Monday, September 28, 2015

Isaiah 4:1

Whenever the topic of plural marriage is brought up, it isn’t unusual to hear Isaiah 4:1 cited as a support for the idea.
And in that day, seven women shall take hold of one man, saying: We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach.” — Isaiah 4:1 (compare 2 Nephi 14:1)
The question I have is this:  Does this verse necessarily point to the practice of plural marriage?


Isaiah chapter 4 is not a standalone piece.  The content of the Bible was broken down into chapters and verses to make it easier to reference for religious arguments.  In many cases—such as we find here—a larger document is broken into multiple chapters.  Chapter 4 is a continuation of the content in chapter 3.  Therefore chapter 3 needs to be considered in the context of the opening verse of chapter 4.

Chapter 3 finishes with the Lord speaking directly to the daughters of Zion, in rather sharp words of reproach.  The chapter change occurs when He finishes His remarks to them.  However, does that mean the conversation is over?  Isaiah 4:1 could very easily be understood as the initial response of the daughters of Zion to the Lord, rather than a new conversation with a new guy.  Some would say this is obviously the case.  Which, if that is so, should perhaps paint our understanding of a few points in this verse.

And in that day, seven women shall take hold of one man, saying

If the Lord was speaking to the daughters of Zion, and if this chapter is a continuation of the end of chapter 3, with the daughters of Zion here responding to the Lord’s chastisements, then to whom are they speaking?  When they are “saying” what is said in this verse, to whom is it said?  Are they speaking to this man, of whom they have taken hold?  Or are they speaking to the Lord?  Responding to His having spoken to them immediately prior?

“…take away our reproach.

To what reproach are the daughters of Zion referring?  If this verse is a continuation of chapter 3, then do we not find the reproach in Isaiah 3:16-26?  If this is indeed the reproach to which they are referring, then will marriage to some man remove that reproach?  By taking the name of her husband through marriage, does a woman escape application of this reproach?  Does becoming a wife inherently and necessarily end all “haughtiness,” and “stretched-forth necks” and “wanton eyes”?  The sins specifically named in verse 16, for which this reproach was given?  In other words, is getting hitched to some dude the proper “repentance” to absolve the reproach found in those verses?

…let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach.

When these women ask to be called by “thy name,” to whom are they speaking?  Are they speaking to the same person when they began “saying” something?  Or someone different?  Can adopting the name of any man in this world absolve us of a reproach from God?  Is there any man in this world whose name has sufficient power to remove Divine reproach for sins?  Or must it be another name?  What name has power in this universe to remove the reproach of sin?  

Whose reproach do they want remitted when they say "our reproach"?  Only the reproach of those seven women?  Or could they be speaking representatively for a greater body as well?  Which might also include men?  Men certainly don't escape God's wrath in the reproach (Isaiah 3:25).


Among other things, marriage serves as a symbol for our relationship with the Lord.  This illustration is used frequently throughout scripture.  The Lord is always the husband in these analogies, and His people are represented as His (generally unfaithful) bride.  It is therefore not unreasonable for confusion to arise concerning the taking of a name.  Is this instance referring to the literal taking of a husband’s name?  Or is the marital practice of taking a husband’s name being symbolically reflected in a reference to adopting the Lord’s name?  

When there is this sort of confusion we need to dig in and read the context around what is said, to either clear the matter up or at least give us a better foundational understanding to approach the Lord with and seek an explanation.

As an important aside, some might argue that if Christ is represented as the husband, and the people are represented as the wife, then this paints a picture of plural marriage, as the people are plural and we are taught to model ourselves after Christ, who is singular.  However, there are several problems with this deduction.

For one, while we are to emulate Christ, does that mean we are to understand ourselves in the roles He reserves for Himself in any of His analogies or parables?  Are we also to understand ourselves as the thief coming in the night (Matthew 24:42-44)?  Or the Lord of the vineyard (Jacob 5)?  Or are we to understand Him as filling those positions, while we fill the other roles in His analogies?  Should we ever understand ourselves as the husband when He refers to Himself as such?  Or are we all represented as His wife in His uses of that illustration?

Further, whenever the Lord makes this marital comparison, His people (Zion, Israel, whatever title He gives) are always referred to in the singular; “she,” is His wife, not His wives, who has gone away from Him.  When He speaks of His people outside of a marriage analogy, it is "they," but when speaking within a marriage analogy, the people are represented as a single body, using singular female pronouns.  If He wanted to illustrate plural marriage for us as a principle we are expected to live, then would He not represent that by calling His people His “wives”? Why are His people "one," rather than seven?

And what of the women seeking to follow Christ?  If men can use the concept of following Christ’s example to justify slipping into Christ’s role within His analogies, and derive therefrom a justification for taking on literal plural wives, why not the women who are similarly following Christ?  Especially as we are all alike unto God, “male and female,” in seeking to come unto Him (2 Nephi 26:33).  So if a woman uses a man’s justifications to similarly understand herself in Christ’s husband role in His marriage analogies, is she then to be understood as a literal husband and also take on plural wives?  What kind of plural wives would she then have?  Does the analogy allow for gender role reversal, wherein a Christ-wife has plural husbands?

Even if we place ourselves in the husband role, can our name save our wives?  Does any man think their name has sufficient sway over Heaven as to remove God’s reproach, should it be levied against the woman they marry?  If our name does not have that power, how arrogant are we to place ourselves in that position in Isaiah 4:1?

When Christ uses marriage as an analogy, it is perhaps simply more useful to understand ourselves as Christ’s wife, in the singular—rather than part of a plurality—because of the personal and individual nature of our relationship with Him.  Our salvation and relationship with Christ is not collective, we are not required to join with—or go through—anyone else in petitioning God to remove the reproach of our sins.  I don’t find grounds for placing myself in Christ’s role of husband in His analogies.  I don’t see that as an illustration of my role.  He is the great Husband, whose name I must take upon myself in order to remove my reproach.  And I do so individually, as His symbolic “wife,” not one of several, collective “wives.” 

Returning to the topic, if the women in Isaiah 4:1 are not speaking to the man therein, but instead responding and appealing to the Lord, asking to be called by His name to remove their reproach, how would that occur?  And why have they grabbed this man?  What is his involvement?


Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” — 2 Nephi 31:13
The first witness by which we show that we are willing to take upon us the name of Christ is baptism.  It is not the only witness, there are others (Mosiah 6:1-2; Moroni 4:3).  But it is the first.  It is one of the first things Christ instructed be done when He began His resurrected ministry to the Nephites (3 Nephi 11).  It is an essential beginning.  And one that requires, interestingly enough, a man.  Specifically, baptism requires a man who has been authorized by the Lord to baptize in His name (3 Nephi 11:21-22).

Is it possible then, that these seven women might be taking hold of a man, presenting him to the Lord, and asking for their reproach to be removed, by the Lord authorizing that man to perform baptisms in His name?  That those who the man baptizes may then show forth the first necessary witness to heaven and earth that they are taking upon themselves the name of Christ, which name is the only name by which we can be called to have the Divine reproach of sin removed?

Might this be happening right now?  Might we be seeing the fulfillment of this verse in things that are happening?  Would we recognize it?  What might it look like?  This may be worth considering.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Mote and the Beam Reconsidered

The analogy of the mote and the beam is usually read as Jesus’ “mind your own business” proverb.  I may have problems, but you should assume yours are bigger, so sort yourself out and stop worrying about me.  In more religious terms, don’t try and call me to repent because you have enough of your own repenting to do.

While there’s value to teaching people to focus on correcting their own issues, that reading of the analogy is an oversimplification and cuts out insights and understanding that are not only valuable, but arguably crucial.  If we look at the scriptures, we might learn how disastrous that oversimplification can be.

Before diving into it verse by verse, here is the full analogy, pulled from both the King James and Joseph Smith Translation versions of Matthew 7:
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” — Matthew 7:3-5
4 And again, ye shall say unto them, Why is it that thou beholdest the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  
5 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and canst not behold a beam in thine own eye?  
6 And Jesus said unto his disciples, Beholdest thou the scribes, and the Pharisees, and the priests, and the Levites? They teach in their synagogues, but do not observe the law, nor the commandments; and all have gone out of the way, and are under sin.  
7 Go thou and say unto them, Why teach ye men the law and the commandments, when ye yourselves are the children of corruption?  
8 Say unto them, Ye hypocrites, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” — JST Matthew 7:4-8 (changes from KJV emphasized)


The analogy’s focus on the eyes makes clear that the topic being addressed is perception. The mote and beam only serve to affect the eyes, hampering the ability of the eye to perceive clearly.  But this first question in this verse is one of “why,” dealing with people’s agency.  Ability is addressed with the “how” question of the next verse. The distinction is important.

“Beholdest” and “considerest” are two different words.  Respecting the difference, the issue being addressed is when a person beholds another’s troubles while remaining unwilling to consider their own.  They behold motes in others’ eyes, they perceive things negatively affecting others’ ability to see clearly.  But they are called out for not considering the beam in their own eye.  To be called out for choosing not to consider it, they have to be capable of considering it.  To be capable of considering it, they must be capable of beholding it, for we cannot consider what we cannot perceive.  So they must at some level behold the beam, enabling them and making them accountable to consider it.  But rather than consider the beam, they choose to ignore it and focus on the motes affecting others.  They see the need for others to repent—to thereby render clear sight—while being willfully unrepentant of the things distorting their own vision.  This behavior constitutes fault-finding and hypocrisy.

The JST also adds a very important opening statement: “And again, ye shall say unto them…”  The uncorrected verse reads as a call from Christ for fault-finders and hypocrites to repent.  But including the JST correction, and considering that this analogy is part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ is speaking to His followers, we are actually seeing Christ charge His followers (“ye”) to go out to some people (“them”) and extend a call to repentance.  His specific targets in this instance are named later.

Interestingly, the work they are charged to perform looks remarkably similar to the works of the leaders they are being sent to decry: they are to tell them that they have things in their eyes.  Yet it is righteous for Christ's listeners to do it, and wicked for those to whom they are sent.

So how is Christ not sending His followers out to be the very fault-finders and hypocrites they are calling out?

The difference is found in the behavior Christ condemned in the verse: unwillingness to consider the things in their own eyes.  The condemned won’t consider the flaws in their perception.  But to truly be a follower of Christ—a saint—one must be willing to honestly view themselves and all their beams and motes (Isaiah 6:5; 2 Nephi 4:17-19; Mosiah 23:9), and choose to consider them and repent, rather than ignore them.

It is interesting that the line Joseph Smith restored was removed, and it is worth consideration.  Who would not want that line in there anymore, and why?  Perhaps someone didn’t like the idea of regular people being charged by Christ to cry repentance?  Especially against authority figures, as appears in later verses (JST Matthew 7:6-7)?  Perhaps someone had a beam they didn’t want others to look at, so they adjusted the scriptures to try and make it seem like Christ said nobody should be looking at what’s in anybody else’s eyes?  Or perhaps someone wanted the privilege of beholding sins and calling for repentance to remain among certain hierarchal ranks, rather than being a charge to all followers?  

But as the JST of this verse has shown, and as will be further shown in the subsequent verses, saints are actually meant to help clear up the sight of those around them.


Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and canst not behold a beam in thine own eye?”  (JST correction emphasized)
Now Christ shifts His focus away from agency, to ability.  Our ability to “see” is a crucial facet to our growth.  “See” is the first instruction from Elohim to Jehovah and Michael in the endowment ceremony.  Our eyes are poetically considered to be the windows to our soul.  But when we get something in our eye, it distorts our vision.  So long as it remains, it blinds us to a degree, a condition frequently lamented in scripture (2 Nephi 9:32; D&C 123:12).  And the bigger a distortion, the more obscured our vision becomes.

Those with the beam in their eye are attempting to remove the mote from their brother’s eye.  This is not simply beholding the mote, they have already beheld it.  They are now trying to eliminate it.  They are trying to give their brother what they think is the needed correction which will restore clear sight.  But their ability to do so is thwarted by a beam, which beam they cannot even see, whether that is by willful or un-willful blindness.  Let’s address this inability to see the beam first.

When a person is given good information—something to perceive—which they feel unable to cope with, the common reaction is to turn away from it, choosing blindness.  Pride will not allow them to face it, and therefore it is as though they are legitimately blind to it.  But that blindness is willful.

Un-willful blindness would instead be a matter of ignorance.  They do not even know that there is a beam blinding their eye, they are blind to their own blindness.  So they believe their blindness is sight, and will continue to do so until someone tells them of the beam’s existence.

Both willful and un-willful blindness are lamentable conditions, requiring correction.  Un-willful blindness may be helped by an outside hand, informing the blind of their beam.  At this point they may choose to remove it and gain sight, or retain it and embrace willful blindness.  Willful blindness is really a matter that must be resolved by the one with the beam, they must bring themselves to acknowledge the beam and seek its removal.

Returning to Christ’s question, He rhetorically asks how the blind—willful or not—could think they have sufficiently clear sight to help clarify another’s view.  If one is blinded by a beam—and a beam would blind you, not simply distort your vision like a mote, for a beam is larger than the eye itself—then it is simply impossible for them to see the mote with any sort of clarity.  And if you cannot see the mote with clarity, how can you hope to remove it?  Would you let a blind person come at your eye with tweezers in an effort to remove a splinter?  The blind would be simply unable to perform the task they were attempting, likely doing more harm than good.  Christ exposes this.


And Jesus said unto his disciples, Beholdest thou the scribes, and the Pharisees, and the priests, and the Levites? They teach in their synagogues, but do not observe the law, nor the commandments; and all have gone out of the way, and are under sin.
This verse was entirely removed by someone at some point in history, and it isn’t difficult to see why.  Christ directs the attention of His listeners specifically to the failures of the respected religious leaders of His day.  He doesn’t decry the legitimacy of their offices, or even their filling them. He instead indicts them for their behaviors while holding those positions.  Christ is warning the common people that their religious leaders are trouble.

The trouble He addresses is specifically their efforts to teach truth, while simultaneously refusing to live it.  They are hypocrites.  Truth apparently requires itself to be lived for it to be properly taught, and the leaders are failing at this in spades.  He doesn’t even leave room for exceptions, but instead declares “all” of the religious leaders are astray and sinful.  None are reliable or trustworthy, not one.  They do not live the truth, therefore they cannot teach it sufficiently to be trusted.

In declaring this issue to the lay folk, He is in effect teaching the exact opposite of Follow the Prophet.  He is warning the people against their leaders, pointing out the flaws of the leaders precisely so the people will not be fooled into trusting or following them.


Go thou and say unto them, Why teach ye men the law and the commandments, when ye yourselves are the children of corruption?
Now that Christ has indicted the leadership in the eyes and ears of His listeners, deeming them untrustworthy hypocrites, Christ does something interesting.  He does not tell the listeners to turn and walk away from the corrupt leaders.  He doesn’t tell them to abandon the leaders or the religions they represent.  He instead instructs the listeners to go back to the leaders, and call them to repentance.

Christ directs his listeners to approach the leaders with a very direct and loaded question:  Why do they try to teach truth when they are children of corruption?  This question assumes that the leaders are children of corruption, implying therefore that they shouldn’t be attempting to teach truth, and they are certainly going to hear that indictment.  They know they are being called out.  No wonder this content was also removed from the Bible.

Calling sins out specifically is the norm when it comes to calling people to repent (Ezekiel 16; Alma 16:18; 3 Nephi 30:2; D&C 101:5-6; Moses 6:37).  The reasoning is simple and understandable.  The first step to solving a problem is knowing it exists.  By declaring the sins openly, any who might be ignorant are alleviated of that ignorance.  Any who have been avoiding the problem are forced to face it.  Then all are capable and accountable to examine their choices and make new ones.  It is about shining a light directly on the problems hidden in the shadows that are afflicting the people.

Today, the reaction of leaders would probably match what could be expected at any day.  “Who are you to judge me?  I’m a leader, you’re a nobody.  What makes you think you are authorized to condemn me as ‘corrupt’ and imply that I should not be teaching truth?”  And so on.  The devil works hard to construct barriers and protections against such penetrative efforts by the light, for example the false religious use of chain of command, which would not allow for Christ to send a commoner to call a leader out.  But Christ evidently doesn’t give a damn about men’s or the devil's hierarchal constructs of power, it’s His work and He will do it as He pleases, authorizing whomever He pleases.  He's shown that throughout scripture, picking the weak and the unknown to serve as His prophets, frequently sending them to condemn the hierarchal leadership, who stone and murder them.  It is a rare person that reacts to an indictment with introspection and consideration, regardless of how just and correct the indictment may be.

Also worth noting is that these commoners which Christ sent aren’t actually making the indictment, they are only sharing it.  Christ made it, and authorized His listeners to deliver it.  And the indictment is actually delivered as a question, rather than a simple accusation, because it is intended to prompt consideration and introspection, followed by a choice.  It places them in a position where their condition is exposed, and they are being compelled to use their agency at a crossroads.  Christ does this for all of us from time to time, presenting us with stark choices between embracing a needed corrective light or retaining a comfortable darkness.  It allows for an undeniably informed decision, wherein we either repent or refuse in a definitive way.


Say unto them, Ye hypocrites, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”  (JST correction emphasized)
Yet again, in “say unto them,” we see Christ requiring that His listeners approach those He has indicted and extend a call to repentance.  This direction has arisen no less than three times in the course of this short analogy.  Christ really seems to take seriously the requirement that His followers call people to repentance, which diametrically contrasts our usual reading of the passage.

We are expected to repent, but also to call for repentance (Mosiah 18:20; D&C 20:53-54; D&C 38:40-41;  D&C 88:81-82).  Those seeking to be a people of God must work together to keep iniquity from creeping into their midst (Mosiah 26:35-36; Alma 6:3; Moroni 6:7-8; D&C 42:88-89; D&C 43:11).  Melchizedek brought forth Zion by preaching repentance among his very own people, not by minding his own business (Alma 13:18).  So it was with Enoch (Moses 6-7).  How can we hope to bring forth Zion as well if we do not also watch one another's backs, helping one another shed our sins through both preaching and practicing repentance?

Having now declared how it is that the leaders are guilty of hypocrisy, Christ actually calls them “hypocrites” directly.  He isn’t mincing words, He will shine an offensive light into their eyes, in hopes that it will pierce their hardened hearts.  Being offensive can be useful at times.  When we are offended, it shakes up our autopilot, stripping the false armor of comfortability, and forcing us to become more conscious and present and vulnerable.  It can crack a hardened heart when used properly, affording an opportunity to try and slip something valuable into it, but at the heavy risk of anger rejecting that valuable content and sealing the broken heart up more tightly than before.  Offensiveness is a very tricky tool.

Having exposed the problems with the leaders, and having authorized regular Joes to deliver to them an offensively phrased message, in hopes of cracking their armor and waking them up, the Lord now actually does what the leaders were attempting to do:  He offers the needed correction, whereby clear sight can be restored.

Christ’s instruction to the errant leadership is to first remove the beam from their own eye.  They must repent of their hypocrisy, of their disharmony with the truths they have been given.  They must acknowledge their sins, and correct their course. If they do that, they can remove their blindness.  As they start to live in harmony with the truth, they will begin to see clearly.

As they come to see clearly, this will enable them to go forth and actually help others in the way they were only feigning to help them before.  With clear vision, they can precisely spot the motes in the eyes of their brethren, and do something to help remove the motes.  And they are endorsed in doing this.  This is a fourth endorsement from the Lord of calling one another to repent.  Once someone has removed their blindness, then by all means they are to help others do the same.

We’ve become so thin-skinned and thick-skulled about so many things, we are almost incapable of bearing correction.  Correction is despised by those who prefer their sins (Proverbs 15:10; 1 Nephi 16:1-3).  It is seen as offensive "judgment," especially if they do not recognize the one offering correction as having power and authority over them.  But the righteous appreciate correction (Job 5:17; 2 Nephi 9:40), because they recognize the Lord chastens those He loves (Proverbs 3:11-12; Helaman 15:3; D&C 95:1), as would His servants (1 Nephi 1:4).

In this analogy the Lord is referring to sin as an external irritant, afflicting the person but not actually being a part of them.  This is a healthy view that we have generally lost.  We need to stop taking personally the denouncement of the sins which bind us.  We should view someone calling us to repent as something like a friend informing us of a cancerous mole we could not detect in the middle of our back.  It is in our best interests to have someone point out the mole, so we can have it removed rather than destroy us.  Sin is an affliction, which can be remedied into oblivion.  But so long as we take calls to repent as slander of our character, we will continue to fly apart as glass when they appear, unable to stand the fire.  We will retain our motes and our beams, unwilling to part with them.


Now that we’ve picked apart the analogy, hopefully we can see exactly what Christ was alluding to when He first put it forth.  Understanding that, we may also find that we can apply the analogy to ourselves, for our own benefit and learning (1 Nephi 19:23).

The religious leaders, those filling the hierarchy in Christ's day, are represented as those with the beam in their eye.  The regular people they are teaching are those represented with motes. A mote and beam are the same in substance, but different in scale.  The substance is failure to live according to truth, or sin.

The religious leaders are willing to see the sins and weaknesses of the members, but are unwilling to consider their own.  Christ tells His listeners to ask them why.

The religious leaders incorrectly believe that they are capable of helping the members learn the truths that will help them overcome their sins, thereby clearing their sight.  But the leaders are so out of alignment with the truth—because they choose not to live it or even consider their failure to do so—that they have become legitimately blind to their disharmony with the truth.  This makes the leaders literally incapable of properly teaching it, but they try anyway.  Christ asks how they think that could possibly be effective.

Christ exposes the foolish behavior of the leaders to the people with clarity.  He then sends the people to call the leaders out for it.  In doing so, they must address the sins directly.  The guilty will not be allowed to continue in ignorance, or in lying to themselves and others without being exposed, so they might have the clearest opportunity to repent or condemn themselves.

Christ's messengers also deliver the necessary correction whereby the foolishness can be remedied.  With repentance, it is possible for all to see with greater clarity, and then help others to do the same.  It is the only way for everyone to succeed.

Perhaps we should accept what Christ proposes.  Yes, we should indeed work on eliminating our own motes and beams, but perhaps we should also use the clarity which follows to help others remove the motes and beams afflicting their eyes.  We are not the motes, we are not the beams.  We are afflicted by them, not intended to identify with them. We should stop taking their exposure personally, and be grateful when a friend points out the infection of which we are unaware, so we can get it handled.