Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Understanding Abraham and the Creation – Part I

This article is a combination of information available regarding views of Church Leaders over the years and an in-depth explanation of Abraham Chapter 4. It follows the previous four articles about the changes that occurred in 3 Nephi 8.
For those who have asked over the years “why we need three versions of the scriptures?” and in particular to this article, why we need three versions to the story of creation, the answer is quite simple, though perfectly exact and important—first, we need three versions by the law of witnesses. The phrase "It is written" (gegraptai), used often in the New Testament, settles the matter beyond reasonable doubt, for it expresses nothing less than the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures and ascribing it to the New Testament writing (Romans 1:15; 1 Timothy 2:7; Galatians 1:8, 9; 1 Thessalonians 2:13). 
   Thus Gegraptai as used in New Testament writings and the apostolic text is placed on a par with the writings of the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:15, 16; Revelation 1:3). The concept of faith found in the New Testament is consistent with this witness, for faith is simply obedience to the witness of the apostles, i.e. the New Testament Scripture (Romans 1:5; 16:26; 10:3). We should note that this apostolic witness is fundamentally distinguished in this respect from other manifestations of the Spirit, which demand of the congregation (ekklesia) not only obedience, but also a critical discernment between the true and the false (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1).
For this witness deserves unconditional faith and obedience, in its written as well as in its oral form) Herman Ridderbos, Studies in Scripture and its Authority, Erdmans, Grand Rapids, 1978, p21). Thus, we see that authority for speaking (or writing) was critical among the ancients and drove the dialogue they used.
    In addition, “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1), is an important understanding of the Law, which dates back to two or three witnesses in Deuteronomy 17:6). In fact, the ancient Jewish law states: “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed” (Deuteronomy 19:15). This was such an important principal it is found repeatedly in the Bible and for the most serious of matters: “Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die” (Numbers 35:30), and is repeated in the Gospels, “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Matthew 18:16).
    Thus, most crucial doctrines are repeated at least three times in the scriptures. When the Lord says every word must be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses, He includes his own. 
    Secondly, in our day, no other doctrine takes precedence over the creation. Without it, we are left with Evolution’s “Big Bang” Theory of something out of nothing; without it, we lose where we came from and why we’re here; without it, we are faced with a godless world as we see today among so many. As one scientist was quoted saying recently when confronted with the silliness of evolution: “It is better to accept evolution with all its faults than have to accept the alternative.” The alternative being to believe in God.
Yet, Genesis is merely one account of the creation. Abraham adds a second witness, that not only supports Genesis, but adds a unique story line of creation. Why would Abraham have included it in his writings? It should be noted that the subject of the creation is one of great complexity, not the simple story often told to Primary-age children. Thus this second version is critical to our understanding this complexity.
    Third, we have several accounts of the First Vision, the ministry of Christ, the Atonement, the plan of salvation, the signs of the last days, and the conditions during the millennium.
    Yet, none of the various accounts exhaust the subject; each contributes to its advancement line upon line, even though important elements may be repeated. We need not regard them as competing or as being at odds with each other, but rather, as enhancing our understanding of the whole of the subject.
    Thus, as Keith Meseervy stated, “Accounts of the Creation could be infinite in their variety because the subject is complex and because individual needs and specific emphases are different. An elaboration of some of the contributions of each of the four accounts (Temple version is the fourth) enables us to better appreciate each.” (“Four Accounts of the Creation,” Ensign, Jan. 1986, 51-52).
    So what does Abraham’s version provide us that is unique? Several things. First, the record boldly declares that “the Gods” created the heavens and the earth—a statement of blasphemy for 1835 Christianity to introduce there being more than one God.
    Second, Abraham confirms and states quite clearly that the Earth was organized and formed by the Gods rather than created ex nihilo, that is, out of nothing. And third, the Gods watched those thing which they had ordered until they obeyed and “the Gods said: “We will do everything that we have said, and organize them; and behold, they shall be very obedient” (Abraham 4:18, 31).
This demonstrates how God controls the elements.  He commands, and they obey (Helaman 12:7-8). Additionally, from chapter 5 we learn that the Gods counseled in the beginning, that the spirit of man is placed into the physical body, and that the creation-organization took place according to the time of Kolob; “for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning” (Abraham 5:13).
    Thus, Abraham included the creation in his writings to give us a second witness to the truth of the organization of the Earth and all things, and since he received this information through the Urim and Thummim, we can be certain it is both accurate and exact. This is so we understand that the authority of the Scripture is not located in human brilliance or witness. It is not found in the person of Moses, Paul, or Peter. The authority is found in the sovereign God Himself. The God who "breathed out" the words through human writers stands behind every statement, every doctrine, every promise and every command written in the Scripture. After all, it was "In the past [that] God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways" (Hebrews 1:1).
    It was by the means that Abraham was given a vision of the pre-earth life and the council in heaven.  Nowhere in scripture are these concepts more clearly taught. This doctrine frames the entire creation story. His authority, as a writer of God-breathed Scripture, is above all other authority. Why? Because God, himself, told him, and authorized him to write of it for the benefit of all future generations.
    Finally, then, we know the greatest of all questions, “Why did God make the earth?” “What is it all for?” It gives us a reason for the creation—that we may “prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25). Thus, we have both the questions and the answers surrounding the creation-organization of the Earth and man’s placement upon it.
    While Abraham’s version parallels the account in Genesis, it differs in certain very important ways. Obviously, the record of Abraham preserved in the Pearl of Great Price goes beyond the Bible but receives support from sources that Joseph Smith could not possibly have known. As an example, the Arab Muslim antiquarian al-Tabari preserves reports that Abraham was granted a vision of the Creation (Ibn Jarir al-Tabri, The History of the Prophets and Kings [Tarikh al-Tabari], SUNY Press, 2007 [915 AD]).
And while it seems quite natural to us—thanks to the book of Abraham—to know of the council in heaven at which the creation of man was planned, that knowledge is not found in the Bible. It is found, though, in several ancient documents, all of which were first published in this century” (Daniel C. Peterson, “News from Antiquity,” Ensign, Jan. 1994, p20).
(See the next post, “Understanding Abraham and the Creation – Part II,” for more information regarding Abraham’s account of the creation and the principles behind it so we can better understand how the Earth was changed during the crucifixion and why it was not merely a cosmetic thing, but a change that was extremely complex and performed in a specific and exact manner)

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