When I wrote How Often Would I Have Gathered You, I added the subtitle “Stories from the Old Testament and Related Sources for Latter-day Saints.” Since then, many have asked what that subtitle means and why I would limit my stories to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those are both good questions, and I will attempt to give an acceptable answer.
First, I will say that the stories are for anyone who wishes to read them and not just for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The stories are told in a straightforward style that will be familiar and meaningful to anyone who loves the Old Testament. The main difference between these stories and non-Latter-day Saints stories (if there are such) is in the use of what my subtitle refers to as “related sources.” These stories have been drawn from the King James Version of the Old Testament, and they are consistent with that version of the Bible. However, because I have used other “related sources,” the perspective of the stories is broadened and I have been able—in some of the stories—to provide a clearer, more insightful, view of Old Testament meanings. In essence, these “related sources” enable us to view some parts of the Old Testament through high-definition spectacles.
These related sources include other ancient writings: the Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, and the books of Moses and Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, both of which are in a compilation Latter-day Saints refer to as The Pearl of Great Price.
I have also used information provided by Flavius Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, as well as various Old Testament commentaries in order to add background and clarity. There are many references to (as well as explanations from) these related sources in the footnotes of the book. In these footnotes, I have attempted to clarify most of the differences between my stories and what is written in the King James Translation. One other thing I have done, that some “purists” have criticized, is to draw some understanding of various stories from the accounts of the same events as they are retold in the New Testament. My feeling is that any source I can use that might add perspective to the reader’s understanding of a story was important to use. I felt this approach was valuable and that it adds to our understanding—that it is more helpful than limiting the story to only what the Old Testament says. This proocedure seemed to be more consistent with my purpose in writing the stories.
There are cases where an entire story (or significant parts of a story) comes from one or more of the other sources mentioned. In those cases, there is usually no mention of that fact in the footnotes, but any other sources I have used are clearly identified at the top of the story, just below the title.
One example of a difference in my stories is the understanding by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the Great Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ are the same being. The Biblical scriptures to support this identity are outlined in the article on this page entitled “Christ and the Old Testament.” In that article, I have also included some Biblical references to clarify the Latter-day Saint understanding that Jesus Christ and God the Eternal Father are not the same personal entity but two separate personages—though certainly one in unity and purpose.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also believes that God does not change—that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (see Malachi 3:6). In keeping with that belief, the Church contends that the gospel taught by Jesus during his earthly ministry was the same gospel taught to Adam and to all the ancient prophets and patriarchs. The Law of Moses, which was a lesser law, was given to a people who had been in bondage for more than 400 years and were not prepared to live the fullness of the gospel—the higher law. The Law of Moses was, as the Apostle Paul tells us, a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (Galatians 3:24). With His infinite Atonement, Jesus Christ fulfilled that lesser law.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also believes that all things, including mankind, were created spiritually by our Father in Heaven before they were created physically upon the earth—that we, as His spirit children, lived with God in a spiritual existence prior to our earth life. This eternal existence of mankind has been likened unto a three-act play with the three acts comprising our pre-mortal existence, our mortal earthly existence, and our existence after mortality. For those who come into this second act (mortality) with no understanding of the other two acts, the purpose behind this second act—and of the entire play—is very hard to comprehend. In fact, it makes no sense at all.
Just as the Lord told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5), so it was with each of us. Jehovah also hinted at this pre-mortal life when he asked Job, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hast understanding… Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7, emphasis added).
God is the father of our spirits. As Paul wrote, “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:9).
This also helps us understand Paul’s declaration, when he told the Athenians on Mars hill that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:26-28, emphasis added).
Though the Latter-day Saints do not accept poetry as the basis for our doctrine, one of the poets of our own time has insightfully written:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
(From “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth)
There are unique Latter-day Saint teachings besides these reflected in How Often Would I Have Gathered You. It is not my intent to impose those teachings on anyone who has difficulty accepting them. But my hope is that the doctrines, as reflected in this book, will provide a perspective that will help others to better understand the glorious doctrines taught and understood by the Latter-day Saints. These doctrines are not taught by the Latter-day Saint because they are found in the Bible—though they are indeed found there—but because God has revealed them to a living prophet in our day as part of the restoration of Divine truth.
The Old Testament: understand it, love it!