Sunday, November 10, 2019

Joseph Fielding McConkie Explains Symbolism in Abraham 3

            Note: With the arguing and theorizing going on in some (thankfully narrow) circles regarding the Book of Abraham, and some academics going so far as to call it “controversial” scripture, whatever that means, I found the below items refreshing, appealing, and insightful. They certainly don’t portray the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price as anything less than inspired modern revelation from the Prophet Joseph Smith. No matter what some academics, whether in or out of the church/BYU, may say about the Book of Abraham, all of the prophets and apostles and faithful saints have sustained and honored it as a choice scriptural text, part of the canonized standard works, and the voice of God to us today. 

            Joseph Fielding McConkie:

            It’s no fun to teach what you do not understand. As a Pearl of Great Price teacher, I did not look forward to teaching the first part of Abraham 3 in which the old Prophet is given an expansive vision of the order of heaven.
            I heard a few astronomers explain what was involved there and they had plenty of interesting things to say, but they generally lost me somewhere in space wondering how well I had to understand their science to be saved in the kingdom of heaven.
            Then came the break-through. I stood back and got the big picture. I figured out what God was teaching Abraham through this grand vision of the heavens.
            It was not that we need to know the speed of light to be saved, but rather the importance of light. The primary purpose of this vision was not to teach Abraham or anyone else the “set times” that exist between all the planets and all about Kolob, Lea, and Kokaubeam; it is to teach the order that always exists in heaven.
            The vision is a great priesthood lesson designed to teach how every man must learn to stand in his own office and fill his own calling.
            The vision is an allegory in which Kolob represents Christ and the stars of heaven represent the pre-earth spirits. All of a sudden, everything that followed in the second half of the chapter about the pre-earth spirits, the creation, and the grand council made sense.

            Let us turn now to the third chapter of the book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price as our second illustration. The chapter recounts how Abraham through the use of the Urim and Thummim had the heavens opened to him that he might learn about the glory and revolutions of the sun, moon, and stars. This is the chapter in which we learn about Kolob, the planet nearest the throne of God, and the other great heavenly bodies that are near to it. Midway through the chapter the subject changes and we find ourselves reading about the nature of spirits before they were born into mortality. The chapter concludes with a brief account of the Grand Council in Heaven, at which Satan rebelled.
            What is generally missed in the reading of the chapter is the phrase "as, also" in verse 18, which ties the revelation on stars to the revelation on spirits. Here we discover the reason for giving the great patriarch the revelation on stars. The knowledge of astronomy is not essential to salvation, but the knowledge of the order of the government of heaven is. When Abraham was learning about Kolob he was really learning about Christ, for Kolob is the similitude of Christ, and the stars are in the likeness of the spirits. We are told that Kolob was the first created, the nearest to the throne of God, and thus the greatest of all the stars. Kolob is described as being "after the manner" or in the likeness of God, as being first in government, and as governing all those of the same order. Though there are many great ones near it, all receive their light from Kolob and it is Kolob, we are told, that holds the key of power. (Abraham 3; Facsimile 2.) In virtually every detail Kolob is described in the same prophetic language that is used to describe Christ, and the stars are described in language that parallels that used by Abraham to describe the spirits. (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Gospel Symbolism [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985], 7-8)

            Abraham 3:1-17: Through the use of the Urim and Thummim, Abraham learned about the sun, moon, and stars, their rotations, order, and relationship to each other. The order that exists among these heavenly bodies constitutes a remarkable allegory for the order of heaven. Comparing the characteristics of Kolob with spiritual descriptions of Christ and the characteristics of stars with those of spirits shows that Kolob is a type for Christ and the stars of the heavens are types for spirits.
            The stars or planets in Abraham 3, with their various rotations, provide a natural parallel with the "noble and great ones" described in the latter part of the chapter. We can summarize this likeness as follows concerning the nature and order of the planets:
1. "The stars . . . were very great" (v. 2). There were "many great ones . . . near unto" Kolob (Christ) (v. 2).
2. These stars were the "governing ones" (v. 3).
3. All stars are to sustain or be governed by "the great one" (v. 3). Each ruling star has a "set time" for its revolutions.
4. The star with the longer "set time" rules above the star with the lesser "set time" (vv. 4-7).
5. Anytime there is a star with a set time that has another star above it, then there will be another "planet whose reckoning of time shall be longer still" (v. 8). That is, for every star there is a greater star until we come to Kolob (Christ), for Kolob (Christ) "is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order" (v. 9).
6. To Abraham the Lord said: "It is given unto thee to know the set time of all the stars that are set to give light, until thou come near unto the throne of God" (v. 10).
            Now note what Abraham is taught concerning the premortal spirits:
1. Abraham was shown that among the great hosts of premortal spirits many had—through "exceeding faith and good works" (Alma 13:3)—merited the designation "noble and great" (v. 22).
2. Of these "noble and great" spirits the Lord said, "These I will make my rulers" (v. 23).
3. Those spirits who rebelled at the choice of Christ as their Redeemer were cast out (vv. 27-28).
4. Abraham was also told that whenever there were two spirits, one more intelligent than the other, then "there shall be another more intelligent than they" (v. 19).
5. Though it is not recorded for us, Abraham undoubtedly had revealed to him some knowledge of the destiny and mission of his fellow prophets. Such experiences were common to the ancient seers.
(“The Book of Abraham,” Revelations of the Restoration, Ostler & McConkie)

            Through his translation of the Egyptian papyri by which we acquired the message of the book of Abraham, the Prophet Joseph Smith came to know something of God’s system of government. Abraham explained that “the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me” (Abr. 1:31). From Abraham, who had access to a Urim and Thummim (see Abr. 3:1), we learn that a countless number of planets and stars have been organized and made by our God. “And I saw the stars,” Abraham said, “that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it; and the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest” (Abr. 3:2–3). Abraham went on to say that Kolob, the governing planet or star, was “after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons” (Abr. 3:4). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught—and ancient tradition confirms—that Abraham brought his knowledge of the cosmos with him to Egypt and taught the learned and the wise among them of these things (see Abr. 3:15; Teachings, p. 251).
            But Abraham’s vision was more than an astronomy lesson and a guide to understanding the cosmos; it was a lesson in priesthood government, a testimony of the central role of Jesus Christ (see Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, 95). For the God of all creation explained to the father of the faithful: “I will multiply thee, and thy seed after thee, like unto these” (Abr. 3:14), meaning like unto the planets and stars, a promise God had made before (Gen. 15:5; D&C 132:30). Jehovah stated that one star is greater than another until we come to Kolob, the greatest of them all. Even so, “These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all” (Abr. 3:19). Consider the following from the third chapter of and facsimile no. 2 in Abraham:
1. “The name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto . . . God” (v. 3).
2. Kolob is “after the manner” or in the likeness of the Lord (v. 4).
3. Kolob is the “first creation” (facsimile no. 2, fig. 1).
4. Kolob is the “nearest unto the throne of God” (v. 2; see also facsimile no. 2, fig. 1).
5. Kolob is “first in government” (facsimile no. 2, fig. 1) and is to “govern all those which belong to the same order” (v. 3).
6. Kolob holds “the key of power” (facsimile no. 2, fig. 2).
7. There are “many great ones” near Kolob; “these are the governing ones” (vv. 2-3).
8. Kolob is the source of light for others (see facsimile no. 2, fig. 5).
9. Kolob is the greatest of all the stars because it is nearest to God (see v. 16).
            We now compare the characteristics of Kolob with scriptural descriptions of the Savior and others:
1. The Savior is “the Great I AM” (D&C 29:1).
2. Christ is the “brightness of [God’s] glory, and the express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3).
3. Christ “was in the beginning with the Father” and is “the Firstborn” (D&C 93:21).
4. Christ is “in the bosom of the Father” (D&C 76:25).
5. Christ has promised, “I will be your ruler when I come” (D&C 41:4). Prophesying of his coming, Isaiah declared that “the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isa. 9:6), while John the Revelator spoke of him as “Lord of lords, and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14).
6. It is Christ who holds the keys of all power. All who hold keys in the kingdom of God here on earth received them under his direction (see D&C 132:45), and an accounting of how all keys and authorities have been used will yet be made to him (see Dan. 7:9-14; Teachings, p. 157).
7. Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff are specifically mentioned as being “among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God” (D&C 138:55).
8. Christ is the source of “light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:13).
9. Christ was the greatest of all the pre-earth spirits. He was “like unto God” (Abr. 3:24).
            A revelation on astronomy pales in importance to a revelation setting forth the order and nature of the kingdom of God. Was Abraham to be merely a visiting professor of astronomy, or was he to stand as a significant witness of Christ the Lord not only to the Egyptians but to all people? Further, the latter-day Seer drew upon the message of the Abrahamic papyri to teach another profound lesson from Abr. 3, saying that Abraham reasoned as follows concerning the God of heaven: “Suppose we have two facts: that supposes another fact may exist—two men on the earth, one wiser than the other, would logically show that another who is wiser than the wisest may exist. Intelligences exist one above another, so that there is no end to them.”
            If Abraham reasoned thus—If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father [see Rev. 1:5-6], you may suppose that He had a Father also. Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly, Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also? (Teachings, p. 373; emphasis in original.)
(“Worlds without Number,” Joseph Smith: The Choice Seer, Robert L. Millet, Joseph Fielding McConkie)

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