I Have a Question


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

I’m confused about the meaning of three words in D&C 88:78: “… that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel.” My dictionary defines theory as synonymous with doctrine, defines doctrine as principle, and principle as an antonym for theory. Help!

Robert J. Woodford, high councilor, Salt Lake Winder West Stake The portion of section 88 that contains this verse is addressed to a small number of priesthood brethren known as “the first laborers in this last kingdom.” (D&C 88:74.) Among this group were the leaders of the Church and some of the missionaries called by revelation at the conference held 25 January 1832 at Amherst, Ohio (see D&C 75), who had since returned from their missions. Many of these “first laborers” had only the barest rudiments of an education and must have felt limited in their effectiveness among people who had superior academic training.

It would also appear that these men had a need to learn more concerning the gospel and to put into practice the things they knew to be true. In this revelation the Lord was making provision for these men to improve themselves before he sent them out again on missions. (D&C 88:80.) Their preparation included sanctifying themselves from all sin (D&C 88:68–69, 74–76) and engaging in an intensified study of theology and the several branches of secular learning (D&C 88:77–79).

In verse 78 [D&C 88:78], instruction is given concerning the study of theology, and a literary device known as synonymia is used so that the reader will be touched with the importance of the message, which is to learn“… all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand.” Synonymia, repetition of words that are different in sound and origin but similar in meaning, is used for the purpose of emphasizing and enhancing. The idea is to look at the subject again and again in order to impress the meaning on the mind of the reader. In this case the subject is to learn all that is possible about the kingdom of God, and so the words theory, principle, doctrine, and law of the gospel are used for emphasis.

Knowing the context in which these words are used aids in deciding which of the several dictionary definitions that are offered for each is intended. Also, since almost a century and a half have lapsed since this revelation was written, the 1828 edition of Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language may better give the meanings intended:

Theory—An exposition of the general principles of any science; as the theory of music.

Principle—A general truth; a law comprehending many subordinate truths; as the principles of morality, of law, of government, etc.

Doctrine—The truths of the gospel in general. Instruction and confirmation in the truths of the gospel.

Law (of the gospel)—The word of God; the doctrines and precepts of God, or his revealed will.

In addition to the matters already discussed, these words appear to be strategically placed within the sentence so that each builds on the other, from general principles to the truths of the gospel, and from these truths to the word of God.

Within a month of the reception of this revelation, the School of the Prophets was established, and these men did receive the instruction recommended here. For the most part, those brethren who already had some education were their teachers: Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, William E. McLellin, and Orson Hyde. But the principle of studying all aspects of the gospel “that are expedient for you to understand” still holds true today.

[illustration] Joseph Smith teaching at the School of the Prophets. Painting by John Falter.

How do we explain the Church’s stand on pornography when nonmembers point to Paul’s statement that “there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (Rom. 14:14)?

C. Gary Bennett, member of the Melchizedek Priesthood writing committee and a college curriculum writer for the Church Education System First of all we should note that Paul’s statement is referring to Mosaic law restrictions concerning clean and unclean meats. (See Rom. 14:15.) In Ephesians 5:5 [Eph. 5:5] the apostle writes that the unclean person has no inheritance in the kingdom of God.

One of the great responsibilities of the Lord’s church is to promote and champion the eternal laws of God, all of which are given for the benefit of man. (See 2 Ne. 26:24.) As stated in the Thirteenth Article of Faith, “We believe in being … chaste … [and] virtuous.” [A of F 1:13]

Pornography by definition is the display of that which is obscene and licentious. The Lord and his servants have always abhorred and commanded against such things. Those who would condone these matters by a misapplication of scripture are indeed wresting the scriptures to their own destruction. (See 2 Pet. 3:16.) It was the Master himself who declared, in his Sermon on the Mount, that he who looks on a woman “to lust after her hath committed adultery … in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28.) In our dispensation he reiterated this command and added that those who do so “shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith and shall fear.” (D&C 63:16.) President Kimball adds his witness:

“We hope that our parents and leaders will not tolerate pornography. It is really garbage, but today is peddled as normal and satisfactory food. Many writers seem to take delight in polluting the atmosphere with it. Seemingly, it cannot be stopped by legislation. There is a link between pornography and the low, sexual drives and perversions. …

“It is ridiculous to imply that pornography has no effect. There is a definite relationship to crime. Murder, robbery, rape, prostitution, and commercialized vice are fed on this immorality. Sex statistics seem to reflect a relationship between crime and pornography. …

“… We live in a permissive world, but we must make certain we do not become a part of that permissive world, that degenerate world.” (Conference address, Ensign, Nov. 1974, p. 7.)

Is it true that each of us contracted with someone during our premortal lives to find and marry that person here?

Steve F. Gilliland, director, institute of religion, Cambridge, Massachusetts As I understand it, we do not know the answer to this question. It is a question that has often been raised by Latter-day Saints, particularly as we contemplate the nature of our premortal experience. The issue captures our fancy, and as a consequence, we have found this idea popularized through romantic novels, plays, and movies written by Latter-day Saints. Thus, because members of the Church have raised the issue, the leaders of the Church have occasionally made some observations on the subject. Let me identify some of the observations that I am aware of, observations that give some orientation that I have found to be helpful.

First, we know from the writings of the prophets that many of us made covenants with the Lord prior to mortality. (See History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6:364; Alma 13:3–9.) How general or how specific these were, I do not know. I have heard of occasional Latter-day Saints whose patriarchal blessings have stated that they made premortal covenants with their spouses.

However, concerning a universal application or general principle, the First Presidency in 1971 stated that “we have no revealed word to the effect that when we were in the preexistent state we chose our parents and our husbands and wives.” (Letter to Joe J. Christensen, Associate Commissioner for Seminaries and Institutes, June 14, 1971.)

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, in 1931, wrote on this issue: “It is possible that in some instances it is true, but it would require too great a stretch of the imagination to believe it to be so in all, or even in the majority of cases.” (The Way to Perfection, Genealogical Society, p. 44.)

Concerning one of these specific cases some members of the Church like to quote an article by Elder John Taylor in 1857, in which he suggests that, at least in one case, he felt that a premortal agreement had been made. (See “The Mormon,” August 29, 1857.)

But the answer we have been given by the Brethren is that “we have no revealed word” on this matter. And in this and many similar matters Church leaders have counseled us to avoid teaching doctrines that are not clearly defined in the scriptures or by current prophets. (Elder Harold B. Lee, address to seminary and institute personnel, July 8, 1966, pp. 6–7.) This is good advice, even for members who feel that they have had personal revelation on this subject.

Realizing that we do not have a universal, revealed answer on this question, I think it could be helpful to examine some of the problems people may get themselves into when they build on the idea of premortal marriage commitments.

This idea seems to assume that prior to mortality we knew everyone we would meet on earth well enough to make that kind of decision. Some of us made promises as childhood sweethearts that in maturity were wisely never kept. The same may be true for premortal sweethearts, if there are such. One young lady, when informed by a returned missionary that she made a premortal covenant to marry him, replied, “Even if I made that mistake there, I am not going to make it here.” Since we should be making spiritual progress here, and since covenants only have eternal validity if sealed by the Spirit (D&C 132:7), perhaps some of us can make better marriage choices in mortality. Another young lady I know received two proposals in the same week. Each suitor told her that he had a revelation that she had promised in heaven to marry him. She informed each that he had no priesthood stewardship over her and that he must wait until she received her own spiritual confirmation. Thus far it looks as though she will marry neither person.

A general belief in this idea may cause some problems for those seeking a future companion. It tends to emphasize premortal preparation for marriage. The challenge we face in mortal preparation is to develop qualities of spirit and personality that enhance meaningful relationships. I have seen many young adults who totally immerse themselves in academic and other pursuits and seldom date or seek other kinds of social experiences that may be challenging and developing. They justify this by saying, “When the right one comes along, I will know and I will marry him/her.” They neglect the wise counsel that young adults should be involved in dating and other activities together. This is not just for the purpose of finding a mate, but also to develop qualities such as the capacity to listen and respond, the ability to handle conflicts, the skill of helping others, a greater understanding of the opposite sex, etc. These essential qualities are not developed by one who seeks only selfish pursuits while waiting for the “one and only” to arrive on the scene. While developing these capacities and living in tune with the Spirit, one will come in contact with many potential eternal companions.

A belief in this concept may even tempt one to rationalize inappropriate sexual experiences prior to marriage. “This is my one and only. This is a special situation. We will be married anyway.” Immorality usually leads to a disintegration of the relationship. (See “The Psychological Case for Chastity,” Ensign, July 1975, pp. 54–58.) Can you imagine the disillusionment and fear that can come if your “one and only” decides to end the relationship? It can be even more overwhelming if the couple have become too intimate.

Individuals who believe that marriages are made in heaven may focus on finding “the one” and not prepare for the work required after the wedding. Premortal associations may enhance the attraction between two people, but they do not resolve current conflicts. A man may feel secure with his “one and only” and complacently ignore her needs. Security in a relationship is important, but complacency can be detrimental. Relationships will wither if not nourished, no matter how long they have existed.

Certainly the wisest course for any of us to take is to build a relationship on its own merits, rather than on any premortal contracts we suppose have taken place.

“We hear a lot about sustaining the bishop. What does that actually mean, besides just accepting callings? What kind of support does a bishop need?”

Floyd A. Jensen, first counselor in the Salt Lake Emigration Ward bishopric What do you mean, “just” accepting callings? That’s a great deal. When people refuse callings or accept them reluctantly, the bishop feels like he’s still out there all alone. Even if someone does accept, the bishop still has to worry about whether he’s actually going to do the job, and in some cases his worry is fully justified. I can think of several people in our ward who are really the backbone of our organizations. The priests quorum adviser, for instance—we never have to remind him what meetings he’s supposed to attend. Once he knows what they are, he is always there, and there are a lot of extra meetings involved in his calling. He’s always willing to pitch in and go the extra mile, too.

Another thing people can do is assist with the variety of essential activities of a ward—temple work, clean-up projects at the ward, ward socials, coming to meetings. We’re trying to repaint our recreation hall now, and it gets a little discouraging to hear the Sunday commitments of people who aren’t there Wednesday night. But there’s a great feeling when you see the stalwarts there—just as they were last Wednesday, and just as they will be next Wednesday. And you know they’ll still be cheerful about it, too.

Something else that really helps is when quorum and auxiliary leaders are willing to sustain the decisions of the bishop and put the interests of the whole ward first. It’s natural for a leader to be primarily concerned about his organization—that’s his stewardship, after all. So it takes something special for him willingly to accept a decision that may be a little disappointing to him, and then work to fulfill that decision.

On the personal level, I know how much it means to our bishop when people express their personal concern about his son on a mission. It means a lot to him when people are aware of the kind of time he has to spend away from his family and are considerate and appreciative of that time. Another thing he really appreciates is the kind of appropriate informal feedback he gets from ward members—about how a program could be improved or what they like about sacrament meeting—little things that say they care how the ward runs, and believe he is doing a good job.

We also support the bishop by refraining from tearing down ward leaders through criticism and gossip. The bishop would rather have legitimate complaints brought to him than have the effectiveness of the ward organization hampered by backbiting.

Working closely with the bishop is an experience every member of a ward should have. I admire and respect my bishop. More than that, I consider him a personal friend. And seeing the number of things he has to do and the amount of time he has to spend on ward business has made me keenly desirous of doing everything I can to help ease his burden.