The Book of Moses revisited

Carol and I started to attend a Summer Institute class on the Pearl of Great Price this last week. If you haven’t attended an Institute class recently and there is one in your area, I highly recommend it. A roomful of single college age students discussing the gospel is very different from even the best Gospel Doctrine class. The discussions are livelier and the enthusiasm is almost palpable.

The instructor is a man I highly respect who seems to be well at ease in front of a classroom of forty students. He is a former Bishop and is the Senior High Counselor in our Stake. He manages his own flower growing business and has been teaching Institute part-time for many years. It could have just as easily been a sister teaching. We have some wonderful women seminary and institute teachers in our ward and stake.

The spirit was strong and the instruction was superb. Carol and I were the only “old” people in the room but we felt right at home since we are both perpetual students. There is just something special about being in an Institute class with the same kids that I serve each week as the ward clerk of the local young adult ward in our stake. I know something of the challenges they face. I pray for them each week in Bishopric meetings.

Things that I probably once knew

Even though I have seriously studied the Pearl of Great Price at least a dozen times and have taught from it in Seminary myself, I learned things I had never heard before. For example, in Moses 1:12-14, we read, “And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.”

The phrase “son of man” escaped me until it was pointed out by our instructor. Compare that to the response from Moses in verse 13: “And it came to pass that Modes looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?” Did you catch the implied differences?

What did Satan look like? He looked just like Jesus but without the glory. Somehow Satan appeared to him in a manner that Moses could see him with his natural eyes as we read in verse 14: “For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely?”

How we got the Book of Moses

If you have ever looked at the first chapter of Moses, you realize that it is not found in the Bible. Chapters two through eight are similar to the first six chapters of Genesis, but have a whole lot more added for clarification. Joseph was commanded of the Lord to translate or revise the Bible. He worked on it for many years from shortly after the church was organized until just shortly before his death in 1844. The work was revelation and it was performed by a prophet of God.

I wonder why we don’t get the same kind of flack about the Book of Moses that we do with the Book of Abraham. I have written previously about how some people struggle with the Book of Abraham, getting stuck on the idea that it was not a valid translation from the papyri. I have suggested that the papyri that was used to translate the Book of Abraham has not been found. Eyewitnesses describe the original papyri and it is not the same as the recovered fragments.

That Joseph didn’t need any actual source material to reproduce lost ancient scripture is shown by Moses chapter one. Just as the work of translating the latter part of the Book of Mormon was done without the Urim and Thumim or seer stones, when Joseph started translating the Bible he did so without the aid of anything other than prayer, righteous living, a commandment from God, the exercise of the prophetic gift of revelation and acting as a seer.

Study guides are extremely helpful

As I have taught in the CES program over the years, I have just been amazed at the great material that the church has put together for the use of the volunteer instructors. We’re not really volunteers as we are asked to teach, but it is not really a calling. The manual for the Pearl of Great Price contains exceptional resources. In there you can read about two other points our instructor made the other night that I’m sure I knew at one time but had forgotten.

In verse 11 of chapter one we read that Moses was transfigured before the Lord. That word needs defining. Our instructor pointed out that the same thing happened to Joseph Smith when he was visited of the Father and the Son during the First Vision. He was transfigured. That was how he was able to endure the presence of God, just as Moses was. I am glad to see that some church manuals still quote from Mormon Doctrine, one of my favorite encyclopedic references.

“Transfiguration is a special change in appearance and nature which is wrought upon a person or thing by the power of God. This divine transformation is from a lower to a higher state; it results in a more exalted, impressive, and glorious condition. . . .By the power of the Holy Ghost many prophets have been transfigured so as to stand in the presence of God and view the visions of eternity” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 803).

Jehovah spoke to Moses

The personage who spoke to Moses was the premortal Jesus Christ, who is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. Being one with Heavenly Father, Jesus at times speaks as if He were God the Father. This is known as divine investiture, whereby Christ is invested with authority to speak for and in behalf of the Father. President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “All revelation since the fall has come through Jesus Christ, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. . . .

“He is the God of Israel, the Holy One of Israel; the one who led that nation out of Egyptian bondage, and who gave and fulfilled the Law of Moses. The Father has never dealt with man directly and personally since the fall, and he has never appeared except to introduce and bear record of the Son” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:27).

When God had completed his dialog with Moses, he left him for a little while. “And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Modes was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth. And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.”

Summary and conclusion

I love the Pearl of Great Price. Some people say or write that they find the doctrine of the church boring. I can’t imagine why. I find it fascinating. It is sad to realize how many people do not study the scriptures each day, but I know it is a large part of the membership of the church. I attribute that mostly to the very busy lives we lead. For others it displays an appalling lack of commitment or motivation. Yes, it is work to study the gospel each day but it is worth it.

I am grateful for the prophet Joseph Smith who translated the Bible and restored lost scripture as found in the first chapter of the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price. The works he produced are evidence of his divine calling as a prophet of God. The Pearl of Great Price is a wonderful Book of Scripture that contains so much doctrine and ancient history that teaches us so much about how God deals with prophets like Moses, Abraham and Enoch.

There are many study guides to help with understanding the scriptures. Some can be found at Deseret Book, others on the church web site, but the best guide is the Holy Spirit. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). Such is the case with an Institute class or a Gospel Doctrine class. If you are struggling to find the motivation to study the gospel by yourself during the week, go join an Institute class.

Mother in Heaven – Heavenly Mother

I have a mother in heaven. By that I mean my earthly mother, who died a few years ago, and now resides in the spirit world, awaiting my father and the resurrection. As I write this on Mother’s day, I think of her, how much I love and appreciate her, and how much she influenced my life.

But I’ll bet you clicked on this link or found this essay because you were interested in reading about Heavenly Mother, a controversial Mormon doctrine, and not in learning about my mother, although I think her life, conversion and falling away from the church is extremely interesting.

I won’t disappoint you. Do you recognize this beautiful image from the cover of Sunstone Magazine a few years back? This is not the issue that contained the essay from Margaret Toscano on Heavenly Mother that got her excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in November of 2000.

This is from an early issue in the history of Sunstone Magazine that contains several other enlightening essays on the subject. I bring up Margaret Toscano because her name comes to mind more than anyone else when I think of Heavenly Mother. What? You say you’ve never heard of Margaret Toscano? Well, you have missed out. Go watch her interviews on YouTube (Thank you John Dehlin).

Sources for information on Heavenly Mother

You may be thinking, “I don’t want to have anything to do with that Sunstone crowd. I hear they’re nothing but trouble. In fact, I might get in trouble just for reading Sunstone articles.” Well, I have news for you. You won’t learn much about Heavenly Mother unless you do. It just isn’t something that is talked about in the official channels and sources of the church. Oh, there is another source: Feminist Mormon Housewives, a very popular blog for Mormon women.

About the only thing most members of the church know about Heavenly Mother comes from the hymnbook. I just sang the song today. It’s not called, “O My Mother.” It is a beautiful hymn entitled, “O My Father,” written by Eliza R. Snow. It is a favorite in the church and for good reason. It is a beautiful melody and one of the only hymns where a Mother in Heaven is mentioned. The other one is “Oh, What Songs of the Heart” (#286).

I take that back. There is a Newsroom response to a Newsweek article back in 2001 that reads, “‘The Mother’ is not a term that is used among Church members, in Church meetings, classes or lesson manuals. While the official Proclamation on the Family affirms that each human being is a beloved son or daughter of heavenly parents, there are no teachings about a Heavenly Mother in Latter-day Saint scripture.”

Why is this controversial?

While there may be no scriptural references to a Mother in Heaven, it simply seems to be common knowledge among long-time members of the church or those with a pioneer heritage. This knowledge has been passed down within these well-established pioneer families. The problem is that the doctrine is not officially set down in writing anywhere that you can read it in a format that helps you to understand it. Thus, there are several misunderstandings.

For example, it is not clear if there is one Heavenly Mother or many. It stands to reason that if polygamy is still an officially accepted doctrine of the church (and it is), then why wouldn’t God have more than one wife? I know, this is shocking to some to contemplate. In my experience with some new converts, the whole idea of a Mother in Heaven is shocking. I personally believe that the family of man does come though many different spiritual mothers.

I think that’s why the Church is not more forthcoming about the doctrine and setting it in some sort of official format that can be relied upon as authoritative. Either they just don’t know enough about it because it hasn’t been revealed or it is considered something that is too difficult for most members of the church to understand. Maybe early church leaders like Brigham Young understood it better because they heard it directly from Joseph. Who knows?

We pray to Heavenly Father

Some members of the church who have misunderstood the concept of Heavenly Mother began to suggest that we could pray to her, whereupon the church denounced the practice in General Conference. A BYU professor who had advocated the practice lost her teaching position because of it. I have never understood or considered the idea of praying to a Heavenly Mother but then maybe that’s because I am a man. I have read writings of many women who feel otherwise.

A companion controversy to the idea of Mother in Heaven is the concept of shared priesthood. You can find a lot of material published by members of the church about the subject but not as much from official sources. Just how much of a right does an endowed and sealed sister in the church have to exercise the priesthood with her husband, if any? We read stories in the early days of the church it was common for women to assist their husbands in priesthood blessings.

We know that women officiate in the priesthood in the temple. It would be very inappropriate to have it otherwise if you know anything about washings and anointings that are performed there. If women officiate in the priesthood there, why not in the home? Why not in the church? The Brethren have directed that it is not to be done. We do not confer the priesthood upon women and do not ordain them to offices within that priesthood, so how could they preside?

Summary and Conclusion

I have been trying to write the posts on my blog in such a way that an individual who is not a member of our church wanting to know more could understand the material I present. I also have several friends who are recent converts who read my blog and I keep them in mind as I write. Unfortunately, this subject is not one that is easy to explain or understand because it is so vague in the minds of most members of the church, who do not think or talk about it very often.

Do the leaders know more than they share? I don’t know. Do they perhaps simply not know much about Mother in Heaven? I wonder. Does it matter to my eternal salvation? No. I am only concerned about living in accordance to the knowledge that has been revealed. In other words, if God wanted me to know more about Heavenly Mother, then he would reveal it to me, through the authorized priesthood channels. Any other source is speculative and questionable.

I know, that bugs some people who feel that they are entitled to their own revelation on the subject. Maybe so, but keep it sacred within your own bosom. I do not have a problem with not knowing much about Mother in Heaven. When I get to heaven I’ll learn more. For now, I’m content to remember my own mother who is now in heaven and look forward to seeing her again. I know I also have a Heavenly Mother and will someday be with her again as well.

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