One in Thine Hand?
I’m happy to be studying the New Testament again in Sunday School. I grew up on its cadences and witness. It remains my favorite of the canon. It’s the volume through which I came to know Christ, to begin to grasp the Atonement and through whose principles – along with the other scriptures – I try to work the Gospel into my bones. I believe, to borrow from Elder Bednar’s April 2010 Conference talk:
“Regular reading of and talking about the [scriptures] invite the power to resist temptation and to produce feelings of love within our families. And discussions about the doctrines and principles in the [scriptures] provide opportunities for parents to observe their children, to listen to them, to learn from them, and to teach them.”
The New Testament – the Bible as a whole, actually – had a profound impact on the formation of our society thanks to our Puritan forebears. I don’t mean spiritually, necessarily, but as a foundational book. Everyday references to being a “Good Samaritan,” “turning the other cheek,” “rendering unto Caesar,” “casting pearls before swine” all come from New Testament references. Unfortunately much of contemporary culture doesn’t know that. For many Americans, “Don’t have a cow, man!,” “zoom-zoom,” “I’m lovin’ it” and “walking on water” sound like they were generated by the same ad agency. When my son was at Brown University he took a class in which the professor referred to a “David and Bathsheba” situation and only my son caught the joke. To stem that problem many colleges are resurrecting “The Bible as Literature” courses. Even the secular academic world wants more biblical literacy.
When I attended a Mormon church for the first time, I was 16 and a committed Christian of the mainline Protestant stripe. I knew my scriptures pretty well and had long since embraced Christ as my Savior as I do now these many Mormon years later. The friendly band of teens whose class I attended that day sorely wanted to “enlighten” me. They lost some of their credibility, though, when they referenced the last book of the Bible – which they referred to as “RevelationS”. Real Gospel scholars, I thought (being the snooty teen I was), – especially ones who thought my faith was somehow lacking – would know that it’s Revelation. Singular.
Not all Mormons make that mistake (and they certainly aren’t the only ones who do), but it is a shibboleth of careful scripture scholarship. For example, wouldn’t we be a tad suspect of someone claiming to be fully Mormon but talking about the angel Moroneee?
A few months ago I was at a gathering of accomplished women, many of whom were LDS but not all. One was a Protestant minister. I overheard one sister explain to the minister the importance of protecting our youth against today’s current challenges. “We have a beautiful scripture in the Book of Mormon that talks about this. It says to put on the whole armor of God and, having done all to stand.” I couldn’t help but wince. It was well-intentioned, a spontaneous sharing of testimony – except that the verses she was referring to were actually Ephesians 6:11-17. Or, perhaps she was thinking of D&C 15:15-18. In any case, the minister knew the Ephesians reference and probably wondered how it had found its way into Latter-day scriptures.
I’m on my own little soap box, advocating that Latter-day Saints know their New Testament better – especially if they want street cred with the rest of Christendom. (We do want that, don’t we?)
However, in Elder Bednar’s April Conference talk, called Watching with All Perseverance, he is more specific. He singles out the Book of Mormon as the go-to volume to read. He describes “holy habits” that can help safeguard ourselves and our families in perilous times. The first of these is “Reading and Talking about the Book of Mormon.” He believes that the Book of Mormon – the keystone of our religion – is the truest, purest, plainest, most correct, most complete volume available to save the souls of humankind.
I understand the power of the Book of Mormon and its unique testament of God’s concern for his children in all generations and the Authority present in the Church today. I have felt the shimmering witness of the Spirit reading its pages. I’m sure Elder Bednar isn’t saying the other scriptures don’t also convey the truths of the Gospel. I’m certainly not going to dismiss his advice.
We celebrate having “two sticks” become one in our hands, right? The Church added the label “another witness of Christ” to the front of the Book of Mormon; wasn’t the Bible the first witness? Aren’t the Bible and the Book of Mormon a team – two witnesses that clarify what have been points of contention for centuries before the Restoration? If we fail to familiarize ourselves thoroughly with the New Testament – if we see it as flawed or tampered with or unreliable – will we be able to see and trust the Gospel proclaimed in its pages? If we perceive it as somehow “less than,” how can we relate to and respect the rest of Christianity for the truths we share in common? Will we make more gaffes in our attempts to share our beliefs with others? How will this foster an appreciation of what we can learn from others instead of just dispensing what we have been taught? (Since we embrace all truth everywhere, we do want to do that, right? )
Do I have to give up my New Testament soap box?
What might be some other reasons why we’re advised to cling so closely to reading the Book of Mormon?