Since some passages of scripture apply only to those to whom they were originally given, how can we tell which ones can be likened to all of us and which ones cannot?
The sacred scriptures are a powerful resource provided by the Lord to help us achieve eternal life. Among other things, they help us know that Jesus is the Christ, gain knowledge and attributes necessary for salvation, purify our hearts, and find answers to our important questions. , Gospel Doctrine teacher, Oak Hills Second Ward, Provo Utah Oak Hills Stake.
However, as we search the scriptures, we encounter some passages of dubious relevance to us personally. For example, instructions given to the ancient Apostles may have little or no relevance for individual Church members. Yet their underlying principles may be broadly applicable—binding on all disciples of Christ. How, then, can we discern a given scripture’s intended application? The following guidelines can help us appropriately heed scriptural counsel.
First, we should focus on principles, truths, and virtues that the Lord’s prophets have always emphasized. Righteous principles and saving ordinances have been the same in all dispensations. Faith, repentance, baptism, forgiveness, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end have been taught from the beginning. (See Moses 5:58; Moses 6:51–60; Moses 8:24; Gal. 3:8; Heb. 4:1–2.) Peter identified some attributes we should seek once we’ve gained a knowledge of and faith in Christ and desire to partake of his divine nature: virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, charity, and others. (See 2 Pet. 1:1–7.) John emphasized Jesus’ charge to keep the commandments. (See John 14:21.) Matthew highlighted the importance Jesus placed on the great commandments that comprehend all others—to love the Lord and our neighbor. (See Matt. 22:37–39; Rom. 13:9.) Moroni exhorts us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness.” (Moro. 10:32.)
Second, we must recognize that revelation and certain scriptural injunctions are adapted to the circumstances of a given time. (See Joseph Smith, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984, pp. 420–21.) For example, the revelations to build an ark, leave Ur of the Chaldees, lead Israel from bondage, destroy the Canaanites, or live the Mosaic law are not binding on us. However, we must diligently keep the everlasting covenants and commandments by which perfection is gained in all ages.
It is not likely we will be asked to slay a Goliath, but we may be asked to exercise the kind of faith David had that made that possible; nor to prepare to sacrifice an only son as was Abraham, but rather to be willing to give up things important to us; nor to slay a Laban, but to have the resolve to “go and do the things which the Lord [commands],” as did Nephi. (1 Ne. 3:7.)
Third, we must be aware that the Lord, in his wisdom, sometimes sees fit to change his instructions. For example, the first Apostles were instructed to go without purse or scrip (see Matt. 10:9–10), but were later told, “he that hath a purse, let him take it” (Luke 22:36). In addition, they were first asked to “go not into the way of the Gentiles” (Matt. 10:5), but later received the imperative to “teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19). There are similar examples in our dispensation. (Compare D&C 52:22; D&C 56:4–8.) To avoid misinterpreting the scriptures, we must study them all.
Fourth, we receive a clear signal of how to liken the scriptures to ourselves as we hearken to the teachings of the living prophets.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, “The proper course for all of us is to stay in the mainstream of the Church. This is the Lord’s Church, and it is led by the spirit of inspiration, and the practice of the Church constitutes the interpretation of the scripture.” (Doctrines of the Restoration, ed. Mark L. McConkie, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989, p. 67.)
If we seek the Lord’s inspiration, we can benefit by studying all scripture, for, as the Apostle Paul reminded us, “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, [thoroughly] furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim. 3:16–17.)
In deciding what scriptures pertain to us, we might ask, Will living this principle help me become more Christlike? Or we might apply this threefold test: Is my interpretation in harmony with (1) the teachings of the standard works, (2) the modern prophets, and (3) the witness of the Holy Ghost? If our answers are yes, we can proceed with confidence.
Did worthy people continue to be translated and taken up long after Enoch’s city?
From the Pearl of Great Price and the Joseph Smith Translation of the , professor of ancient scripture, Brigham Young University.Bible, we know that righteous people continued to be translated (taken from earth without tasting of death) after the city of Enoch was taken up. In Moses we read of a vision shown to Enoch of all the nations of the earth after Zion was taken up into heaven. (See Moses 7:23.) He was shown the power of Satan that was upon the earth, with angels descending and warning the inhabitants of the earth (see Moses 7:24–26); and “Enoch beheld angels descending out of heaven, bearing testimony of the Father and Son; and the Holy Ghost fell on many, and they were caught up by the powers of heaven into Zion.” (Moses 7:27).
In the JST, we read of the days of Melchizedek, who “was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch.” In referring to Enoch’s day, it is recorded that this priesthood was after the order of the Son of God and gave men power to control the earth and its elements by the will of God. (JST, Gen. 14:27; see also JST, Gen. 14:28–31.) Through this priesthood, “men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.” (JST, Gen. 14:32.)
Returning to the days of Melchizedek, it is stated that “his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world.” (JST, Gen. 14:34.)
Thus we have two witnesses to the translation of individuals between the days of Enoch and the flood as well as a declaration that the doctrine of translation of righteous men continued even after the flood, in the days of Melchizedek.
Some individuals interpret scriptures to say that the Creation was done in six 24-hour days. Does Abraham’s usage of “time” lead us to understand that the Creation was not confined to six 24-hour days as we know them?
While some readers of the Bible throughout the world regard that the creation of the earth took six 24-hour days, other readers of the Bible refer to Peter’s statement “that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” ( , instructor, Ogden Utah Institute of Religion.2 Pet. 3:8) as evidence that the process of creation may have taken six thousand years.
Latter-day Saints have additional information that allows a third view: that each “day” of the Creation was of unspecified duration, and that the creation of the earth took place during an unknown length of time. In fact, Abraham stresses that time is synonymous with day. For example, Abraham 4:8 [Abr. 4:8] summarizes the second creative period by stating that “this was the second time that they called night and day.” This usage is completely consistent with the ancient Hebrew. The Hebrew word YOM, often translated “day,” can also mean “time” or “period.” In other words, the term translated “day” in Genesis could be appropriately read as “period.”
Also, the term day is used in scripture to indicate the “period wherein the labor of God is performed.” Day in this sense is usually contrasted with the night or darkness wherein the labor is ceased. The Savior used the term in this light when He said, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” (John 9:4; see also John 11:9–10.) The Book of Mormon carried over this ancient usage also. The warning is issued in Alma that “the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. …
“I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.” (Alma 34:32–33.)
The above ideas suggest that each “day” may not even be of the same length:
“There is no revealed recitation specifying that each of the ‘six days’ involved in the Creation was of the same duration.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, June 1982, p. 11.)
What seems clear is that the accounts of the Creation were given to us for reasons other than determining the “how” and the “how long” of creation. A more fruitful approach is to read them with a view to what they tell us concerning God’s work and glory.
What does it mean when the Lord said he would create for Adam “an help meet for him”? (Gen. 2:18.)
The Lord, after creating Adam, saw that he was alone in the garden, and declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” ( , assistant professor of ancient scripture, Brigham Young University. Gen. 2:18.) As indicated in a footnote to Genesis 2:18 in the LDS edition of the Bible (note 18b), the Hebrew term for the phrase “help meet for him” (‘ezer kenegdo) literally means “a helper suited to, worthy of, or corresponding to him.” The King James translators rendered this phrase “help meet”—the word meet in sixteenth-century English meaning “fitting” or “proper.” It might be clearer if there were a comma after “help”—“I will make him an help, meet for him.”
The American Heritage Dictionary further explains: “In the 17th century the two words ‘help’ and ‘meet’ in this passage were mistaken for one word, applying to Eve, and thus ‘helpmeet’ came to mean ‘a wife.’ Then in the 18th century, in a misguided attempt to make sense of the word, the spelling ‘helpmate’ was introduced.” (Second college edition, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982, p. 604.)
Thus the original meaning of the phrase has been obscured. Genesis says God created man; “male and female created he them.” (Gen. 1:27.) President Spencer W. Kimball taught that the term man in the story of the Creation refers to “a complete man, which is husband and wife.” (Ensign, Mar. 1976, p. 71.) The detailed description of the creation of Adam and Eve describes their relationship as “corresponding to each other” and prescribes the ideal of unity between a man and woman. The significance of this phrase “help meet” is that the woman is a creation who is a fitting and proper companion for Adam because she is like him and corresponds to him. This concept is further solidified by the description of the creation of woman as being formed from the rib of Adam—a rib being a metaphor for a person corresponding to Adam. Modern prophets have taught that the creation of woman from the rib of the man is to be taken figuratively. (See Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Mar. 1976, p. 71.) The proper role of the man and woman is clarified in the scriptural injunction that they should leave their parents and “cleave” unto each other, and become “one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24.) The oneness of the man and the woman, as described by these two phrases, refers to more than just the act of procreation. They are to each leave their parents who have cared and provided for them both physically and spiritually; and now, “corresponding to each other,” are to help, care for, and nurture each other.
What do we know about the location of the Garden of Eden?
We must remember that the whole earth was paradisiacal before the Fall. The Garden of Eden was a center place. After the Fall, there was no Garden of Eden or paradisiacal status on earth. Yet relative to the locale of the site of the Garden of Eden, the Prophet Joseph Smith learned through revelation ( , associate professor of Church history, Brigham Young University.D&C 57) that Jackson County was the location of a Zion to be and the New Jerusalem to come. The Prophet first visited Jackson County, Missouri, in the summer of 1831. The Prophet visited Jackson County again in April and May 1832. On one of the occasions, or perhaps both, the Prophet Joseph apparently instructed his close associates, and perhaps even a general Church gathering, that the ancient Garden of Eden was also located in Jackson County.
Brigham Young stated, “Joseph the Prophet told me that the garden of Eden was in Jackson [County] Missouri.” (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, vol. 5, 15 Mar. 1857, Archives Division, Church Historical Dept., Salt Lake City.) Heber C. Kimball said: “From the Lord, Joseph learned that Adam had dwelt on the land of America, and that the Garden of Eden was located where Jackson County now is.” (Andrew Jenson, Historical Record, 9 vols., Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson, 1888, 7:439; see also Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967, p. 219.) Other early leaders have given the same information.
Unfortunately, we do not have primary source documentation for all of Joseph Smith’s revelations or doctrinally related declarations. This is especially true for the periods when he did not have a scribe to keep a record of his daily activities. His 1831 and 1832 trips to Missouri fit into this category.
One of the early Latter-day Saint residents of Jackson County was Emily Austin. Remembering her first year there, she reminisced, “Our homes in this new country presented a prosperous appearance—almost equal to Paradise itself—and our peace and happiness, we flattered ourselves, were not in a great degree deficient to that of our first parents in the garden of Eden.” (Mormonism; or, Life among the Mormons, New York:AMS Press, 1971, p. 67.) She was reflecting a commonly held belief among the Saints that Eden was in Jackson County.
It wasn’t until May 1838 that revelation (D&C 116) identified Adam-ondi-Ahman, a site near the Garden of Eden, to be in Daviess County, Missouri, some seventy miles from present-day Kansas City. (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., New York City: Macmillan, 1992, 1:19–20.) Other revelations referring to Adam-ondi-Ahman were D&C 78:15–16 and D&C 107:53–57.
President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “In accord with the revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, we teach that the Garden of Eden was on the American continent located where the City of Zion, or the New Jerusalem, will be built. When Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, they eventually dwelt at a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman, situated in what is now Daviess County, Missouri. … We are committed to the fact that Adam dwelt on [the] American continent.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., comp. Bruce R. McConkie, Salt Lake City:Bookcraft, 1956, 3:74. Compare Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–75, 2:93–95, 4:19–24; and Alvin R. Dyer, in Conference Report, Oct. 1968, pp. 108–9.)