Then Jesus addressed those Jews who believed on him, Only if you continue to follow my teachings will you be my students indeed, because you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. The leaders interrupted to claim, We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been slaves to any man. Why do you say we will become free? Jesus answered them, In the name of Father Ahman I say unto you, Whoever misses the mark is the slave of errors. And such a slave will not be allowed to be within Abraham’s house in the resurrection, but the Son will remain part of God’s Family forever. If the Son sets you free from sin, you are free indeed.
—Testimony of St. John 6:18-19
In parts 1 and 2, we traced the course of scripture from Adam to the Plates of Brass, including God’s intervention to ensure a correct record survived. Hopefully, the path thus far has reminded us all how carefully and effectively God has shepherded sacred records, protecting them against increasing threats, often by miraculous, yet small and simple means.
- Adam’s Book of Remembrance was protected within a family line until it was destroyed by jealous brothers within the family.
- Joseph’s more permanent replacement was safeguarded with his remains and carried in his ark until Moses came on the scene and continued the record with revelation from heaven.
- These Plates of Brass were again safeguarded by a family dynasty, and kept under lock, key, and guard until the coming destruction of the city threatened them.
- Nephi rescued the Plates of Brass and carried them to a completely different continent to keep them safe. Once there, they were again guarded as the treasure of kings and priests, carefully handed down and guarded by the Holy Order.
I point these patterns out so they won’t escape our attention. The creation, protection and transfer of scripture is not random or uncontrolled. Rather, there is intent, organization, intelligence, power, wisdom, forethought and care involved every step of the way. Though heaven always allows and preserves agency, great care is taken to see that the record is preserved despite the weakness, frailty and wickedness of men.
The Brass Plates, Continued
We left our narrative at the point where Nephi rescued the Plates of Brass from certain destruction at the hands of Babylon. That was a pretty amazing piece of work, Nephi! What are you going to do next?
Well, if we know anything about Nephi, it’s that he’s going to do whatever the Lord asks. And what does the Lord ask? He asks Nephi to make more plates. God seems rather single-minded in his efforts to get truth into the hands of mortals. So here are some questions to consider:
Where do you think Nephi got the idea and pattern to record sacred history and revelations on metal plates? Could it have been from the Plates of Brass?
The Brass Plates record was current and up to date when Nephi rescued the record from Jerusalem. He then continued recording scripture, including his father’s records and his own narrative and revelations, and he also commanded that his successors do likewise, even commanding what sorts of things were to be recorded on which plates.
Therefore, isn’t it most correct to view Nephi’s record as the direct, uninterrupted continuation of the Brass Plates? The recording of scripture never stopped as long as there were willing participants and recipients.
And finally, the Plates of Brass contained the “record of the Jews,” but also included Northern Kingdom prophets—not just records from the Southern Kingdom of Judah. In Nephi’s day, with the Northern Kingdom destroyed, the record remained in Jerusalem and was identified with Judah. Then Nephi continued the record as a descendent of Joseph. The record therefore went from Judah to Joseph, as did the accouterments of kingship, and the Holy Order responsibility to continue the record.
Indeed, the kingship of the house of Israel passed at that time from David’s line to Joseph’s line, in the person of Nephi, with remarkable signs attending. But that’s a story for a different day. Besides, the kingship is not nearly so important as the scriptural record, so we'll stick with the topic at hand.
Now that we’ve considered some questions about the continuation of the Brass Plates and the kingship, let’s return to the Jews and Jerusalem for a moment.
Tactic Four: Perversion
After the Babylonian captivity, some portion of the Jews returned to Jerusalem and undertook an effort to recover what remained of scripture. More prophets came, further records developed, but the teaching of Messiah remained suppressed in surviving scripture. The post-exilic records are as bereft of Messiah as the pre-exilic records, once again demonstrating the tampering that necessarily took place.
But that all changed when the Messiah himself came on the scene. After his life and ministry, a number of his followers provided eyewitness accounts of his ministry, his teachings, his death and his resurrection. Because the entirety of their records centered on HIM, and because so many witnesses testified, the Adversary’s prior approach of eliminating the Messiah from the scriptural record became impossible.
Though his efforts were again foiled by the Holy Order, Satan did not give up. His next approach was to tamper with the record such that “many plain and precious” things were eliminated. Interestingly, they were eliminated not by anti-Christs, but by the church that claimed to believe his Gospel:
For behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and most precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. And after these plain and precious things were taken away, it goeth forth unto all the nations of the gentiles. (1 Nephi 3:21)
By targeting certain plain and precious truths, as well as the covenants of the Lord, Satan managed to pervert what remained into an obscured, twisted, polluted version of the Gospel, lacking power to save.
And after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the gentiles, yea, even across the many waters (which thou hast seen) with the gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest, because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book — which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God — that because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceeding great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them. (1 Nephi 3:22)
The upshot here is that it was no longer necessary to wholesale suppress information about the Messiah. Satan showed that merely perverting Christ’s teachings was enough to bring about the desired result. And his best tool for doing so was the “church.” Thus, Satan’s new approach became to promote a false caricature of Christ and his teachings, using the religious institutions on which the world relied. Such had the benefit of offering people a savior and hope of salvation, while withholding necessary information about what such salvation required.
The result was all sorts of churches, preaching all sorts of doctrines, and bearing all sorts of fruit, but none of it was good (Jacob 3:17 RE). The perverse gospels of cheap salvation, church authority, prosperity, and leader worship all served to lead people away from Christ, even while proclaiming his Messiahship. Ok, I have to admit, it seems pretty clever at first. But it’s really nothing new. After all, Satan started promoting false forms of salvation before the foundation of the world, and he managed to convince a sizable group. What else would you expect him to do?
Tactic 5: Withholding
One particular historical practice is worth mentioning in this regard. The Catholic church, through most of its existence, saw to it that scripture and worship existed only in a language completely foreign to most believers. Therefore, for well over a thousand years, believing in Christ meant simply accepting the statements of clergy regarding what the scripture said, and what it meant. Only those properly trained in Latin, Greek or Hebrew could even read the scripture. Thus, worship throughout the vast majority of the Christian era consisted of blindly following traditions established by those in authority, based on scripture almost nobody could examine or even read. Thus, tradition supplanted scripture giving a small class of men control over millions—even billions—of lives. The aggregation of immense power and wealth resulted from “teaching for commandments the doctrines of men” and led innumerable souls carefully down to hell.
Of course, it doesn’t matter a bit what language the scripture is written in if people don’t bother to read it. Unexamined scripture sitting on a shelf might as well be written in Greek, Hebrew or Latin. Perhaps it’s better summarized in a quote often attributed to Mark Twain: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”
Whether truth is withheld by conspiring churches and clergymen seeking control, or hidden by the apathy of those to whom the truth is offered, the result is the same. Rather than experiencing the freedom truth brings (John 6:14 RE), the human family experiences bondage, sin, death, and hell, knowing nothing concerning God’s mysteries. This is what is meant by the chains of hell (Alma 9:3 RE). In this regard, Satan’s greatest ally is our fallen human nature. Unless we choose to be otherwise, we will most certainly be his.
It Ain’t Rocket Surgery
By now, we should be noticing the pattern employed by our adversary. I’ll admit it’s perhaps easy to conclude the Devil is clever in his opposition to truth. But the more I examine his tactics, the more I come to realize his approach is more brute force than finesse. Destroy the records. If that fails, attack the parts about Messiah. If that fails, attack the plain and precious parts of the gospel and obscure the covenants. No luck there? Entice power-hungry men and institutions to exert control by withholding scripture. And remember, you can always play on humans’ apathy, laziness, and distractibility. Yes, his tactics work, but the “great power” he displays is really power given him by weak and foolish mortals who choose to do his bidding. It’s a pretty standard tool set, and if the Devil is to be given his due for anything, it would be his persistence.
But here’s the good part: God is persistent as well. Immensely so. He unwaveringly, unceasingly and constantly seeks to present truth to those who will receive it. His foreknowledge, wisdom and might overcome and overthrow every effort of the adversary. God installed the fire sprinklers before Satan ever even contemplated striking the match. Working through the Holy Order, God has preserved truth for thousands of years, and continues to do so. It is a marvelous work, and a wonder indeed. So much so, in fact, that Christ boldly and openly declared God’s ordained intent and the final outcome to the Nephites 2,000 years ago—so they could record it for us.
It’s a bold move, really, to lay out the whole game plan before men and devils, declaring the outcome of the war even before the final battle begins. God’s confidence should enhance our own. Though Lucifer may rage and seek to destroy, he continually gets blindsided by the small and simple means God uses to defeat him again and again. The ultimate triumph is a given. The remaining question is whether we will stand or fall in the fight. And that hinges on our treatment of scripture.
Now that we’ve examined scripture through the Christian era, in Part 4 we’ll consider the miracle of modern scripture and the Adversary’s tactics to oppose it.
But Jesus answered and said, It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
—Matthew 2:5 RE