Some Religious and Semi-Religious Thoughts on the Gun Control Debate: Part 1

(The following is Part 1 of a two-part essay by Scott Mitchell, a regular contributor to this website.)

 

This short piece (obscure pun intended) will disappoint friends, relatives and acquaintances on all sides of the currently raging gun control debate.  I first wrote “both sides” in that last sentence, but then recognized the absurdity of oversimplifying the problem as an issue with only two sides.  And just the fact that I’m forced to refer to this debate so generically, and in such nonspecific terms as “the gun control debate” is a large part of the reason why the debate is raging.

In the wake of the latest mass murder of students at a Florida high school by a mentally ill, rifle-toting, expelled ex-student there, we don’t even accurately perceive what we’re disagreeing about in the debate over how to respond.  If someone advocates tighter controls on the possession or ownership of assault rifles, for example, they’re instantly accused of being anti-Second Amendment, of wanting to take away our guns, and of engaging in demagoguery to even employ the term “assault rifles.”  If someone else advocates encouraging school teachers, even just some of them who might be willing, to possess guns at school, so they can use a gun instead of their own body to protect students from mass murderers, their suggestion triggers (pun again intended) faux shock and outrage, accompanied by all sorts of apocalyptic predictions about the daily carnage that will inevitably ensue.

Another troubling problem in the debate is the tendency among even the most thoughtful among us to gloss over the fact that doing something about mass shootings on school campuses, or in other crowded areas, is extremely difficult and time-consuming because of the enormous complexity of the problem.  Mass killings by mentally ill teenagers who unexpectedly walk onto unfenced school campuses while heavily armed with their parents’ fully automatic rifles, or sometimes their own legally possessed semi-automatic rifles, and a backpack full of ammunition, don’t lend themselves to easy solutions.  Nor do shootings like the October 1, 2017 one in Las Vegas, where the gunman checked himself into a high-rise hotel, broke out the window to his room, and started mowing down outdoor concert-goers below him next to his hotel.  Do we attack the mental illness end of it?  How?  By spending billions and billions on mental hospitals and locking everybody up who seems a little weird or dangerous to someone else?  Do we build walls around all schools, with all egress or ingress controlled with metal-detectors at the heavily monitored gates?  Is there any reason we shouldn’t do the same for shopping centers or stadiums or arenas or churches?  Do we regulate the number of bullets a person can carry with them, or the speed with which a trigger can be pulled, or the degree of automation allowable for civilian guns?   How do you come up with a solution in a few legislative days, or even months, which will successfully prevent things like this from happening?  Will you ever reach a point where you can safely assure that even a Lincoln, or Garfield, or Kennedy or Reagan can’t be shot by a mentally ill Booth, Guiteau, Oswald or Hinckley?

Let’s be honest:  You can’t.  Your quickly-arrived-at solutions will be simply be too quickly-arrived-at, and they’ll be easily circumvented by the next deranged misfit who’s mad at the world, or his boss, or the girlfriend who dumped him, or the coach who didn’t play him enough, or the teacher who flunked him.  (The reader should understand that I’m aware of the blatant gender stereotyping inherent in exclusively using the masculine possessive pronoun in these examples, but I do so because I’m personally unaware of any incidents in America where females committed mass murder of strangers using firearms.  As a retired prosecutor, however, I am aware of mass murders by women using other means.)  But this obvious conclusion doesn’t stop a lot of smart people from loudly decrying the failure of Congress to immediately do something about the problem.  “All they do is talk,” many are saying, but of course, that’s all they’re doing, too.  For a while, unfortunately, that’s all anyone can do, until the talk produces what a majority can agree are good ideas.  The reason we’ve been debating this problem for decades, and other similarly complex problems such as how to manage immigration policy, or provide health care to the degree that we feel we should, is because there’s just as much disagreement on the nature of the problem as there is on the right solution.

Others applaud Congress’s inaction, saying that new restrictions on guns aren’t the answer.  But they, too, rarely provide practical suggestions for what is a workable answer, even a partially effective one.

Which brings me to another problem which many people, myself included, are always in danger of ignoring:  Overemphasizing the complexity of the problem of mass gun violence committed suddenly by one mentally ill person (or in the Columbine,  Washington, D.C. beltway and San Bernardino massacres, by two of them) can, if one isn’t careful, also be counterproductive.  We do need to understand the complexity of all problems we attempt to solve, but we also have to resist the common tendency to make the perfect the enemy of the good.  We have to accept that partial solutions, even if they only work 40 or 50 percent of the time, and occasionally completely fail, are infinitely better than doing nothing and thereby guaranteeing that other conscience-lacking shooters gain confidence in their own chances of glorious score-settling.  We are talking about saving additional human lives, after all.

Particularly if you’re adamantly opposed to tighter gun control laws of any kind, and supposedly in favor of deterring gun violence through increased possession of firearms, you should not just work to protect your personal stash of weaponry.  Instead, you owe it to yourself and all of us to affirmatively suggest the best preventative solution to mass gun killings that you can devise, and sincerely recommend it be implemented at your own son’s or daughter’s public school.  As you do so, don’t ignore the true financial cost of your proposal, or the fact that you like to complain about high taxes.  And if applicable, don’t forget that you’ve always worried about that one P.E. teacher at your son’s or daughter’s school who seems a little unstable.

Tomorrow:  Part 2.  Common invalid or illogical arguments by liberals, conservatives, and  others who defy categorization, will be refuted (or at least I’ll attempt to do so). Relevant religious principles will be touched on. I’ll also make some suggestions of my own for helpful legislation.

Jesus’s Failure to Endorse Eternal Marriage in the Bible and Book of Mormon

The title of this essay will be offensive and/or threatening to many Mormon readers.  As discussed fully in the essay Jesus’s Doctrine and Gospel versus Mormonism’s Teachings of Temple Priesthood Ordinances and Exaltation , found elsewhere on this website, Mormons believe that in order to attain the highest degree of eternal glory and become a god, a person must be sealed to his or her spouse by proper priesthood authority (which is held exclusively by Mormons) in an LDS temple.  These beliefs stem from a revelation purportedly received in 1843 by Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  This revelation that properly performed marriages lasted throughout eternity was and is known as the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage.” (See Doctrine and Covenants 131:2 and 132:15-17, 19-21.)  However, this essay is not an attack on the institution of marriage.  It is meant to be the complete opposite of that.  Jesus plainly taught that God intended mankind to marry, and blessed them with the ability to multiply and replenish the earth within marriage’s framework.  This essay is meant to preserve respect for the institution of marriage, without encumbering it with teachings not endorsed by Jesus Christ. Too often, the doctrine of eternal marriage, when taken as true, depicts God as demanding that which he does not actually require at all.

Nor should this essay be taken as evidence that the author is dissatisfied in his own marriage, or is looking for justifications to diminish its sacred character.  Again, the opposite is true; the author would in no way be disappointed if the idea of eternal marriage were an actual teaching of Jesus’ gospel.  In fact, there is no such thing as an unhappy person in heaven, so even if an unhappily married couple made it to heaven and it were doctrinally possible that their marriage could continue there, it would be impossible, by definition, that said marriage would remain unhappy in heaven.  Thus, the audiences most targeted by this essay are those Mormons who are concerned about (a) the eternal ramifications of dying without having been married in the temple (and thereby not being “sealed” for eternity to their spouse); (b) dying without even having a spouse at all (and therefore having no one whom their relatives can seal them to after they die); (c) being sealed to a spouse or to a family to whom they don’t want to be eternally sealed; or (d) the discrepancies between the teachings in the Bible and Book of Mormon on this issue and the practices and beliefs of the LDS Church.  A fifth audience would be any others, Mormon or not, who are spiritually or intellectually interested in whether eternal marriage is a true teaching of Christ’s church.

In the 12th chapter of the New Testament book of Mark, verses 18-27, we read that the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, came once to Jesus with a hypothetical:  A woman is taken to wife by one man, who dies without producing any children by her.  Then, following the Levirate marriage practice prescribed in the law of Moses for such situations, the dead man’s brother took the woman to wife.  But he died without producing seed as well, as did five more brothers in succession from that same family.  After the death of her seventh husband, the woman died childless.  The question posed to Jesus was which man would be the woman’s husband in the resurrection.  Mark 12:24-27 recounts Jesus’s response:

24 And  Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?

25 For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.

26  And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the Book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?

27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.

These verses of scripture have greatly perplexed thoughtful orthodox Mormons, because Jesus here refutes the idea of marriages performed on earth having any effect when we are resurrected.  Based on my personal observations as someone is his mid-sixties who’s been an active LDS church member his whole life, the first impulse of Mormons upon reading Jesus’s words here is to see if they are corroborated by the other synoptic gospels.  And indeed they are, in Matthew 22:23-32 and Luke 20:27-38.  Their next impulse is to see if Joseph Smith, in his own purportedly inspired correction of the erroneous verses of the Bible, in any way altered the wording contained in the verses in Matthew, Mark or Luke. But he did not; he left them intact.  In fact, no sermon or exposition by him construing these verses has ever been reported.

A third Mormon impulse has been to hypothesize that Jesus was somehow limiting his remarks to a category of people who were married on earth, but not sealed together properly by Melchizedek priesthood authority, and thus not entitled to have their marriage last beyond the grave.  This hypothesis is untenable, however, for several reasons.  First of all, there was no such thing as eternal marriage at this time in history; it was unheard of among the Jews and among the Nephites, and no scripture suggested it.  Jesus never spoke of it in anything he said to the Jews or to the Nephites, though he spoke much of marriage-related issues to both peoples.

Second, the Old Testament contains a complete description of all ordinances performed within the Jewish Temple, and marriages weren’t solemnized there ever, under any circumstances.  In fact, the manner of marrying couples among the Jews appears to have been devoid of any exchange of vows by the bride and groom themselves, or of any ritual words pronounced by a priest as is characteristic of today’s ceremonies.  Marriages were consummated by sexual union inside the bridal chamber as the guests waited outside; before that point, they were only contractual betrothals (engagements) arranged by parents.1

Third, the question asked of Jesus was a hypothetical referring to no specific people.  The question thus did not contain any information which would cause Jesus to provide an answer that applied only to persons who weren’t devout enough to have been married in some ritually-preferable way.  In fact, Jesus’s answer presupposes the righteousness of the hypothetical people involved, as shown by his reference to them in the next life as being “as the angels which are in heaven.” His words as quoted in Luke are even more indicative of their presumed righteousness, wherein Jesus describes them by saying “Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.”  See Luke 20: 36.  Only in Mormonism does the idea exist that angels who dwell in God’s presence in the celestial kingdom of heaven are individuals being punished for their ritually inferior marriage, or for their failure to marry (see Doctrine and Covenants 132: 15-18).  Such a notion is utterly devoid of foundation in the Bible or Book of Mormon, where angels in heaven are uniformly revered as holy.2

Fourth, the whole context of Jesus’s answer to the hypothetical is that it’s being used by Sadducees who are attempting to demonstrate supposed logical problems associated with a belief in the resurrection.  Jesus’s purpose in answering is not only to correct the false notion that marriages survive the grave, but to establish the universality of the resurrection.  Therefore, he speaks categorically, clarifying that marriages are performed only by “the children of this world” (see Luke 20:34), but are not part of anyone’s heavenly existence.  Just as his comments on the universality of the resurrection cannot be interpreted as having only limited application, his comments on marriage are also not  susceptible of such an interpretation.

Another explanation occasionally proffered by Mormons is that what Jesus means is that for a marriage to last forever, it has to be performed on earth to be eligible for eternal duration, but it cannot be performed in the hereafter, because marriages aren’t done in heaven.  Joseph Smith taught this.3  In fact, this is also the canonized explanation contained in Doctrine and Covenants 132:15-16:

 15 Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.

16 Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

17 For these angels did not abide my law; therefore they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.

This explanation of Jesus’s quoted words in Matthew, Mark and Luke, which was also the one adopted by James E. Talmage in his well-known tome Jesus the Christ,4 suffers from the same defects as the last one discussed, and more.  The most obvious of these defects, at least for Mormons, is that Mormon doctrine steadfastly maintains that marriages are performed in heaven after this life, and this doctrine is also found in the Doctrine and Covenants, and is taught repeatedly by almost every Mormon general authority and lay leader everywhere.  Women and men who go their lives without marrying through no fault of their own, are assured by church leaders that they will be provided with at least one spouse and marriage in the next life, assuming they’ve lived righteously.  This promise is also provided to spouses who are married, whether in temple or not, and live worthily, but whose spouse does not live worthily enough to expect the highest heavenly reward.  And naturally, it is taught to grieving family members and friends of those who die before having the opportunity to marry.  Some Mormon women, including the author’s own mother, secretly harbor worries that when they arrive in heaven, they’ll find their dead husband has acquired an additional wife, or more than one, in heaven while his wife lived out her mortal life.  The doctrinal basis for such a belief of marriages being performed in the future in heaven is found in Doctrine and Covenants (hereafter “D&C”) 132:39, where the Lord is quoted as saying he gave David’s wives to someone else.  Since there is no scriptural account of David’s wives being given to anyone else by the Lord during David’s life on earth, it is to be presumed this would have to have been done in heaven.  This one verse provides a fairly weak and uncorroborated scriptural foundation for the Mormon belief of marriages performed in heaven, and it is virtually never cited as authoritative on the question, but that fact has had virtually no effect whatsoever in deterring church leaders from promising such future marriages to the faithful.

Looking at Jesus’s words within the broader context of biblical and Book of Mormon exegesis, they seem to merely restate that which is plainly implicit in the ancient scriptures.  Nowhere is found in either book even a slight hint that marriage endures beyond the grave under any circumstance, even though marriage as a topic, and marriages of specific people, are much discussed in both books, and the posterity of the main figures are faithfully chronicled. If indeed the Book of Mormon contains, with the Bible, the “fulness of the everlasting gospel,” as Mormons believe (see Introduction to the Book of Mormon in the LDS scriptures, as well as the numerous Book of Mormon verses which substantiate that claim), its teachings should contain many references, both by prophets and the Lord himself, to the extreme importance of this doctrine of eternal marriage.  Instead, the doctrine goes unmentioned throughout the several allusions to the sanctity of marriage in both books, and  even when Jesus goes out of his way to define the basic elements of his gospel in 3 Nephi 11:28-40.

Moreover, it requires no great scrutiny of the scriptures to conclude that numerous prophets down through time, and Jesus himself, were definitely not married.  The scriptural descriptions of the lives of Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, John the Beloved, and Paul so clearly establish their lifelong bachelorhood that this author has been unable to find a single scriptural scholar outside of Mormonism who thinks otherwise.  Those Mormons who have been willing to teach that Christ or Paul, for example, were married constitute a very small minority of Mormon writers, and even they have rarely been willing to publish books or papers to that effect, apparently cognizant of the nonexistent scriptural support.  In the author’s experience, those Mormons hold such views only because they deem it impossible to be exalted without being married, relying solely on D&C 132.  As this author has argued in essays on this website referenced above, the teachings of D&C 132 are spectacularly wrong, fully contradicted by the Book of Mormon and Bible at almost every turn.  (In the author’s opinion, Book of Mormon prophets Abinadi, Samuel the Lamanite and the last Moroni, to name a few, most probably remained single as well.)

In preaching that marriage was ordained of God, and that men should not divorce their wives for any reason other than sexual infidelity, Jesus also explained why some few men nevertheless intentionally remain single.  He prefaced his remarks by saying “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to which it is given.”  He then declared, “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.  He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” (Emphasis added; see Matthew 19:11-12.)  By twice limiting his words’ application to those who could receive them, Jesus implied that they were not generally applicable to most men.  Virtually all Bible Commentaries interpret this scripture the same way.  Representative of them is this explanation:

Those who heard the words could hardly fail, as they thought over them, to look on their Master’s life as having been the great perfect example of what He thus taught… The motives which St. Paul states as determining his own choice of the celibate life (1 Corinthians 7:7), or the counsel which he gave to others (1 Corinthians 7:32-34), are identical with this teaching in their principle.5

Even James E. Talmage interpreted Jesus’s words to mean that some men

voluntarily devoted themselves to a celibate life, and some few adopted celibacy “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” that thereby they might be free to render all their time and energy to the Lord’s service.  But the disciples’ conclusion that “it is not good to marry” was true only in the exceptional instances stated.6

Another often-overlooked scripture signifying Christ’s abstention from marriage is found in Isaiah 53:8, wherein the prophet makes pointed reference to the dilemma posed by the prospect of Jesus dying without posterity.  Isaiah then resolves the dilemma in verse 10 by explaining that Jesus, the suffering servant, shall obtain posterity whenever individuals “shall make his soul an offering for sin.”  This explanation would be unnecessary, and would make no sense, if Jesus were producing posterity through the biological means incidental to marriage.

This understanding is further reinforced by the comparison in Ephesians 5:25 of Christ’s relationship with the church to the ideal relationship of a man to his wife:  “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved  the church, and gave himself for it . . .”  Again, if Jesus had been married, Paul would have taught that men should love their wives as Jesus loved his wife.  The comparison of men’s wives to Christ’s church bolsters the conclusion that as Jesus had himself indicated, some men, like he himself, had kept themselves celibate so they could serve God with undivided attention and devotion.

In summary, it appears that the reason Jesus failed to teach that any marriages last into the eternities, regardless of how they’re performed, is because he didn’t believe it.  He affirmatively taught the opposite.  Whether he eventually changed his mind thirteen years after the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1830,  readers must decide for themselves.

 

FOOTNOTES

1.  Ronald F. Youngblood, ed., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995) 803-05.

2. For more on Mormonism’s unique teachings on the supposed inferiority of “ministering angels,” see the essay previously referenced in the second sentence of this essay, and Polygamy, Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 and their Doctrinal and Historical Problems within Mormonism “Polygamy, Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, and their Doctrinal and Historical Problems within Mormonism” elsewhere on this website.

3.  See Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1968) 300-01.

4. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1972) 548, 564.  Surprisingly, Talmage, citing modern revelation from Joseph Smith as his source, even goes so far as to say that Jesus’s words make obvious that only the first marriage had could have any eternal effect, despite the plain indication in Jesus’s words that none of the marriages survived into the resurrection.

5. Excerpted from “Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers” as quoted in Biblehub.com, an online biblical exegesis website.

6. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 475.

The Righteous Offering of the Sons of Levi–2000 Years Ago, but not in the Future

Note: The following essay was authored by Scott S. Mitchell, a principle contributor to this website.

Image result for sons of Levi

Mormons believe that on May 15, 1829, John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood.  According to Joseph Smith, the angel declared that this priesthood, which Mormons teach is the authority to act in God’s name to do such things as baptize, “shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.”  (See Doctrine and Covenants 13.)  The words allegedly spoken by John the Baptist allude to a prophecy concerning the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus, spoken by the last prophet in the Old Testament, Malachi.  Biblical scholars believe the Malachi was written sometime after 515 B.C.:1

1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.

2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?  for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:

3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver:  and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” 

(Emphasis added.  See Malachi 3: 1-3. )  This essay hypothesizes that New Testament and Book of Mormon scriptures demonstrate that the above-quoted prophecy was fulfilled some 2,000 years ago during the First Century A.D., and was not a prophecy applicable to the last days in which we live.  If this hypothesis is correct, it casts considerable doubt on the proposition that John the Baptist indicated to Joseph Smith in 1829 that the event was still in the future.  This essay is limited to a discussion of the authenticity of “the sons of Levi” prophecy contained within the purported words of John the Baptist contained in Doctrine and Covenants 13 (as well as its appearance in Doctrin and Covenant section 124:39).  Other essays address the authority to baptize generally, as well as the historical evidence relating to whether John the Baptist  indeed appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and restored the Aaronic Priesthood.  See Why the “Lines of Priesthood Authority” Concept is Missing from the Book of Mormon, and How Authority was Obtained to Found the First Known Church of Christ and  The Restoration of the Priesthoods: True or Revisionist History? , elsewhere on this website.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke leave no doubt that the person described in Malachi 1:1 as “my messenger,” who during his mortal life would go before the Lord to prepare his way (to be distinguished from the “messenger of the covenant,” who was Christ), referred to John the Baptist.  Jesus said so.  (See Matt. 11:1-14 and 17:10-13; Mark 1:1-8 and 9:11-13; Luke 7:19-27.)  Also, Zacharias, filled with the Holy Ghost, said this about his infant son John on the day the latter was named and circumcised:  “And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins . . .” (See Luke 1: 76-77.)  John the Baptist’s then went on to spend his life preparing the Jews to hear and accept Jesus by preaching repentance and baptizing.  The prophecies about his mission in life were not describing a one-minute appearance to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to pass along the authority to baptize; they were describing John’s momentous mortal life and mission.  As John awaited his impending beheading in prison, Jesus said of him, “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater prophet than John the Baptist . . .” (See Matt. 11: 11 and Luke 7: 28)

In the same prophecy in Malachi about the coming of John and Jesus, however, words are found about the sons of Levi being purified and offering an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.  The sons of Levi prophecy is therefore placed in the same time frame as John the Baptist’s and Jesus’s earthly missions.  Since the New Testament writers were always careful to show how Malachi’s prophecies were being fulfilled in their time,2 we should look to the New Testament to see what it has to say with respect to the sons of Levi being purified and offering an offering in righteousness.

In order to know where to look for this information in the New Testament, one must first understand who the sons of Levi were and what they did.  The Levites had originally been the only tribe who voluntarily rallied to the Lord’s cause when Moses returned from talking with the Lord on Mount Sinai.  (See Exodus 32: 26-28.) In the Mosaic Law that was given to Israel, the Lord selected the tribe of Levi, from which the brothers Moses and Aaron were descended, to thereafter be the intermediaries between Israel and their God.  The male descendants of the Israelite tribe of Levi were the only people who could become priests or high priests, and even then it was also required that they be descended from Aaron. Those who could assist these priests or high priests also had to be descended from Levi in the worship system of the nation of Israel.   The priests officiated in the temple rituals wherein atonement was made for the Israelite’s sins, while the rest of the Levite men who weren’t descended from Aaron were assigned duties to act as judges, scribes and musicians, and to keep the tabernacle, and later the temple, continuously operating.  The sanctuary-related duties included tabernacle or temple upkeep, gathering tithes and all materials connected with the offering of sacrifices, baking shewbread, hauling wood and water, and working as gatekeepers.  All priests and Levites began their service with elaborate purification and sanctification rituals, and being set apart by the laying on of hands.  In short, under the Law of Moses, the men of the tribe of Levi were the religious leaders of the Israelites, and those of whom purity and righteousness were most expected.3

Whereas tithes were collected by the sons of Levi from the Jews to support the priests and Levites (see Numbers 18:21-32 and Hebrews 7:5, 9),  those same tithes were also meant for the material support of the stranger (foreigner), the fatherless and the widow.  Deut. 26: 12-13.  The sons of Levi were not to merely look out for their own welfare, but were to affirmatively take care of the less fortunate among them.  That they might not have been doing so in Jesus’s time is suggested by his parable of the Good Samaritan, wherein a priest and a Levite, who would be most expected to help the beaten man on the road, showed no concern for him and passed him by.  (See Luke 10: 31-32.)  According to the words God spoke to Malachi, Israel had been sliding into unrighteousness, apparently to a significant extent because of their leaders’ failure to exemplify true devotion to God and man.  This is the problem Jesus would come to rectify.  He said,

I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts.

(See Mal. 3: 5.)

Who Were the Righteous Sons of Levi in Jesus’ Time?

The New Testament tells of three sons of Levi who were contemporaries of Jesus, who appear to have offered extremely righteous offerings to the Lord’s cause.  The first was the aforementioned Zacharias, a priest in the temple, and the father of John the Baptist.  According to Luke 1:6, he and his wife Elizabeth, arguably a prophetess in her own right who was also of the tribe of Levi, “were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”  Zacharias’s natural spirituality and concern for his people are shown by Luke’s account of his prophetic utterance, wherein he recognized his people’s calling to serve God without fear “[i]n holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”  (See Luke 1:74-75.)

It is also possible that Zacharias was martyred in the temple for his devotion to the Lord’s cause, which if true, would have been the ultimate righteous sacrifice.  In Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:51, Jesus refers to the death of Zacharias, who was slain between the altar and the temple.  Many biblical scholars–indeed, the apparent majority–have speculated that this refers to the slaying of Zechariah (the Hebrew form of Zacharias), who many centuries earlier was indeed stoned to death within the temple courtyard, between the outdoor altar of sacrifice and the inner sanctum Holy of Holies, as described in II Chronicles 24:20-22.  The physical description of that event fits perfectly the Jesus’s description.  The problem with this interpretation is that this earlier Zechariah was the son of Jehoida, (see II Chr. 24:20), not the son of Barachias that Jesus mentioned in Matt. 23:35.  There is another Zechariah in the Old Testament, whose father’s name “Berechiah” would be “Barachias” in Greek, and he is the prophet after whom the Book of Zechariah is named.  However, the Bible contains no record of him having been martyred, and indeed, as a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, he lived in a time when the Jewish religious leaders were rebuilding the temple under foreign protection and not endangered by anyone from without or within.

The majority of biblical scholars who have written about this issue maintain that the best explanation is that the text in Matthew is in error, and that Jesus did not actually say “son of Barachias” when identifying the Zacharias to whom he was referring.  Rather, the thinking goes, Matthew mistakenly inserted the name Barachias for the actually correct name of Jehoida because he confused one previous Zechariah from centuries earlier with another more famous and more recent Zechariah from centuries earlier.  Indeed, this view is bolstered by the fact that unlike Matthew’s version, Luke’s version of Jesus’s words about Zacharias’s martyrdom inside the temple perimeter, in Luke 11:51, contains no reference to Zacharias’s father’s name.  It is also bolstered by the obvious fact that no New Testament writer contemporaneously recorded such a noteworthy event as having occurred at all.

The evidence that the New Testament Zacharias was the martyr Jesus was referring to consists of three different arguments:  First, Zacharias’ father is not named in scripture, and therefore no reason exists to discount the possibility that he was the Barachias to whom Jesus was referring.  To repeat a father-son name combination was as common among the Jews as it is now.  For example, Jesus’ stepfather Joseph was the son of Jacob, see Matt. 1:16, repeating an ancient pattern of Jacob/Israel and his son Joseph.  And, the name Berechiah (Barachias in Greek) was popular among the Jews, being the name of seven different men in the Old Testament.4

Second, the context of Jesus referring to Zacharias’s martyrdom is that of Jesus imputing to the unrighteous scribes and Pharisees all slayings of righteous men from start to finish.  He says, “. . .That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.”  (Emphasis added, see Matt. 23:35.)  Thus his first example is Abel, Adam’s son, and his next, and last, example is Zacharias.  Perhaps this wouldn’t make sense if he was referring to a Zacharias that had lived over seven centuries earlier, like Zechariah son of Jehoida, or five centuries earlier, like Zechariah son of Berechiah, unless the last notable religious martyrdom was seven centuries earlier.

Third, the perception that Zacharias the father of John the Baptist had been slain in the temple for failing to disclose the location of his son John during King Herod’s massacre of infant males, described in Matt. 2:16-18, was a common notion in early Christianity.  The account is found in the  Protevangelium of James, an apocryphal book deemed by most modern scholars to have been written during the mid-2nd Century A.D.  This account was so popular that 150 separate Greek manuscripts containing it have survived to this day.  The earliest of these is a papyrus document dating to approximately 300 A.D.,5  but the story was discussed by the early Christian scholar Origen, who lived between from 184/185 to 253/254 A.D., thus demonstrating the story’s early emergence.  Early Christian scholars who believed Jesus was referring to John the Baptist’s father as the slain martyr included Origen, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Theophylact.6  Joseph Smith appears to have agreed with this view, as an unsigned editorial appearing in the Times and Seasons when he was editor teaches it as established fact, and now appears on page 261 of Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.7

Whatever conclusion the reader reaches on this complicated subject, it appears indisputable that Zacharias the father of the John the Baptist was indeed a righteous son of Levi who contributed much to the Christian cause in Jesus’s time.

A second righteous son of Levi was John the Baptist himself.  He spent his life alone in the desert wilderness eating coarse food and wearing uncomfortable clothing.  He never drank wine or participated in celebrations.  He never married.  He urged moral integrity and freedom from materialism. He preached of the coming Messiah, and urged all to be baptized for the remission of sins to prepare themselves for his coming.  His message was not well received by the scribes and Pharisees, who rejected his baptism and questioned his authority.  He publicly denounced the adultery of King Herod, which was an act of enormous courage, and as a result, he was imprisoned and eventually beheaded.  (See Matt. 3:1, 7-12, 4:17, 11:13-14; Mark 1:3, 6:14-29, 9:12-13, Luke 3: 2, 11-14.)  As mentioned above, Jesus’s tribute to him attested to his stature among the sons of Levi, for there had never been any prophet greater than he.

The third righteous Levite of Jesus’s time was Joses (the Greek form of Joseph) Barnabas, who receives much less attention than he should.  Acts 4:36-37 introduces him to us in this manner, after relating that the early Christians in Jerusalem had all things in common:

36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,

37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  (Emphasis added.)

This Levite was so highly thought of  by the apostles that they gave him a special surname by which he was known throughout the rest of the New Testament.  His name thereafter appears 28 times, and he becomes one of early Christianity’s towering figures, recognized as a great church leader, prophet and teacher.  This author believes Barnabas receives special mention in Acts 4, among those who were sharing their property in common with the other early Christians, precisely because he was a Levite.  He thus appears to be the first man after Christ’s resurrection who was descended from the line of religious leadership among the Jews, with temple duties of his own, to not only convert to Christianity, but give himself and his possessions to that cause with all his heart.  Since the apostles concentrated so heavily on trying to convert the Jewish religious leadership to Christ, it must have been particularly gratifying and encouraging to see Malachi’s prophecy being fulfilled so spectacularly before their eyes.

Mormon apologists are likely to respond to the points above by arguing that just because some sons of Levi offered righteous offerings in Jesus’ time, doesn’t mean they won’t do so again in our own latter days, and therefore, the words reportedly spoken to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by John the Baptist remain unimpeached.  This response ignores some enormously important facts, however.  First, Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses, and pointedly ended its existence. (See III Nephi 15:2-8.)  The role of the sons of Levi was strictly a creation of the Law of Moses; they had no role or purpose in Christ’s church.  All were equal in Jesus’ new church, regardless of heredity.  And Jesus never indicated in the Book of Mormon, which contains the fulness of his gospel (see III Nephi 20: 28, 30), or in the Bible, that the sons of Levi, or the hereditary priesthood of Aaron, would play any future role whatsoever in his church.   For this reason, in Christ’s new church in the Old World  and in the Americas, there were no burnt offerings, or animal sacrifices, collectors of donations, temples, hereditary priesthood of Aaron, or Levites.

Thus the reported words of John the Baptist to Joseph Smith regarding the sons of Levi contemplate the future fulfillment of a prophecy that had already been fulfilled, and which could have no future fulfillment.  The Law of Moses had ended, and was never to be restored.  And with its end, the converted sons of Levi would only be known as Christians, like everybody else.  Whether this casts doubt on the veracity of Joseph’s claim that John the Baptist spoke the words to him currently found in D&C 13, the reader will judge for herself.

Why Jesus Quoted Malachi’s Words Concerning future Levites to the Nephites

Nevertheless, an important question remains, and requires discussion here.  In speaking to the Nephites, Jesus quoted the same last two chapters of Malachi as are found in the Old Testament.  That means the words of Malachi 3:3, which are quoted at the beginning of this essay prophesying that the Lord would “purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” were said to the Nephites after Jesus’s resurrection.  The question thus naturally arises, whether these words portend some post-Christ emergence of the sons of Levi to make righteous offerings unto the Lord as they did under the pre-Christ law of Moses.

In studying this question, it’s helpful to understand that it wasn’t unusual for Jesus to elucidate previous prophecies in a way they wouldn’t be understood without his help.  He had done so in Palestine, proclaiming to the Jews in the synagogue that he himself was the fulfillment of the famous prophecy of the Messiah’s mission found in Isaiah 61:1-2.  (See Luke 4:16-21.)  He had rehearsed and expounded upon all the prophecies concerning his own crucifixion and resurrection to the two men on the road to Emmaus, and to his eleven apostles, even though the prophecies were already fulfilled.  (See Luke 24:25-47.)   To the Nephites, he had explained his own participation in giving the law of Moses to the Israelites, and that he himself was the man Moses said would come later and lead the people as Moses had.  (See 3 Nephi 15:3-5 and 20:23.)  And, in an instance very analogous to his reciting to them an already-fulfilled prophecy in Malachi which they’d never heard before, he said he had spoken of them to the Jews, informing them that he had other sheep which were not of the Jews’ fold, and they too would hear his voice and be gathered into the same fold as the Jews.  (See 3 Nephi 15:16-24.)  Clearly, Jesus commonly quoted already-fulfilled prophecies to his people on both continents, and to the Nephites, two of those prophecies were unknown to them.

In understanding the presence of Malachi 3 and 4 in 3 Nephi, it’s also helpful to remember what has already been demonstrated above in the first part of this essay. We’ve seen that Jesus fulfilled and brought to an end the Law of Moses in his church on both sides of the ocean, and had not retained within it any mention of, or duties for, high priests, priests or Levites under from the former system.  There were priests in Christ’s new church, but their duties were only to teach, baptize and bless the sacrament, none of which they did under the law of Moses.  Indeed, the whole idea of a select genealogical line of men performing ritual propitiation for the collective Saints had been discarded in Christ’s church in favor of all men and women becoming individually responsible for availing themselves of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.  Believers were to give to the poor, or to the church, not because a group of men from one tribe came collecting, but because they, of their own initiative, felt moved to do so.

It’s also vital to remember that Jesus had declared during his ministry in Palestine that the last words of the Malachi prophecy he quoted to the Nephites had already been fulfilled.  The coming of Elijah (“Elias” in the New Testament) before the great and dreadful day of the Lord had come to pass within the last few years.  When asked by Peter, James and John during his ministry why the scribes taught that Elias was to come before the Lord, Jesus had responded:

Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. . .

But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed.  Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.

Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

(The foregoing quotation combines Mark 9:12 with Matthew 17:12-13, as the verses from both accounts pertain to the same incident.)

This was the second time Jesus had declared John the Baptist to be the fulfillment of the Malachi prophecy regarding the coming of Elijah-Elias:  Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had resolved what was to scriptorians of his day a scriptural mystery, explaining this about John the Baptist:

For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before they face, which sell prepare they way before thee.

Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist:  notwithstanding he that is least is the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

And from the days of John the Baptist until now  the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and violent take it by force.

For all the prophets and law prophesied until John.

And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. 

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

(See Matt. 11:10-15, italics added.)  The words of Jesus in the last two verses of this quote, which I have placed in italics, indicate that he perceived the interpretation of the Elijah prophecy would be surprising to his audience.  What they considered a famous but yet-unfulfilled prediction had already come to pass without their knowledge.  They had no way of knowing that a prophecy foretelling the return of Elijah would be fulfilled by someone known by the name of John, just like we, today, would not be able to immediately understand Malachi’s words about Levites, spoken centuries before Christ, to indicate there would be no Levites in our own latter-day time. (Interestingly, however, a comparison of the lives lived by Elijah and John reveals they were remarkably similar–unmarried, living alone in the desert, eating unconventional food, wearing rough clothing, ever calling Israel to repentance and offending the monarchy.  Whether they were actually two iterations of the same being, made possible by the fact that Elijah had been taken into heaven without tasting death, we have insufficient information to determine.)  In today’s language, Jesus was essentially saying, “And if you have faith enough in my words to accept as true what I’m telling you, John the Baptist is the prophesied Elijah.  He who seeks enlightenment on this matter, pay attention to my explanation.”

Therefore, the prophecy in Malachi quoted by Jesus to the Nephites, wherein a future righteous offering by the sons of Levi was foretold, was part of a larger prophecy that Jesus, while in Palestine, had twice indicated was already fulfilled.  But why would Jesus quote an already-fulfilled prophecy to the Nephites, especially when he knew we in the last days would read that prophecy and possibly misapprehend its significance?

As I see it, there are three interrelated answers.  First, as 3 Nephi 26:2-5 demonstrates, Jesus wanted “future generations” to read those words and be reassured that all his prophecies would eventually be fulfilled in due time,

even unto the great and last day, when all people, and all kindreds, and all nations and tongues shall stand before God, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil–

If they be good, to the resurrection of everlasting life; and if they evil, to the resurrection of damnation . . .

Indeed, that was the overall message of Malachi 3 and 4.  Originally, it was directed to the Fifth Century B.C. Jews who were losing patience waiting for His prophecies to be fulfilled.  They had even complained that wicked people had prospered, and had received no visible sign of God’s displeasure.  Evildoers had found wickedness profitable, and it now seemed  useless to stay faithful while the corrupt continued to thrive (see Malachi 3:14-15 and 3 Nephi 24:14-15).  But the Lord’s overall message through Malachi, five centuries before Christ, was timeless; it  applied not only to the Jews and the Nephites, but to all future generations.  The Lord’s people should continue observing the tenets of their current religion, and He would remember their faithfulness and in some future day reward them while destroying the wicked:

And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Host, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.

Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.

For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

But unto you that fear my name, shall the Son of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth and grow up as calves in the stall.

And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of Hosts.

(See Malachi 3:17-4:3 and 3 Nephi 24:17-25:3, italics added.) The overall message had nothing to do with how long into the future the sons of Levi would operate in Israel, and we should not let ourselves be unduly distracted by an allusion made to the sons of Levi in one verse, or an allusion to more tithes being needed to fill up the storehouse in another.  It was an admonition to all generations to not lose patience with the Lord’s timetable.

However, Jesus’ purposes in reciting the Malachi verses to the Nephites are even better understood by scrutinizing the words I have placed in italics in the above excerpt.  These words had a particularly pointed significance for the Nephites (and, as we shall see, for the observant latter-day reader).  They spoke specifically of the Lord destroying the wicked by fire, then arising and appearing to the righteous with healing in his wings, and the righteous being protected from evil thereafter.  In the last 33 years, the faithful Nephites had had their own trust in the Lord’s promises tested severely, to the point of endangering their own lives.  They had been threatened with death if the sign of Jesus’ birth didn’t occur by a certain date.  They had then had to fight against the fearsome Gadianton robbers, who had previously successfully prevailed against all who got in their way.  Then, class distinctions had arisen in the church, crime had become rampant, their government had been taken over by antichrists and split apart, and their prophets had been slain.   But after his followers had continued faithful through these perils, the Lord had intervened.  He began by destroying all of the wicked.  He literally burned most of them up, as Malachi had prophesied, destroying their cities by fire, and those not burned were drowned or crushed in earthquakes.  Not one of them remained.  Thereafter, the risen Lord had come to them from the heavens, and with “healing in his wings” had healed all their sick.  He had ushered in a new era in which those who had remained faithful would now be protected, like “calves in the stall.”  When Jesus repeated the ancient words from Malachi to the Nephites, he was telling them, “These words were addressed to God’s followers in all times.  You yourselves are witnesses that God was mindful of you, despite your separation from the Jews,  and that he protected the righteous from the wicked, whom he burned by fire.”

Regarding future generations reading Malachi’s words in the latter days, these verses are just as precisely tailored to our time as they were to the Nephites.  It is specifically prophesied that in the last days in which we now live, the Lord will protect the righteous and destroy the wicked by fire.  Note the correspondence of words from this prophecy by the first Nephi, and those quoted above from Malachi:

For the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the cometh that they must be burned.

For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.

Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be the fulness of his wrath  must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire.  Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.

(See 1 Nephi 22:15-17.)

Summary

We therefore conclude that teachings from LDS Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants suggesting the sons of Levi will at some future point resume their ancient practice of making offerings are in error.  But the prophecy was fulfilled, whether everyone recognized its fulfillment or not.  At least three sons of Levi righteously dedicated their lives to Christ in Jesus’ day.  Those who witnessed the lives of Zacharias, John the Baptist, Joses Barnabas and perhaps others we don’t know of, were inspired by those righteous men, and emulated them.

FOOTNOTES

1. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Michael D. Coogan, ed. (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 1351.

2. In addition to the previously cited scriptures in Matthew 11, Mark 1 and Luke 7, other New Testament writings demonstrating the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the coming of Elijah in Mal. 4: 5-6 are found in Matt. 17: 10-12, Mark 9: 11-13 and Luke 9: 19.

3. New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Ronald F. Youngblood, Gen. Ed. (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), pp 761-62, 1026-30, 1257-58.

4. Ibid., p. 174.

5. See Wikipedia article “Gospel of James.”

6.  See, e.g, excerpt from Meyer’s New Testament Commentary on Matthew 23: 35 at the biblehub.com online website.

7. Lynne Hilton Wilson, “The Confusing Case of Zacharias” in Religious Educator 14, no. 2 (2013) 107-123, also available online.  Though Wilson attaches great weight to the fact that the authorship of the Times and Seasons article cannot be determined, and thus should not be attributed to Joseph Smith, this author does not consider the question of authorship to be dispositive of the issue even if Smith did write it.  Joseph Smith was often in error, as the rest of us are when we devote insufficient time to studying and researching complicated questions of scriptural exegesis.

In Retrospect, what Russell M. Nelson Might Wish He’d Said at his Press Conference

At a January 16, 2018 press conference following his introduction to the world as the new President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson was asked by Peggy Fletcher Stack what he would do to bring women, people of color and international members into Church decision-making.  Stack had preceded this question by observing that the leadership of the Church remains “white, male, American.” Stack’s assertion wasn’t completely true, since Apostle and former member of the First Presidency Dieter F. Uchtdorf is German, and as President Nelson pointed out, several members of the Seventy are from foreign lands.  However, President Nelson never really answered the question, and initially forgot it altogether.  He even had to be reminded of the “women” part of it by Stack interrupting him and shouting from the audience, “What about women?”

I speculate that at some point of his existence, whether on earth or in the next life, he might look back and wish he would have answered the question something like this:

“There’s something everyone needs to understand about what the leaders at the head of this church actually believe.  You see, we really do believe that this church is led by revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ.  We honestly think he is the head of it.  We pray for  revelation from him every day.  We try to only do what we conclude he wants us to do.  Discerning his will involves much study, pondering, discussion and of course, prayer.

“We have studied the question of whether women should be ordained to the priesthood, and whether the apostles and First Presidency ought to include women among their number.  That study has included, of course, a thorough review of what the scriptures have to say on that question.  While the Bible tells us of women who were prophetesses, we have found no instance in the Bible or Book of Mormon where a woman was ordained to the priesthood.  Jesus chose no women to be among his twelve apostles in the Old World, nor did he choose any to be among his twelve disciples in the New World.  We have thought about that fact a lot, and why Jesus did things that way.  Several obvious explanations come to mind, but we do wish Jesus would have explained his rationale.  For now, though, we’re strongly influenced by the way he did things during his time on earth.

“Not only did female prophetesses not receive the priesthood, most male prophets actually held no priesthood authority either.  Instead, they were, and still are, far better known for their spiritual gifts than those levites, priests and high priests who officiated in the temples, or baptized or blessed the sacrament in Jesus’s post-resurection church among the Nephites.  The brother of Jared, Elijah, Isaiah, Nephi, Abinadi, Samuel the Lamanite and of course, Deborah, Anna, Elizabeth and even Mary are just a few of many such prophets of either gender holding no priesthood.

“What we glean from the scriptures is that the definition of a prophet or prophetess seems to be a person who speaks for God and who communicates God’s inspired messages courageously to the people.  They bear God’s word for the purpose of teaching, reproving, correcting and training in righteousness, and often, foretelling important future events.  In the church today, many men and women might fit this description.  We have no reason to try to restrict who might fill the role of prophet and prophetess or any kind of spiritual leader.  Would to God all our members would feel called to fulfill that role!  By their fruits, not by their titles, shall we know them.  The fact that only 15 people in the church are called “prophets” is something I aim to correct.  Holding priesthood authority doesn’t equate with being a prophet, seer or revelator, nor does being a prophet or prophetess, or person of great spiritual influence, equate with holding the administrative authority of the priesthood.

“In addition to studying whether women should be ordained to the administrative authority of the priesthood, we have continued to consult the Lord on the matter, praying that we might discern his will.  We are intelligent enough to know that if we were to announce to the world that women were now to be ordained to the priesthood, we would instantly gain popularity in today’s society and be heralded as courageous reformers.  We’d be relieved of much social pressure.  But because we only do what we think the Lord wants us to do, we can’t ordain women to the priesthood unless we feel the Lord had communicated his will in that direction, whether by dreams, visions or the whisperings of the Holy Ghost.  So far, we have not received any communication from God that we can interpret as his will that we should take this unprecedented step.  That’s why we haven’t done it.

“There will be many who will scoff at this answer, accusing us of desperately holding on to our own power, and using God’s failure to communicate clearly to us as an excuse.  Interestingly, however, no one, whether man or woman, has come to our attention claiming that God had revealed to him or her individually that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should ordain women to the priesthood, or ordain female apostles.  If that were to happen, my response would be, ‘If you have received that revelation, why do you care that we haven’t? You obviously believe God is revealing to you things he’s not revealing to us, so you consider your leadership inspired, and us uninspired.  Why would you want to stay in this church with leaders less inspired than you?  If God’s not directing us, but is directing you, you should therefore start your own church and not worry about what this church is doing.'”

“Of course, we will continue to seek the Lord’s will in all things.  I suspect, though, that Jesus will soon come to the earth again, and if we’re fortunate enough to be there, we’ll get to hear the answers to questions like this one from the Lord’s own mouth.”

Whether or not you agree with the views expressed in such an anwer, the answer would nevertheless have been, I believe, a truthful statement, and his logic hard to argue with.