Heb 12:1-13:25

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This heading is for more detailed discussions of all or part of a passage. Discussion may include the meaning of a particular word, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout the passage, insights to be developed in the future, and other items. 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. →

  • Heb 12:20: If so much as a beast touch the mountain. This seems to be a quotation of Ex 19:12-13.
  • Heb 12:22-24. Joseph Smith returned again and again to these three verses during the Nauvoo era, beginning from one of his earliest recorded discourses in 1839 and continuing right until his last days. The priesthood emphasis he placed on them makes it quite clear that these verses form the "theological basis" for many of the ritual developments of Nauvoo: baptism for the dead, the endowment (as performed there and since), sealing ordinances, plural marriage, receiving the fullness of the priesthood, etc. What is curious about this fact is that these classically Christian verses served as a sort of foundation for what are considered the most unique Latter-day Saint doctrines, the most radically "un-Christian" facets of the LDS Church. In other words, these three verses provide a sort of starting point for understanding Joseph Smith's unique manner of interpretation. The more one looks at how Joseph interpreted and used these three verses, the clearer it becomes that there is a radical difference between "traditional" interpretation of this passage and Joseph's reading of it, but careful investigation also reveals that both approaches are textually justified. That is, both Joseph's reading and the more "traditional" reading are clearly within the bounds of the hermeneutical possibilities bound up within this text. In order to see the range of possibilities--as well as the vastly important role these verses play in LDS "theology"--it would be best to set a more "traditional" approach to these verses side by side with the interpretations of the Prophet Joseph.
A further note about this passage is necessary to its interpretation. The whole of the book of Hebrews is a comparison of the higher and the lower, of the Aaronic and the Melchizedek, of the Mosaic and the Christian, and the present passage is no exception: it is caught up within just such a comparison as well. In other words, these three verses cannot be understood apart from verses 18-21, which sets Mount Sinai against Mount Zion. The comparison is important: Sinai is a "mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire," a place where the Israelites were "intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more," and something so overwhelming and dreadful that even Moses did "exceedingly fear and quake." Over against this is Mount Zion, an exalted gathering of saints and angels. That the present passage is yet another such comparison (and one of the last of them) is vital for its interpretation: this passage--these three verses in particular--rides on all that has already been said about the superiority of the higher priesthood, of the order of Melchizedek, of the Christian powers of rending the veil, of being sealed up to eternal life, of a faith that stretches beyond obedience/law. All of this is absolutely vital, because one comes to a passage here that is already saturated with the very themes Joseph Smith reads into it: the highest and holiest orders and ordinances in the kingdom of God. At the very least, one must recognize the profundity of verses 22-24 even before reading them.
  • Heb 12:22: But. The contrast suggested here by the Greek word alla (but) seems to be referring to verse 18 where "ye are not come" there is contasted here with "ye are come." The main contrast, then, seems to be that whereas mount Sinai "might be touched," mount Zion is something that must be obtained through faith (cf. "not seen" in Heb 11:1).
  • Heb 12:22. Mount Zion (or "mount Sion") had several meanings anciently. It was the designation for the mountain upon which the City of David was built, on the top of which was Solomon's temple. Josephus misidentified a mountain a little to the west as the original site of the City of David (this city has been excavated over the past few decades), and now Mount Zion is the name of the mountain Josephus erroneously referred to. Regardless, it must first be understood that "Mount Zion" referred specifically to the mountain upon which the most ancient city of Jerusalem was built.
However, it is clear here that no "physical" mountain is meant, precisely because "mount Sion" is being opposed to "the mount that might be touched" (verse 18), Mount Sinai. That is, Mount Zion is here something eschatological, something non-earthly. This is confirmed a moment later when the author describes it as "the heavenly Jerusalem." It is clear from this that Jerusalem is precisely what is meant (the city built on Mount Zion in the most literal sense), but that all of these things are to be understood as heavenly, not earthly. In other words, Jerusalem and Mount Zion, etc., are being used here as designators for heavenly counterparts to earthly realities. That is, Jerusalem and Mount Zion are here "spiritualized" or recognized as types of something in heaven. (It might be worth noting that this does not call the passage or the book into question, despite the fact that "spiritual" readings of the scriptures have been often derided among Latter-day Saints: the earthly reality is not at all denied in a "spiritual" reading, but rather its function as sign alters its relation to things and among things on earth.)
Though a whole list of "things" to which "ye are come" is about to laid out, it is clear from the first that there is an order to things here. The first "thing" to which one comes is the mount: long before coming into the company of angels or of God, one comes just to the foot of the mountain to begin to climb. Part of the way up, one passes through the gates of "the city of the living God," coming closer bit by bit to the actual place of God. By the end of this verse, one passes through the outer limits of the gathered throngs of angels, breaking into the heavenly circle. Over the course of the following two verses, one passes through all of these things to stand in the presence of God Himself and Christ with Him. There are some difficulties about the order there, but they must be discussed below.
These several points of passage tie in with traditional Hebrew imagery (or beliefs): upon Mount Zion stands the city of David, the city eventually to be the abode of the Messiah (the King), a place that is heavenly inasmuch as the temple remains central and sacral. If one is able to pass through the veil of the temple (boldy, as implied by the "But" with which this verse starts: not with the fear and quaking of Sinai, but with boldness), one enters into "an innumerable company of angels," what Nephi describes (in discussing Lehi's vision) as "numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God" (1 Ne 1:8). The imagery of this verse, that is, is one of climbing up the sacred mountain and into the very presence of God by coming into His council. There, in the midst of the angels (perhaps through a rite of apotheosis; cf. Isa 6), one is given the opportunity to face God and to dwell in a heavenly place that is, nonetheless, on earth.
If all of these details combine well to make a clear picture of things, Joseph Smith's commentary on the verse only enriches it further by making this picture a temporal as well as a spiritual one. That is, if Mount Zion is here spiritualized, Joseph Smith re-temporalizes it without denying the purely spiritual (or typological) character of the author's intention. Commenting on this verse, Joseph Smith explained that "Dan VII Speaks of the Ancient of days, he means the oldest man, our Father Adam, Michael; he will call his children together, & hold a council with them to prepare them for the coming of the Son of Man. He, (Adam) is the Father of the human family & presides over the Spirits of all men, & all that have had the Keys must stand before him in this great Council." He further explained, "Those men to whom these Keys have been given will have to be there. (I.E. when Adam shall again assemble his children of the Priesthood, & Christ be in their midst) the Ancient of Days come &c &c [note added by John Taylor]) And they without us cannot not be made perfect. These men are in heaven, but their children are on Earth. Their bowels yearn over us. God sends down men for this reason, Mat. 13. 41. & the Son of man shall send forth his Angels &c-All these authoritative characters will come down & join hand in hand in bringing about this work."
Quite simply put, Joseph Smith's interpretation seems to have understood this "coming to an innumberable company of angels, of God and of Christ" business to be a reference to the eventual assembly at Adam-Ondi-Ahman, where the Ancient of Days will sit in judgment and council, Christ will appear, and Adam will deliver up his stewardship. On this reading, the imagery of the verse becomes, even if spiritual, literal as well. Coming up to the mount, but perhaps not climbing it, one remains in the valley where the innumerable company of angels will gather to seal up every key, etc. What seems to have been more important about all of this to Joseph, however, is not where it will take place, or that there is a literal event to be spoken of, but that all of these things amount to a sealing up of the fathers and the children, of earth and heaven, of the temporal and the spiritual, of angels and men, etc. The significance of Adam-Ondi-Ahman is precisely this: heaven and earth become one when the sealing ordinance binds the two, especially in binding the dead fathers to the living sons, sons alive at the coming of the Savior. Whatever else can be said about the present passage, one must keep Joseph's comments in mind.
  • Heb 12:24: Sprinkle blood. This phrase, similar to that used in Heb 9:13-14, seems to be alluding to passages such as Num 19:9, 13, 20, 21, and Ex 24:8. There may also be a reference to Isa 52:15 ("sprinkle many nations" in the KJV, "startle many nations" in most modern translations), but the LXX term used there is thaumasontai, which seems to mean something more like "startle," instead of rhantizo as used here. Although most quotations in Hebrews seem to be more similar to the Masoretic Text than the LXX, it seems there is some evidence that the author of Hebrews was quoting from a pre-Masoretic Hebrew text (see Howard, p. 208).

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"I love the symbolism of women reaching out to touch the Savior. We long to be close to the Lord, for we know that He loves each of us... His touch can heal ailments spiritual, emotional, or physical... Where else would we reach, where else would we come but to Jesus Christ, 'the author and finisher of our faith?'"
  • Heb 12:22. The material quoted in the exegesis for verse 22 can be found in Ehat and Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, in the talk they label "Before 8 August 1839 (1)." The discourse is also online here.
  • Heb 12:24.Howard, George. "Hebrews and the Old Testament Quotations," Novum Testamentum, Vol. 10, Fasc. 2/3 (Apr. - Jul., 1968), pp. 208-216. Howard writes, "It has been popular in the past to begin a commentary or an introduction to the Epistle by stating that the writer always uses the Septuagint version of the OT (sometimes in the form of Codex Vaticanus, but more often in the form of Codex Alexandrius) and never shows acquaintance with the Hebrew. Since the discovery of the Qumran Literature and the impetus given by it to the study of the pre-Masoretic text, it is now probable that the text used by the author of Hebrews is, on occasion, closer to a Hebrew recension more ancient than the Masoretic text)" (p. 208).


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