies by phone during business hours (9 to 5, MST) Monday-Friday, 801-422-6691.
Here are selected short articles from our website, designed to enhance your study of Christ’s Atonement.
“The Question of Authority and Jesus’s Parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21,” John W. Welch
As Jesus entered the Temple the morning after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the chief priests questioned his authority. Jesus answered with a parable about a father and two sons. But these are no ordinary father, no ordinary vineyard, nor any ordinary pair of sons.
“Seven Versions of Jesus’ Prophecy on the Mount of Olives,” by S. Kent Brown
This prophecy is a crucial part of Jesus’ final ministry. This part of the Gospels includes the story of the poor widow’s two mites placed interestly before the sermon about the fate of Jerusalem.
“A Warning to the Jews (Matt. 23),” Richard D. Draper
Two days after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he revealed information that was startling and frightening to his disciples.
“Farewell Discourses and the High Priestly Prayer,” Eric D. Huntsman
The Gospel of John enriches our understanding of the events and teaching of Jesus’ last night with passages that include Jesus’ last discourses and his beautiful Intercessory Prayer (John 13:31-17:26)
“Jesus Is Anointed (Mark 14:1-11),” Julie M. Smith, from The Gospel According to Mark. The anointing story is the narrative bridge between Jesus’ life and death; it is both the last story relating events from the daily life and the first part of the story of his death. Its location in the text mirrors its theological function since the anointing story explores the link between Jesus’ life and death.
“John’s Account of the Last Supper: The Lamb of God: Unique Aspects of the Passion Narrative in John,” Eric D. Huntsman
John’s account of the Last Supper contains unique elements recorded nowhere else.
“Why Should the Cross be Meaningful to Latter-day Saints?”Gaye Strathearn
The events on the cross are in integral part of the Atonement. The cross, as the place of being “lifted up,” is a symbol of God’s great love for his children. We are asked to take up our cross as disciples of Christ. Jesus kept the signs of the crucifixion on his resurrected body.
“The Trial and Death of Jesus,” John W. Welch
Why was Jesus killed? Who was responsible? Looking at the legal circumstances, it is clear that Jesus was in full control from beginning to end.
“The Legal Cause of Action against Jesus in John 18:29-30,” John W. Welch
The accusation in John 18:29-30 holds a key for understanding the legal cause of action and strategy of the chief priests in the proceedings against Jesus.
“Raising Lazarus: Jesus Signing of His Own Death Warrant,” John W. Welch
Without seeing the raising of Lazarus as a background, it is hard to imagine a reason why a large multitude of people would have followed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting, “Hosanna! Save us now!” and why the chief priests turned the crowds away and were able to execute him so quickly.
“Preparing for Easter,” Eric D. Huntsman
This blog includes scripture readings, commentary, artwork, and music for personal study of Holy Week and Easter.
9:00 Zoom Webinar, no registration or password required: https://zoom.us/j/95770639916.
9:05 John W. Welch, What Should a Scholarly LDS Commentary on Hebrews Look Like? (Introduction: Eric Huntsman)
9:35 Michael Rhodes, Highlighting Unique LDS Interpretations of Three Passages in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Introduction: Camille Fronk Olson)
9:50 Richard Draper, Using the Joseph Smith Translation in the BYU New Testament Commentary (Introduction: Camille Fronk Olson)
10:15 Q&A with Michael Rhodes and Richard Draper. Use the chat function for asking questions.
Joshua Matson, Placing Hebrews amidst Studies of the New Testament among the Latter-day Saints (Introduction: Eric Huntsman)
Alan Farnes, Appreciating the Great Value of the Earliest Surviving Copies of the Greek New Testament (Introduction: Cecilia Peek)
Eric Huntsman, Evaluating Families of Greek Texts and Their Preferences behind New Testament Translations (Introduction: Cecelia Peek)
Andrew Skinner, Feeling the Power of the King James Version Generally and in the Epistle to the Hebrews in Particular (Introduction: Eric Huntsman)
Brent Schmidt, Who Wrote the New Testament Epistles and What Differences Might that Make? (Introduction: Camille Fronk Olson)
Tom Roberts, Taking a Theological Spin through the Epistle to the Hebrews (Introduction: Camille Fronk Olson)
S. Kent Brown, Assessing Apocryphal Accounts of Isaiah’s Death in Hebrews (Introduction: Cecelia Peek)
David Larsen, Detecting Jewish Sources Quoted in the New Testament Not Found in the Old Testament (Introduction: Eric Huntsman)
Avram Shannon, Seeing the New Testament in Its Several Surrounding Cultural Contexts (Introduction: Cecilia Peek)
John Gee, What We Can Learn from Joseph Smith’s Approaches to Reading James 1:5 (Introduction: Camille Fronk Olson)
Extracted from The Testimony of Luke, by S. Kent Brown
Luke 2:21–24, New Rendition
21 And when eight days for his circumcision were fulfilled, then his name was called Jesus; it was so named by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the days for their purification were fulfilled, according to the law of Moses, they brought him up into Jerusalem to present him before the Lord, 23 just as it was written in the law of the Lord that, “Every male who opens a mother’s womb shall be called holy to the Lord,” 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was spoken in the law of the Lord, “Either a pair of turtledoves or two young doves.”
2:21 eight days . . . for the circumcising . . . his name was called: As is apparent here and in 1:59, both circumcising and naming a male child occur on the eighth day. Among ancient sources, only Luke preserves this linkage.
conceived in the womb: The force of this expression is to say that Jesus comes to birth as other children do: in a natural manner. He is fully and physically a part of this world and is not a metaphysical, mythological creature.
2:22 purification: A woman is to pay a five-shekel tax and offer sacrifice for ritual purity after giving birth to her firstborn—forty days after a male child and eighty after a female (see the Note on 2:23). Until she does so, she is judged to be ritually unclean. The sacrifice is to consist of a lamb and either a young pigeon or a turtledove. For the poor, the sacrifice is to be either two pigeons or two turtledoves, the offering that Luke affirms in 2:24 (see Ex. 13:2, 11–13; Lev. 12:2–8). Importantly, the best manuscripts read “their purification” rather than “her purification.” The discussion is whether the pronoun “their” points to Mary and Joseph or to Mary and Jesus as needing purification. In light of the plural “their,” if Luke obtains his information from Mary about her experience, then he misunderstands it.
according to the law: The concern with the law here and in later verses has to do with the respect for law and custom that Joseph and Mary exhibit. It also has to do with reverencing the Mosaic law in particular, giving this legal code its due respect as law from God (see the introduction to chapter 1, section C, and the Analysis on 2:21–24 below).
they brought him: This action of bringing the infant Jesus to the temple recalls Hannah’s act of bringing her son Samuel to the sanctuary (see 1 Sam. 1:24). This sort of action is implied in Jesus’ later journey to the temple with his parents (see 2:42), thus forming connections between this account and Hannah’s story.
to Jerusalem: More properly, “up to Jerusalem,” preserving the notion of the sacred, elevated geography of the city.
to present him: As the next verse implies, the intent is to offer the five shekels that redeem the firstborn (see Ex. 13:2, 11–15; 34:19–20; Num. 18:15–17), as is hinted at in 2:27. To be sure, Jesus is already dedicated to God by the words of the angel (see 1:31–33), perhaps mirroring the pattern of Hannah (see 1 Sam. 1:11).
2:23 Every male that openeth the womb: Even though Luke mentions the need to redeem the child here, the offering noted in 2:24 is not the redemption offering of five shekels. Instead, it is the purification offering made by poor people for a new mother (see the Note on 2:22). The verb “to open” (Greek dianoigō) appears in the Septuagint tied not only to the first, sacred manifestation of life from a female, whether a woman or an animal, underlining its link to holiness (see LXX Ex. 13:2, 12–13, 15; 34:19; etc.), but also to the opening of celestial understanding (see LXX Gen. 3:6, 8; also LXX Hosea 2:15). It is in this latter sense that the verb appears later in Luke’s narrative, highlighting the Risen Jesus as the one who opens the understanding and holds the keys to opening the scriptures (see the Notes on 24:31, 32, 45). Moreover, because this verb occurs only here and at the end of Luke’s account, it forms an inclusio that emphatically underscores the unity of the whole Gospel.
holy to the Lord: Although it is true that the firstborn child belongs to God and thus parents must redeem the child by offering sacrifice, as underlined in the Exodus story (see Ex. 13:2), also implicit in this passage stands Jesus’ holiness, as well as the holiness of children in general, which is respected and preserved when the angel of death passes over the homes of the Hebrew slaves (see Ex. 11:4–5; 12:12–13, 23, 27).
2:24 A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons: For these purification offerings, see Leviticus 12:6–8. In accord with this law, Mary offers a gift of the poor, costing an eighth of a denarius per bird (see the Note on 7:41). She holds her infant son while watching the sacrificial process from the Court of the Women where she can see clearly the altar of sacrifice and the sanctuary through the large Nicanor Gate that leads from the Court of the Women into the inner courts of the temple. As an adult, Jesus will return to this same Court of the Women and witness another poor woman, a widow, offer a gift of “all the living that she had” (21:4; see the Notes on 21:1–2 and the Analysis on 21:1–4).
At the heart of these verses beats the principle of respect for law. In a concrete sense, Mary and Joseph fit snugly within this picture. It seems that Luke’s report takes pains to note that those associated with the momentous events that lead to the Christian movement are, as we might expect, upright and honorable people before the law. Unlike others who revolt when the census is declared (see Acts 5:37), Mary and Joseph comply with the new law. Unlike those who seek to kill Jesus (see 22:2; Matt. 2:20), they do not break any of the Ten Commandments. Unlike those who stand as protectors of the law of Moses but break its tenets (see 9:22; 19:47; 20:46–47; 22:2), they obey the law, even its minor points.
A good reason stands behind this portrait. Luke seeks to answer questions about Christianity that have arisen in the larger Roman world, a world that his friend Theophilus represents (see 1:3; JST 3:19; Acts 1:1). After all, within recent memory there has been a bitter war between Jews of Palestine and Roman legions which ends with the fall of Jerusalem and its temple in Ad 70, as well as Masada a few years later. Romans have long identified Christians simply as Jews. But Luke seeks to set the record straight by clarifying that Christians, and those involved in founding their movement, are very different from other Jews (see 1:6; 2:4–5, 22, 24, 27, 39, 42, 51; etc.; the introduction to chapter 1, section C). Significantly for him in his continuing story, it is Jews who inflame the unruly crowds that oppose Paul and his companions in Asia Minor and elsewhere (see Acts 13:50; 14:2, 19; 17:5, 13; etc.).
In another vein, amidst these verses we meet other possible connections to Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel (see the introduction to chapter 1, section D; the Notes on 1:46–48; the Analysis on 1:5–25). They have to do with the presentation of a child. Only in the story of Hannah do we see a mother bringing her firstborn son to the temple to present him to the Lord. Only in the story of Hannah do we read of a woman offering sacrifice for her new son. Only in the story of Hannah do we witness a parent redeeming a son (see 1 Sam. 1:24–28). Though the law requires these acts of parents, it is only in the stories of Hannah and Mary that we see such actions carried out. The possible echoes are not to be missed.
One further observation needs attention. Jesus comes to the temple very early in his life in the arms of his mother, who is a poor young woman, as her redemption offering of two birds illustrates (see 2:24). The place where Mary brings him is the Court of the Women where she can see both the sacrificial altar and beautiful sanctuary through the connecting Nicanor Gate. Notably, in one brushstroke, Luke’s Gospel paints Jesus’ life with the color of poverty in a place where the opulence of the temple is stunningly visible. As an adult, literally at the end of his life, with only a couple of days until his arrest, Jesus sits in the same courtyard and sees poverty, this time also in the person of a poor woman, a “poor widow” who “of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had” (21:2, 4). In a literary sense, Luke encloses his report of Jesus’ life within the notices of poor women in the temple’s Court of the Women whose circumstances in life contrast sharply with the visible luxuriousness of the temple. He knows poverty, both spiritual and physical; he comes to help those who seek a way out of their spiritual and economic penury.
Simeon (Luke 2:25–35)
25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the encouragement of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And revelation had been given to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he should see the Messiah of the Lord.
27 And he came in the spirit to the temple precinct when the parents were taking the child Jesus in so that they could do for him according to the custom of the law. 28 And he took him into his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Now you are releasing your servant, Master,
according to your saying, ‘in peace,’
30 because my eyes have seen your salvation
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for enlightening nations
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 And his father and mother marveled at the proclamations concerning him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “See, this boy is positioned for the falling and rising up of many in Israel and for a sign to be spoken against 35 (but a sword shall run through your own soul, too) so that the designs of many hearts shall be revealed.”
2:25 just: The term, which is made emphatic by the addition of the word “devout,” is better rendered “righteous,” as in 1:6, where it is applied to Zacharias and Elisabeth (Greek dikaios; see the Notes on 1:6 and 23:50).
waiting: Luke writes this same verb (Greek prosdechomai) to characterize Joseph of Arimathea, placing them on the same turf. By doing so, he creates a literary inclusio that arcs across his record from beginning to end, tying it together (see the Note on 23:51).
consolation: The noun (Greek paraklēsis) is related to the term that is translated “comforter” elsewhere (see John 14:16, 26).
the Holy Ghost was upon him: This notation first explains how Simeon is able to find Joseph and Mary in the huge complex of the temple grounds (see the Note on 2:27) and, second, identifies one important result of a righteous life. In addition, Luke’s introduction to Simeon seems to suggest that he is not noisy about this spiritual gift that comes to him but is instead quiet and circumspect, his righteousness and devotion clearly visible to God.
2:26 it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost: Luke’s report about the righteous Simeon holds up the eternal principles that revelation can be personal and that it always comes through the Holy Ghost. In Simeon’s case, we do not know whether the revelation comes to him before the angel Gabriel appears to Zacharias and then Mary, or afterward.
the Lord’s Christ: The expression preserves the archaic sense of the term Christ, or Messiah: “the Lord’s anointed one.”
2:27 came by the Spirit into the temple: A miracle is at work. The temple complex, indicated by the Greek term hieron, is distinct from the sanctuary (Greek naos) and is large and generally crowded (see the Note on 1:9). That the Spirit leads Simeon to Joseph and Mary, with their child, is miraculous.
to do for him after the custom of the law: The expression hints at the five shekel payment to be made for the firstborn (see the Notes on 2:22–23).
2:29 now lettest thou thy servant depart: The Greek verb “depart” stands here as a euphemism for “to die,” though it is not the usual term for dying (Greek apoluō). Customarily, it means “to send [someone] away,” or “to release [a prisoner]” as in 8:38 (“Jesus sent him away”) and 23:25 (“[Pilate] released unto them [Barabbas]”). The tense is a simple present indicative, “Now you are letting your servant depart,” though it may well carry a modal sense that expresses a strong wish, because it stands in a hymn of praise. It may also bear a future meaning, “Now thou wilt dismiss thy servant.” The juxtaposition of the terms “servant,” which Mary applies to herself (see 1:38), and “Lord” point to the act of manumission, freeing a slave. This hymn, as recited by Simeon in 2:29–32, is titled Nunc Dimittis from the opening words of the Latin version.
2:30 thy salvation: In Hebrew or Aramaic, which Simeon is doubtless speaking, the term “salvation” comes from the same root that the name Jesus does (Hebrew yāša‘, “to deliver”), thus forming a play on words.
2:31 all people: Simeon strikes a chord that will come to characterize Jesus’ (and Luke’s) interest in the gospel spreading to everyone (see the Notes on 6:17; 8:26; 10:1, 7, 33; 11:29; 13:29; 17:16; 19:46; 24:47), a point that receives confirmation in the reference to Gentiles in 2:32.
2:32 A light to lighten the Gentiles: The expression recalls the Septuagint readings for Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6, “a light of the Gentiles.” These passages tie to the four prophetic “Servant Songs” that anticipate the coming of the Servant-King (see Isa. 42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12). Simeon’s words can be rendered “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” One finds a similar expression applied to the Apostle Paul in Acts 13:47.
the glory of thy people Israel: In another allusion to Isaiah’s language (see Isa. 46:13, “I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory”), Simeon draws attention to the two peoples whom Jesus’ message will touch, Gentiles and Jews.
2:33 Joseph and his mother: The oldest manuscripts read, “his father and mother,” no doubt underlining Joseph as the legal father, rather than biological father, who raises Jesus. Later texts add the name Joseph to remove any ambiguity that Joseph is not the father, a feature of verse 43.
2:34 Simeon blessed them: There seems to be an omission in Luke’s account, for he preserves only Simeon’s blessing of Mary in the next verse, not his blessing of Joseph, or even a combined blessing.
fall and rising again: The image of falling appears also in 20:18. Both passages take up a theme found in Isaiah 8:14–15 where “a stone of stumbling and . . . a rock of offense” cause people to “stumble, and fall, and be broken.” The word translated “rising again” refers elsewhere in the New Testament to the resurrection (Greek anastasis). We compare the notions of rising, or ascending, and falling in the earliest mention of the Messiah as “the Rock”: “whoso . . . climbeth up by me shall never fall” (Moses 7:53).
a sign which shall be spoken against: Simeon prophesies that Jesus, who is the sign itself, will face pugnacious opposition, indicated by the Greek participle antilegomenon, which here bears the sense of “contested.” But that opposition will “be revealed” to others (2:35), an important prophecy about Jesus’ role in exposing this sort of evil (see 6:6–11; John 15:22).
2:35 a sword shall pierce through thy own soul: These words, spoken almost as an aside, disclose to Mary that the future of her son will bring pain of soul to her. We imagine that, on occasion, she is a witness to ill treatment of her son by opponents, perhaps by persons whom she knows. We know for certain that she witnesses his death on the cross, an event that brings anguish upon her (see John 19:25–27; compare Matt. 27:55–56; Mark 15:40–41; Luke 23:49).
that the thoughts . . . may be revealed: This fits with the passage in John 15:22—“now they have no cloak for their sin.” It is not that the thoughts of the wicked will be revealed to God who already knows each person’s thoughts. Rather, Jesus will take away the cloak of sin so that evil doers are exposed to public gaze, including those who contemplate wickedness. Moreover, the sense of Simeon’s words points to thoughts as the springboard for evil acts (see 5:22; 6:8; the Note on 24:38).
Our only record of the man Simeon appears in these verses. Attempts to link him to other known persons do not succeed, though he may be tied both to the temple and the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem. Although we usually assume that he is an elderly person because of his reference to death, he need not be very old.
Simeon’s entry into the story allows Luke to stress a number of important characteristics of this man which fit into a gospel framework. First, Luke emphasizes that Simeon is “just and devout,” aspects that mirror a high degree of self-control and noble motivation. The result of Simeon’s righteousness, of course, is that “the Holy Ghost was upon him” (2:25). This portrait of Simeon’s life of devotion, brought forward in just a few words, underscores what is available to anyone who receives the newborn Messiah. Moreover, to Simeon, who has consciously cultivated a life of devotion, comes the spirit of prophecy, allowing him to reveal something of the Savior’s future. That future will include touching not only Israelites but also Gentiles with the message of salvation. This universalism underlies Luke’s two volumes, his Gospel and the Acts. In addition, according to Simeon’s prophecy, the future will include conflicts that will dog Jesus’ footsteps throughout his ministry. Further, Simeon becomes a witness of the first rank, both before the infant’s parents and before others, that God has initiated a special effort among his children.
The hymn of Simeon (2:29–32), called Nunc Dimittis (“now thou dismissest”), joins those of Mary (see 1:46–55) and Zacharias (see 1:68–79) to form an interesting pattern. In a literary sense, it stands at the end of a cycle that begins with promise (the hymn of Mary) and continues with fulfillment in the birth of John (the song of Zacharias) and ends with a “response of praise” on the lips of Simeon. Such praise, of course, also bursts forth in the song of the angels (see 2:13–14) and in the words of Anna (see 2:38). But the angels’ song comes from heaven and Anna’s praise stands unrecorded. Thus, Simeon’s earthly hymn of praise neatly ties off Luke’s presentation of the initial events of God’s imminent salvation, as seen by mortals, showing them to have come to one Simeon who is guided by God’s Spirit.
Simeon’s hymn also discloses threads that tie back to Isaiah’s four Servant Songs (see Isa. 42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12). First identified by Bernhard Duhm in 1892, these songs point expectantly to God’s servant who will bring the reign of righteousness with him as well as bear away the sins of his people. Hence, the Lord’s servant functions as both King and Messiah, aspects that fit within Luke’s larger purposes. This explains why Simeon’s hymn is important to record.
Anna (Luke 2:36–38)
36 And Anna was a prophetess, a daughter of Phanuel, from the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in days, having lived with her husband seven years from her maidenhood. 37 And she was a widow until the age of eighty-four, who did not depart from the temple since she served by fasts and prayers night and day. 38 And she came that same hour, and praised God, and spoke about him to all those waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
2:36 Anna: A variant form of Hannah, the name is one more piece that ties back to the earlier Old Testament account of Hannah and her son Samuel (see 1 Sam. 1:1–2:11, 18–21).
a prophetess: Luke’s term elevates Anna and indicates the respect that she enjoys among her peers. Other women known to enjoy the spirit of prophecy are Deborah (see Judg. 4:4), Hulda (see 2 Kgs. 22:14), and the four daughters of Philip (see Acts 21:9).
she was of a great age: The expression is literally “she had advanced many days.” For the term “days” as a common biblical way to describe old age, see Genesis 5:4–5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, etc.
had lived with an husband seven years: Evidently, Anna’s husband dies a mere seven years after their marriage, leaving her a widow, perhaps before she is twenty years old, depending on her age at marriage (see 2:37). One senses the pain of her loss within these words.
2:37 a widow: In a sense, Anna stands for all the widows whom Luke’s Gospel will feature, women of goodness whose place and status in this world are regularly under threat (see 4:25–26; 7:11–15; 18:2–6; 20:47; 21:1–4).
about fourscore and four years: Luke apparently sets out Anna’s age when she meets Joseph and Mary to be eighty-four, though the number may point to the years that have passed since her husband died. In either case, Luke firms up his comment that “she was of a great age” (2:36). A certain symbolism may rest undiscovered here because eighty-four is the product of twelve and seven, two numbers that carry rich metaphorical meanings.
departed not from the temple: The word for temple here is hieron and refers to the larger complex (see also 2:27, 46; 4:9; 18:10; the Note on 19:45) rather than to the sanctuary (see 1:21, 22; 23:45; the Note on 1:9). Commentators are unsure whether Anna is somehow a permanent resident within the temple precincts or whether she comes from a nearby home every day. Residency at the temple for women is not attested in Jewish sources. In any event, she is likely praying inside the Court of the Women, where she enjoys a clear view of the great altar and sanctuary through the Nicanor Gate. According to a second-century text called Protevangelium of James, in verses 7:1–8:1, the parents of Mary bring her as a three-year-old child to the temple, where she remains in residence until she is twelve, agreeing with other sources that up to eighty-two girls serve as weavers for the veil of the temple. But we should treat this story about young Mary as legendary.
prayers night and day: This reference to the twice-daily sacrifice and prayer services at the temple makes a case for Luke as a reasonably accurate recorder of Jewish customs. The daily services, of course, include lighting the incense in the sanctuary (see 1:9).
2:38 she coming in that instant: As with his notice of Simeon, Luke wants us to understand that Anna comes to this spot by the aid of the Spirit, a point made firm by calling her “a prophetess” (2:36). Moreover, she arrives at the end of Simeon’s words, meaning that she does not take her clue about the child from him. Her witness stands independent.
gave thanks likewise: Though we do not possess Anna’s words, the statement draws together her response and that of Simeon, placing them on the same ground. Hers too is evidently an expression of praise, a meaning inherent in the Greek verb anthomologeomai.
spake of him to all them that looked for redemption: Two matters become clear. First, Anna becomes a witness of God’s “redemption” through his son, essentially mirroring the other privileged observers. Second, many in her society are looking expectantly for God’s promised redemption. Her words to them will speak to a deeply felt need.
redemption in Jerusalem: Whereas the texts on which the King James Version is based include the preposition “in” (Greek en), some of the best early manuscripts read “redemption of Jerusalem,” an expression that turns a different light on how and where redemption is to occur. If redemption is to take place in Jerusalem, then we look to the last days and hours of Jesus’ ministry, though his deepest suffering and his death occur outside the city walls, in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. If redemption is to be of Jerusalem, then the city represents all Israelites, as hinted at in Moroni 10:31—“awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; . . . that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled.”
2:39 when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord: Luke’s summary ties the actions of Mary and Joseph to others who are law-abiding citizens, one of his points of emphasis (see the introduction to chapter 1, section C). In addition, he stresses that they keep all the law. Further, the law belongs to the domain of the Lord; it is divine in character.
they returned into Galilee, to . . . Nazareth: Luke’s report omits the flight into Egypt (see Matt. 2:13–15). We do not know whether he chooses not to include this event or whether he does not know about it. In either instance, the family in time moves to Nazareth, where Joseph probably finds work during the reconstruction of the city of Sepphoris, the main center of Galilee, rather than staying in the area of Jerusalem where he can earn a much higher wage for his skills. Sepphoris lies a mere three miles northwest of Nazareth. Its citizens revolt after Herod dies in 4 Bc and are soon subdued by Roman legionnaires from Syria under the command of P. Quinctilius Varus, legate of Syria. During the battle, Sepphoris burns but is later rebuilt. Naturally, Joseph’s building skills are then in demand. We surmise that Joseph takes Jesus with him to work in the town, thus allowing the youth to learn Greek from Greek-speaking foremen. This circumstance explains why, in the trial before Pilate, Jesus and Pilate do not need an interpreter (see the Note on 23:3).
The temple serves as the anchor in the series of stories that begin with the visit of Mary and Joseph to perform the required sacrifices and to offer the redemption gift following the birth of Jesus. Those accounts finally lead us to Anna who is known openly in the city as one associated with the temple and its services. Luke’s record, of course, will bring temple-related activities to a conclusion in chapter 2 with the story of Jesus’ Passover visit at age twelve (see 2:40–52). But a major focus of this chapter rests on events during one momentous day, one on which Jesus’ parents present the Christ child at the temple. Before the end of that day, God leads both Simeon and Anna to the child and inspires them in their praise. Anna’s known gift of prophecy (see 2:36), here manifested within the temple complex, confers on the infant Jesus a visible, palpable stamp of divine approval. To be sure, other events will do the same, but Anna’s arrival and subsequent witness borne to others will carry weight into the minds of bystanders.
As with Simeon, Anna’s praise arises within sacred precincts, linking the unfolding story of the Christ child more tightly to holiness. Her praise, too, rounds off the sense of promise and fulfillment that weave their way through the songs of Mary and Zacharias and the angels. Further, her status as a respected woman elevates the unfurling events, conferring on them a dignity and a feminine quality that they otherwise lack.
Anna’s name brings us back to the question of whether the story of Hannah influences Luke’s narrative. Even if it does, this does not mean that we should see Anna as fictional, as a mere symbol. Even if much in Luke’s narrative here links back to Hannah and her son Samuel, it is plain that Anna is a real person who comes by inspiration to where Joseph and Mary are. That said, summarizing statements about Jesus seem to tie to similar observations written about Samuel (see 1 Sam. 2:19, 26; 3:19). The statements about Jesus read: “the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him” (2:40) and “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (2:52). As an additional piece, Mary’s song as she enters the home of Elisabeth resembles that of Hannah (see 1 Sam. 2:1–10; Luke 1:46–55). And, of course, both Samuel and Jesus come as children of promise, dedicated to God.
by Richard D. Draper
Basically, I am (and have always been) an insecure person seeking for security. At an important point in my life and career, I was introduced to the wonder of scriptural prophecy. It was in an eleventh grade Seminary class where the teacher introduced us to the Revelation of St. John the Divine. He piqued my interest. That interest led me on a journey that eventually took me not only through the wonderful maze of John’s writings and other biblical prophecies but also prophetic statements in the scriptures of the Restoration.
I continue to be intrigued that God not only knows but cares about and shares with his children important information about events that will happen in the future. Working with Michael Rhodes and others on the multi-volume BYU New Testament Commentary, especially immersing myself again in the Book of Revelation, helped to focus and refine my understanding of what God has revealed about the last days.
Out of all this study came an even greater appreciation of the importance of prophecy not only for humankind but also for God himself. In fact, foreseeing and foretelling are two of the ways God proves He is God. In his admonition to the Israelites to believe, trust, and follow him, He declares that He has revealed the future to them. Those prophesied events, He points out, have since come to pass. Their reality is proof, He insists, that He is the one and only God (see Isa. 43:11–13; 48:3–6).
Given the importance of this ability and power to him, it is little wonder that God is very jealous (in the good sense) of its use. Thus, He forbade Israel from follow the practices of those nations who tried to imitate his power (see Deut. 18:9–13, the main passage in the Hebrew Bible that defines the nature of and lists the punishment for those to practice of false prophecy).
The Book of Mormon denigrates those who promulgate false prophecy and those who follow them (see, for example, W of M 1:15–16; Hel. 13:25–28; 3 Ne. 14:15; 4 Ne. 1:34). It also highlights authentic predictions given by the prophets Nephi, Zenos, Abinadi, Nephi (the son of Helaman), and Samuel the Lamanite that were precisely fulfilled at the birth and death of Jesus Christ and beyond.
In this regard, one important way in which the Book of Mormon teams up with the Bible and also with the Doctrine and Covenants is in forecasting that various catastrophes, plagues, pestilences and pests are to be expected as signs, especially of the very last of times. Some of these are natural phenomena that God may or may not choose to interfere with. Others are consequences that God may be causing, directly or indirectly. But in all cases, He no doubt can make things less extreme or serve than they otherwise might be. In biblical times, famines were common and caused widespread suffering, starvation, and death, but God warned people to save during years of plenty in order to survive the years of pests, crop failures, and famine. By that means they could survive until the windows of heaven would be open again.
The Book of Mormon speaks not only of then present famines and afflictions (for example, in Helaman 11:1-18), but most especially about events that lie still in the future. For example, in 2 Nephi 6:15–18, the prophet Jacob speaks of the latter-day gathering of Israel and promises that God will protect those who believe. But of those who do not, He states that they “shall be destroyed, both by fire, and by tempest, and by earthquakes, and by bloodsheds, and by pestilence, and by famine. And they shall know that the Lord is God, the Holy One of Israel.”
And Doctrine and Covenants 84:96-98 puts it this way: “For I, the Almighty, have laid my hands upon the nations, to scourge them for their wickedness. And plagues shall go forth, and they shall not be taken from the earth until I have completed my work, which shall be cut short in righteousness—Until all shall know me, who remain, even from the least unto the greatest.”
To appreciate how the Lord uses prophetic and apocalyptic revelations, we must put them into perspective, first by understanding their nature, and second by understanding their purposes.
First, concerning their nature, they can be divided into two distinct types: One type consists of events that will transpire unconditionally, that is, nothing can stop them from happening. Many of these are positive parts of God’s plan for the salvation of his children. For example, the latter-day restoration of the gospel, its spread throughout the world, the consequent gathering of Israel, and the Second Coming of the Lord and His millennial reign.
The other type of prophecies consists of events that will come about only if certain human conditions are met. Interestingly, every frightening prophecy falls into this category. What that means is that these calamities need not come to pass provided conditions that would otherwise trigger them do not happen. A dire prophecy in the Book of Mormon seems to illustrate this point. Three times (in 3 Ne. 16:8–10; 20:15–18; 21:11–16), Jesus warns that if the “if the Gentiles do not repent after the blessing which they shall receive, after they have scattered my people” then shall “a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them” like a young lion among a flock of sheep that “both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.” Though it is possible that this prophecy could yet be fulfilled, it seems more likely that the necessary conditions were never met. Even though the early LDS Church was persecuted and driven, enough “gentiles” responded to the gospel to nullify the conditions that would have otherwise triggered the fulfillment of the prophecy.
Unfortunately, it would appear that most of the other dire prophecies will not have such a positive ending, and thus the world may yet see plenty of plagues, pestilences, and pests. And why? One of the most frightening insights in answer to this question is found in the book of Revelation. In chapters 8 and 9, using the power of apocalyptic symbolism, John records the vast devastations that will take place preceding the Second Coming. These fall into two categories: the first is the collapse of the natural order, bringing with it huge destructions; and the second is the ensuing wars. After describing the slaughter these wars will bring, the revelation of the Apostle John states that “the rest of humankind, who had not been killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands so that they would not worship the demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, that cannot see, hear, or walk. And they did not repent of their murders, drug use, immorality or stealing” (Rev. 9:20–21; that’s my translation, as rendered in the BYU New Testament Commentary). It is that hardheartedness, that total recalcitrance, and that desperate clinging to an immoral lifestyle even in the face of its consequences that brings about the devouring of the nations by plague, pestilence, and pests.
As an aside, the English word “pestilence” comes from the Latin pestis which denotes “a deadly contagious disease” usually initiated by insects or vermin. However, Joseph Smith seems to have understood the word differently. Doctrine and Covenants 63:24 states that “this is the will of the Lord your God concerning his saints, that they should assemble themselves together unto the land of Zion, not in haste, lest there should be confusion, which bringeth pestilence.” Haste does not usually bring infectious disease, but it does bring calamity and destruction, which the Saints indeed did experience.
This also seems to be the word’s intent in 2 Nephi 10:6, which, concerning the Jews, states “because of their iniquities, destructions, famines, pestilences, and bloodshed shall come upon them; and they who shall not be destroyed shall be scattered among all nations.” Again, the usual definition of “pestilence” does not seem to apply in this verse, but the idea of some type of far-reaching devastation certainly does. When Nephi, the son of Helaman, smote the earth in his area with “pestilence” (Helaman 10:6), it manifested itself as a very deep, long-lasting famine.
Thus, it would seem that the word “pestilence,” in Joseph Smith’s usage, described cataclysms that are both pernicious and far reaching in nature and brought about due to deep wickedness. They could be brought about by natural phenomena, climate change, insects, pests, or other means, but in the Book of Mormon pestilence was allowed to spread when the Nephites refused to hear their prophets and began to fight among themselves. This comports with John’s conclusion, in Revelation, that pestilence comes when a large segment of society falls away from God and his teachings.
We recall likewise the statement by Paul, found in 2 Timothy 3:1–5, that “in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” The real shame and sorrow of the danger and ruin that follows such lifestyles is that the prophesied horror need not happen if members of society as a whole would just repent. And thus we can understand the nature of these plagues and cataclysms.
The second way of appreciating how the Lord uses prophetic and apocalyptic revelations is by understanding their purposes. That purpose is actually twofold:
God’s first purpose in giving these prophecies is to keep His Saints and faithful followers aware of the pace and direction of current events so that they may know how to prepare. These warnings are often called “the signs of the times.” According to Doctrine and Covenants 45:39: “It shall come to pass that he that feareth me shall be looking forth for the great day of the Lord to come, even for the signs of the coming of the Son of Man.” Further, Doctrine and Covenants 68:11 states, “Unto you it shall be given to know the signs of the times, and the signs of the coming of the Son of Man.” And finally, Doctrine and Covenants 106:4–5 states that “the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, and it overtaketh the world as a thief in the night—Therefore, gird up your loins, that you may be the children of light, and that day shall not overtake you as a thief” (compare also 1 Thessalonians 5:2–5).
In all of these examples, the point is that neither the Second Coming nor the events leading up to it are to take the Saints unprepared.
The second of the twofold purpose of these prophecies is to warn the nations. The Lord states in Doctrine and Covenants 43:25 that He has called upon the nations “by the mouth of my servants, and by the ministering of angels, and by mine own voice, and by the voice of thunderings, and by the voice of lightnings, and by the voice of tempests, and by the voice of earthquakes, and great hailstorms, and by the voice of famines and pestilences of every kind, and by the great sound of a trump, and by the voice of judgment, and by the voice of mercy all the day long, and by the voice of glory and honor and the riches of eternal life, and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!”
This scripture lists the many ways and means through which God has reached out repeatedly to his children. It shows that He has used both the carrot and the stick. Unfortunately, as noted above, unrepentant wickedness will demand the use of the stick. Therefore, the Lord states in Doctrine and Covenants 43:26, “Behold, the day has come, when the cup of the wrath of mine indignation is full.”
A very graphic description of those dire consequences can be in found in Doctrine and Covenants 29:14–20. There the Lord speaks of both heavenly and earthly signs, including the falling of stars, a great hail storm, and then notes that, because people will not repent, “I the Lord God will send forth flies upon the face of the earth, which shall take hold of the inhabitants thereof, and shall eat their flesh, and shall cause maggots to come in upon them; And their tongues shall be stayed that they shall not utter against me; and their flesh shall fall from off their bones, and their eyes from their sockets; And it shall come to pass that the beasts of the forest and the fowls of the air shall devour them up.”
Here we see pestilence at its very worst, as a plague brought on through vermin and insects, with these very nasty “flies” and maggots, whatever they may be, doing their assigned work.
The Lord has revealed all this for a purpose: as a warning to the world and also to his Church. To us, He has stated very clearly in Doctrine and Covenants 97:25–26, “Zion shall escape if she observe to do all things whatsoever I have commanded her. But if she observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her, I will visit her according to all her works, with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire.”
Given the attitude, counsel, and instructions from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today, it appears the Church has successfully dodged that bullet so far. Our leaders exude optimism and encouragement. Reflecting this is a statement made by President Dallin H. Oaks on March 14, 2020. He stated, concerning our present distress, “This is not the end of the world but merely a test. A trial run for the Second Coming if you will—physically and spiritually. If you’ve been following the counsel from the prophet about ministering, emergency preparedness, and at-home Church, you have no need to fear, you passed the test.”
His statement does not mean that people don’t need to be careful and diligent. Indeed, they must do all they can to be both prepared and protected. As Joseph Smith explained “concerning the coming of the Son of Man, [that] it is a false idea that the Saints will escape all the judgments, whilst the wicked will suffer; for all flesh is subject to suffer, and ‘the righteous shall hardly escape;’ still many of the Saints will escape, for the just shall live by faith; yet many of the righteous shall fall a prey to disease, to pestilence, etc., by reason of the weakness of the flesh, and yet be saved in the Kingdom of God. So that it is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death, for all flesh is subject to death.” (History of the Church 4:11; Joseph Smith Papers https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-c-1-2-november-1838-31-july-1842/149).
The persistent point is that the Saints are to be wise and should protect themselves by being independent of all adverse influences and by following sound procedures of spiritual and temporal preparation.
The work of the team of scholars who are preparing the BYU New Testament Commentary volumes has made us very aware that there is no doubt that we all are in for a rough time, but the righteous will be spared from the worst of it. My hope and very optimistic outlook rests fundamentally on three scriptures.
The first is Amos 3:7, which states God will do nothing but He reveals His intent to His servants the prophets.
The second is the encouragement found in Doctrine and Covenants 106:4–5, “the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, and it overtaketh the world as a thief in the night—Therefore, gird up your loins, that you may be the children of light, and that day shall not overtake you as a thief.”
And, finally, the third comes from Doctrine and Covenants 38:30, “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.”
Through prophesy, a merciful and generous Heavenly Father has shown His Saints and all His children here on this earth who have ears inclined to hear, how He can and will thus protect them in the last days from the plagues, pestilences, and pests that certainly will appear.
Note: Michael Rhodes’s New Rendition of the Revelation of John the Apostle is available free online here: https://byustudies.byu.edu/new-rendition/revelation
Julie M. Smith
Since each of the four New Testament Gospels contains an account of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, it is perplexing that they receive so little attention in discussions of the Atonement: thinkers both ancient and modern are more likely to turn to Leviticus, Isaiah, or Paul’s letters than they are to the actual accounts of Jesus’s death. But the Gospels— particularly Mark’s Gospel as the oldest canonized account of the life and death of Jesus Christ—surely deserve attention when thinking about the concept of atonement. Yet at the level of discourse, Mark is almost silent on the meaning of Jesus’s death: save a line here or there, reasons for the death—and the impact of that death on humanity—are barely mentioned in the text, and these scant wisps of discourse-level atonement theology are inadequate to the importance of the topic, especially since on the three occasions when Jesus predicts his suffering and death and shows their necessity, neither Jesus himself nor Mark explains their meaning.
But that does not signify that Mark is barren ground for efforts to harvest meaning from Jesus’s death. We just need to orient our gaze away from discourse and toward narrative. In the last few decades, scholars have increasingly examined Mark’s Gospel as a narrative, looking for ways in which his message is conveyed through the stories that he tells about Jesus. Recent research emphasizing the origin of Mark’s Gospel as an oral performance designed for storytelling has further invigorated the idea that this text should be interpreted with close attention to its narrative. One advantage of a narrative approach is that it acknowledges that Mark is primarily a storyteller and not a systematic theologian.
This essay applies a narrative focus specifically to the meaning of Jesus’s death and seeks to identify narrative atonement theology in the Gospel of Mark. Mark describes Jesus’s death quite briefly: “And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost” (Mark 15:37). But then Mark recounts three events that take place immediately after Jesus dies. By looking closely at these three brief stories, we will see how Mark uses each one to explain the meaning of Jesus’s atoning death. And we will find that each story yields greater light when refracted through the prism of Jesus’s baptism. Continue reading