Questions and Answers

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

    Question: Are there guardian angels, and if so, what do they do?

    Dean Jarman, President of the Salt Lake University Second Stake.

    This question suggests three sub-questions which, if answered, will give some solutions to the main question. These are: (1) What kinds of being are angels? (2) Can angels serve a guardian function in their ministry? and (3) Is there a guardian angel assigned to each individual?

    Angels are personages who minister for the Lord in carrying out his work. Joseph Smith taught that all angels who minister to the earth are “Those who belong to it or have belonged to it.” The scriptures suggest there are at least five different kinds of persons who function as angels. There are the spirits of those who have not yet come to the earth, as was the situation when an angel taught Adam the principle of sacrifice (see Moses 5:6–8). Angels are also the spirits of those who have lived righteously on earth, have died, and are awaiting their resurrection. These individuals are referred to as “just men made perfect” (D&C 129:3). The visit of Gabriel to Zacharias and to Mary illustrates this kind of being.

    Translated beings function as angels, as was the case with the appearance of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Matt. 17:1–3). The Apostle John was translated and became “a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth” (D&C 7:6). Resurrected beings are a fourth kind of being to serve as angels. The appearances of Moroni and John the Baptist to Joseph Smith illustrate this type. And lastly, holy men living on earth occasionally are referred to as angels as they act as ministers for God. The appearance of angels to Lot to warn him of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah seems to fit this classification (see Gen. 19).

    Once we realize that many kinds of individuals function as angels, we now ask if one of their functions is protective or guardian in nature. The scriptures suggest that angels do protect, warn, and strengthen mortals. Angels were used to warn Joseph to flee to Egypt (see Matt. 2:13); to bring food to Elijah (see 1 Kgs. 19:5–8); to make it possible for Peter to escape from prison (see Acts 12:17); to protect Daniel from the lions (see Dan. 6:22); to protect Nephi from his brothers (see 1 Ne. 3:29–31); and to loose the bands from Abraham when he was to be sacrificed (see Abr. 1:15).

    Elder John A. Widtsoe mentioned that there have been many in this dispensation whose lives have been blessed through the ministry of angels. He said, “Undoubtedly angels often guard us from accidents and harm, from temptation and sin.

    “They may be spoken of as guardian angels. Many people have borne and may bear testimony to the guidance and protection that they have received from sources beyond their natural vision” (G. Homer Durham, compiler, Evidences and Reconciliations, 3 volumes, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960, pp. 402–3).

    Some have taught that righteous family members who die may continue to be an influence in the lives of their loved ones. President Joseph F. Smith said, “Our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful, and worthy to enjoy these rights and privileges, may have a mission given them to visit their friends and relatives upon the earth again, bringing from the divine presence messages of love, of warning or reproof or instruction, to those whom they have learned to love in the flesh” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1959, p. 436).

    It seems apparent that individuals or groups may be the recipients of the ministry of angels without being aware of their presence. Brigham Young taught on one occasion, “There is much in my presence besides those who sit here, if we had eyes to see the heavenly beings that are in our presence” (John A. Widtsoe, editor, Discourses of Brigham Young, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1951, p. 42).

    Angels do serve a protective or guardian role. Their presence may or may not be seen or known. Loved ones who have died may also serve in the capacity of angels to comfort or warn.

    The question can now be asked if there is a specific guardian angel assigned to each individual? There is nothing in the scriptures that suggests this to be the case. The writings of the General Authorities also state the answer to be no. Elder John A. Widtsoe said, “The common belief, that to every person born into the world is assigned a guardian angel to be with that person constantly, is not supported by available evidence. … In fact the constant presence of the Holy Ghost would seem to make such a constant, angelic companionship unnecessary” (Durham, p. 403).

    Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote that “to suppose that either all men or all righteous men have heavenly beings acting as guardians for them runs counter to the basic revealed facts relative to the manner in which the Lord exercises his benevolent watchfulness over his mortal men” (Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960, p. 341).

    In summary, there is not evidence of a guardian angel assigned to every person; but angels have served a guardian role as they warn, protect, and strengthen those they have ministered to on earth.

    Question: Chronological dates are recorded at the bottom of the pages in the Book of Mormon. How reliable are these dates? Are there any that need to be corrected?

    Stan Larson, scripture translation researcher, is currently working in Birmingham, England for the Church Translation Department.

    In a very real sense, the Book of Mormon has always had its own chronology. The text contains three different chronological dating systems: The years since Lehi left Jerusalem, the years of the judges, and the years since Christ’s birth. From our perspective today, it is convenient to convert all dates to years B.C. and A.D. This was first done in the large-size edition of the Book of Mormon published in 1888. In that edition the dates were placed in the margin next to the verse it referred to. The large-size edition was reprinted in 1906 with some modification of the dates. Then, starting in the 1920 edition, revised chronological dates were placed at the bottom of the page, and every page of the text (except Ether) had a date assigned. One real advantage to this system is that the reader can see immediately during what time period the events occurred, rather than have the dates inserted throughout the text at only certain points.

    The Nephite year seems to have begun in the month we call April. (3 Ne. 8:5.) Thus, if a reference is made to “the commencement of the fourteenth year” (3 Ne. 2:17), that fourteenth year began in April of A.D. 14 and continued through March of A.D. 15. The same situation is found in B.C. dates, since the tenth year of the reign of the judges begins in 82 B.C. (Alma 8:3), but the tenth month of the same year is in 81 B.C. (Alma 14:23).

    Another fact that helps us to understand the chronological dates is the special meaning attached to the word about. Generally about means any time during the last nine months of the year mentioned and up to the first three months of the next year. Thus, a phrase such as “about B.C. 83” does not imply that it could be a few years on either side of this date, but rather indicates that the time of the events narrated fits somewhere in the period April 83 B.C. through March 82 B.C.

    The general rule is that the dates show the time period involved for the events narrated. However, there are certain cases that do not follow this pattern and perhaps need a little clarification. In 1 Nephi 9:2–5 [1 Ne. 9:2–5] information is related that apparently was not known until around 570 B.C. (2 Ne. 5:28–30), though the date on the page indicates “between B.C. 600 and 592.” Also, the Isaiah material in 2 Nephi chapters 12 through 24 [2 Ne. 12–24], having the dates “between B.C. 559 and 545,” does not indicate either when Isaiah wrote these things or when they happened, but rather the approximate time during which Nephi copied them onto the Small Plates. The Words of Mormon is dated “about A.D. 385,” but verses 12 through 18 [W of M 1:12–18] discuss the early reign of King Benjamin, which ended in 124 B.C. Chapters eight and nine of Moroni [Moro. 8–9] present two of Mormon’s letters to his son and the dates “between A.D. 400 and 421” indicate the approximate time Moroni transcribed them onto the plates, since the letters must have originally been written sometime before the hill Cumorah battle of A.D. 385.

    It is the inspired translation of the Book of Mormon text that is scripture, and the other things such as verse divisions, chapter summaries, cross-references, and chronological dates are additions intended to help the modern reader. These chronological dates at the bottom of the page may be helpful, but of course they are only as accurate as they properly reflect the information in the Book of Mormon text.

    There are a few difficulties with the present dates. Sometimes they are due to an error in arithmetic. Such is the case in 2 Nephi 5:28 [2 Ne. 5:28] where Nephi records that “thirty years had passed away from the time we left Jerusalem.” Lehi and his family left Jerusalem “B.C. 600” and thirty years later would be B.C. 570. However, the date assigned to 2 Nephi 5:28 is “B.C. 569,” an error in arithmetic of one year. Another example is that Ammon left with his men in 121 B.C. (Mosiah 7:2–3), but the present dating indicates that they arrived back after rescuing Limhi and his people a year before they left (Mosiah 21:22)! Obviously the date for the latter event needs to be reduced by at least one year. The events in Mosiah 23:25–24:25 must be dated at least 121 B.C. since the army that found Alma was the one that had been hunting for Ammon and Limhi (Mosiah 22:15–16; Mosiah 23:30, 35), and based on the information in Alma 17:6, the date of the departure of the sons of Mosiah should be changed to 91 B.C. (Mosiah 28:9). Also, since the events in Alma 36:1 to Alma 43:2 [Alma 36:1–43:2] occurred in the eighteenth year of the judges they should be dated “about B.C. 74.”

    All of the dates in our present Book of Mormon represent the chronology as established by the Book of Mormon Committee responsible for the 1920 edition.