Monday, July 29, 2013

Living the Book of Mormon: Abiding by its Precepts

Living the Book of Mormon: Abiding by its Precepts was the topic for the 36th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium. I was excited to read this book, because I think too often we think the Book of Mormon itself will get us nearer to God than any other book, but that is not true. It is by "abiding by its precepts" that we achieve such a conquest. I will share some of my favorite highlights from this book.

Robert L. Millet talks about the Book of Mormon being called "the most correct book" and quotes extensively from Elder Holland. I love Elder Holland, and Millet selected some choice quotations to talk about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. He emphasizes that Joseph Smith is either a prophet, or a liar. There is no middle ground. But to suppose that a farm boy could have created the Book of Mormon is an absolute ridiculous idea.

Michael A. Goodman discusses the history of Laman and Lemuel, and their fatal flaw of pride. He talks about the lessons we can learn from them. If we read their story carefully, they humbled themselves many times and worshiped the Lord. Because we can see that they did not start out all bad, we can also see how to avoid making the same mistakes they did and heading down the same path.

Daniel L. Belnap wrote an exquisite essay on separation vs. reconciliation and talks about how these themes are taught throughout the Book of Mormon. Jacob and Moroni especially focus on these themes, because they are separated from their brethren and the promised lands of inheritance. And yet both find comfort and joy in the reconciliation through Jesus Christ. I was very impressed with this topic, and I think it is worth reading again and again.

Terry B. Ball talks about Alma 5, and how we can use it as a tool to help us reach out to the less-active, for that is essentially what Alma is doing in this chapter. Ball clearly points out Alma's methods of building trust, establishing relationships, reminding them of the joy of the Gospel, and helping them use their agency to organize their lives once again according to the Gospel. I thought this essay was very well written.

C. Robert Line discusses missionary work as found in the Book of Mormon. He quotes Elder Richard G. Scott, talking about the importance of discovering the principles taught in the Book of Mormon, and separating these out from the stories we read. I also loved the quote he shares from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland where he says that asking every member to be a missionary is not as crucial as asking every member to be a member. There is great power in a good example!

Finally, I was very impressed by Michael L. King's discourse on the atonement of Jesus Christ. I could really feel the Spirit bearing witness of the power and reality of the atonement as I read this essay. My favorite part is where King states that the atonement is not only infinite, but it is also intimate. How true this is!

This book was fantastic, and it makes me more eager to comb through the Book of Mormon to understand its precepts better, and most of all to live them that I may draw closer to God.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Great Are the Words of Isaiah

I just finished reading Great Are the Words of Isaiah by Monte S. Nyman. This is the second commentary on Isaiah that I have read this year, and I really loved this version. My favorite thing about it is that it wasn't broken up into individual chapters. Rather, it was divided by themes. The author tried his past to group the chapters together the way that Isaiah likely originally had them grouped.

Furthermore, in addition to a few personal interpretations (although the author was usually really good about admitting guesswork), Nyman provides commentary from the other Standard Works, as well as the writings of church leaders to clarify passages in Isaiah. I was amazed at how much Isaiah was quoted in the New Testament by Paul, and even more amazed at how much commentary and clarification exists in the Doctrine and Covenants. Elder Orson Pratt also gives many clarifying statements to help us understand and apply Isaiah.

The appendix was also very interesting. The author lists every scripture in Isaiah that is quoted or paraphrased anywhere else in scripture. The author then shows how much variation exists from Isaiah in our current Bible verses the other places where the same passages are used. I loved the comparisons and how much they enlightened the passages for me.

I honestly don't know if this book is in print or not, but if you are looking for a great commentary on Isaiah, I highly recommend this book.

Monday, July 22, 2013

How the New Testament Came to Be

I loved reading the works from the 35th annual Brigham Young University Sperry Symposium, titled How the New Testament Came to Be. I love history, and this book was full of it. I have never really known anything about the first centuries A.D., but because of some books I have read recently, I am becoming very familiar with the names of the Apostolic Fathers. I also learned more about the history of record keeping among the ancient Jews and early Christians.

Kerry Muhlestein dedicates an entire essay to the evolution of writing, particularly how it influenced sacred record keeping. I especially enjoyed reading about the first books that came to be, called codices. A codex originally usually consisted of wax tablets in between two boards. A writer would basically take notes on these tablets, then write the full-length document on a scroll. He could then "erase" what was written on the wax and re-use it. Eventually they started including parchment, where they could write on both sides of the paper, forming something similar to our modern-day books.

Carl W. Griffin and Frank F. Judd Jr. wrote about the principles of textual criticism. In this essay they discuss the difficulty of finding original biblical quotes due to scribes adding "clarifying" statements, and also due to scribes deleting parts that they didn't feel were correct. They emphasize that we believe the Bible, not only as it is translated correctly, but also as it is transmitted correctly.

Gaye Strathearn talks about the book of Matthew. Of the many interesting things mentioned, I really liked the idea of thinking of the Gospel writers the same way we think of the Book of Mormon. Why did Matthew choose to include the things he did? Of all the things the Savior did and taught, why did Matthew choose to include only the instances we now have recorded? Thinking of the Bible this way puts it in an entirely different light for me.

Finally, I really enjoyed the essays by both Eric D. Huntsman and Lincoln H. Blumell. They talked about scribes and how scribes were used in the first century AD. I especially enjoyed reading about how Paul's epistles both conform and differentiate from generic epistles of that time period. In Paul's epistles, we get clues about the use of different scribes, which would explain the different language used in the various epistles which are all attributed to Paul.

Reading this book shed a lot of light on how we have received the New Testament. I am grateful for those early Christians who preserved the words of Christ and His apostles. Although it has not been passed down in its purity, I feel a great debt of gratitude to those who did all they could to give us the knowledge we have today of the earthly ministry of the Savior Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament

My first experience reading a book from the Sidney B. Sperry Symposium was reading The Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. This was the topic of the 38th Sperry Symposium. The main idea of this topic is that, although the Old Testament is not the most explicit source to understand the Gospel, we can find all of its elements embedded in its pages (often through stories). I will highlight a few of my favorite points.

Michael A. Goodman points out in his essay that we learn about eternal marriage from the first pages of the Old Testament. When Adam and Eve were married in the Garden of Eden, there was no death at that time. Therefore, when marriage was first introduced into the world, there was no indication that it should have an end. It was intended to exist as long as Adam and Eve in their immortal state.

Paul Y. Hoskisson discusses how we can find the Plan of Salvation taught in the Old Testament. For example, Jacob's family leaves the Promised Land (the Celestial Kingdom) to journey to Egypt (the world). Eventually they leave the world, and through Moses (a savior) they are eventually able to return to the Promised Land (the Celestial Kingdom). The many details in this story teach us about God' plan.

Jared T. Parker has an essay on covenant cutting, citing examples in the Old Testament where something was literally cut and divided, and the person making the covenant would pass between the divided parts. Such was the custom in many kingdoms surrounding Israel, and we have some O.T. accounts of the Lord cutting covenants with His people. A cool connection he made was that at the Second Coming, the Savior will return and divide the Mount of Olives, and He will stand in the midst of it to save the Jews. Could this also be an example of covenant cutting? It is a neat idea.

The last essay I want to touch on was by Kerry Muhlestein (who I had as a professor at BYU). He talks about the story of Ruth, how it connects to redemption and Christ. However, what I thought was the neatest was the ancient principles of welfare that God established among his people. Those with lands were to leave some stalks untouched, and were not to take anything that fell to the ground. The poor who were willing to do some work, were allowed to collect what was not used. I thought this was neat.

I have a few more books from the Sperry Symposiums. I look forward to learning more!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Early Christians in Disarray

Whenever you read a collection of essays, you are bound to enjoy some more than others. I found this to be the case as I read Early Christians in Disarray, edited by Noel B. Reynolds. This book is a collection of essays, published by FARMS, that deal with the Great Apostasy. The main argument of this book is that the Great Apostasy did not begin with the Council of Nicea, but was already well under way while the apostles were still alive.

James E. Faulconer's essay was very interesting to me. He talked about what the word "apostasy" actually means, and how it is used in the New Testament. For example, when Paul talks about a "falling away", the original Greek actually says there will be a rebellion. The author then talks about how such a rebellion is evident.

John Gee's essay on the corruption of scripture was also highly informative. Although no scriptural texts exists earlier than the second century, this author supplies writings of different church leaders, wherein they accuse other people of changing the writings of the apostles. These accusations states that various factions were changing the writings to correspond more closely with their teachings. There is also some evidence that Jewish leaders were changing the Old Testament to remove certain evidences of Christianity.

Daniel W. Graham and James L. Siebach both give a history of philosophy's introduction to the Church. Without revelation, the early Christians needed something to establish a somewhat firmer foundation, and they found that in the philosophical teachings of the Greeks. This was not an immediate marriage of beliefs, but actually took a few centuries to be settled.

Last of all, David L. Paulsen's essay on the early Christian understanding of God was extremely interesting. He gave firm proof that the early Christians and Jews believed in an embodied God. This belief was attacked by Greek philosophy until it eventually was established at the Council of Nicea that the official doctrine should be that God is not embodied. But even with this established creed, the dominating church struggled for many more years to stamp out the belief in an embodied God.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Its appendix was also a helpful resource in understanding more about the subject. Since the Church is always only one generation away from apostasy, it is important to see how it came about in the early days so that we can know how to prevent it in our personal lives today.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Far World: Air Keep

Far World: Air Keep, the third volume in the series by J. Scott Savage was a long time coming. Far World, Fablehaven, and 13 Reality are three series that were published by Shadow Mountain that all originally came out around the same time. Of all the Shadow Mountain series, Far World was my favorite. I was very sad when the third book was indefinitely delayed. Finally it was released, and it did not disappoint!

I was extremely nervous almost right away when I learned this book was going to deal with time travel. In all my readings, I have only been satisfied with one author's use of time travel (J. K. Rowling's in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Fortunately, Savage does an excellent job with time travel in his book, making it the second book to satisfy me as far as time travel goes.

I don't want to say a lot about the content of the book. A fictional book is hard to review because you don't want to spoil anything. All that I will say is that the characters are just as engaging as ever. Savage really makes you care about the characters in these books. The world he created is extraordinary, and I love the cultures and rules he has imagined. Far World really seems like a real place.

I was also impressed that the author began this book with a brief synopsis of the first two books in the series. This was extremely helpful, especially because it has been so long since the last book came out. I thought that was very considerate of the author. This book is really enjoyable and I highly encourage any fantasy-lover to read the Far World series. I can hardly wait for the next book!