Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Meaning of Scripture – Part II

Continuing with the previous post regarding the meaning of scriptural language for better and more accurate understanding.
    In addition, it is important to know what the writer is trying to tell us. As an example, Mormon in the one case, and Nephi in another, knew they were writing to a future people who may not know the nuances of their language, thus using explanations that would be constant from his time to a future time.
How far could a Nephite have walked in a day and a half?

This means that when Mormon wants us to know distances, he cannot use words he might have known or used in his language or in his day, nor would he have used words known to us today, such as mile, kilometer, league, etc., for they would have been unknown to him. This leaves him descriptive actions—like the distance it takes a Nephite to walk in a day-and-a-half. Thus, our interpretation of this has to be that Mormon is trying to use an action that would be as common to his day as it would be to ours, thus a walking man would travel about the same distance in our day as he would in Mormon’s day. Consequently, all the theorists, from Sorenson onward, who try to make this some type of race, special runner, long-distance traveler or someone else with special abilities simply misses the point, and is inaccurate.
    It also needs to be understand that most scriptures (if not all) have only one meaning, otherwise the Lord or the prophet is speaking out of both sides of their mouth, or as the Indians used to say, “speaking with a forked tongue.” On the other hand, almost all scripture has much deeper meanings than most readers of scripture realize or even understand (but these deeper meanings are not contradictory).
    As an example, when Nephi begins his writing with “having been born of goodly parents” (1 Nephi 1:1), we can delve deeper into the meaning as to what Lehi and Sariah were probably like, yet do so without changing the singular meaning of the statement. As an example, “goodly” is defined as “admirable,” or “arousing or deserving respect and approval.” Thus, in deeper meaning, one might come up with commendable, laudable, praiseworthy, estimable, meritable, or meritorious—none of which change the nature of the first meaning and definition. These additional meanings can show the depth of scripture and how most people miss much of what they read by not delving deeper into the scriptural meaning, but it does not change the simple meaning of the scripture.
    Or take the statement made several times by both Nephi and Mormon regarding precious things. “And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 2:4,emphasis added; 11 3:22,24), or “they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need—an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth” (Alma 1:29, emphasis added; 4:6; 15:16; 31:28).
Some of the items considered “precious things” in Solomon’s Temple. Top Left: Inner Altar for incense offering “Golden Altar”; Top Right: Ark of the Covenant; Bottom: Table of the Showbread—all these precious things were made of gold and silver (precious metals)

Note that where “precious things” is mentioned it is generally associated with gold and silver, suggesting these “precious things” are objects made out of gold and silver individually or combined. Note also the wordage “their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry” (Alma 4:6, emphasis added) how Mormon tells us their precious things were made through Nephite industry.
    So what is meant by “precious things”? First of all, when combined with gold and silver, as it is in the scriptural record, we should first understand that silver and gold are typically found together since they exist in the same base ore material. It may even include copper since “copper is now considered a precious metal,” since the yield of copper from each unit of ore mined has dwindled from 1.2% to 0.72% because of the heavy increase in copper wire needed in cars, smart phones, dishwashers and air conditioners.
    We usually think of gold and silver, and sometimes platinum and palladium, as precious metals: they are rare, or seen as alternative currencies, or both. But “increasingly, copper is a precious metal” too, since it is becoming rare since it is found alongside many other types of ore. It can be found near gold, silver, zinc, lead, and other types of metal deposits, but when mixed in with other ores, copper is not usually found in great abundance.”
    Thus, we can understand that in the scriptural record, the use of the term “precious things” most likely means that items were made of gold and or silver or both and considered of value to the Nephites. But unless we understand the placement of copper in the arena of metal ores, we may not recognize the meaning of the phrase.
    This does not mean, however, that people might not attach different interpretations or meanings, because they simply do not know the correct one—but it is not the difference in definition or explanation of scripture that leads to people’s disagreements over the scriptural meaning, but in their own personal interpretation. It is also sometimes because of their lack of understanding a word, phrase, or Hebraic concept. It is always amazing to look up a particular scripture in the sectarian world and see how many different views there are on it, from rabbis to pastors.
The sectarian priests and pastors all read the same thing, they all believe in Christ, they all accept the gospel (to whatever point) but they are sometimes so far apart on their interpretations that it is amazing. Often, however, on non-Christ issues, the rabbis come closest in their interpretations than Christian leaders, because the Rabbis understand the history of the people writing and their thinking and the Hebraic concepts involved.
    Without the latter two understandings, most members of the Church do not know the scriptural meanings because they do not study them out in their own mind before asking the Lord for confirmation and then listening to the answer with an open mind. Usually, people make up their mind to a meaning without giving it much thought at all.
    The point is, we can all read the same information regarding the many descriptions about the Land of Promise, yet come up with different understandings because of our predetermined attitudes toward it. As an example, there is no way an average man could cross the Isthmus of Tehauntepec in a day-and-a-half on foot as Mormon describes—so rather than think that must not be the place, the predetermined mind looks for alternative answers. “Well, a Mohave Indian could do it in running 99 miles in a day,” etc.
    It would be far more valuable to read the scriptural account, look for the context and seek the knowledge involved, ponder the purpose of the statement and look for answers that match the statement as it is written. Unfortunately, that is something most theorists simply do not do—they begin by having a place in mind, such as Mesoamerica, the hill Cumorah in western New York, the heartland along the Mississippi River, etc. Thus, when Lehi tells his children the land has been withheld from others and given to him and his posterity, we cannot adjust the meaning because the land of promise we might believe in does not match that scripture, i.e., there were people in Mesoamerica (Olmecs) before the time of Lehi.
    Instead, one should start with the scriptural record and the descriptions found there, and if that location does not match, then discard that location and look for one that does.

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