BYU Church History Symposium: Joseph Smith’s Study of the Ancient World (7-8 March 2013)

The title of this year’s symposium is “Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith’s Study of the Ancient World.On Thursday, March 7, the conference will begin at 9:00 a.m. with the keynote speaker, Richard L. Bushman in the Herold B. Lee Library auditorium on the BYU Campus in Provo. The symposium will continue in the same location until 4:30. Papers will be given addressing Joseph Smith’s reading of ancient Jewish and Christian texts, his interactions with the scholars of his day, and his interest in the ancient Americas. At 7:00 p.m. the plenary session, held in the Joseph Smith Building (JSB) auditorium (south end of BYU campus), will feature remarks by Elder Steven E. Snow, the new Church historian and recorder, and a plenary address by David F. Holland, professor of history at UNLV.

On Friday, March 8, the conference will continue in Salt Lake City at the LDS conference center’s little theater. It will begin at 9:00 a.m. and conclude at 3:00 p.m. Presentations will address Joseph Smith’s study of the Bible, contemporary biblical commentaries, and biblical languages, and his relationship to 19th-century Egyptology.

A Testimony of Jesus Christ

Over the years my testimony has grown in many different ways, but during the last few years I have worked diligently to have the core of my testimony be focused solely upon Jesus Christ. In the early years of my testimony I believed in Christ, but unfortunately he was not at the center of my beliefs.

I didn’t realize that the Savior wasn’t the foundation of my testimony until I was a missionary. I went English speaking and it seemed that every other door I knocked on had someone who wanted to verbally battle with me over my beliefs.

After a while I reached the point that when someone wanted to argue about the Church I would ask them one question. The question was, “If Jesus Christ were to come to you today and tell you the Book of Mormon was true would you believe Him?”

The first time I asked this question was with an elderly gentleman who was quite devout in his own beliefs. I was astonished to hear that his response to my question was a defiant no. In fact, his answer took me so much by surprise I actually took a step back as if someone was about to hit me.

I was just so certain no one would say no that I wasn’t prepared when someone did. After hearing his response I ended our conversation with the parting statement that if Jesus Christ couldn’t convince him than there was no way a 20 year old boy, far from home, would be able to do any better.

As I biked home from this encounter I pondered on the scripture from the Doctrine & Covenants that states, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken…whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). For me, having this man tell me no was an example of the voice of the Lord and the voice of His servant being rejected.

For the next few weeks I continued to ask this question when people wanted to argue about the Gospel. Each time I received a no, and each time I was surprised to hear the answer. It really bothered me to hear so many people say they wouldn’t follow Jesus Christ.

It wasn’t until I was reading Moroni 10:3–5 to an investigator that I stumbled across the reason why people were telling me no. In verse four I read something I had never seen before (and up to that point I had read this verse at least once everyday for over a year). It says: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (emphasis added).

The words, “…ask God…if these things are not true…” struck me with such intensity. I had never before asked if the Book of Mormon was not true. I had only asked if it was true.

Asking if the Book of Mormon is true, or asking if the Book of Mormon is false may sound like the same question, but in reality the questions are worlds apart. I found it a lot easier to accept something I have always believed in to be truth, than to fight against my spiritual upbringing and ask the Lord if it is all an illusion.

Once I realized the difference I finally understood why people were telling me no. In their understanding of truth, it was absolutely ludicrous for the Savior to say the Book of Mormon was true. For them they knew the Book of Mormon was false, and no one, including Christ could convince them otherwise.

This realization helped me see how important it was to ask if what I believed in was false. Having this intellectual and soul awakening experience really turned my world upside down and inside out. I realized I couldn’t continue preaching the salvation of Christ using the Book of Mormon (or even the Bible for that matter) as a source without first knowing that these words were the fruits of truth.

I knew the Book of Mormon was a book with powerful teachings, and  those who argued otherwise had never read the book in its entirety. However, I wanted to know for certain that the teaching which flowed from the Book of Mormon where more than powerful, but eternal. I had read many religious and spiritual books that had good teachings in them, but now I sought to know what Christ felt to be true.

I clearly remember the night I decided to pray on the possibility of the falsehood of the Book of Mormon. I waited until my companion was asleep before I slipped out of my covers and knelt by my bed. I had made up my mind that the only thing that mattered to me was to follow the Savior. If that meant forsaking all that I had been taught and going a different path than I was prepared to do so.

I remember praying that I was prepared to remove my missionary badge and my temple garments and go home if I discovered that Christ did not want me to follow the teachings of the Book of Mormon. I must also admit that it was a difficult prayer. Not only was I trying to come to terms about the possibility of giving up my mission and Church membership, but I also found it extremely hard to move past my own personal bias beliefs.

It was a struggle entertaining thoughts that the Book of Mormon was a lie. However, in order to succeed in my desires I knew it was necessary. Quite frankly I was scared, the sacrifices I was considering seemed to loom over me while I spoke with God on that quite April evening.

Yet, if the Book of Mormon was true I wanted it to be an appendage to my testimony of Christ, not the center of my testimony. I deeply wanted to understand what the Master wanted and to follow it no matter the cost.

I had been testifying of Christ, but I only believed in Christ because I believed in the Book of Mormon. For me I didn’t feel that was the testimony I wanted. I just couldn’t see how this was any different from the testimony of someone who grew up only knowing the Bible or the Quran. Do they believe because it is true or do they believe because it is familiar and comfortable to them?

I don’t know how long I spent on my knees but I know I spent considerable amount of time working through this question. It took time for my heart to accept the challenge I was giving it. I knew the real consequence of what I could be giving up. My family, friends, and how I viewed the world were centered around the Church and my belief in the Book of Mormon. I knew I wouldn’t just be giving up a religion but I would be giving up a way of life.

Through the turmoil and strife I did receive my answer. The answer was so strong, so certain, that even a decade or so later, I continue to feel the conviction of the answer. That night I felt the power of the Holy Ghost and I knew the Book of Mormon wasn’t false. However, my belief in this book came that night because in prayer I gained an in depth understanding for whom the Son of God is in my life. I now know the Book of Mormon to be a sacred document given to us to understand salvation because I now know that Jesus Christ lives and is the true source of this book.

I share this sacred experience because I believe it is more important to follow Christ than it is follow anything else. It is great to have other things like the Book of Mormon and Bible as further evidence of Christ’s divinity, but these things should not be our rock. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and He is more powerful than any word, book, or person. He uses these tools to help us find him. Yet, the only way to know for certain His divinity is to strip away the restrictions we place upon Him. We must be willing to lose what we feel is important in this temporal world, to gain what is essential in the eternities.

LDS Church Leaders On Saving the Constitution

No matter what your political affiliation be, it is evident that we are coming into troubled waters. Conniving men and women are polluting the delicate infrastructure of freedom, and are slowly, and assuredly, destroying the sacred morals that have been a shinning light upon hill to all nations. However, it is clear by reading the below revelations that Evil will have its day in the sun, but Good will triumph. ~Paul

Joseph Smith Jr.

“We are fast approaching that moment prophesied by Joseph Smith when he said: ‘Even this nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground, and when the Constitution is upon the brink of ruin, this people will be the staff upon which the nation shall lean, and they shall bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction” (Church Historian’s Office, Salt Lake City, July 19, 1840) (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 623 – 624).

Words of James Burgess: “In the month of May 1843, several miles east of Nauvoo, the Nauvoo Legion was on parade and review, at the close of which Joseph Smith made some remarks upon our condition as a people and upon our future prospects, contrasting our present condition with our past trials and persecutions by the hands of our enemies; also upon the Constitution and government of the United States, stating that the time would come when the Constitution and government would hang by a brittle thread and would be ready to fall into other hands, but this people, the Latter-day Saints, will step forth and save it. . . .I, James Burgess, was present and testify to the above” (The Words of Joseph Smith, 279).

Bruce R. McConkie

“It is our firm conviction as a people that the stars and stripes will be waving triumphantly in the breeze, as a symbol of the greatness and stability of the United States of America, when the Lord comes. This nation was established to be the Lord’s base of operations in this final gospel dispensation. From it the gospel is to go to every other nation and people. The greater its influence among the nations of the world, the more rapidly the gospel spreads. But the Lord has told us that all nations, the United States included, shall cease to be when he comes” (The Millennial Messiah, 491).

Ezra Taft Benson

“The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith there would be an attempt to overthrow the country by destroying the Constitution. Joseph Smith predicted that the time would come when the Constitution would hang, as it were, by a thread, and at that time ‘this people will step forth and save it from the threatened destruction’ (Journal of Discourses, 7:15). It is my conviction that the elders of Israel, widely spread over the nation, will at that crucial time successfully rally the righteous of our country and provide the necessary balance of strength to save the institutions of constitutional government” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 618 – 619).

Harold B. Lee

Men may fail in this country, earthquakes may come, seas may heave beyond their bounds, there may be great drought, disaster, and hardship, but this nation, founded on principles laid down by men whom God raised up, will never fail.

This is the cradle of humanity, where life on this earth began in the Garden of Eden. This is the place of the New Jerusalem. . . . This is the place where the Savior will come to His temple.

We are living in a time of great crisis. The Country is torn with scandal and with criticism, with fault finding and condemnation. There are those who have downgraded the image of this nation as probably never before in the history of the country.

I plead with you not to preach pessimism. Preach that this is the greatest country in all the world. . . . It is the nation that will stand despite whatever trials or crises it may yet have to pass through.

We must be on the optimistic side. This is a great nation; this is a great country; this is the most favored of all lands. While it is true that there are dangers and difficulties that lie ahead of us, we must not assume that we are going to stand by and watch the country go to ruin. We should not be heard to predict ills and calamities for the nation. On the contrary, we should be providing optimistic support for the nation.

You must remember . . . that this church is one of the most powerful agencies for the progress of the world, and we should . . . all sound with one voice. We must tell the world how we feel about this land and this nation and should bear our testimonies about the great mission and destiny that it has.

If we do this, we will help turn the tide of this great country and lessen the influence of the pessimists. We must be careful that we do not say or do anything that will further weaken the country. It is the negative, pessimistic comments about the nation that do as much harm as anything to the country today. We who carry these sacred responsibilities must preach the gospel of peace, and peace can only come by overcoming the things of the world. Now, we must be the dynamic force that will help turn the tide of fear and pessimism.

(Excerpts from a talk given at Ricks College Devotional Assembly, “Have Faith in America,” October 26, 1973, and printed in two sources: Ye Are the Light of the World: Selected Sermons and Writings of Harold B. Lee, 340, 350-351, and The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams, 365-366.)

The Meaning Behind the Name of the LDS Church

Every other weekday I attend Seminary as the Priesthood visitor for our tiny class (there are only two students representing all four years of our high school). It has been quite some time since I’ve graduated from Seminary, but I’ve come to realize the beauty of studying the gospel so early in the morning.

Recently, the teacher shared a lesson on the importance and power of  a name, particularly within our religion and our beliefs. We give baby blessings that put our children’s names upon the records of the Church; God asked Adam to name all the beasts of the field, and even Eve; and we, of course, are quite particular about the name of our Church.

If you have ever watched old Church commercials (pre-1990’s) you will see at the end the Church’s name and then the tagline “The Mormons.” This has evolved over the past few decades, and now you don’t see the word “Mormon” attached to the official Church name. Rather, you see a strong emphasis on the name of Jesus Christ. If you see a missionary badge (or any official literature of the church) you will notice that the font of “Jesus Christ” is four times bigger than the rest of the name of the church.

Understanding this, the teacher gave us a handout breaking down the name of the Church and showing the meaning behind it. This comes straight out of the Book of Mormon manual (see 3 Nephi 27:8), but I had never read it before so I thought I would share it here.

The Church

“The first two words of the name the Lord chose for His earthly organization are The Church.

“Note that the article The begins with a capital letter. This is an important part of the title, for the Church is the official organization of baptized  believers who have taken upon themselves the name of Christ (see D&C 10:67–69; 18:21-25). . . .

“The Church is the way by which the Master accomplishes His work and bestows His glory. Its ordinances and related covenants are the crowning rewards of our membership. While many organizations can offer fellowship and fine instruction, only His church can provide baptism, confirmation, and the ordinances of the temple—all bestowed by authorized priesthood power. That power is destined to bless all children of our Heavenly Father, regardless of their nationality” (in Conference Report, Mar.-Apr. 1990, 20; or Ensign, May 1990, 18).

Jesus Christ

“By divine directive, the title of the Church bears the sacred name of Jesus Christ, whose church this is (see D&C 115:3–4). . . .

“We worship God the Eternal Father in the name of His Son by the power of the Holy Ghost. We know the premortal Jesus to be Jehovah, God of the Old Testament. We know Him to be ‘the chief corner stone’ upon which the organization of His church is based (Ephesians 2:20).  We know him to be the Rock from whom revelation comes to His authorized agents (see 1 Corinthians 10:4; Helaman 5:12) and to all who worthily seek Him (see D&C 88:63)” (in Conference Report, Mar.-Apr. 1990, 19; or Ensign, May 1990, 17).

Latter-day

“It is true that scriptures foretell the final days of the earth’s temporal existence as a telestial sphere. The earth will then be renewed and receive its paradisiacal, or terrestrial, glory (see Articles of Faith 1:10). Ultimately, the earth will become celestialized (see Revelation 21:1, D&C 77:1; 88:25-26). But its last days must be preceded by its latter days!” (in Conference Report, Mar.-Apr. 1990, 18; or Ensign, May 1990, 17).

Saints

“A saint is a believer in Christ and knows of His perfect love. The giving saint shares in a true spirit of that love, and the receiving saint accepts in a true spirit of gratitude. A saint serves others. . . .

“A saint ‘refrain[s] from idleness’ (Alma 38:12) and seeks learning by study and also by faith. . . .

“A saint is honest and kind, paying financial obligations promptly and fully, treating others as she or he would want to be treated. . . .

“A saint is an honorable citizen, knowing that the very country which provides opportunity and protection deserves support, including prompt payment of taxes and personal participation in its legal political process (see D&C 134:5).

“A saint resolves any differences with others honorably and peacefully and is constant in courtesy—even in traffic at the rush hour.

“A saint shuns that which is unclean or degrading and avoids excess even of that which is good.

“Perhaps above all, a saint is reverent. Reverence for the Lord, for the earth He created, for leaders, for the dignity of others, for the law, for the sanctity of life, and for chapels and other buildings are all evidences of saintly attitudes. . . .

“A reverent saint loves the Lord and gives highest priority to keeping His commandments. Daily prayer, periodic fasting, and payment of tithes and offerings are privileges important to a faithful saint.

“Finally, a saint is one who receives the gifts of the Spirit that God has promised to all His faithful sons and daughters (see Joel 2:28–29; Acts 2:17–18)”  (in Conference Report, Mar.-Apr. 1990, 18; or Ensign, May 1990, 16-17).

The Symbolism of Numbers Found in the Scriptures

Here is what I have written in my scriptures from my seminary days:

Number Scriptural Symbolism
1 God, Genesis, beginning
2 Christ, opposition, deliverance
3 Holy Ghost, Godhead, solid, divine protection
4 Earth (North, South, East, and West; 4 elements; divisions of day; seasons, and etc)
5 Grace (4+1)
6 Man’s imperfection (6 times, Savior is charged with having a devil inside, serpent in Hebrew has 6 names)
7 Oath, spiritual perfection
8 Abundance, Covenant, beginning, new
9 Judgment
10 The Law, Order (10 Commandments)
11 Discord, disorder (12-1)
12 Priesthood authority, governmental perfection (quorum of 12 holds all Priesthood keys)
20 Expectancy (i.e. 20 years Jacob waited to get wives and payment)
30 The right moment
40 Probation, trial, renewal (40 days ark)
200 Insufficiencies

The Parables of Christ

In my institute class we are going through the different parables of Christ found in the New Testament. Below is what we have documented, but there are disagreements among bible scholars on the official count of the parables. Anyway, I asked the teacher to email me the below handout for the benefit of everyone else. All the scriptures are linked to the scripture database at lds.org. May you find your precious coin as you read these.

Parables of Christ in the New Testament

  1. Barren Fig Tree – Luke 13:6–9
  2. Chief Seats – Luke 14:7–11
  3. Empty House – Matthew 12:43–54; Luke 12:24–26
  4. Foolish Rich Man – Luke 12:13–21
  5. Friend at Midnight – Luke 11:5–13
  6. Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25–37
  7. Gospel Net – Matthew 13:47–50
  8. Great Supper – Luke 14:16–24
  9. Hidden Treasure – Matthew 13:44
  10. King’s Warfare – Luke 14:31–33
  11. Laborers in the Vineyard – Matthew 19:2720:16
  12. Leaven – Matthew 13:33
  13. Lost Coin – Luke 15:8–9
  14. Lost Sheep – Luke 15:1–7
  15. Lost (Prodigal) Son – Luke 15: 11–32
  16. Man Taking a Far Journey – Mark 13:34–37
  17. Mustard Seed – Matthew 13:31–32
  18. Pearl of Great Price – Matthew 13:45–46
  19. Pharisee and Publican – Luke 18:9–14
  20. Pounds – Luke 19:11–27
  21. Rich Man and Lazarus – Luke 16:19–31
  22. Royal Marriage Feast – Matthew 22:1–14
  23. Sheep and the Goats – Matthew 25:31–46
  24. Shut Door – Luke 13:23–30
  25. Talents – Matthew 25:14–30
  26. Ten Virgins – Matthew 25:1–13
  27. Treasures New and Old – Matthew 13:51–52
  28. Two Debtors – Luke 7:36–50
  29. Two Sons – Matthew 21:28–32
  30. Seed Growing Secretly – Mark 4:26–29
  31. Sower – Matthew 13:1–9, 18:23; Mark 4:1–8, 14–20; Luke 8:5–8, 11–15
  32. Uncompleted Tour – Luke 14:25–30
  33. Unjust Judge – Luke 18:1–8
  34. Unjust Steward – Luke 16:1–13
  35. Unmerciful Servant – Matthew 18:21–35
  36. Unprofitable Servant – Luke 17:5–10
  37. Wheat and Tares – Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43
  38. Wicked Husbandman – Matthew 21:33–46; Mark 12:1–12, Luke 20:9–18

Parables of Christ in the Doctrine and Covenants

  1. Twelve Sons – D&C 38:26–27
  2. Labors in the Field – D&C 88:51–61
  3. Nobleman – D&C 101:43–62
  4. Woman and Unjust Judge – D&C 101:81–91