Abr 3:1-21

From Feast upon the Word (http://feastupontheword.org). Copyright, Feast upon the Word.
Jump to: navigation, search

Home > The Pearl of Great Price > Abraham > Chapters 3-5 > Chapter 3 > Verses 3:1-21
Previous page: Chapter 3                              Next Page: Verses 3:22-28


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This section should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Relationship to Chapters 3-5. The relationship of Verses 3:1-21 to the rest of Chapters 3-5 is discussed at Chapters 3-5.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 3:1-21 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Abr 3:1: And. That this verse begins with "and" marks its continuity with the event recorded immediately previous to it: the Lord's commandment to Abraham to call Sarah his sister before the Egyptians. The "and" perhaps also ties this grand revelatory experience to what might be called an entire series of revelations beginning with the very first verses of Abr 1. If the immediately preceding revelation--as well as the explicit statement of the Lord in Abr 3:15--is any hint as to the character of these revelations, then they might best be understood as a series of revelations preparing Abraham for his sojourn in Egypt (the events of which are not recorded in the Book of Abraham as it now stands, though there may be a hint of at least one such event in the representation of Facsimile no. 3). In short, Abraham 3 is a revelation preparatory to Abraham's stay in Egypt.
It should be noted, however, that this "and" does not immediately connect the previous revelations to a revelation; rather, the revelation does not begin until verse 3, coming through the mediation of Abraham's own work with the Urim and Thummim. Accordingly, one must read verses 1 and 2 as a brief description of some guesswork on Abraham's part (this would concord with a statement found in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers--this statement may be found on page 144 of the Joseph Smith Commentary on the Book of Abraham, which can be downloaded here for free--that the names and natures of certain heavenly bodies were "sought out by the most aged of all the fathers, since the beginning of the creation, by means of the Urim and Thummim." If this statement is to be taken seriously, then it appears that Abraham, using the Urim and Thummim, was trying to sort out the nature of the heavens on his own while traveling.
  • Abr 3:2: Stars, Revelation of John. That Abraham is watching the stars on his journey is no incredible surprise: this detail seems to be implied already in Abr 2:16 (see commentary there). In his attempt to understand the stars through the Urim and Thummim, Abraham develops a sort of preliminary approach: he reads all of the stars as gathered about "the throne of God," some at some distance, other "near unto it," these latter being "many great ones." This preliminary approach seems to set the stars against something other than a star, the throne. In other words, Abraham regards the heavens first as a question of stars gathered in relative orders at varying distances from a (central?) throne. If Abr 1:31 may be read as suggesting that Abraham draws a careful distinction between planets and stars, then Abraham would here be considering only the patterns of stars as they appear in the night sky. Though it is not clear how, it is clear that what Abraham here sees is somehow connected with the vision that opens Rev 12, where John sees stars (even constellations) gathered together in a drama that has something to do with the throne. Whatever Abraham's preliminary reading of the night sky, it is clear that he has some sort of picture of things before the Lord begins to instruct him in verse 3.
  • Abr 3:3: Kolob and government. The largest apparent difference between Abraham's preliminary reading of the heavens and the Lord's first instruction on the matter is the identification of a particularly overarching "great one," which the Lord names for Abraham: Kolob. This selection of one among the many might well parallel the events recorded in Abr 3:22-28. Perhaps more significant still is the fact that by introducing Kolob, the Lord introduces the concept of government among the stars. This concept seems to have been entirely missing from Abraham's reading in verse 2. Though he clearly was attempting to read the stars in relation to one another, he did not yet understand that there was any sense of government among them. Kolob is introduced as a governing star, and it is set in the midst of a number of other governing stars.
  • Abr 3:4: Urim and Thummin. This verse reintroduces the Urim and Thummim into the story, and then it seems all over again to drop out entirely. This detail suggests this verse be read against all other statements by the Lord to Abraham throughout the chapter: what is so different from the content of the Lord's statement through the Urim and Thummim from everything else the Lord says? The answer is quite simple: an actual "reckoning"--as opposed to general statements about reckoning--is provided in this verse, and nowhere else in the chapter.
  • Abr 3:4: Reckoning time. Before any analysis of what this reckoning (1 day = 1,000 years) means can proceed, it would be well to understand the word itself. Its manifestations in the KJV are almost universally (except when it is a question of reckoning by genealogy, which hardly seems to be the question in Abraham 3) a translation of (in Hebrew) hshb and (in Greek) logizomai, words roughly parallel to each other. hshb in modern Hebrew has come to be the common word for "thinking," meaning most literally in the ancient language "to weave together" or "to impose an order onto something." logizomai means to give a logos, a logic, to something, again "to impose an order onto something." To reckon is, biblically speaking, to engage some "thing" already in existence in such a way that it comes to a new arrangement, to a new order. It is, as it were, to weave an interpretation into the thing itself, to think it. In Joseph Smith's time, "reckoning" had some emphasis on numerical order, though it might be used more broadly in the biblical sense already explored. At the very least, "to reckon" seems justifiable to be understood as "to think an order into something."
Given this meaning for the word "reckoning," it becomes somewhat clearer what is being said in verse 4. The Lord provides Abraham with His (the Lord's) own reckoning: "after his manner of reckoning,..." "This is the reckoning of the Lord's time." It seems, then, that the Lord presents Himself as a thinker, as a "reckoner," who imposes order on things (is the meaning of creation?), one who imposes a logic, even a logos (see John 1:1) on things. Perhaps only hinted at in this verse, though made explicit in the following verses, is the point that the Lord's reckoning is different from that of men. The phrasing in verse 4, however, suggests that these several reckonings are provided by the Lord, not invented by the men who think: "the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest [meaning Abraham]." This point is clearly connected with a question and its answer in D&C 130:4-5. There the question is asked if one's reckoning is not according to the planet ("that whereon thou standest") on which one resides. The simple answer: "Yes." Reckoning has, apparently, a great deal to do with relative location.
It is certainly difficult to make explicit or clear what much of this is meant to imply (see the above note on the event-ness of this chapter), but at least one implication seems to be the following. Thinking, ordering, understanding, engaging, etc., all seem to be very tied to one's bodily existence. If one's body is dust, derived from the earth (as the meaning of adam attests), then it is apparently the case that man thinks the world--all things--through the earth, through the dust, from "that whereon thou standest." If Abraham 3 goes on to introduce a whole string of places whereon one might stand, it is introducing so many standpoints, bodily locations, realizable viewpoints.
On a more obvious level, the fact that Lord reckons time as a multiple of our own reckoning suggests a view of God less different than ourselves than one which sees God as entirely out of time.
  • Abr 3:13: Shinehah. Shinehah is the single word preserved in the Abraham record which has a modern correspondent to our current understanding of the Egyptian language. The word can be divided into 'shine', meaning round/encircling, and '-hah', a suffix meaning forever/eternal. Hence the word can be variously interpreted as eternally round, eternal round, round forever, etc. The suffix was also often used by the Nephites in proper names.
  • Abr 3:15: Purpose of the revelation. It appears here that the Lord provides Abraham with a reason for these revelations. Though Abraham records them at length in his record (see the commentary at Abr 1:28), it is explicitly clear here that these revelations were for Abraham's later sojourn in Egypt. Apparently, Abraham was not to share the records of the fathers to the Egyptians as a proof of his lineage, but rather to demonstrate to the Egyptians his own prophetic office by "reasoning upon the principles of astronomy" (see Facsimile no. 3).
  • Abr 3:16. Obviously a key term here is the word "therefore," but it is—at least at first—rather difficult to make sense of. At the very least, it implies that "Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam that thou hast seen, because it is nearest unto me" is somehow shown or implied by "If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them." But whatever this relation of showing or implication is, it is hardly clear. The difficulty is only heightened by the break in context effected by verse 15: the Lord seems to have brought the conversation to an end, or at least to have shifted subjects drastically. This thrusts the reader of the present verse—and Abraham when he actually heard it—into the task of interpreting the verse more or less without help. Hence, the best approach to this difficult verse would be to take each part up separately, and then to see how the one might point the way to the other as a kind of consequence, so as to work within the confines of the verse itself.
From the very start, the phrasing is somewhat difficult. What, for example, does "things" mean here? And what does it mean to say that one is "above the other"? And all of this must be interpreted according to the rigorous logic of an if-then statement: "If (1) two things exist, and [if] (2) there be one above the other, [then] (3) there shall be greater things above them." Thus, even within the first part of this complicated verse, there is something of an implication at work. Now, according to the strict rules of logic, an if-then statement does not describe things in the world (concretely), but relations between things in the world (abstractly). That is, the conditional "if" here does not suggest that there are two things existing (perhaps that is already presupposed), but it thinks about what such existence would necessarily entail: if any two things existed in some kind of hierarchical relation, then greater things would be above them in a still broader hierarchical system. In short, the first part of this verse is saying that the existence of two things (which obviously must be taken in the most abstract and undefined sense, more like variables than anything else) in a hierarchical relationship necessarily implies the existence of another thing in that same hierarchical spectrum.
The reasoning at work here is, admittedly, foreign. In one of his last discourses before his death, Joseph Smith made reference to this passage, calling this a kind of "reason": "I want to reason—I learned it by translating the papyrus now in my house—I learned a test. [testimony] concerning Abraham & he reasoned concerning. [concerning] the God of Heaven—in order to do that sd. [said] he—suppose we have two facts that supposes that anotr. [another] fact may exist two men on the earth—one wiser than the other—wod. [would] shew that antr. [another] who is wiser than the wisest may exist—intelligences exist one above anotr. [another] that there is no end to it." If what one must do in interpreting this verse is to make sense (to make reason, ultimately) of this "reason," then how does this "if" imply this "then"?
One way to interpret all of this is to suggest that Abraham's (and Joseph's) logic here reads into things only two possible states of affairs: that everything is either one or many. In fact, the logic of this passage might be read as suggesting that reality can never ultimately be a duality: two things always, somehow, imply a fully infinite multiplicity. Perhaps this logic can be connected up with D&C 76 and especially with Joseph's teachings, just before his death, that there are infinite degrees of glory in the heavens: the duality of heaven/hell itself implies or somehow entails the reality of so many different degrees of glory.
But it still remains unclear how this is to imply anything about Kolob as "the greatest." The second half of the verse needs, then, to be analyzed next. The phrase, "Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam that thou hast seen" seems pretty clear: Kolob is the greatest of all of the stars, quite straightforwardly. But emphasis should probably be placed on the phrase, "that thou hast seen." The implication seems to be that Kolob is not to be regarded as the greatest of all stars that may possibly be in existence anywhere, but that Kolob is the greatest of all the stars Abraham had been shown. In a sense, this seems to suggest that there is some kind of set of stars somehow defined by Kolob's government, and these are the Kokaubeam Abraham has witnessed.
But more still, because the verse goes on to root this label of "greatest" in nearness: "because it is nearest unto me." Again, there is a kind of logic at work within this second half of the verse, just as there was in the first. If the first part of this second half of the verse places an emphasis on a limited set that Abraham has witnessed (thereby implying that there are stars beyond sets of stars), this second part almost points away from the stars entirely! The verse certainly sounds as if the Lord is at some absolute, star-and-planet-less point in space, to which point Kolob is the nearest celestial body. But obviously, the verse itself calls for a more careful reading: the verse itself does not pretend to address the question of God's location, but rather the ground of Kolob's greatness within a certain set of stars. That is, the verse only mentions the location of the Lord so that Kolob's place relative to the Lord becomes the mark of its greatness or its governing position.
In fact, once one looks quite carefully at the language, one sees that the verse does not require the Lord to be planet-or-star-less at all: "that thou has seen" may just as well be applied to "it is nearest unto me" as it is to "of all the Kokaubeam." That is, "Kolob ... is nearest unto me" specifically "of all the Kokaubeam that thou hast seen." Again the limitation is a question of the set of stars Abraham is given to see, and Kolob is the greatest star that Abraham has seen, and that greatness is connected with its nearness to the Lord.
At last, it is necessary to draw the two halves of this verse together, to take a look at the curious logic at work here. The logic of the first half of the verse (the existence of two things in a hierarchical relationship implies an infinity of hierarchically ordered things; the only two options are monism or infinitism) somehow implies ("therefore") the logic of the second half of the verse (Kolob's nearest-ness to the Lord among a particular—revealed—set of stars marks its relative greatness). Perhaps the best way to read this "therefore" would be to suggest that the emphasis of the second half of the verse is on the fact that Kolob is only the greatest within a particular set: the hierarchical nature of the set implies that there is something beyond it (the verse mentions at least the Lord as being beyond), though the set is all that Abraham is being given to understand as of yet. In other words, the logic of the first half of the verse implies that there is something beyond everything Abraham has seen (something beyond Kolob, which he already recognizes as the greatest of the stars he sees), and the logic of the second half of the verse draws from that implied beyond-ness that the greatest-ness of Kolob derives from what lies beyond it, not from its relative greatness among the stars Abraham can see. To put things quite simply: Kolob's greatness derives from its relation to what is above it, not from its relation to what is below it. In other words, greatness is here marked as a (personal?) relation to the above rather than a (comparative?) relation to the below. In a sense, this shifts the burden of government to the concrete from the abstract: Kolob's greatness within a given set (or even system) is not a function of its position within the system (which would be, ultimately, an abstract power), but of its relationship to something beyond the set or system (a concrete relationship to something outside the system). Kolob's relations within the set are essentially governed by its relations without the set: Kolob at once constructs and deconstructs the set of stars in light of its concrete nearness to a personal being (the Lord).
  • Abr 3:17. The "Now" with which this verse begins breaks the terse logic of the former verse, but precisely by confirming it. The verse immediately concretizes (and therefore confirms) the logic of the first half of verse 16: two implies infinity. However, there are some differences at work here that need to be worked out. Perhaps the most important difference is the collapse of necessity here: "it may be." Whereas in verse 16 it appeared that two necessarily implied infinity, here it seems that the infinity is not necessary but only possible. But no sooner is necessity demoted to possibility than the seemingly misplaced second half of this verse imposes itself as a point of clarification: the possibility is all that is, at least logically, implied, but "the Lord thy God" will always and unfailingly realize that possibility. In a sense, this verse seems to call into question the necessity of logic generally: logical implications or relationships of necessity point, in the end, not to abstract laws of being but to the faithfulness of a God who "will do" all He "shall take in his heart to do." The implication (if one can so speak in light of the meaning of the present verse) of all of this is that infinity is, speaking quite strictly, a realized possibility rather than a necessity, and that infinity is realized precisely by the radically faithful "Lord thy God."
The point of this verse is, then, remarkable, because it amounts to a kind of radical relativism: infinity itself depends on the faithfulness of the Lord, and not on some kind of eternal natural laws. And if this conclusion is linked up with the relationalism explored in the last paragraph of the commentary on verse 16, there might be some rather fruitful work to be done. The two points: systematicity is at once brought into existence and canceled by relationship to the Lord, and infinity itself is predicated upon the faithfulness of the Lord. Taken side by side, these two points might be read to articulate the two sides of a lord-servant relationship: the servant's relationship to her lord is infinite only in the (graceful, excessive, giving) faithfulness of the lord to the servant; and the lord's infinite faithfulness establishes and disestablishes the systematic autonomy of the servant (provides her with something that is her own and yet swallows up that ownership inasmuch as the lord is lord). At the very least, something here is articulated about the nature of hierarchical relationship.
  • Abr 3:18. This wording of this verse clearly suggests that it is picking up from the previous verse: "Howbeit that he made the greater star." The phrase is somewhat archaic today, but its meaning is quite clear: "notwithstanding that he made the greater star." That is, this first phrase seems simply to be confirming what was said about the above verse, that the infinity implied in the hierarchical relation of two things points to the fact that the greater planet/star is a realized possibility in that the Lord in His faithfulness created it. But the burden of this verse is ultimately the remainder of it.
The short "as, also" bit introduces what is at work in the remainder of the verse: the logic of two=infinity is about to be extended to another sphere, that of "spirits." The language of greatness therefore gives way to the language of intelligence: "if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other...." However, as soon as this first half of the logic is introduced and one is expecting to hear the obvious conclusion that there will be another more intelligent still, the flow is disrupted with the word "yet." But before looking at that disruption, it would be worth looking carefully at the word "intelligent." The word had, in Joseph's day, the same basic meaning it has today, though perhaps without such a sense of privilege about it: an intelligent thing was something "endowed with the faculty of understanding or reason." In other words, intelligence is probably best read here as referring to a kind of potential or capacity, a being's ability to know.
But, as mentioned, the logic is disrupted with a rather shocking revelation—a revelation that has had nearly infinite repurcussions in LDS theology: though the hierarchy of planets and stars was created ("he made the greater star"), "yet these two spirits ... have no beginning." And here the full weight of the "notwithstanding" to be found in the verse should be felt: the revelation is admittedly shocking, and it would seem, at first at least, to contradict what one already understands. This performs a retroactive interpretation on the logic of the previous two verses. The wording makes this clear: "yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning." The hint is that the hierarchical relation should imply a beginning or a creation. The shocking revelation here, one that requires the Lord Himself to place a "notwithstanding" in the middle of His presentation of the idea, is that among spirits there is a "natural," an "eternal," hierarchy of intelligence.
One should notice, then, that while there is a continuity between the stars and the spirits here, there is also a radical break between them, and two different senses of infinity are being explored. That is, the stars are not shown to Abraham so that he can come to understand how they are like spirits, but precisely how they are not like spirits: planets and stars are created, but intelligences are not created. And hence, there are two very different senses of infinity at work here. On the one hand, there is an infinity that derives from the infinite grace of the Lord, and this infinity is related to His gracious work of creation. On the other hand, there is an infinity that simply is, in itself, there, apparently without beginning or end: this infinity outstrips even the Lord, as these intelligences quite simply are.
It is curious, in light of all of this, that verse 18 never moves towards an infinite number of spirits (though verse 19 does). It seems to be primarily concerned with articulating the relationship between two uncreated and uncreatable spirits. Here one might notice a double parallelism that provides the contours of thinking about the uncreated existent:
these two spirits ... have no beginning
they existed before
they shall have no end
they shall exist after
This language is interesting in a number of ways. For one, beginning is parallel to end, and before to after, even as beginning is quite obviously paired with before and end with after. But precisely in these several relations, the meanings of beginning and end are delimited in a curious manner: "before" seems to fix "beginning" as an event, just as "after" seems to fix "end" as an event. In other words, it is not that these spirits are simply existent in some abstract sense, but they existed before the beginning and shall exist after the end: they are related to—might be thought in relation to—events (the "beginning" and the "end"). But this calls for further thinking.
Really, the difficulty raised by this verse (how something apparently non-temporal can be thought according to the temporal) can be thought through several different parts of the verse. It might be thought from the point of view implied in the "notwithstanding": how is it that there can be gradations of intelligence among "eternal" spirits? It might also be thought from within the double parallelism: how is it that something "eternal" relates to events, or how does an "eternal" entity fix the temporal location of events? And it might be thought in terms of the curious translation at work at the end of the verse: how does "eternal" translate "gnolaum," or how can the Western/Indo-European category be imposed upon the Hebrew/Semitic category? In the end, each of these several approaches deserves careful attention.
The logical weight of the "notwithstanding" can be felt to suggest that the hierarchy of spirits should point to a creative hand in this business. That is, that "one [spirit] is more intelligent than the other" suggests that something has been done to the several spirits so as to order them in some manner. If the "notwithstanding" to some extent diffuses these implications, it does not entirely do away with them: the spirits themselves may not be created, but their relative levels of intelligence may well be evidence of some imposition or influence from a higher being. That is, though they are not created as spirits, they are somehow manipulated, so that they become arranged in a hierarchy. In other words, the "notwithstanding" can be said primarily to point to a clarification of hierarchical arrangement: at least in the case of spirits (and apparently not in the case of planets/stars?), ordering is an imposition upon something already there, already substantial, already "existent." One must admit that this sounds a great deal like the LDS "doctrine" of creation broadly, one that seems most clearly to emerge in the two chapters to follow. This tension deserves careful attention, but perhaps should be taken up within the bounds of those two subsequent chapters.
The double parallelism affords further thought. At the very least, one can recognize a kind of contradiction at work in the language of the double parallelism: if spirits "have no beginning," how does it make sense to speak of them "exist[ing] before"? And again, if "they shall have no end," how can one speak of them "exist[ing] after"? To deny the spirits a beginning or an end would seem to excuse them from being involved in the very concept of evental temporality. But the verse applies to them the language of this temporality with its attribution to these spirits of a "before" and an "after." As suggested above, one might understand the language to suggest a relation of fixing at work here: the before-ness of the spirits essentially fixes whatever might be called a beginning, just as the their after-ness essentially fixes whatever might be called an end. But other possibilities remain. One might suggest that "they existed before" and "they shall exist after" should be referred to the hierarchical arrangement described in the former part of the verse. On this reading, which matches up well with the implications of the "notwithstanding," the spirits are said to exist before the imposition of an order, and they will apparently exist after that hierarchical order comes to an end (which would have interesting implications). Another way to read them is to suggest that "before" and "after" simply refer to "now" or perhaps to "earth-life" broadly: spirits were before and will be after the world. In this regard, it is perhaps worth asking how Abraham would have heard this entire discussion. From within the context of the Ancient Near East, he would not likely have understood the word "spirit" the way that a modern Latter-day Saint does! He might have understood it to have reference to the animating aspect of a human being, but he also might have understood it to have reference to gods and demons more broadly (Joseph Smith had enough to say about this subject that a studious Latter-day Saint might well read it this way too!). In fact, it may be that Abraham will be quite surprised to find out a few verses later that the spirits under discussion here turn out to be the eternal aspects of so many human beings he has encountered. At any rate, it is clear that this little double parallelism imposes some of the greatest difficulties of interpretation on this verse.
In the end, though, it may be that the interplay of Hebrew and English here frustrates interpretation still more radically. In light of D&C 19:6-12, it is already difficult in LDS scriptures to know how to take the word "eternal." This is only compounded by a rather complex history of interpretation, among Hebrew scholars, of the word "gnolaum" ('lm). Were it not for the sheer difficulty of thinking these two words—and especially their interrelation in the work of translation—this last part of the verse would be the simplest: spirits are finally given a simple predicate here. But interpretation is ultimately quite difficult here. On the one hand, one is inclined to erase these difficulties and to take up the simplest reading of "eternal," since it seems to follow from the "no beginning... no end" business. But it is certainly significant that Joseph (or perhaps the original author) interrupts any such simplistic approach by using a Hebrew transliteration that is then translated into English. One is ultimately stopped short by the presence of the Hebrew word here, since it seems to call into question any straightforward interpretation of the English "eternal." So how should the word be approached here?
Realistically, translation is at the heart of the issue. The presence of the Hebrew might be regarded as a disruption in the overly simplistic reading of the English here: "eternal" does not quite capture the meaning here, but it is the best translation for "gnolaum." But even this is an overly simplistic view, since Joseph claimed to be translating Egyptian papyri. The locution here, then, is to interweave three languages: the Egyptian is translated with a Hebrew word, which is then translated with an English word. One is immediately reminded of the explanations of the facsimiles, where Joseph explains the figures by interweaving Egyptian ("the Egyptians called this...") and Hebrew ("answers to the Hebrew..."), while giving explanations or translations of these terms in English. How is one, in the end, to make any sense of this? Would it be best to turn to Egyptian to seek out an understanding of Egyptian concepts of eternity? Would it be best to involve oneself in the broad history of interpretation of Hebrew concepts of time? Would it be best simply to ignore all of this, taking up the most straightforward meaning of the word "eternal" in English? Is there some way to combine all of these approaches responsibly? Or is there some other reason that so many languages intersect at this one point, this one most important point? Does the very idea of translation somehow open up what is at work here? In a sense, these six words are the most difficult to interpret in the whole of the scriptures.
It is certainly significant that all of this difficulty centers on what has been regarded quite generally as the cornerstone of Mormon theology: the idea that spirits are eternally individual and separate entities. Here where the stakes are the highest, interpretation becomes nearly impossible. Every simplistic approach to the nature of the spirit, to its eternality, to its independence and/or relation to God, ultimately underinterprets this verse, and any theology built on such a reductionistic reading will ultimately be unjustified. In a sense, Mormon theology as a whole can be said to begin with the questions asked in the last paragraph: how is one to understand what is happening in these verses?
  • Abr 3:18: Gnolaum. See the Hebrew word `olam which is most commonly translated "for ever" in the KJV Old Testament. It comes from a root meaning "hidden or concealed." Joseph Smith transcribed Hebrew with Sephardic pronunciation, hence the rendering of the letter `Ayin as "gn".
  • Abr 3:19: The intelligence of God. After all of the above, the Lord Himself asserts the same logic that applied to planets, though without the implication, it would seem, about the faithfulness of the Lord: "two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other" implies a third, "another more intelligent than they." The full-blown assertion of this logic is predicated on the straightforward "These two facts do exist," that is, there are two spirits in a hierarchical relation, and so the logic follows. But this assertion is perhaps expected. Interrupting the satisfaction one feels at this statement, however, is the final part of this verse, perhaps the second most difficult phrase to interpret in LDS scripture: "I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all."
The absoluteness of the statement is breathtaking. Whereas the interrelations of planets and stars were placed within a set that was at once established and discontinued by the relation of the "greatest" within the set to the Lord Himself, there is no talk here of sets at all. There does not seem to be any hint at all of a "most intelligent" of the ones seen, of the set experienced or known about. The Lord puts Himself into the picture, quite simply, as the most intelligent of all spirits. This absoluteness, in the end, seems to conflict with common Mormon theology on many accounts: the picture of an eternal (whatever that means!) string of gods stretching forever and ever is not implied in this verse, and the Lord's place in anything like that picture is not derivable here. Hence, another almost uninterpretable phrase: "I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all."

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Prompts for life application[edit]

This section is for prompts that suggest ways in which a passage can influence a person's life. Prompts may be appropriate either for private self reflection or for a class discussion. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Prompts for further study[edit]

This section is for prompts that invite us to think about a passage more deeply or in a new way. These are not necessarily questions that beg for answers, but rather prompts along the lines of "Have you ever thought about ..." Prompts are most helpful when they are developed individually, thoughtfully, and with enough background information to clearly indicate a particular direction for further study or thought. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Abr 3:18: How should we interpret the teaching that spirits are eternal in light of LDS teachings about spirits being conceived by Heavenly Parents?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Verse 3: Kolob. See "Kolob as Sirius" by Kevin Barney at the BCC blog for a discussion of various theories on the meaning/etymology of the word Kolob (viz. klb = dog star = Sirius, or qlb = center).
  • Verse 19: Eternal nature of spirits. Some of the greatest teachings about the eternal nature of spirits are found in Joseph Smith's 1844 King Follett discourse.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



Previous page: Chapter 3                              Next Page: Verses 3:22-28