And this anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor (and the law could have no hold upon him), began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ. And after this manner did he preach, saying, O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ?
—Alma 16:8 RE
In Part 1 of this series, we considered the origins of scripture in Adam’s Book of Remembrance, followed by its loss or destruction and a replacement record being started by Joseph in Egypt. We also looked at two tactics employed against correct information about the Messiah and salvation. In this installment, we’ll consider the adversary’s further efforts to destroy scripture and prevent the salvation of mankind.
As illustrated by Joseph’s example, wholesale destruction of scripture is not effective when Priesthood is present on earth, in the form of the Holy Order. To consider the role and importance of this Priesthood, let’s examine three statements from Joseph Smith:
…there are two priesthoods spoken of in the Scriptures, viz., the Melchizedek and the Aaronic or Levitical. Although there are two priesthoods, yet the Melchizedek Priesthood comprehends the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood, and is the grand head, and holds the highest authority which pertains to [the Holy Order] and the keys of the Kingdom of God in all ages of the world, to the latest posterity on the earth; and is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation, and every important matter is revealed from heaven. (TPJS, p. 166-167 emphasis mine)
In the quotation above, Joseph Smith defines the highest Priesthood as a “channel” through which “all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation, and every important matter is revealed from heaven.” This is a very different notion from the idea that priesthood is authority to control, preside, or compel others. Rather, it is an opportunity to serve by receiving and disseminating saving knowledge to the family of man.
Now the great and grand secret of the whole matter, and the summum bonum of the whole subject that is lying before us, consists in obtaining the powers of the holy Priesthood. For him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living. Herein is glory and honor, and immortality, and eternal life. (T&C 151:9 emphasis mine)
Now, Joseph adds the information that “keys” are not a means of control, but rather knowledge that gives one the ability to obtain “facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men.” One possessing such keys may therefore obtain, and teach the way of, “glory and honor, and immortality, and eternal life.” The keys enable one to ask questions and receive answers from heaven.
“...all other priesthoods are only parts, ramifications, powers and blessings belonging to the same, and are held, controlled, and directed by it. It is the channel through which the Almighty commenced revealing His glory at the beginning of the creation of this earth, and through which He has continued to reveal Himself to the children of men to the present time, and through which He will make known His purposes to the end of time.” (TPJS, p. 167.)
Joseph again clarifies the truth that Priesthood is a channel through which God reveals light and truth to humanity. Indeed, it is the channel through which God reveals himself.
Among other things, the purpose of the Holy Order is to put in place a mechanism by which God can reveal from heaven what is necessary for the salvation of man on Earth. In every generation when God has provided salvation for mankind, it is the Holy Order used by God to fix what is broken, restore what has been lost, repair, heal, forgive, and reconnect those who are willing to give heed to the message sent from Heaven to enable mankind to become sons of God. (Denver Snuffer, “The Holy Order” Oct. 29, 2017, p.8)
By now, we should have a firm understanding of the role of the Holy Order, and that members of the Holy Order who have received their errand from God are tasked with receiving, recording, translating and disseminating scripture for the benefit of all mankind. Such is not only evident from the quotations above, but is also amply illustrated by the succession of record keepers from Adam down to Joseph of Egypt who, as a member of the Holy Order, had both the means and the ability to restore scripture that had been lost.
Therefore, the Holy Order may, at a minimum, be considered a fellowship of record keepers who stand in the breach between God’s truth and the forces intent on destroying scripture. The Patriarch Joseph filled that role and foiled Satan’s plan of destruction.
Ark of the Covenant
At the end of his life, Joseph instructed his descendants in several matters. First, that they would be held captive in Egypt, but that a deliverer would come in Moses. And second, he required that they promise to carry his bones with them out of Egypt when they were delivered:
Therefore, Joseph said unto his brethren, God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he swore unto Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph confirmed many other things unto his brethren, and took an oath of the children of Israel, saying unto them, God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here. So Joseph died when he was a hundred ten years old. And they embalmed him and they put him in a coffin in Egypt. And he was kept from burial by the children of Israel, that he might be carried up and laid in the sepulcher with his fathers. And thus they remembered the oath which they swore unto him. (Gen. 12:42-43 RE)
Note that Joseph’s embalmed body was placed in a “coffin” and left unburied so it could be taken to the promised land generations later. The word translated as “coffin” is אָרוֹן (aron), which occurs 277 times in the Hebrew bible, and is translated as “ark” 270 times, “chest” six times, and “coffin” only once. Therefore, it is entirely valid, even MORE valid, to say that Joseph embalmed remans were placed in an ark. This ark (aron), in my opinion, contained not only the remains of Joseph, who was the last recorded to hold the birthright covenant, but also Joseph’s brass-plates record of the covenant. An “Ark of the Covenant” indeed.
The record shows the Israelites also built another ark in the wilderness for the stone tablets of Moses, which ark they also carried to the promised land, along with Joseph’s remains. Both arks therefore carried precious records—scripture—under constant guard and strict security. Nephi informs us that Joseph’s Plates of Brass included the five books of Moses, written in Egyptian. It’s therefore possible, even likely that Moses, who was raised in Pharaoh’s house and could therefore read and write Egyptian, originally wrote his five books on the Plates of Brass with his own hand. The record informs us:
And Moses wrote this law and delivered it unto the priests, the sons of Levi who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and unto all the elders of Israel. (Deut. 9:10 RE)
And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you. (Deut. 9:13 RE)
Both of these references tell us that Moses’s record was associated with the ark and carried by the Levite priests. Later, in Nephi’s day the brass-plates record of Joseph and Moses was known as “the Record of the Jews” (1 Nephi 1:10, 21 RE) and contained further scripture and prophecy, faithfully recorded and kept current by a family dynasty of record keepers, from Joseph down to Laban. This record—the Plates of Brass—formed the basis of Israelite scripture thereafter. The scrolls used at the temple, in daily study, and in worship all descended from the base texts of the Plates of Brass.
So now that we’ve further traced the potential history of the Plates of Brass, let’s look further at the adversary’s efforts to destroy scripture.
Tactic Three: Revision
The Holy Order’s success demonstrated the futility of attempting to destroy all true scripture. Thanks to Joseph, a resilient record yet stood, containing not only information going all the way back to Eden, but also a safe location to continue recording God’s word to humanity.
According to Jacob, recording permanent writings on metal plates became the “gold standard” (pun intended) for truth preservation. Said he:
…and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain, but whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away; (Jacob 3:1 RE)
Because plates added permanency to the record, a new tactic became necessary for the enemy of our souls: Selective revision of true scripture.
As I mentioned in Part 1, the most important information conveyed by scripture is knowledge of, and about, the Messiah. It is impossible to exercise faith unto life and salvation without knowing of the Savior in whom the faith must be centered. Not surprisingly then, the adversary’s efforts next focused not on destroying all scripture, but only on opposing belief in Christ.
The very opening of the Book of Mormon informs us of this situation, as illustrated by the reaction of Jerusalem’s inhabitants to Lehi’s preaching:
Therefore, I would that ye should know that after the Lord had shewn so many marvelous things unto my father Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold, he went forth among the people and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard. And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them, for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations. (1 Nephi 1:5 RE)
OK, so Lehi testified of their wickedness and abominations, and they mocked him. The idea that such devoted, religious people were actually wicked and abominable seems to have struck them as laughable, even absurd. They knew themselves to be righteous—a view best articulated by Nephi’s own brothers:
And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people, for they keep the statutes and the judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people. (1 Nephi 5:17 RE)
Now, back to Lehi’s preaching:
And he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a messiah and also the redemption of the world. And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him, yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out and stoned and slain; and they also sought his life that they might take it away. (1 Nephi 1:5 RE)
Calling the Jews at Jerusalem to repentance was viewed as a joke. But preaching about a Messiah who would come to redeem them was a different matter entirely. This information enraged the hearers to the point of murder.
What? Seriously? How is this possible? Since when did Jews rage against the very idea of a Messiah, and seek to kill those who dared speak it? Clearly, something was afoot in Lehi’s time, making it dangerous, even deadly to share this information. Yet, according to Nephi, a great number of prophets had previously preached about the Messiah:
Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews, even a messiah, or in other words, a savior of the world. And he also spake concerning the prophets, how great a number had testified of these things concerning this Messiah of whom he had spoken, or this Redeemer of the world. Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer. (1 Nephi 3:2 RE)
Nephi’s brother Jacob shared the same truth:
Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Messiah. (Jacob 5:2 RE)
For, for this intent have we written these things: that they may know that we knew of Messiah, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming. And not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us. (Jacob 3:1 RE)
Indeed, Abinadi informs us that Moses was one of these prophets who prophesied of the coming Messiah:
For behold, did not Moses prophesy unto them concerning the coming of the Messiah and that God should redeem his people? Yea, and even all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began — have they not spoken more or less concerning these things? Have they not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth? Yea, and have they not said also that he should bring to pass the resurrection of the dead? And that he himself should be oppressed and afflicted? (Mosiah 8:2 RE)
Other prophets who spoke of Messiah include Zenoch, Zenos and Neum:
And the God of our fathers…yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob — yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up according to the words of Zenoch, and to be crucified according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulcher according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness which should be a sign given of his death… (1 Nephi 5:36 RE)
And likewise, at least in the case of Zenos, they were killed for their testimony of Messiah:
And now I would that ye should know that even since the days of Abraham there have been many prophets that have testified these things; yea, behold, the prophet Zenos did testify boldly, for the which he was slain, and behold, also Zenoch, and also Ezaias, and also Isaiah, and Jeremiah, Jeremiah being that same prophet who testified of the destruction of Jerusalem — and now, we know that Jerusalem was destroyed according to the words of Jeremiah — oh then why not the Son of God come according to his prophecy? (Helaman 3:9 RE)
The text further informs us that “many” were slain for preaching of Messiah.
Behold, I say unto you, yea, many have testified of these things at the coming of Messiah and were slain because they testified of these things — yea, the prophet Zenos did testify of these things, and also Zenoch spake concerning these things, because they testified particular concerning us, who are the remnant of their seed. (3 Nephi 4:11)
With the above in mind, we’ve got some questions that beg for answers:
- If so many prophets prophesied of the Messiah, where are their prophesies?
- Why does the current old testament not directly mention the Messiah at all?
- In fact, why doesn’t the word “Messiah” even appear in the Hebrew bible (other than in non-related passages about anointing kings)?
- What happened to Moses’s prophesies of the Messiah?
We could continue asking questions along these lines, but the answer to them all is generally the same: We no longer have the records because there was a concerted effort to murder the prophets who testified of Christ and destroy the records of their prophecies. We could talk about the religious, political, financial and governmental reasons for this effort, but I don’t want to get off track. The point is that the records of Messiah were specifically targeted and altered.
So effective was this coordinated attack that the world lost all record of prophets like Zenos, Zenoch, Ezaias, and Neum. In other cases, when the prophets were too well known or popular, their records were simply altered by scribes to remove information about the Messiah. Hence, the five books of Moses that have come down to us no longer teach anything of the Messiah who will bring redemption. Indeed the other prophets in our existing Old Testament only allude to the Messiah obliquely in prophecy or poetry. By diabolical design, there remains no direct teaching at all about the most important event in the history of this creation.
This all brings us back to the Plates of Brass. At the time Lehi departed Jerusalem, the Plates of Brass were likely the ONLY existing, accurate record of the prophets left on earth. The family dynasty that faithfully kept the records had managed for centuries to prevent their destruction or alteration by anti-Messiah forces, all while continuing to faithfully record truth from heaven. But the soon-to-invade Babylonian army would quickly put an end to all that as they sacked the temple treasury and confiscated anything precious they could find.
Had Nephi not retrieved the record and literally taken it to an entirely different continent for safekeeping, the world may well have lost the precious prophecies forever. But God’s foreknowledge prevented that from happening, and Nephi’s faith in the face of danger, discouragement and contradiction ultimately saved the record from destruction and preserved truth on the earth. Without the Plates of Brass record, I doubt there would have been a Book of Mormon record to record Nephi’s tale.
As a side note, I’m continually amazed at those who criticize Nephi for killing Laban, or claim Joseph Smith made up the tale. Both the view from heaven, and a correct understanding of the importance of this record for the salvation of the world, give whole new realms of meaning to the Spirit’s declaration that “the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.”
Though we don’t currently have access to the Plates of Brass, we are nevertheless blessed by their teachings through what was copied into or alluded to within the Book of Mormon. We also have the promise that the record will yet go forth to the world:
And now when my father saw all these things, he was filled with the spirit and began to prophesy concerning his seed — that these plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, and tongues, and people, who were of his seed. Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed anymore by time. (1 Nephi 1:22 RE)
We’ll close this installment with a summary of the ground we’ve covered.
- Our adversary fully understands the importance of truth to lead to faith and salvation.
- Therefore, his efforts focus on destroying or removing truth to keep mortals bound in chains of darkness.
- His approaches have included teaching against truth, destroying true records, and altering records to remove truths about the Messiah.
- In all cases, God has anticipated Satan’s actions and has provided means to combat and overcome them.
- God’s use of the Holy Order on earth to reveal, preserve, protect, recover and teach true scripture demonstrates God’s foreknowledge, wisdom, power, and commitment to our salvation.
In Part 3, we’ll continue tracing the course of scripture through the ages, and discuss our adversary’s continued attempts to combat truth. We haven’t yet begun to exhaust the list of his evil tools and strategies.
I say unto you my sons, were it not for these things which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief. And we should have been like unto our brethren the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers which are not correct. O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true.
—Mosiah 1:1 RE