As introduction to this lesson, we are now nearing the end of our study of the Pearl of Great Price in conjunction with our study of the Old Testament. I want to quickly review what kind of Book we got when this was compiled and added to our cannon.
The Pearl of Great Price is a short book of scripture, only 61 pages in our current edition. For a long time, when adding a class about the Pearl of Great Price was discussed at BYU, it was thought that there wasn’t enough material in the Book to fill a full semester of study. Maybe that says more about us than it does about the Pearl of Great Price.
This reminds me a story told by a Professor of Philosophy at BYU:
When I was a graduate student in philosophy at Pennsylvania State University, one of my professors, Stephen Goldman, was a devout Jew who was also a lay leader in a nearby small Jewish congregation. Though his specialty in philosophy was the philosophy of science, knowing his background, I asked if he would allow me to study part of the Old Testament with him. He agreed and asked me to propose a course of study for the next quarter. “Well, since I don’t want to go too fast, why don’t we just read the book of Genesis?” I said. He was amazed. Though I thought studying one book of scripture in eight weeks was a snail’s pace, he thought it impossible to do that much reading in so short a time. He suggested that we read only chapter 1. Since that was equally amazing to me, we compromised on “as much as we can get through.” He warned me that we might not get very far, and we didn’t. We barely made it through chapter 3, and he obviously felt pushed.
The first day we met, I had read all of chapter 1 and at his request brought several questions with me. One of them was, How do you reconcile the account of creation in this chapter with what is taught in science class? He refused to discuss that question. He did not think it interesting; it was not worth the time. There were, he said, much more important things to discuss, things pertinent to our lives and salvation. Professor Goldman allowed me to ask my other questions, and he had no trouble answering them. In fact, he answered each so completely that at the end of the hour I still had questions that needed to be answered.
At our next meeting, he finished answering my list of questions and asked if I had more. “No,” I said, “I’m ready to move to chapter 2.” “Before we do so,” he asked, “do you mind if I ask a few questions?” That was a trick question, for he began talking about and asking questions about the details of the scriptures, questions that, by focusing on those details, went on and on. He asked about words and patterns of words, pointing out things I had never seen or had thought inconsequential. In almost every case I had no answers for him or felt that the answers I had were shallow and inadequate. But he was patient with me. As I fumbled for answers, he began to explain what he thought some answers to his questions might be and how the things he noticed were important.
For the first time, I felt that I really knew what this scripture meant. I had experienced the voice of the Lord in the scriptures. Though I knew intellectually that the scriptures reveal all things, especially when coupled with direction from a living prophet, I had never before known this truth in my heart. With Professor Goldman’s help, I learned that a careful reading of scripture shows that the gospel was revealed from the beginning. This man had less knowledge of the restoration than I, yet he expounded a great deal of the restored gospel from only three chapters of Genesis…I began to see that the understanding of the gospel realized from such a study would be much deeper than my previous understanding.
- James E. Faulconer, Scripture Study, Tools and Suggestions
I took that semester-long Pearl of Great Price class, and I found it, if anything, too short. Just remember what we have in this unimposing little book of scriptures: we have a record from each of the main seven dispensations of the Gospel:
- Jesus Christ (Joseph Smith–Matthew)
- Joseph Smith
Included in this, we have 2 accounts of the pre-mortal council and the fall of Satan, as well as the prophecy of the 2nd coming and destruction of the world in Joseph Smith–Matthew. In essence, this little 61 page book stretches from Eternity to Eternity.
So, with that background, lets turn to see what this little volume says about Noah. We pick up the story in Moses 8:19-30.
It doesn’t take long before we start learning things that are new:
And the Lord ordained Noah after his own order, and commanded him that he should go forth and declare his Gospel unto the children of men, even as it was given unto Enoch.
This reference to Enoch is important. Remember, Enoch and Noah were contemporaries before the City of Zion was taken into Heaven. The same gospel that allowed Enoch to accomplish that with his city was also given to Noah.
In the Joseph Smith translation from Genesis 14, we find a discussion about Melchizedek, which is also in the context of the gospel of Enoch:
27 And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,
28 It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
29 And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.
-JST Genesis 14:27-29
This story of the Prophets in the Old Testament receiving Priesthood from the Lord is something Joseph taught in these 2 passages, and also in something found in the Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“Answer to the question, Was the Priesthood of Melchizedek taken away when Moses died? All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it. That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away; but that which brought the ministry of angels remained. All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.”
-Joseph Smith, TPJS, pp180-818
Well, here we know not just that Noah was a good man, God himself ordained him to this work, perhaps even preserving him on the Earth when he might have otherwise risen with the City of Enoch.
As I read the traditional story of Noah and the Flood from the Bible and other Jewish traditions, I ran across this take on Noah from a book called Jewish Literacy
Traditional Jewish teachings tend to be hard, nonetheless, on Noah, and often compare him unfavorably with Abraham. When God informs Abraham of His intention to destroy the degenerate cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Patriarch engages the Almighty in a remarkable debate, attempting to persuade Him to cancel His decree. When God tells Noah of His intention to flood the world, Noah does not argue. He builds his ark, knowing the world is about to be destroyed, and apparently never tells anyone why he is doing it.
-Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy
So, why didn’t Noah try to warn the people? Why didn’t he try to preserve them against this terrible thing that was sure to come?
Well, thankfully, we have the Pearl of Great Price
20 And it came to pass that Noah called upon the children of men that they should repent; but they hearkened not unto his words;
21 And also, after that they had heard him, they came up before him, saying: Behold, we are the sons of God; have we not taken unto ourselves the daughters of men? And are we not eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage? And our wives bear unto us children, and the same are mighty men, which are like unto men of old, men of great renown. And they hearkened not unto the words of Noah.
22 And God saw that the wickedness of men had become great in the earth; and every man was lifted up in the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, being only evil continually.
23 And it came to pass that Noah continued his preaching unto the people, saying: Hearken, and give heed unto my words;
24 Believe and repent of your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, even as our fathers, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost, that ye may have all things made manifest; and if ye do not this, the floods will come in upon you; nevertheless they hearkened not.
25 And it repented Noah, and his heart was pained that the Lord had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at the heart.
- What kind of world was Noah living in?
- What was the message of Noah to the people?
For the rest of the story of Noah, we must turn to the Bible, in Genesis 9. I to remind ourselves what we have when we turn to the Bible. Joseph Smith stated in the articles of faith that we believe the Bible to be the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly.”
Remember that Joseph used the word translate differently that we might think of today. There is, of course, problem with translation as we think of it, rendering something originally in one language into a different language.
Another way to think about translate is in terms of transmission and loss from the time the scriptures came of this original writer’s pen. Until the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts of what we call the Old Testament went back only to around 1000 AD. Greek texts which we have are older, but still only as old as the 4th or 5th centuries. The Dead Sea Scrolls push the Hebrew text back a millenium to between 150BC-70AD. Still many hundreds or thousands of years after their origins, and most scriptural books in the Dead Sea Scrolls are only fragmentary and incomplete.
Of course, the Book of Mormon predicts such a state of things:
And after these plain and precious things were taken away it [the Bible] goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles..thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.
-1 Nephi 19:29
As we see, the scriptures restored by Joseph Smith shed so much more light on what is going on in the Bible. Until we get the full Book of the Lamb of God, we must muddle through with the Bible as we have it, and trust and ask the Lord to fill in what the original intent of the scriptures were. Remember that after Oliver and Joseph were baptized and received the Aaronic Priesthood, the Holy Ghost descended upon them and as Joseph recounts:
Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.
-Josph Smith History 1:74
We can have that same promise as we study the Word of the Lord that has been preserved for us in these books of scripture.