I was asked to substitute again in Sunday School this last Sunday, for the 17 and 18 year old youth. The topic was “How can studying the scriptures help me learn about Heavenly Father?” In line with my dislike of to looking at anything in a microcosm (limiting the scope of a topic), I like to see how things connect. In this lesson I wanted to help these young men and women to appreciate what our Father in Heaven has done in order to provide us with scripture today, so I decided to put together a history of scripture. I enjoyed researching the lesson so much, I decided to share what I put together with you.
Our journey into the History of Scripture, starts with the Tower of Babel
It will become clear in a little while why I didn’t start with Adam and Eve.
If you recall the story, King Nimron (the Hunter of man) brought the people together to build a tower to the heaven to overthrow God ~2200 BC. The tower “of Babel” was a symbol of the wickedness of the people of the time. However, like all things satanic, the goal was a lie. While it may be true that Nimrod honestly thought he’d make it to Heaven, there were other nefarious reasons. Back in 2010, I was introduced to a new interpretation of these passages. On the Glenn Beck show, Glenn hosted Rabbi Lapin to talk about the Tower. In summary, Rabbi Lapin informed the audience that in the original Hebrew, the bricks referred to people and mortar (the stuff in between holding them together) is the word for Materialism.
A side thought: If you recall the construction of the Salt Lake Temple, the original foundation included less precise stone cuttings and mortar. As a result of the mortar the foundation cracked, and the Temple, as it now stands today, was constructed without mortar, using precisely cut stone.
Anyway, I digress, the point is that God condemned the people and cursed them for their disobedience, confounding the languages. All but one small group of righteous followers of God. This group, lead by the prophet Mahonri Moriancumer and his brother Jared. Because of their righteous petitions to the Lord, they were lead away, prior to the confounding of the languages, to a land of promise (America). In line with the commandments of God, their prophets kept a record of their teachings, prophecies, and history. Given that the land they were lead to was a choice land, it came with a covenant that while this people was obedient, they would prosper, but upon their rejection of the commandments, they were wiped off the face of this land. The record of their people, compiled by Ether, was later hid up in the ground and lost for a time.
In about 1400 BC, after 400 years in slavery to Egypt, living among the Egyptian people with their idolatry and worship of false gods, the Israelite’s had strayed from the path. While the scriptures don’t tell us exactly what happened, I believe they had somehow lost the earlier history of scripture and were worshiping based on word of mouth and tradition. The reason I suspect this is, while in the desert wondering, Moses was shown a vision, where he was shown the history of the world and command to write it down. Our having the record of Adam through Joseph was of such importance to our Heavenly Father that, he restored the information and then had the Jewish people keep it until this day in the Torah, or the book of Genesis in the Old Testament. Moses went on to capture 4 more books of scripture of their history and the law of Moses, comprising the reaming books of the Torah, or in total, the first 5 books of the Old Testament.
The Lost Tribes of Israel
From Moses until sometime around 975 BC the Israel’s history was recorded by a series of prophets and kings from Joshua to Samuel and David to Solomon. But in rebelled over Rehoboam becoming king Israel was broken into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel (or the Northern Tribes) and the record would then be made through multiple prophets, some where dedicated to the North, others to Judah, and some spoke of both Kingdoms. However, just over 250 years later, in 722 BC, the Northern Tribes had become so wicked that our Heavenly Father permitted them to be conquered by the Assyrians and scattered. This was the end of our record of this people, at least until the Tribes are gathered from the north and we are permitted to read their record from the time of their scattering, until the present.
The Nephites, Mulekites, and fall of the Jaredites,
The beginning of sixth century BC brought many significant activity with respect to the history of scripture. To begin, Ether records the last destruction of the Jaradite people and hides up the record. The record is later found by the people of King Limhi and then presented to King Mosiah for translation. This record is included in the Book of Mormon as the Book of Ether.
About the same time, Lehi is commanded to leave Jerusalem prior to the Babylonian invasion, but before leaving he is commanded to have his son’s go back and get the brass plates from Laben. Our Father in Heaven new the importants of obtaining the brass plates for the people of Lehi (see also:, Alma 37:8-9, 1 Nephi 5:21-22). In contrast, about this same time, the Lord lead another righteous group from the land of Israel, this group was called the Mulekites or the people of Zarahemla. This peopled followed Mulek, however they did not posses the scriptures. Lehi and his son Nephe are command to keep a history of their people.
By 525 BC, because of wickedness and idolatry, Malachi is the last prophet to record the activities of the Jews in what today comprises the Old Testament. Had it not been for the great record keeping of both these people, and events in the future, this precious word of God could have been lost like unto the stories of Adam prior to Moses.
The Maccabee Revolt
After centuries of apostasy, Antiochus Epiphanes became king of Syria and made a determined effort to stamp out the Jewish religion. At this time the Jews were under the raign of the Seleucid Empire, a Hellenistic (Greek) State that was formed out of the empire created by Alexander the Great. As a result, much of the Jewish religion had been supplanted by Greek Mythology. In 175 BC a Jewish family by the name of Maccabee revolted against Antiochus and for a brief time the Jews regained control of Judah. They were also instrumental in restoring Jewish law and traditions, setting the stage for the birth of Christ and yet another restoration.
I always find it interesting to ask what religion Abraham was. Often I get the answer that he was a Jew, some just don’t know. With Latter-day revelation we know that all of the patriarchs were Christian, meaning, they worshiped and looked forward to the coming of Christ. The Law of Moses itself was a lesser law pointing to the coming Messiah. But in 1 AD Christianity as we know it today was established with the Birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At this time, Christ taught the fullness of the Gospel that had been lost due to the time Israel had been in Egypt followed by their rebellion in the dessert. The teachings of Christ and his apostles were recorded by great men such as Mark and Luke, as well as in Epistles and other writing of the Apostles themselves. These writing make up what we call today the New Testament. Again we see how important the written word is, in that the Old testament was missing many important things on the fullness of the Gospel and Christ himself came and restored the lost truths to his people. 120 AD marks the end of the New Testament with the death of the Apostles of Christ’s Church in the meridian of time. This lack of priesthood leadership would lead to the apostasy prophesied of by Isaiah. Despite the apostasy, the writings of the Apostles, along with the ancient prophets were preserved into a new volume by the Catholic church, called the Holy Bible (from Greek for “the books”). Unfortunately, as has been demonstrated thus far in history, again, many plain and precious Gospel principles were lost of confounded, which contributed to the great apostasy.
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The Final Destruction of the Nephites
About 500AD Saw the final destruction of the people of Nephi. Continuing our history of scripture, after 400 years of continual peace and prosperity, the people again fell into idolatry and wickedness. Despite prophetic warnings, following a similar cycle found in the Old Testament, the people began to be ripe for destruction. Finally sometime around 500 AD, the Nephite people were ultimately destroyed, leaving behind a fracture
d and fallen people to await the final restoration. In order to preserve the record of the people from their wicked state, an abridgment of their nearly millennial history, including the final destruction, compiled onto a set of Gold plates by Mormon and buried by his son Moroni. To await Gods timing to be returned to the people once again.
The Reformation and the Gutenberg Bible
In 1382 AD John Wycliffe personally translated the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) into English. This is considered the first English Translation of the Bible in the history of scripture. The spread of Wycliffe’s Bible resulted in a death sentence for any unlicensed possession of Scripture in English.
~1450 AD Johannes Gutenberg creates the printing press and begins to print his 42-line Latin Bible known as the Gutenberg Bible. The development of the printing press played a key role issuing in the Renaissance, Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific revolution.
Meanwhile, over in Spain and Portugal a young man. by the name of Christopher Columbus is busy learning all he can about seafaring to fulfilling his own role in prophesy. In 1492 AD Queen Isabella, who consequently held the title Queen of Jerusalem, after many years of deliberation, decides to fund Columbus’ expedition, in the hopes of exploiting new riches to fund a new crusade to the Holy Land. The discovery of America ignites an entire new era of colonization and conquest.
The Sixteenth Century was another big century with respect to scriptural advancement, starting with the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was a schism within the Roman Catholic Church. It was initiated by men such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Swingli, and other Protestant Reformers. This schism resulted, at least in part, in the separation of the Church of England, and the creation of Protestantism (The Calvinists and Lutherans).
As evidence of the the loss of simple truths in the Catholic compilation of the Holy Bible, Martin Luther began to question the Catholic churches interpretation of various Gospel principles, including Pope Alexander VI‘s selling of indulgences and claimed authority over purgatory. This culminated in hi 1517 AD work The Ninety-Five Theses. Sparked by the 14th and 15th century’s Great Schism of Western Christianity, Martin Luther wasn’t alone in questioning the Catholic church. It was also during this time that William Tyndale translated the entire Bible into English, despite British law. He was tried on a charge of heresy and in 1536 AD and condemned to be burned to death.
For his part, John Calvin was a French Theologian and pastor who was forced to flee France as a result of religious persecution against protestants. In 1536 AD, he ended up in Geneva, Switzerland at the behest of another Frenchman William Farel who asked Calvin for help in reforming the church there. Calvin went on to live much of his life in Geneva, which at the time was a Republic. In his final years he played host to English Marian exiles escaping similar persecution by the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary for her executions of Protestants.
Mary did not follow the religion created by her father King Henry VIII who in 1530 AD established the Church of England by breaking with the Catholic church, because the Pope refused to grant the King a divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Her conflict with the Protestant movement continued under the reign of her half-brother Edward who allowed Parliament to pass a series of laws promoting the Protestant religion.
Interesting side note, she gained the title of Queen of Jerusalem by marring the son of Catholics King Charles the Holy Roman Empire and Queen Isabella of Portugal, both grandchildren of Isabella I of Castile who funded Columbus.
Edward continued to insist Mary denounce Catholicism and follow his Protestant laws. Upon her accession to the throne after the death of King Edward and a failed uprising to place Jane Gray on the throne, she immediately undid the Protestant laws of Edward. Despite her word to the people, under the Heresy acts, she began Protestant executions known as the Marian persecutions. The result of this persecution increased anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish feelings among the people of England. After her death in 1557 AD, her half-sister Elizabeth, a protestant of the Church of England, took the throne.
Among the Marian exiles were Protestant scholars such as William Whittingham who, under the spiritual leadership of John Calvin, supervised the translation of a new English copy of the Bible called the Geneva Bible. This group of English refugees would eventually move back to England and Scotland and with them, bring back the Calvinist philosophy and their Geneva Bible. Despite further biblical translations, the Geneva bible was the bible used by the Calvinists in England and Scotland, as well as the bible of choice by William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell and would eventual cross the Atlantic on the Mayflower.
Queen Elizabeth I, in order to create a “Sanctioned Bible” in 1568AD commissioned the “Bishop’s Bible” One apparent flaw for the monarchy was the translation of “King” as “Tyrant” in the Geneva Bible. This was followed by the 1611AD King James version that we use today.
Puritans and Separatists
The 16th – 17th Century saw a new reform movement among the Church of England. Originating from the Calvinists, the Puritans sought to restore religious purity to the Church of England. As they were in opposition to the Church of England, which was a State mandatory religion, several of this movement broke away, searching for a place that they could worship according to the dictates of their heart. Deciding the Church of England could not be purified, they separated themselves and were so called Separatists. These Separatists would eventually colonize America.
Beginning in 1630 AD with the establishment of Plymouth Colony, a foundation was laid that would culminate in a new religious awakening. By 1730-1750 AD evangelical’s like Jonathan Edwards,
, and Samuel Davies were sweeping the new world with their dramatic, emotionally charged, and inspiring sermons, accepting all into their congregations, revitalized religious fervor. This movement marked a change from ceremonial worship to personal spiritualism. It also inspired a nation to ultimately revolt, throw off the chains of their oppressors, and embrace a bold new form of government that relied on a moral people for government not on an aristocracy.
On July 4th 1776 AD America declares her independence from Great Briton. Later in 1789 and 1791, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights are ratified, securing religious freedom for U.S.
The Second Great Awakening and the Restoration of the Gospel in the last Dispensation of time
Occupying the time-span of 1790 to 1850 AD A new revival movement was afoot in Europe and America. With preachers cross-crossing the early states and territories of the newly formed United States of America, proselytizing as they traveled, created tremendous growth in the various churches. Among this time that a boy of 15 was caught up with the excitement. In his own words, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote of that time:
Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.
For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.
I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.
As with the Reformation, confusion of the scriptures was causing much anguish among the rivaling churches. Joseph Smith continues:
My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.
In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
He came to the conclusion that if needed to ask God the Father, which of all churches to join. So retiring to a grove of trees, he kneeled down and prayed (you can read his full account here). In response to his petition, Our Heavenly Father, and his son Jesus Christ, revealed themselves to the you Joseph and instructed him not to join any.
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
Despite great prosecution by the leaders of the other religions, Joseph never lost faith in what he saw. He was later instrumental, as Moses had done for the children of Israel, in restoring the plain and precious truths once again lost to time through apostasy. A few years later, in 1823 AD, the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph to provide instruction and ultimately show him where he had hid up the record of the Nephites back in 500 AD. Joseph Smith then proceeded to translate the record which was later published as the Book of Mormon. Through the prophet Joseph Smith, other scripture would be restored or revealed, each restoring precocious elements of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now we are prevailed to enjoy the Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Perl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants.
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Today we are privileged to enjoy access to the scriptures unlike ever before. The scriptures can be held in the palm of our hand, in the form of tablets, cell phones, and other digital devices. In addition to scripture, we have all sorts of reference material: cross-referring to, digital searches, modern day revelation written and referenceable, etc… Consider how much effort the adversary had gone to, in order to destroy scripture, and yet through the grace of God, we have a rich history of scripture demonstrating our Heavenly Fathers hand in their preservation. Unfortunately, referencing back to the Tower of Babel, our materialism and other distractions and so prevalent that despite our blessings in the latter-days, we find a general lack of scriptural understanding. If the scriptures are so important to our Father in Heaven as to call for this kind of effort to assure that we have them, what is our responsibility to them? What is the result if we ignore them, individually and as a nation? During the 1970’s AD the prophet Ezra Taft Benson declared that the church was under condemnation for not reading the Book of Mormon. During the April Session of the 1975 AD General Conference President Benson said the following:
Some of the early missionaries, on returning home, were reproved by the Lord in section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants because they had treated lightly the Book of Mormon. As a result, their minds had been darkened. The Lord said that this kind of treatment of the Book of Mormon brought the whole Church under condemnation, even all of the children of Zion. And then the Lord said, “And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon.” (See D&C 84:54–57.) Are we still under that condemnation?
The Lord provides this admonition:
Those who receive it, in faith, and work righteousness, shall receive a crown of eternal life; But those who harden their hearts in unbelief, and reject it, it shall turn to their own condemnation— For the Lord God has spoken it. (D&C 20:14–16.)
We need to make sure that we are taking advantage of the Blessing of our rich history of scripture and feast upon the words of Christ.