Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 37

by | Sep. 24, 2003

Sunday School

Robert L. Millet on Hebrews:
Hebrews was not written to Gentiles, but to Jews. It was written to those schooled in the law of Moses. Yet it took Paul, a living prophet, to unfold its symbolism and explain the meaning of Mosaic rituals to the Jewish saints of his day. Through his eyes they came to see that all things associated with the Mosaic law centered in and testified of Christ. Similarly, in this epistle Paul seeks to bring the Hebrew Saints to the understanding that everything in the gospel centers in Christ. Salvation is not the result of ritual performance nor is it the result of a verbal declaration. Rather, salvation consists of our becoming one with Christ.
Christ was in the express image of his Father's person and the brightness of his glory. As such, he personifies what a saved being is. Thus, he shows the way for all who desire salvation. Salvation comes by taking upon ourselves his name, by saying and doing what he would say and do. For us to obtain salvation means we will obtain that same brightness and glory. Such brightness and glory can be obtained only by taking upon ourselves his name and learning to do as he would do. Christ was a living prophecy of his Father. We must become living prophecies of Christ. Paul declared it thus: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (13:20-21.)
(Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 205.)
Richard Lloyd Anderson on Christ's Authority and Mission:
Eternal realities are unfolded in the beginning of Hebrews, and they are based on historical realities. For Paul proclaims salvation that "first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him" (Heb. 2:3). Paul heard these eyewitnesses of the Lord, and he adds that God also testified through healings, miracles, and "gifts of the Holy Ghost" that followed the Lord of the Gospels and his apostles of Acts (Heb. 2:4). Paul had experienced these signs following but focused on how the gospel came before his conversion. If God had spoken, what kind of God was he? Most large Christian churches have formal statements defining the Holy Trinity, but their principle adjectives are not found in Paul's great testimonies of the Father and the Son. In fact, the creeds speak of a triune God, not of one glorious being in the shape of another. Paul opens Hebrews with the Father sending the Son, who is the "brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person" (Heb. 1:3, italics added). The italicized words translate the Greek charakter, the ancestor of the English character, which roughly approximates Paul's meaning.
Christ is the "character" of God's being, the apostle says. This term meant the "mark" of an engraving tool—in physical terms a "stamped likeness" or "an exact reproduction." Thus, Christ is not the Father, but he is stamped with his divinity and exact form. And this is not in some mystic sense of sharing the same soul, for man in his distinctiveness from God is also said to be in God's "character" in early Christian literature. Clement of Rome wrote about A.D. 96 and said that God formed man in the "likeness of his own image." In the opening of Hebrews Christ is clearly distinct from God, standing "on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:3). Commentators too smugly say that "no literal location is intended." Yet the mother of James and John had a location in mind when she wanted them to sit at Christ's right and left hand in eternity (Matt. 20:21-23). But Christian scholars believe that "God has no physical right hand or material throne where the ascended Christ sits beside Him." They interpret the "right hand" as merely descriptive of status or power, but how do they draw the line between explaining and explaining away? Stephen saw Christ at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56), as did Joseph Smith in 1820 in the First Vision. A half dozen times Paul speaks of Christ at the right hand of the Father and never hints at less than literalism.
As separate from God, Christ fulfilled a unique mission. He is God's son and God's "heir," the creator of worlds (Heb. 1:2); he is the power "upholding all things," who "brought about the cleansing of our sins" (Heb. 1:3, literal trans.). For a time he descended below angels that he "might taste death for everyone" (Heb. 2:9, NKJB). Using a form of the word of priestly sacrifice in Romans 3:25, Paul pictures Jesus as the High Priest making "propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17, NKJB). Thus, Hebrews opens to attest the Atonement and never moves far from this subject. Obviously the Jewish converts needed the powerful message of forgiveness through Christ instead of their purification rites. With their faith in Jehovah and his angels, they had apparently assimilated Christ into their religious system as a part but not the center. The opening two chapters of Hebrews give ten Old Testament quotations in a row on the superiority of the Son to angels. The Psalmist said that man on earth was "a little lower than the angels" (Heb. 2:7), and Christ came to share the human condition (Heb. 2:11) to raise all to celestial fellowship. The point of this reasoning is Christ's descending to lift all—the point of the Old Testament quotations is the superiority of the Son to all angels. The appearances of Moses and Elijah to Christ and to Joseph Smith are part of the evidence that angels are righteous men in postmortal glory. In authority they function under Christ, and those worthy in this life will not be lower than angels in eternity—Paul reminded the Corinthians, "We shall judge angels" (1 Cor. 6:3).
Another Jewish problem is refuted in Hebrews. Paul opened Corinthians by regretting that Christ was a "stumbling-block" to Israel because "the Jews require a sign" (1 Cor. 1:22-23). The disciples on the Emmaeus road had difficulty believing in a slain Messiah, since they looked to the prophets' words of the victorious Messiah of the day of judgment (Luke 24:20-21). So Hebrews probes the suffering mission of Christ and what it means to those who follow him. Christ is the "captain" of our salvation (Heb. 2:10) and the "author" of our faith (Heb. 12:2)—these are different renditions of a word meaning leader, founder, or originator. Thus Christ, who brought the plan of salvation, was made "perfect through sufferings" (Heb. 2:10). This theme is resumed with the same wording in Hebrews 5:8-9: the "Son . . . learned . . . obedience by the things which he suffered" and thus was "made perfect." That is the first half of the message about Christ, for his earthly life was outwardly a defeat but really a personal victory. Jews who might stumble at his suffering must know that he filled the Father's assignment and thus completed his Godhood. Since the perfecting of the Messiah through suffering is identical in Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 5:8, the Joseph Smith Translation note identifying the latter with Melchizedek must not be taken superficially. "Standing alone . . . this footnote gives an erroneous impression"; the verse refers to Christ, since "Melchizedek was a prototype of Christ."
What benefit could come from a suffering Savior? For many years Paul probably faced that question of ridicule or confusion. His answer is that a suffering Savior knows us better and is better known by us. Having learned obedience through mortal trials, Christ can be trusted totally to lead "all them that obey him" to "eternal salvation" (Heb. 5:9). In the Joseph Smith Translation, this verse speaks of Christ alone. The Savior does not call from a distant height but from a little ahead on the rocky path that his disciples climb: "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15, NKJB). Jesus was once on this earth, fully felt its pressures, and met its challenges. He not only died for the sins of all but lived as the example for all. Could anyone believe that perfection is attainable unless someone had attained it? And could anyone have confidence in divine mercy unless the Lord knew personally the terrible realities of life? "For in that he himself has suffered, being tempted, he is able to aid those who are tempted" (Heb. 2:18, NKJB). This knowledge is behind Paul's assurance that others have faced the temptation that any person is called to face—that God "will not allow you to be tempted" beyond your ability to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13, NKJB).
(Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 224 - 225.)
Robert L. Millet on Christ as the Personification of the Father:
"God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son," Paul begins his epistle to the Hebrews. Let us paraphrase: God, who, on a great variety of occasions and in a host of ways, spoke to the prophets of old, has also spoken to us. Indeed, he has granted us the most sublime and instructive of revelations—his own Son! The Son, Paul tells us, is in the "brightness of his [Father's] glory, and the express image of his person." (Heb. 1:3.) Thus, the manifestation of the Son is the revelation of the Father. To know the Son is to know the Father. As the Son expressed it, in response to the request of one of his disciples that they be shown the Father, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." (John 14:9.)
Though the scriptures tell us little of the Father, in a comparative sense, they tell us much of the Son—and to know the Son is to know the Father. The example and doctrine of one is the example and doctrine of the other. Christ constituted a living, moving, breathing revelation of his Father. "The Son can do nothing of himself," Christ said, "but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." (John 5:19.) Again, "I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." (John 8:28.) And yet again, "If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him." (John 14:7.)
As all prophets are types and shadows of Christ, so Christ is a type and shadow of his Father: it could not be otherwise. Christ could hardly come and say, "I am the antithesis of the Father; in no way are we the same. He does things his way and I do things mine. Now come follow me. I will be your example in all things." Nor could his prophets come, saying, "We agree with Christ in some things, but certainly not in everything. We must be true to ourselves. In some ways we seek to be like him and in others we do not."
The very concept of salvation is of oneness and unity. It is a concept in which the Godhead professes to be one, the apostles and prophets one, the congregation one, husband and wife one, and the family unit one. Christ stated the principle thus: "If ye are not one ye are not mine." (D&C 38:27.) Thus, types, shadows, similitudes, and likenesses, in all their forms, become the common denominator for teaching the gospel.
In addition to being in the brightness of his Father's glory and the express image of his person, Paul explains that Christ has been "appointed heir of all things" (1:2), and that following the atoning sacrifice, he took his place "on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (1:3). He received of his Father's fullness and became equal with him in power, might, and dominion (D&C 76:94- 95), or, as John stated it, "He received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him" (D&C 93:17). Thus, Christ was "crowned with glory and honour" (Heb. 2:9) and became the personification of the Father.
(Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 192.)
Richard Lloyd Anderson on the Melchizedek Priesthood:
Who was Melchizedek, and why was a priesthood named after him? His sole historical mention brings Abraham to pay tithes to him as one of greater status. Melchizedek is the "king of Salem . . . priest of the most high God" (Gen. 14:18). Philo, Paul's Jewish contemporary, called Melchizedek "the high priest (megas hiereus) of the most high God." These brief references in Genesis and Psalms 110 "are sufficient to indicate that he is a figure of unusual significance." The growing literature about Melchizedek proves both his importance and the frustration of researchers on not knowing more. A recent study concluded after nearly two hundred pages: "We are no closer than when we began to knowing anything of real substance about a historical figure named Melchizedek." So light can be shed only by new discovery or new revelation. And Latter-day Saints offer what no one else does—new information on the person and the priesthood of Melchizedek.
Joseph Smith added a major source in translating the Book of Mormon, which gave Jewish traditions on Melchizedek, who lived in a wicked generation but "exercised mighty faith" and "did preach repentance unto his people" (Alma 13:18). This is like Noah, who appears only as an inspired ark-builder in Genesis, but Peter knew enough about him to call him a "preacher of righteousness" (2 Pet. 2:5). Through his preaching Melchizedek "did establish peace in the land in his days" (Alma 13:18). fn When Joseph Smith made his inspired review of Genesis, he added more striking information. Melchizedek showed his great faith "when a child" through miracles: "And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch, it being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God" (Gen. 14:27-28,JST . And the Joseph Smith Translation continues with the miraculous signs that followed this high ancient priesthood. Such revealed background explains the modern revelation on the name of the priesthood; Melchizedek substitutes for the name of the divine Christ "because Melchizedek was such a great high priest" ( D&C 107:2). This was the priesthood of the favored patriarchs. Melchizedek "received it through the lineage of his fathers," going back to Abel, who "received the priesthood by the commandments of God, by the hand of his father Adam" (D&C 84:14, 16).
Was Melchizedek "without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life"? (Heb. 7:3.) In a variety of places Joseph Smith applies this phrase not to the person of Melchizedek, but to his priesthood: "For this Melchizedek was ordained a priest after the order of the Son of God, which order was without . . . descent" (Heb. 7:3,JST . The commentaries uniformly explain Hebrews' phrases as a mere symbolic argument from Genesis, where no antecedents or successors of Melchizedek are given. But Paul's words are too striking to be set aside: like the Son of God, Melchizedek "remains a priest forever" ( Heb. 7:3, NAB, NEB, JB). Of course, the point is to lead up to Christ's eternal priesthood, but what does the Melchizedek analogy mean? Hebrews speaks of an eternal priesthood for Melchizedek. The only sure definitions are descriptions of how they apply. Christ's eternal priesthood continued after death when he visited and preached to the spirits in prison (1 Pet. 3:18-20). But the Early Church believed the same about its priesthood holders, as shown by the respected work from the brother of the Roman bishop mid-second century: "These apostles and teachers, who preached the name of the Son of God, having fallen asleep in the power and faith of the Son of God, preached also to those who had fallen asleep before them." Christ's servants also had delegated authority to be used in eternity. Most discussions of Hebrews 7 are too abstract, for they do not start from the reality that the Early Church possessed offices that were not of the Levitical or Aaronic Priesthood. "The priesthood being changed" (Heb. 7:12) was a fact for Christ's Church as well as for Christ.
Since Latter-day Saints testify of the return of the lost Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, they will naturally draw fire from the religious establishment. Modern priesthood does not come from debatable scriptural interpretation, but from the physical appearances of John the Baptist, restoring the lesser Aaronic Priesthood, and then from Peter, James, and John, restoring the Melchizedek Priesthood. Slashing tracts tell us that the Church cannot have Aaronic Priesthood because Paul said it had been "changed" (Heb. 7:12). But Paul's argument is based on the irrelevance of the sacrificial temple, as explained in Hebrews' following chapters. Aaronic sacrificial functions were changed, but in the Restoration, God assigned practical functions and basic ordinances to this priesthood—indeed changed, but continuing, fulfilling the "everlasting priesthood" promises to Aaron's house.
The attacking tracts also tell us that Latter-day Saints cannot have Melchizedek Priesthood because Paul speaks of the "unchangeable priesthood" of Christ (Heb. 7:24). With superficial learning, they claim that the adjective aparabatos here means "untransferrable." In this theory, Christ could not delegate to others. Thayer's very inadequate Greek lexicon did take that position in 1889. Yet the recent committee translations all give the idea of Christ holding a "permanent" or "perpetual," not "untransferrable," priesthood. The evidence solidly sustains this position. Ancient papyri provide "a very strong case against the rendering 'not transferable.'" fn As far as ancient literature, Hebrews 7:24 is often "interpreted without a successor," but that meaning "is found nowhere else" and "rather has the sense permanent, unchangeable." These are the clear views of the standard tools on word meanings, with no dissenting minority. Careful readers might have known that, since Paul is never far from his Psalms text that Christ is a "priest for ever" (Heb. 7:21), meaning that he will never lose his priesthood. Thus, "continually" (Heb. 7:3) and "forever" (Heb. 7:28, NKJB) give the same thought as the "unchangeable priesthood" (Heb. 7:24). Interpreters restrict Melchizedek Priesthood to Christ, but Paul does not. And Hebrews 7 fits the clear system in Acts and in Paul's letters describing priesthood authority transferred by the laying on of hands. The Bible is deeply consistent with a restored Melchizedek Priesthood.
(Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 209.)
Robert L. Millet on Melchizedek as a Type for Christ:
It stands to reason that if the priesthood is a type for Christ, Melchizedek, whose life personifies what a priesthood holder ought to be, is also a type for the Savior. Paul so identifies him to the Hebrews. By interpretation, he tells us that the name Melchizedek means "King of righteousness." (Heb. 7:2.) Melech (Melek) is the Hebrew word for king, while Sedek (Zedek) means just or righteousness. No more appropriate name could have been used as a substitute for the name of deity in referring to the priesthood. The priesthood is the authority of our king, an authority that can be used only in righteousness. Paul also notes that Melchizedek was the King of Salem, which he interprets as "King of peace." (7:2.) Salem is a form of the Jewish greeting shalom, meaning "peace to you." Thus, Gideon named the place where the Lord gave him the promise of peace, "Jehovah-shalom." (Judg. 6:23-24.)
In the Bible text, we read that Melchizedek is "without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; [abiding] a priest continually." (Heb. 7:3.) This statement, an obvious Bible error, has been the source of much mischief and nonsense among uninspired writers. From the revelation on the priesthood previously cited, we learn that it is the priesthood and not Melchizedek to which reference is being made in the verse. (See JST, Heb. 7:3; also (D&C 84:17.) In identifying the Melchizedek Priesthood as being "without father, without mother, without descent," Paul is simply emphasizing that the Greater Priesthood, unlike the Lesser Priesthood, is not the exclusive province of the tribe of Levi. With the restoration of a higher order of things, it was righteousness that qualified one for the priesthood, not descent from Levi. Further, our corrected text reads, "And all those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the Son of God, abiding a priest continually." (JST, Heb. 7:3.)
Alma also describes Melchizedek as a classic type for Christ. "Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness; but Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father." (Alma 13:17-18.) Alma's profile of Melchizedek is of a great preacher of righteousness, a teacher of repentance, whose message, once it was accepted by his people, established perfect peace among them. This prince of peace then ruled Salem as prophet, priest, and king, which he did "under his father." The likeness to Christ is made even more perfect by adding the description from the Joseph Smith Translation, from which we learn that Melchizedek "was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace," and that his people "wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven." (JST, Gen. 14:34-36.)
(Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 206.)
Richard Lloyd Anderson on the New Covenant:
Jeremiah foretold that God would make "a new covenant" with Israel (Jer. 31:31). As 2 Corinthians 3, Hebrews proclaims the fulfillment through Christ. Jeremiah used the clearest Hebrew word for "covenant," which Paul translated by the Greek diatheke—so that term should mean "covenant" in his letters. It does generally, though it is translated "covenant" only twenty times and "testament" thirteen times in the King James Version. In the latter case, the Joseph Smith Translation changed several cases of "testament" to "covenant" in Hebrews 9, including Paul's argument, "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator" (Heb. 9:16). Scholars see Paul making use of the secular meaning of diatheke here; although it was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to mean covenant, it nevertheless was the regular word for will. Perhaps stimulated by using "inheritance" just before (Heb. 9:15), Paul made the human analogy that the testator, the maker of the will, had to die for the will or testament to be in force. This comment was based on the double usage. In Elder Bruce R. McConkie's words, "Paul uses both the legal and the gospel definition of terms and teaches that it is through Christ's death that gifts are willed to men."
In his translation Joseph Smith stresses Christ as the offering for remission of sins. Hebrews' intense imagery features the prefiguring Old Testament sacrifices. There is the solemn Day of Atonement, when through offerings Israel became "clean from all . . . sins before the Lord" (Lev. 16:30). Paul stated the major principle of sacrificial forgiveness: there is "no remission" without "shedding of blood" (Heb. 9:22). When the "new covenant" would come, Jeremiah prophesied, God would "forgive their iniquity" and would "remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:34). Paul quoted that promise (Heb. 10:17), explaining that Christ made this possible. God's people were first established through the sprinkling of "the blood of the covenant," symbolic of their obedience to God's laws and rites (Ex. 24:8). Paul quoted those historic words of Moses (Heb. 9:20). Jesus had also mirrored them for the meaning of his sacrifice: "For this is my blood of the new covenant [diatheke], which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28, literal trans.).
(Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 216 - 217.)
Robert L. Millet on Mosaic Ordinances Prefiguring Christ's Ministry:
This was not an epistle to Gentiles, but to Hebrews, those schooled in the law of Moses. It was one thing to know the law and entirely another to know the reason for the law. Similarly, in our day it is one thing to know what the Bible says and entirely another to know what the Bible means. Israel had her tabernacle—within the temple; the altar, ark, veil, Holy of Holies, and so forth—in which sacrifices and cleansing ordinances were performed, which Paul, by the spirit of revelation, now identifies as similitudes of the coming of the Son of God. Through these ordinances, the faithful among the ancients obtained a forgiveness of sins and learned what was required of them to obtain the rest of the Lord.
Let us briefly identify the symbolism associated with those parts of Israel's ancient temple worship referred to by Paul in Hebrews 9:
Tabernacle: The tabernacle was a portable temple of the Lord, the place of the divine presence, and thus represents the kingdoms of heaven. The outer court represents the telestial order, the holy place the terrestrial order, and the Holy of Holies, the celestial world, the place where the throne of God is found.
Candlestick: The seven-branched candelabrum of the tabernacle was part of the furniture of the holy place. It was not lighted by candles, but by pure olive oil in cup-shaped containers resting on the head of each of its branches. (Ex. 25:31-40.) Its light represents the light of the Holy Spirit. The seven branches or stems represent the fullness and perfection of the revelations of God and could be taken as affirmation that they would burn brightly in seven great gospel dispensations.
Table: Paul's reference is to the table of shewbread that stood on the north or right side as one entered the holy place. It faced the candlestick and upon it were to be placed twelve loaves of bread made of fine (unleavened) flour. Paul does not identify its symbolism. Its equivalent in our day could be the sacrament table.
Shewbread: Literally translated, the name shewbread means "the bread of faces," or "the bread of the presence," signifying that this bread was placed before the face of the Lord or in his presence. That there is a common symbolism between the Sabbath ritual in which the priests were to eat the shewbread and the ordinance of the sacrament, as introduced by Christ, seems apparent.
Sanctuary: The sanctuary, in this text, refers to the holy place.
Veil: Paul's reference is to the thick curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the holy place in the temple. The rending of the veil symbolizes the removal of the barrier between man and God, for man is thus enabled "to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus." (Heb. 10:19.) Thus, the faithful and obedient can, in the fullest and most complete sense, enter into the rest of the Lord.
Holiest of All: By holiest of all, Paul is referring to the Holy of Holies. This, the most sacred place in the temple, is the symbolic representation of the heavenly temple where the throne of God sits.
Golden Censer: The vessel used for the burning of incense in the holy place was known as the golden censer. (Paul seems to indicate that this was housed in the Holy of Holies. There is nothing in the Old Testament that corroborates this.) The smoke rising from the vessel is a symbol of the prayers of Israel rising to God. (Ps. 141:2.)
Ark of the Covenant: Housed within the Holy of Holies, the ark of the covenant signifies the divine presence and as such is the most sacred symbol in ancient Israel.
Manna: Among the sacred relics found within the temple was a golden pot containing some of the manna sent down from heaven as food for Israel during their wilderness wanderings. This bread from heaven typifies the spiritual salvation that could be had only through Christ, who is the Bread of Life.
Aaron's Rod: To affirm his call to Aaron and his tribe to labor in the priesthood in preference to the other tribes, the Lord instructed Moses to have each of the tribes bring a rod or branch with the name of their prince on it. These twelve rods were then placed before the Lord in the Holy of Holies. The following morning when Moses went to the sacred place, he found the rod of Aaron covered with buds, blossoms, and even mature almonds. The other rods remained as barren as before. (Num. 17.) As I have written elsewhere, "The symbolism associated with this test was most deliberate: A rod, or branch, had been chosen to represent each of the twelve tribes or families of Israel; each had its name carefully placed upon it. By tradition, the rod, as a staff or sceptre, represented one's position and authority. Together, all were presented before the Lord. By making Aaron's rod bud, blossom, and put forth fruit, the Lord demonstrated once again that it was for him to choose those who will stand in his stead, be filled with his power, and bring forth his fruits."
Tables of the Covenant: The tables of the covenant refers to the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written.
Cherubim: The images of two cherubim were placed over the mercy seat of the ark in the Holy of Holies. Cherubim are angels, set to guard the way before the presence of the Lord. They are to see that no unclean thing enters the divine presence.
Mercy Seat: The mercy seat is the golden lid to the ark of the covenant: This lid, which covers the ark, is a symbolic representation of the manner in which the Atonement overarches or covers all that is sacred. The name comes from the Hebrew kapporeth, which, in turn, comes from the root kaphar, meaning to cover or expiate. It implies the making of an atonement, a cleansing or forgiving.
Though Paul did not detail the meaning of each of these items associated with the temple, his purpose was to emphasize that each was intended as a witness of Jesus as the Christ.
(Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 202.)
Bruce R. McConkie on Faith Enabling Men to Endure Sufferings:
It is by faith that the saints of God of all ages endure the sufferings and persecutions heaped upon them by the wicked and ungodly. Those who through faith have a hope of eternal life choose to be mocked, scourged, tortured and slain rather than to deny the testimony of Jesus, without which no man can gain the riches of eternity. Those who through faith gain a knowledge of the plan of salvation are willing to suffer and sacrifice to receive the promised reward. They live not for this life alone and for the blessings that come to them here. But with the eye of faith they forsee the wonders of their eternal home in that celestial city where God shall wipe away all tears, and where suffering and sorrow shall be but a memory of mortality.
Paul has already set forth that Abraham and the patriarchs sought an inheritance in the heavenly city; that is, they sought to be translated and to join the city of Enoch, as had those who became saints during the nearly 700 years from the translation of Enoch to the flood of Noah. See Heb. 11:8-16.
Joseph Smith, in discussing the doctrine of translation, after setting forth the fact that those who are resurrected have a higher state than those who are translated, quoted Hebrews 11:35, and said: "Now it was evident that there was a better resurrection, or else God would not have revealed it unto Paul. Wherein then, can it be said a better resurrection? This distinction is made between the doctrine of the actual resurrection and translation: translation obtains deliverance from the tortures and sufferings of the body, but their existence will prolong as to the labors and toils of the ministry, before they can enter into so great a rest and glory.
"On the other hand, those who were tortured, not accepting deliverance, received an immediate rest from their labors. 'And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for from henceforth they do rest from their labors and their works do follow them.' (See Revelation 14:13.)
"They rest from their labors for a long time, and yet their work is held in reserve for them, that they are permitted to do the same work, after they receive a resurrection for their bodies." (Teachings, pp. 170-171.)
(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 3: 220.)
Howard W. Hunter on Faith:
Whether seeking for knowledge of scientific truths or to discover God, one must have faith. This becomes the starting point. Faith has been defined in many ways, but the most classic definition was given by the author of the letter to the Hebrews in these meaningful words: 'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' (Heb. 11:1.) In other words, faith makes us confident of what we hope for and convinced of what we do not see. The scientist does not see molecules, atoms, or electrons, yet he knows they exist. He does not see electricity, radiation, or magnetism, but he knows these are unseen realities. In like manner, those who earnestly seek for God do not see him, but they know of his reality by faith. It is more than hope. Faith makes it a conviction—an evidence of things not seen.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews continues: 'Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.' (Heb. 11:3.) Faith is here described as believing or having the conviction that the world was created by the word of God. Witnesses cannot be produced to prove this fact, but faith gives the knowledge that what we see in the wonders of the earth and in all nature was created by God. It is just as reasonable to believe in an unseen God, in a literal resurrection, or in the miracles of the things pertaining to the spiritual as it is to believe in some of the discoveries in the field of the physical sciences. Faith is the primary tool in the realm of religion, and it is also the tool of the scientist.
(Howard W. Hunter, Ensign, November 1974, p. 97.)
Bruce R. McConkie on Faith in Hebrews 11:
Paul now launches into one of his greatest pieces of inspired writing, as he defines and illustrates that law of faith by which the worlds are and by which salvation comes; that faith which is the power of God himself; that faith which has preserved the saints of all ages and which will raise the righteous to be like God and to sit with Christ on his throne. (Rev. 3:21.)
...Paul's American counterpart, Alma, defined faith in these words: "Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." (Alma 32:21.) And Moroni said simply: "Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen." (Ether 12:6.)
Heb 11:2. The elders] The ancients, whose good deeds Paul is now going to report approvingly. Since the brethren named all held the Melchizedek Priesthood, they each carried also the priestly title of "elder."
Heb 11:3. Through faith... the worlds were framed] Faith is power, the power of God, the power by which the worlds are and were created. "To create is to organize. It is an utterly false and uninspired notion to believe that the world or any other thing was created out of nothing or that any created thing can be destroyed in the sense of annihilation. 'The elements are eternal.' (D. & C. 93:33.)
"Joseph Smith, in the King Follett sermon, said: 'You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, "Doesn't the Bible say He created the world?" And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end.' (Teachings, pp. 350-352.)
"Christ, acting under the direction of the Father, was and is the Creator of all things. (D. & C. 38:1-4; 76:22-24; John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:1-3; Moses 1; 2; 3.) That he was aided in the creation of this earth by 'many of the noble and great' spirit children of the Father is evident from Abraham's writings. Unto these superior spirits Christ said: 'We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell.' (Abra. 3:22-24.) Michael or Adam was one of these. Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter, James, and John, Joseph Smith, and many other 'noble and great' ones played a part in the great creative enterprise. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 74-75.)
"This earth was not the first of the Lord's creations. An infinite number of worlds have come rolling into existence at his command. Each is an earth; many are inhabited with his spirit children; each abides the particular law given to it; and each will play its part in the redemption, salvation, and exaltation of that infinite host of the children of an Almighty God. The Lord has said that his work and glory is to bring to pass immortality and eternal life for his children on all the inhabited worlds he has created. (Moses 1:27-40; 7:29-36; D. & C. 88:17-26.)
"Such details of the creative process and of the order of events in it as have been revealed pertain only to this earth. (Moses 1:35.) In the temple we receive the clearest understanding of what took place and how it was accomplished. Abraham has left us an account of the planning and decisions of the Creators 'at the time that they counseled among themselves to form the heavens and the earth.' (Abra. 4; 5.)
"In the books of Moses and Genesis we have revealed accounts of the actual physical creation of the earth. The 2nd chapter of Moses and the 1st chapter of Genesis give the events which occurred on the successive creative days. (Ex. 20:8-11.) Then the 3rd chapter of Moses and the 2nd chapter of Genesis—by way of interpolation, amplification, and parenthetical explanation—recount the added truth that all things were created spiritually 'before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.'
"There is no revealed account of the spirit creation, only this explanatory interpolation that all things had been created in heaven at a previous time. That this prior spirit creation occurred long before the temporal or natural creation is evident from the fact that spirit men, men who themselves were before created spiritually, were participating in the natural creation. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 72-78.)" (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., pp. 169-170)
Things which are seen were not made of things which do appear] A difficult and obscure passage? Not really. Paul is simply saying that created things were not made of or by "things" which are seen. That is: All created things, this earth and all that is thereon—all things were and are made, not by man's power, not by some undirected forces of nature or of the universe. There was no happenstance in creation, no chance creation of life in primordial swamps, no development up from one species to another by evolutionary processes. The creation was planned, organized, and controlled. It came by God's power—by faith! It came by a power that does not appear and is not seen and understood by the carnal mind or the scientific intellect. The creation is God's doing. Things came into being by forces which do not appear to man and can in fact be known only by revelation. And as God created all things by faith, even so his created handiwork can be known and understood only by that same power, the power which is faith.
(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 3: 193.)
Richard Lloyd Anderson on Faith and Endurance in Hebrews:
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). The main points from a shelf of commentaries are in the footnotes to the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible. Translations favor "assurance" for "substance," because the Greek term means "foundation" or "reality." Through faith one acts on realities that are not present. Paul's second idea parallels the first—faith operates like evidence to make one sure of things not seen. The Gentile apostle used the word faith forty times in Romans and thirty-two times in Hebrews, the two books in the New Testament that lead all others in using this term. Paul alone describes how faith works, and he gives occasional definitions; these, of course, throw light on his Hebrews' definition. In this earth we "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7) because the great realities are beyond this life. Faith perceives these "things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). Since the gospel teaches how to prepare for eternity, faith points to the future. It is synonymous with hope: "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope. . . . But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it" (Rom. 8:24-25). The key to Paul's definition in Hebrews 12:1 is the confidence of faith plus what it looks to: "Things hoped for . . . things not seen."
But what is the difference between blind confidence and faith? That is one of the lessons each person was sent to earth to learn. What is the difference between a workable or fanciful plan in business or engineering? As it unfolds, there are indications and trends. In religious faith, the Holy Ghost is the source of spiritual confirmations, and the Savior promised finding by seeking (Matt. 7:7-8). Blind confidence in an untruth is shown by the Book of Mormon analogy of the infertile seed that no amount of good treatment can make grow (Alma 32:21-43). Operational faith is the focus of the scriptures—knowing the plan of salvation to prepare for an eternal future. Thus, faith is not primarily an intellectual but a creative process. Paul signals that at the outset of Hebrews 11 by an example of the divine use of faith: "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear" (Heb. 11:3). A bridge or a building is drawn in detail before a beam or board is erected. Reality comes after the creative vision. So faith lies behind all actions, linking the inner image with working power to bring it about.
The divine act of creation leads Paul's long list of great results from faith. And it blends with the great sacrifices that faith inspired. Did faith make such deeds automatic? Is God-infused faith the basic principle from which "good works spontaneously spring"? That phrasing contradicts profound human experience, for significant actions come from both planning and courageous follow-through. "Spontaneously" hardly describes the sustained spiritual choices that ignore persecution for the truth. Abraham was the model for faith in Romans and Galatians, and he is the central example of faith in Hebrews. He first appears in Hebrews 6 to show the double formula for salvation as Paul asks the Hebrews to become "followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb. 6:12). "Patience" here is the spiritually sturdy word "endurance" (hupomone), already discussed in connection with grace in Romans. Paul leaves no doubt about a second condition for God's approval; after Abraham's faith in God's "promise," Abraham "obtained the promise" only "after he had patiently endured" (Heb. 6:15). Here the last words are literally "after long-suffering."
When Hebrews 11 resumes this subject, the same testing of faith appears for Abraham. He was "called" by revelation but proved his faith because he "obeyed" (Heb. 11:8). Abraham's faith was "tried" in the case of Isaac (Heb. 11:17). Here Hebrews brings together Romans and James, something that Luther treated as impossible. In Romans Paul quoted the Genesis record that Abraham "believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). But this verse and Paul's explanation have an important context. The childless patriarch had just been told that his descendants would be as innumerable as the stars, and he had the faith to believe that revelation. In a general sense Paul denies that Abraham was "justified by works" (Rom. 4:2), as he speaks of the patriarch's trust in that particular revelation: though aged, he doubted not "the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith" (Rom. 4:20). But did Paul think that God's blessings would continue if Abraham had disobeyed afterward? As just noted, Hebrews says that the "promise" was obtained by Abraham's "endurance" and "long-suffering," his works which followed faith. Whereas justification tends to be unitary in Protestant theology, it comes in two stages in Paul's thought, even in Romans. God's initial approval comes when a prophet or convert responds with undoubting faith, but final approval is strictly conditioned on the successful testing of that faith. The first approval of Abraham appears powerfully in Romans 4, whereas the testing of Abraham's faith appears in Hebrews 11. James speaks bluntly of this second stage in saying that Abraham was "justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar" (James 2:21). Hebrews uses the identical example of the test of faith (Heb. 11:17). Since Romans 4 talks strictly about Abraham's call before Isaac's birth, the beginning of Romans 5 fits Hebrews by teaching the testing of faith.
As seen in discussing Romans 5, that chapter begins with Paul's "ladder of salvation": after faith come trials; trials met successfully bring endurance; endurance results in a tested character. That major theme appeared early in Hebrews—Christ learned obedience through suffering and thus became "the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Heb. 5:8-9). And stress on "endurance" introduces and concludes the great chapter on faith in Hebrews. Reviewing his early theme (Heb. 4:14), Paul insists that "confession" or "profession of our faith" is not enough (Heb. 10:23). It must mature into "love and to good works" (Heb. 10:24). Repeating the warning of Hebrews 6 against the unpardonable sin, Paul calls to mind the converts' early testing, when "you endured a great struggle with sufferings" (Heb. 10:32, NKJB). They indeed had faith, but they would not receive "the promise" without something else—"you have need of endurance" (Heb. 10:36, NKJB). Here again is the moral quality of persistence (hupomone), usually translated "patience" in the King James Version. This quality enabled Jesus to face his detractors and the cross itself (Heb. 12:2-3); with his determination in mind, Paul exhorted, "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1, NKJB). Thus, the great epistles of faith are also great epistles about endurance, for none will win the contest by faith alone.
Hebrews calls everyone to faithfulness who has sealed his faith and repentance through authorized baptism and received the Holy Ghost by the "laying on of hands" (Heb. 6:1-3). Without watchfulness the Saints could "fall short of the grace of God" (Heb. 12:15, NKJB), a warning so critical that it is repeated in modern revelation (D&C 20:32-34). Like most letters of Paul, Hebrews closes by asking for worthiness for salvation, not by a single act but by an active lifetime of keeping God's commandments. If good works spontaneously spring from faith, Paul would not command them again in every letter. Only determined faith in Christ will bring about good works; only the faith of sustained effort will bring salvation. Thus, Hebrews closes by stressing self-control and service to God and fellowmen. Sexual relations are honorable only in marriage (Heb. 13:4). Selfishness must be eliminated by avoiding covetousness (Heb. 13:5) and by showing the gospel love that all the apostles emphasized (Heb. 13:1). Twice Paul asks the Hebrews to obey their priesthood leaders (Heb. 13:7, 17), for Christ's words come through the apostles and those appointed by them. There was indeed a new priesthood in the new Israel of the Early Church. And like the summation of the Sermon on the Mount, the point of hearing is action, for Paul prays that God will "make you perfect in every good work to do his will" (Heb. 13:21).
Ancient Israel stood on holy ground near the mount of God's presence, and Paul's imagery speaks of present spiritual powers through the historical events of Exodus 19. Then God said of his people, "Israel is my son, even my firstborn" (Ex. 4:22). The "church of the firstborn" (Heb. 12:23) uses the plural in that last term, showing that the faithful Saints will be beloved in heaven just as is the Son, for whom firstborn is generally reserved in the New Testament. Christ's favored status is exclusive, but not his sonship, for he told Mary that he ascended "unto my Father, and your Father" (John 20:17). Just as Romans and Galatians teach the fatherhood of God, so Hebrews shows the relationship of mankind to "the Father of spirits" (Heb. 12:9). He trains his children to spiritual maturity through challenges and difficulties. The restored gospel teaches the reality of Paul's testimony that men and women are God's "offspring" (Acts 17:28). Like Jesus, our heritage is in heaven, if we will learn in faith and live to be worthy of it.
(Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 224 - 225.)
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