Sunday, September 7, 2014

Chiasmus in Numbers Chapter 8

Today while I was reading in Numbers I noticed a rather interesting chiastic structure in Chapter 8. I noticed it because at the beginning and end of the chapter are four verses of material seemingly unrelated to the rest of the chapter. Even though the four verses at the beginning and the four verses at the end are unrelated to each other, the fact that both of them were there in the chapter, and about the same length made me think, "Well that's unusually symmetric!"

Which immediately made me think, "Wait. Symmetric. This wasn't an accident there's structure to this chapter." And by noticing that structure it prompted me to look for more structure and then uncover a rich chiasmus that I never knew about. I did a cursoury search and I haven't found anyone who lists Numbers 8 as a chiasmus so I hope Biblical scholars haven't missed this rather interesting example of a chiastic structure.

The first four and the last four verses function as bookends to the main structure found in verses 5-22, and tie it in with the rest of the material. This chapter contains several pronunciations by the Lord to Moses as the Lord spoke to Moses from the mercy seat beginning in the last verse of chapter 7. The structure of the chiasmus is used in an intelligent way to not only report what the Lord said, but also to teach the symbolism of it.

Below I give a breakdown of the chiasmus found in Numbers 8. I use letters in brackets to indicate the different chiastic levels. Parallel words or phrases are underlined and important terms are highlighted (if you are reading this in Feedly then you may need to click through and read it on my blog to see the highlights). At the end I will explain why I highlighted certain passages. Verse numbers are preserved.

[Left Bookend]
1 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Speak unto Aaron, and say unto him, When thou lightest the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light over against the candlestick.
3 And Aaron did so; he lighted the lamps thereof over against the candlestick, as the Lord commanded Moses.
4 And this work of the candlestick was of beaten gold, unto the shaft thereof, unto the flowers thereof, was beaten work: according unto the pattern which the Lord had shewed Moses, so he made the candlestick.

[A] 5 ¶And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
[B] 6 Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them.
[C] 7 And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them:
[D] Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean.
[D'] 8 Then let them take a young bullock with his meat offering, even fine flour mingled with oil, and another young bullock shalt thou take for a sin offering.
[E] 9 And thou shalt bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt gather the whole assembly of the children of Israel together:
[E'] 10 And thou shalt bring the Levites before the Lord: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites:
[F] 11 And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the Lord. 12 And the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bullocks: and thou shalt offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, unto the Lord, to make an atonement for the Levites. 13 And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering unto the Lord.
[G] 14 Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel:
[H] and the Levites shall be mine.
[I] 15 And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt cleanse them, and offer them for an offering. 16 For they are wholly given unto me from among the children of Israel;
[X] instead of such as open every womb, even instead of the firstborn of all the children of Israel,
[I] have I taken them unto me. 17 For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt
[H] I sanctified them for myself.
[G] 18 And I have taken the Levites for all the firstborn of the children of Israel.
[F] 19 And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary.
[E] 20 And Moses, and Aaron, and all the congregation of the children of Israel, did to the Levites according unto all that the Lord commanded Moses concerning the Levites,
[E'] so did the children of Israel unto them.
[D] 21 And the Levites were purified, and they washed their clothes;
[D'] and Aaron offered them as an offering before the Lord; and Aaron made an atonement for them
[C] to cleanse them.
[B] 22 And after that went the Levites in to do their service in the tabernacle of the congregation before Aaron, and before his sons:
[A] as the Lord had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so did they unto them.

[Right Bookend]
23 ¶And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
24 This is it that belongeth unto the Levites: from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to wait upon the service of the tabernacle of the congregation:
25 And from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service thereof, and shall serve no more:
26 But shall minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of the congregation, to keep the charge, and shall do no service. Thus shalt thou do unto the Levites touching their charge.

By laying it out in this way we see the structure and purpose of the ceremony and the symbolism involved. The Lord explains his reason for having the Levites offered as an offering to Him. They are in place of all the firstborn (i.e. those who would inherit the birthright) of all of Israel. This shows that even though the children of Israel were saved from Egypt they did not lose their birthright. But it took an offering in place of their firstborn to keep their birthright.

Also what is interesting is at the inflection point (marked by [X]) there is a subtle shift in the language. Before the inflection point things are offered, given and done by the people ("Take the Levites", "thus shalt thou do", "Aaron shall offer", "thou shalt set", "Thus shalt thou separate", and "they are wholly given unto me"), but afterwards it is the Lord that takes, gives and does ("have I taken them unto me", "I sanctified them for myself", "I have taken", and "I have given"). This shows the two part structure of covenants, and the covenant people. The Levites are offered, the children of Israel perform acts and offer sacrifices, the priests and high priest (Aaron) offer, set and separate. But in the end it is the Lord who does, sanctifies, cleanses, and gives.

There are many other lessons that can be gleaned from this symbol rich chapter, but I will leave it here for now. Is there any thing that you noticed that is particularly striking? Perhaps some time I will break down [F] and show the correlation between the different offerings and the corresponding verses later on.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Priesthood Authority and the Concept of Stewardship

I met a man once who said that before he did anything he would say "Si Dios quiere" [God willing]. He explained that if he said that and God did not want him to do it then he would instantly be struck down, because God didn't want him to do that. This included every mundane thing he would do such as leaving his house to walk down the street. In every aspect of his life he claimed that he would say "Si Dios quiere" in order to receive validation for all of his actions no matter how mundane they be. You can see the obvious problem with this because it essentially justifies everything he does, no matter how immoral it may be, because if God doesn't strike him down then "God wills it." It essentially turns God into a rubber stamp to validate whatever that man does, be it immoral or just normal mundane life decisions like what to have for breakfast.

The problem with that way of thinking is that it removes the possibility of free will. While there are some Christians who may argue that we do not have moral agency, or the ability to choose right from wrong, this is not true for Latter-day Saints. From an LDS perspective the ability for us to choose is fundamental to our identity. As the Lord told Enoch:
"Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;" (Moses 7:32)

The idea that we are free to choose what we are to do is also reinforced in the Book of Mormon when Samuel the Lamanite stated,
"For behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free." (Helaman 14:30)
This statement is by no means the only one in the Book of Mormon that makes it clear that we can act for ourselves. In more modern revelation we are told,
"All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light." (D&C 93:30-31)
 In talking about the Constitution of the United States a revelation tells us that it was established,
"That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment." (D&C 101:78)
Whenever members of the Church teach about the Plan of Salvation we mention that before the world was created, we, as spirit children of God, were given the choice to follow God and Jesus Christ or to follow Satan. The crux of Satan's plan, and the reason why we ultimately rejected it, was that it would take away our agency, or ability to choose. As explained in the Book of Moses,
Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice. (Moses 4:3-4)
Given the strong language surrounding our ability to act (i.e. "otherwise there is no existence") from an LDS perspective we cannot get around that fact that we have our agency and it cannot be taken away. Many if not all members of the Church would acknowledge our ability to choose and act for ourselves and we would never think about applying the unreasonable standard of Divine oversight into all of our decisions as presented by the man I mentioned at the beginning. We may say it is silly for that man to always say, "Si Dios quiere", before he does anything and then expect God to either validate his decision through inaction or express His Divine disagreement by killing him. But what we may not realize is that while we would be repulsed by the thought of applying this standard pf Divine oversight to ourselves, we regularly apply it to the prophet and apostles and sometimes to all the leaders of the Church. Basically we have a modified version of "Si Dios quiere" that only applies to prophets and apostles. We think that if the prophet were to take one step out of line then, "Zap!" he's dead.

This is commonly the image that is brought up whenever anyone quotes Wilford Woodruff when he said,
"I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty." (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham [1946], 212–13.
It seems that whenever this quote is brought up people, both inside and outside the Church, use it as proof that God personally reviews and approves everything every prophet says and if they will say something that is a product of the prophet's culture and limited personal understanding (or something that is "false" as the critics would say), then "Zap!" the prophet dies. This is the idea that if Brigham Young, or Joseph Smith, or any other prophet says something then whatever they said must be taken as absolutely true. No exceptions. Because God reviews each and every single decision, statement and action of the prophets (and apostles), and if anything is found to be out of line then, "Zap!", we have a new prophet.

The problem with this is that it removes all possibility of free will on the part of the prophet or apostle. Unfortunately it is not just critics of the Church who hold this position but also faithful members of the Church who hold this position. We strenuously defend our personal agency but when it comes to Church leaders we sometimes fail to see that they have the same measure of agency and freedom that we do.

So how do we reconcile the fact that Church leaders have their free will and God does not use the "Zap!" method of Divine oversight with the fact that the same Church leaders can speak authoritatively for God and can determine the practices, policies, and administration of the Church? In order to understand how these things can be reconciled we need to understand how priesthood authority is related to the concept of stewardship.

As the Lord explains in one revelation,
"It is wisdom in me; therefore, a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall organize yourselves and appoint every man his stewardship; That every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship which is appointed unto him. For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures." (D&C 104:11-14)
In the wisdom of the Lord He does not micromanage all the affairs of His kingdom. He gives stewardships to His servants and they are given the charge and authority necessary to fulfill the task assigned to them. The Lord sets the bounds of His stewardships ("All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it") and expects His servants to make wise decisions regarding the things placed in their charge.

In the Book of Matthew we find the parable of the talents, which is applicable to our current discussion.
"For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.... After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.... For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." (Matthew 25:14-30)
The lord of the servants did not personally oversee and approve each decision of his servants. As a matter of fact he left them alone and only afterwards did he demand an accounting of them. The Lord uses the same method to govern His Church today. Each Church leader is given his keys, authority and commission in an orderly and clearly defined way and is expected to act in such a way that the kingdom of God is made to increase and be firmly established. As the Lord explains in another modern revelation,
"I, the Lord, have appointed them, and ordained them to be stewards over the revelations and commandments which I have given unto them, and which I shall hereafter give unto them; And an account of this stewardship will I require of them in the day of judgment. Wherefore, I have appointed unto them, and this is their business in the church of God, to manage them and the concerns thereof, yea, the benefits thereof." (D&C 70:3-5)
The pattern that the Lord uses, and has used in all ages of man on the earth, is to give His word (or in same cases His Word) to man, and the revelations and commandments constitute a basic document which set the bounds of the stewardships given to His servants. I should emphasize that all decisions must be kept within the bounds that the Lord has set. We, including the Church leaders, do not choose the content of the revelations nor the conditions of the covenants we are under.

This gives both us and the Church leaders an incredible amount of freedom, and a corresponding amount of responsibility, in what we can do with the kingdom of God. The key to remember here is that the decisions regarding administration of the kingdom should be made by those who hold or are delegated the necessary keys, or power of the priesthood. If there are no specific instructions or prohibitions in the revelations then those who hold and exercise the priesthood keys are free to make decisions according to their wisdom and understanding.

These decisions may range from setting the minimum age at which young men can receive the priesthood, to giving advice about proper and modest attire, to determining how tithing money is to be used. In all these things those who are given these stewardships will be held accountable for their actions ("an account of this stewardship will I require of them in the day of judgment"), but their ability to make decisions, and even mistakes, will not be taken away from them.

Just as God was willing to send us to earth to learn by our own experience to know the good from the evil, and that freedom is not abridged for us, those who are call to be leaders in the Church are not somehow a class apart to which the laws of agency do not apply. They are also free in the sphere or stewardship in which they are placed.

Quite frequently the imagery of the Church as a bride and our Savior as the Bridegroom is used to explain the relation between Christ and His Church. In this sense we, as members of the Church, covenant to hearken to Christ and keep His commandments as He hearkens to the Father. This relationship is reflected in the structure of the priesthood. None of us access the things of God by ourselves, not even the commandments, covenants, ordinances or revelations, but are dependent on another, be it priesthood leader or angel we are all dependent on an intermediary. This method is not an accident because as Alma taught,
"These ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord." (Alma 13:16)
It is done in this way to show unto us our weaknesses that we may learn that we are dependent on Christ for our salvation.

Now there may be some who would feel uncomfortable knowing that their Church leaders do not actually operate under the "Zap!" system of Divine oversight, or that their Church leaders may say something that is not 100% historically correct, or is informed by the biases and prejudices of their day. But God does not choose perfect people to be His prophets, but He does choose those who will do what is asked of them. If we are concerned that the prophets and apostles may tell us to do things to our detriment, then we should realize that this is precisely why we need to have faith in God. There are ways to judge whether or not a prophet is a true prophet or not, and we should seek our own confirmation (God is not interested in having blind followers), but ultimately we must choose to follow God and His stewards.

Now God does not leave his servants entirely to themselves. He does offer counsel (His name is "Man of Counsel" after all, not "Man of 'I make mindless, free-will-deprived, automatons out of my prophets'") and provide direction but everything else is left up to the stewards to decide. This means that sometimes God will correct his servants, but He will decide when, how and what needs to be corrected.

So what is there for us to do? How are we to live our lives? What will all this look like with each member of the Church having dominion over their own stewardship? Well, it will look, function and work exactly like it does not, but without the perception that Church leaders somehow lose their free will when they become Church leaders. God does not operate under the "Zap!" system, but He does counsel His servants in all they do. And for everyone, whether or not we are a Church leader or "just a member" we are all given the same charge,
"Behold, this is your work, to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind and strength." (D&C 11:20)
[End note: I am well enough aware that this will not answer every question someone may have in regards to priesthood authority, and I am sure that some will judge it to be woefully inadequet, but it will answer some questions. There are other things to consider, such as priesthood keys and how they work, charity, both for other Church members and for Church leaders, especially for Church leaders. I find that most of the problems that critics of the Church, both within and without, have with Church leaders stems from uncharitable feelings towards Church leaders or a failure to humbly consider that we are all in this together and that they too are called to make mistakes so that they can learn by their own experience. This does not mean that whatever they do is good and above reproach, but if there is to be reproof, it needs to be done charitably and with tenderness.]

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Reapplying the Basics

When I was finishing up my undergrad degree I was part of a group of physics majors that had spent several years doing our homework together and studying for every test. One night someone observed that in all of our physics classes that we had taken we had learned nothing new since taking the first four introductory classes.

After some point we had not been taught any new physics. Our classes simply consisted of learning new ways of applying the same basic principles to ever more complex problems. Even today with my research I am not using a different set of basic principles. I am just applying the same basic principles to extremely complex situations.

To someone who is just starting their education it can be hard to see that the more complex problems are simply a different manifestation of the same basic principles and not a complete change of basis. Sometimes those who get too deep into the complex problems lose sight of the basic principles and are surprised when basic principles suddenly pop out of complex problems.

In my experience, both in my own personal gospel education and observing others who struggle with problems, the two things that cause more problems than anything else is either forgetting basic principles when confronted with a difficult problem or failing to see that the things that we don't understand can be solved by applying basic principles. On the one side if the fault of "knowing too much" and on the other the fault of "not knowing enough".

We can get too obsessed with complex that we lose sight of the basics and dismiss them, and we can fail to see how basic principles apply to complex situations and judge them to be inadequate and dismiss them.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Keys of the Priesthood Held In the Church


Almost four years ago I wrote a post about the keys of the priesthood. Since then the post has generated a bit of traffic to my blog. But ever since the talk given by Elder Oaks in the last conference I have noticed a significant increase in visits to that post. I have continued to think about what I wrote and prompted by the increase in visitors and also by the lesson that I had in my Elder's Quorum meeting last week I thought I should expand on what I wrote several years ago.

If we are to understand priesthood keys perhaps a good place to start is what is a priesthood key. Then we must know what priesthood keys we have in the Church and finally we can look into how the keys are held and used, including who holds them and how that impacts the individual members of the Church. I will also address the question of whether or not the Church has all the priesthood keys and if not which ones we do not have and what that means for us as members.

What are Priesthood Keys?

Priesthood keys are the power, or ability, and authority to perform certain actions using the priesthood. Without the keys no actions using the priesthood can be done. All things technically can be done by the Melchizedek priesthood but without an enumeration of powers which are allowed (i.e. keys) then nothing can be done. The keys effectively enumerate what priesthood holders are allowed to do. Additionally the one who holds the keys can determine how these powers are to be used. In some cases the powers are very general, but in others the powers are specific.

In order for anyone to do anything by the power of the priesthood then the priesthood keys need to be operative. That is, there needs to be a priesthood holder somewhere who holds the keys and allows the corresponding powers to be used in order for the keys to work. As pointed out in the recent General Conference talk given by Elder Oaks those who act under the authority of the priesthood, that is, under the authority of the priesthood keys, do not necessarily have to hold the priesthood. The ability to perform a work through the priesthood needs to originate with those who have the keys but once he who holds the keys allows it then any who are commissioned may do the work whether they have the priesthood or not. As an example, the priesthood key that controls the preaching of the gospel can be exercised by any man or woman called of God to preach the gospel. There is no restriction on who can be commissioned to preach the gospel as long as they do so under the direction (that is, in the manner proscribed by) of the one who holds the keys.

There are some restrictions on the powers associated with the individual priesthood keys and this is inherent to the power associated with that key. For example, the power to baptize is a priesthood key given to the Aaronic Priesthood. While this power can be given widely it is by its nature restricted to those who men who hold the priesthood and are of the office of a priest. This means that those who hold the key of baptism can authorize any priesthood holder to baptize but they cannot authorize a non-priesthood holder to baptize. They do not have the authority to change that any more than a police officer can appoint a judge to the bench.

While many men in the Church are given the priesthood they can do nothing with it if it is not allowed by those who hold the corresponding keys. Those priesthood holders who hold the keys can commission those with the priesthood to perform the actions that are restricted to priesthood holders and they can commission anyone and everyone else to act under the power of the priesthood regardless of whether they hold the priesthood or even if they are a baptized member of the Church.

The Listed Keys

There are a few priesthood keys that are explicitly mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants. I will give a listing of them below. This list is by no means exhaustive for reasons I will explain in the next section.

The Keys of the Aaronic Priesthood (D&C 13 and D&C 107:20)
  • Ministering of angels
  • Ministering of the gospel of repentance
  • Administer baptism by immersion for the remission of sins
  • Administer in outward ordinances
  • Administer the letter of the gospel
The Keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood (D&C 107:18-19)

  • The sealing and binding power (D&C 128:14, D&C 110:13-16)
  • The keys of the kingdom (D&C 81:2)
  • Spiritual blessings
  • The privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
  • To have the heavens opened
  • To commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn
  • To enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant
  • The keys of the Book of Mormon (D&C 27:5)
  • The keys of Elias, which are the keys of the restoration of all things (D&C 27:6, D&C 110:12)
  • The keys of the gathering of Israel (D&C 110:11)
  • The key of knowledge

Some of these are just different names for the same thing. While there is a definite difference in some of these keys, and as such they required different prophets to return to restore the keys (see D&C 110), there are others that are simply different aspects of the same power and authority. Before we even try to break down the keys categorically we should first seek a healthy dose of divine inspiration and understanding. In the end I think the distinction between the different keys will be less important than the actual working of the keys.

Keys Not Mentioned

There are a few keys that are not mentioned but are mentioned in passing in the Doctrine and Covenants as having been received from specific people yet what those keys are was not spelled out in the Doctrine and Covenants. I am not enough of a scholar of the writings of Joseph Smith to know if he added a few more keys to the list of priesthood keys that we know he received. If anyone has any information on that that they are willing to share with me I would be greatly appreciative.

In D&C 128:21 Joseph Smith mentions Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and "divers angels" as declaring their keys yet unlike Moses, Elias, and Elijah the powers associated with their keys are not explicitly given. If we are to know what those particular powers were we must either find out if Joseph Smith wrote anything else about the keys of Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and the others, and failing that it is up to the current President of the Church, who holds the keys of "receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven", to explain those things. Anything anyone else says, while possibly informative, is still just their own understanding (even if it is inspired and true, it is not authoritative).

In addition to the keys alluded to, there are a few keys that we know of that we know that the Church does not have. As Elder Oaks mentioned in his talk of priesthood keys, "At general conference many years ago, President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us that there are other priesthood keys that have not been given to man on the earth, including the keys of creation and resurrection." I might add to this the keys of Eternal Life, and the keys of Adam. Far from being a problem for the Church this is part of the pattern of heaven where all things are revealed in their season, line upon line, until we come to a perfect understanding. Any of claim that the Church is deficient or apostate due to the loss of keys indicates a severe lack of understanding regarding priesthood keys.

There is one more key that I wish to mention briefly here and will devote an entire section to it below, and that is the key of the Patriarchal priesthood. This priesthood, among other things, is mentioned in the Book of Abraham in the first four verses. It seems that this priesthood key was the key given to Adam. It is not clear that this key is in operation in the Church today for reasons which I will explain below.

Practical Explanation of Keys

Now that we have laid the ground work I think a practical explanation of priesthood keys is in order. I don't know how my Elder's Quorum President, Stake President and Bishop feel about being mentioned by name on my blog so I will just refer to them "my Bishop", "my Stake President" and "my Elder's Quorum President".

In my ward (and all other wards in the Church) there are three key people (hehe, pun) who hold all the local priesthood keys, my Stake President, my Bishop and my Elder's Quorum President. My Stake President is the local president of the High Priesthood and as such holds all the keys given to him by the general authority who set him apart. Just what keys were given to him depends on what keys the President of the Church was willing to delegate to the general authorities, who would in turn delegate to the Stake President. For example, I don't think my Stake President was given the keys of the Book of Mormon, yet he was given the keys of the kingdom* (*for the area of the world known as the Durham, North Carolina Stake). He also was not given the keys of sealing, but as presiding High Priest he was given the keys of the Aaronic priesthood.

If President Monson wanted to delegate, say, the keys of the Book of Mormon to Stake Presidents then he could do that, though I see no evidence of that having been done in an active way (see the section on passive vs. active use of keys below for further discussion on this). So some keys, particularly the keys of the kingdom were given to my Stake President to hold and to exercise within the bounds of his Stake. It is his stewardship in the Kingdom. As the presiding High Priest he has the keys to call, ordain and set apart Bishops. There was a time when Bishops had to be called, ordained and set apart by a general authority, that is that aspect of the keys of the kingdom were not delegated to stake presidents, but as the Church grew it became impractical for general authorities to ordain all Bishops so that power was delegated to the local presiding High Priest (though Bishops must still be approved by a general authority). The prerogative to extend that power or key rests solely on the President of the Church. He can extend that decision making ability and he can rescind it.

Because my Stake President has the keys of the kingdom that means that he can personally run every part of the Church, or he can choose to delegate that power to others. The extent that he delegates or keeps that power is up to him. It would be wise to delegate that power to others, but it technically is not required. As previously mentioned there are some powers that he cannot delegate to just anyone, but there are others that he can. What ever power he delegates carries with it the full power of the priesthood regardless of whether or not the person receiving the power holds the priesthood.

My Bishop receives his keys from the Stake President and as Bishop holds the keys of the Aaronic priesthood listed above. This means that he sets the terms for all the outward ordinances of the gospel. As an example I once had to miss sacrament meeting for another meeting with my Stake President. Because I still felt a desire to partake of the sacrament I approached my Bishop and asked if I could have that done outside of Church. As the holder of the keys he could determine when and where the sacrament would be administered. He quite rightly explained that he felt that he could not authorize me partaking of the sacrament just for having missed it for a meeting with the Stake President. He explained that he did not want to provide an exception to the rule because he did not want anyone to get the idea that they could miss sacrament meeting and then just take it later. But what he did do was authorize me to go over the sacramental covenants in my mind and reaffirm them. That act, because it was authorized by one who held the keys, was of as much efficacy as if I had partaken of the sacrament during sacrament meeting. The key is it was authorized (as a side note, if anyone tries to abuse this power then He who holds all the keys will not take kindly to it).

My Elder's Quorum President holds the keys of the kingdom pertaining to my part in the quorum. These keys he receives from the Stake President, not the Bishop. The Bishop only holds the keys of the Aaronic priesthood an as such cannot give or rescind the keys associated with the Melchizedek priesthood. Only my Elder's Quorum President has the authority to exercise the relevant priesthood keys. He has the authority to extend those powers to his quorum or restrict them. Because I am an active member of the Elder's quorum I have access to the keys of the priesthood if I were not an active member then my access to the power of the priesthood keys would be restricted. Because my Elder's Quorum President holds the keys of the kingdom I am allowed to give priesthood blessings to my family. I cannot give them by virtue of my being the father and husband in the home.

The keys of the priesthood delegated to the local Church leaders do not include the patriarchal keys, nor were they conferred on me when I got married. I was sealed by the sealing power but I was not given the patriarchal keys. So my ability to give priesthood blessings to my family is entirely predicated on the fact that my Elder's Quorum President (or Stake President if I were a high priest) holds the keys of the kingdom as part of his stewardship. Generally the exercise of the keys governing priesthood blessings is not restricted, except for disfellowshiping or excommunication, but in theory it could be restricted. This means that my Elder's Quorum President could restrict the members of his quorum in giving priesthood blessings either entirely or without his express permission. But because he doesn't want to get a phone call every time one of his elders needs to give a blessing that power or key is delegated passively to his quorum.

This brings us to the concept of passive vs. active use of priesthood keys.

Passive vs. Active Use of Keys

Some priesthood keys are held actively while others are held passively. I could also phrase it as the keys are held tightly vs. loosely. Keys that are held actively are restricted to certain people. In some instances those keys are only delegated personally by the one who holds the keys. The keys of the sealing power are one example of this. They are only delegated from the Church president to individual sealers, and even then the power to use them is only given to temple presidents. In this case is anyone wanted to use the sealing power they would actively need to seek out someone who held those keys and get them to actively take part in the use of those keys. This is why I refer to it as the active use of the keys. If anything is to be done with the keys then the one who holds them must act.

On the other hand there are some priesthood keys that are held passively. The power to give priesthood blessings is a priesthood key that is help passively by either the Elder's Quorum President or Stake President. It is passive in the sense that they do not need to do anything or even be aware of the fact that the key is operative in order for priesthood holders to exercise it. It is possible for them to change the key from being passive to being active, or change it from loose control to tight control. If this were to happen then all the members of an Elder's quorum or a Stake would need to seek out the permission of whomever held the keys in order to give a blessing. But generally we do not do this in the Church.

Then there are keys which are mixed. For example, the keys of "receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" are passive and are held loosely by local leaders. As long as my Elder's Quorum President is still breathing that key is still operative for me. I can receive whatever revelation God is willing to give me. My Elder's Quorum President does not even have to be aware of the fact that he holds that key for me to allow it to be operative. Just like other keys he can restrict it or actively extend it. This includes the keys of enjoying the "presence of God the Father, and Jesus". In the temple this is possible but in order for it to happen my Elder's Quorum President, or Stake President depending, needs to hold those keys. They can restrict them or even extend them (to you Elder's Quorum Presidents and Stake Presidents, think of that! You can extend the power to others to see God and Jesus Christ! Granted you can only do that as long as the power is held passively by the Church President. If he chooses to restrict it then there is nothing you can do, but as far as I know he has not done that.). But without any restriction on that key then it remains operative to the individual members and they can enjoy that blessing while attending the temple.

But these keys are mixed, which means that while the ability to receive the mysteries of the kingdom is passive and open to anyone who has the gift of the Holy Ghost, they cannot teach those things understood by the Spirit as authoritative without the express permission of the presiding High Priest. In almost all cases the presiding High Priest holds that particular power very tightly but there are a few instances where it has been delegated to others. So while you or I could receive all sorts of understanding and revelation, if it is not taught by the presiding High Priest then we do not have the authority to teach it as doctrine and in many cases we cannot teach it at all (see D&C 28:2-7 and  D&C 43).

Another example of a mixed key is the key of baptism. In the wards the key is held tightly, and is actively delegated. Anyone looking to baptize their eight year old child must first receive the permission of the Bishop. On the other had missionaries are under no such restriction except when their Mission President instructs them otherwise. Missionaries have the power to do many things, from baptizing and giving the Holy Ghost, to organizing branches and districts and all of this is held loosely. Generally the Mission President will restrict these powers to some degree but the control is loose and missionaries have passive access to many of the keys normally held by Bishops and Elder's Quorum Presidents. So while some keys are tightly held in the wards the missionaries are given loose control of the same keys.

The Keys of the Patriarchal Priesthood

Now I wish to address one final priesthood key that is occasionally mentioned in the Church but is at best poorly understood. What is perhaps so interesting about this particular key is that many men assume they have it even though I know of no evidence to indicate that the men in the Church hold this key. I certainly have never received this key through the laying on of hands. The key I am referring to I shall call the Patriarchal key of the Patriarchal priesthood.

Generally speaking the patriarchal priesthood is like all the other keys of the priesthood except that it extends the power of the priesthood out of the Church and into the home. "But wait!" you may reply. "Don't we teach that the priesthood should be in the home?" Well, yes we do, but the difference is that the priesthood should be in the home to bless those members of the family who are also members of the Church. This is part of the passive keys that I talked about above. The ability to bless the sick and to give blessings of counsel and comfort are all done by the priesthood, and as such need the authority of priesthood keys to be operative, yet there is no special authority given to the father or any other priesthood holder in the family that gives them additional authority or power in the family.

In a General Conference talk given in 2005 Elder Oaks told a story about how he thought that holding the priesthood mean that he had authority in his family, including authority over his mother. He relates his experience like this:
"My father died when I was seven. I was the oldest of three small children our widowed mother struggled to raise. When I was ordained a deacon, she said how pleased she was to have a priesthood holder in the home. But Mother continued to direct the family, including calling on which one of us would pray when we knelt together each morning. I was puzzled. I had been taught that the priesthood presided in the family. There must be something I didn't know about how that principle worked."
Elder Oaks then went on to explain how the priesthood, and priesthood keys operate differently in the Church than they do in the family.

"When my father died, my mother presided over our family. She had no priesthood office, but as the surviving parent in her marriage she had become the governing officer in her family. At the same time, she was always totally respectful of the priesthood authority of our bishop and other Church leaders. She presided over her family, but they presided over the Church...." 
"There are many similarities and some differences in the way priesthood authority functions in the family and in the Church. If we fail to recognize and honor the differences, we encounter difficulties.
"One important difference between its function in the Church and in the family is the fact that all priesthood authority in the Church functions under the direction of the one who holds the appropriate priesthood keys. In contrast, the authority that presides in the family—whether father or single-parent mother—functions in family matters without the need to get authorization from anyone holding priesthood keys...." 
"However, priesthood keys are necessary to authorize the ordaining or setting apart of family members. This is because the organization the Lord has made responsible for the performance and recording of priesthood ordinances is the Church, not the family."
The keys of the priesthood, and hence all the power and authority of the priesthood, that is the power to act, direct, counsel, and bless, only are operative in the Church according to the rules, laws, policies and procedures of the Church. The authority to direct the family is not derived from the priesthood, nor does the priesthood or priesthood keys give additional authority to any priesthood holders in the home. While the priesthood keys may contain the authority to seal a family for eternity, it does not have the power to give the father or any other priesthood holder additional authority than that which they have by virtue of being the father.

There is a mistaken idea among some Church members that because the hold the priesthood, and because we teach that the priesthood should preside in the home, they have additional power and authority given to them not available to other fathers. This idea is patently false. Neither I nor any other priesthood holder I know has ever had hands laid upon their head and given the keys of the patriarchal priesthood (if you have, well let me know! But make sure you have the priesthood through the proper channels!). The idea that because men have the priesthood they have an additional measure of authority in their family is something that I call "Big Man" priesthood.

The image that comes to my mind when I refer to the Big Man priesthood is the family of someone I once knew. One time his family came to visit our ward and instantly I could tell that his father practiced the doctrine of Big Man priesthood. He sat in the middle of his large family, flanked by his priesthood holding sons. While the father was there his family moved together as a unit under his direction. I suspected that he considered himself to be like the patriarchs of old who commanded their children, and he could do it because he had the priesthood.

While it is admirable and desirable for a father to direct and keep his children in the way of truth, he should never conflate the power and authority derived through the keys of the priesthood with the innate authority he has as father to his children. The keys of the priesthood that are operative in the Church only extend to matters dealing with the Church, its ordinances, and spiritual blessings, and does not provide additional authority to a father in his family.

Passing the Keys

The final item I feel I should address is how priesthood keys are transmitted, and whether or not the previous key holder continues to hold the keys. All keys, as are all callings, blessings and gifts in the Church, are given by the key holder laying his hands on the head of the one receiving the keys. Generally specific keys are not mentioned when this is done, but rather a blanket statement of "All the keys, authority, privilege and power pertaining to this office and calling". If specific keys are given, such as when a temple sealer or temple president is set apart, then those keys would be specifically mentioned.

It should be noted that when keys are passed to another priesthood holder they are not given up by the one passing them, though their ability to exercise those keys may fall dormant. For example, when a Stake President sets apart a Bishop all the keys of the Aaronic priesthood for that ward pass to the Bishop and the Stake President will no longer exercise those keys, but he will not relinquish them. The Bishop can exercise those keys and administer the outward ordinances for the ward or empower others to do so. The Stake P
President still holds those same keys but they are dormant, which means he does not exercise them while the Bishop is still acting as Bishop. This is done because the Lord and the Church respects the stewardships of those who are given the keys and also so that there is order and not confusion in how things are done.

So while the priesthood holder who is currently authorized to hold the keys may use them that does not mean that the one who gave them the keys has lost them. This also means that the one who gave the keys can revoke them because they still hold them, even if they are dormant. What this means is that a Stake President can release a Bishop, but to call a new one he still needs permission from a higher authority. So there may be a situation where there is no Bishop and they can't call a new one, but the ward will still function since High Priests can function as Bishops, hence the High Priest group leader in the ward will act as the Bishop without being set apart and given the keys, but the scriptures make it clear that they should be set apart to do this. So the High Priest group leader acting as Bishop should only be temporary.

For the most part someone who holds the keys to a certain calling cannot pass those keys onto another priesthood holder. Hence a Bishop cannot ordain another Bishop, a Stake President cannot set apart another Stake President etc. This is because their keys do not come by virtue of their office but are given to them temporarily. Also when they are released they no longer hold the keys. Hence a Bishop who is released will remain a Bishop in his priesthood, but he will hold no keys. If he is called again to be a Bishop he must be set apart and given the keys but does not need to be ordained again.

But in the case of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the First Quorum of the Seventy as a group each one forms a body that holds all the keys that the others do. Thus an unanimous decision by the First Presidency can be taken to ordain another Apostle. If there is no First Presidency then the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles can ordain other Apostles. If there is no Quorum of the Twelve Apostles then the First Quorum of the Seventy can ordain Apostles. The decisions of these quorums must be unanimous, so no single member can ordain another to a position in the quorum nor give them the keys. These three quorums hold all of the keys given to the Church, though the President of the Church is the only one who can exercise, delegate or restrict the keys at any given time.

There is also a curious case where technically the counselors in the First Presidency do not have to be Apostles, which means that when the President dies and the First Presidency is dissolved the remaining members of the First Presidency no longer hold any priesthood keys, unless they are Apostles. If they are not Apostles and are just High Priests then on the death of the Church President they no longer can use the priesthood keys, nor can they join the Apostles in ordaining new Apostles or organizing a new First Presidency. This is an important point to know in order to understand some episodes in Church history.

So to sum up, local Church leaders cannot pass keys to someone of equal authority (i.e. Bishop to Bishop), only to those who are under them in authority (Stake President to Bishop). General Authorities cannot individually pass keys to another but only when the decision is made unanimously as a quorum. Also a a quorum they all hold the same keys that the other quorums hold. When keys are delegated to another they do not give them up, but they no longer will use them (hence the whole point of delegation).


When I started writing this I did not intend it to become so long, but I just kept writing and it turned into this. There were a few things that motivated me to write this (no I will not link to them since they are a bit contentious or apostate), and it is also something that Elder Oaks recently addressed in General Conference. So while this part is labeled "Conclusion" in this section I will now explain what priesthood keys are and it (hopefully) will now make sense. It just takes a lot of preparation and background to set it up. So here goes.

Priesthood keys are the authority from God to do certain things (see list above). For any given point in time and any one place there is always one person and only one person authorized to use the keys since all things must be done in order. Others may hold the keys but they act under the direction of the one who uses them. All keys can be delegated and those keys can be used generally by either the priesthood or all members (passive keys) while other keys are held tightly and require the permission of the one who holds the keys (active keys). Whether or not a certain key is passive or active depends of the decision of the key hold since he is the steward of those keys.

Some keys are restricted to priesthood holders since they involve the ordinances of the Church, while others have no such restriction. When someone is given a commission through the priesthood keys their actions, work and calling carry with it the full weight of priesthood authority even if they do not hold the priesthood. This means that both women and men can act with the authority of the priesthood, but neither women nor men can do so without permission from the one who holds the keys.

The Church is authorized through the keys to do many things (see list above) but there are a few things that we do not hold the keys for, such as resurrection and eternal life. We also should not confuse priesthood keys with familial authority. The Church may seal families but it does not give authority to family members in their respective positions in the family.

There is no divine authority outside of the priesthood. Without the keys of the priesthood we cannot do the work of God. We must have the keys and they must be exercised in the proper manner under the direction and authority of the one who holds the keys.

Let me know what you think.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Original Chapters in the 1830 Book of Mormon and the Corresponding Chapters in the 1981 Edition

A few days ago I was reading a rather interesting article about changes to the Book of Mormon over the years and the author, Royal Skousen, mentioned that there were not as many chapters in the Book of Mormon as there are now. As a matter of fact Orson Pratt, when he reset the type of the Book of Mormon, broke the chapters up into smaller chapters and then broke them into the verses we have today.

I had heard previously that when Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon he indicated when a new chapter should begin, but that the verses came later. I could tell that some of the verse divisions were quite logical but others were a little awkward and did not seem to follow the general rule of one sentence per verse. But because I had been told that the chapter divisions originated in the original text and came through the translation I assumed that the chapters as we have them now were put in place by Mormon.

But some of the chapter divisions did not make sense to me. As a matter of fact there were several chapters that seemed to go together naturally and the chapter divisions seemed rather arbitrary. Over time in my personal scripture study I began to group the chapters into groups of coherent thoughts/stories/sermons. I even thought that if I ever taught Seminary or Sunday School I would have my students learn to group certain chapters together because they just seemed to go together.

But then I found out that the chapters we have now were set down by Orson Pratt and non Mormon. In the post I linked to above I left a comment asking if anyone had a break down of which modern chapters corresponded to the original chapters. Someone responded and pointed me to a paper that was publish back in 1993 that gave the breakdown in an appendix. As I looked over the list I got excited because many of the original chapters encompassed modern chapters that I had grouped together in my own study just because they felt like they went together. These include Jacob 4-5, Alma 36-37, Alma 39-42, and many other sermons, stories or periods of time.

Below I have the list of the original chapters (using Roman numerals) and the corresponding modern chapters. An asterisk indicates that the chapter included the chapter or book heading that is shown in italics in the modern edition.
1830 Edition 1981 Edition
Chapter Chapter: verse
First Nephi
Second Nephi
I 1
I 1
I 1
Words of Mormon
I 1
Third Nephi
Fourth Nephi
I 1

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Dead Donkey: How seemingly unimportant facts lead to radically different conclusions

A little over a year ago the internet made a mountain out of a mole hill, like it always does, and expressed shock and outrage that the Google Street View car apparently hit and killed a donkey. We found out about this because the entire event was posted on Google Street View, or so it would seem. Below I have a few screen shots of the entire event.
Picture 1: Approaching the donkey.
Picture 2: The dead or dying donkey blurred under where the car is.
Picture 3: Looking back, the donkey roadkill now lying in the road.
There were several news sites (warning some of these links may lower your IQ) that devoted whole stories to the apparently deceased donkey. The whole thing really took off when "Dr." Sheldon Cooper tweeted about it. There were statements from Google, denials, counter arguments, conspiracy theories, accusations of a cover up, further denials, evidence sent to select people, but not released to the public, more accusations of secrecy and conspiracy, more denials and still more statements. The whole thing was quite comical.

So what actually happened? Did the Google Street View car run over the donkey? So consider this. The whole event happened in Botswana. So why it that important? Because in Botswana, unlike in the US, they drive on the left side of the road. That seemingly unimportant minor fact changes how to interpret what happened. Any US driver who looked at Picture 1 above would think that the camera view that I selected was the "forward" direction because it meant the car was driving on the right side of the road.

But because we know that in Botswana they drive on the left side that would mean Picture 1 is actually the image from the the rear facing camera, that is after the car passed the donkey. This mean that in Picture 3 above, which I gave the caption, "Looking back..." is not actually looking back but is looking forward and should actually be the first image in the sequence.

So some people, even people with advanced degrees, looked at the evidence and assumed that it clearly showed the Google Street View car hitting and critically injuring if not killing a poor defenseless donkey. Even after Google's explanation some people persisted in arguing that it clearly showed the death of a donkey. But just knowing that the pictures were taken in Botswana and that they drive on the left instead of the right means that what happened was the donkey was taking a nice dirt bath, getting a good backscratching, when it was disturbed by the oncoming Google car. When the car drove up the donkey stood up and walked off the road. You can go explore the whole Google Street View images here and convince yourself.

So what is my point in all of this? If I had wanted to share the story and not use it to make a point I would have just posted a link on Facebook and let people like it or ignore it. But I am writing about it on my blog which means that I intend to draw a conclusion and make a point with it.

The thing to remember here is that by knowing one seemingly minor, but critical, fact the interpretation of what happened quickly changes. We were not there to witness the events and all we have are a few snapshots of what happened. At times we have a relatively minor cultural preconception (in this case, that the "forward" direction has the car on the right side of the road) that we use to orient ourselves when we first are given the evidence. But sometimes this minor cultural preconception, while very useful, if not necessary in our own culture, causes us to look at the sequence of events and draw an incorrect conclusion (i.e. the donkey dies).

But if we consider the same evidence, but this time in context, and with a few minor and seemingly inconsequential pieces of information, the conclusion we arrive at is very different (the Google car interrupted a nice dirt bath). So there are times when we are confronted with certain problems and while they may seem very unsettling or faith shattering at the time, if we stop and take the time to orient and reorient ourselves properly, what we previously viewed as a problem suddenly becomes a non-issue.

There are many time people are confronted with problems or issues in regards to their faith and their religion that seems to be unsettling or maybe a bit shocking at first. But if we take the time to understand what is going on, to know the context, and to listen when someone gently points out that they drive on the left side instead of the right side, that seemingly minor fact may be the key to reorienting ourselves so that we can clearly see that what was a problem before really is not a problem. Sometimes it is easy, other times it is hard and takes time, but there are answers and there are explanations that will come. But we need patience, humility and a particle of faith, and the answers will come.

[Extra credit: Try and figure out this apparent murder in Google Street View. Hint, look at how the cars are parked and then go up and down the street at look at the "murderer" and the "victim" from different angles (points in time) to reconstruct the sequence of events. Which images came first and which images came later? Think traffic laws.]

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Population Growth and The Book of Mormon

Every so often I come across an argument against the Book of Mormon that I feel I have to respond to in some way. Some arguments are so trivial that they can be dismissed out of hand but there are a few that look damaging on first view but with a little thought and additional information the apparently damaging argument loses its bite. The hardest ones are the arguments that are presented in a seemingly logical manner with numbers, facts, figures and even references to reputable sources yet have some underlying, yet not immediately apparent failing that invalidates the argument. The thing that makes these arguments so hard to counter is the fact that they take time and lots of understanding to expose the underlying failing that is fatal to the entire argument.

A while back I came across an argument that attempted to prove that the Book of Mormon could not have occurred in the real world, that is, it was a work of fiction. There are many such arguments but for some reason this argument stuck with me, not because I believed it or thought it had any merit but because I could not come up with what I felt to be an adequate response to the argument. I could very easily point out the major fallacy of the argument but I was having a hard time arranging a sufficient counter argument with enough data to consider the issue settled.

The basis of the argument that I will be addressing is that given the number of people who arrived in the Americas with Lehi and Mulek there could not have been sufficient population growth by the time the major Nephite-Lamanite wars happened to make the losses reported on both sides unrealistic given the supposed possible population size. One anti-Mormon critic laid out the argument and then concluded,
"Even the most unbiased person must look at the facts and numbers that history and demographics provide and come to the undeniable conclusion that the numbers just don't add up. One can prove the Book of Mormon wrong by using a simple $1.99 calculator and a few books on world demographics. Sadly, even in the light of such obvious facts, some of the best and brightest and most sincere people the world has to offer have fallen for the lies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Well I don't have a simple calculator that costs $1.99. I have a $500 computer with some expensive software. So I guess that is why I came to a different conclusion than this particular anti-Mormon critic.

First let me establish the basis of the argument. As I mentioned above the basic criticism is that given the relatively small number of people that arrived in about 589 BC there could not have been sufficient population growth by the time the wars described in Alma happened to realistically support the number of losses reported in the wars. The crux of the argument comes when our critic proclaims,
"Population growth during this pre-agricultural period was virtually nonexistent, roughly .0001 percent per year or less. This is an established fact that can easily be confirmed. (Parsons, Jack. Population versus Liberty. London: Pemberton, 1971, 33; Miller, G. Tyler. Living in the Environment. 4th Ed. Belmont, MA: Belmont, 1985, 88-91; Ehrlich, Paul R., and Anne H. Ehrlich. Population Resources Environment. 2d ed. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1970, 6)"
Citations in the original text. So the essential part here is that in historic times the average population growth rate was very small (we will overlook the fact that he first cites the rate of 0.0001% which would only be true for a non-agrarian, hunter-gather society, despite the fact that there are ample references to Nephite and Mulekite societies being agrarian, non-hunter-gather societies and thus would have a higher average population growth rate).

 But as the critic goes on to point out,
"For the Amlicite-Nephite war of 87 B.C.E., Alma 2:17-19 reports a total of 19,094 fatalities. On the basis of these figures John Sorenson, a professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University, estimated the total Nephite-Lamanite population to be over 600,000 at that time (about 200,000 Nephites-Amlicites and over 400,000 Lamanites). For an original band of thirty reproductive individuals in 590 B.C.E. to proliferate even to 19,094 by 87 B.C.E. would require an average annual growth rate of 1.3 percent sustained over the span of five centuries. To reach the 600,000 level Sorenson determined to have existed at that point, the growth rate would have had to be 2 percent, again maintained for five centuries. This is a level never reached on a global scale until C.E. 1960 and fifty times the actual world rate of the pre-industrial epoch." (Emphasis added)
So here is the problem. Given the very small historic (or pre-historic) average population growth rate of 0.0001% (or 0.3%, or 0.04% depending on which part of the article you are reading, the author is never quite consistent nor does he settle on a number) it would be impossible for the less than 100 original settlers to reach a population of 600,000 people within 500 years. That would require a population growth rate of 2% (not 0.2%, 2.0%) which, as the author points out, is a rate practically unheard of until modern times. To make this case the author includes a table with "Average Percent Annual Global Growth Rates" from a variety of different sources. While there is some difference among the different sources they are all fairly consistent and agree that the "Average Percent Annual Global Growth Rate" before 1650 was 0.3% or lower, which is what our anti-Mormon critic seizes on to make his case.

When I first heard this argument I could tell it was fallacious on the face of it because it confuses the "Average Percent Annual Global Growth Rate" with a local non-average population growth rate. Given the concept of an average we should expect there to be years, or even several years, where the growth rate is above average, and several years where the growth rate is below average. This would be true for a specific location. When we take those fluctuations from location to location, all over the world, and average them together we get the global average. Local populations may vary from year to year, or from century to century, but on average the global population growth rate is fairly consistent.

So essentially the author is fundamentally misunderstanding (either intentionally or unintentionally is hard to tell) what the average global population growth rate really means. It would be like saying that the average temperature where you live could not have risen by 20 degrees over the past six months because the global average surface temperature is only rising by 0.3 degrees per decade. Our esteemed critic seems to have a hard time understanding the concept of a global average.

But what would be a reasonable population growth rate at that time? This is the question that had me stuck for a while. It is easy to point out that there is a difference between a global average and a local population growth rate, but is it reasonable to have a 2% growth rate in a pre-modern society?

To answer this let us look at the population of Rome during the Roman Republic. The history of Rome provides a good analog to the time period in question from the Book of Mormon because it happens at approximately the same time and has a few similarities that allow for a good comparison. To be sure there are some very important differences, but those differences can also play into our discussion here.

The Roman Republic was founded in 509 BC and officially lasted until Octavius was proclaimed Caesar Augustus in 27 BC. So just like in the Book of Mormon we have an agrarian society centered on a city state that covers approximately 500 years in the first millennium BC. Also during that time there are several wars, but also some territorial expansion and the integration of surrounding populations into the city state. We don't have population data for the Nephites and Mulekites but we do have some of the data for Rome.

Below I have a graph of existent Roman Census data. Blue crosses are census data with green lines indicating a year where war impacted the population of Rome. Red lines indicate years with major epidemics. I did not include years of economic crises. These census data are a bit complex because these only give the number of freemen who hold property and thus are eligible for military service. These numbers do not include slaves, women or children (generally, though there are a few censuses where this rule was not followed). The population ranges from about 100,000 men around 500 BC to more than 4 million in 14 AD.
Below I have the percent rate of population change per year calculated from the previous census.
The actual population of Rome is a matter of intense debate among scholars. There may also have been a few censuses where the numbers are different from the other censuses because they changed the way they counted freemen or citizens. But one thing we can see from the graph showing percent change per year is that there were several periods of a population decrease, no change, or population increase. Some of the percent changes are quite dramatic such as an average drop of -6% per year for five years. Others time periods, such as in the first century BC (from about 86 BC to 26 BC) saw an average population growth rate of 4% per year, for 60 years. During that time the population of Rome went from about 460,000 freemen to just over 4,000,000 freemen* (*some debate about whether or not this number includes women and children, but no hard evidence). Not an insignificant change.

The other thing to realize here is that during this time there were several major wars that affected the population of Rome. For example, in 387 BC the city of Rome was burned to the ground and almost abandoned. Yet a little over 100 years later Rome fought Carthage in the First Punic War which resulted in more than 155,000 Roman soldier deaths while fielding approximately 700,000 soldiers over the course of the 23 year war. Not to be outdone, 23 years later Rome and Carthage engaged in the Second Punic War in which Rome fielded more than 782,000 soldiers and lost more than 300,000. That war only lasted 17 years and saw Rome directly threatened by Hannibal. At this time Rome had a policy of using land holding, free (non-slave) soldiers in their armies. You can see significant drops in the population of Rome during these wars. At several points Rome was losing on average 4% of its population per year due to these wars. Yet the population rebounded within a few years to the point that in 200 BC Rome was invading Greece and beginning to take control of some of the lands conquered by Alexander the Great.

While the average population growth rate per year may fluctuate wildly we can also take the population data and by doing a linear fit of the data we can see that the population grew about 0.3% per year over the course of the Roman Republic (hmmm, so that is where all those historians came up with 0.3% per year for population growth before 1650). But this nominal rate of 0.3% per year masks some of the wild ups and downs of Rome during that time. It does not show the hundreds of thousands lost in the Punic Wars nor the incredible population growth in the lead up to the start of the Roman Empire and the end of the Republic. If you insist on a population growth rate of 0.3% or lower for all dates before 1650 then there are a great many empires and nations, and not just the Romans, who long would have been wiped off the map from war and disease.

Essentially if our anti-Mormon critic were to apply the same logic that he uses on the Book of Mormon to Rome he could very easily disprove the reality of the First and Second Punic Wars. "Even the most unbiased person" who insisted on a strict population growth rate of 0.3% per year could use his $1.99 calculator to disprove the existence of the Roman Republic and the later Roman Empire.

But wait! There's more!

Our critic may argue that Rome was a special case, or that the population of Rome was inflated by immigrants (never mind the fact that the Romans were picky about who could call themselves a Roman citizen, until the Empire came along that is). But there were so many other Empires throughout history with comparable losses in battle that without occasional periods of higher than average (0.3%) population growth we all would have died out long ago.

To our anti-Mormon critic the numbers may seems incredible but given our recorded history the numbers and approximate populations in the Book of Mormon should not come as a surprise.

So again we ask the question, how reasonable is a 1 or 2% population growth rate? Sure we have seen it over a period of 50 or 60 years in the Roman Republic, but over 500 years? In the book Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond was addressing the issue of how the world came to be populated by humans. In discussing this he said,
"One might also at first be surprised that the Americas evidently fill up with humans so quickly.... That population growth also proves unsurprising when one stops to consider the actual numbers.... [I]f the initial colonists had consisted of only 100 people and their numbers had increased at a rate of only 1.1 percent per year, the colonists' descendants would have reached that population ceiling of 10 million people within a thousand years. A population growth rate of 1.1 percent per year is again trivial: rates as high as 3.4 percent per year have been observed in modern times when people colonized virgin lands, such as when the HMS Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian wives colonized Pitcairn Island." (p.45.)
A population growth rate of 1.1% per year, sustained over 1000 years, Dr. Diamond calls trivial and notes that higher rates "have been observed in modern times when people colonized virgin lands". In the case of the Nephites and Mulekites in the Book of Mormon we have two groups of people moving into apparently sparsely populated, but not entirely empty land, and then 500 years later fighting wars that would require a total population of 600,000 people or more. Surely this is within the realm of possibility given what we know of demographics throughout history.

But wait! There is still more!

As a final example we can read in the Bible about the children of Israel who entered Egypt with 70 souls (plus Joseph and sons), yet when they left 430 years later they had 600,000 men, which would mean a total population of roughly 2 million people. These numbers would require an average population growth rate of 2.4% per year to accomplish this. While there may be some anti-Mormon critics who would have no problem using this fact to discount both the Book of Mormon and the Bible, I find it slightly satisfying that for those critics who hold to the Bible, and only the Bible, the numbers presented in the Bible require a larger population growth rate than the rate they claim disproves the Book of Mormon. By their own logic the Bible they hold so dear has been shown to be a fraud. Unless you use something more than a $1.99 calculator and a basic understanding of what an average population growth rate is.