Friday, August 22, 2008

Pillar of Fire and the First Vision

I recently bought all 6 volumes of Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon by Brant A. Gardner. I've only read about 100 pages of the first volume so far, but I am highly impressed. I do not agree with every take Brother Gardner has on different issues, but I have found it very insightful with very useful information and references. It's like someone has pulled together into one place all of the scholarly information on the Book of Mormon. I highly recommend it.

Gardner cites John Welch in his commentary on Lehi's vision in 1 Nephi 1 in specific reference to the pillar of fire that came down "and dwelt upon a rock before him" (1 Nephi 1:6-7):

As Lehi prayed, he beheld a pillar of fire dwelling upon a rock in front of him. From this pillar Lehi saw and heard many powerful things, but Nephi does not elaborate on who or what Lehi saw in this pillar of fire. Joseph Smith described how God, angels, and spirits appear in fiery manifestations; he taught, for instance, "spirits can only be revealed in flaming fire and glory." From ancient sources, too, one learns that the appearance of fire, especially a pillar of fire, was a frequent mode of heavenly manifestation, sometimes of God and other times of his messengers or of the holy beings who surrounded him. (Cited in Gardner, Second Witness, Vol. 1, page 68).

After reading this, something came to my remembrance--Joseph Smith's first recorded recollection of the First Vision.

[T]he Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in < the > attitude of calling upon the Lord < in the 16th [15th?] year of my age > a pillar of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the < Lord > opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord... (Joseph Smith, "A History of the Life of Joseph Smith," in Joseph Smith Letterbook 1).

The Prophet struggled to describe what he saw. He first wrote that he saw a "pillar of fire" but then crossed out "fire" and replaced it with "light."

On another occasion he related his experience to the "prophet Matthias" who claimed he was "Joshua the Jewish Minister:"

A pillar of fire appeared above my head; which presently rested down upon me, and filled me with un-speakable joy. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed. Another personage soon appeared like unto the first: he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee. He testified also unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God. I saw many angels in this vision. I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication... (see

In an account written by Orson Pratt, he state that Joseph thought the trees would burn up:

He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hope of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. (see

This isn't earth shattering or anything, just thought it was interesting that Joseph Smith's accounts of the vision, like Lehi's account in the Book of Mormon, accurately portray the pillar of fire concept.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Eloquent Witness

I recently bought Hugh Nibley's latest book entitled "Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple" (See HERE). It's a good thing that something so little as death hasn't slowed Brother Nibley's publishing down! Let me give you a little preview of the Book here.

It is well known that Hugh Nibley was the LDS apologist of all time. It's a little less well known that he had some really critical things to say, at times, about the church as an institution. Notwithstanding his criticism, he always sustained his leaders. An interview reported in the book contains, in part, the following:

MIDGLEY: Are you concerned with the leadership of the Church?
NIBLEY: Nope, not a bit. I certainly am not. The leadership of the Church is Jesus Christ, and he know what he is doing. Don't worry.
MIDGLEY: I am tempted to ask you if you would sustain Judas?
NIBLEY: Of course I would sustain Judas. He was on of the apostles.
MIDGLEY: But he was a devil.
NIBLEY: Remember what the Lord said. "I [have] chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil" (John 6:70). But he chose him. The Lord has his purposes in these things. If we sustained only perfect people, we wouldn't sustain anybody. The Lord has his purposes in these things.(p. 40)

I really like this philosophy. I've had church leaders before who really didn't see things the same way I do. Some of the "brethren" at times have seen things differently than I do. I'm not saying that any of them are "Judas" (so to speak), but should I not sustain them? Isn't it Jesus' Church? If Christ calls someone who isn't perfect, or even someone who is wicked, to a position over me, who am I to oppose it?

What think ye?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Kefa--a seer stone?

When Jesus met Simon son of Jona, he gave him a new name--Cephas. "Cephas" (Aramaic--kefa) is the equivalent of "Peter." The name means "stone." According to Hugh Nibley, kefa is an Aramaic word that refers to a green crystal used for divination. In other words, kefa doesn't just mean "stone" but more precisely it means "seer stone."

The Joseph Smith Translation of John 1:42 is more interesting now, isn't it?

"And [Andrew] brought [Peter] to Jesus, and When Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, a seer, or a stone..."

So, two questions:

Is Hugh Nibley right about kefa?
If so, how do you explain Joseph Smith's uncanny ability to get these things right?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Study it Out in Your Mind Part 2

Not only do LDS believe that we must study LDS teachings out in our mind before we can receive confirming revelation from God, but the scriptures teach that revelation comes to our mind.

"Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart." (D&C 8:2)

I have found that one of the ways I can distinguish personal revelation from my own thoughts or emotions is by noticing if the revelation comes to my mind and my heart. I ask myself, Does it makes sense? Does it seem right? Does it enlighten my understanding? Does it taste good?

"Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me." (Alma 32:28)

To say that the mind or understanding has no place in the "Mormon testimony" is another false caricature of anti-Mormons. Mormonism teaches that "studying it out in your mind" is a prerequisite to gaining revelation that comes to "the heart AND the mind" and that "enlightens our understanding." It's not "just feelings."