We are going to start a new journey and analyze the Book of Mormon from a Torah perspective. Latter-day Saints (Mormons) revere the Book of Mormon as sacred scripture – inspired men who recorded their interactions with the Divine. Further, the Book of Mormon claims to have origins with ancient Israel, which appears to be continuing narrative of God’s interactions with a remnant of His covenant people. In this post, we’ll look at how to know if the Book of Mormon is a valid representation of God’s truth, then we’ll consider the primary theme of the first five chapters of 1 Nephi, and then see if it supports Torah and a Hebrew Gospel.
The biggest barrier to understanding scripture is having the right theology. If you don’t have the right understanding of God’s plan for Humanity, you will immediately be out of sync with God and He wont be able to reveal His knowledge to you because you won’t know what to do the concepts He is revealing to you. If you are harboring the doctrines and traditions of false faith systems, you are going to have difficulty receiving more from God or you may receive information from the wrong source. This is one reason that so many people have trouble interpreting the writings of Paul the Apostle because they don’t have their theology right. Many interpret Paul's writing on one level, but Paul sees people on various spiritual levels - as does Isaiah - and he teaches to that level. More specifically we can see that difference when Paul is teaching to the Jews in the book of Hebrews as opposed to teaching new gentile converts in other books of the New Testament.
Learning of the Jews
One of the very first concept that is set out in the Book of Mormon is understanding how the Jews interpret scripture. I see people take scriptures out of context and build a doctrine. They don’t see how the same terms and concepts are used in other parts of the scripture to establish a truer meaning. Another technique Jews look at is the quality of inspiration in the scriptures. They order their scriptures into three levels that establish a precedents of importance – Torah: The Word of God to Man – Prophets: The Word of God through Man and Writings: The Word of Man to God. For instance, when we interpret the Prophets like Isaiah, we have to set what he is saying in terms of Torah. The Jews use a four level system to interpreting scripture – the Literal Meaning or Pashat; the Metaphorical and Allegorical Meaning or Remez; the Comparative Meaning, how the concepts and terms are used elsewhere in the scriptures or Derash and the Secret Meaning that can only be revealed from God or Sod. We can use this system to evaluate the veracity of any biblical commentary.
Right off the bat in chapter 1 of first Nephi we are saved from knowing where Lehi is in his spiritual life – he is obedient to Torah law. Lehi lived during the reign of Zedekiah as a descendant of Joseph and so Lehi would have to have been living the Law. So we can take this as the beginning point of reference for Lehi’s spiritual progression – a foundation of being obedient to the Law. We can also deduce that Lehi was on the Zion/Jerusalem level of blessedness that we see in Isaiah’s Hebrew gospel.
Zion to Elect
In the first few verses of chapter 1, Lehi is looking like any other person who is striving to live the Law who is just one in the masses of Israelites. But then in verse 5, Lehi is praying on behalf of his fellow Jews and he does so with great passion for he prays with all of his heart. This action is indicative of a proxy deliverer and Lehi takes action by preaching and prophesying to his fellow Jews later in chapter 1. Notice here that Lehi didn’t run to an “authority” to get permission. So we see here that Lehi took the first step to progress to a higher level of blessedness that we see in being God’s Elect or in Isaiah’s Hebrew gospel as God’s Sons and Daughters – he took upon himself the responsibility of answering for others by praying in their behalf.
The first thing that Lehi experiences at this ascension is a dream about opening a conduit to heaven, obtaining a manifestation of God’s presence - Remez. This is manifest by a pillar of fire in verse 6. In Torah, we see this same pillar of fire with the Israelites who had also opened a conduit to heaven - Derash. So in summary this is what we have.
One thing that I have learned about dreaming is that you usually dream about things that you immerse yourself in. For instance, at one time when I came home from work I would go to the television and stream multiple episodes of Start Trek. Well, guess what? I started to have dreams about Star Trek! This can also happen with our religious learning as well. But we must be exposing ourselves to the right kind of religious learning and that must be in the learning of the Jews, which we see set out in verse 2.
The next thing we see in chapter one is that Lehi has a cosmic vision. The focal point of this vision is that Lehi is given a book. We see other examples of men in the scriptures receiving a book – Paul sees a sheet at Acts 10 and John receives a book at Rev 5:1 - Derash. These books represent an expression of the Holy Spirit - a knowledge of God reveal to man through His spirit - which we might consider a writing or record of Heaven. On a personal note, I have some one in my family that had a dream about book. In this dream, the Savior appeared and instructed to read the book of Ezra. At the time, it was interpreted as a message about genealogy, but since we have embraced the Torah, now we see that the correct interpretation was to return to the covenant – the Law.
In this weeks reading of chapters 1 through 5 of the first chapter of Nephi, we see this theme of the importance of records continue. Lehi is commanded to obtain a record of the Jews at chapter 3 and it is further stated that his posterity would dwindle in unbelief if they did not have this record - Lehi further solidifies his Elect status by expanding his savior/deliverer role in obtaining the scriptures for his posterity.
I think we can see the value of having holy writ in our lives – it gives us a knowledge of God and helps us to ascend to become like him. One thing that seems disturbing here is that Christian gentiles treat the Torah with contempt, which is really a foundation of their own faith. I listened to one preacher denigrate the Law advising his parishioners that you don’t want to be “under the Law”. But this is really an ignorant statement because by and large it is exactly the laws and principles in the Torah that has made America one of the most free and prosperous nations of modern times.
Continuing, here an excellent analysis of the account of Lehi's sons in obtaining the record of the Jews by Robert Kay.
What we get from Robert's analysis of Lehi's sons obtaining the scriptures or what can be called a product, writing, record of the Holy Spirit, is not an extension of Lehi's ascent but to help Lehi's posterity to begin their own ascent to God. Here we see that a person is not automatically set apart because of lineage. Then we see that a person's wealth or position does not automatically set him or her apart. We also see that a person must overcome the natural or carnal man to receive the things of God. Once a person has maneuvered through these obstacles, they receive the knowledge of God set out in the record of Heaven - the scriptures. So now our summary looks like this:
Our Torah Test
So does the first five chapters of 1 Nephi pass the Torah test of being a Hebrew Gospel? Of course it does! Torah is the foundation upon which Lehi began his spiritual life and ascent. Moreover, it was and is the objective of his descendants to begin their spiritual ascent.