I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

Why do the scriptures say on one occasion that Jesus could do no mighty work in a city because there was no faith? Also, why did he frequently say to those who were healed, “Thy faith hath made thee whole”? Didn’t Jesus have power over all things?

Dr. Robert J. Matthews, associate professor of ancient scripture, Brigham Young University: The incident referred to in the first part of the question is recorded in Mark 6:1–6. Jesus does have power over all things, and men and women can receive some of the blessings of that power by the exercise of their own faith and preparedness. It is a principle of readiness.

We have been told of a basic law that governs our relationship with our Heavenly Father in obtaining those things that lead to salvation and exaltation. He sends the rain upon the just and the unjust, without any effort on their part, but if men want to progress toward righteousness, they must work at it. Jesus said that man must ask, seek, and knock. (See Matt. 7:7.) That is, man must prepare himself by inquiry and by actively seeking communion with the Lord.

It isn’t so much that Jesus could not perform a miracle as that the laws governing such things would not permit it. The Lord has revealed that all blessings are predicated upon obedience to law. (See D&C 130:20–21.) If Jesus had performed mighty works in the absence of faith, he would have been as a magician rather than a savior of souls, and those so ministered unto would have been impeded rather than advanced in their salvation. Faith is not a mere abstraction; it is a principle of moving action and power. (See Lectures on Faith, Lecture First, esp. para. 13.)

Faith must always precede the miracle. The Lord works with men according to their faith. (See Moro. 10:7.) Nephi observed that the Liahona worked only “according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto [it].” (1 Ne. 16:28.) And to the Church in this dispensation the Lord has said, “Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God. Yea, signs come by faith, unto mighty works, for without faith no man pleaseth God. …” (D&C 63:10–11.)

In some cases miraculous healings have occurred, apparently due to the faith of someone other than the direct recipient. This is seen in the faith of parents, relative to the healing of an infant. There are also instances of animals being healed after the administration of the elders—for example, the healing of two sick oxen in response to the faith of Sister Mary Fielding Smith while crossing the plains. (See Joseph Fielding Smith, The Life of Joseph F. Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1938, p. 150.)

Jesus calmed the storm, turned water into wine, multiplied food, and told Peter of a coin in a fish’s mouth, all of which is attributable to the Lord’s power, but seemingly without active faith being exercised by the objects that were acted upon.

But with men it is different. Principles of spiritual growth dictate that free intelligent men must do all that they can themselves, and that the Lord does not do for them what they can do for themselves. It is on this basis that Jesus is our Savior through his atonement for all mankind. What he did does not preclude any man from doing all that he can do for himself. This principle is also operative in the salvation of both the living and the dead. Only those things can be done (by others) for any man that he cannot do for himself. Perhaps that is why Jesus said, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Mark 5:34.) This was said of the woman who was healed when she touched Jesus’ garment. Many touched his garment at the same moment, but she received the blessing. Her active participation in developing and exercising faith placed her in a position to receive the greater power and blessing of the Lord. An extended explanation of this subject is also given by Moroni as recorded in chapter 12 of Ether. [Ether 12]

What do we know of Jesus’ use of the Hebrew scriptures?

Dr. Ellis T. Rasmussen, assistant dean, College of Religious Instruction, Brigham Young University: Jesus not only used the scriptures frequently himself, but he also recommended that others use them; indeed, he chastized those who should have been able to use them and apparently did not.

In almost any Bible handbook, or in the appendix to some Bibles, one may find tabulated the prophecies from the Old Testament concerning the Messiah that Jesus fulfilled. There are over 30 aspects of his life, from his birth to his resurrection and ascension, tabulated in such lists, citing more than 50 different passages of the Old Testament. The quotations are found in more than 70 different passages of the New Testament. Too much space would be required to cite them all here; but anyone interested can watch for them as he reads the New Testament, even if he does not have a tabulation of them.

Jesus quoted prophecies about the Messiah and indicated ways in which he was fulfilling them. The writers of the New Testament added others to those that Jesus himself quoted.

Jesus cited principles taught by the holy scriptures that he considered still to be valid. These concern such matters as love of God, love of neighbor, observance of the Ten Commandments, regard for the temple, etc.

Some readers of the New Testament, when they read of his disparagement of traditional interpretations of the law, or of his criticism of the additions to the law in the traditions of the elders, mistakenly think that Jesus was disparaging the Old Testament. It is not true. Jesus said, for instance, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.” (Matt. 5:43.) He was quoting what was traditionally said, not citing a statement actually written in the law.

He did indeed, at times, defy certain applications of the law. He believed it was righteous to do good works, for instance, on the Sabbath day. He did not hesitate to associate with the poor, the sinful, the needy, or the sick, some of whom, others felt, he should not have touched or associated with.

Jesus authenticated the teachings of the prophets as being inspired and often authenticated doctrines that he taught by reference to the holy scriptures.

All of this is, of course, not surprising, in view of the fact that Jesus said of his mission, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (3 Ne. 12:17; Matt. 5:17.) We who believe that all the prophets since the world began have spoken concerning the coming of the Messiah and the atonement find it consistent that Jesus would have high regard for the prophetic truths in the law, the prophets, and the writings. (See Mosiah 13:33; Jacob 7:11.)

Why didn’t the Jews accept Jesus as the Lord God when he came? Was it partly because that was the plan, because the Holy Ghost was not witnessing to the truthfulness of things, or because of their state of mind?

Robert C. Patch, Professor of Ancient Scripture, Brigham Young University: Initially, it should be remembered that some Jewish people did receive Jesus as the Messiah.

A good indication of the acceptance of Jesus is given in the Gospel of John and in the Acts of the Apostles. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, word of the miracle spread quickly throughout Jerusalem. Multitudes of people called, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” at the time of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city. (See John 11:45; John 12:11–13; Matt. 21.) Nevertheless, a week later, only a few Christians stood around the cross or talked with the apostles, and among them there was misunderstanding. (See Luke 24:21, 27; John 20:9.)

Shortly before Pentecost, about seven weeks after Easter, the apostle Peter spoke to the church members about filling the vacancy caused by the death of Judas. Acts records that Peter addressed 120 disciples. (See Acts 1:15.)

The popularity shift from the throngs at the triumphal entry to the single, small congregation just before Pentecost reflects the common opinion about the expected Messiah. It was assumed that the Messiah would restore the glory of the Davidic Monarchy with great power. (See Isa. 9:6, 7; Acts 1:6; Matt. 24:3.) One who could feed multitudes and perform miracles could attract a following (see John 6:14, 15, 26), but one who could be crucified by the Romans lost popular following.

Almost 25 years after Christ’s resurrection, when writing the Epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul cautioned those Gentile Christians against disparaging the Jews. He answered our same question for the saints of his own day. Paul gave five reasons why the Jews had not obtained the blessings of the “law of righteousness”:

1. The Jews had sought the “law of righteousness,” but they had not done it by faith. Instead, they looked to the works of the law and stumbled at the “stumblingstone.” (See Rom. 9:32–33.)

2. The Jews, ignorant of God’s righteousness, “have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” Instead, they tried to establish their own righteousness. They had a zeal toward God that was not based upon knowledge. (See Rom. 10:2–3.)

3. Paul referred to Isaiah 28:16 [Isa. 28:16]: “… Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” He then asked the Jews, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?” (Rom. 10:11, 14.)

4. After referring to Isaiah 52:7 [Isa. 52:7] about those who “preach the gospel of peace,” Paul lamented that the Jews “have not all obeyed the gospel.” (See Rom. 10:15–16.)

5. Word of the gospel was sent to both Jews and Greeks. Moses prophesied that God would provoke Israel to jealousy by a Gentile people. Gentiles received the Holy Ghost and accepted the gospel, but Paul, together with Isaiah, accusingly said, “All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” (Rom. 10:21.)

Paul explained that his own countrymen had neither the knowledge nor the faith to obtain the “law of righteousness”; instead, they were disobedient and contrary.

On the other hand, Paul observed that because the Jews had stumbled, the gospel went to the Gentiles. (See Rom. 11:11.) He observed that “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” (Rom. 11:25.) Finally, he observed that after God had grafted them back into the parent tree, “all Israel shall be saved.” (Rom. 11:23, 26.)

It was apparent to Samuel that the Israelite people desired an earthly king so they might appear more like the other nations among whom they lived. (See 1 Sam. 8:5.) This temptation to measure, to conform, or to build the kingdom of heaven according to the accepted norms of secular traditions or societies is the source of much apostasy.

Does the scriptural term gospel have the same meaning for us today as it did for the early saints?

Dr. Noel B. Reynolds, assistant professor of philosophy, Brigham Young University: The term gospel has retained a remarkable etymological purity as it has been translated over the centuries by Christians, first from Hebrew to Greek, then to Latin, and finally to English. The Old English godspel, the Latin bonus nuntius, the Greek euangélion, and the Hebrew besorah all share the central meanings of “good news,” “glad tidings,” and “joyful message.”

A close examination of the scriptural usage of the term provides strong justification for these translations. As the Savior very carefully explained to the Nephites, the gospel is a specific message given to men in their fallen condition, a message that witnesses to them that through the atonement of Jesus Christ they can be saved in the kingdom of God if they will (1) have faith in Jesus Christ, (2) repent of their sins, (3) be baptized for the remission of sins, (4) receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and (5) endure to the end. Of course, as the Savior himself points out in this same passage (3 Ne. 27:13–21), this message might also be considered bad news to those who prefer their proud and wicked ways, because they will be damned. (See 3 Ne. 27:17.)

Very similar statements have been made by Nephi (2 Ne. 31, 32) and by Mark (Mark 1:1–13). Each of these writers chose to present his summary definition of the gospel in the context of the historical account of the Savior’s baptism. These accounts also stress both through precept and his example the same formula for salvation.

It is thus very interesting to compare this very narrow usage, which is typical of the scriptures, with the rather broad range of meanings that the term gospel has acquired over the centuries in the context of Christian religion. For example, scholars use the term gospel to contrast New Testament teachings in general with the law of Moses. Some Protestant sects have referred to their distinctive teachings as “the gospel;” to distinguish these unique elements from Christian thought in general. Another tradition teaches us to refer to any record of the life and teachings of Jesus as a gospel, as, for example, we speak of the four gospels.

Some readers of this statement might wonder if the formula reported here as the gospel is not overly simplified. No mention has been made of temple marriage, missionary work, welfare, home teaching, and so forth, but those questions are anticipated in the excellent instruction formulated by Nephi. He specified that “enduring to the end” requires that we “feast upon the words of Christ,” for they “will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Ne. 32:3.) Certainly, any member of the Church who feasts daily upon the words of Christ will know that if he is to receive eternal life, he should affirmatively respond to the callings that are given to him by the Lord through the properly authorized servants.