A good summary of subtle but significant changes in the scriptures

The Foundation for Apologetic and Information Research (FAIR) has put up a very good post summarizing some of subtle but very significant changes in the new edition of the scriptures, announced last week.

(Quick side note: you can download these scriptures from lds.org right now. The Android process is very easy — you just update. The ipad and iphone process is complicated and difficult. Score one for Google).

Anyway, let me highlight some of the changes mentioned by FAIR.

The following introduction has been added to the Doctrine and Covenants in the new 2013 edition of the scriptures, giving context and current interpretations on the revelation ending polygamy:
“The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7–8 and Jacob 2:27, 30). Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s (see section 132). From the 1860s to the 1880s, the United States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal. These laws were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.”

While not creating official doctrine as part of the official canon, the addition of this introduction clarifies that the interpretation of the Church today is that monogamy is the standard for God’s people. Critics have claimed that Mormons secretly believe that polygamy is the standard, and that monogamy is a temporary anomaly that will be swept aside in eternity if not sometime soon during mortality. Such arguments cause pain and pressure for individuals who are discomforted at the thought of a practice in eternity that is not required of them in mortality. This addition clarifies that the standard is in fact monogamy, providing emotional room for those discomforted by the thought of polygamy.

Regarding the priesthood ban:

In 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation on the priesthood that extended the right to every worthy male in the Church to receive all the blessings of the priesthood without regard to race, including those pertaining to the temple. Prior to that time, individuals of African descent were often denied the blessings of the priesthood. Many well-meaning members and leaders sought to explain the practice, arguing that there was a doctrinal basis for such a restriction. Many such explanations assumed a revelatory basis for the practice, and produced justifications that were damaging to the sensitivities of our black members. Critics have argued that many Mormons cling to such beliefs. The following new introduction to Official Declaration 2 dispels many of these notions. It reads:

“The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.”

This official introduction validates an argument long made by defenders of the Church that there is no known source for the initiation of what has become termed the “priesthood ban”. It confirms that Joseph himself ordained black male members to the priesthood, indicating that the “ban” was likely not founded on scripture. It further explains that, despite the unknown source for the ban, it was believed that the lifting of the ban required revelation from God which came on June 1, 1978 and was then adopted unanimously by the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the full contingency of General Authorities.

This introduction can serve to provide some comfort to members bothered by statements from other well-meaning individuals and leaders who said many things in the past that are seen today as hurtful. It upholds the current belief that only worthiness determines the right of a man to receive the blessings of the priesthood, and helps to dispel the notion that Mormons are racist in their intent.

Regarding “coins” (BoM critics will cling to any lifeboat in their attempt to discredit the Church, but there you have it):

In the Book of Mormon, a long standing criticism has been the reference to coins being used by the Nephites, whereas there has been no such discovery of the use of coins in the Americas by pre-Colombian peoples. Rather, our critics point out, the system of exchange was one of weights and measures. This, they claim, demonstrates that Joseph had introduced a modern anachronism (an error of time where conceptual artifacts from modern times are introduced erroneously into works of fiction written about earlier times) into the Book of Mormon which, they argue, demonstrates that the Book of Mormon is a modern creation and not an historic record of ancient origin.

The term “coins” is interestingly not mentioned anywhere in the Book of Mormon text itself, but was actually introduced in the non-canonized heading by Elder Bruce R. McConkie as part of the updates to the 1981 edition. It is interesting to note that Elder McConkie applied his modern lens of living in a coin based society to his reading of the Book of Mormon, and interpreted the exchange system in Alma 11 as being a discussion of coins. This interpretation made its way into the 1981 heading for that Chapter. However, the actual text of the Book of Mormon mentions only weights and measures, a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the system of exchanges known to exist among pre-Colombian peoples. This actually makes the issue of coins a “boomerang hit” as I have discussed in a previous article.

Prior editions of the Book of Mormon did not reference coins. The new 2013 edition reverts back to describing the exchange system in Alma 11 as a “monetary system”, thus eliminating an unnecessary criticism of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

Regarding the Book of Abraham:

The original 1981 edition of the scriptures described the Book of Abraham as “A translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, . . . “. The 2013 edition now reads “An inspired translation of the writings of Abraham” [emphasis added]. This somewhat less subtle change in the description reflects the fact that we know relatively little about the precise process and source document from which we have obtained the Book of Abraham and how that relates to the papyri that we have in the Church’s possess. This description emphasizes instead the inspired nature of the process regardless of the material source for the work. This has significant implications for defenders of the Book of Abraham. Many defenders can now await further developments on the source front, and turn to arguments that the myriad things Joseph Smith correctly produced that were unknown at the time of the production of the Book of Abraham, but which have subsequently been demonstrated as being consistent with ancient traditions, indicate that Joseph clearly had access to some source that was authentic. Such evidences give credence to the Book of Abraham as authentically ancient.

More analysis will come forth in the coming days and weeks, but I wanted to highlight this excellent article from FAIR.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

7 thoughts on “A good summary of subtle but significant changes in the scriptures

  1. Hmmm. We’re married “for time and all eternity.” We can be sealed more than once. Are we sure monogamy is God’s standard? I guess we marry one spouse at a time, but seal to many. Don’t see how we can reconcile the concept of eternal fidelity if we can remarry and eventually be sealed to more than one spouse. Am disappointed leaders didn’t make the effort to go beyond the obvious observation that we’re monogamous in mortality. Maybe God commands otherwise every time we seal someone to more than one spouse.

  2. IDIAT – I can go both ways in a sense on this.

    First it’s clear that monogamy is our standard. It’s also clear God has changed that standard in times past, primarily it seems to raise a righteous posterity. If that’s the case it might stand to reason it was only for this life, but whatever happens in this life has obvious eternal implications. This life is but a slice of eternity after all, so arguing “time vs. eternity” is kind of strange when 1000 years from now it will still be a slice of time within eternity right? If we’re eternal, what we’re doing not is eternal and has an effect on the eternities.

    Ultimately, what people seem to want to know is will I make babies with more than one spouse or will I share my husband with more than one co-wife.

    Both of those seem like a very very temporal understanding and way of looking at relationships as stretched into the eternities.

    Anything less than “I don’t know” (unless God personally revealed to you otherwise and granted you authority to convey that revelation to us all) is just not sufficient.

    I do know that the Father has commanded us to cleave unto our spouse and none-else and also desires us to be one with the Lord as he is one with the Father. Both of those could seem just as contradictory as the concept of plural marriage.

    If the Godhead is described as one, and consists of three individuals, and yet they invite billions more to be one with them, it stands to reason that the Father has aspirations for more than 3 to be united with his glory.

    Does this make an argument for polygamy? I don’t think so, anymore than it makes an argument for polytheism in the sense that we acknowledge here are others who will receive all the Father hath, and yet we worship one God.

    It’s unfortunate we’re often so provencial that we get all worried about the husband/wife aspects. As if we’re going to spend an eternity of “honey I’m home” followed by a romp in the bedroom or something.

    God’s work is bringing souls up to his level. We’ll be a part of that. The hows and whys and ins and outs of the relationship dynamics in my mind are certainly connected to families, but families swallowed up in the joy of Christ.

  3. Thanks for your comments. I’m not so much worried about my own views as I am my non-member friends. First, I tell them how wonderful it is to be sealed to my wife for time and all eternity. Then, they ask if we’re allowed to remarry if our spouse dies. “Sure we can.” The follow up comment is then: “Well, if you’re sealed to wife 1, and then you remarry and are sealed to wife 2, then it sounds like you still believe in polygamy, it’s just that you practice serial monogamy while in mortality.” At that point, while I can explain and beat around the bush all I want, the bottom line is that they are correct. We believe in plurality as sure as we believe in the authority of the sealing power. So, why flail over all this “God’s standard is monogamy.” If it was truly God’s standard, we’d only be allowed to be sealed to one person and one person only. Could spouses remarry upon the death of a spouse? Sure. But we wouldn’t perform any sealings by proxy, regardless of feelings or anything else. There seems to be a trend: 5% are far right and believe once sealed, a person should never remarry or be sealed to anyone else. Then another 5% are far left and believe we should be married as much of our adult lives as is possible, and sealed to all spouses. Then the 90% of us fall on a sliding scale. The young widow of 26 with two small children? Definitely should remarry. The old widow of 75? Doesn’t need to remarry. It’s all those gray areas between those ages and circumstances that cause us consternation. To me, if it’s okay to remarry upon the death of a spouse to whom you’re sealed, then it shouldn’t matter whether you’ve been married one day or 60 years. But if we’re going to allow plural sealings, then we ought to stand up proudly, proclaim plurality in the eternities as doctrine, and let the chips fall where they may. Elder Oaks is about the only one who’s addressed this in an interview, but at least he was forthcoming and honest in his belief that he will be married to two women in the eternties presuming they all “keep their covenants.” But the continued insistence that “monogamy is God’s standard” without the “in mortality” qualifer when we know of plural sealing policies is disengenuous.

  4. “But the continued insistence that “monogamy is God’s standard” without the “in mortality” qualifer when we know of plural sealing policies is disingenuous.”

    I disagree. Rather than being disingenuous, it rather puts into sharp relief the kind of sexual probity that the gospel of Christ enjoins upon all members.

    Also, it’s only objectionable if you personally choose to find it objectionable. Currently, I am married to a spouse. One spouse. I am not allowed to marry another while my current spouse is living. This situation is no different than any other mainstream Christian church, and their standard is also monogamy. And yet, when other Christians lose a spouse, they are allowed to marry also. Yet their standard is monogamy.

    I am finding your intransigence on this point to be rather pointless. Yes, we have “sealings” — but guess what folks? All sealings have to be confirmed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. We are really guaranteed nothing until we cross the veil, and then I presume that we will have all sorts of enlightenment available that is pertinent to our interests.

    Yes, God’s standard is monogamy until He commands otherwise. A completely reasonable thing to put into a set of official Church scriptures. Sheesh.

  5. Pingback: Adjusting the Narrative: Introduction and Proposal

  6. “All sealings have to be confirmed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.” What does that mean? See W. Lowell Castleton, “Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era, June 1978, 29–30. Also, “The meaning of this expression is this: Every covenant, contract, bond, obligation, oath, vow, and performance, that man receives through the covenants and blessings of the gospel, is sealed by the Holy Spirit with a promise. The promise is that the blessing will be obtained, if those who seek it are true and faithful to the end. If they are not faithful, then the Holy Spirit will withdraw the blessing, and the promise comes to an end.” Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.2, p.94 Too many people think that “ratification” is something random, as if keeping your covenants is not enough. I think the Holy Spirit of Promise has to confirm your sealing if you keep your covenants. That’s why I mentioned the interview with Elder Oaks. He didn’t condition his being with two wives upon “if both sealings are confirmed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.” He conditioned them on all parties keeping their covenants. We are guaranteed something when we are sealed. We are guaranteed a place in the Celestial Kingdom if we keep our covenants. It doesn’t mean we’ll be in the CK with our spouse, because we don’t have any control over our spouse’s use of his or her agency. If you don’t believe there is a guarantee then perhaps you don’t believe in the priesthood authority that seals you in the first place. There’s a big difference between wondering if, in fact, you’ve been faithful in keeping your covenants (something most of us wonder) as opposed to taking the position that no matter how well you do keep your covenants, it’ll be a crap shoot as to whether the Hold Ghost will confirm your sealing. Lastly, we are guaranteed something now. We’re sealed for time (mortal lives and spirit world) as well as eternity (post resurrection/judgment). If we don’t feel like you’re sealed — right now– to our spouse, and are guaranteed certain blessings — right now — then we might be missing something.

  7. Okay, but I don’t see how your points negate the Church’s position that “monogamy is the standard”.

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