27 December 2012

The Reality of Jesus' Divine Birth and of His Glorious Return

In the popular film Miracle on 34th Street, the central figure, Kris Kringle, is taken to court over his claim to be the real Santa Claus. At stake is the faith of a child who wants to believe in Santa but is caught in a tug-of-war with her hardheaded mother (who is convinced that she should outgrow such fantasies). In the real world, tragically, the controversy between faith and skepticism is fought upon much more serious ground: one need look no further than the latest holiday headlines to know something of the erosion of faith in Jesus Christ as the literal Son of God—even among church attenders. In His own time, Jesus was crucified because some said He blasphemed in claiming to be a God; in our time, He is vilified by those who claim Him to be only a man. It is one thing to question the Miracle on 34th Street; and wholly another to lose hope in the Miracles of Calvary, Gethsemane, and Bethlehem. The Christian writer Malcolm Muggeridge asks a poignant question, “Would something like the miracle of Bethlehem even be allowed to happen in our day?”:
In humanistic times like ours, a contemporary virgin … would regard a message from the Angel Gabriel that she might expect to give birth to a son to be called the Son of the Highest as ill-tidings of great sorrow … It is, in point of fact, extremely improbable, under existing conditions, that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all. Mary’s pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion; and her talk of having conceived as a result of the intervention of the Holy Ghost would have pointed to the need for psychiatric treatment, and made the case for terminating her pregnancy even stronger. Thus our generation, needing a Savior more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born; too enlightened to permit the Light of the World to shine in a darkness that grows ever more oppressive.
Against this sad backdrop of doubt, I am grateful for the light God has given us. I am glad to declare the divinity of our Lord; to affirm that it is the Christ of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not the Jesus of Rice, Webber, Kazantzakis, and Crossan who is real; to testify that Jesus is not merely a man who died but a God who lives. In this article, I will discuss three survival skills for these skeptical times: believing in Christ, submitting to God’s will, and seeing with an eye of faith.


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15 December 2012

Temple Symbolism and the Tent of Noah

There are rich thematic connections between the emergence of the dry land at Creation, the settling of the Ark at the top of the first mountain to emerge from the Flood, New Year’s Day, and the temple. In ancient Israel, the holiest spot on earth was believed to be the Foundation Stone in front of the Ark of the Covenant within the temple at Jerusalem: “[I]t was the first solid material to emerge from the waters of Creation, and it was upon this stone that the Deity effected Creation.” The depiction of the Ark-Temple of Noah perched upon Mount Ararat would have evoked similar temple imagery for the ancient reader of the Bible.

In Genesis 9, the “fall” and “judgment” scenes, corresponding typologically to the Fall and Judgment scenes of Adam and Eve, are straightforwardly recited...Looking at the passage more closely, however, raises several questions. To begin with, what tent did Noah enter? Although the English translation says “his tent,” the Hebrew text features a feminine possessive that normally would mean “her tent.” The Midrash Rabbah explains this as a reference to the tent of Noah’s wife, and commentators, ancient and modern, have often seized upon this detail to infer that Ham intruded upon his father and mother during a moment of intimacy.

A very intriguing alternative explanation, however, is offered by Rabbi Shim’on in the Zohar, who takes the he of the feminine possessive to mean “‘the tent of that vineyard,’ namely, the tent of Shekhinah.” Shekhinah is the Hebrew term for “the divine feminine” that was used to describe the presence of Yahweh in Israelite temples. The idea of Noah having erected a sacred “tent of meeting” is perfectly consistent with the previous report that he built an altar and established a covenant with the Lord. Indeed, in a variant of the same theme, at least one set of modern commentators take the letter he in the Hebrew text of Genesis text as referring to Yahweh, hence reading the term as the “Tent of Yahweh,” the divine sanctuary.

In view of the pervasive theme in ancient literature in which the climax of the flood story is the founding of a temple over the source of the floodwaters, Blenkinsopp finds it “safe to assume” that the biblical account of “the deluge served not just as a paradigm of judgment but also as the Israelite version of the cosmogonic victory of the deity resulting in the building of a sanctuary for him.” It is significant that in the old Mesopotamian deluge myth that, according to Blenkinsopp, “could and did function as a creation myth in its own right,” this sanctuary is not located at the top of the mountain, but at the edge of a swamp, an abzu. Similarly, Lucian reports that “the temple of Hierapolis on the Euphrates was founded over the flood waters by Deucalion, counterpart of Ziusudra, Utnapishtim, and Noah.” Consistent with this theme, Psalm 29:10 “speaks of Yahweh enthroned over the abyss.”


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03 December 2012

Temple Symbolism in the Garden of Noah

There are rich thematic connections between the emergence of the dry land at Creation, the settling of the Ark at the top of the first mountain to emerge from the Flood, New Year’s Day, and the temple. Ancient Israelites believed the holiest spot on earth to be the Foundation Stone in front of the Ark of the Covenant within the temple at Jerusalem: “[I]t was the first solid material to emerge from the waters of Creation, and it was upon this stone that the Deity effected Creation.” The depiction of the Ark-Temple of Noah perched upon Mount Ararat would have evoked similar temple imagery for the ancient reader of the Bible.

Spotlighting the theme of a new beginning, the number “one” plays a key role in the description of re-creation after the Flood. For example, note that “on the first day of the [tenth] month … the tops of the mountains [were] seen,” and that “in the six hundred and first year [of Noah’s life] in the first month, the first day of the month … the waters were dried up.” “There can be no mistaking the emphasis on the number one,” writes Claus Westermann. Moreover, both of these verses, like their counterpart in the story of the original creation, use the rarer Hebrew term yomehad, corresponding to the English cardinal term “day one” rather than the common ordinal term “first day.” This would hint to the ancient reader that the date had special ritual significance. Consider that it was also the “first day of the first month” when the Tabernacle was dedicated, “while Solomon’s temple was dedicated at the New Year festival in the autumn (the month of Ethanim… ).” Consistent with usage in ritual texts within the Bible and other texts from the ancient Near East, Mark Smith concludes that the Hebrew cardinal term “‘day one’ does not mark… the beginning of time in any sort of absolute way” but rather is an expression “suggestive of the ritual world” that can be found within narratives that are themselves infused throughout “with temple and ritual sensibility.” More explicitly, Westermann concludes that:
The day on which the waters of the flood disappeared from the earth, the day of the end of the flood, becomes New Year’s day. The cosmos is renewed in the cultic celebration of this day. It is the conclusion of the Flood narrative that later, in muted and covert ways, provides the rationale for the annual cultic renewal of the cosmos at the New Year’s feast.
Emphasizing “the stability of this re-creation,” God’s promises to Noah articulate the reestablishment of the alternating rhythm of the times and seasons required to sustain agricultural life and the cultic calendar that goes along with it. In Genesis 8:22, we read:
While the earth remaineth,
seedtime and harvest,
and cold and heat,
and summer and winter,
and day and night
shall not cease.
Apart from these brief allusions to selected works of the subsequent days of Creation, Harper’s detailed study reveals that “the majority of the created works of the first five days are completely disregarded” in the story of the Flood, “while the elements of the sixth day: animals (with birds attached), the adam (male and female in the image of God), the blessings, commands, and provisions of food are… recalled, rearranged, and at times reinterpreted” within subsequent episodes of Noah’s life. We now leave the story of re-creation and enter the scene of a garden.

Nothing in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden can be understood without reference to the temple. Neither can the story of Noah and his family in the garden setting of a renewed earth be appreciated fully without taking the temple as its background.


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20 November 2012

Temple Symbolism and Noah’s Ark

In considering the role of Noah’s Ark in the flood story, note that it was specifically a mobile sanctuary, as were the Tabernacle and the ark made of reeds that saved the baby Moses. Each of these structures can be described as a traveling vehicle of rescue that was designed to parallel in function God’s portable pavilion or chariot.

Scripture makes a clear distinction between the fixed heavenly temple and its portable counterparts. For example, in Psalm 18 and D&C 121:1, the “pavilion” (i.e., booth or canopy; Hebrew sukkah) of “God’s hiding place” should not be equated with the celestial “temple” (i.e., palace; Hebrew hekal) to which the prayers of the oppressed ascend. Rather, it is a representation of a movable “conveyance” in which God could swiftly descend to rescue His people from mortal danger. The sense of the action is succinctly captured by Robert Alter: “The outcry of the beleaguered warrior ascends all the way to the highest heavens, thus launching a downward vertical movement” of God’s own chariot.

Such a “downward vertical movement” had already been urgently undertaken in response to the sorry state of humanity not long before the Flood. In a vision foreshadowing this event, Enoch is said to have seen “many stars descend” from heaven. These were the Watchers or “sons of God”—described variously as angels or mortals. They were given a charge to rescue mankind, having been commissioned to “teach the sons of man, and perform judgment and uprightness upon the earth.” Tragically, however, they “corrupted their way and their ordinances,” the discharge of their missions thus serving to accelerate rather than halt the increase of “injustice… upon the earth.” It was in view of the utter failure of this attempt to save humanity at large that God resolved to rescue Noah and his family.

Noah’s mission was one that few of us would envy. As Nibley writes:
If we fancy Noah riding the sunny seas high, dry, and snug in the Ark, we have not read the record—the long, hopeless struggle against entrenched mass resistance to his preaching, the deepening gloom and desperation of the years leading up to the final debacle, then the unleashed forces of nature with the family absolutely terrified, weeping and praying “because they were at the gates of death,” as the Ark was thrown about with the greatest violence by terrible winds and titanic seas. Albright’s suggestion that the flood story goes back to “the tremendous floods which must have accompanied the successive retreats of the glaciers” is supported by the tradition that the family suffered terribly because of the cold, and that Noah on the waters “coughed blood on account of the cold.” The Jaredites had only to pass through the tail end of the vast storm cycle of Noah’s day, yet for 344 days they had to cope with “mountain waves” and a wind that “did never cease to blow.” Finally, Noah went forth into a world of utter desolation, as Adam did, to build his altar, call upon God, and try to make a go of it all over again, only to see some of his progeny on short order prefer Satan to God and lose all the rewards that his toil and sufferings had put in their reach.

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29 October 2012

Temple Symbolism in the Form of Noah’s Ark

John Lundquist describes the ancient expectation that temple plans are to be received by revelation. For example:
Gudea of Lagash was visited in a dream in a temple of Lagash and shown the plan of the temple by a goddess, who gave him a lapis lazuli tablet on which the plan of the temple was written. Perhaps the best example of this aspect of temple building is the Sinai episode itself, in which, according to D. N. Freedman, “this heavenly temple or sanctuary with its throne room or Holy of Holies where the deity was seated on his cherubim throne constituted the [pattern (Hebrew tabnît)] or structure seen by Moses during his sojourn on the same mountain.”
Thus the heavenly temple became the pattern for the earthly Tabernacle built by Moses. It is significant that, apart from the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon, Noah’s Ark is the only man-made structure mentioned in the Bible whose design was directly revealed by God. In this detail from a window of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, God shows the plans for the Ark to Noah just as He later revealed the plans for the Tabernacle to Moses. The hands of Deity hold the heavenly curtain as Noah, compass in his left hand, regards intently. Like the Tabernacle, Noah’s Ark “was designed as a temple.” The Ark’s three decks suggest both the three divisions of the Tabernacle and the threefold layout of the Garden of Eden. Indeed, each of the three decks of Noah’s Ark was exactly “the same height as the Tabernacle and three times the area of the Tabernacle court.” The same Hebrew word (mikseh) was used for the animal skin covering of the Ark and that of the Tabernacle.


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27 October 2012

Revisiting the Forgotten Voices of Weeping in Moses 7: A Comparison with Ancient Texts

One of the most moving passages in the “extracts from the Prophecy of Enoch” included in the LDS Book of Moses describes weeping for the suffering of the wicked who were to perish in the Flood in chapter 7, verses 28-49.

According to this text, there are three parties directly involved in the weeping: God (Moses 7:28; cf. v. 29), the heavens (Moses 7:28, 37), and Enoch (Moses 7:41, 49). In addition, a fourth party, the earth, mourns—though does not weep—for her children (Moses 7:48–49).

Daniel Peterson has previously discussed the interplay among the members of this chorus of weeping voices, citing the arguments of non-LDS biblical scholar J.J.M. Roberts  that identify three similar voices within the laments of the book of Jeremiah: the feminine voice of the mother of the people (corresponding in the Book of Moses to the voice of the earth, the “mother of men”), the voice of the people (corresponding to Enoch), and the voice of God Himself.

Because of their eloquent rebuke of the idea of divine impassibility—the notion that God does not suffer pain or distress—the passages in Moses 7 that speak of the voice of the weeping God have received the greatest share of attention in LDS scholarship, eliciting the pioneering notices of Hugh Nibley, followed by lengthy articles by Eugene England and Peterson. Most recently, a book relating to the topic has been written by Terryl and Fiona Givens. In addition, with regard to the complaints of the earth described in Moses 7:48–49, valuable articles by Andrew Skinner  and Peterson, again following Nibley’s lead, discuss interesting parallels in ancient sources.

The purpose of this article is to round out the previous discussion so as to include two voices of weeping that have been largely forgotten by LDS scholarship—that of Enoch and that of the heavens.


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26 October 2012

Taking the Stories of Adam, Eve, and Noah Seriously

Given their status as targets of humor and caricature, it is sometimes difficult to be taken seriously when discussing the well-worn stories of Adam, Eve, and Noah. However, a thoughtful examination of the scriptural record of these characters will reveal not simply stories of “piety or … inspiring adventures” but rather carefully-crafted narratives from a highly-sophisticated culture that preserve “deep memories” of spiritual understanding. We do an injustice, both to these marvelous records and to ourselves, when we fail to pursue scriptural understanding beyond the initial level of cartoon cut-outs inculcated upon the minds of young children. Hugh Nibley characterized the problem this way:
The stories of the Garden of Eden and the Flood have always furnished unbelievers with their best ammunition against believers, because they are the easiest to visualize, popularize, and satirize of any Bible accounts. Everyone has seen a garden and been caught in a pouring rain. It requires no effort of imagination for a six-year-old to convert concise and straightforward Sunday-school recitals into the vivid images that will stay with him for the rest of his life. These stories retain the form of the nursery tales they assume in the imaginations of small children, to be defended by grown-ups who refuse to distinguish between childlike faith and thinking as a child when it is time to “put away childish things.” It is equally easy and deceptive to fall into adolescent disillusionment and with one’s emancipated teachers to smile tolerantly at the simple gullibility of bygone days, while passing stern moral judgment on the savage old God who damns Adam for eating the fruit He put in his way and, overreacting with impetuous violence, wipes out Noah’s neighbors simply for making fun of his boat-building on a fine summer’s day.
Adding to the circus-like atmosphere surrounding modern discussions of Noah’s flood are the sometimes acrimonious contentions among fundamentalist proponents concerning theories about where the Ark came to rest. Nicolas Wyatt reports:
I once watched a television programme of excruciating banality, in which a camera team accompanied an American “archaeologist” (for so he called himself) on his quest for the remains of Noah’s ark on Mount Ararat. The highlight for me occurred when a rival crew was encountered at several thousand feet… above sea level heading in the opposite direction, on the same quest!

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25 August 2012

Reminder: Presentation in Provo on 22 September 2012

Jeff will present as part of the The Temple on Mount Zion symposium in Provo, Utah. His presentation is entitled “The Ark and the Tent: Temple Symbolism in the Story of Noah”, and linked are the tentative abstract and notes (note to readers: if the links are broken, let us know by way of comment or through this link, as Jeff is continually polishing and updating the presentation). Come prepared to learn, share, and interact with the attendees and speakers!

Date: Saturday, 22 September 2012
Time: 9:15am to 5:30pm

Provo Public Library
Third floor ballroom
550 N University Avenue
Provo, UT (map)

The abstracts and schedule can be found here at the Mormon Scripture Explorations blog, along with the following summary:
This conference was originally organized by Matthew Brown before his untimely passing. The conference focuses on LDS conceptions of ancient and modern Temple theology as reflected in the Bible and LDS scripture. We are attaching a program listing the participants and the time for their presentations, along with abstracts for each paper.

Admission to the conference is free, but seating is limited to about 300. During the lunch hour you can bring a bag lunch to eat in conference room, or visit some of the restaurants around Center St. and University Ave, a few blocks south of the library. The underground garage at the library is available for parking, but cars must be out at 6 pm.

New review at Interpreter

George L. Mitton, member of the editorial board of the new Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture (link) and former associate editor of FARMS Review, has published a review of Jeff Bradshaw's book Temple Themes in the Book of Moses.

The full text of the review can be seen here.

21 August 2012

Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture

We're proud to announce a new outlet for peer-reviewed scholarly Mormon studies! You can see it here. Its mission statement is as follows:
Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture is a nonprofit educational journal focused on the scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the Bible, Doctrine and Covenants, early LDS history, and related subjects. All publications are peer-reviewed and are made available as free internet downloads or through at-cost print-on-demand services.

Our goal is to increase understanding of scripture through careful scholarly investigation and analysis of the insights provided by a wide range of ancillary disciplines, including language, history, archaeology, literature, culture, ethnohistory, art, geography, law, politics, philosophy, etc. Interpreter will also publish articles advocating the authenticity and historicity of LDS scripture and the Restoration, along with scholarly responses to critics of the LDS faith. We hope to illuminate, by study and faith, the eternal spiritual message of the scriptures—that Jesus is the Christ.

Although the editors of the journal fully support the goals and teachings of the Church, the journal is an independent entity with no affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nor with Brigham Young University. The Board of Editors alone is responsible for its contents.
Take a look at www.mormoninterpreter.com and feel free to leave feedback and comments at their site. Jeff is on the editorial board and is excited to see this organization grow.

What are the Three Degrees Within the Celestial Kingdom?

Temple teachings and ordinances are sometimes called “mysteries.” Though, in general religious usage, the word “mystery,” when standing alone, is typically used in a general way to signify revealed knowledge and understanding, references to the “mysteries of the kingdom” in the revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith clearly point to priesthood ordinances of the “royal priesthood” connected with the temple that have been given to certain individuals and families from the time of Adam. Though God had given to Joseph Smith “the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed,” the Prophet encouraged the Saints to learn of these things for themselves, beseeching them to go forward and “search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness.” As their reward, the faithful are promised: “And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old.”

These ideas did not originate with the Prophet Joseph Smith. For example, when Jesus Christ spoke of the “mysteries of the kingdom,” he also alluded to temple matters. Margaret Barker, writes:
…Jesus’ parables were more than simple stories. “To you,” he said to his closest disciples, “has been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything is in parables.”

Secrets and mysteries were characteristic of temple tradition, and were the exclusive preserve of the high priesthood, who were permitted to enter the Holy of Holies.
Though differing somewhat in their terminology, the writings of Philo Judaeus, an important Jewish priest in the first century AD, and those within the New Testament book of Hebrews share similar distinctions in their description of a lower and higher priesthood, and their corresponding “mysteries.” In broad strokes, the significant contrast in both cases is between the lesser and the greater priesthood and their corresponding rites; in other words, between the Levitical priesthood (as described in Hebrews)—roughly corresponding to the Lower Mystery of Aaron (as described by Philo)—and the Melchizedek priesthood of Christ (in Hebrews)—analogous to the Higher Mystery of Moses (in Philo). In both cases, what characterizes the greater rites is that they bring the initiate beyond the veil into the presence of God, and there invest him with an eternal priesthood and kingship in the likeness of the Divine.


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05 August 2012

The Parable of the Unjust Judge: “Weary Him Until He Blesses You”

The lesson of Jesus’ little-remembered parable of the importunate widow and the unjust judge was a recurring allusion in the teachings of the Joseph Smith. The parable reads:
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
Harvey summarizes the cultural background of the story:
The setting was a small town. A widow—which was a byword for someone reduced to poverty through no fault of her own—had been the victim of some fraud or sharp practice, and in order to recover her money she had to go to law. In such cases, this did not involve a formal sitting of a court; it was sufficient for the parties to agree upon a qualified lawyer to arbitrate between them. The little town, in any case, may have possessed only one such lawyer; if so, the widow’s only hope of redress lay in persuading this lawyer to attend to her case. Now it was a fundamental principle of Jewish justice that a judge received no payment. There was therefore only a moral obligation for the lawyer to attend to all the cases brought before him. This particular lawyer was not sensitive to his moral obligations—he cared nothing for God or man; possibly he waited until litigants brought him a present before he concerned himself with their affairs. But the widow, by again and again thrusting her papers in front of him, finally got her way.

…The justice of the widow’s claim is taken for granted; the point is the difficulty she had in getting it attended to.
In what sense can God be compared to such a judge? Elder Talmage explains:
Jesus did not indicate that as the wicked judge finally yielded to supplication, so would God do; but He pointed out that if even such a being as this judge, who “feared not God, neither regarded man,” would at last hear and grant the widow’s plea, no one should doubt that God, the Just and Merciful, will hear and answer… The Lord’s purpose in giving the parable is specifically stated; it was “to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” [= Greek ekkakeo, to be weary or to lose heart]

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03 August 2012

The Second Comforter: The Father Teacheth Him

D&C 84:47-48 speak of what might be called the blessing of “Divine Tutorial,” wherein the Father provides personal instruction to those who have received Him:
And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.

And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you…
In his explanation of the promise given in the gospel of John of a Second Comforter, the Prophet Joseph Smith described the privilege of personal instruction from the Father and the Son, making it clear that it may be enjoyed in mortality by those who have had their calling and election made sure, long before such individuals actually receive the Father’s kingdom: When any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. After Jesus reassured His ancient apostles with the promise of His return with the Father to minister to them as a Second Comforter, He taught them about the new relationship He now had with them as “friends” rather than “servants”:
Greater love [= Greek agape] hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends [= Greek philoi].
Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

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02 August 2012

“All That My Father Hath Shall Be Given Unto Him”: Receiving the Kingdom

D&C 84:35-37 teaches an important aspect of the order of the priesthood; namely, that no one can receive the Father or the Father’s kingdom until he has received the Son, and that no one can receive the Son unless he accepts the Lord’s authorized priesthood servants:
And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;
For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;
And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;
In New Testament times, Peter, James, and John were given the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood to represent the Lord in directing the work of salvation on the earth. Likewise, in the last dispensation, the Lord specifically told his Saints to receive the Prophet Joseph Smith’s word “as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” Conversely, he who rejects the Lord’s servants rejects the Lord and the Lord’s prophet. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught: “The man who will not sustain the bishop of his ward and the president of his stake will not sustain the President of the Church.” Elder Melvin J. Ballard explained that these principles operate even in the next life:
Some folks get the notion that the problems of life will at once clear up and they will know that this is the Gospel of Christ when they die. I have heard people say they believe when they die they will see Peter and that he will clear it all up. I said, “You never will see Peter until you accept the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, at the hands of the elders of the Church, living or dead.” They will meet these men to whom this right and authority has been given, for this generation shall receive it at the hands of those who have been honored with the priesthood of this dispensation. Living or dead, they shall not hear it from anyone else.
Those who receive the Father eventually receive the supernal blessing of His kingdom. D&C 84:38 reads:


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15 July 2012

The Elect of God: Receive the More Sure Word of Prophecy

In previous articles, we have examined the significance of each of the phrases of D&C 84:34, a key verse in the passage describing the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood:
They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
The ordinance of the endowment portrays the process of the Saints becoming “the sons of Moses and of Aaron,” and the sealing ordinance of celestial marriage symbolizes their becoming “the seed of Abraham.” The phrase “the church and kingdom” refers to the blessings of the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, belonging to one who is made a “king and a priest unto God, bearing rule, authority, and dominion under the Father.” Correspondingly, worthy women may receive the blessings of becoming queens and priestesses. Continuing with this description of the required sequence of temple blessings, in this article we will examine the phrase “the elect of God.” In the language of scripture, to be “elect” is to be “chosen.” The scriptures and the teachings of Joseph Smith refer to the blessing of election as having one’s calling and election made sure or as having received the “more sure word of prophecy” (i.e., “a man’s knowing that he is sealed up to eternal life”).

The knowledge received by this means is something even more than a personal vision or visitation of Jesus Christ or a testimony from heaven that He is the Son of God. Specifically, those who have received the fulness of the priesthood and who have afterward demonstrated their determination to serve God “at all hazards” eventually will be privileged to hear the solemn oath from the Father Himself that they shall obtain the fulness of the joys of the celestial kingdom forever and ever. For example, although Abraham previously had received the blessings of patriarchal marriage, and then had been made a king and a priest under the hands of Melchizedek,[xi] Abraham’s “election sure” came only afterward, when he demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.


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30 June 2012

What is the Endowment? Becoming "the Sons of Moses and of Aaron"

The primary sense of the word "endowment" has to do with the giving of a gift. The word "endowment" fits perfectly as a description of the ordinance whereby God bestows great gifts of knowledge and power to mankind. Elder Boyd K. Packer further explains:
To endow is to enrich, to give to another something long lasting and of much worth. The temple endowment ordinances enrich in three ways: (a) the one receiving the ordinance is given power from God. "Recipients are endowed with power from on high." (b) A recipient is also endowed with information and knowledge. "They receive an education relative to the Lord's purposes and plans." (c) When sealed at the altar a person is the recipient of glorious blessings, powers, and honors as part of his endowment.
The word "endowment" is also closely related to the idea of putting on clothing. While they were in the Garden of Eden, the nakedness of Adam and Eve signified innocence. However, in mortality, nakedness symbolizes the fallen and sinful condition of those who have not yet accepted the blessings of the Atonement. While the coats of skins "covered" the direct effects of Adam and Eve's transgression (corresponding to the idea of justification), additional clothing worn over the first garment represented their being endowed with glory, holiness, and godliness (i.e., sanctification). Nibley further explains that "the white undergarment is the proper preexistent glory of the wearer, while the [outer garment of the high priest] is the priesthood later added to it."

While the authority of the priesthood "comes by way of ordination; power in the priesthood comes through faithful and obedient living in honoring covenants." Similarly, it is one thing to wear white clothing as a symbol of priesthood power, and yet another to be in actuality endowed or clothed "with power from on high." Connecting the endowment of power with the idea of putting on glorious clothing is Elder James E. Talmage's discussion of what he calls the Parable of the Royal Marriage Feast in Matthew 22. Referring to the wedding garment required of all legitimate guests at the feast, he observes:
The Greek original in the mention of the wedding garment is enduma...The noun is related to the Greek verb enduein, "to put on, as a garment."

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27 June 2012

The Church and Kingdom: Becoming Priests and Kings

In previous articles, we have examined the significance of each of the phrases of D&C 84:34, a key verse in the passage describing the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood:
They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
The ordinance of the endowment portrays the process of the Saints becoming “the sons of Moses and of Aaron,” and the sealing ordinance of celestial marriage symbolizes their becoming “the seed of Abraham.” Continuing with this description of the required sequence of temple blessings, the phrase “the church and kingdom” refers to the blessings of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, belonging to one who is made a “king and a priest unto God, bearing rule, authority, and dominion under the Father.” Correspondingly, worthy women may receive the blessings of becoming queens and priestesses.

It is fitting for these blessings to be associated with the name of Melchizedek, because he was the great “king of Salem” and “the priest of the most high God,” who gave the priesthood to Abraham. Later kings of Israel, as well as Jesus Christ Himself, were declared to be part of the “order of Melchizedek,” which was originally called “the Order of the Son of God.”

Because of the sacred nature of the ordinance that confers the fulness of the priesthood, very little detail about it has been given in official church publications. For example, Elder McConkie described this ordinance, along with those ordinances leading up to it, only in very general terms:
In setting forth as much as can, with propriety, be spoken outside of the temple, the Lord says that “the fulness of the priesthood” is received only in the temple itself. This fulness is received through washings, anointings, solemn assemblies, oracles in holy places, conversations, ordinances, endowments, and sealings…

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23 June 2012

Becoming “the Seed of Abraham”: The Sealing and Healing Power of Elijah

In D&C 132, we read the promise that those who accept the covenants of celestial marriage will enjoy “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.” This idea relates to the next set of promised blessings described in D&C 84:34:
They become… the seed of Abraham…
The reference to becoming the “seed of Abraham” includes the blessings of the celestial marriage ordinance and the sealing of parents to children in the temple. In D&C 132:30-31, we read:
Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins... [that] both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars... This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham...
Of course, being a literal descendant of Abraham does not guarantee the fulfillment of these promises, as they are conditioned upon personal faithfulness to the covenants received: “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are all children of Abraham, are they the seed.... But the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”

The blessings of Abraham received through the sealing ordinances are, of course, intended for men and women alike: “Elder McConkie noted that ‘what we say for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob we say also for Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, the wives... who with them were true and faithful in all things,’ for, as President Joseph Fielding Smith taught, ‘the Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons.’”

The sealing power exercised in the temple is essential for the redemption of families. By this means, both our posterity and our ancestors and can be linked to us eternally in a restoration of the perfect order that God designed for the happiness of His children before the earth was created. Without these “welding links,” as the Prophet Joseph called them, neither we nor they can be made perfect. Explaining the priority of this work on both sides of the veil, Elder Melvin J. Ballard asked:
Why is it that sometimes only one of a city or household receives the Gospel? It was made known to me that it is because of the righteous dead who had received the Gospel in the spirit world exercising themselves and, in answer to their prayers, elders of the Church were sent to the homes of their posterity that the Gospel might be taught to them, and [that] through their righteousness they might be privileged to have a descendant in the flesh do the work for their dead kindred. I want to say to you that it is with greater intensity that the hearts of the fathers and mothers in the spirit world are turned to their children than that our hearts are turned to them.

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02 June 2012

The Meaning of the Atonement

Moses 5:4 tells us that Adam and Eve offered prayer after they left the Garden of Eden:
And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.
In answer to their petitions, Adam and Eve heard the Lord’s voice calling them back from their place of exile on the fallen earth. Later, He gave them additional instruction and commandments in order to set their feet back on the way toward the Garden of Eden—which is, of course, the path that terminates in “the way of the Tree of Life.” In a passage from the Midrash Tehillim, the Hebrew term teshuvah, which denotes “return” but scripturally means “repentance” or “conversion,” is used to describe the way back to the Garden, signifying “the movement that brings every thing and every being back to its supernal origin,” the “return to the celestial abode.” The spiritual movement of turning away from the sinful world and back toward mankind’s heavenly origins is mirrored in the layout of ordinance rooms in some modern temples.

A return to the presence of the Father is predicated on our oneness with Him—which presumes, in turn, oneness with our brothers and sisters: “be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” Simply put, this kind of oneness is the ultimate meaning of, and the eventual result of, the Atonement of Christ.

After a brief discussion about the meaning of the Atonement, this article explores two forms of imagery for the Atonement that can be found in scripture. The first kind of imagery has to do with prayer. John Tvedtnes has written that “prayer opens the veil to allow one to enjoy the presence of God.” Similarly, prayer might be understood as a preparation for the enjoyment of eternal companionship between a glorified man and woman. The second form of imagery for the Atonement has to do with the symbolism of homecoming—for example, the welcome given by the father of the prodigal son.


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30 May 2012

Passing the Angels Who Stand As Sentinels

Giving his own summary of temple ordinances, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote that they concerned:
…washings, anointings, endowments, and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans and principles by which anyone is enabled to secure the fulness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn, and come up and abide in the presence of the Elohim in the eternal worlds.
Specific aspects of instruction in the endowment “pertaining to the Holy Priesthood” were described by Brigham Young in his description of the endowment:
Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being able to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.
Although this statement is frequently quoted in official Church publications, the reference to “key words, the signs and tokens” is not explained. The sacred nature of these things prohibits any discussion of specific symbolism. However, it may be helpful for the modern reader to understand the general meaning of these terms in related contexts, which would have been much more familiar to those in Joseph Smith’s time than they are in our day. Before continuing, we observe that what matters in such tests for knowledge is not merely the requirement to remember the details of the instructions one has received, but, in addition, the expectation that one be sincerely engaged in the process of mastering the life lessons associated with them. Elder Dallin H. Oaks reminds us that, in the day of final judgment, it will not be enough to merely have gone through the outward motions of keeping the commandments and receiving the ordinances—the essential question will be what we have ourselves become during our period of probation.


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10 May 2012

How Are We Physically and Spiritually Reborn in the Temple?

The blessings of the Atonement are made available to mankind through what the Lord calls "The New and Everlasting Covenant." This comprehensive covenant includes the baptismal covenant, the covenant made during the sacrament, temple covenants, and covenants made at "other times."

What is meant by covenants that are made at "other times"? President Brigham Young answered this question when he said that there are additional ordinances that will be given to the faithful in the next life:
We will operate here, in all the ordinances of the house of God which pertain to this side the veil, and those who pass beyond and secure to themselves a resurrection pertaining to the lives will go on and receive more and more, and will receive one after another until they are crowned Gods, even the sons of God.
By means of the New and Everlasting Covenant, our Father in Heaven helps His children increase in spiritual stature. Although at baptism we execute our first gospel covenant in mortality by "relying wholly upon the merits" of Christ, the Lord intends that we gradually gain spiritual strength through making and keeping additional covenants until, someday, we come to the point where "we shall be like him." As Chauncey Riddle has written:
... [Human] beings may be saved only by binding themselves to Christ. It is as if our task were to stand straight and tall before Father, but because of the Fall, we are broken and twisted. The Savior is our straight and tall splint. If we bind ourselves to Him, wrap strong covenants around us and Him that progressively draw us up into His form and nature, then we can become righteous as He is and can be saved. But without Him we are nothing.... The New and Everlasting Covenant is our detour whereby our Savior strengthens us until we can tread the narrow way of justice and mercy on our own.

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28 April 2012

Knowledge as the Principle of Salvation

The means by which we make our “step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence” is not based directly on our actions. It is easy to see why this is so. Were it otherwise, the Final Judgment would require nothing more than a mechanical assessment at the end of our probation as to whether we had gone through the proper motions in every life situation. However, the terms of the New and Everlasting Covenant are much more demanding—as Jesus Himself taught when He contrasted lower and higher kinds of obedience in the Sermon on the Mount. The scriptures teach that the purpose of this life is much more than outward compliance with divine law. Ultimately, it is to prepare us to be “spiritually… born of God,” having received a “mighty change in [our] hearts” and “his image” in our countenances. Emphasizing this fact, Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained that the “the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.” The final effect of our choices can be seen both in what we want and also in what we know.

One night at a reception, Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War in Abraham Lincoln’s administration, remarked to a friend that a certain man passing by was “a pretender, a humbug, and a fraud,” and said that he disliked his face. “But the poor man isn’t responsible for his face,” retorted the friend. “A man of fifty is responsible for his face!” countered Stanton.

Though it is easy to find exceptions to Stanton’s generalization, there is eternal truth in the words of Proverbs 23:7: “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” President David O. McKay often quoted James Allen’s comment that: “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” In light of these things, we may certainly say that the powerful presence of a good man or woman is not acquired in an instant, but in the gradual transformation enabled by pure knowledge, righteous desires, Christlike deeds, and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost.


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25 April 2012

A Christ-Centered View of the Plan of Happiness

The figure above shows what Nathan Richardson calls the “location view” of the Plan of Salvation—or, as Alma calls it, the “great plan of happiness.” There is nothing factually wrong with the figure. It is a clear and easy to understand diagram of where we have been and where we are going. However, as Richardson observes, something essential is missing: there is no mention anywhere of Jesus Christ and His role as Savior and Redeemer.This is a way of thinking about the Plan that, regrettably, leaves out its very heart.

The Three Pillars of Eternity
It was Elder Bruce R. McConkie who brought attention to the fact that there is a different, Christ-centered way of presenting this Plan that appears several places in scripture. It emphasizes what he called the “three pillars” of the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

“The Fundamental Principles of Our Religion”
The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the basis for every essential element of our religion. Indeed, we might say that our religion is nothing more nor less than an application of the results of this Atonement to the lives of individuals and families. The Atonement is the means by which we are saved and exalted, and without it our Church would be nothing more than a social club. The Prophet Joseph Smith said it this way:
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.

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12 April 2012

Why Do We Participate in Temple Ordinances?

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has expressed the concern that sometimes “Church members focus on what the Lord wants them to do and how to do it, but forget the why.” Further explaining his feelings, he said:
While understanding the “what” and the “how” of the Gospel is necessary, the eternal fire and majesty of the Gospel springs from the “why.” When we understand why our Heavenly Father has given us this pattern for living, when we remember why we committed to making it a foundational part of our lives, the Gospel ceases to become a burden and, instead, becomes a joy and a delight. It becomes precious and sweet.
Why do we participate in temple ordinances? Three main reasons come to mind:

  • A first reason is personal communion with the Lord. I have often gone to the temple to seek help with the particular challenges of the moment. That help has always come when the time was right, and when I was sufficiently prepared to receive it. However, if personal communion with the Lord were the only reason to go to the temple, He could just as well have had special-purpose rooms for meditation and prayer built in every local meetinghouse. Members would have been spared considerable time, expense, and travel.
  • A second reason is to receive required ordinances for ourselves and for our ancestors. The importance of providing these ordinances for each one of God’s children cannot be overstated. However, if performing the necessary ordinance work for others were the only reason we were invited to return to the temple frequently, the Lord could have designed the experience in a way that would have allowed us to complete the essential elements in behalf of each person much more efficiently, in minutes rather than hours.
  • A third reason—sometimes forgotten, though equally essential—is to participate in instruction on the plan of happiness and our place within it. For example, each time we join in an endowment session, we benefit from approximately an hour and a half of divinely-prepared and carefully-executed lessons about the most important matters in the universe. This is the graduate school of spiritual instruction. Here we are taught not only as we reflect on what we see, hear, and do, but also as we receive enlightenment directly from the Holy Spirit, custom-tailored to our current needs and to our state of personal readiness, in a quiet setting free from inner and outer distractions.


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24 March 2012

Signing at the BYU Bookstore

Jeff will be at the BYU Bookstore doing a book signing to promote his new book, Temple Themes in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, and would love to talk to anyone able to come!

Date: Tuesday, 3 April 2012
Time: 12:00pm to 2:00pm

BYU Bookstore
Wilkinson Student Center (WSC)
Brigham Young University
University Hill,
Provo, Utah 84602

15 March 2012

Presentation in Provo on 22 September 2012

Jeff will present as part of the The Temple on Mount Zion symposium in Provo, Utah. His presentation is tentatively entitled: "Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel: Temple and Anti-Temple." Come prepared to learn, share, and interact with the attendees and speakers!

Date: Saturday, 22 September 2012
Time: 10:00am to 5:00pm

Provo Public Library
550 N University Avenue
Provo, UT (map)

11 March 2012

Temple Themes in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw's latest book was just released! For information on where to purchase it, go here. Here's a blurb on what it's about:

The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, as found in D&C 84:33-48, is an ideal focus for a scripture-based study of temple themes. These verses speak plainly about the highest blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood. What may be less-appreciated is the clarity with which the same revelation describes the required sequence of ordinances through which individuals and families may qualify for exaltation. It is significant that this revelation was given in 1832, a decade before the Prophet began to teach many doctrines of the higher priesthood and the temple in plainness to the Saints in Nauvoo.

The purpose of this book is to explore the meaning of the verses summarizing the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood in light of the ordinances required for exaltation. In matters of doctrine, the author has relied on what can be found in scripture and in statements of members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. To provide illustrations and additional background, he has drawn from a wealth of other sources. Written engagingly, and illustrated with carefully-selected images, this book is designed to encourage readers in their own study of priesthood doctrines and in their personal efforts to understand and keep their covenants.

Updated website!

As of last week, templethemes.net has been expanded and updated.
There may be a few more changes over the next few weeks, but feel free to look around, buy a book or two, or simply contact the author with any comments, suggestions, or insights you might have.