Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:12

Scripture Study and the Holy Ghost

And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.

There is a deep and vital connection between reading the word of God and being filled with the Spirit. On the road to Emmaus, when the two disciples walked with the resurrected Lord, not knowing it was him, and then invited him to stay and eat with them, immediately after Jesus vanished, they said to one another:

And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? 1)Luke 24:32

When Josiah, king of Judah at a time of great Israelite wickedness, accidentally found the book of the law (the scriptures) among other treasures of the temple, he felt the Spirit and changed his life. It was the scriptures that sparked the change.

And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments,and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book. 2)2 Chronicles 34:31

Speaking of the scriptures to the early brethren of the church in the latter-days, the Lord said that the scriptures are given by the Spirit, and it is by the same power that they are read:

These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man; For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them; 3)Doctrine and Covenants 18:34-35

Or, as Elder Richard G. Scott put it,

Because scriptures are generated from inspired communication through the Holy Ghost, they are pure truth. We need not be concerned about the validity of concepts contained in the standard works since the Holy Ghost has been the instrument which has motivated and inspired those individuals who have recorded the scriptures. 4)The Power of Scripture, Richard G. Scott, October 2011 General Conference

Elder Neal A. Maxwell speaks of his own experience with the Book of Mormon:

Neal A. Maxwell:
For my part, Brothers and Sisters, I am glad the book will be with us “as long as the earth shall stand.” I need and want additional time. For me, the Book of Mormon is like a vast mansion with gardens, towers, courtyards, and wings. My tour of it has never been completed. Some rooms I have yet to enter, and there are more felicitous fireplaces waiting to warm me. Even the rooms I have glimpsed contained further furnishings and rich detail yet to be savored. There are panels inlaid with incredible insights, and design and décor dating from eden. There are even sumptuous banquet tables painstakingly prepared by predecessors which await all of us. Yet we as church members sometimes behave like hurried tourists, scarcely venturing beyond the entry hall. May we come to feel as a whole people beckoned beyond the entry hall. May we go inside, far enough to hear clearly the whispered truths from those who have slumbered, which whisperings will awaken in us individually, a life of discipleship as never before. 5)Neal A. Maxwell, The Great Answer to the Great Question, FARMS audio cassette, Deseret Book.

The scriptures, by means of that life changing Holy Spirit, are of primary importance in gaining, maintaining, and strengthening a testimony of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Elder Richard G. Scott said,

A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that bring tears to the eyes and make it difficult to speak. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions. These choices are made with trusting faith in things that are believed and, at least initially, are not seen. A strong testimony gives peace, comfort, and assurance. It generates the conviction that as the teachings of the Savior are consistently obeyed, life will be beautiful, the future will be secure, and there will be capacity to overcome the challenges that cross our path. A testimony grows from understanding truth distilled from prayer and the pondering of scriptural doctrine. It is nurtured by living those truths with faith anchored in the secure confidence that the promised results will be obtained. 6)Richard G. Scott, The Transforming Power of Faith and Character, October 2010 General Conference

As we face various phases of life, and diverse challenges, the Spirit we feel as we study the scriptures can help us find answers to prayer.

You may be facing decisions regarding a mission, your future career, and, eventually, marriage. As you read the scriptures and pray for direction, you may not actually see the answer in the form of printed words on the page, but as you read you will receive distinct impressions, and promptings, and, as promised, the Holy Ghost “will show unto you all things what ye should do.” 7)Spencer J. Condie, Becoming a Great Benefit to Our Fellow Beings, April 2002 General Conference

What and how much we get out of the scriptures is entirely dependent on our spiritual maturity and preparation. Bruce R. McConkie says it this way:

Each pronouncement in the holy scriptures … is so written as to reveal little or much, depending on the spiritual capacity of the student. 8)Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985, p. 71

It is also important to remember that we can’t just read and expect the Spirit to come. We do need to make some effort.

The prophet Abinadi explained the role of the feelings that come from God to our hearts. He taught that we cannot understand the scriptures completely unless we apply our heart to understanding. 9)Walter F. González, Learning with Our Hearts, October 2012 General Conference

It is intended that we understand different scriptures in different ways based on our situation. If the message is the same every time we read a particular verse, it could mean we’re not seeking the guidance of the Spirit as we read. The Holy Ghost will reveal insights when we seek the guidance of the Lord. Said Elder Dallin H. Oaks,

Those who believe the scriptural canon is closed typically approach the reading of scriptures by focusing on what was meant at the time the scriptural words were spoken or written. In this approach, a passage of scripture may appear to have a single meaning and the reader typically relies on scholarship and historical methods to determine it.

The Latter-day Saint approach is different. Professor Hugh Nibley illuminates this in his essay “The Prophets and the Scripture.” He observes that “men fool themselves when they think for a moment that they can read the scripture without ever adding something to the text, or omitting something from it. For in the wise words of St. Hilary, … ‘Scripture consists not in what one reads, but in what one understands.’” Consequently, he continues, “in the reading of the scripture we must always have an interpreter” ( The World and the Prophets, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 12 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987, 3:202).

He concludes: The question is not whether or not one shall add to the word of the scripture—thousands of volumes of learned commentary have already done that—but whether such addition shall come by the wisdom of men or the revelation of God” (ibid., p. 206).

Latter-day Saints know that true doctrine comes by revelation from God, not by scholarship or worldly wisdom (see Moses 5:58 ). Similarly, the Apostle Paul wrote that we are not “sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God” ( 2 Cor. 3:5 ). Rather than trusting in our own interpretations of written texts, we rely on God and the glorious “ministration of the spirit” ( 2 Cor. 3:8 ). Here we encounter a new meaning of Paul’s familiar teaching that true believers are “ministers … of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” ( 2 Cor. 3:6 ). 10)Dallin H. Oaks, Scripture Reading and Revelation, Ensign Jan 1995

How do we get that Spirit as we read? First we pray for it. Then, as Elder Scott said,

Pondering a passage of scripture can be a key to unlock revelation and the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Scriptures can calm an agitated soul, giving peace, hope, and a restoration of confidence in one’s ability to overcome the challenges of life. They have potent power to heal emotional challenges when there is faith in the Savior. They can accelerate physical healing. 11)Richard G. Scott, The Power of Scripture, General Conference Oct. 2011

I once had a teacher who would always tell us, “Every time you open the scriptures under the right circumstances, you open a conduit to heaven through which the Spirit can flow.”

I believe that.

References   [ + ]

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:11

And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 6.38.53 AMIt may seem a little odd that the Lord gave Lehi a vision where He gave Lehi a book to read about the destruction of Jerusalem, since, after all, it’s a vision, right? Couldn’t the Lord have just shown the destruction to Lehi? But Lehi wasn’t the only one given a book in a vision.

Ezekial also had a vision where he was handed a book.

9 ¶And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein;
10 And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe. 1)Ezek. 2:9–10

In the revelation experienced by John the Beloved, John was given a book and told to eat it, probably symbolically suggesting the idea, “Devour the contents of this book. Make it part of you.”

And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.

And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.

And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings. 2)Revelation 10:9-11

Also in John’s vision, the very book of life was opened, and mankind as individuals were judged from the both the book of life and other books of scripture:

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 3)Revelation 20:12

By this time, Lehi had learned to take such dreams very seriously. Plus, being able to clearly read words is an additional proof that this is a vision, and not just a dream. In a dream, reading anything is terribly difficult, if at all possible. Reading these words had a profound effect on Lehi. They filled him with the Spirit and caused his heart to both mourn for Jerusalem and rejoice in the goodness of the Lord.

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References   [ + ]

1. Ezek. 2:9–10
2. Revelation 10:9-11
3. Revelation 20:12

My Journey Coming Unto Christ

I used to think of coming unto Christ as a one time thing. I used to wonder if I was yet fully converted to Christ, or if I was just going through the motions. But the more I explored my own efforts to come to know the Savior, and the more I read the scriptures, the more I came to see that conversion is as less of a destination, and more of a journey. And there are so many levels to the journey. At least it’s been that way for me.

My journey began when I was a child. I knew I was starting to make effort to come to Christ when I was baptized. I think that was about the time I really started thinking seriously about spiritual things. I had a short attention span, but I wanted to do what was right. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey, and I knew that I didn’t know how to get where I was going, but I started.

Since then, my journey has continued uninterrupted. I have climbed steep hills, fallen and recovered from my injuries, learned the terrain, mastered the terrain (until it changed into new, unfamiliar terrain), and constantly sought the direction of my personal guide.

The scriptures and the words of the living prophets are more than just a map on my journey. They’re a survival handbook, a first aid manual, an atlas, a motivational allegory, a field guide to all the plants, animals, weather patterns, and elements I may encounter, and best of all, they contain thousands of messages from my guide.

I can’t say the journey has always been easy, but it’s been an incredible adventure so far, with plenty of fascinating discoveries, breathtaking landscapes, incredible sunsets, starry nights, and hope-filled mornings to keep me going.

But the journey really took on the most meaning when I realized that Christ wasn’t the destination at the end of my journey. I traveled a long time before discovering that He wasn’t at some distant end, but rather with me on the journey.

Sometimes He’s a few steps behind, or just out of sight, trusting me to do the navigating. Other times He’s blazing the trail before me, with me as close as possible behind, but more often than not, He’s beside me, encouraging me, teaching me. I get injured so easily, frustrated so often, and tired so quickly. But rather than patting me on the back sympathetically and telling me it’s okay that I’m so weak, He helps me stand, and then walks on, saying, “Let’s keep going.” And He never lets up, which is hard, but good, because if it had just been me, I’d have given up long ago.

And I’m still learning. Every time I understand one thing better, I learn how little I know about another. Sometimes He teaches me directly, other times He points me to the scriptures and prophets, and often He lets me learn things on my own. He’s made this journey infinite times over. He knows what I’m capable of, and He’s leading me there.

For me, it’s no longer about coming to Him, but rather about following Him, trusting Him, and never leaving Him.

And I never will leave Him.

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:10

And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.

Obviously, the twelve following Jesus was His twelve apostles. As far as the records go that we have, prophetic mention of the twelve apostles prior to their mortal lives is rare. There is only one example in the scriptures besides this one that I can find. It’s in Nephi’s vision of the Tree of Life (and the future of America):

18 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!

19 And I looked and beheld a man, and he was dressed in a white robe.

20 And the angel said unto me: Behold one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

21 Behold, he shall see and write the remainder of these things; yea, and also many things which have been. (1 Nephi 14:18-21)

We know from other sources of modern revelation, such as the temple, that the twelve apostles have always had an important role in the Lord’s kingdom. Actually, when you read the old testament and the Book of Mormon, you find that the prophets of the Book of Mormon are remarkably well informed about the gospel of Jesus Christ. They knew about the Savior, by name, they knew what He would do. They knew that the law of Moses pointed their minds toward Christ, and that He would suffer and die for their sins.

It’s possible, even likely that many of the biblical prophets knew, through prophecy, every bit as much as Nephi and His people about Jesus and His gospel, but that the translation of the records over the centuries lost those precious truths. We know that there were many such truth’s lost in the transcription and translation of their books, so this lost information about the twelve apostles may have been among them.

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:9

And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster1)The 1830 Book of Mormon spells this word, “lustre” was above that of the sun at noon-day.

As mentioned in the previous verse, my understanding is that this One is Jesus Christ. This is also the understanding of modern prophets, and is therefore the first specific mention of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon. That’s significant, because, as Marion G. Romney said,

The book [of Mormon] is from beginning to end a witness for Christ. Its first chapter contains an account of a vision in which Lehi beheld Jesus “descending out of the midst of heaven” in luster above the noonday sun. (1 Ne. 1:9) Its last chapter concludes with Moroni’s great exhortation to come unto Christ and be perfected in him, with this assurance: “. . . and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be . . . sanctified.” (Moro. 10:32-33) Numerous and great are the stirring testimonies that illuminate the five hundred pages between these two chapters. 2)Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1970, pp. 27-30

There’s a reason the Church added to the title of the book, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” That addition was not just a way to help people recognize that we, as latter-day saints, are Christian. It was in accordance with the revelations of the Lord on the Subject of the Book of Mormon.3)Dallin H. Oaks (shortly after the subtitle was added to the book): In the opening session of the October 1986 general conference, President Benson read the verses from the Doctrine and Covenants about the whole Church being under condemnation and remaining so “until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon” (D&C 84:57, as quoted by President Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 4). In speaking of this, he likened the word covenant to testament, as in the “New Testament.” He reminded us that the Book of Mormon “is indeed another testament or witness of Jesus,” adding that this was “one of the reasons why we have recently added the words ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ’ to the title of the Book of Mormon” (ibid). Later in that same message, President Benson repeated these words he had given in an earlier talk. Note the point of emphasis: “Do eternal consequences rest upon our response to this book? Yes, either to our blessing or our condemnation. Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not” (ibid., p. 7). That is the key: to use the Book of Mormon to become “built on the rock of Christ”! This book is a testament of Jesus Christ. It explains the significance of his atonement and the content of our covenant relationship with him. (Ensign, May 1986, p. 78; almost all of President Benson’s words quoted herein are also found in his book Witness and Warning: Modern-day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988)

It’s purpose, as stated in the title page, is to the convince of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. Clearly, the book didn’t wait long to dive into that testimony.

His luster was above that of the sun

There is only one other use of the word luster in the scriptures, and it is when Abinidi begins to glow while calling King Noah to repentance. With that being the only other use in the scriptures, it’s difficult to identify a concrete scripture definition. So instead, lets see how the word was defined at the time the Book of Mormon was translated into English. The 1820 Webster’s Dictionary defines luster as:

LUS’TER, n. [L. lustrum, lustro to purify.]

1. Brightness; splendor; gloss; as the luster of the sun or stars; the luster of silk.
The sun’s mild luster warms the vital air.
2. The splendor of birth, of deeds or of fame; renown; distinction.
His ancestors continued about four hundred years, rather without obscurity than with any great share of luster.
3. A sconce with lights; a branched candlestick of glass.
4. The space of five years. [L. lustrum.]

That wouldn’t be a significant bit of information, except that in today’s definition, there is a slight difference that may feed into how we picture the events taking place in the verse. From today’s Merriam-Webster dictionary:

LUSTER

1
: a glow of reflected light : sheen; specifically : the appearance of the surface of a mineral dependent upon its reflecting qualities
2
a : a glow of light from within : luminosity
b : an inner beauty : radiance
3
: a superficial attractiveness or appearance of excellence
4
a : a glass pendant used especially to ornament a candlestick or chandelier
b : a decorative object (as a chandelier) hung with glass pendants
5
chiefly British : a fabric with cotton warp and a filling of wool, mohair, or alpaca

See the difference? Comparing just the definitions relating to light, today’s definition suggests a glimmer of light, so subtle that it may just be reflected, not even be coming from its own source. But the 1820 dictionary speaks of brightness and splendor. If we use today’s definition to picture Christ’s luster in this verse, we may think of Him as glowing gently against the ambient light of the sun, but just a little brighter than that.  But recognizing the older use of the word, we now picture him bright enough to overpower, even eclipse the sun itself.

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References   [ + ]

1. The 1830 Book of Mormon spells this word, “lustre”
2. Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1970, pp. 27-30
3. Dallin H. Oaks (shortly after the subtitle was added to the book): In the opening session of the October 1986 general conference, President Benson read the verses from the Doctrine and Covenants about the whole Church being under condemnation and remaining so “until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon” (D&C 84:57, as quoted by President Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 4). In speaking of this, he likened the word covenant to testament, as in the “New Testament.” He reminded us that the Book of Mormon “is indeed another testament or witness of Jesus,” adding that this was “one of the reasons why we have recently added the words ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ’ to the title of the Book of Mormon” (ibid). Later in that same message, President Benson repeated these words he had given in an earlier talk. Note the point of emphasis: “Do eternal consequences rest upon our response to this book? Yes, either to our blessing or our condemnation. Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not” (ibid., p. 7). That is the key: to use the Book of Mormon to become “built on the rock of Christ”! This book is a testament of Jesus Christ. It explains the significance of his atonement and the content of our covenant relationship with him. (Ensign, May 1986, p. 78; almost all of President Benson’s words quoted herein are also found in his book Witness and Warning: Modern-day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988)