Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The White Horse Prophecy by George Cobabe

This article is the best I've seen regarding the famous (or infamous) "white horse prophecy." There are a lot of questions surrounding the supposed prophecy that he deals with very well. I think the best part of the article, and a point that the author emphasizes, is that there is a rigorous, specific standard for accepted doctrine in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I will end this short post with a quote by Joseph Fielding Smith that was used in the article:

"I want to say to you, my brethren and sisters, that if you understand the Church articles and covenants, if you will read the scriptures and become familiar with those things which are recorded in the revelations from the Lord, it will not be necessary for you to ask any questions in regard to the authenticity or otherwise of any purported revelation, vision, or manifestation that proceeds out of darkness, concocted in some corner, surreptitiously presented, and not coming through the proper channels of the Church. Let me add that when a revelation comes for the guidance of this people, you may be sure that it will not be presented in some mysterious manner contrary to the order of the Church. It will go forth in such form that the people will understand that it comes from those who are in authority, for it will be sent either to the presidents of stakes and the bishops of the wards over the signatures of the presiding authorities, Or it will be published in some of the regular papers or magazines under the control and direction of the Church or it will be presented before such a gathering as this, at a general conference. It will not spring up in some distant part of the Church
and be in the hands of some obscure individual without authority, and thus be circulated among the Latter-day
Saints. Now, you may remember this."
-Joseph F. Smith, Jr., Conference Report (October 1918): 55. (Joseph F. Smith, Jr. was later known as Joseph Fielding Smith.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Your Whole Souls as an Offering Unto Him

Your Whole Souls as an Offering Unto Him


Elder David A. Bednar

Ricks College Devotional


January 5, 1999

In the year and a half that I have been serving as the president of Ricks College, I have participated in more than 50 devotional assemblies. Worshipping with students like you each week is a great blessing in my life. I love looking into your faces from the stand and appreciate your preparation to worship and your eagerness to learn.

I have noted that many, if not most, of our devotional speakers at Ricks College begin their remarks by emphasizing that the youth in the Church today are a chosen generation and the most faithful and valiant young people to ever live upon the earth. I have often wondered if you hear this description so often that it becomes overused and trite—and that its importance and deep implications may be overlooked.

Today in my remarks I am going to pay you the ultimate compliment. I will not spend much time telling you about who you are; rather, I am going to treat you like who you are. Because I love and trust you, I will strive to be direct without being overbearing. One of my primary objectives this afternoon is to cause you to think deeply and seriously about an important topic. I ask for both your attention and prayers as I speak, and I invite the Spirit of the Holy Ghost to be with us during this time together.

Today I want to discuss the relationship between the doctrine of Christ and your academic work at Ricks College. Simply stated, I want to discuss the doctrinal and spiritual reasons for being a diligent student.


Faithful and Competent

The following statement by Elder Richard L. Evans, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1953 to 1971, sets the stage for my message today.

You know, it is a wonderful thing to be faithful, but a much greater thing to be both faithful and competent. There is no particular virtue in being uninformed, certainly no virtue in ignorance. When young people can acquire the skills, the techniques, and the knowledge of these times, and along with it have a spiritual commitment and a solid faith and cleanliness of life, there is nothing that you can’t achieve; nothing in righteousness or in reason. (From an address given to the young people at the Northwest Inland Division Gathered for Zion’s Camp, October 15, 1971)

As students, I fear we may sometimes falsely separate spiritual development and progress (what I will refer to today as faithfulness) from academic discipline and competence (what I will refer to today as diligence). Some students may even naively believe that irregular class attendance or a lesser level of academic performance is understandable and perhaps even
excusable because they are conscientious in attending church meetings and stalwart in serving their fellowmen.

My purpose today is to admonish you to use your academic opportunities to the fullest and to avoid at all costs the academic path of least resistance. Specifically, I challenge you as a student at Ricks College to be diligent in both your spiritual and academic pursuits or, as Elder Evans said, to be both faithful and competent.

Please understand that when I use words such as “diligent” and “competent” I am not simply talking about performing well on tests and receiving good grades. A student can memorize wonderfully and perform well on exams and ultimately know very little or nothing at all. The academic path of least resistance to which I refer can be described in a number of ways. It is characterized by questions and statements such as these:

  • “Is this class an easy A?”
  • “Please tell me exactly what I have to do to get a good grade on this paper?”
  • “Who is the easiest teacher in this department?”
  • “I have calculated my total points for the semester, and I only have to get 75% on the final exam to keep my A in the class.”

It is also characterized by a student who, during registration last semester, considered taking a rigorous and challenging course that promised both hard work and significant learning. The student’s response to the demands of the class reveal a real poverty of perspective and is summarized in the following actual comment: “Are the tests really hard? I have a 3.9 thus far in my college career, and I will not take any class that might jeopardize my
cumulative GPA.”

My dear brothers and sisters, your college experience is not merely a game to be played with the ultimate winner determined by test scores and GPA. College is not just an experience to endure and “get through” with the false expectation that somehow, someway we will magically be different on the day we graduate. Rather, a college experience is a period of development in one’s life to be prized and prospered. Indeed, simply settling for “getting
through” college is like buying an expensive car that has no engine. The car may look very good from the outside, but inside the real power is missing.

Today as I refer to “diligence” and “competence” I am talking about conscientiously and consistently and constantly learning how to learn. I am talking about preparing your mind for the important and weighty responsibilities that shortly will come to you, and for which you
must be ready.


Ricks College Mission Statement

The mission of Ricks College has four important and interrelated parts:

1. Build testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and encourage living its principles.

2. Provide a quality education for students of diverse interests and abilities.

3. Prepare students for further education and employment, and for their roles as citizens and parents.

4. Maintain a wholesome academic, cultural, social and spiritual environment.

Please note that the first element of the mission statement, building testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, relates to the faithfulness Elder Evans described. The second and third elements of the statement, which focus upon providing a quality education and preparing students for future responsibilities, relate to the competence he described. And the fourth element of the statement relates to the type of environment in which both faithfulness and competence can be cultivated.

A disciplined and educated mind is a tool for reasoning and inquiring and evaluating and discerning. These abilities are not merely the requirements described in a course syllabus; rather, they are essential skills for a spiritual, happy, and productive life. More importantly, the combination of spiritual strength and mental capacity provides the means whereby we can
act for ourselves rather than be acted upon.

The men whom we sustain today as prophets, seers, and revelators are marvelous examples of both faithfulness and competence. Before his call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Russell M. Nelson was a world renowned heart surgeon. Elder Dallin H. Oaks was a respected lawyer, judge, and constitutional scholar. And Elder Richard G. Scott was a highly skilled engineer who played a key role in the development of the nuclear navy. The faith and diligence of these great men helped them become powerful servants and special witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the scriptures, the words faith and diligence are used together in the same verse twelve times. In 1 Nephi 16:28 we learn that the directional pointers in the Liahona “. . . did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.” In 1 Nephi 17:15 we note that Nephi “. . . did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence.” And in D&C 103:36 we recognize that “. . . All victory and glory is brought to pass unto you through your diligence, faithfulness, and prayers of faith.” Clearly, the integrated themes of faithfulness and diligence occur over and over in the scriptures.

Now please turn with me to section four in the Doctrine and Covenants. I want to draw your attention to verse two: “Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.”

Now, typically we would interpret heart, might, mind, and strength as four separate but interrelated factors that are required in the service of God. May I suggest an additional interpretation? Please consider the word “might” as descriptive of the “heart.” In other words, a mighty heart is required for serving God. Now also consider that the word “strength” as descriptive of the “mind.” Therefore, to effectively serve God we also must have a strong mind.

Perhaps, then, another way of interpreting this verse is as follows: O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with a mighty heart, and with a strong mind, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.
The mighty heart equates to the faithfulness and spiritual strength described by Elder Evans. And the strong mind equates to competence achieved through intellectual diligence and discipline.

Let me emphasize once again, as I talk about “diligence” and “competence,” I am not suggesting that one must be a Rhodes Scholar, or a straight A student, or an apostle. Rather, diligence implies a tenacious persistence about, an engagement in, and a love for the process of learning.

Brothers and sisters, each of you has a responsibility to yourself to become a diligent student as a means of personal preparation for the challenges and responsibilities that lie ahead.

You have a responsibility to your family to become a diligent student as an expression of your appreciation for and gratitude to them.

And most importantly, you have a responsibility to the Savior and His church to become a diligent student because of the covenants you already have made or will yet make— particularly the covenants of sacrifice and consecration.


The Principles of Sacrifice and Consecration

I now want to relate the responsibility that you and I have to be diligent in developing strong minds to the principles of sacrifice and consecration. Let me briefly describe each of these principles.


Sacrifice

The word sacrifice means “to offer or surrender something valuable or precious.” The Prophet Joseph Smith provides the most clear and concise explanation of the importance of the law of sacrifice in the Lectures on Faith:

For a man to lay down his all, his character and reputation, his honor, and applause, his good name among men, his houses, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his own life also—counting all things but filth and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ—requires more than mere belief or supposition that he is doing the will of God; but actual knowledge, realizing that, when those sufferings are ended, he will enter into eternal rest, and be a partaker of the glory of God.

Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. (Lectures on Faith, Lecture 6, pg. 57-58)

Elder Bruce R. McConkie has taught that sacrifice pertains only to mortality. In the eternal sense, there is really no such thing as sacrifice.

Sacrifice involves giving up the things of this world because of the promises of blessings to be gained in a better world. In the eternal perspective there is no sacrifice in giving up all things—even including the laying down of one's life—if eternal life is gained through such a course. (Mormon Doctrine, pg. 664)

In summary then, the principle of sacrifice requires us to willingly offer anything and everything that we possess for the sake of the gospel of the Savior—including our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men; our houses, our lands, and even our families; all things, including our very lives if need be.

Our pledge is: I will give all that I possess, and I am willing to die, if need be, for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sacrifice is motivated by faith and hope and produces increased commitment and a desire to obey.

President Spencer W. Kimball vividly describes how he, as a very young boy, began to learn about the principle of sacrifice.

When I was a little boy about four years old, my father had gone to work on Monday morning and my mother took my brothers and sisters and myself to see the bishop. (You see, my mother had eleven children.) There were about four or five that were not in school, so Monday morning we started out on the road with two buckets of eggs. I was like many other little boys, I could ask many questions, and I said: "Where are we going, Ma?" and she said, "We are going to the bishop's," and I said, "Why are we going to the bishop's?" "These are tithing eggs," she said. Then I said, "Ma, what is tithing?" And then she explained, "Every time we take ten eggs out of the nest, we put one in a special bucket. The other nine we take to the store to buy clothes and food with and so these eggs in this special bucket keep increasing until we have a bucket full. And then every week we take them to the bishop and he gives us a receipt showing that we have paid our tithing."

Then, when I was a little bigger boy, I used to put up hay. I would drive the horses that were hitched to the wagon and tramp the hay down and my older brothers pitched it on the wagon, and when we had gone to the field in the morning, my father would say, "Now, boys, this is the tenth load this morning. This belongs to the Lord. You go up into the upper part where the hay is the best and get a big load and then take it over to the big barn in which the bishop keeps the Church hay." In that way I learned how to pay tithing, so it isn't hard for me to obey this law. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 341)

We are all familiar with many other stories about farmers who offered their best grain, best produce, or finest animals to the bishop as their tithing. And only their best was good enough for the Lord.

Tithing is but one application of the principle of sacrifice. Today, we do not typically pay our tithing with such donations-in-kind. Rather, we readily use our cash to pay our tithes and offerings. And most of us would willingly and gladly offer up anything that was required of us, including our snowboards, golf clubs, CD players, and our year’s supply of Ramen noodles.


Consecration

Consecration is related to but different from sacrifice. The word consecrate means to develop and “dedicate to a sacred purpose.” Sacrifice is what I will offer, surrender, yield, or give up. Consecration, on the other hand, is to fully develop and dedicate to a sacred purpose.

Please listen to the following description of the principle of consecration provided by President Ezra Taft Benson: “We covenant to live the law of consecration. This law is that we consecrate our time, talents, strength, property, and money for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God on this earth and the establishment of Zion (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 121).

As we live the law of consecration, we are willing not only to offer anything and everything we possess for the sake of the gospel, but we also promise to develop and devote our best selves—our time, talents, and strength—to the building of the kingdom of God on the earth.

Our pledge is: I will give me and all that I can become, and I will live for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The principle of sacrifice is a lesser law preparation for the principle of consecration. Consecration includes and encompasses sacrifice and much more. We are not only willing to offer up our possessions, but we will become the best we can be and assist however possible in building the kingdom in righteous ways.

We will not only die for the gospel, but we will develop ourselves and live for the gospel.

True consecration is motivated by charity and produces an increased desire to serve.

The best application of the principle of consecration that I can think of, being developed and dedicated to a sacred purpose, is motherhood. Over the past 24 years I have watched my wife, a very talented, capable, and competent woman, as she has developed and dedicated herself to the holy purposes of our home. Some would say she has sacrificed or given up much to become the heart of our home and to rear and nurture our children. She has not given up anything; rather, she has been dedicated and consecrated to a holy purpose. She has developed herself and applied those skills as God has directed in the most important undertaking of a lifetime, which is the rearing and nurturing of children.


Sacrifice and Consecration

May I suggest, brothers and sisters, that in these latter days much more is required of us as children of the covenant than our money and substance. As the Church spreads throughout the world in a rapidly changing and complex information age, may I suggest that we must consecrate unto the Lord both a faithful heart and a strong mind—a mind capable of learning and instruction and discipline and receiving revelation. And only our best is good
enough for the Lord.

In my devotional address last year at the beginning of the fall semester, I indicated that attending Ricks College is both a privilege and a responsibility. Sacred tithing funds make it possible for you to be here, and the price you pay for tuition and fees is only a small percentage of the actual cost of your educational experience at Ricks. Literally, the widow’s mite, contributed from faithful Church members around the world, makes it possible for you to
be here.

Please turn with me in the Book of Mormon to Omni 1:26.

And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.

As a student at Ricks College, you have been provided with a stewardship opportunity and responsibility to develop a mighty heart and a strong mind—to become both faithful and competent as Elder Evans described—in preparation for that day when you can offer your whole souls unto Him.

President Marion G. Romney has taught:

Can we see how critical self-reliance becomes when looked upon as the prerequisite to service, when we also know service is what Godhood is all about? Without self-reliance one cannot exercise these innate desires to serve. How can we give if there is nothing there? Food for the hungry cannot come from empty shelves. Money to assist the needy cannot come from an empty purse. Support and understanding cannot come from the emotionally starved. Teaching cannot come from the unlearned. And most important of all, spiritual guidance cannot come from the spiritually weak. (Conference Report, October 1982, pg. 135)

My dear young brothers and sisters, what will you and I be prepared to offer unto God? Will you and I offer a mighty heart and strong mind, indeed, our whole soul, unto God? Please consider that during your time at Ricks College you are preparing “here and now” for the consecrated offering you will place upon the altar “there and then.”

As I began my remarks today, I told you I would talk to you and treat you like who you are. Indeed you are a special generation. You live upon the earth at a remarkable and challenging time. And you must remember that “. . . of him unto whom much is given much is required” (D&C 82:3). Now is a season of preparation in your life. Please use your time at Ricks College to become both faithful and competent, to develop a mighty heart and a strong mind. The scriptural warning directed to slothful servants who must be commanded in all things applies to both spiritual and school work. As students at Ricks College, we should be anxiously engaged in the process of learning and do many things of our own free will.

Remember the promise of Elder Evans:

When young people can acquire the skills, the techniques, and the knowledge of these times, and along with it have a spiritual commitment and a solid faith and cleanliness of life, there is nothing that you can’t achieve; nothing in righteousness or in reason. (From an address given to the young people at the Northwest Inland Division Gathered for Zion’s Camp, October 15, 1971)

I testify that God lives. I witness that Jesus is the Christ and the Redeemer of the world. And I know that the fullness of the gospel was restored to the earth in these latter days through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Indeed there are living apostles and prophets on the earth today. The Savior directs the affairs of His church through a living prophet, even Gordon B. Hinckley. Of these things I testify and declare my witness, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


© 1999 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Distraction

While reading today in a new book I just got at the new Deseret Book flagship store (across from Temple Square), I came across a paragraph that rang a little too familiar to me.

“When things of the world crowd in, all too often the wrong things are allowed to take highest priority. Then it is easy to forget the fundamental purpose of life. Satan has a powerful tool to use against good people, those who are committed to a worthy, righteous life, who want to do good and intend to make the most of this life. His tool is distraction. He has an extensive array of undeniably good things that are used to keep us from doing the essential ones. Have you noticed that when you begin to focus on something truly important, something of eternal significance, there often come thoughts of other good things to distract you? Satan promotes distraction. He would have good people fill life with ‘good things’ so there is no room for the ‘essential ones.’ Have you unconsciously been caught in that trap?” (Finding Peace, Happiness, And Joy, Elder Richard G. Scott, Deseret Book, 2007, p.10)

Time and time again I am reminded of the clarity with which the Apostles of the Lord understand mortality and the plan of salvation.

How often do things of importance, but of lesser importance, impede us from doing that which is essential to ours or others’ eternal progression?

How do we overcome this? May I recommend Elder Dallin H. Oaks' talk: Good, Better, Best

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spiritual Creation




In Moses 3:4-5 we read, “I, the Lord God, made the heaven and the earth, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.”

It has been interesting for me to consider why the Lord wanted to include certain information about how the creation took place. Why, through His prophets, does He make so clear to us the method of creation—that all was created spiritually before it was created physically? Is it only to inspire top-notch activity planning committees to scrupulously plan each event? Is there a more personal, practical application?

The result of the creation was a planet, the aesthetic beauty of which the best minds of science, art, and literature can only begin to describe. Even greater than its beauty is its purpose and function: to provide all the necessities of life for the human family as we come to keep our second estate. It provides a place “whereon these may dwell; and we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:24-25).

Just like Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ are responsible for the creation of this world, we also are responsible for the creation of our own, personal world. Brigham Young said, “There is a great work for the Saints to do … Progress, and improve upon and make beautiful everything around you. Cultivate the earth, and cultivate your minds. Build cities, adorn your habitations, make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labors you may do so with pleasure, and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations. In the mean time continually seek to adorn your minds with all the graces of the Spirit of Christ” (Deseret News, Aug. 8, 1860, 177). If our world, our life is to be beautiful, filled with joy, and a blessing to those around us it will not be by accident. We can sit around and do nothing with high hopes and expectations for what life will give us, falsely believing that our wonderful, beautiful life will just “happen” to us.

Jacob, in the Book of Mormon, teaches us that there are “things to act and things to be acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:14). Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles adds, “As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of agency—the capacity and power of independent action. Endowed with agency, we are agents, and we primarily are to act and not only to be acted upon” (Seek Learning by Faith, Ensign, Sep 2007).

It seems to me that the principle of spiritual creation extends beyond committees and activities and teaches us about our divine heritage. Our ability and desire to create comes from our spiritual genes. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second councilor in the First Presidency, said, “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before … Our birthright—and the purpose of our great voyage on this earth—is to seek and experience eternal happiness. One of the ways we find this is by creating things” (Happiness, Your Heritage, Ensign, Nov 2008).

What else does the principle of spiritual creation teach us? It teaches us that if we desire to have a world of beauty for ourselves we must study, plan, and prepare first. The man who wishes and feels it is his destiny to become a great doctor cannot expect that destiny to simply present itself to him amidst late nights, video games, and severe apathy towards structured education. There are steps that have to be taken in order to achieve such a prestigious life.

In a book by my former Stake President, David A. Christensen, he illustrates the value of spiritual creation with a story.

“Years ago, long before the unification of Germany and the democratization of the Soviet Union, many were puzzled at why the Soviet and East German athletes performed so much better in international competition than the USA, Japan, and other nations so focused on athleticism. Why did these two countries garner so many of the medals in the Olympic Games? Maybe we could understand Russia, but little tiny East Germany was a real mystery. We sought to blame it on “quasi professionalism” or steroids, or some deviant external benefits they had that others didn’t have. Then defectors from Soviet and East German teams began to give us some of the answers.

“The Soviet and East German athletes were being coached and taught via a method called “Autogenic Conditioning.” The majority of their practice time was not conducted on the playing field or floor mat. They were practicing mentally. They were rehearsing over and over again in the mind’s eye. Their actual practice was actually just an opportunity to exhibit what they had vividly rehearsed hundreds of times mentally. Once practiced and perfected in the mind, they physically completed the routine then mentally rehearsed the routine making finite corrections and improvements” (Inner Victory: Winning Strategies for Managing Life’s Transitions, David A. Christensen, Capacity Books, 1995, pp. 111-112).

Do you want a beautiful world? Is there an aspect of your life you would like to improve? Do you want something better for yourself or your loved ones? If we live our lives waiting for something good to come to us, eventually we will realize that in our waiting, life has indeed “happened” to us. Because of lessons taught to us by prophets of God, we can spiritually create the world we desire and the steps it will take to achieve it. Then we can create our beautiful world.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mormon Theodicy: A Latter-day Saint Resolution to the Problem of Evil

“If there was a God, this wouldn’t have happened.” Countless people throughout the ages have uttered this phrase, or one similar to it, in the wake of events that cause suffering. Whether it is the death of a loved one, physical or mental illness, disappointment, or one of the other myriad ways humans suffer, suffering for anyone who believes in God, to any degree, can spark very real and very legitimate concerns about the truth of the existence of Deity. “If God is good, why didn’t He save my child?” some may say. “If God has all power, why does He not feed the starving people of the world?” others inquire. These questions reflect what is known by modern philosophers and theologians as the problem of evil. How can a believer in God reconcile His goodness and omnipotence with the existence of evil? Can an all-good, all-powerful God exist and still permit evil to exist? This problem has existed as long as humans and suffering have existed. Many today feel there is not an adequate rebuttal to the problem of evil which has been at least partly responsible for declining religiosity in the world. I say that they are right. There is not a good rebuttal to the problem of evil—at least within the context of the traditional creeds of Christendom. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true church on earth having been restored to fill the voids created by apostasy. This restoration, if it is all that we as members of the Church claim it to be, is a restoration not only of authority, but of doctrine, knowledge, and truth. I will show through the process of this paper how the restoration of the Gospel solves the problem of evil. We will discuss the problem of evil more in depth, the beliefs of “mainstream” Christianity and why they do not suffice, and how the problem is resolved with the restored gospel. If what we claim is true, the restored gospel will adequately answer the questions that have confused and despaired many.
So what exactly is the problem of evil? According to James Kellenberger, a philosopher of religion, the problem of evil is based on three propositions: God is all-good, God is all-powerful, and the existence of evil. It basically says that if evil exists and God is all-good, then He is not all-powerful because He would stop evil but can’t. If evil exists and God is all-powerful, then He is not all-good because He could stop evil but won’t (266). So, He either is not all-good, or is not all-powerful. One does not have to go very far to realize that evil is prevalent in this mortal world. (I must insert here that evil is considered to have two types: natural evil, which would be earthquakes, mudslides, natural diseases, etc.; and moral evil, events caused by another human being such as murder, rape, war, etc. Both types are being considered here.)Within the context of these propositions, the affirmation of evil in the world implies that God either is not worthy of our worship, or He simply does not exist. For if evil and God exist together, then God is either not interested in helping us and is therefore not worthy of our love and trust, or He cannot help us and our faith in such a being would be in vain. A rational conclusion to this dilemma is then to deny the existence of an all-good, all-powerful being, a.k.a. the God of the majority of the Judeo-Christian world. All Judeo-Christian religions have faced the challenge of successfully resolving the problem of evil. The term “theodicy” has been coined to signify the effort to explain evil and vindicate God (Kellenberger 266).
There are nearly as many ways to resolve the problem of evil as there are denominations in the Judeo-Christian world. There are, however, two main viewpoints on the subject. One says that if evil disproves God, then evil must not be real. The other says that evil does indeed exist and thus there is no hope. The official view of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, is that evil does not actually exist, but rather only the absence of good exists. This view, as honorable as the intentions may have been behind its formation, seeks to exonerate God by telling the world that the pain they may be suffering is merely a lack of goodness (Madsen, Eternal Man 54). Many people do not buy this notion. There are too many examples of evil things in this world for a rational person to deny the existence of evil. On the other hand, emphasizing the existence of evil to disprove the existence of Deity also falls short. It does not take into account some details of which I will talk a little later in this paper.
In order to understand the Latter-day Saint resolution to the problem of evil, one must understand a few truths. The loss of these truths was a result of apostasy, which has later resulted in the difficulty of many religions in resolving the problem. When, in 1820, Joseph Smith went to pray in the grove of trees near his home, he was seeking answers to life’s great questions. His appetite for truth and light could only have been satisfied by the outpouring of truths that followed that great visit from the Father and His Son to the boy Joseph. From that time until his death in 1844, many truths were revealed through Joseph Smith to help us live happily in this life and receive an eternal inheritance in the life to come. Because of the restoration of the gospel, we now understand the doctrines that serve as the background of understanding questions that without such knowledge seem so complex and difficult to answer.
The first truth that one must understand is the correct nature of God. God is a loving Heavenly Father who loves all of us, His spirit children, and has sent us here as part of a great plan to achieve happiness. God is literally an exalted man who, by progress in similar circumstances to what we experience here, overcame the world and evil and has now received all power over all things. We achieve greater amounts of happiness by becoming more like Him. It is through our faithfulness under all conditions that we may receive the heavenly gift of exaltation. This truth is distorted by the creeds of Christendom. The belief in something unidentifiable and indescribable leads one to abandon hope in time of need.
The second truth that one must understand is of the nature of evil. Truman G. Madsen, a well known LDS philosopher, apologist, and historian said, “Evil is not a created quality. It has always existed as the background of good. It is as eternal as goodness; it is as eternal as law; it is as eternal as the agency of intelligences” (Meaning of Christ). While many denominations assert that God is responsible for all because He is all-powerful, this quotation helps us to understand that He is not responsible for all; some things are eternal. Because of the Fall, evil was introduced into the world. It is by overcoming the effects of the Fall that we can become exalted; thus, evil is necessary. The various Christian schools of thought vary on this subject. Some say evil does not exist. Some say it does exist but was created by God. To attribute evil to God lessens His character. To deny the existence of evil only weakens one’s credibility.
Another truth to embrace is that of our own true nature. Many people who have considered the problem of evil have also asked themselves, “Why didn’t God create people and a world in which evil did not exist?” We learn in the Doctrine and Covenants that, “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29). We lived before this earth-life and will continue to live after. We then learn that God did not create our innermost, agency bearing self. We also are eternal. Because we were not created, there are varying levels of character. Our Heavenly Father created this world and designed a plan whereby we may all progress to achieve exaltation like Him. We chose to come here to this earth to gain experience and to be tested in all things. Most Christians say we began existence at birth. If we were created with a fallen nature, then God has created beings in His own image that are evil.
The last truth that must be understood is the true nature of suffering. We believe that because of the suffering of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary, all mankind may be saved. This means for us that because of the Atonement of Christ, our suffering can have purpose. That suffering may have purpose might sound weird at first, but let me give you an example. If you exercised your arms resulting in a deep pain in your biceps but experienced no subsequent muscle growth, you might feel that you suffered in vain. If, however, after your workout you felt the pain but did experience muscle growth, would you not agree that the pain was made worth it by the growth? Because of Christ, all of our suffering on this earth can serve a purpose—to help us to grow and progress. We must work, but the growth comes from the Atonement. This is another doctrine that many denominations dispute. Some say it is entirely by works one may be saved, some say salvation is by grace alone.
Understanding these restored truths helps one to realize that if one has a correct knowledge of God, eternal law, our own nature, and the purpose of suffering, the problem of evil does not even exist. Evil “is a necessary and eternal part of ‘the dramatic whole’ and the kingdom of righteousness wherein dwelleth peace--the beatific vision and hope of the faithful--is the kingdom to be won by the conquest over evil” (Madsen, Meaning of Christ).
Is there a problem of evil? Yes—if truths are misunderstood. The restored Gospel of Jesus Christ has been given in these latter days to provide us with not only an organization that can provide authoritative baptisms and the like, but also to provide the answers to life’s deepest questions.






Bibliography
Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981
Kellenberger, James. Introduction to Philosophy of Religion Readings. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2007
Madsen, Truman G. Eternal Man. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970
Madsen, Truman G. The Meaning of Christ--the Truth, the Way, the Life: an Analysis of B. H. Roberts' Unpublished Masterwork. Provo: BYU Studies, vol. 15 (1974-1975)

Friday, October 24, 2008

How I Almost Lost My Testimony of the Bible: rough draft

Putting first things first, I must begin by simply stating that I have a very strong testimony of the Bible and its holy precepts—now. I must admit, I’ve nearly always felt that the Bible was true, but there was a time, recently, when I seriously asked myself, “Why do I believe the Bible?” This seems to be a superficial question, but through the course of this paper I will attempt to take you through a process of thinking that occurred in my own life that had profound implications of whether one should or should not believe the Bible to be veracious, valuable, and inspired of God. It should be understood, also, that I have a testimony of the Book of Mormon and the other scriptures given by God’s prophets. My purpose is not to discuss the truthfulness of scripture revealed in this dispensation, as its process of realization in our day is very different from that of the Bible.

Growing up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we all learn the importance of Bible. We talk about the New Testament and the Old Testament. In nursery we learn the fun stories in the Bible by puppets and animal crackers. In primary we sing songs to memorize the order of books, to remember the stories, and to learn the doctrine contained in the Bible. Children get the opportunity to give short talks on something dealing with the Bible. The Bible is quoted in the Young Men’s and Young Women’s organizations to teach adolescences how to live. I have vivid memories of Seminary lessons of the Bible from playing a life-size game of Risk to learn about the warring Assyrian, Babylonian, Phoenician, and Philistine peoples of the Old Testament to simple testimonies born about the life of the Savior. I remember the Family Home Evening when we used a flannel-board and paper cut-outs to talk about the story of Noah. Talks and lessons are given in sacrament meetings and Sunday school that refer directly to the doctrines taught in the Bible. General Authorities give discourses in general conference about the importance of the Bible and its teachings. The Book of Mormon even teaches us that its purpose is to testify of the truthfulness of the Bible, and that those who believe the Book of Mormon will also believe the Bible. The eighth Article of Faith states that, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly.” Just being an average, ordinary member of the church it is not hard to see the emphasis that is placed on the Bible. I heard the “as far is it is translated correctly,” but never stopped in my childhood or adolescence to thoroughly study why that caveat is included. I, like most of my peers, just assumed that the Bible was a great, usually boring, book that was produced by God through His prophets that magically appeared in my hands in the quadruple combination scripture-set I was given at my baptism at the age of eight. With all these lessons in church, seminary, and at home that taught me of the stories and doctrines contained in the book we know as the “Bible,” never did I question the veracity of the Judeo-Christian society’s most common and foundational book. It is always talked about how one must find the truth of the Book of Mormon and of God’s modern prophets by praying and asking in faith, but I never was taught to seek the truth of the Bible. In discussions with other Latter-day Saints of my age they have told me their experience was similar.

In later adolescence years, even when I began to question the teachings of my childhood including those of the restored gospel and Book of Mormon, I still didn’t question the Bible. Why would I question the other teachings but not the teachings of the Bible? I’ll offer only a few theories. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints receives more scrutiny because of our “revealed scripture.” The world questions things like whether Joseph Smith was really a prophet, whether the Book of Mormon is really an ancient book of scripture translated by Joseph Smith, and whether there really is a prophet in our day. No one in our society, on a large scale, questions whether the Bible is true—after all, it’s been around for so long! Another reason I and others in the Church have not rejected the Bible could be because we simply don’t know it very well. While we do learn some of the stories and doctrines of the Bible, I would say that we are much more familiar with the Book of Mormon. Although the Bible contains the same doctrines, the majority of the teachings of the Church are taught from the Book of Mormon and revealed word. This can make it seem to one who is doubting that these doctrines are unique to Mormonism and different from the rest of the Christian world. At this point in my life my problem was simply that I didn’t yet have a testimony of the Church; i.e. Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, modern prophets, and the doctrines taught by these sources; my ignorance of the Bible actually helped me to not reject it at this time.

This time of wonder and doubt ended with my gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon and subsequently Joseph Smith and the modern prophets. Because of my curiosity of whether these things were true, I questioned and prayed to know the truth. After I became convinced of the truth of the Book of Mormon and essentially “the Church,” my perspective changed on many things. I read the scriptures, searching for more of God’s truths. I even dared to read in the New Testament about Christ and His teachings although I didn’t get too far at that point. My biggest goal became to serve a mission. This next phase in my life was to teach me more about the Bible than I ever knew before.

I served my mission in the Spain M├ílaga Mission, the southern portion of the almost entirely Catholic country. The Church has only been in Spain since 1967, when for essentially the first time since before the Spanish Inquisition other religions besides Catholicism were allowed in the country. Because of this, I viewed that religion and God were more a traditional thing than a spiritual thing. When I engaged in conversation with one of these “traditional Catholics” their view was often that if you’re Spanish, then you’re Catholic. “Why did you baptize your infant children?” I would ask. They would more often than not respond, “Because that’s what we do. You know, it’s tradition.” When I asked if they believed in God, they would say, “Well, there is something. Whether we know what it is or not is another question.” When we made reference to the Bible in a discussion they would often run to their shelf, pull a huge gold-lined book out, and in the cloud of dust coming from the book say, “I have the Bible!” Many times, when I asked them to which church they belonged they didn’t even know the name! They said, “You know, the Spanish church; the one that’s been here forever.” These people, spiritually ignorant, made up the majority of the people I contacted on my mission.

On the other end of the spectrum, because of the newly acquired religious freedom and the extreme apathy of that nation towards the Bible and its implications to religiosity, many protestant groups are emerging. Although demographically much less significant than the religiously ignorant, it was also common to find zealous Protestants (and I must add that there were a couple zealous Catholics in there too) willing and able to defend their faith with every verse of the Bible. These less frequent run-ins with the biblically zealous, more than with the biblically ignorant, caused me to take up a great interest in studying the Bible more in depth than ever before. I had never really studied the Bible in such a way. I got to know the scriptures so well that no biblical zealot could gain any ground in a discussion. I admit that I did participate in some Bible-bashing, but this phase quickly died out as I realized the incongruence of Bible-bashing with the gospel of Jesus Christ. As time went by on my mission, investigators and acquaintances brought up questions to which I had no answer—where did the Bible come from? I learned something of the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Hebrew Tanach. These ideas were somewhat new to me as I hadn’t before much looked into the process of how the Bible came to be. Also, with my studies of the Bible in both Spanish and English I began to realize that one translation didn’t always convey the same ideas that the other did. This arose in my mind the question of whether the Bible was translated correctly. Although still unclear and ambiguous in my mind, this was the first time in my life when I began to see why Joseph Smith added the caveat, “as far as it is translated correctly.” One of my favorite investigators, Malaquias Melchy, was a well-learned man. He told us in our first discussion with him that he had studied the Bible in 20 languages. He had lost hope in the Bible because of so many contradictions he had found. When he began to read the Book of Mormon he said that he found none of those contradictions, that it was the most correct book he had ever seen. At this point I considered for the first time why there would be contradictions. This also was a time when I formed many questions about the Bible and about the nature of scripture in general. I set goals at this later point in my mission to continue to study the Bible and its origin after I returned home. I would get to the bottom of this.

Three weeks after returning home I began my first semester ever as a college student. Besides being a 21 year-old freshman, I fell in love with university learning. I declared my major to be Communications because I wanted to study further how to communicate and the effect of communication on thought, and thus behavior. I didn’t forget my goals of understanding the Bible. At the end of my first religion class, the first half of the Book of Mormon, I asked my teacher, Greg Wightman, if he taught Old Testament also, as I wanted to enroll in that class. He objectively informed me that if I were serious about taking the Old Testament that I must take it from Bruce Satterfield; that Brother Satterfield was by far the most qualified to teach the Old Testament. I wrote his name down and checked it out on the internet, but didn’t think much of it until I could register for my next semester 4 months later. During those 4 months, and while working and living in Tucson, Arizona, I bought a book called Whose Bible Is it? It was a basic history of the Bible, and considered the battle between Christians and Jews of who really is responsible for the Bible we have today. Though I didn’t read the entire book, I read enough to where my interests were sparked even further as to how the Bible came to be. It spoke of how the Bible was most likely spoken before it was written and by this manner it was passed for hundreds of years before being written. In the meantime, while considering this, I began to register for school. Seeing that Brother Satterfield not only taught the Old Testament class, but he also taught the Hebrew Old Testament class; I figured it would be a winning combination so I signed up. The summer of 2006 I will always remember because of the vivid lessons I learned while studying the Old Testament in Hebrew. Along with learning the language, I learned more about the history of the Hebrew Bible. One thing that struck me as quite interesting was that the earliest complete edition of the Old Testament in existence today was made in 1009 A.D. This earliest edition was the base of the Hebrew Bible we used, as well as most of the academic world—the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, or BHS. Considering that the BHS was the academically-deemed most correct version of the Hebrew Bible (at least by virtue of its completeness and age) and only 1,000 years old, I could not help but wonder even more what happened during all the years between completion and this version. Was it changed? Was it translated? Are there other versions out there? Are they different? Why?

During the course of the semester, as well as the following semester when I took the second half of Biblical Hebrew from Brother Satterfield, I learned from translating that there were some differences between what the Hebrew said and what we read in the King James Version of the Old Testament—the English doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, in Joshua 24 we read of when Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem to forcefully renew the covenant made with that generation’s fathers at Mount Sinai. In his discourse, Joshua talks about the many ways the Lord has shown Israel mercy. In the King James Version we read, “Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time,” and “I took your father Abraham from the other side of the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed.” The word that King James’ translators interpreted to men flood actually means river. This may seem trivial, but there is a rich meaning to be taken from the correct translation. When it talks about the fathers on the other side of the river (vs. the other side of the flood, meaning pre-Noah) we are to understand that they were the fathers of Abraham that were idolatrous. The Hebrew also connotes that the “other side of the river” would refer to what we might call, “the other side of the railroad tracks,” a strange, foreign place representing the world. God brought Abraham from the world to the Promised Land, and He also brought the Children of Israel from the world to the Promised Land. Another example of this is in Genesis 22, the story of Abraham being commanded to offer up his only son, Isaac, as a burnt offering to the Lord. One of the first words in the first verse in the King James Version says, “God did tempt Abraham.” The word tempt was probably not the best choice for this situation. The word used actually signifies “to test, try, or prove” included with a connotation of intensity. God didn’t tempt Abraham, nor did He merely test him; God REALLY tested (intensely) Abraham with the intent of proving his worthiness. Joseph Smith’s comments on this verse show his understanding of the true meaning of the verse when he said that this trial would be the most heart-wrenching of all to prove to God that He valued Godhood above all else. In verse 3, after receiving the command of the Lord, the King James Version says, “And Abraham rose up early in the morning.” While our imaginations can make assumptions about the reasons why Abraham “rose up early,” the Hebrew verb used in this instance actually brings with it a feeling of eagerness. Abraham was eager to do the will of God. These inferences, plus myriad more, and what they mean for us spiritually as well as intellectually cannot be understood by reading the English Bible alone. Are we all then doomed to read the Old Testament in Hebrew because of mortal, imperfect translators who often erred, or at least failed to convey the entire meaning of the original language?

Brother Satterfield is a very knowledgeable man, especially when it comes to anything Bible-related. One of the greatest reasons for this is because of his large amount of experience studying in the Holy Land. When he read about a place in Hebrew, he visited it, and sometimes helped in archeological digs of such sites. He knew every inch of the sacred space we read about, or at least it seemed so. My mother had done the study abroad semester in Jerusalem in 1976 when she was attending BYU. Between my mother’s pictures and stories, and the obvious appeal related by Brother Satterfield, my mind was soon made up that if the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near-Eastern Studies ever opened again, I would do whatever it took to go there. That was in the fall of 2006. The winter 2007 semester was the first in 6 years that the Center finally accepted students, ruling that it was safe once again to study in Jerusalem. When I became aware of this I jumped for joy! I started considering what I would have to do to be able to go. I heavily considered transferring to BYU just to be able to apply to go to the Center as it was only available to BYU students in the beginning. During the summer of 2007, while working in Bloomington, Illinois, after reading my scriptures and praying I just happened to out-of-the-blue look at the BYU Jerusalem Center’s website. There was a new announcement on it stating that the Center was now accepting applications from BYU, BYU-Idaho, and BYU-Hawaii. I jumped for joy again! I printed off the application and after completing them, mailed them from Jackson County, Missouri while on a family trip. Ironic, I thought—applying to visit the Old Jerusalem from the New Jerusalem. In a short while I was informed that I was indeed accepted to go to the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near-Eastern Studies.

Before arriving at the Center I never quite knew exactly what kind of experience it would be. I thought it would be cool to see the places I have read about in the Bible, both New Testament and Old Testament. Just like any experience in life, my experience at the Center was not what I thought it would be in so many, mostly good, ways. One way, among many, of describing my experience at the Center was that it was academic. In my time there I learned about the Old Testament, New Testament, and all of their correlating history by some of the Church’s greatest scholars: Richard Draper, David Seely, Ray Huntington, and Craig Ostler. I also participated in Palestinian and Israeli history classes, taught by a Palestinian and an Israeli, respectively. If there ever was any impression that this semester abroad would be a vacation, it was proven wrong in the first week. Between all of the rich classes, field trips, and exploring of the Old City, there was hardly any time for the rigorous homework schedule we had to maintain in order to keep our heads above water in the classes. One of my favorite parts of being there at the Center was being able to pull aside these great scholars and ask them questions that I couldn’t figure out. For example, when I learned from one student about the idea of a Deuteronomist, a theory scholars use to explain the authorship of a good portion of the Old Testament, I was able to pull David Seely aside to ask him what this meant. David Seely was at the time writing the article on the book of Deuteronomy for the Anchor Bible series, the most prestigious collection of biblical writings in the world. When I had a question about the meaning of a passage in the New Testament, I pulled Richard Draper aside to ask him about it. Richard Draper is considered by many, including the dean of Religious Education at BYU, to be the Church’s foremost scholar on the book of Revelations. It was in this context that I was able to further my education of the history and origin of the Bible. We covered in depth the beginning of the writings now included in the Bible, the transformation from Archaic Hebrew to Classical Hebrew, the change in culture of the Jews which led to the need for a Greek Bible for them, the stories of the translation of the Septuagint, the emerging of Christianity and the changes it caused to the Jewish Bible, the Jewish Canon set in Council of Jamnia, and the Christian Canon set in Council of Carthage. I would like to briefly discuss these events.

Assuming that the first 5 books of the Old Testament were indeed written or dictated by Moses, this makes the first attempt of collecting scripture around 1600-1200 B.C., depending on which academic theory you subscribe to. The language used at that time was Hebrew, but its script (or written letters) was archaic. We know of Archaic Hebrew mostly from ancient epitaphs at tombs and very few other writings using this script. This script gave way to the easier-to-read Aramaic script during the Babylonian exile. When they came back from exile, they still used Hebrew to write the Bible but used Aramaic characters. It must be kept in mind that during the existence of these sacred writings the only way to preserve was to make copies. These copies were made by hand, copying character after character and consuming a lot of time. An interesting side note is that the Dead Sea Scrolls were also written by hand and one can see on the scrolls the many mistakes they made as they crossed out portions and wrote in margins. It was expensive to attain the materials needed for the task of making writings of considerable length and was not feasible to start over when a mistake was made. There are numerous examples of this in the Masoretic texts and Dead Sea Scrolls. It was shortly after the return from exile that the last prophets of the Old Testament wrote, around 450 B.C. Later when the Persian Empire fell to Alexander the Great and Palestine became subject to Greek culture and language, it was not long before the majority of Jews, now spread across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, were more fluent in Greek than in Hebrew. Appealing to the people, it was decided that a Greek version should be made so that all Jews could continue to read the Bible. This Greek version of the Hebrew Bible is known as the Septuagint, meaning 70 in Latin, denoting the fantastic story that 70 Elders of Israel made individual translations within the same 70 days and all of them were identical. After Christ came to fulfill all things launching the Christian movement and tension with the Romans escalated in Palestine the most popular school of thought among the Jews, that of the Pharisees, won by survival of the fittest. This group, the early formations to what we now know as Judaism, was allowed to leave the city of Jerusalem when besieged before the Roman destruction of the city. They travelled North-eastward to a city called Yavneh. Because of the success of Christianity, around 90 A.D. questions were raised as to what constituted scripture. The Jews now had a fairly large collection of scrolls and writings of different prophets and scribes. What resulted was the Council of Jamnia (Yavneh). This council was held to decide upon, for the first time, the canon of the Hebrew Bible. They had to decide which doctrines to incorporate, which writings to include, and which books in total to include.

When Christianity continued after the death of Christ the authoritative leaders were spread thin across great geographical areas and large congregations. This resulted in many letters being written by Apostles or missionaries to the members of the different congregations. This is essentially the beginning of the New Testament. After all the Apostles had died or been killed, the main authorities of Christianity were called the Apostolic Fathers. These were not men with authority, but they were men who personally knew the Apostles. Each Apostolic Father had writings of certain Apostles. These, like the Hebrew texts of old, were copied and re-copied for a time. When Constantine decreed his kingdom to be Christian, he made all of the different Christian schools of thought get together to work out their differences. Eventually, in the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D., after the first creeds were formed, the New Testament was given its canon. It was much like the Council of Jamnia where the men made arguments for why or why not certain books should be included. With this council, we essentially have the Bible as we know it today, the Old Testament from the Jews and the New Testament from the Early Christians.
Included in my education in Jerusalem was the informal education of exploration. One of my favorite sites to see in Jerusalem was the Israel Museum. The museum was and still is under construction for renovations that are taking place to some parts of the museum. My favorite site to see at the museum, nonetheless, was the Shrine of the Book. The Shrine of the Book is an entire section of the museum (its own building) that is dedicated to the history of the Bible, mostly through the Dead Sea Scrolls. I visited the Shrine of the Book 3 times in the time I was living in Jerusalem; I found it fascinating to read about and look at these scrolls and try to read the Classical Hebrew written on them. Most scholars agree, the Dead Sea Scrolls were the most significant archeological discovery of the century, maybe even in history. Why were the Dead Sea Scrolls an important find? Because like I had learned in my Hebrew class, the earliest extant complete version of the Bible was finished in 1009 A.D. Scholars have long suspected the Jews of changing the Hebrew Bible in the first century A.D. to fit their own theological ideas, or at least to not as easily fit the theological ideas of Christianity when it first came to light. There is a story, found in the letters of the early Apostolic Fathers, where one Christian missionary is persuading another Christian missionary to stop using the Jewish Bible so much to convert Jews. He apparently had become so good at using the Septuagint (the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek by the Jews) to convert Jews, that the Rabbis were pushing to stop using the Septuagint and go back to the Hebrew text. This confident missionary replied to the persuader something to the effect of, “Let them switch, and I’ll prove Christianity’s truthfulness in that Bible too!” What he didn’t know, the persuader later informed him, was that the Jews were at that very instant changing the Hebrew text to make it harder for Christians to evangelize to the Jews. When the Jews made the switch back to Hebrew, Jewish convert numbers dropped. The Dead Sea Scrolls are important because they were created sometime before the first century B.C. and contain all of the books of the Hebrew Bible as we know it today except for the Book of Esther. This means that we can do a comparative study between the first century B.C. Dead Sea Scrolls and the eleventh century A.D. Masoretic text (traditional version handed down from the Masoretes) to see what kinds of changes have taken place. Needless to say, the findings have been significant. As far as I know, there is no religious group in existence today that uses the Dead Sea Scrolls as canon. The King James Version of the Bible’s Old Testament was mostly translated from Masoretic text.

Another sight to see at the Shrine of the Book was the Aleppo Codex. Made in the tenth century A.D. this version of the Hebrew Bible is older than the more widely used version from which the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia was made. It is not used because it is not complete. The complete version, called the Leningrad Codex, is used because it is complete. Even still, with all of my new learning about translations, scrolls, codices, and councils I found it quite upsetting that although the Old Testament was completed about 450 B.C. we don’t have a pure, virgin copy of what those prophets said.

In this adventure of my acquaintance with the Bible, I learned there are many reasons to discount the Bible. At first it only helped me to appreciate the purity of the Book of Mormon. As my knowledge grew of the history of the Bible as a text, I became increasingly discouraged and began to seriously wonder, “Why on earth do we believe this book?” This is how I almost lost my testimony of the Bible.

Since these experiences I have come to appreciate the Bible, despite its many flaws. The Joseph Smith Translation has been given to clear up points of doctrine where needed. The Lord has given us the Spirit to discern by. After a brief conversation with one of my professors at the BYU Jerusalem Center, I realized that just with the Book of Mormon, faith is required to believe the Bible. I continue to ask myself, “Why do I believe this book?” not from a disbelieving standpoint, but from a believing standpoint. I now know that the Bible is true. What an adventure.