Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 9 - Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God - Matthew 6-7

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 9 - Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God
Matthew 6-7

This week is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. Last week’s blog discussed how the Sermon on the Mount, and particularly the Beatitudes, were stepping stones to prepare us to be like God and to return to his presence. The expectation and command Jesus gave his disciples was, “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which art in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). While we can determine that no one is absolutely perfect in mortality, it does seem that we can become perfect in a fashion acceptable to the Savior. The word “perfect” meant “completed” or “finished” as in the potter proclaiming his prize pot of clay completed/finished and ready to be used.

In this lesson, Jesus gives specifics of ways to achieve that perfection in a variety of activities and actions that the Jews did frequently according to the Mosaic Law.

Alms, Prayer and Fasting
Matthew 6:1-18


The Mosaic Law was a very visible one. Sacrifices were performed at the temple, where all could see whether you were wealthy enough to sacrifice a lamb, or among the poor who would offer a pair of turtle doves. One wore tefilin (scriptures in a small box attached to the wrist or forehead) as an outward display of continual devotion to God. The annual ritual festivals of Passover, Tabernacles, Atonement, and others, were very significant to the Jews. Many made the pilgrimage from throughout the Greek world to attend such festivals. To attend was an outward sign of one’s faith.

The Mosaic Law was, as we can see, based on outward expressions. For the prophets, these outward expressions were to display the inward motives and desires of the true believer. However, by Jesus’ time, inward motives were ignored as the outward expressions seemed sufficient to the religious leaders of the day. Jesus would show them that outward expressions were meaningless.

Alms was the paying of tithes and offerings in order to help the poor and finance the work of the temple. Many saw it as an opportunity to promote themselves, and so when they paid their alms, they made sure everyone else saw. Imagine an actor today announcing he has donated $1 million for a children’s cause. What was the purpose of announcing the donation? Would such an announcement induce others to also contribute to the cause? Probably not as many as one would think. The main purpose, then, was to use the charitable event as self promotion.

Jewish leaders and the rich were paying alms for the same reason. It increased their popularity, made them feel good, and they received applause from their rich friends.

However, in Jesus’ view, things were different:
“41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
“42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
“43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
“44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Matthew 12:41-44).

Jesus knew that many of the rich had gained their wealth off the backs of the poor. To have someone drop $5 thousand dollars into the bucket may seem like a lot of money, but not if the person is a millionaire. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus tested the rich man who kept the commandments, calling on him to sell all he had and give it to the poor, “and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).

So, how much should we pay in alms or offerings? The Christian author C.S. Lewis suggested, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”


As for prayer, we are taught not to pray like the hypocrites, who do it openly in order to be seen of men. Perhaps the greatest thought I’ve seen on this come from Donna Nielson, who notes at her Connections blog a quote on prayer by Sadhu Sundar Singh, a Christian convert from Hinduism:

"The essence of prayer does not consist in asking for things, but in opening one’s heart to God. Prayer is continual abandonment to God. It is the desire for God himself, the giver of life. Prayer is communion with God, receiving him who is the giver of all good gifts, living a life of fellowship with him. It is breathing and living in God.
“A little child will run to his mother exclaiming: “Mother! Mother!” The child does not necessarily want anything in particular. He only wants to be near his mother, to sit on her lap, or to follow her about the house. The child longs for the sheer pleasure of being near her, talking to her, hearing her voice. This is what makes him happy.
“It is just the same with those who are truly God’s children. They do not trouble themselves with asking for spiritual blessings. They only want to sit at the Master’s feet, to be in living touch with him; then they are supremely content."

Prayer is our way to be with God, even here in mortality. When we forget those around us, and focus on being with God, giving ourselves fully to Him for those few precious moments, then we are in touch with Him, and He with us.


Fasting goes hand in hand with prayer. It prepares our physical body to receive spiritual renewal. Our lives are constantly met with the pangs of hunger for physical nourishment and attention. Fasting allows us to put off the natural man for a time, and take upon ourselves the spiritual person. It is the overcoming of the outward appearance and needs, and focusing upon the inward spiritual contact with God. For the person who “uglifies” himself outwardly so that others may see him fast, he has his reward. It is the attention of those mortals around him. Yet such action denies the beauty one should seek by quietly fasting, throwing off temptation and appetites, and lifting one’s spirit to heaven so as to touch the face of God.

Treasures in heaven and earth
Matthew 6:19-34

The Savior then speaks concerning the “root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Whatever our real treasure is, that is where our heart is, and that is where our reward is.

I work as a counselor and hearing officer (judge) in a state prison. I often have to talk with individuals who have made very poor choices in their lives. Often, bad choices made within the prison system requires me to lengthen their prison stay. This often means children will not have father home as soon as they had hoped. I often ask the offender whether they love their children. They always answer, “yes.” I then ask them why they would risk months or years more in prison by using drugs, assault another, etc., if their children are waiting for them to come home soon. I point out that their behavior shows where their treasure truly is. I have no doubt they love their kids. But I’m convinced that they love their addiction or violence even more.

In 2011 as I write this, millions of Americans risk home foreclosure, bankruptcy, or other serious financial stress. The federal and many state governments are awash in red tape. Many are out of work, or working at jobs that do not pay what they are worth. Sadly, much of this is due to the choices and actions made by those same Americans. Americans in the government wished to stimulate the economy, and so made buying a house affordable and easy. The put pressure on financial institutions to open up the piggy bank to more and more individuals, regardless of their ability to pay. The financial institutions, seeing green, convinced home buyers they could afford more home than they really could. Home buyers took out second and third mortgages to buy furniture to put inside the home. Each American involved showed where their heart was at.

For those Mormons (and others) who listened to President Gordon B. Hinckley’s prophetic warnings of economic hardships, of getting out of debt, paying off one’s modest home, and preparing for hard times, they now have the blessing of being able to better weather this economic Great Recession.

In the long run, we cannot serve two masters. Elder Jeffrey Holland said, “such people know they should have their primary residence in Zion, but they still hope to keep a summer cottage in Babylon.”

When we think of those in the scriptures, or those around us, who have traded their birthright for a mess of pottage (vegetable soup), we cannot understand how they could be so foolish. Yet, because most of us place at least some worldly treasures in our hearts, we all find ourselves in folly. This is not to say we cannot live a comfortable life. It means we need to ensure God is first and foremost, and that when given a choice, we eagerly and quickly resolve to follow God.

“28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
“29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
“30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
“ 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
“ 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
“ 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mat 6:28-33).

While not all of us will be clothed in this life with the silks and linens worn by Solomon, we can look forward to the white garments that will be placed upon the righteous as they enter heaven. And while our meals may often be meager in this life, nothing will compare to partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life, or sitting at the marriage feast of the Savior.

Enoch and Isaiah sought God first, and were clothed in white garments that showed forth the glory of God in them. As Isaiah spoke with the dead prophets, he was told,
“And many will change the honour of the garments of the saints for the garments of the covetous, and there will be much respect of persons in those days and lovers of the honour of this world” (Ascension of Isaiah 3:25).

Compare the wicked to the righteous:
“But the saints will come with the Lord with their garments which are (now) stored up on high in the seventh heaven: with the Lord they will come, whose spirits are clothed, they will descend and be present in the world, and He will strengthen those, who have been found in the body, together with the saints, in the garments of the saints, and the Lord will minister to those who have kept watch in this world” (ibid ch 4:16).

As Isaiah ascended the levels of heaven, he reached the 7th heaven where the beginning of the most holy heavens began:

“AND he (the angel) took me into the air of the seventh heaven, and moreover I heard a voice (one of the sentinels) saying: ‘How far will he (Isaiah) ascend that dwelleth in the flesh?’ And I feared and trembled.
“And when I trembled, behold, I heard from hence another voice being sent forth, and saying: ‘It is permitted to the holy Isaiah to ascend hither; for here is his garment’” (ch 9:1-2).

God seeks to clothe us with wonderful white garments, even as the white lilies of the field are clothed by God. But we must have our treasure in heaven, if we wish to obtain such a treasure as this.

More Celestial Teachings
Matthew 7

Judging and Hypocrites

In the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, we are taught “Judge not unrighteously”. This is a major change to what we read in the KJV. Still, it is important that we use care in any judgments we do. Often, we do not know the whole story behind an event or decision, and so are only judging with a partial understanding. While God can see the thoughts and desires of all men, including their life struggles that brought them to where they are, we can only see a brief moment of behaviors. We may not see how the murderer was abused as a child, or how the addict was directed to drugs by his parents. While this does not excuse behavior, it allows God to judge it differently than we are able to do so.

Often our judgment is clouded by personal beliefs, perceptions, and idiosyncrasies. There are many good Christians who believe Mormons are a cult and will burn in hell, regardless of whether they proclaim Jesus their personal Savior or not. There was a time when some white people did not believe blacks had souls, or to give them full rights as citizens would destroy the nation. There are many who believe the earth is only 6000 years old and those who do not believe it will be damned.

Such are the beams or wood planks that inflict our own spiritual vision. We cannot help save others if we insist on fiercely holding onto our own perceptions and beliefs. Jesus said that all who believe in him and follow him will be saved. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that there are exceptions to this rule. Nowhere in scripture does it say blacks are without souls, or are the descendants of Cain. And both the Creationist and Evolutionist have a seat at Jesus’ supper.

Our responsibility is to use judgment with great care, ensuring we are not turning Christ’s pure and sacred doctrine into a Pharisaical set of complex rules geared towards condemning all but our own group.

Sacred Pearls

Some things the world is not ready for. Sacred things are often made trivial by being made common place. When Jesus cleansed the temple of the money changers, those charging exorbitant prices to travelers who wanted to exchange foreign money for local money and animals for sacrifice, he showed the importance of keeping sacred things sacred.

Places, doctrines, and experiences may all be sacred. God often uses holy space (Eden, Sinai, temple) as a place to speak with mankind. His doctrines are sacred, and He often gives us “line upon line” as we are ready for it, so that we do not reject or ignore it. At Sinai, Israel was not ready for the doctrine of Christ, and so were given the lower law of Moses (D&C 84:19-27). Moses and Joshua were commanded to remove their shoes in sacred places. Isaiah, Enoch, Moriancumer, Jacob, Abraham, Moses stood in the presence of God; what experience could be greater than that?

Yet, many people today speak of such sacred things in such common ways. Many Christians will share their most sacred experiences to just about anyone around them. They do not realize they are taking sacred experiences and events, and tossing them before swine. Swine are the unclean; those who are not truly interested in the sacred. Swine are those who constantly dwell in filth, and root around in the mud to fulfill their personal appetites.

When we keep things sacred, God knows he can trust us with more sacred experiences. So when we ask him for a fish, he will give us a fish. He desires to give us good things, but only as we are ready for them (Alma 29:8).

Beware of False Prophets

The warning concerning false prophets is one often tossed out at Mormons: Jesus warned about false prophets, therefore Mormon prophets must be false ones.

Herein lies the fallacy of that assumption. The Bible continues to have prophets (Acts 21:10), and even John the Revelator prophesied of two prophets who would dwell in Jerusalem in the last days (Rev 11). If there are to be no more prophets after Jesus, then Agabus and the two prophets foreseen by John must be false prophets. Yet, they are not.

What Jesus warns about is that there are false prophets among us, and we must learn to distinguish them from the true prophets. How do we tell a true prophet from a false one? By his fruits. We do not believe any of the prophets to have been perfect, and we even see mistakes among some of them in the Bible. But we should be able to study their main teachings and acts, and see if they are generally good or evil. It is easy to see a self-proclaimed prophet like Jim Jones as a false prophet, because his actions led to the death and murder of his congregation. It is not as easy when a prophet foresees things in the far distant future, or makes claims that tend to turn everything on its head.

For the Pharisees and Sadduccees, Jesus was such a prophet. His teachings turned theirs upside down. It required each of them to look at how they were praying, fasting, giving alms, and preaching. That Jesus also told them that it wasn’t enough to say, “Lord, Lord, haven’t I done this marvelous thing” in order to be saved. Such was what the Pharisees were already doing, when they said, “look at me! I’m praying/fasting/giving alms!”

For the Lord, it meant learning the true doctrine of Christ, teaching it, and living it. This is how one becomes a true disciple of Jesus, and how we can tell if a person is a true prophet or not. For if we believe, truly believe, in Jesus with all our heart, then we will want to be his true disciple and follow his example.


C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (on Alms giving - Google books): http://tinyurl.com/4be65yr

Connections: Sitting at the Master’s Feet (on prayer): http://donna-connections.blogspot.com/2011/02/sitting-at-masters-feet.html

President Gordon B. Hinckley, “To the Boys and to the Men”, Nov 1998 Ensign: http://lds.org/ensign/1998/11/to-the-boys-and-to-the-men?lang=eng

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Best is Yet to Be”, Jan 2010 Liahona:

Book of Enoch: http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/boe/boe074.htm

Ascension of Isaiah: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ascension.html

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 8: The Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 8: The Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5

The Law and the Prophets

“17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
“18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

For most Christians, we see the teachings of Jesus as an altogether different religion than that found in the Old Testament. In reality, Jesus did not replace the Law of Moses, but fulfilled or transcended it with a higher law. In Jesus’ teachings, we do not find a rejection of the Mosaic Law, but a newer and higher interpretation of it.

The purpose of all prophets is to get the people prepared to enter into the presence of God and experience personally the glory of the Almighty. D&C 84 teaches us that this is what Moses had in mind when he took Israel to Mount Sinai, immediately after escaping the Egyptians at the Red Sea.

“19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
“20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
“21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
“22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
“23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God. (D&C 84)”

It goes further and explains that because Israel refused to enter into God’s presence, and chose instead to rebel and worship the golden calf, they were given the lesser Aaronic priesthood with its gift of ministering angels instead of the Melchizedek Priesthood and its gift of the mystery of godliness, or to stand in God’s presence and have Him revealed personally to them. Along with the lesser priesthood, the Israelites received a lesser, terrestrial set of laws and rules to follow, called the Mosaic Law, or Law of Moses. This included the Ten Commandments, and hundreds of other rules that each person was expected to abide by.

Jesus did not tell people to stop following the Ten Commandments, stop paying tithes, stop praying, or stop eating according to the dietary commandments of the Mosaic Law. Instead, he gave the people key principles of the higher law to abide by.

Today, General Authorities of the Church encourage us to focus on the key doctrines and principles of the gospel. For example, President Boyd K. Packer stated:

"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior."

The key doctrines and principles never change. However, the implementation of certain teachings, practices, and policies can change. Why? Because they are not at the foundation of all the doctrines and principles God gives us.

“Thou shalt not kill” is forever important, but not as great or challenging a law as “whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”

“Thou shalt not commit adultery” is just the beginning of the Law of Chastity, wherein Christ warns us against lusting in our hearts.

Swearing oaths and keeping them is important in the Mosaic Law. Even more important is to always speak the truth, so one does not have to make oaths in the first place.

“An eye for an eye, tooth for tooth” is important for Israelites who were used to killing the person who harmed them. Forgiving is a very difficult thing to do, but is the higher order of things. Imagine the end of violence, because people and nations forgave, rather than seeking vengeance.

And, instead of loving only your neighbors (dear friends), you must even love your enemies. How often have we actually prayed for those who seek us harm? How often have we sought to forgive them with all our heart? For Jesus, this higher way of doing things, tied to the higher priesthood, was the way for one to become perfect, even as God is perfect. The term used here actually means “completed” or “finished.” We are pottery in God’s hands. We will either end up a completed and finished pot that can be used, or tossed. We get to choose how well we work under His guiding fingers. We can form smoothly into a masterpiece, or resist Him and become dross.

As we’ve seen so far, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus focused on key doctrines and principles, and the correct way to implement them. There is the terrestrial/Mosaic Law method, and then the higher method of the celestial/Law of Christ.

The Beatitudes

In the Book of Matthew, there are 8 Beatitudes. The term in Latin means, “Blessed.” It can be compared to Luke’s version at the Sermon on the Plain, where Luke has 4 Blessed, contrasted with 4 Woes (Luke 6). According to some scholars, the Beatitudes are part of the early sayings of Jesus found in an original source (called “Q” or Quelle, source) used by both Matthew and Luke to write their gospels. Many believe that Luke used a literal translation from the source, so that “the poor” were those who were physically hungry and homeless. Matthew, then, used the spiritual reading of “Q” and so we read, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

In the Sermon at the Temple in Bountiful, the Book of Mormon actually adds a few Beatitudes to the beginning of the list. Jesus proclaimed:

“...Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
“2 And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 12)”

Jesus taught in the previous chapter that the Doctrine of Christ consists in a few key things. First, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost “are one.” Then Jesus explained that his doctrine also consisted in Faith in Christ, Repentance, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins (and we could add other ordinances to this), and receiving the baptism of fire, the Gift of the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 11:31-40). In Jesus’ continued teachings to the Nephites, he will frequently refer back to these two concepts: unity, and the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. He will tell the Nephites they must be one, even as the Godhead is one, and that the principles and ordinances are the stepping stones to achieving this.

In studying the Beatitudes, we find they are a step-by-step approach to becoming perfected (e.g., completed), or prepared to be one with the Godhead, ready to enter into the presence of God, as Christ restored the key of the higher priesthood: the mystery of godliness, or seeing God’s face. And in this, the culminating concept given us in Matthew chapter 5 is:

“48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Or, as the resurrected and perfected/completed/glorified Christ commanded the Nephites:

“48 Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. (3 Ne 11)”


Beatitudes in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatitudes

Beatitudes in Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02371a.htm

Jim F’s Notes on Lesson 8: http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2011/02/06/nt-sunday-school-lesson-8-jf-matthew-5/

Feasting on the Word: Great site on the Scriptures: http://feastupontheword.org/Site:SS_lessons

Boyd K. Packer, "Do Not Fear", May 2004 Ensign: http://lds.org/liahona/2004/05/do-not-fear?lang=eng

Monday, February 07, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 7: “[He] Took Our Infirmities, and Bare Our Sicknesses” Mark 1-5, Luke 7

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 7: “[He] Took Our Infirmities, and Bare Our Sicknesses”
Mark 1-5, Luke 7

The Bible begins with the 4 gospels. Gospel literally means “good news”, and so these 4 books talk of the good news of the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just how old the earliest writings for the gospels are is questionable, because the earliest fragments are much later than the time of Christ. The earliest Matthew fragment is from 150-200 AD. Luke’s earliest known writing is from 175-250 AD. John’s earliest copy is from 125-160 AD. And the earliest Mark fragment available comes from about 350 AD!

Strangely enough, according to many Bible scholars, Matthew and Luke are based upon the gospel of Mark, even though we do not have earlier copies of the text. It is believed that Mark was originally written around 70 AD, and that Matthew and Luke were written later, using Mark as one of two main sources for their versions of the gospel. This belief is based upon a few concepts. First, Mark tends to be a simpler written book than the others. Second, Matthew and Luke both share common stories from Mark, often elaborating on such stories.

The other source believed to be used for Matthew and Luke is called “Q” for “Quelle” (German for “source”). This contains many of the sayings of Jesus.

One LDS view is that Matthew, or portions of Matthew may be older than Mark, because it is quoted in the Book of Mormon. Yet, we must note that the main portion quoted by Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which does not have any similar story or discourse in the book of Mark. Basically, Matthew may have used Mark for a source for the miracles and some teachings, while using a separate source for the greatest Sermon of Jesus’ teachings.

John the Baptist’s role
Mark 1

Mark explains quickly the difference between what John and Jesus came to preach.

“4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

When John the Baptist returned to restore the Aaronic Priesthood, by ordaining Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, he told them that this lesser priesthood “holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (D&C 13).

With John, we see a direct connection between repentance, baptism, and remission of sins. This shows that baptism is a requirement for entrance into the Celestial Kingdom (see also John 3:5). Yet, John also foresaw the coming of Christ, the Messiah.

“14 Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
“15And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).

Not only would Jesus preach the gospel of repentance that John brought, but he would also bring forth the gospel, or good news, of the kingdom of God! He showed that repentance and belief went hand in hand as the first principles of the gospel.

Jesus teaches and performs miracles

There were many in Judea willing to preach to the people. Among the people were Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, scribes, priests, and laymen, ready to share their views on Judaism. But Jesus did not teach as they did:

“22 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.”

Mark wrote his gospel to the Romans. It is believed Mark was a close disciple and friend of Peter’s, and thus wrote down Peter’s teachings regarding the life of Christ. In his focus on Jesus, he sought to impress the Romans with Jesus’ miracles, so that they would also believe his words. Rome and Greece were filled with philosophers and teachers of great renown. Mark would need to distinguish Jesus from such studious scholars by focusing on how the Savior taught and performed differently than they all.

Jesus did not teach like the scribes, who spent their lives studying the texts of the prophets and Moses. He taught with power and authority, which was backed up by his miracles.

This power and authority is plainly shown by the story of the man sick with palsy. Jesus was in the house of Peter’s mother (where he stayed while in Capernaum), a house that was filled with listeners and the sick. Men broke the roof and lowered their palsied friend down to Jesus inside the home, in order to heal him.

“5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.
“6 But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,
“7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?
“8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?
“9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?
“10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,)
“11 I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house” (Mark 2).

In this instance, the scribes questioned not only Jesus’ teachings, but his authority and power. Jesus showed through this miracle that he not only had the power to heal the man with palsy, but to forgive his sins. His logic was impeccable, for if he had the power to do the more difficult thing, heal the man, then he should also have the power to do the easier, forgive him.

Not only did Jesus have the power to forgive, he had the power to make that which was unclean, clean. In the Mosaic Law, much focus and effort is placed on establishing what is clean and unclean, from the food Jews ate, to the things they touched.

In the miracles noted in the lesson, Jesus raised two people from the dead: Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son. Dead people were definitely considered unclean, and the individual that touched the dead was considered unclean for several days, after which the person went through a cleansing ceremony.

Lepers were considered very unclean, to the extent that a person declared a leper was normally sent out of the city and to locations established especially for lepers. Those who would see a leper would point a finger and accuse the person, “Unclean! Unclean!”

Yet Jesus did not treat lepers in this manner. Instead, he made them clean. And as he made physical lepers clean from disease, he can heal spiritual lepers of sin. As he raised the dead back to mortal life, he can raise us to immortality and eternal life.

The Secret Book of Mark

Since this lesson is primarily on the book of Mark, it seemed a great place to discuss the Secret Book of Mark.

In 1958, Bible scholar Morton Smith found a letter in the back of an old book that was from Clement of Alexandria (a disciple of Peter). In this letter, he discussed a second book of Mark, known as the Secret Book of Mark. Smith took years to painstakingly translate and explain the document. However, some critics claimed it was a forgery and attacked it. The discussion still is ongoing in the Biblical Archaeological Review magazine, however more and more scholars now see it as authentic.

In the letter, Clement commends Theodore for silencing the Carpocratians, a Gnostic Christian sect. The Carpocratians claimed to have secret knowledge of Christ, but Clement insists that the secret knowledge was passed from Peter to Mark, and that Mark made two gospels: a standard one for the average follower, and then a secret gospel for the more spiritual.

“Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in 1, verso Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.“

Quoting from the Secret Book of Mark, Clement tells us:

"And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, 'Son of David, have mercy on me.' But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan."

Here we see Jesus performed the miracle of raising the widow’s son. Afterward, the boy wanted to know the secrets of heaven. Part of the ritual required him to wear a linen cloth and nothing else. Clement later states that the boy and Jesus were never naked, as the Carpocratians attempted to teach, but were always clothed. For temple going Latter-day Saints, they will see this as the clothing worn by modern initiates in the temple for a short while until the person is ceremonially clothed in temple robes.

In the discussions on the Old Testament lessons on my blog regarding the temple and ascension rites, we see this as the beginning point to where the person or initiate learns the “mystery of the Kingdom of God”. For Isaiah (Ascension of Isaiah) or Enoch (as Metatron), it meant to be clothed in celestial clothing and being given the glory of God. Enoch was allowed to sit on God’s throne, and the angels worshiped him! This is possibly the secret that Jesus taught the youth in the Secret Book of Mark.


Jim F’s notes on Lesson 7: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/02/nt-sunday-school-lesson-7-mark-1-2-435-41-5-luke-71-17/

Dating the Bible, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dating_the_Bible#The_New_Testament

The Gospel of Mark, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Mark

Secret Gospel of Mark: http://www.bib-arch.org/scholars-study/secret-mark-translation.asp

My Blog on Secret Mark: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2009/10/clement-of-alexandria-and-secret-book.html

Biblical Archaeological Review magazine articles on Secret Mark:


Enoch/Metatron: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metatron

Ascension of Isaiah: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ascension.html

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Why the struggles in the MIddle East won't bring freedom - freedom of religion as a necessary to have freedom

History is a stubborn thing. While many try to make history, and occasionally some do, it tends to go back to the status quo. As in science we find that all things tend towards entropy, so it is in history.

Countries in the Middle East have sought freedom many times. However, democracy and real freedom has always struggled just to get a foothold.

The Shah of Iran ruled the country from 1941 until he was overthrown in 1979. The people wanted freedom from dictatorship. The problem was that the overthrow was caused by radical religionists, lead by the Ayatollah. Rather than setting up a free nation with full elections and a voice to the people, they replaced a secular dictatorship with a religious dictatorship. Thirty years after the Islamist radicals took control in Iran, many people marched in the streets for real freedoms. They were crushed by tanks, and the status quo of tyranny continues.

Beirut, Lebanon was considered the Paris of the Middle East. It encouraged most religions, including Christianity to prosper. However, as radical Palestinians, Hezbollah, and other religious factions took control, the booming economy collapsed into chaos, and then into dictatorship. Portions of Lebanon have been controlled by Syria, Israel,and Islamic radicals. But it has not been able to fully regain its freedom and ability toward self-determination, as radical Islamists have clashed with Christians within its borders and with Jews across national boundaries.

In the 1980s, the Afghans fought to kick Russia out of their country. The Soviet Union entered to establish a presence, but also to stabilize a rocky country on their border. Radical Islamic beliefs helped the Afghans succeed against the Russians, but did not deliver freedom. Instead, women were forced into their homes and out of society, where some had been teachers, doctors, and equals. They supported terrorist organizations, such as Al Qaeda, who believed in radical Islam as they did. Even today, the battle goes on between those desiring freedom and those who would re-establish tyranny. Because of the radical religious and political views, we even struggle with President Karzai, who allows his brother to be a drug kingpin, and is forced to deal with regional warlords. History goes against Afghanistan ever being a peaceful democracy.

The same goes with Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. If the moderate Saud family is ever overthrown, Saudi Arabia will be governed by religious fanatics, who will not support true democracy, but only a radical version of Islam.

In Egypt, many of the leaders of the current revolution are the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a trans-national organization that seeks an Islamist Middle East. They will not be interested in maintaining peace with Israel, and possibly not with the United States. Their radical version of Islam will possibly rob women of their rights as Sharia law replaces Mubarak's dictatorship. Tyranny will replace tyranny. There will not be any true freedom, because radical religion will get in the way.

This is no different than Christianity was a millennium ago. Kings and dictators used religion to promote their intolerances. Crusades, Indulgences, and Inquisitions were tools for dictators to maintain control of the peasantry. No one had a voice, except the few in power. Back then, one sought freedom by moving somewhere else. The discovery of the Americas to Europe opened the door for many to escape persecutions and establish freedom. It required the radical concepts of freedom of speech and religion being inculcated into the Constitution of the United States and other key documents in western nations that have opened the door for real and lasting freedom.

Unless moderate Muslims step up and take control of these new revolutions, they will just replace one form of dictatorship with another. And unless they allow for freedom of speech and religion, there can be no real freedom for anyone in the Middle East or elsewhere.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Book giveaway: the Only True God

Joel (no relation to this blog) gives away scholarly religious books on occasion on his blog. For February it is "the Only True God" by Dr James McGrath. It talks of the ancient view of God from the 2nd Temple, monotheism, etc.

Check out Joel's blog: http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/2011/02/februarys-bloggership-giveaway-the-only-true-god/