Then answered Jesus saying unto them: Verily, verily, I say unto you: The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. -John 5:19
This is a famous scripture in Brighamite Mormonism within the Latter Day Saint movement, I was always taught growing up that this referred to God the Father once being a human man. Jesus somehow saw the Father live His mortal life, and was doing the same. This idea never fully made sense to me for several reasons, but primarily because I was also taught that Jesus was created as a spirit baby after the Father’s mortality. Speaking to a friend this week I was enlightened to a new way of understanding this scripture and in turn all scriptures.
The Torah & Tanakh
“Torah” is a term that is at times used in reference to all Jewish scriptures. However, it actually refers to the five books of Moses, the key books to which all the Abrahamic faiths owe their scriptural origins. “Torah” (תּוֹרָה) is Hebrew for “Instruction”, “Teaching,” or “Law.” James Strang’s translation of the plates of brass is called “The Book of the Law of the Lord:” the Torah of YHVH.
The Jewish Tanakh is broken down into three groups: Torah, also called the Pentateuch or the “Five Books of Moses;” the Neviʾim, or “Prophets;” and the Ketuvim, “Writings.” These form the largest portion of our Christian Bible. In addition, they give us a clear vision for understanding to to see all of the scriptures.
The Gospels & New Testament
If the Torah is so important, then why do we need any other books of scripture? Why do we need the New Testament? Because the God that gave us the Law came to earth to teach us how to live the Torah by His example. The Torah is the Teaching or the Law, the Gospels are the Teachings or the Law lived.
In braking down the New Testament in the same manner as the Tanakh or “Old Testament,” we see that Acts could be included in the Ketuvim. Technically, Luke and Acts are letters written by the same author, they are very different from the Epistles. The Epistles are letters of wisdom from the early founders of Christianity, mostly Paul; the true founder of modern Western Christianity. These then would be a new category. And the Revelation of St. John would belong to the Neviʾim. Just as the Torah is the key book in the Old Testament, every Christian understands that the Gospels are the key to the New Testament.
The Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon is a very interesting book as it reads more as a novel than what we find in the Bible. Yes, the Bible has many stories that flow into a complex narrative, but really that’s how the entire Book of Mormon reads; as a complex narrative. The Gospel found in 3 Nephi is woven into the narrative. Likewise, so are the Neviʾim and Ketuvim.
This is very convenient as it makes for an easier read than the Bible, and messages can be found faster. Rather than a collection of books like the Bible, the Book of Mormon is a book construed out of many much larger books. Imagine if someone took the Bible and turned it into one, long, flowing story line. This makes the Book of Mormon a natural missionary tract for easily teaching Christianity to new potential converts.
Using the above as a guide, we can see how to fit any other scriptures into the categories of Torah, Neviʾim, Ketuvim, Gospels, Epistles, or various combinations of these. The only exception might be the various versions of Doctrine and Covenants used by many Latter Day Saint denominations, or Doctrines of the Saints as we call them in the Church of Jesus Christ in Christian Fellowship. These are records of the teachings and revelations from modern prophets and apostles that have been accepted as canon by members of the various groups. “Doctrines” then would be the only term to add to our list:
- Torah (Teachings/Law)
- Gospels (Torah lived)
- Neviʾim (Prophets)
- Epistles (Letters)
- Ketuvim (Writtings)
- Doctrines (agreed teachings for a denomination)
As we see, every book of scripture is a commentary on the Torah and the Gospels. And these are weighted; a “Doctrine” for one denomination will not carry the same weight in another denomination. Likewise the words of revelations from the prophets will not carry the same weight as stories or letters. Even the Koran is little more than a commentary on the Torah and the Gospels, explaining these through the eyes of Islam and Mohammad. And all of these exist to teach us the true Law, the essential Torah, Jesus taught us: Love God, love thy neighbors (Leviticus 19:18, 33-34; Matthew 5:43-48, 3 Nephi 4:70-73 RAV, 12:43-48 OPV; Aal ‘Imran 3:64; Al-Baqarah, 2:136-137; Quran 49:13).
“Hear O Israel: YHVH is our Elohim, YHVH is One. Thou shalt love YHVH thy Elohim with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy all.” -Deuteronomy 6:4-5
This scripture is read as a prayer for many Jews and Christians. It reminds us of the Law of Love, the true Law. If we know the Law, we must love our neighbors as all are the creation of God, and to love The Creator is to love the Creation. We cannot understand the Torah, the Gospels, or any commentary on them without understanding this truth.
A friend recently told me that she believes that the Torah IS God. In a sense this is true, because God IS Love, the Torah IS Love, therefore the Torah IS God. The words of the Torah flow to us as a Father, and we, the Children of God, can do nothing of ourselves, but what we see the Father, the Torah do. Why? Because we see the love of the Father, and as His children we do likewise.
Making it Personal
For years now I have given a very simple bit of advice on scripture study: If what you read helps you love God and love your neighbors, that’s God talking to you; if it doesn’t then whatever its message, that scripture isn’t for you, at least not yet. This does make scripture personal, but this new revelation, this new understanding, takes it even deeper. It’s not a love letter from God, it’s a testimony, a witness. Jesus wasn’t saying in John 5:19-24 that He literally saw what the Father had done or was doing. He was saying that He saw and understood the Father in the Torah, the scriptures. Seeing that the Law of Moses was given by YHVH who is Jesus he was saying that he recognized Himself in the scriptures.
This is what WE must do, as we, each of us, are Adam and Eve walking out of the garden and we are Joseph Smith Jr. walking into the grove. Mormonism is a very personal religion because it’s not about us as a part of a greater organization of people. No, it’s about our very personal relationship with God. We come together as a people because in deepening our relationship with our fellow Saints we deepen our relationship with our God. Because He is Love, therefore we too are love.