Viewpoint: Pay Attention to “Behold” and “Thus We See” Verses

Contributed By From the Church News

  • 24 October 2013

A wise student of the scriptures will ponder carefully and consider personally applying any passage that is introduced by the word “behold.”

"Whether it pertains to scripture or modern-day exhortation, let us be alert to the points of emphasis conveyed by the servants of God and profit thereby."

A university professor in his classroom lectures was in the habit of using the phrase “Now, you need to understand that.”

It was almost a litany; some of the students might have found it annoying. The more alert ones soon figured out, however, that this was the professor’s way of leading into and emphasizing a point that was very important for them to comprehend, knowledge for which they would be held accountable at examination time. The professor was, in fact, showing consideration for his students, seeing to it that they could grasp and ultimately master the coursework before them.

We see something similar in the English-language scriptures in the frequent use of the word “behold.” Its meaning transcends that of “look,” “see,” “notice,” or other synonyms that we might compare it to.

In the King James Version of the Bible, “behold” is used as the translation of the Hebrew word hinneh in the Old Testament and the Greek word idou in the New Testament. No single word in English adequately conveys the shade of meaning these words communicate, which might be defined as “Pay careful attention to what is to follow; it is very important!”

For that reason some of the modern-day English translations of the Bible, which tend to spurn much of the older or archaic phrasing in the King James Version in favor of more contemporary expression, retain the word “behold,” because the translators could not find a suitable substitute.

For example, a preface to the English Standard Version of the Bible explains: “Although ‘Look!’ and ‘See!’ and ‘Listen!’ would be workable in some contexts, in many others these words lack sufficient weight and dignity. Given the principles of ‘essentially literal’ translation, it is important not to leave hinneh and idou completely untranslated, and so to lose the intended emphasis in the original languages. The older and more formal word ‘behold’ has usually been retained, therefore, as the best available option for conveying the original sense of meaning.”

Consider a few well-known passages in the King James Version in which the word “behold” is used, and mentally substitute for it the phrase “Listen, because this is very important”:

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

“And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matthew 9:2).

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

“Behold” is found frequently in the other standard works used by the Latter-day Saints: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Given the intended meaning of the word, a wise student of the scriptures will ponder carefully and consider personally applying any passage therein that is introduced by the word “behold.” Obviously, that is what the inspired authors of holy writ intended.

In addition to “behold,” the Book of Mormon contains another frequent linguistic device to signal emphasis. The prophet Nephi and the compiler and redactor of the record, Mormon, were wont to use the phrase “and thus we see.” In this, they are like a benevolent and conscientious classroom teacher, seeing to it that his students—the readers of the Nephite record—draw useful and valuable lessons from an incident, event, or circumstance that has been related.

A Sunday School Gospel Doctrine teacher went through his copy of the Book of Mormon and highlighted each occurrence of “and thus we see.” He suggested his students do the same, reasoning that the phrase is intended to emphasize points to which the class members should pay particular heed.

For example, in recounting that the Liahona worked according to the faith and diligence that Lehi and his family exercised, Nephi said, “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things” (1 Nephi 16:29).

In relating the prosperous circumstances of the Nephites during a period of righteousness and obedience, Mormon comments:

“And thus we see how merciful and just are the dealings of the Lord, to the fulfilling of all his words unto the children of men; yea, we can behold that his words are verified, even at this time, which he spake unto Lehi, saying:

“Blessed art thou and thy children; and they shall be blessed, inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land. But remember, inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Alma 50:19-20).

Modern-day prophets and apostles in their sermons occasionally use rhetorical phrasing that signals emphasis, importance, or urgency. “To all within the sound of my voice” is one such phrase that is occasionally heard in general conferences.

Whether it pertains to scripture or modern-day exhortation, let us be alert to the points of emphasis conveyed by the servants of God and profit thereby.