Not Written with the Finger of God

Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt

After Moses communed with God on Mount Sinai, he returned to his people carrying two stone tablets listing the Ten Commandments, which were “written with the finger of God.” (Exodus 31:18)

This story is unique. More often, God keeps His fingers in His heavenly pocket and allows mere mortals to translate His infinite wisdom into written human language.

The life of Christ is recorded by his disciples. The four works that survived and are recognized as scripture by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) are written by four different people with different personalities and perspectives. Their humanity shines through.  While they all report on the ministry of Christ, they have different perspectives; they emphasize different events and teachings. (The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)

Book of Mormon prophets described translating godly inspiration into human words as a difficult process. The first author of the Book of Mormon, Nephi, discussed how he chose content and occasionally fretted about how his human weaknesses would affect the power of the narrative. (1 Nephi 19:6; 2 Nephi 33:1-4, 11)

The last prophet to add scripture to the Book of Mormon, Moroni, vented his insecurities to the Lord in prayer:

Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing… Wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words. (Ether 12:23-25)

In the Joseph Smith papers, we see that revelations that became our modern Doctrine and Covenants often went through a series of drafts, as Joseph crafted the impressions he received into human language. (https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/)

In our modern times, mere mortals continue to interpret the will of God as they translate it into conference talks, church manuals, policies, ceremonies, hymns and other human parchments.  I respect their work. I believe that often, this sacred writing is inspired. 

However, I do not believe that every word they write or say channels God directly as if it were dictated verbatim. God does not usually write on stone tablets with His own finger.

When some of us question the absolute correctness of a church speech or document, defenders of the faith may call us to repentance for criticizing God’s words. But God did not write the words, personally. We question human translations of His will. We challenge our faith community to continue to revise our drafted religion until it comes as close to godliness as we mortals can make it.  Sometimes we are right. Sometimes we are wrong. We are only human. But then, so are the ancient and modern prophets who wrote the texts we study. We, too, are defenders of the faith.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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2 Responses

  1. Lori says:

    I really like the idea of our community continuing to revise our drafted religion. It may seem threatening to some, but in fact it invites all of us to be more accountable, thoughtful, and engaged, and to seek consistent inspiration. If all of us were willing to get involved in the project, I believe we would do better at knitting our hearts together, and we would see a community and gospel closer to what our heavenly parents want for us.

  2. Tina says:

    This idea of looking at what is and isn’t written by God is incredibly important. What would change if we looked at church policies and practices through this lens? Let’s continually reflect and revise to move closer and closer to God. Isn’t that what repentance is? Isn’t repentance just as necessary for us collectively as a church as it is for us independently? Yes, we who call for continuous improvement are also defenders of the faith!

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