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Relationship to Section 93. The relationship of Verses 93:21-40 to the rest of Section 93 is discussed at D&C 93.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 93:21-40 include:
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- D&C 93:21. This verse marks a decided shift in the revelation. Before this point, the revelation works through part of "the record of John," concluding with the promise that the Saints can travel a path not unlike the one Christ is said to have followed in John's account: "For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace" (verse 20). Marking the textual break and transition to a new discussion is this verse's "And now, verily I say unto you." Of course, at the same time, there is a good deal of thematic continuity. The largest change in tone seems to be that now it is Christ Himself talking "autobiographically" about what before only John had talked about by way of testimony. In the end, this block of text beginning with verse 21 seems to continue through verse 40.
- D&C 93:23. After the not entirely surprising content of verses 21-22, verse 23 introduces what must, to the Saints in 1833, have been a real theological shocker: "Ye were also in the beginning with the Father"! These words make up, importantly, the earliest reference in Church history to the idea of a premortal existence. The language of course refers back to verse 21: "I was in the beginning with the Father" is parallel to "Ye were also in the beginning with the Father."
- Next, though, verse 23 suddenly becomes grammatically obscure (if not incoherent): "Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth." What is happening with the last two clauses of verse 23? They might be taken as qualifications of "the Father" ("the Father, namely, that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth."). Or perhaps they might be taken as the beginning of a new sentence that never gets off the ground ("That which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth—And truth is, etc...."). Or again, they might be connected grammatically with verse 26 ("That which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth—and truth is, etc....—Getting back to the Spirit of truth, it is of God. I am the Spirit of truth").
- D&C 93:24. It seems likely that verses 24-25 are a kind of aside meant to clarify "the Spirit of truth," introduced in verse 23 and returned to in verse 26.
- D&C 93:24: Modern reading. From a modern philosophical perspective, this verse might be read as defining truth as a type of knowable proposition that is true in the past, present and future. A problem with this reading is that verse 30 becomes very difficult to make sense of: in what sense can propositional truth be said to "act for itself"?
- D&C 93:24: Knowledge. Another way to read this verse is to consider truth as a way of relating to things. The very mention of the word knowledge seems to suggest something more than a propositional-type definition. If truth can be understood as a proposition, what does it have to do with knowledge? Knowledge here seems to imply, even emphasize, the knower of the truth. The Hebrew word for knowledge, yada, has a relational connotation which is most obvious when sexual relations are described as knowing someone ("in the Biblical sense").
- D&C 93:24: Things. The word "things" here seems to emphasize the specific as opposed to abstract nature of the knowledge being described here. This may be related to the distinction between "all things . . . compound in one" vs. "one body" in 2 Ne 2:11. In this sense, the plural form of "things" is important: truth is not knowledge of one thing, but a knowledge of a plurality of things that, according to Lehi, are "compound in one." At any rate, the word "things" gets a good deal of play in uniquely Mormon scripture. (It is interesting, for instance, that by far the most common way of referring to the Book of Mormon, within the Book of Mormon itself, is with the phrase "these things.") But the word appears so often that it is difficult to pin down any kind of consistent definition—it seems to be an all-purpose word. Here, there is no necessary implication that "objects" or even "substantial things" are meant. That said, it is important that the word "things" appears here, since it ruptures what might be taken to be a knowledge of "the past" or "the present" or "the future" as some kind of abstract historical schema. Whatever it means to say that truth is knowledge, it is clear that it is not knowledge of "the past," for example, but knowing of "things as they were." It is significant, also, that there is no triple repetition of the word "things." It is apparently not that truth is a knowledge of "things as they are" and of "things as they were" and of "things as they are to come," as if one could classify things in three distinct categories (present things, past things, future things). Rather, "things" appears only once, and truth is a question of knowing those things according to all three temporal modes. Whatever comprehensiveness is at work in truth/knowledge, it is a comprehensiveness of the things (triply) known more than it is a comprehensiveness of the (triply distributed) temporal horizon in which things to be known fall.
- D&C 93:24: As they are, as they were, and as they are to come. This description seems to echo the progressive "grace to grace" description of the Son of God's obtaining a fulness in previous verses. In this sense, truth seems to be a knowledge that relates to things in the past in the present and the future, not the way the knower may wish things to be, but the way things "really are" (cf. Jacob 4:13). In this sense, it seems that things can act upon the knower independently of the knower. Perhaps it is in this way that sense can be of the notion in verse 30 that truth can "act for itself." Moreover, it is interesting that all three modes of temporality appear here. Only four other passages in scripture seem somewhat similar to this passage, but none of them includes all three modes. (In 2 Ne 6:4 and Jac 4:13, only the present and the future are mentioned; in Mosiah 8:17, only the past and the future are mentioned; and in D&C 5:13, only the present is mentioned. It is possible also that there is a connection with Rev 11:17 and Rev 1:8; in these two passages, all three modes of temporality are present, but the wording is less like the present passage.) At any rate, there seems to be something more comprehensive at work in the present passage than in other similarly worded passages. Another curious detail is the order of the modes presented. Why present, then past, then future—especially when Western moderns are more likely to expect past, then present, then future? If the ordering is significant, it is possible that truth is a question first of knowing things as one experiences them in the present, then of tracing these things into the past, and only then of seeing how these things look out onto the future. Yet another curious detail: the verse does not actually have a strict distribution of present, past, and future. The present and past are couched in terms of being ("things as they are"; "things as they were"), but the future is couched in terms of coming ("things as they are to come"). More strictly, the future is couched in terms of being to come. It thus entangles itself with the present: the future is a question of things "as they are to come." There is, here, no strong notion of "knowing the future," but of knowing things both "as they are" and "as they are to come," as if there were two ways of knowing things "as they are." (Notice the difference here from Jacob 4:13: "it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be.")
- D&C 93:24: As. Why is truth a knowledge of "things as they are/were/are to come" and not simply a knowledge of "what is/was/is to come" or of "the present/past/future"? Or again, why is truth not a knowledge of "things that are/were/are to come"? Why this "as" structure in the definition? This structure introduces a minimal gap into the things known, keeping them from complete self-identity. It signals, perhaps, that there is nothing like an immediate knowing of things: things have to be known as something, even if that something is their being (as they are). Things—whatever those things are—can only be known as they are. It perhaps follows that truth is dialectical, that it is always mediated, never a question of self-evidence, always worked out in an unfolding through which things pass through various "as-stages" until one comes to know things as they are/were/are to come. It seems, in other words, that things can be known as they are not, or perhaps must so be known on the way to knowing them as they are. If there is no "knowing the thing itself," then one must work through so many "things as x" on the way to knowing "things as they are." Of course, this suggests that it is necessary to ask what is meant by being here. Westerners are inclined to read "things as they are" to mean something like "the essence of things." But this is already problematized by the triple are/were/are to come business: it is not that one is simply to come to know things as they really are or as they are eternally/atemporally; one is to come know things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come. Though it may at first seem like the dialectics of the previous paragraph means that there is a process of learning before one comes to "essences," that the "as-stages" are so many mistaken moments on the way to learning what really is the case, there may be reason to read this passage otherwise.
- D&C 93:26. This verse marks an important departure from what was said in verses 1-20. Though this verse apparently quotes from the same record of John, nothing before was said about Christ receiving "a fulness of truth," only "the fulness" plain and simple (see verses 12-14) and "a fulness of the glory of the Father" (see verse 16). It seems, then, that Christ here introduces still more of the record of John than can be found in verses 1-20. (It should be noted that verse 18 included a promise that "if you are faithful you shall receive the fulness of the record of John.")
- Crucially, though, while verses 1-20 never have John say that Christ received the fulness of truth, they do have John say things about the Spirit of truth (see verses 9 and 11). Unfortunately, though, neither of the earlier passages clarifies the meaning of the phrase "the Spirit of truth."
- D&C 93:28. Given the larger claims made by this revelation (or, at least, in verses 1-40), verse 28 seems to lay out the pathway for human beings that lies parallel (but is also folded within) Christ's own already-traveled pathway to the fullness. It makes four very interesting moves: (1) truth comes only through "keeping his commandments"; (2) truth is paired with light; (3) truth is said to be something in which one "is glorified"; and (4) glorification is made to be a question of "know[ing] all things."
- D&C 93:29: Intelligence. Apart from an obscure reference in Daniel, the only appearance of the word "intelligence" in scripture before this point is in D&C 88:40: "For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence." (The word would become central to the Book of Abraham, but Joseph wouldn't be looking at that project two years after section 93 was given.) What few instances of the word are to be found in Joseph Smith's pre-1835 letters and diaries are all pretty banal ("intelligence" meaning either "information about goings on elsewhere" or "mental capacity or ability"). Webster's 1828 dictionary gives the following definitions in the following order: (1) "Understanding; skill." (2) "Notice; information communicated; an account of things distant or before unknown." (3) "Commerce of acquaintance; terms of intercourse." (4) "A spiritual being; as a created intelligence." Note that the first two of these definitions seem to be the standard ones usually employed by Joseph before 1835. And of course note that the last definition, obviously the one at work in the translation of the Book of Abraham, is strikingly contradicted by the passage in D&C 93: "A spiritual being; as a created intelligence"; "Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be." In the end, it seems best to take "intelligence" here to follow something like Webster's first definition. (The fourth is intriguing, but the revelation does not speak of "an intelligence"; only of "intelligence.") Something like the first definition, at any rate, seems to be implied by the clarification of the term offered by "or the light of truth."
- D&C 93:29. Suddenly, with verse 29, the revelation becomes strikingly abstract—abstracted, that is, from the concrete dialogical voice that otherwise characterizes verses 21-40. This can be sensed simply by comparing "Man was also in the beginning with God" here in verse 29 with "I was in the beginning with the Father" (verse 21) and "Ye were also in the beginning with the Father" (verse 23). The personal pronouns have been replaced with "man," and "the Father" has been replaced with "God." This abstraction continues through about verse 39 (with verse 40, there is a return to the wonted conversational tone: "But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth"). Is there anything besides a rhetorical difference between verse 23's "Ye were also in the beginning with the Father" and verse 29's "Man was also in the beginning with God"? The change perhaps makes clearer in retrospect that the "ye" business of verse 23 addressed the earlier statement to a specific group of people, not to whoever happens to read the revelation—and that the addressed group of people are in some sense privileged because they were in the beginning with the Father rather than, more abstractly, with God.
- Much more difficult is the statement about intelligence. There are two difficulties here (in addition to the clarification of "intelligence" in the lexical notes above): (1) What is to made of the shift from "light and truth" to "light of truth"? (2) What does it mean to say that intelligence "was not" and indeed cannot be "created or made"?
- The first question calls for two obvious interpretations. On the one hand, the light in question might be taken to be something like an effect of truth, as if truth brings with it a kind of light. On the other hand, the light in question might be taken to be instrumental in the process of receiving truth, as if light opens up a space for truth. Thus, it seems, the light in question could come either before or after truth. That the passage (a) equates "the light of truth" with "intelligence" and (b) goes on to say that "intelligence"/"the light of truth" cannot be created suggests that the "before" interpretation makes the most sense: it isn't at all clear why the revelation would bother to make a claim about the non-createdness of a light that comes after truth. It would seem, in short, that intelligence is, in this verse, something that opens up a space or otherwise paves the way for the reception of truth.
- Second, to claim that intelligence cannot be created or made means what? It should be noted that verse 33 goes on to say: "For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy." Latter-day Saints tend, perhaps, to read this latter passage as a kind of revelatory reference to Newtonian physics: nothing comes from nothing. Perhaps such can be read into the word "eternal," but there is a real gap between "neither created nor destroyed" and "eternal"—and there is thus a gap between verse 33's "eternal" and verse 29's "was not created or made, neither indeed can be." Indeed, there is no claim in verse 29 that intelligence cannot be destroyed, only that it cannot be created. Thus, whatever verse 33 means when it says that "the elements are eternal," there is no such claim in verse 29. Of course, whether that means that intelligence can be destroyed is an open question, so far as verse 29 is concerned.
- Taking the whole of verse 29 together, one seems to have something like the following. To say that "man was also in the beginning with God" is, apparently, to say that "intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be." Whatever it means to say that human beings were with God in the beginning—whether, that is, this should be interpreted in "individualistic" terms or in "collective" terms—the point is simply, it seems, that the very enabling light of truth could not have been produced. Whether human beings somehow "come into" that light or not, that light was always, apparently, there. At the very least, the intelligent part of humankind was in the beginning with God.
- D&C 93:30. This verse makes three "claims" that must be dealt with. (1) "All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself." (2) Apparently "all intelligence also" is of the same nature. (3) Crucially, if things were "otherwise," then "there is no existence."
- There are several difficulties at work in the first "claim." (a) How is the "all" of "all truth" to be interpreted? (b) What does "independence" mean here? (c) What does "sphere" mean in this connection? (d) What is truth such that God can "place" it? (e) What does it mean to say that truth can "act"? (f) What does it mean to say that truth can "act for itself"? (g) How is independence connected with what I'll loosely call agency?
- Perhaps the fact that the same statement can be made about intelligence ("as all intelligence also") is a clue to interpretation. In verse 29, it is made clear that "intelligence" cannot be created. Verse 30 thus suggests that God does something with an already existent intelligence, placing it in spheres so that it can act for itself. In terms of intelligence, this idea is not terribly surprising. That God would take this apparently uncreated intelligence, place it in spheres and so render it independent, and thus set it up with a strong notion of agency—that seems, at least in some sense, to describe the creation of human beings. Should something like the same picture be simply translated over into the question of truth? That is, is one here to assume that (i) truth is uncreated/uncreatable; (ii) God distributed truth into differentiable "spheres"; and (iii) truth was thus given some kind of agency?
- Still more crucial is the fact that intelligence and truth, each apparently uncreated and each undergoing a kind of distribution among "spheres," are more closely connected, in light of verse 29, than verse 30 seems to suggest: "intelligence" is the "light of truth." The picture provided in verse 30, then, is one in which God distributes among spheres both the light of truth and then truth itself, this double distribution allowing for the possibility of some kind of (active!) engagement between the two. To some extent, this is a reinterpretation of the creation: it was, it might be said, first and foremost a question of this double distribution. "Otherwise," apparently, "there is no existence."
- (D&C 93:31 is interesting on this account, because it seems to suggest that human agency is bound up within this complex entanglement between truth and intelligence—and it seems that condemnation is a question precisely of the uniquely human capacity to reject intelligence.)
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Prompts for further study
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- D&C 93:30: Truth is independent. Can truth be neutral? Does no one control it? Does it stand on its own? Is it never relative?
- D&C 93:30: Sphere. Why does truth lose its independence outside of certain realms? Does that mean it is not absolute?
- D&C 93:30: Placed. Does truth not exist until God introduces it? Does this mean truth is whatever God says it is? Does God have the power to determine what is truth?
- D&C 93:30: Act for itself. How can truth act? Is this verse saying that truth can act? If so, in what sense can truth be understood to act? Does truth have agency because of what it shares in common with intelligences?
- D&C 93:30: There is no existence. Should this verse in combination with Alma 42:22, since they both discuss how a violation of divine nature leads to death?
- D&C 93:31: Agency. Is this verse saying that people have freedom to choose because of the intelligence that is within them? Has that intelligence been independent enough to give us agency even when we were not enticed by evil, notwithstanding what 2 Ne 2:16 says? Why is the word agency found only in latter-day scriptures?
- D&C 93:31: Condemnation. Is it our words, works, and thoughts that will condemn us (see Alma 12:14), or is it declining to admit light into our soul that will most definitely damn us?
- D&C 93:32: Receive not the light. If "whatsoever is light is Spirit" (D&C 84:45), then is the opposite also true? If so, how does a human spirit that is made of light repel the very substance from which it is made?
- D&C 93:36: What exactly is the "glory" of God? How is it related to intelligence, light, and truth? Does this have something to do with eternal intelligences as seen by Abraham?
- D&C 93:31: What is truth as used here? How might it be related to light?
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- D&C 93:29: Eternal intelligence. See the blog post Infinite Intelligences? by Paul Manning (guest blogger) at Millenial Star.
- D&C 93:30-31: Truth and agency. See "The Shape of Agency" by Clark at his philosophical Mormon Metaphysics blog.
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