An Old Testament KnoWhy
for Gospel Doctrine Lesson 5:
“If Thou Doest Well, Thou Shalt Be Accepted” (Moses 5-7) (JBOTL05A)
[See the link to video supplements for this lesson at the end of this article under “Further Study.”]
Question: For a while, the Lord prohibited Joseph Smith from sharing his Bible translation publicly. Also, Moses 1:42 explicitly says that the account of Moses’ vision should not be shown “unto any except them that believe.” Any guesses as to the reasons behind these restrictions?
Summary: I believe that these initial restrictions were due, at least in part, to the sacred content of many of the changes and additions in Joseph Smith’s Bible translation. This makes sense if we regard the knowledge that Joseph Smith received as he translated the Bible as part of a divine tutorial on priesthood and temple doctrines, authority, and ordinances. In fact, some parts of Genesis seem to contain echoes of what temple studies scholars would call a “temple text.” My study of the book of Moses and others of the initial revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith have convinced me that he knew early on much more about these matters than he taught publicly, contradicting the view of those who consider the fundamental doctrines, covenants, and teachings of the Nauvoo temple ordinances a late invention.
Initial restrictions. From the beginning, the message of the Book of Mormon was meant to be taken “unto the ends of the earth.” By way of contrast, Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible seems to have been intended, at least at first, for a more select group of readers.
For example, Joseph Smith was told that he should not show his translation of Moses 1 “unto any except them that believe.” Afterward, this restriction was softened. A later manuscript added the words: “until I command you.” Finally, at some point, the entire phrase (“shew them not unto any except them that believe <until I command you>”) was crossed out.
Other evidence of an initial restriction comes from Joseph Smith’s response to what seems to have been a 31 July 1832 request by William W. Phelps to publish portions of the Bible translation that had been made to that date. Phelps’ request prompted a stern rebuke from the Prophet, who wrote: “I would inform you that they will not go from under my hand during my natural life for correction, revisal, or printing and the will of [the] Lord be done.”
Although by 25 June 1833, Joseph Smith had reversed his position and apparently made serious efforts afterward to prepare the Bible translation for publication, his own statement makes it clear that previously he had not been authorized by the Lord to share publicly all he had produced — and learned — during the translation process. Moreover, it is significant that he did not at that time expect the Lord’s prohibition against the printing (or even the copyediting) of this translation to be lifted in his own lifetime.
Moreover, in some cases, we know that the Prophet deliberately delayed the publication of early revelations connected with his work on the JST until the later Nauvoo period. For example, Bachman has argued convincingly that the doctrines at the heart of D&C 132 were revealed to the Prophet as he worked on the first half of JST Genesis. This was more than a decade previous to 1843, when the revelation was first recorded. Likewise, Joseph Smith waited until 1843 to publish the first chapter of the book of Moses. Some of what the Prophet learned as he worked on the JST and other translation projects may have never been put to writing. Indeed, before Joseph Smith’s death —after he had already declared on 2 July 1833 that the Bible translation was “finished” — he is remembered as having said that he wanted to go back and rework some portions of the translation to add in certain things that he had been previously been “restrained … from giving in plainness and fulness.”
In my view, the initial restriction on sharing the Bible translation publicly was due, at least in part, to the sacred content of many of its changes and additions, especially those made during the period from June 1830 through July 1832. If we see these significant passages as innocuous, it is because we are oblivious to their implications.
Selective focus in translation. When, as a boy, I first became acquainted with the Joseph Smith Translation, I made the naïve and mistaken assumption that different portions of the Bible received more or less equal attention from the Prophet. But as I learned more about the overall translation results and schedule the truth became apparent.
One of the most striking findings that comes from looking closely at the history of the translation is that Moses 1 and Genesis 1-24 occupied a proportionately much greater part of Joseph Smith’s time and attention than any other part of the Bible. In fact, these chapters occupied nearly a quarter of the total time for the entire Bible translation. It seems it was not just a matter of time, but also of focus of attention: more than half of the changed verses in the JST Old Testament and 20% of those in the entire JST Bible are contained in Moses 1 and Genesis. As a proportion of page count, changes in Genesis occur four times more frequently than in the New Testament, and twenty-one times more frequently than in the rest of the Old Testament. The changes in Genesis are not only more numerous, but also more significant in the degree of doctrinal and historical expansion.
In contrast to other parts of the Bible, where the Prophet sometimes adopted suggestions from a study of the “best books,” it should be noted that none of the currently proposed parallels with Adam Clarke’s commentary occur in his translation of Genesis 1–24. These chapters, which were written out in full rather than as short notations within a printed Bible, contain the highest proportion of long, revealed additions in the entire Joseph Smith Translation.
What important things could Joseph Smith have learned from translating the first half of Genesis? To begin with, the story of Enoch and his righteous city would have had pressing relevance to the mission of the Church, as the Prophet worked to help the Saints understand the law of consecration and to establish Zion in Missouri. Thus, it is no coincidence that this account was first published in 1832 and 1833.
However, it should not be forgotten that the first half of Genesis also relates the stories of the patriarchs. Important temple-related teachings relating to the Creation, the Fall and the Atonement are not only obvious in the story of Adam and Eve, but also in the story of Noah. In addition, as Joseph Smith continued his translation of the Old Testament beyond the chapters contained in the book of Moses, he learned of righteous individuals whose experiences provided a further tutorial about temple ordinances and the priesthood as they existed anciently.
For example, between December 1830 and June 1831, Joseph Smith translated Old Testament chapters that described the plural marriages of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as well as the New Testament account of the Sadducees’ question about marriage in the resurrection. By at least 1835, Joseph Smith had begun teaching the principle of eternal marriage to others such as William W. Phelps, who was told that he and his wife were “certain to be one in the Lord throughout eternity” if they continued “faithful to the end.” In 1835, William W. Phelps mentioned new light he had received from the Prophet on the subject of exaltation and eternal marriage, where those who would become “the sons of God” would dwell in “a kingdom of glory … where the man is neither without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord.”
Additional revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith, in conjunction with the ongoing work of Bible translation, elaborated on the stories and significance of righteous individuals such as Melchizedek and Elijah, explaining how the priesthood authority they held related to additional ordinances and blessings that could be given in the temple after one had already received the endowment and been sealed in eternal marriage covenants. For example, the blessings of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood belong to one who is made a “king and a priest unto God, bearing rule, authority, and dominion under the Father.” Correspondingly, worthy women may receive the blessings of becoming queens and priestesses. It is fitting for these blessings to be associated with the name of Melchizedek because he was the great “king of Salem” and “the priest of the most high God,” who gave the priesthood to Abraham. Later kings of Israel, as well as Jesus Christ Himself, were declared to be part of the “order of Melchizedek,” which was originally called “the Order of the Son of God.”
Of great importance, Joseph Smith’s additions to the story of Moses, as contained in his translation of Exodus and elaborated in D&C 84, became the springboard for the Prophet’s teachings on the “Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood.” Additional revelatory insights of the Prophet relating to priesthood ordinances are evident in the changes he made in his translation of the New Testament — for example, in the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Hebrews.
All these portions of the Bible — along with other chapters in the Old and New Testaments that received special attention from the Prophet as well as the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants that flowed from them — are key in understanding restored priesthood and temple doctrines, authority, and ordinances. Indeed, some parts of Genesis seem to contain echoes of what temple studies scholars would call a “temple text.”
Why might certain portions of the book of Genesis be thought of as containing echoes of a temple text? To begin with, it must be understood that while Genesis is a book of history, it is not the kind we are accustomed to reading in modern history books. To grasp the kind of history presented in Genesis, the reader must supply the missing context, assumptions, religious imagery and sensibilities, and cultural elements that are implicit in the text. As archaeologist William G. Dever expressed it: “The Bible cannot simply be read at face value as history; nor, of course, can any other ancient text be so read.” Scholar Michael Fishbane observes that “the Bible is more than history. It is a religious document which has transformed memories and records in accordance with various theological concerns.”
Among the significant “theological concerns” in the Bible that are being increasingly recognized by scholars is “temple theology.” Indeed, the eminent theologian N. T. Wright asserts: “One of the great gains of biblical scholarship this last generation, not least because of our new understanding of first-temple Judaism, is our realization that the temple was central to the Jewish worldview.”
Just as thorough understanding of scripture is a prerequisite to appreciating temple ordinances, so a comprehension of temple-related concepts is an invaluable key to the meaning of many difficult passages of scripture. Nowhere is this truer than in the first chapters of the Bible. Without a firm grasp on the teachings and ordinances of the temple, we will miss the gist of Genesis. True, we may “race along with the seductively captivating narratives,” feeling that we are “largely grasping what is going on, even if some exotic or minor details are not immediately apparent.”
However, this mode of reading scripture — an approach that focuses on an interpretation of the stories only as presentations of historical characters and events — misses the point. Of course, the authors of scripture “must have actually experienced” the events they recorded, but their writings are “not exactly in a manner of a scientific-ethnographic description and report.” Rather, the stories are composed in a way that allows them to be used “as foundations for collective practices and identity.” The characters and events of the stories of the patriarchs, like the story of Adam and Eve, are “incorporated into the sacred world” of rites, covenants, and ordinances and must be understood accordingly. Conversely, insight into the meaning of these stories is obscured when we try to restructure these ritually rich traditions to fit the rigid rules of modern eyewitness journalism.
The more we know about religion generally in the ancient Near East, the easier it becomes to recognize ritual patterns in ancient scripture. Of course, most people will find little of direct interest in the innumerable shifting mythologies of long ago. However, what is important to note about many of the myths, as Robertson observes, is that they are “closely tied to ritual. A myth was told to explain a rite, and at the end of the telling the rite was held up as proof that the myth had happened so.” Though myths naturally “moved away from their original setting, … the ritual always continued as before (that is the nature of ritual) and was familiar to everyone (similar festivals were celebrated in every city). It gave rise to new stories, or to variations of the old.”
The tendency for rituals to be more stable than the stories that illustrate their meaning should be “clear from the outset,” Hugh Nibley affirmed, “since myths and legends are innumerable while the rites and ordinances found throughout the world are surprisingly few and uniform, making it apparent that it is the stories that are invented — the rites are always there.” For this reason, John Walton could say that “the ideology of the temple is not noticeably different in Israel than it is in the ancient Near East. The difference is in the God [and, I might say, in the specific stories told about the God], not in the way the temple functions in relation to the God.”
In previous articles in this series we have already seen how central a role the temple plays in Genesis’ stories of the Creation and the Fall of Adam and Eve. Less well known is that the stories of Noah and the Tower of Babel recount variants on these same temple-related themes relating to the Creation and the Fall. Although these foundational stories of the history of humankind are rarely referenced explicitly in later portions of the Bible, many biblical passages touch on relevant temple themes that are raised within them. For example, it is evident from passages throughout the Bible that qualifications of purity and uprightness were integral to the granting of access to places of holiness — whether earthly or heavenly. When the story of the Fall is understood from a temple perspective, resonances with such passages become evident.
Within the LDS temple endowment, a narrative relating to selected events of the Creation and the story of Adam and Eve provides the context for the presentation of divine laws and the making of covenants that are designed to bring mankind back into the presence of God. Because the book of Moses is the most detailed account of the first chapters of human history found in LDS scripture, it is already obvious to endowed members of the Church that the book of Moses is a temple text par excellence, containing a pattern that interleaves sacred history with covenant-making themes.
What may be new to many Latter-day Saints, however, is that the temple themes in the book of Moses extend beyond the first part of this story that contains the fall of Adam and Eve — their “downward road.” There is a part two of the temple story given in the book of Moses that describes an “upward road” that may be climbed by making and keeping a specifically ordered sequence of temple covenants. The book of Moses description of this road culminates with the translation of Enoch and his city — a people blessed by their obedience to the law of consecration. Thus, the book of Moses as a whole, revealed to the Prophet in 1830-1831, seems to have provided a foundation for both the central narrative backbone and the covenants of the Nauvoo Temple endowment — an outline of the path whereby the Saints could come into the presence of God ritually.
In the next article in this series, we will discuss how Moses 5-8 appears to have been structured so as to present the consequences of keeping and breaking specific temple covenants one by one.
A study of the priorities afforded to selected portions of the Bible as it was translated by Joseph Smith provide evidence that a detailed understanding of the covenants and sequences of blessings associated with current forms of LDS temple worship may have been revealed to the Prophet more than a decade before he began to teach them in plainness to the Saints in Nauvoo. It has been generally supposed that in Kirtland the Prophet knew only a little about temple ordinances, and taught all of what he then knew to the Saints; and that when he got to Nauvoo the rest was revealed to him, and so he taught them something more. However, I think such a conclusion is mistaken.
The fundamental doctrines and teachings associated with the Nauvoo temple ordinances should not be regarded as a new and surprising development so much as the full-fledged blossoming of ideas and priesthood authority that had already budded in Kirtland — or even, arguably, when Joseph Smith experienced his First Vision. As Don Bradley perceptively observed:
The faith [Joseph Smith] preached at the close of his career undeniably differed from the faith he preached at its opening. Yet eminent Yale literary critic Harold Bloom has asserted that Smith’s “religion-making imagination” was of the “unfolding” rather than the evolving type, that his religious system did not transform so much by the incorporation of others’ ideas but by the progressive outworking of his original vision.
In short, the selective focus of Joseph Smith’s Bible translation effort, combined with evidence from other early revelations, suggests that the Prophet experienced a divine temple tutorial throughout the first years of his public ministry. Under the same spirit of revelation, the book of Moses, in conjunction with other Bible chapters that seem to have received the Prophet’s focused attention, can serve as a tutorial to all those who prize the temple in our day.
For more discussion of evidence that Joseph Smith knew much about temple matters early on in his ministry, see the first video supplement to this lesson: “What Did Joseph Smith Know about Temple Ordinances by 1836?” (https://interpreterfoundation.org/conferences/2014-temple-on-mount-zion-conference/2014-temple-on-mount-zion-conference-videos/#fitvid1). If the video plays when you left-click it, right-click within the video and select the “Save video as …” menu option to download it.
For a free download of J. M. Bradshaw, What Did Joseph Smith Know, a book chapter corresponding to an extended version of this presentation, go to www.TempleThemes.net.
J. M. Bradshaw, et al., How Thankful presents what limited evidence is available that elements of the Nauvoo temple endowment were received by revelation in Kirtland.
For a playlist of one-minute video clips discussing various aspects of Mormonism and Masonry in Nauvoo, see the second video supplement to this lesson at the FairMormon YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0zdSoYy_fg&list=PLw_Vkm1zYbIHW8n88zdpJuzK83caT7A2H).
For a free download of J. M. Bradshaw, Freemasonry, an extensive discussion of Freemasonry and the origins of LDS temple ordinances, go to www.TempleThemes.net.
For an excellent summary of temple theology by one of a pioneering scholar on the subject, see M. Barker, Temple Theology. For an excellent overview of the subject from an LDS perspective, see J. W. Welch, The Temple, especially pp. 62-63. For my views on the subject as part of an article on the LDS book of Enoch as a temple text, see J. M. Bradshaw, LDS Book of Enoch, pp. 39-44. For a bibliography on Temple Studies, see D. W. Bachman, et al., Temple Studies Bibliography.
For a verse-by-verse commentary on Moses 5-6:12, see J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, pp. 322-508. For a corresponding detailed commentary on Moses 6:13-7, see J. M. Bradshaw, et al., God’s Image 2, pp. 32-196. The books are available for purchase in print at Amazon.com and as a free pdf download at www.TempleThemes.net.
For a scripture roundtable video from The Interpreter Foundation on the subject of Gospel Doctrine lesson 5, see https://interpreterfoundation.org/scripture-roundtable-55-old-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-5-if-thou-doest-well-thou-shalt-be-accepted/.
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Wyatt, Nicolas. "Arms and the king: The earliest allusions to the Chaoskampf motif and their implications for the interpretation of the Ugaritic and biblical traditions." In ‘There’s Such Divinity Doth Hedge a King’: Selected Essays of Nicolas Wyatt on Royal Ideology in Ugaritic and Old Testament Literature, edited by Nicolas Wyatt. Society for Old Testament Study Monographs, ed. Margaret Barker, 151-89. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2005.
Young, Brigham. 1860. "Privileges of the Sabbath; duty of living our religion; human longevity, etc. (Remarks by President Brigham Young, made in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, May 20, 1860)." In Journal of Discourses. 26 vols. Vol. 8, 57-64. Liverpool and London, England: Latter-day Saints Book Depot, 1853-1884. Reprint, Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1966.
———. 1862. "The Kingdom of God (Remarks made in the Bowery, Great Salt Lake City, 13 July 1862)." In Journal of Discourses. 26 vols. Vol. 9, 308-17. Liverpool and London, England: Latter-day Saints Book Depot, 1853-1886. Reprint, Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1966. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Journal_of_Discourses/Volume_9/The_Kingdom_of_God (accessed July 25, 2017).
The “New translation” refers to JS’s inspired revision of the Bible. On 2 February 1833, Frederick G. Williams recorded that JS had finished his revision work on the New Testament and that it was “sealed up no more to be broken till it goes to Zion.” In early July, a letter from the presidency to Missouri leaders indicated that JS had completed work on the Old Testament. In April, JS clarified that “it is not the will of the Lord to print any of the new translation in the Star but when it is published it will all go to the world together in a volume by itself.” The comment here, however, suggests that publication plans were changing. Indeed, six weeks later, the presidency wrote, “You will see by these revelations that we have to print the new translation here at kirtland for which we will prepare as soon as possible.” In that letter, the presidency clarified that the Church of Christ would publish two editions of the scriptures simultaneously, one in Kirtland and one in Jackson County. (Minute Book 1, 2 Feb. 1833; Letter to Church Leaders in Jackson Co., MO, 2 July 1833; Letter to Church Leaders in Jackson Co., MO, 21 Apr. 1833; Letter to Church Leaders in Jackson Co., MO, 6 Aug. 1833; see also Revelation, 2 Aug. 1833–B [D&C 94:10].)
Concurring with the idea that suiting the contents of scripture to the needs and capacities of the people was more important than strict conformity to fixed source text, on more than one occasion Brigham Young asserted that the Bible and the Book of Mormon would “materially differ” if they were to be re-translated (B. Young, 13 July 1862, p. 311; J. Smith, Jr. et al., Council of Fifty Minutes, p. 119).
The usual scriptural explanation for why important stories and teachings have been deliberately abridged or left out of the published records as we now have them is that readers are not yet spiritually ready to receive them because of their especially sacred nature (e.g., Ether 3:17ff.; 4:7–16; D&C 93:18–19). For more discussion of this topic, see J. M. Bradshaw, Foreword, pp. xi–xiv n. 10.
Those holding the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. In fact, that Priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam.
See also J. F. Smith, Jr., Way 1945, p. 208.
Because of the sacred nature of the ordinance that confers the fulness of the priesthood, it is generally described only in very general terms (see, e.g., B. R. McConkie, New Witness, p. 315).
Although other temple ordinances had been administered to selected saints in Nauvoo beginning in 1842, the ordinance conferring the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood was not administered by the Prophet until the final months of 1843. This ordinance was sometimes referred to as a “second anointing” (J. Smith, Jr. et al., Journals, 1843-1844, p. xxi). On 6 August 1843, Brigham Young said that “if any in the Church had the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, he did not know it” (B. Young, 6 August 1843, in J. Smith, Jr., Documentary History, 5:527). However, on 22 November 1843, he finally received this much-awaited ordinance (R. K. Esplin, Succession, p. 315. See also G. M. Leonard, Nauvoo, pp. 260-261). In later instructions at the temple, President Young said (Heber C. Kimball Journal, kept by William Clayton, 26 December 1845, Church History Library, brackets added, cited in J. Smith, Jr., Words, p. 304 n. 21. Cf. J. Smith, Jr. et al., Journals, 1843-1844, 23 July 1843, p. 66):
Those who … come in here [i.e., the Nauvoo Temple] and have received their washing and anointing will [later, if faithful,] be ordained Kings and Priests, and will then have received the fulness of the Priesthood, all that can be given on earth. For Brother Joseph said he had given us all that could be given to man on the earth.
In contrast to the priesthood ordinances discussed previously which are available to all faithful members of the Church in this life, this crowning ordinance of the temple is now almost always reserved as a blessing for the hereafter. Indeed, even if the ordinance could be performed in this life, the realization of the blessings it portends could not be made fully effective in mortality. Emphasizing the anticipatory nature of this ordinance, Brigham Young explained that “a person may be anointed king and priest long before he receives his kingdom” (cited in ibid., 6 August 1843, 5:527).
A common misunderstanding that one’s calling and election are made sure through the ordinance that confers the fulness of the priesthood, but this is not the case. The ordinance is necessary but not sufficient (J. M. Bradshaw, Temple Themes in the Oath, pp. 62-63). For a detailed reconstruction of the most extensive sermon by Joseph Smith on this topic, see J. M. Bradshaw, Now That We Have the Words.
Smith’s vision looks like a typical conversion vision of Jesus (insofar as a Christophany can be typical — that is, it shares a common pattern) when the account from his most “Protestant” phase is used and is set only in the context of revivalism. Yet there is no reason to limit analysis only to that account and that context. All accounts, and not only the earliest, provide evidence for the character of the original experience. Indeed, literary scholars Neal Lambert and Richard Cracroft (N. E. Lambert et al., Literary Form) have argued from their comparison of the respectively constrained and free-flowing styles of the 1832 and 1838 accounts that the former attempts to contain the new wine of Smith’s theophany in an old wineskin of narrative convention. While the 1838 telling, in which the experience is both a conversion and a prophetic calling, is straightforward and natural, the 1832 account seems formal and forced, as if young Smith’s experience was ready to burst the old wineskin or had been shoehorned into a revivalistic conversion narrative five sizes too small.
Noting that “latter-day revelation gives us the fuller account and meaning of what actually took place on the Mount” where Moses came into the presence of the Lord (Moses 1), Elder Alvin R. Dyer saw a similarity between the heavenly ascent of Moses and that of Joseph Smith in the First Vision (A. R. Dyer, Meaning, p. 12). For a detailed description of allusions to ordinances in the first chapter of the book of Moses, see J. M. Bradshaw, Moses Temple Themes (2014), pp. 26–50.