Monday, October 21, 2019

Book Review: Gathered in One, by Bradley J. Kramer

Book Review: Gathered in One - How the Bookof Mormon Counters Anti-Semitism in the New Testament, by Bradley J. Kramer

Gathered in One: How the Book of Mormon Counters Anti-Semitism in the New Testament

Ever since the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 AD, Jews have been a hiss and a by-word of the nations.With the temple destroyed and Jews scattered throughout the Empire, there was not much hope for them to recover. In hopes of completely eliminating the Jews from memory, the Romans eventually renamed the city and repopulated it with other peoples.

Jews faced pogroms in Russia and Poland. We all remember the look on Tevye's face (played by Topol) in Fiddler on the Roof, as his oldest daughter's marriage feast is ransacked by Russian soldiers, or when they were forced to leave their village, Anatevka. In reality, this forced pilgrimage occurred in hundreds of villages throughout Russia.

The Spanish Inquisition tortured Jews into converting into Christianity, dying, or fleeing into yet another exile. Hitler blamed Germany's problems on the Jews, who were treated as chattel and marched into furnaces by the millions. To this very day, anti-semitism threatens Jews throughout much of the world.

This anti-semitism comes to us, in part, from the New Testament. In his book, "Gathered in One," Bradley J. Kramer discusses how the New Testament, and especially the Gospels and Acts put full blame on the Jews for the death of Jesus. He doesn't stop there. He then explains how the Book of Mormon counters that anti-semitism, not by trying to smooth it over, but by addressing it directly.

"Gathered in One" is about 150 pages long, and contains the following chapters:

  1. Gathered in One
  2. A Book Proceeded Forth
  3. A Record to Establish the Truth of the First
  4. We Did Observe to Keep the Commandments
  5. "Think Not That I Am Come to Destroy the Law"
  6. That the Last May Be First, and the First May Be Last
  7. I Will Gather Them In
"The Book of Mormon is unique. Simply as literature, it stands alone."

So begins the first chapter. Throughout the rest of the book, Kramer shows us one important way in which it is such a valued volume. The first chapters discuss the New Testament's hatred towards Jews, and in a very convincing manner. Kramer quotes various scholars on how they attempt to manage the more difficult passages: from trying to take the Bible as a whole, to totally dismissing those verses and stories as later additions to the story.

For Kramer, the Book of Mormon takes a different approach. It engages anti-semitism "at its New Testament source."  Nowhere does the Book of Mormon explicitly discuss anti-semitism, but throughout its teachings and stories, it shows a love for the scriptures (Brass Plates), the Law of Moses, and the dispersed of Israel.

While the Book of Mormon never names any specific Jewish holiday, Kramer shows from inferences inside the tome how each major holy day (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot) was instituted by Lehi and the Nephites. Interestingly, he also engages the concept of the Sabbath, explaining that the Jubilee was a year long Sabbath, where even the land rested. This was a time when slaves were freed, debts forgiven, and the people focused on and rejoiced in their God. Then, from the Book of Mormon, he noted that during the period of 4 Nephi, the Nephites enjoyed a "centuries long" Sabbath. This expanded the idea of the holy Sabbath, extending it longer than the Bible does, in anticipation for the millennial Sabbath when the Savior comes again.

Where Paul left the Jews for the Gentiles and the known world, Nephites dealt with "near-Gentiles" or Lamanites. Kramer shows that as Paul and his companions had a big vision that turned them from destroying the Church to being its greatest missionaries, so the Book of Mormon has a similar story. Alma, Ammon and his brethren were also changed through an angelic vision. After preaching among the Nephites to repair their wrong-doings, they went out to the Lamanites to bring them from their pagan beliefs back to Christ. Just as Paul was persecuted, yet had great success, so Ammon and his brethren struggled but gained many converts.

Kramer uses many such analogies to show how the Book of Mormon focuses on bringing people to Christ, that they are not cast off forever. In fact, the Book of Mormon frequently speaks of the return of the Jews, and Kramer carefully covers this area. It isn't the Gentile Christians who will bring them back (though they will carry them on their shoulders), but the Lord who will prepare them.

The Book of Mormon IS unique. It has the fullness of the gospel. It deftly handles many modern issues of faith within its pages. Bradley J. Kramer shows us another key way in which the book deals with such an important issue. Our modern world has often revolved around hating Jews, frequently based upon their reading of the New Testament. The Book of Mormon teaches us to love the Jews and thank them for providing us the Bible in the first place. Kramer's book helps us to see the many facets of that respect found within the Book of Mormon.


Available at:

Greg Kofford Books:  https://gregkofford.com/products/gathered-in-one

Amazon Books: https://www.amazon.com/Gathered-One-Anti-Semitism-Testament-Contemporary/dp/158958709X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=kramer+gathered+in+one&qid=1571654310&sr=8-1












Sunday, October 20, 2019

Come Follow Me - 1 & 2 Thessalonians

Come Follow Me - 1 & 2 Thessalonians

Paul and his companions had only a short period in Thessalonica to preach the gospel. Having much success in converting Jews and Gentiles in the area, Paul was cast out of the city for disturbing the normal peace in the area.

Growing in Holiness

In writing his first epistle to Thessalonica, he was reassured of their faithfulness in following the path upon which he set them. However, he wanted to encourage them to continue on that path.

"For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.  
"He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
"But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
"And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;" (1 Thess 4:7-10)
Paul did not want them to remain settled on one level of goodness, but to daily become ever more holy.  We hear this same encouragement from President Henry B. Eyring:

"He (Alma) taught his son that increasing in holiness was the only path to happiness. He made it plain that greater holiness is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ cleansing and perfecting us. Only by faith in Jesus Christ, continuing repentance, and keeping covenants are we able to claim the lasting happiness we all yearn to experience and retain.

"My prayer for today is that I may help you understand that greater happiness comes from greater personal holiness so that you will act upon that belief. I will then share what I know for myself about what we can do to qualify for that gift of becoming ever more holy.

"The scriptures teach us that among other things, we can be sanctified or become more holy when we exercise faith in Christ, demonstrate our obedience, repent, sacrifice for Him, receive sacred ordinances, and keep our covenants with Him. Qualifying for the gift of holiness requires humility, meekness, and patience." (Henry B. Eyring, "Holiness and the Plan of Happiness,"October 2019 General Conference, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/10/51eyring?lang=eng )
For Paul, receiving the grace, love and goodness of God was not a one shot deal. Nor was creating a holy people. Pres Eyring emphasized the need for more holiness, as the pathway to happiness in this life, and into the eternities. Note he wished for us to understand that happiness comes from greater holiness, and then to act on that belief. 

So, do we truly believe that happiness comes from greater holiness? If so, then why do we seem to act as if our belief is otherwise? Why do we seek happiness from worldly things, except we believe deep down inside that is where we must find it. Clearly, many of us do not understand this principle. Or, if we understand it, we do not believe it enough to act upon it.''

Translation and Resurrection

"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
"For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
"Wherefore comfort one another with these words."(1 Thess 4:13-18)
Paul had to reinforce some concepts for the people. First, there is a resurrection. The dead will arise. Unlike the pagan religions, there is hope for a glorious resurrection. 

Then, he explained what would happen to those alive at Christ's Second Coming: they would be translated or raptured. This change in the body is not a permanent one, but will allow the righteous to stand in the presence of Christ, as he comes in his glory. 

Some Christians miscontrue these passages as meaning a rapture that will occur 3 1/2 years prior to the 2nd Coming, as one reads in the "Left Behind" book series. While the books are interesting, they don't reflect the actual teaching here. There will be no rapture that takes true believers out of the midst of the final tribulations. Instead, the righteous will establish Zion, as a refuge from the storms (D&C 45), until Christ comes in glory again.

In chapter 5, we get the sense that the 2nd Coming would come soon. In fact, the early Christians believed the Second Coming would happen in their generation, and so were eagerly awaiting it. In his second epistle, Paulfurther explained that several key things had to occur prior to the 2nd Coming, suggesting it may not happen as soon as some members wished.

Paul ended this first letter:

"Rejoice evermore.
"Pray without ceasing.
"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
"Quench not the Spirit.
"Despise not prophesyings.
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
"Abstain from all appearance of evil.
"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess 5:16-23)
2 Thessalonians

In his second epistle, Paul clarified his teachings from the first letter regarding the 2nd Coming. 
"Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
"That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
"Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
"Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." (2 Thess 2:1-4)
Many Christians in the early years believed Christ would return in that same generation. Paul explained that there were several things that first had to occur. One was that Satan, in the form of a powerful ruler, would have to not only rule over the earth, but set himself up on God's throne. This is both a political and religious leader that will offer a form of salvation to mankind. Only through the glory of Christ's 2nd Coming would this impostor be truly revealed and dethroned.

Knowing that such would be a huge trial for the true believers, Paul encouraged:

"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." (2 Thess 2:15)
For us in the latter days, as we see Satan sitting upon the thrones in many nations, or holding the hearts of government leaders, and knowing many people are enticed by their offerings and other forms of worldly salvation, it is very necessary to "stand fast." In fact, on many occasions, we are encouraged in scripture and by modern prophets to "stand in holy places and be not moved" (D&C 87:8). 

With millions of voices screaming in our ears over television, internet, and other media, it is not easy to stand fast. Satan seeks to stir us up to anger or to pacify us to sleep (2 Nephi 28). However, if we focus on Christ and his gospel, understanding and acting upon becoming more holy, we find that we can find peace and happiness even while the world is in commotion. As we become holy, the places where we stand become holy, as well. In such places of holiness, we will not be moved.






Thursday, October 17, 2019

Come Follow Me - Philippians, Colossians

The Epistle to the Philippians

It is generally agreed that Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians around 62 AD, while he was imprisoned  in Rome.  Philippi was an early Christian strong hold that truly endeared Paul, and was loved by him.  While much of the membership there was poor, they were still at the forefront of Christian communities that gave alms to Paul to take care of the poor in Jerusalem. Due to internal concepts that change, it is possible that Philippians is actually portions of up to three letters written by Paul.

A very key part of Paul’s writing may have been a hymn already used by Christians, but definitely used later.  This is the Kenosis Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11.  Kenosis means an “emptying”.  We can see a major difference in translation comparing the KJV version to other translations.


“5. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (KJV, Phil 2:5-11).

“5. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
6. who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7. but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
8. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
9. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
10. so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11. and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (NASV, Phil 2:5-11)

Not robbery to be like God
Phil 2:6

.A couple major differences can be seen here.  First, in verse 6 the translations seem to contradict each other. KJV says Christ did not think it robbery to be like God, while the NASV suggests that equality with God cannot be grasped.  Such is the disagreement of translation.

Other English translations render the phrase like this:

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (NIV).

“who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped” (ASV).

The general interpretation is that while Christ was God or equal with God the Father, as a mortal, he did not use this to his own advantage.  Instead of exalting himself, Christ humbled himself below all mankind, and in debasing himself, he allowed God to exalt him above all.  It is important to note that we are to have this same concept in mind: if we are humble servants, God will lift us above all others as well, making us equals with Christ.

Of no reputation
Phil 2:7

The other phrase that stands out as different, we see that Christ would be “emptied out” (NASV) or of “no reputation” (KJV).  In other Bible versions, we read:

“he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (NIV).

“but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (ASV).

“but he lowed himself [but he meeked himself]” (Wycliffe Bible).

There is a early Christian concept that when Jesus came down to his mortal life, he literally emptied himself of his glory, in order to appear as a normal mortal, and so he would experience all things a mortal would.  Such would leave Jesus vulnerable to all the frailties, weaknesses, temptations, fears and trials of any mortal.  In the end, he would descend below all things as the greatest of all servants. In doing this, he lifts us up as the Father lifts him up.  We are glorified in Christ as Christ is glorified in the Father.

In the Apocalypse of Isaiah, an early Jewish writing that was modified by early Christians, Isaiah has ascended through the levels of heaven to the highest level. There he sees God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, and worships them with the angels.  Jesus then descends through the levels of heaven on his way to earth.  As he descends, he empties himself of glory, so that those angels on that particular level of heaven see him as they are.  As he reaches earth, he is emptied of his glory.  Because of several similarities, Lehi’s vision of Christ’s descent may have been just like Isaiah’s account (see 1 Nephi 1).

Because of such concepts, Philippians is considered by some scholars as the beginning of Christology, or the study of Christ’s life and atonement.  The focus on love, peace, and knowledge of God fits perfectly for those of us who seek to be true disciples, or followers, of the Messiah; who emptied himself of glory, became a servant of all mankind, and was then exalted by God the Father for bringing knowledge and love of God to all mankind.

Epistle to the Colossians

The epistle to the Colossians is a disputed letter of Paul written in Rome or Ephesus. Many scholars think it was written by one of Paul’s followers, perhaps Onesimus.  Other scholars insist that it is an authentic Pauline letter.  If Paul is the author, it was written while he was imprisoned in the late 50s AD.  If written by a follower, it could be as late as 85 AD. He provided his own residence, but his right arm chained to the left arm of a Roman soldier day and night, the soldiers being relieved daily.

Being only a few miles from Laodicea, one of the cities mentioned by the Lord in Revelation, it seems the people of Colosse suffered from some of the same problems the Lord found against Laodicea:

“14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev 3:14-19).

A variety of false teachers infected the city.  Some were teaching the members to worship angels as the equal or superior of Jesus Christ. Some Colossians may also have been introducing concepts of pagan worship into Christian worship.  This included the worship of other gods in addition to God and Christ.  Paul explained in the letter that Jesus was not just another Greek or Roman god, but that Jesus,

“15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col 1:15-17).

The “invisible God” was one that had no statue nor likeness to worship.  In stating that Jesus created all things in heaven (meaning the objects in the sky) and earth,  Paul is making him greater than the angels, or Zeus and the other gods of the ancient world.  Each Greek/Roman god was a specialist.  Venus was the goddess of love.  Athena was the goddess of wisdom. Apollo was the god of the arts.  Paul established that Jesus was the God of all these specialties and so much more.
There was no reason, therefore, to worship any angel or the pagan gods.  The Colossians did not need to be lukewarm regarding their faith.  They needed to wholly dedicate their worship to Christ, rather than dawdling in worshiping pantheons or attempting to cover all the bases (just in case). They did not need to worry about angering angels, Zeus or other gods, as Jesus trumped them all.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Come Follow Me - Ephesians

Come Follow Me - Ephesians


Who wrote Ephesians

The tenth book of the New Testament is generally considered to not have been written by Paul, but perhaps by one of his disciples (Timothy, Titus, etc).  While tradition has it written by Paul around 62 AD while imprisoned at Rome, most scholars believe it was written after 80 AD.   The earliest manuscripts suggest it was written to “the saints”, rather than to the Ephesians.  The author does not seem to know the people of Ephesus very well (Eph 1:15-16), which Paul would know intimately, given he spent several years there in his missionary efforts.  In fact, Marcion, a later Gnostic Christian leader, believed the letter was instead sent to the Laodiceans, given the content of the letter.


Two key themes are that the Church members should get along, be unified in the work of Christ, and that the body of Christ (the Church) should be kept pure.  Such concepts suggest that Paul’s letter is primarily focused on behavior rather than doctrine.  


Grace not Works
Ephesians 1-2


The epistle begins by telling us that we are “predestined” to be adopted children of God, having been chosen of God from “before the foundation of the world.”  In this sense, Paul is explaining that even before birth, Christ chose to save the world, adopting all as his own if they will but “be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph 1:4-5).  This fits in well with the LDS concept of fore-ordination.  We believe that before this mortal existence, we dwelt with God.  Satan and many angels rebelled against God and were cast out as devils.  Those who were not cast out, were then prepared to come to mortal life, in order to develop faith and faithfulness in Christ.  Those who are born upon the earth are “predestined” to come here and freely partake of the atonement of Christ.

Sin brings spiritual death.  We are no longer in the presence of God, even symbolically.  We are no longer holy.  But Jesus spiritually brings us back to life through grace (Eph 2:4-6).  


“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).

Paul is speaking on two levels here.  First, the works required by the Law of Moses will not save us.  We can sacrifice animals all day long, be circumcised, and follow all the 613 points of the Mosaic law, and still not be resurrected nor brought back into God’s presence.

Instead, we are saved solely by the atonement of Christ.  Through our faith in Christ prior to this existence, we accepted him as Savior.  For this past faith, all those born into mortality will resurrect.  We are saved from physical death.  Through our faith in Christ in this life, we are saved from spiritual death and hell.  

It is a simple faith and repentance that is required to escape spiritual death and hell.  When Jesus was on the cross, he promised the repentant thief “To day thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  Paradise is a portion of the Spirit World, where the dead await the resurrection.  The thief would not have to suffer in Spirit Prison/hell for sins, because he already believed and repented of them (1 Peter 3:18-22, 2 Corinthians 12:1-4).

In the Book of Mormon, the rebellious Alma had a near death experience, in which he noted the intense suffering he went through in hell:  

“Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments....
And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:11-20).

There was no cause for him to pay for his sins.  Christ had already done so.  The only requirement was to believe and repent.  Once his repentance was complete, he was rescued.  

So it is with us in this life.  We have sinned and fallen from grace.  We return to grace, or life in Christ by believing on him, exercising faith, and repenting.  In the previous lesson on Romans, I discussed justification in regards to this process of salvation by grace.  We are made guiltless or without sin. We are reconciled with God through Christ (Eph 2:16).


From Sinner to Saint
Ephesians 2


With the discussion on justification, or to be made guiltless through Christ’s grace, Paul moves on to making us Saints through the sanctification of the Spirit.

“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph 2:18-22).
Once we are justified (made sinless) in Christ’s blood through faith in Christ and repentance, we are ready to join the Saints through baptism of water and the Spirit.  The Holy Ghost moves upon us, making a mighty change in us, causing us to “no more have disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:1-4).  As we grow spiritually, line upon line, from one level of grace to the next level of grace, receiving “grace for grace” even as Jesus did in his mortal life (D&C 93:11-14).

As the Spirit changes us, we keep the great commandments without fear nor pressure. We desire spiritual things, and to be like Christ.  We seek to be as the Saints, or righteous members of the body of Christ, his Church.  As “fellow citizens of the household of God”, we embrace the foundation Christ has built for us: “apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”

So, as we establish ourselves on Christ’s atonement and the teachings of both dead and living oracles of God, we grow in grace and righteousness.  We become sanctified and righteous, symbolically becoming “an holy  temple in the Lord.”


As we truly become as Christ is, a place where the Holy Spirit may reside, barriers break down between the Saints.  In the world, we see contention, arguments, hatred, spite, and enmity among families, peoples and nations.  Jews and Gentiles were often divided in Paul’s day.  But with the covenant of Christ, they were now one house of God.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, we learn:
“the establishment of a community of salvation welcoming within its fold both Jews and Gentiles without distinction, the Death of Christ having broken down the middle wall of partition, i.e. the Law, and both sections of the human race having thus been reconciled to God so as thenceforth to form but one body, one house, one temple, of which the apostles and Christian prophets are the foundation and Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 1:16-2:20)”

Not only does Christ break down the partitions of the Law of Moses, but every other wall that separates mankind. For example, in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, a giant gulf separated the two dead men.  In Luke 16, we find that Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham (Paradise), while the rich man suffered in hell (Spirit Prison). With the resurrection and atonement, Jesus bridged that gulf, so that even the rich man can have a chance to believe and repent of his sins (1 Peter 4:6, 3:18-22).  As people believe in Christ and are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, they are no more strangers, but family.  

Pass through any Christian congregation that is filled with the Spirit and you will find a united people with compassion, love and kindness.  Glance at the world we live in today, and you will find discord, contention, hatred, war, violence, and sin.  Whether in politics, in many religions, sports, etc, there is a continual strife.

Among the first things the resurrected Christ taught the Nephites was:
“And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.
And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:27-30).

The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in all attributes. The only difference in them is they are separate persons or personages. Such is the example we are given from the Godhead.  We must be united in faith, hope and charity in Christ.  That our sainthood and holiness must be founded upon apostles and prophets, with Christ as the chief cornerstone, makes perfect sense.  To the faithful Latter-day Saints, the Lord stated:

“he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;  And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:36-38).

On the other hand, Satan thrives on contention.  His is a house divided, whereon he can master all within the house by keeping them at odds with one another.  We must seek to be united, as Paul and Jesus taught, or we cannot be of the household of God and dwell as saints with Christ.


Paul as the least of the saints
Ephesians 3


Paul then describes his role in this wonderful plan of salvation, unity and reconciliation.  His responsibility is to bring the gospel and  the mysteries of godliness to the Gentiles.  What once was the sole domain of the Jews would now go forth throughout the world!  The Gentiles would become joint-heirs with the Jews of all that God wished to give mankind.

Paul’s greatest hope was:

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph 3:17-19).

Only as a Saint, one who is justified in Christ (made guiltless) and sanctified in the Spirit (made holy) can know of Christ’s love and to receive “all that the Father hath.”

How to be ONE
Ephesians 4


For the Saints to truly be Saints means there must be one way of doing things. There really is only “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5).  Yet, while not everyone is ready just now to be a saint and have a fullness of God’s blessings, they can still receive grace.  “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph 4:7).  We see that levels of grace are given to those who seek, according to the level they are ready and willing to receive.  Again, we move from “grace to grace” receiving “grace for grace” (D&C 93) as we become more and more sanctified and perfected in Christ, even until we receive a fullness.  

As Alma noted:
“the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true” (Alma 29:8).

Becoming a saint, becoming one, is a process.  It does not occur the moment we believe, the moment we are baptized, nor the moment the Spirit first touches our hearts with pure testimony.  And God has provided helps to guide us in the process of becoming one.

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:11-15).

Not only is the Spirit given to us to guide us along, but men called from God are sent to assist us.  There are many  evangelists, pastors and teachers in the world that help much of mankind to live better lives, guiding them according to the knowledge they have received.  The more grounded they are in the Bible and the whisperings of the Spirit, the more they can help their flocks become unified in Christ.  


Interestingly, the first two noted by Paul, namely apostles and prophets, are in a class of their own. Anciently, God “only revealed his secrets through his servants, the prophets” (Amos 3:7).  Moses, Isaiah, and other prophets foresaw the coming of Christ, and prepared the hearts of the people in their day.  The prophet John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord’s mortal ministry, which began with his own baptism.  Paul believed the prophecies of Agabus, the prophet. John the Revelator saw in vision that the events of Armageddon in the last days will include two prophets in Jerusalem.  And in the midst of all this, the Lord called twelve special prophets, named “apostles.”  These would be special witnesses of the resurrected Lord.  Paul would also be such a special witness, having seen the Lord Jesus in vision.  His witness would be retold several times by him in the scriptures, and countless other times by those who read his account and believe.


Today, the Lord has again called forth apostles and prophets to join their voices with the ancient ones.  Through Joseph Smith, the Lord restored the priesthood callings of apostle and prophet. Today, we enjoy the blessings of listening to modern prophets and apostles.  They are special witnesses of the resurrected Christ, inviting us to repent and believe, inviting us to become united as saints of God.

Their voice is given us to enhance and add greater things of God to the voice of the wonderful pastors, priests, and teachers that preach faith in Christ throughout the world.  The teachings of modern prophets and apostles include the teachings of the temple, wherein we learn the mysteries of godliness, and the highest form of unity.  


If Paul was the actual author of Ephesians, then the Jerusalem temple still stood.  If not, then the temple had been destroyed for at least a decade or more.  Either way, the author would have known the workings of the temple.  He would have understood the importance of using it as a symbol for those seeking to be saints.  Symbolically or literally, the temple must be founded on Christ as the cornerstone, with apostles and prophets as foundation.  In this way, the people know how to follow Christ in unity.  There are no major variations of doctrine that can twist and toss members around in vain contentions.  We will not all come to a full “unity of faith” until we all repent and embrace the living prophets and apostles of Christ.  That probably will not occur until His 2nd Coming.


In the meantime, those LDS saints who enter the modern temples of God, learn that it really is the “House of God” and a place where “the Spirit of God like a fire is burning.”  In the process of receiving sacred rites for oneself or vicariously for one’s ancestors, we find a oneness.  Individuals are united across the ages into eternal families.  The dead in the Spirit World, who never had the chance to hear of Christ’s grace in mortality, are given the chance to accept a baptism done on their behalf.  Passing through rooms that represent the gloom and contention of earth life, we symbolically rise to higher levels of grace and glory, until we are taken into the Celestial Room and enjoy fellowship with God and Christ in the perfect union of oneness.



Bibliography

Ephesians - wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Ephesians

Ephesians - New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05485a.htm

Ephesians -  Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ephesians.html

“The Spirit of God”, LDS hymn #2: http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollection=1&searchseqstart=2&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=2&searchsubseqend=ZZZ

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Come Follow Me - Galatians

The Epistle to the Galatians

Another Gospel
Chapter 1

Paul made a bold statement to protect the gospel in his day from apostates’ false claims. Today, this is often misinterpreted by some Christians to show that other Christian faiths (such as Latter-day Saints) are evil:

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)

As in Corinth, Paul is fighting a growing problem of false apostles and teachings entering into the Christian church. A big problem is the continual push by Jewish Christians to enforce the Law of Moses upon all Christians, Jew and Gentile. It is almost as if the decision made by Peter and James in Jerusalem regarding Gentile converts and circumcision and the Law did not happen, or that even the authority of the chief apostles was questioned. This growing threat from apostates would threaten the main Church for several centuries. Gnostic Christianity would come close to replacing Christianity, and in fact, influenced the concept that we now call the Trinity.

Some modern Christians use this passage to claim that Mormons preach another gospel, and that the angel mentioned is Moroni. This claim may be useful to them, if it were not taken out of context. Just reading a few more verses explains much more:


“For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:9-12)

The gospel which Paul received was not given him by any man, but through revelation. Revelation that Paul received initially came from his vision of Jesus Christ, but also by other revelations: angels, impressions from the Holy Ghost, and revelations shared by other apostles and prophets (like Peter). Paul was warning about regular men corrupting the teachings of Christ, perhaps claiming that an angel taught them something different. Why? Because beginning already in Paul’s day were men who were corrupting the gospel with false claims. Paul warned that after he left a region, “grievous wolves” would enter in to tear the flock with false doctrines (Acts 20:28-35). Some would later claim that Jesus had already returned for the Second Coming, and Gnostics would insist that the resurrection was not a physical/bodily resurrection. For those deeply studying the Bible, it seems clear that the Great Apostasy was already in its early stages during Paul's lifetime.

That Joseph Smith had a First Vision of Jesus Christ, telling him regarding the truth of religion, just as Jesus did for Paul, should help us realize that it was not another angel preaching another gospel, but it was God restoring gospel truth via revelation of Jesus Christ!  Writing decades after Paul wrote Galatians, the apostle John would mention many angels coming to earth, one even bringing the gospel with him:

"And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Revelation 14:6)

 Joseph Smith did not preach a different gospel given him by a false angel. It was another angel that brought the "everlasting gospel." He preached the same gospel that Christ preached, and was taught to restore ancient teachings and authority.

Controversy over the Law of Moses

However, apostate concepts were already apparent among the Galatians, as Jewish-Christians came among them insisting that the members had to live by the Law of Moses. For several years, the young Christian Church had lived with the apostolic order that Gentiles did not have to abide the Law of Moses, yet here came members preaching false teachings!

Paul explained that the issue was already resolved years before in Jerusalem. By revelation, the Spirit sent Paul to Jerusalem to discuss the matter, and the apostles Peter,James and John spoke on behalf of the Gentile converts: they did not need to be circumcised nor follow the Law of Moses. A small list of laws were given for them to follow, including being chaste and not worshiping idols. But the Law of Moses would not apply to the Gentiles.


“And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.
Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.” (Galatians 2:9-10)

The Galatians could live by the difficult law of Moses or by faith in Christ. The Law of Moses would not save them, but Christ could and would through faith on his name. This is not to say they didn’t have to keep commandments. It does mean they did not keep all the hundreds of commandments in the law of Moses. Instead, they lived a higher law: by growing in faith and repentance in Christ, they would naturally seek to serve Christ and their fellow man. Loving others, forgiving others, helping others would come naturally as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit due to their faith on Christ.

Paul explained that the promises were made to Abraham and his seed. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as the original Twelve Tribes of Israel did not live the Law of Moses and its many restrictions. They worked through faith, and were blessed and considered holy because of their faith.

Moses tried to bring Israel the fullness of the gospel and bring them into the presence of Christ at Mount Sinai (D&C 84:19-26). Israel refused to go up the mountain to see Christ, and so the Melchizedek Priesthood’s fullness was taken from them. They were given the lesser priesthood of Aaron/Levi, and the many rules of the Mosaic Law in the stead of the higher law of Christ. Paul explained that the Law “was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). Once we find ourselves walking in the path of Christ’s fullness, we no longer need the Law of Moses, as we are now made holy in Christ and will walk by faith, and not by physical works of the Law of Moses. Under the Law, we were slaves to the law. Under Christ, we are made free.

“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29)

By faith in Christ, repenting of our sins, and making a covenant with Christ through baptism, we put on Christ, or become Christ-like and holy. No longer slaves to the Law, we are freed. We become the family of Christ, the seed of Abraham and heirs of God through Christ.

Heirs of God through Christ

Paul continues in chapter four, explaining that we are all born slaves and servants on earth because of sin. We have no way to change our eternal path on our own. Without Jesus, we would forever be slaves to death and hell.

But God has seen fit to send us a Savior. We are spiritually adopted into the family of God through our covenant with Christ. We exercise faith in him, we repent, and we accept the covenant. In turn, he promises to make us the seed of Abraham and heirs of God.

“And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:6-7)

Because of the Fall of Adam, we are out of God’s presence. Christ provides the reconciliation between the natural and spiritual man, so that we may be made holy and return as heirs of God into His presence.

Paul was afraid for the Galatians and he feared he wasted his time on them. For even after accepting the gospel, they were wont to go after other gods, They celebrated the festivals of the pagan gods, whether they lasted days, weeks or months. One cannot be a true son of God through Christ, if also proclaiming to follow other gods as well.

Abraham had two wives: Sarah and Hagar, an Egyptian woman. One was called the daughter of God, the other lived and acted the part of a servant/slave. The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, but given the chance to be sons of the Divine at Mount Sinai. We and the Galatians both have to decide whether to remain slaves in unbelief, or rise above our current state and choose to be like Sarah: chosen by Jehovah to be his daughter and heir, knowing she would be faithful to Abraham, the covenant, and the Lord.

Finally, in chapter five Paul explains:

“For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” (Galatians 5:6)

It does not matter whether we are circumcised or not. Outward evidences are only useful as symbols of our inward love, faith and devotion to Christ and Heavenly Father. As the Lord explained through Moses:

“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff necked” (Deut 10:16).

Paul taught that the commandments are important and necessary to keep. Obedience keeps us from following Satan and being in his power. Keeping the commandments may bring us earthly blessings and good fortune. But the keeping of commandments alone cannot save nor exalt us. The Pharisees kept many commandments, rules, regulations, and even made up more to follow in order to build a wall of protection around the Torah (Books of Moses). Yet, these efforts only led them away from Christ, as they focused on the external changes, and not on changing from within.

We must BECOME Christ-like in order to be a son or daughter of God. This change occurs as we grow in faith and repent of our sins. The Holy Ghost inspires us to live righteously, and in following his inspiration, we naturally keep the commandments of God more and more, until we become perfected in Christ. We keep the commandments because we desire to be holy and find joy in being like Jesus. For those struggling with such a concept, we have repentance. We are called upon to keep commandments, and Paul gives a laundry list in Galatians of the commandments we need to follow. But we do not follow them as one would follow the Law of Moses, except that they become a schoolmaster to lead us to faith in Christ, changing us from temporal slavery to spiritual freedom. Our faith in Christ fills us with the Holy Ghost, heals us, and makes us whole. We become true disciples of Christ, and heirs of God.