I Have a Question

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

How responsible are parents for the behavior of a rebellious child if they have done their best (all they have known to do) to bring the child up in the ways of the Lord?

Arthur R. Bassett, Associate Professor of Humanities, Brigham Young University. A parent’s awareness of the weighty responsibility of parenthood must be tempered with the realization that many will probably not succeed as well as they might like to in bringing their children up in the ways of the Lord. Some will not succeed because they have not made their family responsibility a significant priority. Some will not succeed because they lack the talent, but not the desire. For these there is great hope, since education is an eternal principle, and God a masterful teacher. A third group will not succeed, but through no fault of their own. This is because of the God-given right of their children to exercise their agency. For them there is the consolation of having done their best. And, of course, there may be elements of all three groups in a situation.

Children are not clay to be molded according to the parent’s will into pre-determined forms; they are not puppets who are to dance at the parent’s direction. They are thinking, feeling individuals, co-eternal with their parents and capable of choosing to accept or reject the life-styles of the families in which they are reared. While young and impressionable they will often find it more to their advantage and peace of mind to conform, within limits, to the desires of their parents. But as they grow older and come to recognize a wider range of possible life-styles, they will follow those life-styles that seem most desirable to them.

Wise parents will recognize the limits of their influence and not blame themselves when a child deviates from the life-style they would have him follow. Many capable, caring parents have seen their children make decisions that seem to carry them further and further from the patterns suggested by Christ. However, such parents will never quit working with the child in the manner suggested by their Heavenly Father’s own example.

Our Heavenly Father seems to have lost a third of his children (if the traditional rendering of Revelation 12:4 is to be taken literally). [Rev. 12:4] Adam and Eve lost many of their children who were born after the gospel was revealed to them. (See Moses 5:12–57.) Noah had serious problems with at least one of his (see Gen. 9:18–27); Lehi and Sariah lost Laman and Lemuel. Accounts in the Book of Mormon, especially those of the Jaredites, are filled with incidents in which sons rose up against righteous, well-meaning parents. (See, for example, Ether 7–10.) To this list of disappointed parents we might also add the names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and their wives, as well as other luminaries of the scriptures.

Fortunately the scriptures also include accounts of individuals such as Alma and Mosiah and their wives, who lived to see astonishing reversals in the lifestyles of their children. It is instructive to note that in part these reversals occurred because the parents never gave up. The angel informed the younger Alma that his father had prayed with much faith concerning him that he might be brought to recognize the truth. (Mosiah 27:14.) Many other parents have also lived to see dramatic reversals in their children over time.

The Lord has placed a sobering importance on parental responsibility. As early as 1831 he warned the Prophet Joseph that parents who do not teach their children to understand the first principles and ordinances of the gospel before the children are eight years old will be held responsible for that neglect. (See D&C 68:25.)

Two years later, in May of 1833, the entire First Presidency of the Church, in company with the Presiding Bishop, received a severe reprimand from the Lord for neglecting their responsibilities as parents. (See D&C 93:36–51.) We often hear the much-quoted statement, “The glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36), without realizing that it is part of a preamble of sorts to this chastisement. One by one, calling them by name, the Lord chastised these brethren for not giving more diligence to their calling as parents. Even though they were carrying the major load of responsibility for the directing of the kingdom, that did not excuse them from their equally important responsibility in their families. (See D&C 93:42, 43.)

Since that time the Lord has had much to say about the role of parents, stressing that the nurturing of an eternal soul is not a task to be treated casually. What parents are doing now is all part of a preparation for eternal responsibility of great magnitude.

For those who have done their best in righteousness, and continue to do so, the point to make is that we may not succeed as parents in the way we might like to. Yet at the same time we must not give up; our love must remain constant. If we quit, we also fail with them. Perhaps in these situations, as in no other, we need constant reminding of those godlike qualities that have proved most successful over time: persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned. With kindness and pure knowledge, without hypocrisy and guile, we will ultimately reap the consolation of knowing that we have done our best.

We are told that the book of Abraham is a translation of an ancient Egyptian record, yet it seems to be written for non-Egyptian readers. To whom is Abraham writing?

Eric Jay Olson, Church Translation Division. If we are to have a correct understanding of a writing or discourse, we must know the person or persons for whom it was written. A writer or speaker frames his ideas and selects his examples to meet the needs of his readers. He takes into consideration what they know and do not know, and explains accordingly. Facts and concepts which his audience knows need only brief reference; new ideas he explains in some detail. If we keep this principle in mind when we read the book of Abraham, we should be able to identify the audience for whom Abraham intended his words.

In chapter 1 of the book, we first read a biography of Abraham. He describes his flight from his birthplace, his search for truth, and his receipt of the priesthood. He describes his journey through Palestine and down into Egypt. In connection with his visit to Egypt, he gives, starting in verse 20, a brief history of the land. First, he explains the word Pharaoh and then tells us more about Pharaoh the person. (See Abr. 1:21–27.) He also gives some of the genealogy of the Egyptians, tells how Egypt was discovered and settled, describes its form of government, and finally explains the connection between this history and his father’s. We must conclude from this explanation that Abraham’s audience was unfamiliar with the history and government of Egypt but that they were acquainted with the individuals Ham, Adam, and Noah.

In verses 11 and 12 of chapter 1, Abraham describes the attempt to sacrifice him on an altar “after the manner of the Egyptians.” [Abr. 1:11–12] He then refers his audience to an illustration at the front of the book (Facsimile 1) so that they will “have a knowledge of this altar.” In verses 13 and 14, he describes the gods standing before the altar, including one that was “like unto that of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” [Abr. 1:13–14] He follows this with a statement of his purpose for doing so: “That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning.” In the last verse of chapter 1 Abraham says that he has received and preserved the records of the patriarchs “unto this day” and plans to write on them his experiences “for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me.”

These sections of the book suggest that Abraham was addressing an audience unfamiliar with basic characteristics of Egyptian culture. In his own words, he was writing “for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me.” (Abr. 1:31; see also Abr. 2:10–11.) And, as we shall see, he was writing in retrospect, at a time when he was no longer in Egypt. His description of his visit to Egypt is included in the context of a personal history, much in the fashion of quotations from a journal of his sojourn in that foreign land.

We can find evidence for this in the change of his name from Abraham to Abram in early versions of the modern publication of the book of Abraham. 1 When the book was first published in the Times and Seasons, the first verse included the expression “I, Abraham.” Later, in verse 5 of that publication, corresponding to verse 16 in the current edition, we read “Abram! Abram! behold, my name is JEHOVAH.” As described in the Genesis account (See Gen. 17:5–8), Abram did not receive his new name until after his visit to Egypt. So when he describes events occurring in Egypt, he uses the name he had at that time, just as if he were quoting from his journal. The beginning of the book, corresponding to the time after his name was changed, would appropriately use his name at that time, Abraham. 2

A considerable body of legends, stories, and other types of material preserved in sources outside the Old Testament claims to tell about Abraham. Abraham was a popular hero in Jewish traditions and many tales have been preserved about him. For example, the Mishnah Haggada discourses expand on the text and stories of Abraham in the Old Testament. There are also Jewish apocalyptic writings such as the Apocalypse of Abraham and the Testament of Abraham which retell events from Abraham’s life and parallel in some detail the events in the book of Abraham. These books are not preserved in Hebrew, but they are definitely Jewish in origin. 3 They are found today in translations in Greek, Slavonic, Romanian, and Ethiopic. The first of these writings became known in 1892 when M. R. James translated and published the Testament of Abraham. 4 Since that day other versions have become known and have attracted interest. They claim to preserve episodes from the life of Abraham which are not found in the Old Testament. Finally, ancient historians such as Josephus and Eusebius pass on to us episodes they believed to be from the life of Abraham. 5 A good many similarities exist between these sources and the account in the book of Abraham, particularly with regard to some of Abraham’s pivotal religious experiences. 6

These non-biblical references parallel information recorded in the book of Abraham 7 and give us additional evidence that Abraham left his words for his posterity. And it is in this context that we should seek the proper background for the book of Abraham.

[illustration] Engraving by Gustave Dore


  1.   1.

    See note 16a to Abr. 1:16, in 1981 edition of the Pearl of Great Price.

  2.   2.

    See James R. Clark, “Recent Discoveries Relative to the Book of Abraham,” in Progress in Archaeology, Ross T. Christensen, ed., Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 1963, p. 30; Sidney B. Sperry, Ancient Records Testify in Papyrus and Stone, Salt Lake City: The General Boards of MIA of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1938, pp. 86–87.

  3.   3.

    See Charles W. Fishburne, “I Corinthians III, 10–15 and the Testament of Abraham,” New Testament Studies, 17, 1970/71, p. 112.

  4.   4.

    Cambridge, 1892.

  5.   5.

    F. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1, 8.

  6.   6.

    See G. H. Box, The Apocalypse of Abraham, New York: The MacMillan Co., 1918, pp. 36–43, 55–65; Rabbi Nissim Wernick, “A Critical Analysis of the Book of Abraham in the Light of Extra-canonical Jewish Writings,” Ph.D. Dissertation, BYU Department of Religion, 1968, p. 87 (quoting Yalkut Shimoni 12:63, Zohar, and Parshat Bereshit); Josephus, Antiquities, 1, 7, 2.

  7.   7.

    See Hugh W. Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” parts 7, 9–11, Improvement Era, Mar.–July 1969, Oct. 1969–Apr. 1970.