I Have a Question

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

    I Have a Question

    Why aren’t we doing missionary work in all the countries on the earth, inasmuch as the Lord has indicated that we should take the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people?

    Daniel H. Ludlow, Gospel Doctrine teacher in the Provo Pleasant View Fifth Ward. There are various reasons why we are not doing formal missionary work in some countries. A review of the principles related to this subject can be found in a few of our Articles of Faith.

    “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” (A of F 1:12.)

    Some countries have laws forbidding a person to try to persuade another person to change religious beliefs, with penalties for both people. Through legal and political means, Church leaders are attempting to influence the leaders of these countries to change their laws, but unless the Church is given legal recognition to do active proselyting in a country, no formal missions are established.

    The Church has obtained the right in some of these countries to allow Church members residing there to meet together, as long as they do not attempt to involve or convert others.

    Important principles related to missionary work are also found in the fifth article of faith: “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.”

    The kingdom of God on earth is a house of order, and missionaries or representatives of the kingdom are called and sent by God through his authorized leaders. It is indeed true that the Lord has stated that the gospel will be preached to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people before the Second Coming. However, the Lord has also stated many times in the scriptures that his work will be done in his own time and in his own way. Also, the Lord has instructed us not to seek to counsel him.

    Therefore, as President Spencer W. Kimball indicated, we should prepare ourselves to take the gospel wherever the Lord might direct, and we should also pray that God will touch the hearts of the leaders of the nations so that they will allow missionary work. But the exact time when missionaries will be sent to a particular country will be determined by the Lord and revealed through his leaders.

    Note the extent of preparation suggested by President Kimball: “When we have increased the missionaries from the organized areas of the Church to a number close to their potential, that is, every able and worthy boy in the Church on a mission; when every stake and mission abroad is furnishing enough missionaries for that country; when we have used our qualified men to help the apostles to open these new fields of labor; when we have used the satellite and related discoveries to their greatest potential and all of the media—the papers, magazines, television, radio—all in their greatest power; when we have organized numerous other stakes which will be springboards; when we have recovered from inactivity the numerous young men who are now unordained and unmissioned and unmarried; then, and not until then, shall we approach the insistence of our Lord and Master to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Edward L. Kimball, ed., The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 585.)

    In the years since President Spencer W. Kimball made this significant and prophetic statement, we have seen the ways in which the Lord is extending his work as we become prepared to assist him. Eventually the gospel will be taken to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In the meantime, we should give our very best efforts, both as individuals and as a church, to those responsibilities to which we have already been assigned. As we learn to give all our heart, might, mind, and strength to our present assignments, we will be prepared to assist the Lord in furthering his work in other areas.

    At the 160th semiannual general conference of the Church on 6 October 1990, President Gordon B. Hinckley quoted President Ezra Taft Benson:

    “With all my soul I testify that this work will go forward till every land and people have had opportunity to accept our message. Barriers will come down for us to accomplish this mission, and some of us will see this done. Our Heavenly Father will cause conditions in the world to change so that His gospel can penetrate every border. … We must prove, every day of our lives, that we are willing to do the will of the Lord—to spread the restored gospel, to bear testimony to the world, to share the gospel with others.” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 174.)

    In conclusion, the Prophet Joseph Smith stated:

    “The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.” (History of the Church, 4:540.)

    The ending of the book of Philemon in the King James Version seems to indicate that “Onesimus, a servant” wrote the book. But verse nineteen claims that Paul is the writer. Which is correct?

    Max H Parkin, instructor at the Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah. The problem in the subscription at the end of Philemon is caused by the translation of the Greek word dia—rendered as “by” in English—which suggests that Onesimus may have composed the letter. Actually, in the context of this Greek passage and in its genitive case, dia means “through” or “by means of” Onesimus. 1 Hence, the subscription in Greek does not state that Onesimus composed the letter (which would contradict verse nineteen), but that the letter was written by means of or through Onesimus—as Paul’s amanuensis (a secretary or copyist to whom he may have dictated the letter) or at least as his messenger who delivered it.

    This subscription, as well as those after Paul’s other letters, was not a part of the letter when it was first drafted, but was an addition supplied by a later copyist. In fact, the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament did not originally bear their present titles, chapter divisions, and headings. To understand why current editions of the New Testament appear as they do, we need to understand how the New Testament text was written, transmitted, and translated.

    Writing, Transmitting, and Canonizing the New Testament. Each of the Gospels, the letters of Paul, and the other parts of the New Testament were written separately, generally during the second half of the first century A.D., by well-known Church authorities who usually did not sign their manuscripts.

    The Church leaders who wrote the books, and others who copied and preserved them, used writing forms and materials common in their day. The texts were written in the Koiné, or common Greek language, on papyrus sheets, which were pasted together into strips and rolled up for storage. A typical large roll or scroll accommodated only a single text the size of one of the Gospels or the book of Acts.

    The fragile nature of papyrus rolls increased the need for periodic copying to preserve the text. Near the end of the second century, Christian scribes utilized a new book-type record. At first made of papyrus, this invention was soon constructed of more durable parchment sheets, folded in the middle, stacked, and stitched together at the folded edge. This leaf-style book, called a codex, allowed the collection of several of the larger books of the New Testament.

    Such a volume prompted scribes to add titles and other literary aids to help identify the works therein and to facilitate their reading. In the earliest codices, for example, the four Gospels were bound together and collectively named “the Gospel.” The four parts were then simply titled “according to Matthew,” “according to Mark,” and so on. Likewise, in a later collection of Paul’s writings, scribes created titles for his letters, such as “to Romans.” They also added subscriptions to Paul’s letters—many of which reflect traditions that were popular in their day.

    Editorial elaborations followed. Scribes or their patrons enriched the titles, presumably to glorify the lives of the Apostolic authors.

    Even the title “New Testament” was a scribal addition—one created to identify the whole textual collection. Tertullian, a Christian Latin scholar at Carthage who died about A.D. 222, was the first to use the phrase “New Testament,” taken from the Latin Novum Testamentum, which means “testament” or “will,” rather than using the Latin equivalent for the more-precise Greek word for “covenant,” which the Apostles used. 2

    By the middle of the fourth century, all twenty-seven books of the New Testament had been published (along with other Christian writings) in a single Greek codex. Separately or in groups, the books of the New Testament had been accepted as scripture for centuries, but councils at Hippo (in A.D. 393) and at Carthage (in A.D. 397) codified for the first time the twenty-seven books that became the New Testament canon.

    Developing the King James Version. Today, more than five thousand Greek manuscripts help to authenticate the New Testament. These manuscripts include early fragments dating from the second century, and other manuscripts dating from as late as the fifteenth. 3 These New Testament documents are usually classified into four groups, or textual “families.” Those of the Byzantine group form the textual basis for the King James Version. This group consists of an array of parchments copied mainly during the tenth through twelfth centuries that contain many editorial aids, including the subscriptions associated with Paul’s letters.

    Antecedent to the King James Version, fifteen manuscripts of the Byzantine group were integrated into a Greek New Testament by a French scholar, Robert Estienne, or Stephanus.

    Stephanus’s third (1550) edition became the standard Greek text scholars in England used. This edition and later ones based on it were popularized as the “text received” by the people—hence the name Textus Receptus. Then, using the works of Stephanus, the Reformation scholar Theodore Beza published several editions of his own. Beza’s fourth (1598) edition was the Greek text the translators of the 1611 King James Version used as a basis for their translation. 4

    The scholars who translated the King James Version avoided the use of many of the earlier scribal enrichments (such as marginal notes) that had been perpetuated in the Textus Receptus, but they preserved the subscriptions. These scholars also incorporated the chapter divisions created by a thirteenth-century clergyman, Stephen Langton, and verse divisions provided by Stephanus, as we have them in our current Bible.

    The Origin of the Subscriptions. The subscriptions in the Byzantine manuscripts—contained in the Textus Receptus and carried into the King James Version—can be traced to their possible creation in the fourth century. Some mid-fourth-century Greek manuscripts of Paul’s epistles contain a compilation of textual notes—the works of a Christian scribe known as Euthalius (or Evagrius). It was Euthalius who composed many editorial aids to the manuscripts during that century and who possibly added “the subscriptions attached to the Pauline Epistles and retained in the King James Version,” says Bruce M. Metzger, a Greek palaeographer at Princeton Theological Seminary and an accomplished New Testament textual specialist.

    Metzger believes that the subscriptions at the end of six of Paul’s letters—which he attributes to Euthalius—are either false or implausible when judged against the letters’ content. 5 But Metzger does not cast the same doubt upon the one at the end of Philemon and the other six. (The subscriptions are all retained in the 1979 LDS edition of the Bible, to preserve the heritage of the King James Version.)

    In his letter to Philemon, Paul, who wrote from Rome, informed Philemon, a Church leader of Collosae in Asia Minor, about one Onesimus, a runaway slave, whom Paul had converted to Christianity in Rome and whom he was returning to his master, Philemon.

    Most scholars agree that Paul wrote at least part of the letter, pointing principally to the statement in verse 19—“I Paul have written it with mine own hand”—which refers specifically to the promissory note in the previous verse, if not to the entire letter. 6 Onesimus may have been a secretary to whom Paul dictated the letter. Since Paul composed the letter to Philemon at the same time that he produced one for the Colossians, Paul dispatched the two letters together, with Onesimus and Tychicus as messengers. (See Col. 4:7–9.) Hence, at the end of the letter, the added subscription reads: “Written from Rome to Philemon, by [means of] Onesimus, a servant.”


  •   1.

    William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, trans., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 179.

  •   2.

    James C. Turro and Raymond E. Brown, “Canonicity,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, and Roland E. Murphy, 2 vols. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:530; and Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1961), p. 123.

  •   3.

    Bruce M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1981), p. 54.

  •   4.

    Frederic Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, rev. ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), p. 161; and F. F. Bruce, History of the Bible (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978), p. 127.

  •   5.

    Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible, pp. 40, 42. See also William F. Orr and James Arthur Walther, I Corinthians, Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1976), p. 366.

  •   6.

    For the two views on whether Paul wrote all or part of the letter, see George Arthur Buttrick, et al., The Interpreter’s Bible, 12 vols., (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 11:571; and Henry Alford, Alford’s Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Guardian Press, 1976), 3:434.