Monday, December 13, 2010

On witnesses

Toward the end of my mission, Elder Theodore M. Burton, then a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and the equivalent of our Area President (they had a different name then – executive administrator, I think) taught us in a zone conference. Among other things, he suggested that as we study the scriptures we would do well to focus on things the Lord says more than once. He argued that there is less value in hanging onto half a verse of meaning rather than look at messages the Lord repeats.

That is advice that has influenced me in the 30+ years since I heard that message. I was stuck as I read the December Ensign last week because I kept seeing examples of that principle.

In "Three Stars" John B. Rowe cites D&C 6:28 which makes the point: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established." That same point is made in Deuteronomy 19:15 and 2 Corinthians 31:1.

In "Modern Day Fiery Serpents" David Smith recounts the story of the children of Israel who had been bitten by fiery serpents and would be rescued by looking upon the serpent lifted up by Moses. That story is told in Numbers 21, Alma 33, 1 Nephi 17 and 2 Nephi 25. It's a great example of Elder Burton's suggestion that important things are repeated throughout the scriptures.

In the same issue of the Ensign, Elder Hamula refers to another example: Moroni's appearance to Joseph Smith (which we can read about in Joseph Smith History) – three visits in one night and another the next day in which Moroni's message does not change. Core to that message is his quoting of the prophet Malachi, as retold in D&C Section 2. Here, as in the other examples, the message is so important it is repeated by prophets of different dispensations, and it is chronologically the first entry in the Doctrine and Covenants (after the later-revealed preface).

As I study the gospel, I am drawn to messages that are repeated in multiple sources more than I am to portions of verses that stand alone.

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