Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Why I Believe: Evidence Fifty-one: Use of the Word “Because” in the Book of Mormon©

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet

Why I Believe: Evidence Fifty-one
Use of the Word “Because” in the Book of Mormon

I maintain that the Book of Mormon is designed to teach correct religious doctrine and principles.  This may not be considered as surprising by many. Aren’t all religious books of scripture designed for that purpose? Of course, but in the Judeo-Christian tradition the Book of Mormon appears to stand out in that respect. For example, in the early portion of the Book of Mormon the prophet Nephi exhorts his readers to “liken” the scriptures to themselves and apply them in their own lives.(1) In addition, it contains about fifty “thus we see” lessons which are largely insights by the compilers and abridgers of the book attached to many of the stories they include in it. They are as it were, the prophetic moral to the story.

Another very interesting, but little discussed evidence of the teaching nature of the Book of Mormon is the extensive use of the subordinating conjunction “because” in the text. It appears almost 800 times, 799 according to a computer search.(2) Why is this number important? It all lies in the nature of the conjunction “because.”

A conjunction in English grammar is a word which connects parts of a sentence. There are many such as and, or, but, for, and so. In standard English usage “because” is a subordinating conjunction.  This means that it comes at the beginning of a subordinate or dependent clause and establishes the relationship between the dependent clause and the rest of the sentence. Specifically, the word “because” involves clauses of result and reason. In other words it helps highlight relationships between cause and effect. This is of course very useful in many areas of life. Understanding cause and effect in spiritual matters is especially important. This is why the use of “because”in the Book of Mormon is so vital. 

As of this writing I have not looked up all 799 instances of its use in the Book of Mormon, but I have printed out each verse where the word appears; it requires more than sixty-six pages of text. One thing that stands out when one reviews these passages is how many of them are devoted to connecting spiritual cause and effect. Many of course appear in the normal course of telling a story such as in 1 Ne. 1:6 where Nephi speaks of the effects of a vision upon his father, “and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.” Or, in 1 Nephi 15:5 where the prophet says “I was overcome because of my afflictions.”  

It appears, however,  that the vast majority of the uses of the word “because” in the Book of Mormon convey a spiritual lesson. For example, of the first five uses of the word in 1 Nephi four are spiritually instructive, and the first one in 1 Ne. 1:6 cited above can also fall in this category, teaching us that having a spiritual vision may cause a high emotional impact on the physical body. I could have said most of the first ten or even most of the first fifteen or twenty instances of the use of the word in the Book of Mormon are spiritually instructive, but in interest of space I will reproduce the first five as examples, all incidentally from the first chapter of First Nephi.
1 Ne. 1:6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly. 
1 Ne. 1:14 And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth, and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish! 
1 Ne. 1:15 And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God; for his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him. 
1 Ne. 1:19 And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of the Messiah, and also the redemption of the world. 
1 Ne. 1:20 And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.
In quick review: Lehi quakes and trembles exceedingly because he saw a vision of a pillar of fire; because God is merciful, he will not suffer those who come unto him to perish; Lehi’s heart was filled because of the things which he saw in vision; Lehi was mocked because of the things of which he testified; and finally, the tender mercies of the Lord are upon those whom he has chosen because of their faith.  Some readers may say that there is nothing very astounding here in terms of spiritual insight, and that may be the case. On the other hand, a closer and deeper look may in fact show that there are profound lessons to be gained by attending to the relationships established by the many “becauses” found in the Book of Mormon. 

One of the vital purposes of scripture is to teach us about the nature of God so that we may understand his character, perfections, and attributes so we may have greater faith in him.(3)  1 Ne. 1:14 teaches us that God is merciful–a common teaching of scripture–but a very important lesson accompanies this description of God. Because he is merciful, he will not permit those who come unto him to perish. This is a profound and refreshing message of hope. One might expect such a teaching may be found in the biblical book of Proverbs or perhaps Psalms. To my amazement however, a computer search for the word in the Bible shows that the word “because” is used only five times in Proverbs and seventy-two in Psalms. “Merciful” is found eighteen times in Psalms and only once in Proverbs at 11:17. A search for both “because” and “merciful” produced only three instances where the two words were in close enough proximity to permit a meaningful cause and effect relationship. None were in the Bible; all three were in the Book of Mormon, at 1 Nephi 1:14; 13:34 and 2 Nephi 4:7. The latter has some similarities to 1 Nephi 1:14. So this principle is not found in similar language in the Bible.

Continuing, at random one can pick many examples of the use of the word to teach an important principle. A potent early illustration is found in 1 Nephi 2:12. Only a brief way into Nephi’s story of his father Lehi’s family we learn of his oldest sons Laman and Lemuel described as stiffnecked murmurers.(4) They resented having to leave their home, possessions, and wealth to “perish in the wilderness” as they saw it.  In the next verse Nephi explains why they murmured. “And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.” Here again we have a simple spiritual relationship that is all too easy to pass over without much thought. The boys murmured because they didn’t understand the ways of the Lord. The clear implication is that had they understood how the Lord deals with his children they would not have murmured.

It turns out that understanding the ways of the Lord is a very important sub-theme in the Book of Mormon.  Above, I mentioned there are about fifty “thus we see” lessons in the Book of Mormon. I have categorized them under five headings. One is “the ways of the Lord,” of which there are five; nearly matched by the second which is “the ways of Satan and his agents” with three examples.(5) Ten percent of the “thus we see” lessons teach us about how the Lord deals with his children. There are many elements of the remaining “thus we see” lessons which are relevant or related to understanding God’s ways.  

Perhaps the most important one, illustrating the importance of this sub-theme, may be found in 1 Nephi 16:29.  It is part of a pericope describing the function of the Liahona and the spiritual principles upon which it operated. The ball had within it two “pointers” which also had writing upon them, which changed from time to time.  A statement in verse 29 is extremely interesting. “And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give them understanding concerning the ways of the Lord....” Of all the things which Lehi’s colony needed as they traveled through the wildernesses of southern Israel and western Arabia, Nephi highlights that this miraculous tool gave them “understanding concerning the ways of the Lord.” That of itself is a great lesson.

Those familiar with the Bible see many parallels between the wilderness trek of Lehi’s family with the Israelite Exodus and sojourn in the Sinai. There the people of Moses frequently murmured about the heat, hunger, thirst and other difficulties they experienced. It is obvious in light of Nephi’s explanation as to why Laman and Lemuel murmured, that this was the same problem with the Israelites. Two differences, however, exist in the comparison.  Moses did not have, as far as we know, a tool like the Liahona which taught such lessons,(6)  nor did he teach the Israelites that their problem was that they didn’t understand the ways of the Lord. It was Isaiah, centuries later who understood and taught the people:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thought than your thoughts.(7) 
The disparity between the ways of man and God is the crux of the problem. First, since his ways are higher than ours, it is impossible to know them unless he reveals them to us. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob explains, 
Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.(8)
Second, when children do not know how and why parents do things it often leads to complaint and even rebellion. Adults frequently exhibit the same tendency with God.  In our ignorance of his ways and reasons, fueled by our pride, we may assume we see things more clearly than the prophet-leader and withhold our support and obedience, or even worse actively resist and oppose him. It is possible this is one of the root causes of some Church members who challenge the Church’s position on such things as defining the family, gay marriage, women and the priesthood, and numerous political-moral issues.

Returning to the Liahona, we have yet another passage regarding its purpose in which another important “because” lesson may be found. Alma explains to his son Helaman several spiritual principles to be drawn from the history of the use of the Liahona by which they enjoyed the miracle of guidance in the wilderness “and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.”(9) Then he observes,
... because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions. And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual. (10)
The syntax of the first two sentences of this passage is somewhat unusual. The punctuation was not done by Joseph Smith, but by John H. Gilbert.(11) In keeping with good usage for subordinate conjunctions, these sentences might be punctuated differently, highlighting more clearly the message of the passage.
....because those miracles were worked by small means--it did show unto them marvelous works–they were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey....
The cause and effect relationship in this passage is obvious; Lehi’s colony was slothful in following what Alma considers the miracle of receiving directions through the Liahona, because they were accomplished by what some in the colony considered “small means”–implying insignificant and/or unimportant means.  

The outcome, however, was not insignificant or unimportant. They “did not progress in their journey,” they “tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel in a direct course....” In his narrative of this journey found in 1 Nephi 17:4, Nephi gives us what on the surface may seem to be an insignificant detail. He said “we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness.” If one knows where one is going in Arabia, the trek from the Gulf of Aqaba down the western coast to Nahom and then southeast to Bountiful does not require eight years, even for a colony of men, women and children, perhaps largely on foot, and especially not if they had pack animals such as camels. Moreover, Nephi describes the journey as one of great hardship.  He said we did “wade through much affliction in the wilderness.”(12) A large south central portion of Arabia is today called “The Empty Quarter,” one of the largest uninhabited places on earth. That is for a reason–it is a hot, dry, inhospitable desert, as is most of the peninsula. Arrival at Bountiful was a great relief to them, largely because it was a fairly fertile coastal region, one which they may have considered  “the promised land” in comparison to what they had been through, until the Lord told them their journey was not complete.  

Why take eight years in this desolate and forsaken region if it was not necessary? Alma provides one reason–they did not travel in a direct course because they would not follow directions, because the source of those directions was unimportant in their eyes! Goodness! Here we have an amazing example of the all too common phenomenon of unnecessary suffering. Suffering brought on ourselves because of ignorance, and pride, and jealousy, and selfishness, and lack of faith. The spiritual “liken” lessons to be drawn from this episode are numerous and obvious.

In the interest of time and space, these few significant “because” lessons from the early portion of the Book of Mormon must suffice as examples of the rest which are sprinkled liberally among the remaining 790 plus uses of the word in this inspired, instructive book. As we read the Book of Mormon it is helpful to concentrate and stay attuned, not only to the frequency with which “because” punctuates the text, but more importantly to stop and consider the spiritual principles which are being highlighted by its use. Understanding and using this simple tool can greatly enrich our understanding of the book’s message and suggest applications of vital principles in our personal lives. I hope I have convinced you they merit such consideration and that with thought and reflection they will yield precious insights. 

There is another aspect of this that is also worth considering. Joseph Smith was between the ages of 21 and 25 when he translated this book. For me the sheer number, depth, breadth, and intricacy of some of the “because” relationships found in the Book of Mormon are more easily accounted for on the basis of Joseph’s affirmation that he translated the book by the gift and power of God than it is to ascribe them to religious genius, especially at his young age and limited experience.

My hope is that this brief essay will stimulate some enterprising scholar to study this potential treasure trove of spiritual wisdom and compare it with the Bible.  My prediction is that not only will many important spiritual principles be highlighted in the Book of Mormon which would bless the Church by having them innumerated and explained, but that we will also find a significant difference in the way the word "because" is used in the Bible.  I also suspect that many of the insights derived from the Book of Mormon will not be duplicated in the Bible.  I believe the Book of Mormon will prove to be the richer source of instruction on cause and effect in spiritual matters.

Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Let’s think together again, soon.


1. See 1 Ne. 19:23; also 2 Ne. 6:5; 11:2, 8.

2.  In the first draft of this article, according to a friend, I used incorrect numbers.  He provide numbers based on his computer search.  He came up with 799 in the Book of Mormon (I said 699), and 1209 uses of the word in the Bible; 908 in the Old Testament and 301 in the New Testament.  I am indebted to him for this correction.

3. Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, 3:2, 4. 

4. 1 Ne. 12:11.

5. The five “thus we see” lessons teaching the “ways of the Lord” are in 1 Ne. 16:29; Al. 24:27; 26:37; 29:8; 44:4.  The “ways of Satan and his agents” are in: Al. 24:30; 30:60: 46:9-10.

6. Moses did have the “rod,” but it is not characterized in the Bible as an instrument of revelation.

7. Isa. 55:8-9. 

8. Jac. 4:8.

9. Al. 37:40. 

10. Al. 37:41-43.

11. Gilbert was a typesetter who worked for E. B. Grandin, who published the first edition of the Book of Mormon.  The original mss of the Book of Mormon contained little or no punctuation, consistent with ancient Hebrew and Egyptian. Thus, it was left to Gilbert to punctuate the text.  See among others, George Horton, “Understanding Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon,” Ensign (December 1983): 25-26.  See Gilbert’s recollections online, here:  For some interesting remarks about the nature of the punctuation, by Royal Skousen who has been studying the manuscripts of the Book of Mormon for more than three decades, see his “Changes in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 164.

12. 1 Ne. 17:1.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Why I Believe: Evidence Fifty: “Zingers” in the Book of Mormon, Part 7: “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save”©

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet

Why I Believe: Evidence Fifty:
 “Zingers” in the Book of Mormon, Part 7:
 “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save”


Early in 2 Nephi an interesting new concept appears.  Verse 8 reads:
Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things [Christ offering himself as a sacrifice for sin and to none else can the ends of the law be answered] known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah....”
Variations of the idea of being saved by the merits of Christ arise again four more times in 2 Ne. 31:19; Al. 24:10; Hel. 14:13; and Moro. 6:41, it is also in D&C 3:20 which also relates to the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is unique in that through this simple idea it directs our faith to the correct source–the merits of Christ. There are important nuances to consider in each of these passages so I will reproduce the relevant portions of each:
2 Ne. 31:19 “...for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” 
Al. 24:10 “And I also thank my God ... that he hath granted unto us that we might repent ... and also that he hath forgiven us ... and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.” 
Hel. 14:13 “And if ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits.” 
Moro. 6:4 “And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ ... and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.” 
D&C 3:20 “And that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name, and through their repentance they might be saved.”
There are several points to make about this idea. First, the phrase does not appear in the Bible, nor does the word merit, though the concept does in its negative, as we shall see below. Second, according to these passages salvation depends upon relying on the merits of Jesus Christ. Third and more importantly, 2 Ne. 31:19 and Moroni 6:5 say that we must rely “wholly” or “alone” upon his merits.  Consistent with these statements, early in 1834, Joseph Smith sent an epistle to the church in which he wrote,
But notwithstanding the transgression, by which man had cut himself off from an immediate intercourse with his Maker without a Mediator, it appears that the great and glorious plan of His redemption was previously provided; the sacrifice prepared; the atonement wrought out in the mind and purpose of God, even in the person of the Son, through whom man was now to look for acceptance and through whose merits he was now taught that he alone could find redemption, since the word had been pronounced, Unto dust thou shalt return.(1)
It is important then to consider the meaning of the word “merit” or “merits.” Upon what is it that we are to rely? Merits, in these passages has two possible meanings.(2) Sometimes the word refers to “praiseworthy attributes,” and at others to  “good works.”(3)  Chief among Christ’s good works is the Atonement. In one sense all of his good works are interwoven components of the Atonement. However, reflective of Jewish thinking about good works at the time of Christ is the rich young ruler’s question, “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” or the lawyer’s question in Luke 10 “"Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" which led Christ to give the parable of the Good Samaritan.(4) As we shall see below, this Jewish idea was multivalent and influential in later Christian thinking.
Consideration of the Savior’s “praiseworthy attributes” is also helpful in understanding Book of Mormon passages. It is not only through the good works of Christ that we are saved, but also through his attributes. Which attributes does he possess which we must rely completely and solely upon? Since he has all positive attributes in perfection we could say we are to rely upon them all.  Several, however, seem to play a special role in our salvation.(5)  First, his love.  In the world of the Christian creeds God was supposed to be without “passions.” Yet the Bible tells us that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”(6) Modern scripture teaches that Christ “so loveth the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might become the sons of God.”(7) 

Justice and mercy are key attributes relative to the Atonement. God is perfectly just and merciful, which creates a problem in the full expression of both simultaneously. If he is perfectly just, where is there room for mercy? Or, if he is perfectly merciful does that not rob justice of its due?  Moreover, Alma 34:11-16 teaches that the Atonement cannot be by a man, but must be accomplished by an infinite and eternal God. Yet, the Father, already a resurrected being cannot die again to pay the price of sin, so how can God introduce mercy into the plan? Alma explains that this infinite and eternal sacrifice “will be the Son of God” and it’s intent is to bring about the “bowels of mercy.”  With this understanding, B. H. Roberts adds that the complete and perfect attributes of God must be expressed worthily,” by which he means they “must exist in harmony with each other, no one supplanting another or intruding upon its domain.” So, majestically “even justice crys [sic] aloud for” the presence of love and mercy.  “To get Love and Mercy adequately expressed ... in harmony with law, is the burden and mission of the Christ through the Atonement.”(8) 

God’s omniscience and omnipotence are especially important for us to rely upon. Relative to omniscience, Joseph Smith taught,
... without the knowledge of all things God would not be able to save any portion of his creatures; for it is by reason of the knowledge which he has of all things, from the beginning to the end, that enables him to give that understanding to his creatures by which they are made partakers of eternal life....”(9)
And of omnipotence, he wrote:
... unless God had power over all things, and was able by his power to control all things, and thereby deliver his creatures who put their trust in him from the power of all beings that might seek their destruction, whether in heaven, on earth, or in hell, men could not be saved.(10)
Thus, Joseph taught in the Lectures on Faith, it is important for man to have the correct idea of God’s character, perfections, and attributes in order to exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.(11)

Satan, however,  wants the world and its philosophies to rely on the "merits" of other things than the merits of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Old Testament period, indeed through all history, he has encouraged relying on the merits of false or idol gods. In other ways reliance on people and things other than Christ have crept into religion.  

Merits in Judaism

At the time of Christ Judaism looked to the merits of Abraham, the patriarchs, Moses, and even all Israel for some aspects of deliverance and salvation. For example, in Mt. 3:9 (and parallel in Lk. 3:8), John said to his Jewish opponents:  “Think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” In John 8:33 those Jews opposing Christ said, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage.”  Of this Jewish reliance on the merits of Abraham, Alfred Edersheim wrote:
For, no principle was more fully established in the popular conviction, than that all Israel had part in the world to come (Sanh. 10:1), and this, specifically, because of their connection with Abraham. This appears not only from the New Testament, from Philo, and Josephus, but from many Rabbinic passages. The merits of the Fathers,’ is one of the commonest phrases in the mouth of the Rabbis.Abraham was represented as sitting at the gate of Gehenna, to deliver any Israelite who otherwise might have been consigned to its terrors. In fact, by their descent from Abraham, all the children of Israel were nobles, infinitely higher than any proselytes. ‘What,’ exclaims the Talmud, ‘shall the born Israelite stand upon the earth, and the proselyte be in heaven?’ In fact, the ships on the sea were preserved through the merits of Abraham; the rain descended on account of it. For his sake alone had Moses been allowed to ascend into heaven, and to receive the Law; for his sake the sin of the golden calf had been forgiven; his righteousness had on many occasions been the support of Israel’s cause; Daniel had been heard for the sake of Abraham; nay, his merit availed even for the wicked.  In its extravagance the Midrash thus apostrophises [sic.] Abraham: ‘If thy children were even (morally) dead bodies, without blood vessels or bones, thy merit would avail for them!’(12)  
Luke’s account of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus involves another important statement about Abraham to which Edersheim responds. In the story Jesus describes what happens to both Lazarus and the rich man at death. He said Lazarus “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom,” but after the rich man died and was buried, “in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”(13) Edershim wrote, “the appeal to Abraham as our father is ... frequent, his presence and merits are ... constantly invoked; notably, he is ... expressly designated as he who receives (mqbl) the penitent into Paradise (Erub. 19a)....”(14)

The Jews also depended upon the merits of Moses. During a dispute Jesus told the Jews that he would not accuse them to the Father, but “there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.”(15)   A few chapters later in John, Jesus healed the man born blind which angered the Jews. John records “Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples.  We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.”(16) One of the more direct instances of Jewish reliance upon Moses concerned the manna in the Sinai wilderness wanderings. John 6 recounts Jesus’ feeding the 5,000 followed by his famous “bread of life” sermon. Amazingly after this miracle voices from the multitude asked for a sign so they might believe him. They challenged, “Our fathers did eat manna in the desert” and suggested Moses had provided it. Jesus replied, “Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.” As the discussion continued Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” This caused the Jews to murmur, but it grew worse when he said, “Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead,” and went on to teach, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever....”(17) Concerning this episode, Alfred Edersheim wrote:
To understand the reasoning of the Jews, implied but not fully expressed, as also the answer of Jesus, it is necessary to bear in mind ... that it was the oft and most anciently expressed opinion that, although God had given them this bread out of heaven, yet it was given through the merits of Moses, and ceased with his death. This the Jews had probably in view, when they asked: ‘What workest Thou?’; and this was the meaning of Christ’s emphatic assertion, that it was not Moses who gave Israel that bread. And then by what, with all reverence, may still be designated a peculiarly Jewish turn of reasoning–such as only those familiar with Jewish literature can fully appreciate– ... the Saviour makes quite different, yet to them familiar, applications of the manna.  Moses had not given it– his merits had not procured it –but His Father gave them the true bread out of heaven.(18)
In the Rabbinical period there was even talk of relying on the merits of a particular rabbi if Abraham’s merits were not sufficient for salvation. Edersheim reports, 
The same Rabbi was wont to say: ‘I have seen the children of the world to come, and they are few. If there are three, I and my son are of their number; if they are two, I and my son are they.’After such expression of boastful self-righteousness, so opposed to the passage in the Sermon on the Mount, of which it is supposed to be the parallel, we scarcely wonder to read that, if Abraham had redeemed all generations to that of Rabbi Simon, the latter claimed to redeem by his own merits all that followed to the end of the world, nay, that if Abraham were reluctant, he (Simon) would take Ahijah the Shilonite with him, and reconcile the whole world!  Yet we are asked by some to see in such Rabbinic passages parallels to the sublime teaching of Christ!(19)
In the same period the salvational merits of study were elevated even above those of works.(20) It was also apparently of some dispute, whether it was the merits of Israel herself, those of the fathers, or of a particular father that the deliverance and redemption of Israel was dependent.(21)

Catholicism’s Treasury of Merit
Over time Catholicism developed an intricate theology which came to include a “treasury of merit.” Elder James E. Talmage cites the church historian Mosheim to this effect about the treasury:
As stated by Mosheim (Eccl. Hist. Cent. xii, part ii, ch. 3:4) the dreadful doctrine was formulated in the thirteenth century as follows:  "That there actually existed an immense treasure of merit, composed of the pious deeds and virtuous actions which the saints had performed beyond what was necessary for their own salvation, and which were therefore applicable to the benefit of others;  that the guardian and dispenser of this precious treasure was the Roman pontiff, and that of consequence he was empowered to assign to such as he thought proper a portion of this inexhaustible source of merit, suitable to their respective guilt, and sufficient to deliver them from the punishment due to their crimes.(22)
This idea seems to be an institutionalization of the ancient Jewish notions of the merits of the patriarchs, of Israel herself, and even a rabbi. Indeed, some scholars speak of a Jewish treasury of merit. However, Mormon summarizing Aaron’s teachings in Alma 22, clarifies the matter more clearly than the Bible when he writes:
And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory; and Aaron did expound all these things unto the king.(23) 

It is of considerable importance to ponder the implications of the teachings of the Book of Mormon regarding the “merits” of Jesus Christ. As found therein, it focuses the reader’s faith, not on the merits of some thing, such as the hem of Jesus’ garment when he healed the woman with the issue of blood, or of study, the intellect, the good deeds of the ancients or even oneself. In such simple phrases as “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is might to save,” and “relying alone upon the merits of Christ,” the Book of Mormon places the emphasis and priority squarely where it should be. We are to rely “wholly” and “alone” on the merits of Jesus and no other. There is no other name or way whereby mankind may be saved. These Book of Mormon passages are not belabored by their authors. They are generally simply stated and left without further discussion or elaboration. It is as if the writers intended that they be among the “zingers” which would, when one is in a mental state to consider the details and meaning of specific wording, pierce the consciousness in the power of the Spirit with their importance and with understanding and enlightenment. All of this leads me to a final thought.

If Joseph Smith were making up the Book of Mormon out of his own devious motives or at the direction of Satan, one must confront these five amazing little “zingers” which point the heart and mind directly to Christ. Strange, that Joseph Smith would have inculcated such principles in a false book. But he did not write the book. It is a true book, and it’s ancient authors taught true doctrine; doctrine which enlightened people with simple but potent and profound words the true object of their faith and trust. 

Thank God for Joseph Smith.

Let’s think together again, soon.


1. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1967), 57-58, emphasis added.

2. The 1828 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language gives half a dozen definitions to the word “merit.” The second one was, “spiritual credit granted for good works,” and the last two were, “an aspect of a person's character or behavior deserving approval or disapproval,” and “value, excellence, or superior quality.”  Of the ten definitions in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, the last one is “a praiseworthy quality: virtue.”  Other definitions in these lists also relate to the Atonement, but in either similar or less applicable ways to those above.

3. See Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 1:84. Edersheim's work was originally published in two volumes.  The Eerdman's edition combines them in one volume, but maintains the pagination of each volume.  See also, E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion, (Fortress Press, 1987), 37-38. 

4. Matthew 19:16; Lk. 10:25.

5. Because of its age and relatively limited exposure, many Latter-day Saints are unaware of a magnificent study of the Atonement by the early historian and theologian, Brigham H. (B. H.) Roberts. It was the fourth in a five volume series on theology he wrote as study manuals for the Seventy’s quorums between 1907 and 1912. Chapters 12 and 13 are devoted to a study of eleven “Attributes of God Related to the Atonement.” They are: eternity, omniscience, truth, mercy, immutability, omnipresence, justice, love, omnipotence, wisdom, and holiness.  See: Brigham H. Roberts, The Seventy’s Course in Theology, Fourth Year: The Atonement (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1911), 66-75. The entire course was reproduced in one volume in 1994 by Grandin Book Company in Orem, Utah.

6. John 3:16.

7. D&C 34:3.  See also 2 Ne. 26:24; Eth. 12:33, and D&C 138:3.

8. The quotations in this paragraph are found in Brigham H. Roberts, The Seventy’s Course in Theology, Fourth Year: The Atonement, 88. For a fuller treatment see also pages  75,  83-84, 90-97, 102-103, 104-109 (this is chapter 19, titled: “The Advent of Mercy into the Earth-Scheme of Things.”  

9.   Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 51-52; Lecture 4:11.

10.   Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, 52; Lecture 4:12.

11.   Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, 38-39; 3:4,7, emphasis added, however Joseph Smith placed the emphasis on the word "correct" in the original.

12. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:271-272, emphasis added. See also, J. R. Dummelow, ed. A Commentary on the Holy Bible, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1970), p. 631, and David Hill, The New Century Bible Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 93. The latter wrote: “According to Jewish teaching, the merits of Abraham were counted to Israel’s advantage: ‘it is by the merits of Abraham their father that I walked up the sea for them’ (Mek. Exod. 14:15; see Schechter, chapter 12). The uselessness of dependence on forebears and of trust in membership of the chosen race is declared again at Jn 8:39 (cf. Rom. 2:17-29).”

On the other hand, Truman Madsen, takes a more positive view of the “merits of the fathers,” in the context of Mormon proxy temple work.
“Christ's atonement extends to fragmented and traumatized families and the family of man. Fragmented families represent another kind of death. If his healing of wounds is the beginning, then his sealing of families is the end. He will not rest until these are achieved. Temple teachings echo Jewish traditions concerning "the merit of the fathers" and conversely "the merit of the children." Jewish tradition says that somehow the righteousness of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah was so exceptional that one may come to God in their name and receive beyond any present worthiness . . . a bridge to and through the generations.10  On the other hand children may by their lives become a redeeming force in the redemption of their ancestors and ancestresses. This parallels Joseph Smith's repeated rationale, a "bold doctrine," for proxy service in the temple: "we without them cannot be made perfect," nor they without us (D&C 128:9, 18).”
Truman G. Madsen, “The Temple and the Atonement,” in Donald W. Parry, ed., Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism, (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: 1994), 67.

13.   Luke 16:19-31, esp. 22-23.

14. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2:280.

15. John 5:45, emphasis added; see vss. 39-47.

16. John 9:29-30.

17. John 6:22-51.

18. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2:30, emphasis added.    For another example of appealing to the merits of the “fathers,” see Edersheim, 1:536.

19.   Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:540, emphasis added.

20. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:85.

21. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:169-170. In Appendix 9, Edersheim lists Old Testament passages that were applied Messianically in Rabbinic writings.  Concerning Ps. 106:44 he writes: “On this there is in the Midrash a long Messianic discussion, setting forth the five grounds on which Israel is redeemed: through the sorrows of Israel through prayer, through the merits of the patriarchs, through repentance towards God, and in the time of ‘the end.’” [See  2:720.]

22. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1960), 589-90, emphasis in Talmage.

23. Al. 22:14.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Why I Believe: Evidence Forty-nine: “Zingers” in the Book of Mormon, Part 6: “stabbed by ... a garb of secrecy”©

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was a Prophet

  Evidence Forty-nine: 
“Zingers” in the Book of Mormon, Part 6: 
“stabbed by ... a garb of secrecy”© 

A friend recently pointed me to an article in the Deseret News in 2010, which he said revealed another "zinger" in the Book of Mormon.  This column refers back to a 2003 article, so this information isn’t news today. However, in terms of my project on “101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet,” it has relevance. Moreover, there are many today who may not have seen the earlier versions. Rather than try to rewrite the story, I defer to Michael De Groote’s version in the Deseret News.
Critics of the Book of Mormon should be given some credit. Sometimes they are like a cartoon that ran in the Daily Universe [BYU's student newspaper] back in the early 1990s: Brigham Young is overlooking the Salt Lake Valley and points to where the temple will be built. “How do you know that is the right place?” his companion asks. “Because,” President Young replies, “there are a bunch of anti-Mormons down there protesting.” 
Critics look for the oddities, the weird things, the things that just don’t make any sense. Believing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are less likely to notice these things because they are looking for the religious truths of the scriptures. 
Take the story in Helaman 9 where the Nephite’s chief judge is murdered “and did lie in his blood.” How is he killed? Verse 6 tells us he had been “stabbed by his brother by a garb of secrecy.” 
To many of the critics of the Book of Mormon, this was the ultimate howler. They say it shows Joseph Smith’s stupidity. Everybody knows a “garb” is not a weapon to kill somebody, let alone to have him bleed enough to “lie in his blood.” 
On and on they go. In one anti-Mormon book, this is the sole example given of the absurdity of the Book of Mormon and enough to dismiss the entire book as nonsense. One critic asks, “How can one be stabbed by a garb (garment)?” Another exclaims “What a hole it must have made in him.” Yet another marvels that “this remains uncorrected.” 
But, like a signpost, the critics have brought attention to another fascinating item in the Book of Mormon. An article in The FARMS Review by Matthew Roper and John A. Tvedtnes touched on this issue. 
The standard response to the criticism is that “by a garb of secrecy” is the same thing as saying in more familiar modern English the phrase “under a cloak of secrecy.” So, in other words, the judge was “stabbed by his brother under a cloak of secrecy.” 
And what do you stab with? A knife, sword or other sharp weapon. 
And how can you do this? By an open attack that everybody can see or by a covert operation hidden behind secrecy. 
It is a good thing the Book of Mormon doesn’t say the murder was an undercover operation. Critics may have talked how absurd it is to try to kill somebody doing surgery underneath a blanket. 
But still, the wording is odd in Helaman 9:6. Roper and Tvedtnes explain that in Hebrew, the word for “garb” or “garment” is BEGED. This word is used in the story of Joseph in Genesis 39:12: “And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.” 
A quick jaunt to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance gives this entry for the word BEGED: “apparel, clothes, garment, lap, rag, raiment, robe, very treacherously.” 
Wait a second! What was that last definition? 
“Very treacherously.” 
Strong’s explains that the word comes from “a covering” or in other words, “clothing” and “also treachery or pillage.” 
“This would seem to be a wordplay in the Hebrew original of the Book of Mormon,” Roper and Tvedtnes write. 
Mormon described the murder with words that have a double meaning. It was a Hebrew pun. Roper and Tvedtnes also write that the preposition “by” has a range of meaning in Hebrew such as “in,” “with” and “by means of.” 
So, thanks to critics bringing attention to this particular sentence, it appears that the author of the Book of Mormon understood enough Hebrew to make an appropriate wordplay on an event. The murder was done with secrecy like being covered by a garment. The murder was done in secret treachery. 
And to think the wordplay may never have been noticed if not for the critics. 
This article is based on part of an article by Matthew Roper and John A. Tvedtnes in The FARMS Review, vol. 15:1, 2003, Pages 147-99.(1)
This demonstrates once again how difficult it really is to find genuine and meaningful weaknesses in the Book of Mormon. Nearly everything like this, once investigated more deeply turns out to provide evidence for the reasonableness of the text the way it stands. We know the Book of Mormon is not perfect–its authors tell us that. But Joseph Smith said it was the “most correct” book. Once again a little research by faithful and knowledgeable Latter-day Saints turns what may have appeared to be a genuine weakness into evidence that the book was translated and dictated precisely as Joseph Smith said it was.

Thank God for faithful scholars, and thank God for Joseph Smith!

Let’s think together again, soon.


1.  Michael De. Groote, “Scholar’s Corner: Another Odd Thing Found in the Book of Mormon,” Deseret News, 24 September 2010.  Available online here:

Friday, October 14, 2016

An open note to my friend Bobbie Coray, ardent Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter©

Dear Bobbie,
Recently I posted on my FaceBook page a short clip of four of Hillary’s statements about abortion. In one of them she said that “religious beliefs.... have to be changed.” You challenged that one saying she was referring to mutilation of female genitalia, not to abortion. Twice in our exchanges you assured me of that. On other occasions when I have posted things like this you have castigated me for not adhering to rigorous scholarly standards.  In other words, I should have looked into it and I would realize she was not talking about abortion.

Today I took your advice. I could not easily find a transcript of her speech, but I found it on YouTube. So I listened to it and then transcribed the relevant portion, both what preceded and what followed her comments about changing religious beliefs.  Here they are:
[Continuing remarks about change women have brought about since the 1995 Beijing conference on women.] Yes, we’ve increased the number of countries prohibiting domestic violence, but still more than half the nations in the world have no such laws on the books, and an estimated one in three women still experience violence. Yes, we’ve cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe child birth. 
All the laws we pass don’t count for much if they are not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will.  And deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.  (Applause.)  
As I have said, and as I believe, the advancement of the full participation of women and girls in every aspect of their society is the great unfinished business of the 21st century.(1)
You will note that she does not mention either mutilation or abortion prior to this statement, nor does she mention those subjects in this talk. Her comments about the need for change on behalf of women are sweeping. They are apparently not limited to one specific subject. For Hillary, “religious beliefs ...have to be changed” in order to benefit women and girls. There are many “religious beliefs” about women, indeed many of them are very hard on women, but she doesn’t specify which ones she thinks should be changed.  So based on the talk itself, your insistence that she is talking about female genital mutilation is no more accurate than the video clip which attached the statement to abortion.(2)  Following these comments she moves on to talk about work yet to do, largely the economic advancement of women in America.

But wait!  She does speak of "reproductive health care," which others have noted is her code word for abortion.  So, maybe the evidence is on the side of abortion after all, and not on female mutilation.

Apparently for Hillary, religious beliefs are like any other beliefs such as cultural codes and structural biases, whatever they are. She gives no consideration to the fact that religious beliefs may have their origin in revealed religion from God. She is a leftist socialist activist; for her government and law are the solution to societal problems. It isn’t a very big step then, for her to conclude that Government can and should play a role in changing religious beliefs she finds inimical to women.  Her strong advocacy of Roe v. Wade as “established law” and her promise to nominate only those who would uphold it to the Supreme Court shows that what I am arguing is exactly right. As I said in my FaceBook post, I prefer not to have her tampering with my religious beliefs or my religious rights, which she clearly sees as subservient to individual and especially individual women’s beliefs and rights.

With admiration,

Danel W. Bachman


1.  Transcription by Danel W. Bachman of a portion of a speech by Hillary Clinton to the Women in the World Summit, April 2015.  Video available here:

2.  For whatever it is worth I did look to see if she had further elaborated on this statement at a later time, but the search failed to turn up anything obvious.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

At a Time Like This it is Worth Revisiting George Washington©

My wife and I just returned from Washington, D.C., for a two-week visit with our daughter and her family.  While there we took the opportunity to visit many historical sights including the places of the Founding of America at Valley Forge, in Philadelphia, and Mt. Vernon in Virginia. All taught us things we didn’t know about George Washington.  That information coupled with what we learned when we visited the Yorktown battle sight earlier in the year, gave us a new interest in the Father of our Country.

In Valley Forge and Yorktown we learned of his immense physical courage and dedication to the Revolution and its principles.  We also learned of the “miracles” that seemed to follow him as a man of faith and morality.  In Philadelphia and Mt. Vernon we learned that following the War he resigned his commission and returned to private life, though there were those who wanted to make him a king.  He was not power hungry or self-serving.  He came out of retirement about seven years later when he was UNANIMOUSLY elected the first president of the United States, but here too, after two terms he voluntarily relinquished the position.  He died at age 67, yet a fairly young man in today’s terms.  A film we watched about him at Trenton at Christmastime in 1776 where he crossed the Delaware river to surprise and defeat the enemy ended in an interesting way.  It said something like “Will there ever be another Washington?  Perhaps, if we are smart enough to keep his principles.”

Washington bequeathed to us a great personal and political legacy if we are smart enough to keep it and the principles he fought for, and the kind of man he was. It left me pondering. Of course that pondering highlighted the immense contrast there is between his character and leadership with the consequent legacy bequeathed to us, and the sorry sleaze and the future they will produce which we find ourselves having to choose between in 2016.  

We have lost our way, and from my point of view an important cause is the rise of secularism and the loss of faith largely resulting from prosperity and materialism and the gradual erosion of our political values and institutions due to the liberal spiral downward to the lowest common denominator. As a FB post I read the other day said,“The Left created the culture of absolute sexual license, but now condemns Trump for his participation in it.” That is one of the major problems we face today and an example of the hypocritical tied-up-in-knots paradoxes leftist liberal philosophy produces.

Will we ever have another Washington? Given the dominant political, social, and religious philosophies in America today it is almost impossible. This critical situation has driven me deeper into my own religious faith. When I expressed my view that under such circumstances I believe if we remain true to God’s moral law he will bring us through, this brought laughter of scorn -- "lol, how is that working our for you?" -- from another reader. That’s the way it is today isn’t it? Marginalize faith from the public square by laughter and scorn. But I was reminded by something I encountered on FB this week from the book of Judges which my laughing friend may benefit from reading:
And the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Did not I deliver your from the Egyptians ... Amorites, ... the children of Ammon, ... the Philistines ... and the Zidonians  ... the Amalekites ... and the Maonites..... Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.  (Judges 10:11-14)
Judgments are promised upon those who forsake their God. One is his abandonment of them in the time of tribulation. This is sometimes the result of political decisions in violation of God’s commandments. We are in such a time of tribulation. However, we have hope. A book of my own faith repeatedly promises things like:
Wherefore, this land [America] is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever. (2 Nephi 1:7)
But if you will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage.  (Mosiah 7:33)
The “lols” of the mockers and scorners notwithstanding, I believe if we are ever to see another Washington, Jefferson, or Lincoln, it will be because we serve the God of the land and keep his commandments.  It will be because we do not settle for the lesser of two evils–which is still evil.

Let's think together again, soon.