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Relationship to Section 128. The relationship of Verses 128:6-18 to the rest of Section 128 is discussed at D&C 128.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 128:6-18 include:
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This verse builds on the ideas introduced in verse 5, and so some of the ambiguity of the previous verse is retained here. Is "this very subject" referring specifically to the salvation of those who "should die without a knowledge of the gospel" or more generally to the salvation of the dead and perhaps how this relates to "the book of life"?
The situation, apparently, in Rev 20 is the final judgment, after the wrapping up of the earthly events, at the time of a new heaven and a new earth, etc., etc. It is specifically the dead who stand before God while "books" are opened. At the same time, another "book" is opened, namely, the "book of life." There seems quite clearly to be here a reference to the one record versus the many records: the one book corresponding to the general book, while the books being opened--not the book of life, but these other books--correspond to the many books in which so many records are kept.
When John says that "the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books," it is not obvious whether books here should be read to include the book of life or not. On the one hand, it may be that the "the book of life" has no direct bearing on the judgment of the dead, but pertains only to the living. In other words, "the book of life" might be taken as a book for the living--at the time of the wrapping up of all things, while the books (many records) are the books that contain "the record of their works," the works of the dead. In short, at the judgment, there may be two separate kind of books for the judgment to be performed: there will be a "book of life" for the living, and so many "books" for the dead, and the judgment will proceed with them. On other hand, the gathering of the many books into the one book described above (cf. verse 4) suggests some sort of important relationship between the many books and the single book (the book of life in this case). Joseph elaborates on this in the subsequent verses.
Joseph points out explicitly that "the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books" rather than "the book of life," emphasized by the word "but." He explains matter-of-factly: "consequently, the books spoken of must be the books which contained the record of their works, and refer to the records which are kept on the earth. In other words, so many books are precisely earthly books, and the earthly books are tied to the dead. He goes on to explain that there is also "the book which was the book of life," and that it "is kept in heaven." The idea of the one book is that it is not an earthly record at all, but a record kept in heaven. And now there seems to be a clue given as to why Revelation has been quoted: so many books, with their records, must have their legitimate records transfered into the heavenly book, into the book of life, so that the dead might be saved from death. The contrast between the judgment of the dead with the book of life suggests that resurrection seems has something to do with what is written in the book of life. Once the records are transfered, there seems to be the implication that the dead will no longer be dead, no longer be without their names in the "book of life," or the "book of the living."
Joseph then goes on to point out that all of this agrees precisely with what he had written in section 127: "that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven." The particularity with which the ordinances must be performed and recorded has something to do with this ability to transfer the records from the books of the dead on earth into the book of the living in heaven, and all of this precisely for the resurrection of the dead. All of this seems to reflect back onto verse 5 a resolution of the ambiguities there: the ordinance prepared from the foundation of the world seems precisely to be the ordinance of recording on earth and so recording in heaven. But, again, this is still rather vague: that there is simply an ordinance of writing in two places or witnesses testifying that something has been performed does not seem to be such a shocking thing. If the dead are judged by the "records which are kept on earth," then the book in heaven might be taken as somewhat superfluous, at least without further explanation.
Joseph explains quite clearly that the nature of the ordinance is a question of the priesthood, or at least of its power--and that by the revelation of Jesus Christ. This power is "that whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" and vice versa. Joseph then offers a different "translation," substituting "record" for "bind." It should be noted that Joseph does not offer a corrected translation here, but "a different view of the translation." That is, he suggests that "to bind" might just be "to record," or that the two are somehow intertwined or connected. This explicit connection between writing and priesthood at once simplifies and complicates things greatly. On the one hand, the question becomes far simpler: the possibility of transferring a record from the books to the book is a question of the priesthood, the binding power that allows for the books to be tied together with the book. On the other hand, it seems a strange thing to suggest that the power of the priesthood is itself confined to the act of writing, rather than to acting (since the ordinance is performed by the speaker, not by the one who takes down a record of the event).
This growing difficulty becomes still more difficult with the latter part of the verse. It seems simple enough that the dead are to be judged according to their works whether they have performed them or some other, but now when Joseph mentions "the ordinance which God has prepared for their salvation from before the foundation of the world," the reference does not seem to be the book/books business, but rather the ordinance of baptism for the dead. That is, since Joseph explicitly mentions the distinction between attending to ordinances on one's own and receiving them by proxy, it seems clear that the ordinance being referred to in the final phrase is the ordinance of baptism for the dead. But then it is not quite clear that that is what is referred to: any ordinance performed in proxy is going to require the same transfer or translation as does the tying together of the books and the book. That is, what seems to be at the root of both questions, whether of work for the dead or of transferring records, is the ability to transfer or translate. At this point, the apparent equivalence between "bind" and "record" becomes somewhat more curious: might the baptism of someone living as effected for someone dead be called a sort of translation or a transfer? The ordinance and preparation set up before the foundation of the world for the salvation of the dead seem to have been more directly tied with this business of translation or transfer, with this question of binding through recording or recording through binding that is at work in these verses. One must admit that the language is rather difficult to work through.
The relationship between the several books and the single book of life which began in verse 6 here begins to be fleshed out more carefully. In verse 7, the relationship was merely claimed, and by a reference to a rather vague phrase in the previous letter/section: "that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven." The "it may be recorded" of this earlier statement is now strengthened: "whatsoever you bind[/record] on earth shall be bound[/recorded] in heaven." The relationship, then, between the many books on earth and the single book in heaven seems, through the priesthood, to be absolute. Thus, although it might seem to be a bit unnecessary to have the book in heaven open if judgment is based on the books on earth, in fact it seems this relationship between heaven and earth is key to what Joseph is saying in this letter.
If the book of life is only written upon or altered by power of the priesthood, an implicit question to consider might be whether sins are recorded in the book of heaven. Ordinances are the only thing that seem to be discussed in terms of what is written in the book of life, so perhaps we are only justified in thinking about something like a list of names being written in the book of life of those who have received ordinances by the power of the priesthood. If this is the case, then perhaps the description of the book in heaven as the "book of life" is telling: it only records the names of those who will be granted life in heaven.
The next verse only complicates things more, since the priesthood becomes there a question of doing something "in authority, in the name of the Lord." In other words, it is to write (to be an author or to have author-ity), and to do it "in the name of the Lord," that is, apparently, as the Lord, or as a proxy for Him. There seems to be at work in every priesthood ordinance a sort of translation: the person performing the ordinance is transcribed as Christ, as the Lord, acting and speaking in His name, and hence, acting as if Him. What makes it a law (a lex, a written or read thing) is precisely this translation of oneself and the fact that there is "kept a proper and faithful record of the same." There seems to be a proliferation of writing references throughout this business, and it becomes more and more complex--even as it becomes simpler and simpler--with every word.
However, the point of verse 9 is not to explicate the priesthood further so much as it is to lessen the shock of the doctrine: this "may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of," but it is the same thing ever given when the priesthood is given. And it is "according to the decrees of the great Jehovah." The language is quite clear that this is as shocking as can be, but it perhaps should not be. In other words, this all amounts to a complete rereading of the scriptures, and that is why it is as familiar as possible and yet the most shocking thing of all. Verse 10 will offer just such a rereading explicitly.
This verse seems to state that "the ordinance of baptism for the dead" existed before the "ordinance of baptism by water" for the living, which was then later "instituted to form a relationship" with the previously existing baptism for the dead. This adds even more detail to D&C 128:5, where we read that baptism for the dead was ordained before the foundations of the world. As baptism symbolizes death and rebirth, baptism for the dead is an ordinance created to both makes possible and forshadows the resurrection of those who die without hearing the gospel. According to the timeline given here, baptism for the living would have been instigated at a later date to allow the living to also receive this forshadowing. Baptism for the living and the dead are not the only priesthood ordinances that serves as a physical foreshadowing of future events and blessings (cf. Alma 13:2).
This verse makes it clear that fathers and children cannot be saved without each other, and that this ordinance of baptism for the dead was instigated to allow children to save their fathers, and perhaps for fathers to also save their dead children. The themes outlined in this section clearly relate baptism for the dead to other patriarchal priesthood practices outlined in Moses 6:1-5.
- "Heart of the fathers." The earliest quotation of this scripture is in Malachi 4:6. There, as here, the word "heart" is singular. The scripture is also referred to in 3 Nephi 25:6, where "heart" is also singular: "the heart of the fathers." On the other hand, in Luke 1:17 and D&C 27:9, 98:16, and 110:15, the quotation is plural: "the hearts of the fathers."
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Prompts for life application
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Prompts for further study
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- This ordinance? Two ordinances are mentioned at the beginning of this verse--baptism by water and resurrection (for more info on resurrection as a priesthood ordinance, see below). Which of these ordinances is the one that was "instituted to form a relationship with the ordinance of baptism for the dead?
- Form a relationship? What might the Lord mean when he says that the ordinance of baptism by water (or resurrection?) was instituted to "form a relationship" with the ordinance of baptism for the dead? Does this indicate that baptism for the dead (or resurrection) existed before baptism for the living? Why might such a relationship have been desirable?
- Key of knowledge. What does the phrase "key of knowledge" mean here? In what sense is knowledge related to the sealing power? How does this help us understand the nature of knowledge?
- Is it significant that Malachi refers to the heart (singular) of the fathers rather than the hearts (plural) of the fathers? (See the lexical notes for this verse, below.)
- There must be a welding link between the fathers and the children or the earth will be cursed. Given what the scriptures teach about binding, record, priesthood, etc., what might one say about the nature of that welding link?
- If we understand the nature of that welding link, what might that say about our relations to our children and our parents? to our history? to our culture?
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- Resurrection is a Priesthood Ordinance. This was taught by President Brigham Young (Journal of Discourses, 15:137-139) and then reaffirmed by President Spencer W. Kimball in an April 1977 General Conference Talk.
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