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How to Enhance the Book of Mormon for your Studies this Year


From the outset, as always, I am not an official spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. What I write in here is my opinion, but an opinion that uses the words of the brethren and scripture. I am wholly responsible for what is written below.

As I sat pondering recently on new year resolutions I, inevitably, had to come to making goals for gospel learning in my home. As I reflected personally on my gospel learning goals I had several things come to my mind that I wanted to share. These things are, namely, paradigms or culture or understandings I had to turn upside down in order to truly enhance my gospel learning. The following list is a non-exhaustive list:

What is Gospel Learning?

The first thing to discuss is what is gospel learning exactly? Are we talking about something like secular learning? Or are we talking about the memorization of facts? Maybe better questions are, what does gospel learning look like? Or, why is it so important?

A great scripture, to begin with, is D&C 130:18-19.

"Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come."

In this verse, we find there is a salvational ratio between our advantage in the next life to how much intelligence one gains here and now. Neal A. Maxwell has commented further:
"... our being saved by gaining knowledge obviously refers to a particular form of knowledge, a “knowledge of God” and knowledge of the things of God (see D&C 128:19; Teachings, p. 217). Nephi lamented, as you know, over those who “will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge” (2 Nephi 32:7). Clearly he was referring to a particular kind of knowledge. In fact, Joseph Smith’s translation of Jesus’ lamentation— about how those in his time had lost the “key of knowledge”—provides a definition; it adds five words defining what the word key means: “the fulness of the scriptures” (JST, Luke 11:53; see also D&C 84:19–20)...
In addition, brothers and sisters, multiple scriptures make it clear that knowledge is meant to be closely associated with other virtues such as patience, humility, charity, and kindness (D&C 4:6; 107:30–31; 121:41–42; 2 Peter 1:5–9)...
Intelligence is “the glory of God,” as we all know. It is defined as “light and truth” (D&C 93:36). The revelations also inform us that if we have “more knowledge and intelligence in this life,” we will have “so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:18–19). I do not pretend to be able to be definitive with regard to this last verse, but, clearly, what we carry forward, brothers and sisters, involves developing our capacity for cognition as well as application." (1)
Gospel learning, therefore, is much more than just learning about the scriptures and digging deeply into them. Conversely, gospel learning is much more than just trying to do nice things for people. In summation, BOTH ideas are clearly what is indicated in the scriptures. Neal A. Maxwell comments further:
"Therefore, gaining knowledge and becoming more Christlike “are two aspects of a single process” (Warner, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 4, p. 1490). This process is part of being “valiant” in our testimony of Jesus. Thus, while we are saved no faster than we gain a certain type of knowledge, it is also the case, as Richard Bushman has observed, that we will gain knowledge no faster than we are saved (Teachings, p. 217)."(1)
Therefore, the invitation to increase our gospel learning via Come Follow Me is an invitation to increase our learning from the scriptures and to act out those truths more often.

Lastly, gospel knowledge necessarily means increasing our gospel scholarship. Here are some quotes to illustrate the point:
"Please deepen your personal scriptural scholarship, for in it will be truth, relevancy, renewal and reassurance. Remember that at the very center of the deepest doctrines are the pearls of greatest price!" - Neal A. Maxwell (Presented at the annual convention of Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists [AMCAP), September 28, 1978, Salt Lake City. Utah.)
"Any intelligent man may learn what he wants to learn. He may acquire knowledge in any field, though it requires much thought and effort. It takes more than a decade to get a high school diploma; it takes an additional four years for most people to get a college degree; it takes nearly a quarter-century to become a great physician. Why, oh, why do people think they can fathom the most complex spiritual depths without the necessary experimental and laboratory work accompanied by compliance with the laws that govern it?" - Spencer W. Kimball (Brigham Young University, 6 September 1977)
"It is a paradox that men will gladly devote time every day for many years to learn a science or an art; yet will expect to win a knowledge of the gospel, which comprehends all sciences and arts, through perfunctory glances at books or occasional listening to sermons. The gospel should be studied more intensively than any school or college subject. They who pass opinion on the gospel without having given it intimate and careful study are not lovers of truth, and their opinions are worthless." - John A. Widtsoe (Evidences and Reconciliations, p.16-17)
What does it mean to liken the scriptures unto ourselves?

This idea is almost universally employed in scripture study, as it ought to be. It is a useful tool to help us make studying scripture personal. I have also heard it explained that when we study the scriptures this way they become a personal Urim and Thummim to us. What I am about to suggest isn't to deter you necessarily from employing this study tactic, but to place it in a better context so as to further enrich the scriptures, specifically the Book of Mormon.

This study technique is usually invoked by using Nephi's words in 1 Nephi 19:23-24.

"... for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning."

Some word study in Nephi's own accounts can shed light on what Nephi means here. Studying the context for Nephi's words gives us more specifics on what Nephi meant. For example, every time the word 'likened' is used in the Book of Mormon it is either referring to the records of Isaiah or Zenos; who both exclusively write about the salvation of the House of Israel. In 2 Nephi 11:8 Nephi tells us the words of Isaiah can be likened unto ourselves and unto all men. Previously, in 2 Nephi 11:2 Nephi doesn't liken the words of Isaiah unto himself, but unto his people.

Also, 1 Nephi 19:24 tells us to liken Isaiah's words unto ourselves so that 'ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have broken off; FOR AFTER THIS MANNER HAS THE PROPHET WRITTEN' (caps added by me for emphasis). In other words, we are to liken the scriptures so that we may have hope. Hope in what?

This all begs several questions and thoughts. Here is one:

1. Nephi says he likened ALL scripture unto his people, but he only shows himself doing it with the words of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. He clearly states that Isaiah specifically wrote after this manner so that his words may be likened by all who are of the House of Israel. This begs the question: Why did Isaiah make it so hard to understand then? To add fuel to the fire, in the New Testament 'Jesus quoted Isaiah more frequently than he quoted any other prophet' (Guide to the Scriptures, Isaiah). Christ, therefore, must have been familiar with this concept of likening Isaiah because he does it on almost every page in the 4 gospels.

Christ, therefore, gives us a possible explanation of what is meant by likening in 3 Nephi 23:1-4. He just finished quoting Isaiah 54 unto the righteous Nephites and tells them to search the words of Isaiah diligently; 'for great are the words of Isaiah'. Christ doesn't say 'Read Isaiah so you may gain insights about what to do in your personal life'. I am not saying the scriptures can't do that for us, but that doesn't appear to be the summum bonum of the written word. Christ, in verse 2, clarifies and suggests that his words ought to be searched diligently because Isaiah touched on all things concerning the House of Israel and, therefore, the Gentiles.

If likening was simply about applying the scriptures to our personal lives why make Isaiah so inaccessible (in terms of writing style and subject matter) to the casual student of the scriptures? In short, likening is about seeing ourselves and others in the context of the redemption of the House of Israel and the fulfillment of the promises given to Abraham. In other words, temple theology and Christ's centrality in that plays a central role here.

Likening takes effort, which is why Christ would tell us to search the words of Isaiah (the very words that Nephi exclusively 'likens') diligently. Joseph Spencer gives a good commentary on this idea:
"We often take Nephi to mean something just like, “Yeah, I should apply this to my everyday life.” But it’s pretty clear in context that Nephi means something very specific by likening. You can find this in 1 Nephi 19, the clearest. That’s a passage we like to quote. But you also find it in 2 Nephi 6, you find it in 2 Nephi 11. Various places Nephi and Jacob used this term likening, and they seem to mean the following. It means to recognize the original historical meaning of the text of Isaiah, and then to find in it a kind of pattern for God’s working with human beings, or with the covenant people in particular, and then to see how that covenant pattern applies again and again in history. So, rather than taking a text and saying, “How does this give me an understanding of my own peculiar life?” Nephi seems to say something like, “In this we find the way God deals with peoples.” And then sets a pattern that repeats again and again. The thing that Nephi likens to Isaiah most consistently is the stuff he’s seen in vision, rather than his own particular life. He doesn’t want to say, “Oh, how do I make sense of our trek across the wilderness? or across the ocean? Oh, Isaiah can help me see that.”
He says, “I’ve seen in vision this whole history of the relationship between the remnants of Israel, and the new world, and the gentiles from Europe, and the rise of Christianity. How can Isaiah make sense of that?” And that’s what he means by likening." (2)
To put it in my own words, likening the scriptures means we read them for what they actually say and place ourselves (our families, friends, or us personally) within the "cosmic context" of salvational history.

When we read the Book of Mormon this year, instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, we can place ourselves in Nephi's revelatory history of the House of Israel. We can begin to dig deeper into why Isaiah is quoted so much and discover what it really has to do with us. We can read the teachings of the doctrines in the Book of Mormon and come to comprehend what is being taught instead of skimming to simply look for something that gives us the warm and fuzzies for our personal life.

What does it mean that the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the Gospel?

Various quotes from Joseph Smith and others are often presented to us in manuals or Sunday School classes that declare this truth, but we don't really seek to uncover what is meant by it.

Some think it means the Book of Mormon contains all the truths of the Gospel. That can't be true as we are told in different places that more things pertaining to the gospel are to be revealed. On top of that, where do we see specific aspects of the plan of salvation spelled out in the Book of Mormon? Where do we find specifics about the temple spelled in the Book of Mormon? Therefore, it is axiomatic to see that is not what is meant by "the fulness of the gospel"?

Some think this means that the Bible doesn't contain the fulness of the gospel but the Book of Mormon, comparatively, does. This also isn't true as pre-2013 editions of the Book of Mormon tells us in its introduction that the Book of Mormon and the Bible BOTH contain the fulness of the gospel.

A more correct understanding of what this means is that the Book of Mormon is much plainer than the Bible in declaring certain truths, but that doesn't really answer how the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel. It simply means the Book of Mormon is easier to understand than the Bible.

Bruce R. McConkie gives us a definition that should transform how we read the Book of Mormon:
"The fulness of the gospel consists in those laws, doctrines, ordinances, powers, and authorities needed to enable men to gain the fulness of salvation. Those who have the gospel fulness do not necessarily enjoy the fulness of gospel knowledge or understand all of the doctrines of the plan of salvation. But they do have the fulness of the priesthood and sealing power by which men can be sealed up unto eternal life. The fulness of the gospel grows out of the fulness of the sealing power and not out of the fulness of gospel knowledge." (Mormon Doctrine, p. 237)
What a plain, simple, and consistent way to understand it. What implications does this have for our studies of the Book of Mormon? First, it means it is a book written with the sealing power specifically in mind with how it was written and compiled. It means that it is another testament of Christ, but is meant to point us to Christ by pointing us to all the rites, performances, knowledge, oaths, and covenants of the House of the Lord. In short, the Book of Mormon is a temple text. When we start to see the fulness of the Gospel in the Book of Mormon dripping from its pages we begin to comprehend the power that the book contains.

Even further, we find that to uncover the temple/the sealing power in the Book of Mormon is going to take work and revelation. As I pointed out earlier, those truths aren't as straightforwardly seen as others, but they are everywhere once the work to get the revelation and insight is achieved.

The Book of Mormon is true, therefore, what?

Given what has been explained above, the following should be self-evident. President Nelson explained his concern with this when said:
"Whenever I hear anyone, including myself, say, “I know the Book of Mormon is true,” I want to exclaim, “That’s nice, but it is not enough!” We need to feel, deep in “the inmost part” of our hearts, that the Book of Mormon is unequivocally the word of God. We must feel it so deeply that we would never want to live even one day without it. I might paraphrase President Brigham Young in saying, “I wish I had the voice of seven thunders to wake up the people” to the truth and power of the Book of Mormon." (3)
Maybe I imagine people think this way, but it is my opinion that too many know the Book of Mormon is true and, therefore, they feel that the need to really dig deep into its pages is unnecessary. They feel the Book of Mormon has fulfilled its purpose for them, in other words.

It is this thinking the Lord specifically counseled against when he put the entire Church under condemnation:
"And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written" (D&C 84:54-57)
This kind of thinking might also come from our correct, but somewhat trite, reading of Moroni 10:3-5. While it is correct to understand that verse as an invitation to read and pray about the truthfulness of that book, it also leaves a lot about that verse covered and hidden.

For example, the following commentaries uncover a few things in relation to what Moroni 10:3-5 means.

Commenting on verse 3, Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained:
"Moroni is not, be it noted, asking us to draw a curtain around the Book of Mormon as though it were the only book of scripture ever to flow from prophetic pens. All things must be kept in perspective. He is asking us to ponder what is in the biblical record and to put the writings of Mormon in their proper relationship to all else that has come from the Lord. All these things are to be pondered." - Bruce R. McConkie (A New Witness For the Articles of Faith, p. 465)
This sounds an awful lot like what we discussed above about what it means to 'liken the scriptures unto ourselves'. If we dig into verse 5 (of Moroni 10:3-5) we find that the following, if we compare it to Moroni 3:4 (see also D&C 20:60). Moroni 3:4 says, 'they ordained them by the power of the Holy Ghost' in context of ordaining priests and teachers (it should be pointed out that these were Melchekidek Priesthood offices that centered in the temple among the Nephites and not like the Aaronic Priesthood offices we usually associated with priest and teacher today). Most people would read Moroni 3:4 and simply say that those who were performing the ordinations were simply doing so under the influence of the Holy Ghost. It would be true, but not true enough.

Other verses paint a clearer picture. For example, D&C 121:37 speaks of the priesthood being gone from a person when the Spirit of the Lord withdraws itself; Moses 6:34 speaks of the Spirit being the one who justifies Enoch's words so that creation would obey him 'as if thou wert God' (Moses 1:25 and Exodus 4:16); D&C 109:15 speaks of receiving a fulness of the Holy Ghost through the temple. These are just a few examples in the scriptures.

What does this mean? It might give us added understanding to Moroni 10:5. If my findings are correct, would that popular verse directly connect to what D&C 124:95 is talking about? Namely, 'the keys whereby he may ask and receive'. Also, Elder Christofferson partially defines a 'fulness of the Holy Ghost':

"The “fulness of the Holy Ghost” includes what Jesus described as “the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom; which glory is that of the church of the Firstborn, even of God, the holiest of all, through Jesus Christ his Son” (D&C 88:4–5)." (The Power of Covenants, Reference number 5)

With that in mind and in the spirit of 'leaving you on a cliffhanger' compare that to D&C 124:28. Does 'fulness of the Holy Ghost' (used in a temple context) and 'fulness of the priesthood' (also used in a temple context) have any relationship with one another?

In short, it appears that Moroni 10:5 has many more layers than our conventional understanding. It is a literal invitation, from the very beginning of one's process of conversion with the Book of Mormon, to join the ascent upwards through the Holy Temple.

One of my favorite bloggers and expert in the Hebrew interprets/translates Moroni 10:4-5 this way:
“And when you shall receive these things, I would exhort you that you would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Messiah, if these things are not true; and if you shall contemplatively pray and meditate with a sincere heart, with real intent (kavannah-desire and intent) for trusting oneness with Messiah, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may come into the presence of the Throne of God (Kether) /worlds without end (Ain Soph).” (4)
CONCLUSION

It is my belief that overcoming and adjusting our paradigms with the information above can set us on a course of study this year that will bring us closer to Christ than ever before. We will actually begin to glimpse the power of the Book of Mormon and realize that power is the same power we can access through the Lord's Holy House. We will start reading the Book of Mormon with the eyes of Nephi and Isaiah. We will start coming to know Christ through application and knowledge through revelation.

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