Gathering God’s Words to “All Nations”: When, Where, How, and Who Cares?

March 10, 2008
By

VishnuAt a recent General Conference, Elder Oaks reiterated the Book of Mormon prophecy that “the Lord will eventually cause the inspired teachings He has given to His children in various nations to be brought forth for the benefit of all people.” [1] So inquiring minds may want to know: when, where, and how will God’s words to “all nations” be brought forth and gathered? Fortunately, I just happen to have all the answers. :)

Okay, that’s not true at all. But I do have a few ideas, and I’d love to hear yours. In my previous post on this topic, I discussed the Book of Mormon’s declaration that we live in a world full of divinely-inspired messengers in “all nations,” whose various writings will one day be “gathered in one.” [2] So here are my burning questions and tentative answers about this unusually universalist-sounding doctrine and prophesy.

How will God’s words to “all nations” be “gathered in one”?

As far as I can tell, there are three possibilities:

1. These hidden books of scripture will be dropped into our laps without any effort on our part when the returning Lost Ten Tribes or City of Enoch bring them to us.

2. The world is full of hidden divinely-inspired records that will one day be discovered and translated by prophets or scholars (e.g., the Gold Plates and Dead Sea Scrolls).

3. God’s words to all nations are already right under our noses, but we haven’t yet recognized them for what they really are.

Personally, I believe in a combination of theories #2 and #3, but lean more heavily toward theory #3. In fact, I believe many of God’s words to all nations can already be found gathered together in the “Spirituality” section of Barnes & Noble, Borders, or any major bookstore. They are known as the Dhammapada, Tao Te Ching, Bhagavad Gita, and a host of other names, and are already regarded as holy writ by many nations of the world.

But how can Mormons possibly believe that non-Judeo-Christian scriptures represent God’s word to other nations? Don’t they teach false doctrines like reincarnation and polytheism?

Our Eighth Article of Faith tells us that a book does not have to be pure and flawless to be considered the “word of God.” Mormons already believe the Bible is missing “plain and precious truths” and contains mistranslations that we believe mislead many Christian denominations to believe in “false doctrines.” And the Bible Dictionary even tells us that one book in the Bible, the Song of Solomon, “is not inspired scripture” according to Joseph Smith. Moreover, the Title Page to the the Book of Mormon acknowledges that book may contain the “mistakes of men.” Yet none of these man-made interpolations and flaws prevent us from recognizing the Bible and Book of Mormon as the “word of God” to the Israelites and Nephites.

Likewise, the fact that non-Judeo-Christian scriptures reference reincarnation and deities that Mormons do not recognize does not render those books completely devoid of God’s word. It seems logical that to the extent a non-Judeo-Christian book of scripture contains the same principles found in the Standard Works, Mormons should recognize those portions as God’s words. “For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have.” [4]

By the same token, to the extent a non-Judeo-Christian book of scripture conflicts with the Standard Works, it seems logical to assume those portions are man-made additions, like the Song of Solomon in the Bible. But those interpolations of man should not cause us to ignore the broad overlapping messages of the Standard Works and non-Judeo-Christian books of scripture. In fact, the broad overlapping messages contained in the Standard Works and non-Judeo-Christian scripture demonstrate to me that God has indeed spoken the “same words” to “all nations,” as declared by the Book of Mormon. [3]

But even if non-Judeo-Christian scriptures contain some or many of the same truths as our own scriptures, why should we bother studying them if we already have the “fullness of the Gospel” in our Standard Works?

Perhaps the best answer to that question is another question: If we already have the “fullness of the everlasting gospel” in the Bible, as stated in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon, then why do we need the Book of Mormon? If we have the Gospel of Matthew, then why do we need the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John? If we have the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, then why do we need a repeat performance in Third Nephi? If we have David’s Psalms, then why do we need Nephi’s Psalm?

It seems that if two or three witnesses establish God’s word, then are not the witnesses of five, ten, fifty, or even a hundred other nations an even more powerful testimony of the great overlapping truths found in all nations’ books of scripture? Does not each additional testimony from each nation provide another valuable, beautiful perspective of the same eternal truths?

But isn’t it dangerous and potentially misleading to read non-Judeo-Christian scriptures because they contain some false doctrines?

It is no more dangerous and potentially misleading than reading any other book, magazine, or newspaper you pick up in any given day. We live in a world where we are unavoidably bombarded by truths, half-truths, and falsehoods every day. But we are expected to deal with that by “putting our thinking caps on,” seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance to discern truth from error, and using the Standard Works as our standard of truth.

Joseph Smith’s evaluation of the Apocrypha provides an excellent example of how we should deal with purported books of scripture that contain a mixture of truth and error. He said that “much of the Aprocrypha was true, but it required the Spirit of God to select the truth out of those writings.” [5] So if we can use the Spirit of God to select the truth out of the Apocrypha, we ought to be able to do the same with non-Judeo-Christian scriptures.

Does this mean our 4-in-1 scriptures are going to become 186-in-1′s?

No. We probably won’t ever see non-Judeo-Christian scriptures canonized for the same reason the Apocrypha hasn’t been canonized. The Apocrypha may contain truths, but apparently it is not true enough to be used as a “standard of truth” like the Standard Works. The same reasoning probably applies to non-Judeo-Christian scriptures, which contain many truths, but also some false doctrines from the Mormon perspective.

Moreover, I have a feeling we won’t be getting any additions to the Standard Works until the Brethren feel we have taken full advantage of the scriptures we already have. More than 150 years after the Book of Mormon was published, Ezra Taft Benson told Church members “that God is not pleased with our neglect of the Book of Mormon.” [6] So I may be going out on a limb here, but I doubt the Brethren’s feelings have changed enough in the last 24 years to be feeling antsy about officially expanding our canon of scripture.

However, a lack of canonization should not prevent us from developing a practice of studying, appreciating, and quoting non-Judeo-Christian scripture in our sermons and lessons. In fact, the overwhelming majority of what Mormons already study and quote is not canonized: General Conference addresses, church manuals and curricula, Ensign articles, etc. For example, we haven’t added anything to the canonized Doctrine & Covenants since 1978, and the most recent addition before that was in 1890.

Moreover, we have been commanded to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom,” and to “become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.” [7] Accordingly, there is already a long established practice of quoting non-canonized works by C.S. Lewis, Wordsworth, and a host of others in General Conference to the extent their words echo the Standard Works. Would it not be appropriate to likewise quote from Buddha, Muhammad, and others outside the Christian tradition, to the extent their teachings agree with the principles contained in the Standard Works?

So next time you give a talk in Sacrament meeting, or deliver a spiritual lesson at Church or at home, why not quote from any one of the many beautiful non-Judeo-Christian books of scripture, and acquaint your brothers and sisters with the profound truths and goodness they contain. By so doing, perhaps we can demonstrate the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon’s declaration that God speaks the “same words” to “all nations.” And perhaps we can collectively bring to pass Elder Oaks’ reiteration of the Book of Mormon prophesy that, one day, “the Lord will eventually cause the inspired teachings He has given to His children in various nations to be brought forth for the benefit of all people.”

Is it too soon for that day to be today?

(In my next post, I will be providing numerous examples of the beautiful overlapping messages of the Standard Works and Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist scripture.)

Endnotes:

[1] Elder Oaks, Conference Report, Apr. 2006.

[2] 2 Ne. 29:7-14.

[3] Id.

[4] Alma 29:8.

[5] Dahl & Cannon, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, p. 40.

[6] Ezra Taft Benson, “A New Witness for Christ,” Ensign, Nov 1984, 6.

[7] D&C 209:7; D&C 90:15.

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  • Neal

    Andrew, I totally concur. The Dao De Jing is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, yet so many I’ve spoken with view my fascination with all things Daoist or Zen as, well, a bit weird for a Mormon. But certainly there is much truth to be accepted, as Pres. Hinckley encouraged.

  • John Nilsson

    Andrew,

    Nice job here. I’m looking forward to your next post, which will hopefully be a primer on inserting Eastern wisdom into Western talks and lessons.

    For those who prefer a literal fulfillment of prophecy, and in answer to your first question, two BYU professors, Spencer Palmer and Roger Keller, wrote a book called “The Gospel and World Religions” which includes selections from all the major, and some of the minor world religions, thus gathering these words in one. They comment on these traditions from an LDS perspective as well. I took Keller’s class at BYU and loved it.

    You’ve just inspired a post in me for April, Andrew! (Based on my experiences with Professor Keller).

  • Bruce Nielson

    Andrew, it’s interesting that I’ve had a similar thought as this for a while. I am reading the Gita right now. (Well, listening to it, anyhow.) I find it very interesting.

  • http://www.burningbosom.com Andrew Ainsworth

    Neal, yes, I should have used Pres. Hinckley’s quote as well! You’re right on.

    John, the “Gospel and World Religions” book is an excellent one. I think that book is a must-own for every Latter-day Saint. I had Doctor Choi for that class at BYU. He’s a great man and teacher, and after three hours of lecture in a single night, I would continue thinking in a Korean accent for a couple days afterwards. :)

    Bruce, have you gotten to the part of the Gita yet that is depicted by the illustration I included at the top of this post? You’ll have to let me know your thoughts about it when you’ve finished.

  • http://shenpawarrior.blogspot.com AdamF

    I love your ideas in this post. Incidentally, this in one of the aspects of Mormonism that really ties me down to the church–accepting truth from whatever the source. I think there’s a lot of truth and just plain great teaching and wisdom to be found in other religions/philosophies.

  • John Nilsson

    Andrew,

    My wife had Dr. Choi for that class. I better not ask if you two were in the same class…

  • http://www.burningbosom.com Andrew Ainsworth

    John, I took Dr. Choi’s class either Fall 97 or Winter 97/98. And I was married at the time, so I’m sure I ignored her advances. :)

  • John Nilsson

    Andrew,

    That’s around the time she would have taken it. She was unmarried at the time, so I’m glad you did. :)

  • http://www.TempleStudy.com Bryce Haymond

    I believe that there is some truth to be found in all religions. I don’t believe that Mormonism has a monopoly on the truth. I recently blogged about how the Tao Te Ching might have connections with LDS teachings and practices on Temple Study.

  • http://www.burningbosom.com Andrew Ainsworth

    Bruce, thanks for the link. I was intrigued by the Givens quote in which he refers to the Restoration as not being complete yet. That’s my feeling as well, so I was pleased to learn from your post that Givens has the same view. Thanks!