Online Conference March 6, 2021

The Epistle to the Hebrews: Radiating the Great Principles of the Restored Gospel

9:00  Zoom Webinar, no registration or password required: https://zoom.us/j/95770639916.

Welcome: John W. Welch, Michael Rhodes, Richard Draper, and Eric Huntsman

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.

Videos: For the playlist of all the video presentations on March 6, visit https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXbAVRWvW61YxGGxH2xqj1MulRbjefwqs

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)

 

 

 

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the Testimonies of Simeon and Anna: Luke 2:21-38

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.”

Notes

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).

Analysis

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)

New Rendition

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.”

Notes

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).

Analysis

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)

New Rendition

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.

Notes

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).

Analysis

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.

 

 

Plagues, Pestilences, Pests and Pandemics in These Latter Days

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

 

Narrative Atonement Theology in the Gospel of Mark

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,[1] Mark is almost silent on the meaning of Jesus’s death: save a line here or there,[2] 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[3] 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.[4] Recent research emphasizing the origin of Mark’s Gospel as an oral performance designed for storytelling[5] 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

A Short Note on Thessalonians

by John W. Welch

Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians describe what I would call “The Way,” meaning to walk in the path of truth and life.[1]  First Thessalonians is Paul’s first letter back to his new converts in Thessalonica. He articulates what it means to live and walk as a Christian. He encourages the converts to seek faith, love, hope, and spiritual power:

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. (1 Thess. 1:3-5)

In chapter two, he reminds them to please God, not men, even when doing so causes them to suffer, trying their hearts (1 Thess. 2:4).

In chapter 4, he tells them that they can become sanctified by their purity and fairness (1 Thess. 4:3-6). They must seek holiness, brotherly love, study, being quiet or reverent, minding their own business, working with their hands, and walking honestly (1 Thess. 4:7-12).

In chapter 5, he tells them to esteem their leaders, rejoice, pray, give thanks, quench not the Spirit, despise not prophesyings, prove (test) all things, hold fast that which is good, and abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:13-22).

This rich description of what it means to live a holy life, walking in the path of Christ, still serves us well today.

Julie Smith has articulated in much more detail how the Way is described in Mark and the other Gospels, usually by the Greek word hodos. She explains that Paul used other language to describe a Christian life. See her presentation on The Way on video and transcript on this page, and in her commentary The Gospel according to Mark.  

[1] Although in 1 Thessalonians 3:11 Paul uses the word hodos, way, to describe the path that he needed to return to Thessalonica, it is not used to describe the way of Christian discipleship.

What does the expression “to walk by faith, not by sight” mean? (2 Corinthians 5:7)

by Richard D. Draper

 With this short phrase, Paul describes the very nature of mortality as designed by God. The meaning of the Greek word translated “walk” also denotes comportment or behavior. That the verb is in the present tense suggests that the Apostle has the whole of the mortal experience in mind. The preposition “by” acts, in this case, as a marker of instrumentality or circumstance whereby something is made possible. Because it modifies the noun “faith,” it stresses that it is this virtue that makes walking in a godly way possible.

As with the English noun “faith,” the Greek word has a wide range of meanings ranging from active belief to absolute sureness. The degree of a person’s faith expresses itself in the amount of trust and adherence that a person gives to the idea, teaching, cause, or person that she or he is attracted to. This is what separates faith from mere belief. The latter demands no adherence, only acceptance or admission. The former demands action. But there are degrees of faithfulness. Little faith expresses itself in adherence only when it is convenient or of little cost. Great faith expresses itself in adherence not only when such is inconvenient but also when it demands sacrifice. The noun as used by Paul connotes the high degree of confidence the Saints should have in the reliability of Jesus. The word also carries the strong nuance of conformity to the strictures the Lord demands of his people. Faith in him is expressed in one’s love for him as manifest in obedience to his will (John 14:15; compare Deut. 30:20; Eccl. 12:13). This is the quintessence of faith.

The noun translated as “sight” denotes both the outward form of something (its “appearance”) and also the act of looking or seeing something (that is, “sight”). Though the latter is the usual translation of the word, that reading gives a false understanding of Paul’s point because it suggests that he saw faith and sight as two differing human faculties. The false impression is resolved when we understand that he has more than mere human faculties in mind. His reality consists of things which are both seen and unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). Just as faith is “not a mere faculty or sense but includes the content and hope of the Gospel, so ‘appearance’ does not signify the act of seeing but the object and content of sight, namely, the outward and visible present world.”[1] Paul’s point is that worldly appearance is not what defines the path the Christian should walk. Certainly, for him, it is not appearance that counts but serving the Lord no matter how such service might appear to the world or to the more worldly members of the Corinthians branches.

This material is adapted from Richard D. Draper and Michael Rhodes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, BYU Studies, forthcoming).

[1] Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014), 233.

Conference: Hebrews: The Sacred Powers of Jesus, the Great High Priest, October 12, 2019

BYU New Testament Commentary Conference: Saturday, October 12, 2019, 9 am to 4 pm

205/306 J. Reuben Clark Law School Building, BYU Campus

9:00 John Gee, Welcome

9:10 Philip Allred, Keynote address: “He is able to succor [Boetheo] them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18, 4:16). Dr. Allred is chair of the Department of Religious Education at BYU-Idaho.

9:45 Del Clark, “How Shall We Escape?” Jesus as Savior to the Hebrews (Hebrews 2:3)

10:15 Break

10:30 Kevin Christensen, In and behind Hebrews: Temple, Atonement, and the Covenant of Love (Hebrews 9)

11:00 Brent J. Schmidt, Understanding Pistis: Trust Becoming Faithfulness (Hebrews 11)

11:30 Julie M. Smith, “Women Received Their Dead”:  Women and Resurrection (Hebrews 11:35)

12:00 Lunch Break: Restaurants are available at the BYU Cougareat food court or off campus

1:30 Matthew Grey, “The Need for Another Priest to Come”: The Epistle to the Hebrews and Competing Models of Religious Authority in Post-70 Judaism

2:00 Tom Roberts, The Importance of Understanding Judaism in the New Testament

2:30 Break

2:45 Avram Shannon, How Hebraic Is Hebrews?

3:15 Panel: Kevin Barney, Moderator, including Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes

4:00 John Gee, conclusion

The conference is free and open to the public. Video recordings will be made and posted later on this website. Free parking is available around the J. Reuben Clark Law School building and in nearby BYU lots. 

Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians: New Rendition, 1 Cor. chapters 14-16

As rendered by Michael D. Rhodes and Richard D. Draper. This text is available in Amazon Kindle and from Deseret Bookshelf at no charge. The text is extracted from the full commentary published in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. 

The Importance of Divine Inspiration and Tongues (14:1–12)

1 Seek after love and strive for spiritual gifts, and especially that you might speak with divine inspiration. 2 Because one who speaks in another language is not speaking to other people but to God, for no one understands him; he is speaking mysteries by the Spirit. 3 However, one who speaks by divine inspiration is speaking to people for their edification, encouragement, and consolation. 4 One who speaks in another language edifies himself, but one who speaks by divine inspiration edifies the entire church. 5 I wish all of you could speak in other languages, but I would much rather have you speak by divine inspiration. One who speaks by divine inspiration is greater than one who speaks in other languages, unless he also interprets, so that the whole church can receive edification. 6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in other languages, how will I help you, unless I speak to you by revelation or knowledge or divine inspiration or doctrine? 7 In the same way, lifeless things that produce sound, such as a flute or harp, if they do not produce distinct notes, how will anyone recognize what is played on the flute or harp. 8 For indeed, if a trumpet produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare themselves for battle? 9 So it is also with you, unless you speak intelligibly with your tongue, how will what you have said be understood? For you will just be speaking into the air. 10 There are indeed all sorts of languages in the world, and none of them are devoid of meaning. 11 So if I do not understand the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So you also, since you are eager for spiritual gifts, should seek for an abundance of them for the edification of the church.

The Importance of the Gift of Prophecy (14:13–25)

13 Therefore, anyone who speaks in another language should pray that he may also interpret. 14 For if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my mind is unproductive. 15 So what should I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind. I will sing praises with my spirit, but I will also sing praises with my mind. 16 Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can an investigator say “Amen” on the blessing, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 Indeed you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank God I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in a meeting, I would rather speak five words with my mind, so that I might instruct others, than speak ten thousand words in another language. 20 Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking, instead be as a child in regard to evil, but be mature in your thinking. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people with a foreign language and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 And so speaking in other languages is not a sign for those who believe, but for those who do not believe. Speaking by divine inspiration, on the other hand, is not for unbelievers, but for believers. 23 So if the whole church meets together and everyone is speaking in other languages, and investigators or unbelievers come in, won’t they say you are out of your mind? 24 On the other hand, if all are speaking by divine inspiration, and some unbeliever or investigator comes in, he will be convinced by all and examined by all. 25 The hidden things of his heart will be disclosed, and he will fall upon his face and will worship God, exclaiming that “Truly God is among you!”

Orderly Worship (14:26 –33a)

26 So what should you do, brothers and sisters? When you meet together, each contributes a hymn, or a lesson, or a revelation, or a speaking in another language or an interpretation. All of these things should be edifying. 27 If someone speaks in another language, then two, or at most three, should speak, one at a time, and someone should interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, he should keep silent in the church meeting and speak to himself and to God. 29 Two or three who are divinely inspired should speak, and the others should carefully evaluate what they say. 30 If someone who is sitting down receives a revelation, then the first person should stop speaking. 31 For you can all speak by divine inspiration one after the other, so that all can learn and all can be encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets, 33a for God is a God of peace, not disorder.

Counsel to Disruptive Women (14:33b–35)

33b As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should keep silent in church meetings, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If they want to find out about something, they can ask their own husbands at home, because it is shameful for a woman to speak in a church meeting.

Conclusion (14:36 – 40)

36 Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones to whom it has come? 37 If anyone thinks he is divinely inspired or a spiritual person, he should recognize that what I write to you is a commandment of the Lord. 38 But if anyone disregards it, he should be disregarded. 39 And so, my brothers and sisters, be eager to speak with divine inspiration, and don’t prevent anyone from speaking in other languages. 40 Let all things be done correctly and in an orderly manner.

Christ’s Resurrection (15:1–11)

1 Now I am reminding you, brothers and sisters, of the gospel which I preached to you, which you also accepted, on which you also stand firm, 2 and by which you are also saved, if you hold fast to the message that I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For I passed on to you those things of greatest importance, which I also received, namely that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised up on the third day according to the scriptures, 5 that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, although some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all he appeared also to me, as to one untimely born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God. 10 Nevertheless, by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I have worked harder than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God which is with me. 11 And so, whether I or they, this is the way we preach and this is the way you came to believe.

The Dire Consequences of Denying the Resurrection of the Dead (15:12–19)

12 Now if it is being preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how is it that some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. 14 But if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain, 15 and we are found to be false witnesses of God, because we have testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if indeed the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless, you are still in your sins. 18 So also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If only in this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

God Raised up Christ as the Firstfruits (15:20–28)

20 But in reality Christ has been raised from the dead, the first of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. 22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn; first Christ, then those who belong to Christ at his coming. 24 Then the end comes, when he hands over the kingdom to God, even the Father, after he has eliminated every other dominion and every other authority and power. 25 For Christ must rule until God has put all enemies under Christ’s feet. 26 The last enemy, death, will be eliminated, 27 for “he has put all things in subjugation under his feet.” And when it says “all things are put in subjugation,” it is clear that it does not include God, who put all things in subjugation to Christ. 28 And when all things are put in subjugation to God, the Son himself will be subject to God, who put all things in subjugation to Christ, so that God might be all things in all things.

Paul’s Arguments for the Resurrection of the Dead (15:29–34)

29 Otherwise, what are those who are baptized on behalf of the dead doing? If in fact the dead are not raised, why indeed are they being baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we also constantly in danger? 31 I face death every day, as surely as my pride in you, brethren, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If, for merely human reasons, I fought wild beasts in Ephesus, what good is it to me? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 34 Come to your senses as you should and stop sinning. Some, you see, have no knowledge of God. I am saying this to your shame!

The Logical Conceivability of the Resurrection and the Nature of the Resurrected Body (15:35–50)

35 But someone will say, “How is it possible that the dead are raised? With what kind of a body do they come forth?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you are sowing is not the body which will be produced, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as he intended, and each kind of seed has its own body. 39 Not all physical bodies are the same, rather, humans have one kind of physical body, animals another, birds another, and fish yet another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. Now the glory of heavenly bodies is one kind, but the glory of earthly bodies is a different kind. 41 One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, and another the glory of the stars, for one star differs in glory from another star. 42 So too is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown as something perishable, it is raised as something imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in strength. 44 It is sown as a natural body, it is raised as a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is also written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul,” The last “Adam” became a life-giving spirit. 46 And the spiritual was not the first, but the natural, then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, made of dust. The second man is from heaven. 48 Like the earthly man, so also are those who are earthly, and like the heavenly man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we will also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. 50 Now this is what I mean, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither can the perishable inherit that which is imperishable.

The Nature of the Resurrected Body (15:51–58)

51 Look, I am telling you a mystery. Not all of us will fall asleep, but we will all be changed 52 in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 And when this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying will be fulfilled which is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 Where, O Death is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 Thank God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 And so my beloved brothers and sisters, be firm, immovable, always doing your best in the work of the Lord, since you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

A Collection to Aid Christians at Jerusalem (16:1– 4)

1 Now concerning the contributions for the saints, you should do just as I instructed the churches of Galatia. 2 On the first day of the week, each of you should put aside some money at home in proportion to what you have earned, so that a collection will not have to be made after I come. 3 Then when I arrive, I will send whoever you have approved accompanied by letters of introduction to carry the donations to Jerusalem. 4 And if it seems advisable for me to go also, they will go with me.

Paul’s Plans to Visit Corinth (16:5–12)

5 But I will come to you after I travel through Macedonia—for I am going to travel through Macedonia—6 and, if possible, I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you can send me on my way wherever I go next. 7 For I do not want to just see you in passing, but I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord should permit it. 8 But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a great and effective door has opened for me, although there are many who oppose me. 10 Now when Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear when he is with you, for he is doing the Lord’s work just as I do. 11 Therefore, no one should despise him. Rather send him on his way in peace so he can come to me, because I am waiting for him with the brethren. 12 Now as for brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to come to you with the brethren, but he was not at all willing to come now, but he will come when he has the opportunity.

Final Admonition (16:13–16)

13 Keep alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous and strong. 14 Let all you do be done with love. 15 You are aware that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia and they have devoted themselves to serving the saints, so I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to also subject yourselves to men such as them as well as to every other who joins in and labors with them.

Messages and Greetings (16:17–20)

17 I am glad at the arrival of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, because they made up for your absence, 18 for they revived both my spirit and yours. You should give recognition to such people. 19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca send you warm greetings in the Lord as well as the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send their greetings to you. Greet each other with a holy kiss.

The Final Peroration (16:21–24)

21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Come, O Lord! 23 The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love is with all of you in Christ Jesus.

Baptism in Behalf of the Dead among the Early Christians (1 Corinthians 15:29)

By Richard D. Draper. Material adapted from Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes, Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, BYU Studies, 2010).

“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”

Because of its implications on theology and particularly soteriology, this verse has generated a large amount of scholarly research, interpretations, and debate, especially outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The concept of baptism for the dead simply does not align with mainstream Christian theology. But Christians cannot just ignore it. Their problem is, in part, that Paul refers to a practice that is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible and, therefore, cannot be elucidated. And further, he does not explicitly condemn it, suggesting it was among the accepted Christian practices. Such a practice does go against certain aspects of Christian dogma but the rub is that it does not make sense for Paul to use a practice that he would consider heretical in order to support sound doctrine. The problem has forced some theologians and scholars to insist that this practice must really refer to something besides proxy baptisms. This insistence has resulted in a plethora of different interpretations passed down from various authorities, but in every instance, these scholars must violate the clear meaning of the text. For this reason, a number of scholars agree that those who “are baptized for the dead” were actually performing vicarious work in their behalf. As one non-LDS scholar noted, “This reading [that the verse refers to vicarious baptisms] is such a plain understanding of the Greek text that no one would ever have imagined the various alternatives were it not for the difficulties involved.”[1] Another scholar noted, “The explanation of vicarious or proxy baptism remains the most plausible, even though its meaning is not fully clear.”[2]

Thus, the biblical text is clear that some kind of work for the dead was going on among the early Saints. This fact, however, tells the reader nothing about precisely who was doing it and how it was done, but it does tell us why—in anticipation of a corporeal resurrection. Indeed, this verse as serves as a rejoinder to the Christian heresy circulating at the time that baptism with the bestowing of the Holy Ghost was the resurrection because it raised the recipient to a newness of life.

The Apostle’s point is that the practice of vicarious work for the dead makes no sense at all if there is no resurrection. The third-person plural “they” suggests that the practice was not being done at that time in Corinth. That Paul briefly mentions it shows, however, that it was well-known to them. “Paul was not writing to them about a new doctrine,” noted Elder Orson Pratt, “but about one which they understood and practiced, and he tried to prove to them the nature of the resurrection and that such a principle as the resurrection was true, from the very fact that they were practicing baptism for those who were dead, in order that they might receive a more glorious resurrection.”[3]

As one LDS scholar noted, “There is some evidence, in addition to the statement in 1 Corinthians 15:29, that proxy baptism for the dead was practiced among and by early Christians. Indeed, in the iconography, in the typology, and in the baptismal instruction of the early church fathers one may discern at least two different sorts of initiation: one through water baptism, and the other through certain initiatory oblations and anointings and baptism for the dead. . . . That men and women are privileged to ‘go through’ each and all of the patterns and ordinances for and in behalf of their deceased families and others is unusual in contemporary religious practice. But, again, the proxy and representational ideas are not at the periphery of early Jewish and Christian practice; they are at the core.”[4]

[1] Gordan D. Fee, First Epistle of the Corinthians [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987), 764.

[2] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2008), 580.

[3] Journal of Discourses, 16:297.

[4] Truman G. Madsen, “The Temple and the Restoration,” in Temple in Antiquity: Ancient Records and Modern Perspectives, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 12.

See also Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, vol. 4 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: F.A.R.M.S., 1987), 100–167; and for a non-LDS study see Bernard Foschini, “‘Those Who Are Baptized for the Dead’: 1 Cor 15:29,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 12 (1950): 260–76, 379–88; 13 (1951): 46–78, 172–98, 276–83.

What is Paul’s understanding of love? (1 Corinthians 13)

by Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes, extracted from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, BYU Studies, 2017).

With acute insight, one LDS scholar stated that “First Corinthians 13 is the most moving chapter of the New Testament outside of Jesus’ teachings, a fact that suggests its real source” (Anderson, Understanding Paul, 117).  He further noted that its power comes, in part, like that of the Sermon on the Mount because “it treats the disease, not the symptoms” (Anderson, Understanding Paul, 117). Paul’s intent, as he so precisely stated in 12:31, was to show his readers “a more excellent way,” and in this chapter he does so. To identify that way, he chose a single word: “love” (Greek agape). The KJV translates it with the English word “charity.” Continue reading