Rigdon v. Young (1844)

I’ve been quite busy with the podcast and haven’t had much time to devote to the blog. This was something I had been working on last year but never published. We’re going to be covering the Succession Crisis on the podcast next, so I dusted this off and decided to publish it.

August 1844 was an interesting time for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Joseph and Hyrum had been killed less than two months earlier, and there was no clear replacement. Well, actually, there was a clear replacement if you hearkened to the word of God. But the majority of the members didn’t, and so it was put to a vote instead. Brigham Young won the vote and got control, and Sidney Rigdon was excommunicated.

Let’s take a look at what should have happened in August 1844. Doctrine and Covenants has specific requirements for President of the Church. D&C 107 uses several different names for the same position:

  • Presidency of the Church
  • President of the High Priesthood of the Church
  • President of the office of the High Priesthood
  • Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church,

I’d sure like to ask Joseph why he did that, but we’ll roll with it. The verses below make it clear these are the same and the highest authority in the church.

D&C 107
22 Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.

64 Then comes the High Priesthood, which is the greatest of all.
65 Wherefore, it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High Priesthood of the Church;
66 Or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church.

79 And the Presidency of the council of the High Priesthood shall have power to call other high priests, even twelve, to assist as counselors; and thus the Presidency of the High Priesthood and its counselors shall have power to decide upon testimony according to the laws of the church.
80 And after this decision it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord; for this is the highest council of the church of God, and a final decision upon controversies in spiritual matters.
81 There is not any person belonging to the church who is exempt from this council of the church.

91 And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—
92 Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.

Verse 22 says this presidency must consist of three high priests – they can’t be elders. Verse 65 says that one must be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside. Appointed of, not appointed to. That means the person needs to already be a high priest. While the other verses could get away with an elder being chosen and then ordained to the office of high priest, verse 65 says he can’t be chosen before becoming a high priest. Verse 92 also says the president is to be a seer, a revelator, and a prophet.

With that criteria in place, let’s evaluate the the status of both men.

High Priest

Sydney Rigdon

Ordained a high priest on June 3, 1831.

Brigham Young

Never ordained a high priest.

 “Now will it cause some of you to marvel that I was not ordained a High Priest before I was ordained an Apostle?  Brother Kimball and myself were never ordained High Priests.”
Journal of Discourses
1:136, April 6, 1853

Sydney was the only High Priest among the two of them. Brigham should have never been in contention for the office of President of the High Priesthood of the Church.

Prophet, Seer, and Revelator

Sydney Rigdon

Ordained on June 3, 1831.

Elder Sidney Rigdon has been ordained a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.
HC 4:364

Brigham Young

“I do not profess to be a Prophet. I never called myself so.”
Journal of Discourses, 5:177

During the conference in August 1844 where the fateful vote was taken, William Marks, president of the Nauvoo Stake, said this:

“Now is there a man in the church who has received the ordination of a prophet, seer and revelator.  If there is I want to see him…I think I am knowing to all the ordinations, but I don’t know of a man who has been ordained to the office and calling Brother Sidney has.”

Sydney was the only person who had already been ordained a prophet, seer, and revelator. How could Brigham be ordained a prophet, seer, and revelator by anyone other than Sidney? Yet Brigham excommunicated Sydney and had other apostles ordain him to an office that none of them had the authority to give.

Most Senior Apostle

The current church practice is the apostle who has served the longest at the death of the president becomes the new president of the Church. This isn’t in the scriptures, and it evolved over time with various tweaks to ensure the “right” man got the job. The scripturally approved method is in Section 107. But let’s just pretend that this man-made method of succession was in force back in 1844. Surely Brigham would have won here, right?

Syndey Rigdon – called December 7, 1830

Moroni 2:2
…ye shall have power that to him upon whom ye shall lay your hands, ye shall give the Holy Ghost; and in my name shall ye give it, for thus do mine apostles.

D&C 35:6 – Revelation on December 7, 1830 to Sidney Rigdon
But now I give unto thee a commandment, that thou shalt baptize by water, and they shall receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, even as the apostles of old.

Moroni says apostles give the Holy Ghost, and D&C 35 tells Sydney to give the Holy Ghost even as the apostles of old. Other sections of D&C call Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and others as apostles, years before the Quorum of the Twelve was organized in 1835.

Here’s another interesting tidbit. D&C 84 was received in September 1832, two and half years before the Quorum of the Twelve was organized. Yet the Lord said:

63 And as I said unto mine apostles, even so I say unto you, for you are mine apostles, even God’s high priests; ye are they whom my Father hath given me; ye are my friends;

This revelation was given to Joseph in the presence of six others. We don’t know their identities (if someone knows them, speak up!). But the Lord declares that these seven people are both high priests and apostles. We know Sydney was ordained a high priest in 1831, and we know the Lord called him an apostle in Section 35. I would not be surprised if Sydney was present when Section 84 was received.

Brigham Young – called February 14, 1835

Brigham had four years less seniority than Sydney had upon the death of Joseph. Brigham should have never challenged Sydney if the current law of succession by seniority was the law of the Lord.

Seniority – Part 2

Back in 1844, seniority wasn’t determined by length of service (Brigham invented that during the later years of his reign). Seniority at this time was determined by age.

Sydney Rigdon – born February 18, 1793
Brigham Young – born June 1, 1801

Under this criteria, Sydney has eight years seniority.

Either way you count it, Sydney had more seniority as an apostle than Brigham.

Conclusion

Final tally: Sydney 3, Brigham 0.

D&C: 42:59-60
Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church; And he that doeth according to these things shall be saved, and he that doeth them not shall be damned if he so continue.

D&C 43:5-7
And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any that shall come before you as revelations or commandments; And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me. For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations which you have received and shall receive through him whom I have appointed.

D&C 84:54-57
And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written.

Had the members in August 1844 relied on the scriptures to solve the succession crisis, things would have been vastly different. No polygamy, no Adam-God doctrine, no blood atonement, and probably no priesthood ban. We would have actually had an ordained prophet, seer, and revelator at the head of the church. But they treated lightly the former commandments that told them Sydney was the only choice, and brought condemnation upon themselves and the whole church for generations.

Sickles and Service

In the comments section of one of the episodes of the Iron Rod Podcast, a listener shared a profound insight he had discovered in the Doctrine and Covenants. It was a truth hiding in plain sight that I might have never found, trusting instead in the traditions I had been taught since my youth. These traditions teach that thrusting in your sickle is all about missionary work. Yet Section 11, received in May 1829, does not support that notion.

First, Hyrum is told he must wait before preaching the gospel until he has received God’s word and knows his doctrine.

D&C 11:15-17, 21-22
Behold, I command you that you need not suppose that you are called to preach until you are called. Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, my church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine. And then, behold, according to your desires, yea, even according to your faith shall it be done unto you.

Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men. But now hold your peace; study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men, and also study my word which shall come forth among the children of men, or that which is now translating, yea, until you have obtained all which I shall grant unto the children of men in this generation, and then shall all things be added thereto.

Instead of being called to preach, he is called to study the word of God, both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Then the Lord gives the key of understanding:

D&C 11:26-27
Therefore, treasure up in your heart until the time which is in my wisdom that you shall go forth. Behold, I speak unto all who have good desires, and have thrust in their sickle to reap.

The Lord is saying to treasure up the word of God until it is time to go forth to preach the word. But notice to whom the Lord is giving this message that it is not yet time for missionary work:  he’s speaking to all who have already thrust in their sickle to reap!

This changes everything. Instead of thrusting in our sickle to reap being about missionary work and harvesting converts, it’s about harvesting our own souls. Thrusting in the sickle is studying the word of God until we know of a surety the Lord’s doctrine. This is quite a bit different from what is taught in the correlated lesson manuals. Surely this one heretic on the internet can’t be right and the correlation committee in Salt Lake City be wrong! Let’s look in a few other places.

D&C 11:3
Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.

Notice it is the soul of the one thrusting the sickle that gets everlasting salvation. There is no mention of converts being saved here. The benefits of thrusting the sickle are for the person thrusting the sickle, which makes sense if we’re talking about personally feasting on the scriptures. Watcher added a few verses to the comments, one of which nicely summarizes this concept:

Helaman 3:29-30
Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.

Watcher also referenced JST Matthew 1:37, that says “whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived.” This confirms the Helaman passage and puts it squarely in a latter-day context. Satan is generating all sorts of false doctrine in an effort to deceive us. The only antidote is a sound knowledge of the word of God.

Now that we know what thrusting in our sickles means, let’s continue with Section 11.

D&C 11:4
Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God.

Notice the order, thrusting your sickle and reaping is what causes you to be called of God. Yet a missionary is supposed to be called of God before beginning to labor. This doesn’t make sense with the traditional interpretation. But the scriptural interpretation does make sense. Studying the word of God until we have obtained the word and know the true doctrine, that is what qualifies us for the work and causes us to be called of God. We have to put the personal effort in before we can be of use to God. But he promises us that he will help us.

D&C 11:12-14
And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive.

Remember, this Spirit is being promised long before we are asked to go forth and preach. The Spirit promised here is not to help us preach the word with power, it is to help us learn the word and the true doctrine so we can become qualified to preach the word to others!

My thoughts soon turned to D&C 4. This, after all, is the quintessential missionary scripture. Back when I was on my mission, we repeated this at every district meeting, zone meeting, and mission meeting.

D&C 4:1-2
Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. 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.

Notice that is doesn’t say the words ministry or missionary work. It says service of God, and serving God. How do the scriptures define the service of God? Interestingly, Section 4 is the only place in the D&C that has the phrase “service of God.” Let’s look in the other books.

In the Bible, the service of God is used consistently to describe the work in the tabernacle and temple. Here are two examples:

Ezra 6:18
And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses.

Hebrews 9:6
Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.

In the Bible, missionary work is never described as “the service of God.”

In the Book of Mormon, this phrase is used by two people.

Mosiah 2:16-17,19
Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God. And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!

King Benjamin repeated uses the service of God to not refer to missionary work, but to his work as king and being in the service of his fellow beings.

2 Nephi 2:3
Wherefore, thy soul shall be blessed, and thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother, Nephi; and thy days shall be spent in the service of thy God. Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men.

While not as definite as the Mosiah passage, there is no mention of missionary work in the entire chapter. Instead, Lehi is imploring his sons to choose eternal life because he is worried about the welfare of their souls.

In summary, nowhere in scripture is “the service of God” linked to missionary work! So when God talks about those who embark in the service of God, he’s talking about everyone who chooses to seek out his word, his doctrine, and his truth.

D&C 4:3-7
Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work; For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul;

And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work. Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence. Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen.

Section 4 was given to Joseph Smith Sr. in February 1829. When did he embark on his first mission? August 1830…eighteen months later. If this is about missionary work, it sure took him a long time to finish embarking! Compare Section 4 to Section 11 and you can see they agree with one another. The work is not missionary work, but personal preparation.

What a great find! Another tradition debunked! And another reminder that everyone has an individual obligation to obtain God’s word by searching out the scriptures. I am so grateful for this community we are creating wherein we can learn from each other.

Episode 008

This week’s episode has been posted over at http://ironrodpodcast.com

Last week’s episode covered the history of the church beginning in 1829 up to the dedication of the Kirtland temple in early 1836. It was a period of amazing revelations and spiritual manifestations. But even then there were signs that all was not well.

This week’s episode picks up in 1836 and shows how the scriptural expectations surrounding the Kirtland temple were not fulfilled and how quickly things began degrading for the church. Financial troubles in Kirtland followed by strife among the leaders and violent conflict with non-members in Missouri eventually led to a new beginning in Nauvoo. But instead of returning to the original doctrines of the church, new practices and doctrines were introduced right up until the death of Joseph and Hyrum. We discuss these issues and put them into historical and scriptural context.

If you like the podcast, please spread the word.

Feedback on Bible format

I’ve been working on the reformatted version of the Bible. The main text contains the Joseph Smith Translation / Inspired Version text, but uses the King James Version verse numbers to keep it useful for looking up references.

Where text has been added in the JST, the words are denoted with a dotted underline. Where text has been changed from the KJV, the JST words have a solid underline and the KJV words are shown in the margin.

I want to standardize on the formatting now before I get too far. It takes a long time to go back after the fact and update formatting. I’d like to get some feedback on this format for showing both versions, scriptural quotations, and other formatting styles. Please take a look and use the comments to let me know what you think.

Episode 006 – The Nature of God

The latest episode has been posted at ironrodpodcast.com

While preparing for this episode, I compiled a list of scriptures that touch on the nature of God. Most didn’t make it into the podcast, so for your reference, they are listed here with a little bit of commentary.

Mosiah 15:1-5
God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son—And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people.

Notice how the Son is consistently identified with the flesh, whereas the Father never is. The Father is identified with the Spirit. Also notice that the terminology about the Son puts his name and subjection in the future.

3 Nephi 1:13 -14
Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets. Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Sonof the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.

Notice that the speaker above identifies himself as both the Father and the Son, but again only identifies the Son with the flesh.

D&C 93:3-4
And that I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are oneThe Father because he gave me of his fulness, and the Son because I was in the world and made flesh my tabernacle, and dwelt among the sons of men.

Here are several that show that Christ is both the  Father and the Son:

Mormon 9:12
Behold, he created Adam, and by Adam came the fall of man. And because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son; and because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man.

Ether 3:14
Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.

3 Nephi 9:15
Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.

JST Luke 10:23
All things are delivered to me of my Father, and no man knoweth that the Son is the Father, and the Father is the Son, but him to whom the Son will reveal it.

Mosiah 3:8
8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.

Helaman 14:12
And also that ye might know of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and that ye might know of the signs of his coming, to the intent that ye might believe on his name.

Ether 4:7
And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are.

The LDS church teaches that Jesus, not the Father, is the Lord speaking in the Doctrine and Covenants. Yet look at some of these verses where both seem to be speaking:

D&C 49:5 Thus saith the Lord; for I am God, and have sent mine Only Begotten Son into the world for the redemption of the world, and have decreed that he that receiveth him shall be saved, and he that receiveth him not shall be damned—

D&C 68:6 Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come.

D&C 29:42 But, behold, I say unto you that I, the Lord God, gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son.

D&C 124:123 Verily I say unto you, I now give unto you the officers belonging to my Priesthood, that ye may hold the keys thereof, even the Priesthood which is after the order of Melchizedek, which is after the order of mine Only Begotten Son.

Here’s an interesting one from the Book of Moses

Moses 7:59-60
And Enoch beheld the Son of Man ascend up unto the Father; and he called unto the Lord, saying: Wilt thou not come again upon the earth? Forasmuch as thou art God, and I know thee, and thou hast sworn unto me, and commanded me that I should ask in the name of thine Only Begotten; thou hast made me, and given unto me a right to thy throne, and not of myself, but through thine own grace; wherefore, I ask thee if thou wilt not come again on the earth. And the Lord said unto Enoch: As I live, even so will I come in the last days, in the days of wickedness and vengeance, to fulfil the oath which I have made unto you concerning the children of Noah;

Enoch calls to the Lord and says he has been commanded to pray in the name of “thine Only Begotten”, which would indicate he is talking to the Father. But then he asks if he will come again. And the Lord says he will come again in the last days. Which would indicate he’s talking to the Son!

Here’s another example of the Father/Son relationship not being clear cut:

Moses 7:23-24
And after that Zion was taken up into heaven, Enoch beheld, and lo, all the nations of the earth were before him; And there came generation upon generation; and Enoch was high and lifted up, even in the bosom of the Father, and of the Son of Man; and behold, the power of Satan was upon all the face of the earth.

Enoch is taken into the bosom of the Father and of the Son. Then Enoch says to “the Lord”:

31 And thou hast taken Zion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations, from all eternity to all eternity; and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?

Then Enoch declares he is in the bosom of the Father:

47 And behold, Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, even in the flesh; and his soul rejoiced, saying: The Righteous is lifted up, and the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world; and through faith I am in the bosom of the Father, and behold, Zion is with me.

And yet, in D&C 38 Christ says:

D&C 38:4
I am the same which have taken the Zion of Enoch into mine own bosom; and verily, I say, even as many as have believed in my name, for I am Christ, and in mine own name, by the virtue of the blood which I have spilt, have I pleaded before the Father for them.

This should give everyone plenty of things to ponder.

Iron Rod Podcast 005 – Lectures on Faith

Lectures on Faith were added to the scriptures in 1835 by a general assembly of the church. They were removed in 1921 by a committee of six men. In this episode we review the history of how and why the Lectures were created, rebut some of the reasons given for their removal, and discuss a few of the key doctrines taught in the Lectures.

The latest podcast is now posted at ironrodpodcast.com

You can also find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Tune In (for Amazon Echo devices). Please help spread the word.


Preparator or Proprietor?

Read this verse:

1 Nephi 15:35
And there is a place prepared, yea, even that awful hell of which I have spoken, and the devil is the preparator of it; wherefore the final state of the souls of men is to dwell in the kingdom of God, or to be cast out because of that justice of which I have spoken.

Now compare it with what the Lord says in this verse:

Moses 6:29
Wherefore, they have foresworn themselves, and, by their oaths, they have brought upon themselves death; and a hell I have prepared for them, if they repent not;

When I first noticed this several years ago, it bothered me. Both statements cannot be correct. Either God prepared hell, or the devil prepared it. I filed it away hoping to one day resolve the issue. When I discovered BYU’s Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, I learned this verse in Nephi had an interesting history. This project analyzed every version of the Book of Mormon, from the original manuscript to the 1981 version.

The original manuscript has prepriator—a word which doesn’t exist in the English language. In the printer’s manuscript and 1830 edition, this was changed to preparator. In the 1837 edition, it was changed again to foundation. The 1981 edition reverted back to preparator.

But what if the original word was supposed to be proprietor? These words differ only by a few letters and sound quite similar. The change was most likely accidental. But there is a shift in meaning that has doctrinal significance. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines proprietor as the person who has the legal right or exclusive title to any thing whether in possession or not.

And there is a place prepared, yea, even that awful hell of which I have spoken, and the devil is the proprietor of it; wherefore the final state of the souls of men is to dwell in the kingdom of God, or to be cast out because of that justice of which I have spoken.

The devil didn’t prepare hell, God did (as Moses 6:29 tells us). The devil, though,  does reign in hell. God isn’t going to dwell there, so the devil has squatter’s rights and it is his kingdom. This meaning is supported by other scriptures.

2 Nephi 2:29
And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

This is also consistent with modern revelation:

D&C 29:37-38
And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels; And, behold, there is a place prepared for them from the beginning, which place is hell.

Hell was prepared FOR the devil and his angels, not by them. A simple transcription error introduced a contradiction. This specific example is included as a margin note in the reformatted Book of Mormon. By researching the original transcripts, we can see a simple solution that eliminates that contradiction and reinforces the truths taught elsewhere in scripture. How many other changes are waiting to be found?

Culture vs. Doctrine

When God begins a relationship with a people, he takes them as they are. They don’t start out perfect; they start out full of false traditions that need to be weeded out over time. They also come with the culture in which they were raised. God doesn’t change that culture, but works with the culture the people have to move his purposes forward.

Abraham married his half-sister Sarah. Jacob married sisters Rachel and Leah (albeit against his will). While these were acceptable practices in their culture, a few hundred years later under the law of Moses both of these were unacceptable (Leviticus 18:9 and 18:18). Did God change his mind on what was acceptable to him? Was God still trying to figure out what his eternal doctrine was? Of course not.

Today most Westerners think marrying a first cousin is unacceptable, whereas some other cultures think it is not only acceptable but preferable. Abraham’s culture was different than Moses’ culture. Those were both different than Lehi’s culture. And the culture during Jesus’ ministry was yet again different, just as our culture today is quite different from all of them. We must not make the assumption that because God tolerated a cultural aspect that he endorsed it. Or worse yet, that God revealed that cultural aspect as doctrine and we should all embrace that specific cultural element or risk alienating ourselves from God.

Slavery is a great example of shifting cultural standards and how God deals with that. The Bible uses the word servitude much more frequently than slavery. For that sake of this post, let’s assume they are synonyms.

When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, it wasn’t a brand new concept. They didn’t have to explain to the Midianites what slavery was. Slavery already existed, it was part of their culture. God didn’t reveal it to the sons of Jacob.

When God brought Israel out of Egypt and began to organize them in the wilderness, they already had an established culture that included slavery. They themselves had been the slaves! God didn’t wipe their cultural slate clean and reveal a completely new Israelite culture. You can compare the law of Moses to other ancient near Eastern legal systems like the Code of Hammurabi to see that Israeli culture and laws were quite similar to the rest of the Semitic people in that period. God worked with them the way they were, cultural baggage included.

Law of Moses on Slavery

The Law of Moses has some specific rules on slavery, but they are to protect the rights of the slaves and prevent abuse.

Exodus 21:2-3
If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.

Exodus 21:26-27
And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.

Interestingly, even though the law of Moses permitted slavery, it was against the law of Moses to return a runaway slave.

Deuteronomy 23:15-16
Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.

Shortly before the Babylonian captivity, the kingdom of Judah’s unwillingness to obey these commandments by freeing the slaves were one of the reasons for their punishment at the hand of the Babylonians. Read Jeremiah 34:8-32 to see that when the people covenanted to release their servants then changed their mind and brought them back into subjection, the Lord swore destruction and captivity upon the kingdom of Judah. Obviously there were other factors involved as well, but Jeremiah 34 specifically calls this out as a deciding factor.

While the Lord tolerated slavery within Israel, he insisted that liberty be proclaimed and that the servitude be limited in duration with protections for those enslaved. He never commanded slavery or promoted it as a divine institution.

Book of Mormon Teachings on Slavery

In the Book of Mormon, Limhi’s people were willing to become the Nephite’s slaves rather than remain under the rule of the Lamanites. Yet they didn’t know that king Benjamin had eliminated slavery in his kingdom.

Mosiah 2:13
Neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another, nor that ye should murder, or plunder, or steal, or commit adultery; nor even have I suffered that ye should commit any manner of wickedness, and have taught you that ye should keep the commandments of the Lord, in all things which he hath commanded you

Alma 27:9
But Ammon said unto him: It is against the law of our brethren, which was established by my father, that there should be any slaves among them; therefore let us go down and rely upon the mercies of our brethren.

King Benjamin wasn’t violating the commandments of the Lord by prohibiting slavery. It never was a commandment. The only commandments God gave put limits on that cultural practice. If the practice was eliminated in the Nephite culture, it was a cultural change, not a doctrinal change.

New Testament Teachings on Slavery

In the New Testament period, slavery was also part of the Greco-Roman culture the members of the church lived in. Specific guidance is given to both slaves and slaveowners on how they are expected to implement slavery within the bounds of the gospel.

Colossians 4:1
Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.

Ephesians 6:9
And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.

Nowhere does God command: Thou shalt own slaves. What he does command is that if your culture permits slavery, be fair and just.

D&C Teachings on Slavery

D&C 101:79
Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

One could look at this and say it contradicts the Bible because both the Old Testament and New Testament tolerate slavery. Toleration is quite different than requiring or condoning something. Notice what this verse says:

D&C 134:12
12 We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.

It is governments that choose to allow slavery, not God. D&C 134 does not state that we should petition those governments that don’t allow Biblically-sanctioned slavery to convince them to allow it. Slavery was tolerated, not required or even desired.

As part of his campaign for the US presidency, Joseph Smith proposed an economic solution to ending slavery in the US (selling government land to raise money to buy slaves from their owners). Rather than trying to promote and reinforce slavery, Joseph was trying to peacefully end it. Rather than trying to end slavery by force, Joseph desired to end it by a peaceful economic transaction that was agreeable to both parties.

Implications

I specifically chose slavery as the example because it is, for us today, such an abomination. We now know it is wrong and continue to fight against slavery in all forms, sexual slavery being a notable example today. I don’t think we would find many faithful people trying to argue that because the Bible contains rules for slavery, we must adopt that same culture and reintroduce slavery in order to be obedient to God’s commandments. But do faithful people pick other examples from the Bible and insist we must adopt those cultural standards in order to please God?

There are several questions we need to ask ourselves.

When reading scripture, what is only applicable in the cultural setting in which the scripture was received and what is an unchanging doctrinal truth? Rules on marriage and divorce change throughout the scripture. Can I pick the one I like the best and say that is the eternal truth that we all must obey today? What about rules on clothing and modesty? The Old Testament commands to not mix wool with linen. The New Testament says women should cover their hair. Are we all offending God today by not obeying these scriptural rules?

Which of our cultural norms today are we elevating to the status of doctrine? Does every man worldwide have to wear a white shirt and tie to church lest they offend God? Or would God accept the service of someone in traditional African clothing just the same as someone in American 1950s business clothing? Does God only accept Northern European hymns accompanied by organ or piano, or would he also accept songs of praise from cultures where drums and wind instruments are normal and the tempos and intensity are not as subdued? Are only American marriage and divorce procedures acceptable to God, or are other cultural practices, including the paying of dowries, just as acceptable to God?

As we all search for truth, these are some key questions we need to ask ourselves frequently to ensure we’re not straining at gnats and swallowing camels. God didn’t command Joseph to dress like an ancient Israeli; Joseph kept wearing the traditional clothing of his American culture. God didn’t command Joseph to adopt the marriage practices of ancient Israel; Joseph followed the norms of his American culture. Had Joseph been living in sub-Saharan Africa and God chose to begin his work there, the culture of the church would have been dramatically different…but the doctrine would have been the same.

The challenge for us is discerning between culture and doctrine.

IronRodPodcast.com

Episode 3 of The Iron Rod Podcast is now available. In this episode we talk about the benefits of the reformatted scriptures and how we plan to leverage them in 2019.

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