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One in Thine Hand?

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

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?

About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

27 thoughts on “One in Thine Hand?”

  1. Love this. I'm having the primary children read the new testament this year as part of the theme of I know the scriptures are true and because it is what the older ones are studying. I'm surprised how new the stories in there are to most of the kids.

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  2. I loved your post!!….when I joined the church at 16, I found it very interesting that most of the youth had to ask "Now where is that book found?" when asked to look up a scripture. Even today, the teachers are more apt to site page number instead of scripture verse to "hurry" us along in locating one…

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  3. You are so right. I am one of those who went to Seminary and religion classes at BYU and Sunday School when I was not working in Primary. But I feel totally unfamiliar with the New Testament beyond Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I decided to really study the New Testament this year using not only the study guide provided in Sunday School, but also my old Religion 222 or whatever manual that is for New Testament. I have learned sooo much already!

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  4. Linda, your post was waaayyy more insightful and thought provoking than my comment gave it justice…..I happened to only post what my initial thought was…the depth and breadth of your post is amazing and I am always challenged when I come here to read, though my previous comment was "sophomoric"….hehehe

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  5. Even having grown up Mormon, up until just a few years ago, the New Testament was my favorite book of scripture. I loved learning and reading about the actual life of Christ. How else can we really figure out 'what Jesus would do'?

    However, in the past few years, I have come to witness just what all the General Authorities are on to with encouraging us to read daily from the Book of Mormon. While not directly about the life of Christ, it has done more to strengthen my faith and testimony of my Father in Heaven's love for me, his involvement in my life, understanding faith, fortifying my understanding and belief in the atonement, and building my testimony of Jesus. There is truly a power in the Book of Mormon that I have not felt in the other books of scripture. The Bible seems to appeal more to my mind (facts and stories), while the Book of Mormon appeals more to my heart (so much to be "likened unto me" in there).

    For the past couple of years, we've been reading the Children's Illustrated Bible with my kids. I am happy that they know so many of the Old and New Testament stories now. Like you, I think that it is vital for Mormons to have a good understanding of the Bible in order to be effective in talking religion with others, as well as for our own testimony development.

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  6. I love the New Testament 🙂 And I used to feel guilty reading it when the BOM is pushed so ardently by laypeople and prophets alike.

    I grew up in an area of the country where there were very, very few LDS member. I was the only active LDS girl in my Mia Maid and Laurel class- and I found I was given a lot of respect from my peers, and also a lot of questions. In order to make comparisons and find the common ground that we do hold with mainstream Christendom, I needed to understand the Bible. We had an interesting YW class a few weeks back where we found out that most of our girls had NO IDEA what separated us from other Christians. Their lack of experience with other books of scripture was glaringly apparent.

    I love the Book of Mormon too, and do find great value in it. In many cases, it seems to answer the questions that Bible leaves unanswered and provides the clarity that gives our faith such direction and peace.

    I think there is great wisdom to studying all four books. I'm glad our Sunday School and Seminary classes rotate. I want to know Jehovah, the Messiah, Christ, our Savior- and whoever He was to whatever group of people lucky enough to know him. The sum of the whole is so much more than the part.

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  7. My favorite book of scripture tends to be whichever one I'm reading at the time (well, with the exception of the Old Testament; I've truly come to love (most of) the Old Testament, but I wouldn't say it's ever been a favorite, comparatively speaking). The Pearl of Great Price blows me away though. I am so moved by the vision of God that we find in the book of Moses (chapter 7 in particular). And the book of Abraham boggles my mind (in a good way!).

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  8. Do I have to give up my New Testament soap box?

    No. Never. I found a love of the New Testament the year prior to my mission as I prepared. I felt a tug to really dig in and learn it. Turns out there was good reason, as I was sent to the Oklahoma, the big, shiny, belt-buckle of the bible belt. I can't even begin to explain how much that knowledge helped me communicate with folks.

    What might be some other reasons why we’re advised to cling so closely to reading the Book of Mormon?

    In my estimation, the emphasis on the Book of Mormon is because it means our minimum daily value of the gospel. Basically, it's like our vitamins, without which tend to lose vital nutrients. There are teachings in the Book of Mormon so pertinent to our day that to go without them will probably lead us down the same mislead paths as our predecessors.

    That being said, main cannot live on vitamins alone. The other Testaments (or properly covenants) are deeply important. I suppose it's a decision to try and get by on the bare minimum, or to expand what we take in to enrich our experience.

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  9. We're really spotty about reading with our kids (the oldest is 6), but when we do, we are slowly making our way through the New Testament. Now that she is starting to read and aquire new languages (she's in a spanish immersion elem.) I want her to also know the language of the scriptures.

    Knowing and understanding scriptural language is important on the path to great understanding of the scriptures. I have visions of more in-depth FHE topics when she (and the rest) are older — topics that delve into the cultural and theological backgrounds of the scriptures. But starting with the language of the scriptures is where we are.

    I chose the New Testament because, like others here, I want to hear the words and of the actions of Christ. All things point to Him in the Book of Mormon, but the description of his interactions in the NT is beautiful. I want my children to experience that beauty.

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  10. Thank you for this post Linda. I enjoyed every word of it.

    I adore the New Testament and sometimes feel guilty that it is my 'comfort food' more often than the Book of Mormon. But oh how I love the parables, the writings of Paul, the Revelation!

    But I love the Book of Mormon too– Mosiah, Alma, 3rd Nephi, Moroni– I'm pretty grateful for both.

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  11. Thanks, all, for your comments so far. (Jeannie – there is no such thing as a sophomoric comment 🙂 ) And Gdub, let he (or she) who is without typos cast the first stone! (Do you know the reference for that?) It's wonderful to be in the company of such thoughtful folks.

    The first time I ever saw a Book of Mormon was when I was about 14 and babysitting for a family in our Illinois town. I saw the book on their shelf and read the introductory pages/account of witnesses, etc. (not the real scripture part) and thought it was a pretty remarkable volume I'd happened upon. It sounded pretty strange but intriguing. Who would have guessed what the next years held?

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  12. Jeannie: I have to agree with Linda…your comment was not "Sophomoric". It made a good point. I think you feel as intimidated about posting here among these amazing women as I do…

    I'm a convert, too, and I really enjoy reading the New Testament under the light of the Book of Mormon. Paul and Peter and John make so much more sense to me now. There's a depth to their epistles/writing that I didn't understand before. I just wish we (in Gospel Doctrine) delved more into the Greek language foundation and the peculiar cultural elements of the time to enhance our understanding.

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  13. My personal favorite book of scripture is the Old Testament.

    When my oldest son was about 3 years old, I started out to read the Book of Mormon (children's version) with him. I soon discovered that all he was interested in was the fighting. He didn't even want to hear any of the stories that didn't involve fighting. So I switched and read the New Testament reader instead. Now, I've chosen to do that with all my kids. I think there is nothing lovelier than immersing a tiny child in the life of Jesus, and they always related to Him so well. I think that's a great foundation for a young child.

    And about a year ago, I felt strongly impressed to read the Book of Mormon with my kids. So we do cover it all. I like to switch up what I read, but I think I have a pretty good familiarity and understanding when it comes to all the books of scripture.

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  14. Having just spent the last year teaching the Old Testament to 9 and 10 year olds, I'm excited to be teaching the New Testament. All the boys cared about was that someone died in the story and how they died and then proceeded to act out the death 10 different times. It was a bit annoying to not be able to get to the doctrine of the story, which there are many in the Old Testament. I felt it was lost on these kids. The New Testament is a refreshing change. While I love them both, I'm happy to be reading and teaching about the mortal life of Christ.

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  15. the 1st missionaries i met, one was a convert and very well versed in the Bible itself and the Book of Mormon. i appreciated that so much, because many references that others made where just like what you said – i would mention, no that is in the New Testiment – really?
    Reading all is a wonderful thing – and i appreciate it very much!

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  16. I think each book of scripture has had a particular place at different stages of my life. The New Testament is the central story of Christ to me but I'm glad I have the Book of Mormon and the JST to fill in the blanks due to incorrect translations or omissions. The B.O.M might be our keystone for this dispensation, but we need other stones to build our temple too.

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  17. "We need other stones to build our temple too." Such an excellent way to put it, mormonhermitmom.

    I think the BOM is emphasized because it is tailored to our time and clearly teaches the fundamentals, but the Bible reinforces those truths in so many powerful ways. Studying it has strengthened my faith and expanded my understanding so much. I'm grateful that we have both.

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  18. There is also another great resource for studying the Scriptures and it is free.
    byu independent study. Believe it is byu.edu There are a number of good freebies, but the scripture studies are great. Last time our Stake President challenged us to study the New Testament and learn of Christ. While studying the New Testament the last round, I took to working that program. I felt it was worth it.

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  19. Last Tuesday in a question and answer meeting with Julie Beck, someone asked how she scriptured study. She has numerous scriptures around her home. She says, for her, she finds it is better to randomly study, rather than stick to one study course. And this is one lady who knows her scriptures.
    As she put it, "Scripture study is an individual thing.

    Elder Lund spoke a few words afterwards. Telling of an experience with several of the brethern. The answer to, "Who do the brethern pay attention to most?" The answer was Julie Beck, for she speaks with such clarity.

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  20. Perhaps we should be reading the Book Of Mormon because the people in it are most like us. They did not walk and talk with Christ until his coming to America. I am constantly amazed by how much faith each of them had to have, most of them without seeing Christ in there lifetime. I also am constantly impressed by the clarity in which I understand things Nephi, Alma, Moroni, and all of them teach.

    I too love the New Testament, and I am really grateful that I get to teach senior primary so that I can help my class be immersed in it's truth's. And I too was surprised by how many of the kids don't know anything about the stories in the New Testament. But it was really fun to tell them about John the Baptist this past week – they were totally captivated!

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  21. Jess, yes, our Primary kids were pretty taken with the locusts and honey thing, too.

    Linda, one thing that occurred to me is that that woman also would not have made the gaffe if she had known the Book of Mormon very well. 🙂

    Our approach is to read the Book of Mormon as a family and then study the other works in individual study (and, of course, in Primary and Sunday School) but that does mean that my kids will know the Book of Mormon much better than the other works, and that's kind of sad. Hmm, maybe I will have to make a change in our methods.

    I love how each of the standard works builds on each other. I find that if I try to apply the same immediacy and emotion to Old Testament prophets, for example, that I already feel for those in the Book of Mormon, it helps bring the Old Testament more to life for me.

    We certainly hear lots from the New Testament in General Conference. I've never had any question that our prophet and apostles love the New Testament and have delved deeply to get to know the Savior through it.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with having a favorite book of scripture (mine's probably the Book of Mormon) but it's also probably worth remembering that all the prophets through the ages have been playing for the same team. 🙂

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  22. I just had some fun playing with the wonderful scripture keyword search feature at LDS.org.

    Although the extended armor metaphor is only found in Ephesians, in 2 Nephi 1:23 Lehi does tell Laman and Lemuel to "put on the armor of righteousness." Lehi would of course not have had the New Testament, so either he's (very possibly) himself being poetic, or he could be echoing something from the brass plates. (In the same verse, he also talks about shaking off chains, but I didn't pursue that word search.) The Old Testament in its current form doesn't ever make the exact comparison of righteousness with armor, but there are many places in the Psalms that refer to God as a shield. And breastplates show up in the Old Testament as literal objects with religious significance (see Leviticus 8:8) and of course also in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants (presumably the same breastplate, in fact, since it's accompanied in all three cases by the Urim and Thummim).

    By the way, I'm not trying to prove or disprove anything, I just thought it was fun to explore the armor metaphor a little, and see which works it showed up in.

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  23. Zina – Thanks for your word search frolics! I'd done the same thing, although I searched for "armor of God" "breastplate of righteousness". Great minds, eh?

    Kathleen – I'm quite encouraged by your Julie Beck story. How did you get that scoop?

    Thanks to each and all of you for the thoughtful contributions to a discussion I'll keep having in my head for a while longer.

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  24. It is difficult to obey those constant admonitions to study the BOM daily while trying to keep up on the other books of scripture; including General Conference talks. Then there is the Personal Progress study, reading along with your teenager for seminary, reading with the family, Sunday School class reading, etc.

    Definitely have to work with the spirit to make a personal study plan that may or may not involve the BOM daily.

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