The Field Is White

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In reading the beginning of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, it is impossible to miss the repetition of the phrase, “The field is white already to harvest.”

For many years the grammar of this phrase has puzzled me, greatly. I hear the echos of my English teachers that if the field is now finally prepared to be harvested, the word should be “all ready,” not already, which is an adverb. I’ve chalked up this usage to a 19th century mistake and just figured the spelling was wrong.

Until I realized this week that the original quotation actually comes from John 4:

35 Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.

Well, I guess I’m going to have to push back my “bad grammar” argument a few more centuries, maybe it is just an archaic usage.

The nice thing, though, about finding the usage in the New Testament is I’m now not limited to an original English document such as the Doctrine and Covenants, I can go back to the Greek and see what in the world is going on with this phrase.

For example, here is the New King James translation of the verse:

“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!

Aha! So we DO have the right word, just an word order that makes the meaning harder to see.

Another clarification this translation starts to make clear is that “to harvest” isn’t the infinitive form of a verb. The strong number for “to” is G4314, which is a preposition that means “at,” “near,” or “by.”

Here are some alternate translations if you are curious.

The significance of this, in my mind, is that shift changes slightly in what the verse is telling us about the field. It isn’t that the field is “all ready” and prepared for a final harvest, but instead that the time has already come, and is now, that the harvest must begin.

A subtlety, to be sure, but interesting.

There is one more thing to consider, though:

You shall declare the things which have been revealed to my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun. You shall begin to preach from this time forth, yea, to reap in the field which is white already to be burned. (D&C 31:4)

I’ll leave it to you to untangle that one.

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