Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sunday School Lesson: Prophecy, Seership & Revelation are Not the Same Thing

Last Sunday, we did a bridge lesson between Apostasy & Restoration and Prophets & Revelation.

I drew a simple timeline on the chalkboard from Adam & Eve to today. I asked everyone to list where in our scriptures we have extended periods of no recorded revelations. We identified four gaps of at least 200 years (and explicitly left out most of the Old Testament and Ether, since they covered thousands of years and were written largely as sweeping genealogical statements rather than careful histories): the end of the Old Testament (roughly 400BC - Jesus' birth); Omni (with its "stuff happened and I gave the plates to the next guy" summary); 4 Nephi (four generations of righteousness); the end of the New Testament to the Doctrine & Covenants. I mentioned the Dead Sea Scrolls and what I consider to be revelation to others outside our scriptural canon as exceptions to theses periods of silence, but we focused on our Standard Works.

We talked about how the Jews at the time of Christ were divided in many ways, just like the Christians at the time of Joseph were divided in many ways - but that one of the few things they all agreed on was that "scriptures" had stopped. Interpretations continued, but God no longer gave scripture. Thus, there were two clear instances of "Great Apostasy" in our Judeo-Christian history: the Jewish apostasy from Malachi to Jesus and the Christian apostasy that started when the Bible was canonized.

We then focused on the definitions of "prophet", "seer" and "revelator". I mentioned that we tend to roll them together into one practical word - "prophetseerandrevelator" - without distinguishing the unique meanings of each term. We talked about how prophecy in ancient times was reading the signs of the times and predicting the results of continued or changed actions; seership is seeing things in ways that cannot be seen naturally, particularly with the help of divine tools; revelation is the uncovering / revealing of things that have been hidden. At that point, the lesson took an interesting turn.

One of the students asked how OD 2 (lifting the Priesthood ban) fits into this - if it was a revelation based on the definition we had discussed. (The student who asked is very bright.)  I told the class that I had promised them when I was called as their teacher that I always would be honest with them about how I see things personally. I grinned and said that I was about to tell them the Gospel According to Ray, then I told them that I see OD 2 precisely as revelation in that context, since it uncovered the fact that the ban had been instituted without revelation - that the ban originally had not been based on revelation but that foundation had been obscured and lost over time as the ban continued. I mentioned that Pres. McKay stated later that the ban was policy not doctrine and that OD 2 "revealed" that flawed foundation officially. I then used OD 1 (the Manifesto) as an example of prophecy, as opposed to revelation, since Wilford Woodruff said explicitly that he had seen a vision of what would happen to the Church if polygamy continued ("reading the signs of the times and predicting the results of continued actions").

They all seemed to understand that distinction, and I was glad the question was asked, since I hadn't thought to use the declarations as an example.

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