I Have a Question

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

    What do we know about how the apostles fulfilled the missionary charge of the resurrected Jesus to preach to all nations (Matt. 28:18–20)?

    C. Wilfred Griggs, assistant professor of ancient scripture, Brigham Young University We must first note how selective and incomplete the New Testament writings are. The gospels do not, for instance, contain all the teachings and deeds of the Savior (John says, in John 21:25, that there are so many things which Jesus did that the world could not contain a full record of them), and in that sense the gospels are not really biographies of him. The authors simply relate those events and principles that best illustrate or support the testimonies they are presenting.

    In the case of the apostolic ministry following Jesus’ ascension, we are greatly indebted to Luke for his record, the Acts of the Apostles. Yet the title is somewhat misleading, for the book of Acts is not a record of all the activities of all the apostles. Acts 1–12 is essentially a report of some of the activities of Peter and John centering around the Jerusalem church, while Acts 13–28 is a general description of Paul’s experiences from the time of his conversion until his two-year imprisonment in Rome. The incompleteness of this record becomes vividly clear to anyone who attempts to place in historical sequence and context Paul’s letters to some of the churches and people of his missionary travels.

    Without the assistance of a “book of Acts” for the other apostles, students of the Bible are simply unable to provide a meaningful context in which to place the letters of James, Peter, John, and Jude. We can only guess when they were written and, as in the case of John’s epistles, to whom they were written. There are also epistles mentioned or alluded to in the New Testament of which no trace remains. Note, for example, Paul’s mention of a previous letter to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 5:9, his reference in Col. 4:16 to a letter written to Laodicea, and his allusion to an earlier letter to the Ephesians in Eph. 3:3. On the basis of these missing letters, who would doubt that there are many other writings and epistles of or about the apostles that simply have not survived to our own time?

    There are, in fact, many evidences from archaeological findings, including many purportedly Christian libraries, which testify of a much more widespread Christianity than was previously believed possible in New Testament times. As these evidences become more widely known and critically evaluated, we may better be able to see how the apostles fulfilled their missionary charge.

    One should also note that the charge given to the apostles by the Lord was really composed of two parts. In Matt. 28:19 the word translated teach would be more correctly translated make disciples or preach among all nations. This part of the charge has to do with laying a foundation of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, including faith, repentance, and baptism of water and of the Spirit. The second part of the charge is noted in verse 20 [Matt. 28:20], where the word teaching specifically refers to the further knowledge of the gospel that the apostles imparted to those whom they baptized. The dual nature of this charge is reflected in the missionary program of the restored Church. Missionaries explain the basic principles of the gospel in a few brief discussions, after which an individual is baptized. The new convert is then given a lifelong challenge to grow in knowledge and understanding of the doctrines and principles pertaining to exaltation.

    I would like to leave some money to the Church in my will, but I’m not sure if such bequests are desired and how I would go about doing it.

    Isaac M. Stewart, businessman and attorney and retiring president of the Tabernacle Choir The editors of the Ensign have asked me to respond to this very good question, not because I am the spokesman for the Church on this matter, but because I was referred to them by the First Presidency when this question arose. We probably were referred because of the action taken by our family concerning this matter.

    First, as an attorney, let me say that leaving money to the Church in one’s will is a relatively easy procedure, and no one should be discouraged by thinking that the procedure is difficult or expensive or filled with red tape.

    Second, from my conversations over the years with the presidents of the Church, beginning with President Heber J. Grant, and others of the Brethren, and as a result of my 13-year association with the Tabernacle Choir and through other associations, I can honestly assure anyone that the Church would gratefully accept such bequests. We certainly can put this in perspective when we think about the expanding worldwide Church, the construction of chapels, temples, and schools, the almost overwhelming need for the Church scriptures to be published in many new languages by the hundreds of thousands (even millions) of volumes, and for the great need for missionary assistance to many of our wonderful Saints who come from economic circumstances not as favorable as others. Anyone who thinks for only a few minutes about what the Church is doing around the world for mankind will soon see how much the Church would gratefully appreciate receiving such bequests if the bestowers willingly wished to share their blessings with the Lord and “walk the extra mile.”

    In this spirit, some time ago, my wife and I felt that inasmuch as all of our temporal blessings and spiritual blessings were bestowed upon us by our Father in heaven, our obligation and privilege to continue the contribution of our efforts—as represented by our temporal means—should not end when we were called to return beyond the veil. It was felt that this could best be done by providing in our wills that a percentage “off the top of our assets” should be left to the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    So, being a close-knit family, and typical of hundreds of thousands of other Latter-day Saint families, it was decided to have this provision written in our Last Will and Testament. But we wanted our children to know why we were doing it and to receive their reaction. We received an exhilarating and spiritual response. Each of the children expressed not only his approval, but joy that we were making that provision. We explained that should the amount be 10 percent or 33 percent or 50 percent, it most certainly would not be in lieu of any unpaid tithing, and that this did not relieve them of their payment of tithing on their “interest” received under the provisions of the will. The family members expressed themselves as not only being enthusiastic about this action, but they told us they were going to go and do likewise.

    In terms of specifics, for Church members in the United States who desire to make this provision in their will, it can be done by an holographic codicil (an addition or amendment to your present will), written and signed, and dated by hand, on a plain piece of white paper. It can also be accomplished, of course, as part of your Last Will and Testament. I am sure that a lawyer, perhaps a member of the Church, would be happy to advise you on this particular point of law. Of course, different countries and states have different requirements, and therefore, a lawyer should be consulted.

    It would seem to me that these things could be discussed at a special home evening, which would make the occasion more spiritual and uplifting.

    To me, the whole concept is joyful. To be able to continue to assist the Lord in sustaining missionary work, building meetinghouses and temples, and contributing to other righteous expenditures of his kingdom—concurrently with our own labors on this and the other side of the veil—would be an eternal privilege.

    As I have thought about our earthly and temporal blessings, in a sense, all unequally distributed and unequally earned in terms of one’s personal worthiness before the Lord, I have realized that everything we have is of the Lord. The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. We are his agents and stewards over a portion of its resources. Thus, it matters not whether one is of moderate means or whether one is blessed with great wealth, or whether one is limited to the “widow’s mite,” it does seem to me to be part of the entire covenant of giving of our time, our talents, and our means to the work of the Lord to contemplate personal and unsolicited bequests such as we have discussed.

    As I understand it, we are expected to engage in many good causes and expected to do many things of our own free will, and this brings to pass much righteousness. Thus, the Lord says that we do have the power in us, wherein we are agents unto ourselves, to do many things to bless others and the Lord’s great and truly magnificent latter-day work. (See D&C 58:25–33.)

    What do we know concerning why the gospel authors wrote their accounts of Jesus—especially if they knew the Church would soon become apostate?

    S. Kent Brown, assistant professor of ancient scripture, Brigham Young University The four gospels have been described as passion narratives with long biographical introductions. In a sense, this caricature oversimplifies the nature of the gospels, but it does point up the essential fact that their central message was the death and resurrection of Jesus. This key message underscores their purpose.

    Among the early Christian writings that still exist are a number of so-called gospels whose messages are quite different from those of the gospels in the New Testament. Whereas the four gospels focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus, these other apocryphal writings feature Jesus either as a great miracle worker or as a teacher of hidden wisdom, the interpretation of which will give one eternal life.

    From investigations of the entire body of gospel literature, there exists substantial reason to believe that very soon after Jesus’ death various attempts were made to collect in writing not only stories of the miracles worked by Jesus but also the words that he spoke. We can see one kind of result of this collecting effort in the apocryphal stories about Jesus.

    In the four gospels, on the one hand, we possess accounts of Jesus’ miracles and instructions that were intended to edify both disciples and others. But unlike the apocryphal stories, they fit the pattern that the gospel writers sketched: the importance of Jesus’ words and deeds are to be understood in terms of his death and resurrection. (See, for example, John 12:16 and John 13:7.)

    The apocryphal gospels, on the other hand, do not focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus as being the key to salvation. Rather, they view either Jesus’ miraculous power or his allegedly veiled teachings as being the basis for salvation. My own conclusion is that this tendency to see Jesus almost exclusively as a worker of powerful deeds or as an instructor in mysterious teachings had already arisen by the time the gospel writers set about narrating Jesus’ ministry. In other words, Christians had already begun to misunderstand that Jesus’ mission was to effect an atonement through his suffering, death, and resurrection. Thus, part of the motive of the gospel writers was to set the record straight. For them, Jesus was not merely a great worker of miracles or merely a great teacher. There was more to the picture. They were already attempting to correct false notions about Jesus that were growing up in the early church.

    With this in mind we can ask a slightly different question: Why did the gospel authors seek to provide a correct picture of Jesus if they knew that within a few decades the church would be apostate anyway? Why should they be concerned to set the record straight? I feel that we can describe the gospels as “brink documents” written at the edge of the period of apostasy. This seems especially true in the case of John’s gospel, which was possibly composed near the end of the first century A.D. Since the gospel writers knew the prophecies that the church would soon become apostate, my own conclusion is that only in a limited sense did the gospel authors write for the people of their day. Their records then stood as testimonies of the true mission of Jesus for those who sought to know the real nature of Jesus and his mission. Since that knowledge has become available more particularly in this, the last dispensation, I would hazard the suggestion that the gospel writers were writing partly for our own day.