A writer’s perspective on the scriptures
One project I have decided to tackle this year is to transcribe the missionary journals of my great grandfather John Alfred Toone. He served in the Southern States mission (primarily Virginia) from 1907-1909. So far I’m about one-third into the first of four books he left us.
Much of what he wrote was a travelogue, but occasionally he has sprinkled in something interesting, including names, places and noteworthy things he observed. His handwriting is not too crazy and it’s been fun to share the entries with family members who probably wouldn’t try to decipher it otherwise.
One thought struck me the other day as I was transcribing the journals — I wondered how what I was doing might compare to Joseph Smith’s task of translating the Book of Mormon? Obviously, what Joseph accomplished was far more impressive and important. I would never try to compare my little project with that sacred work. But in a very small way, I have come to appreciate what the prophet did much more than ever before.
Around the same time as I was getting into the journals, I had the opportunity to interview bestselling author Gerald N. Lund and his daughter, Rebecca Belliston, also an author. My Deseret News article focused on their shared interest in writing and how it has strengthened their relationship. I had a blast visiting with them and was grateful for the opportunity.
Toward the end of the interview, I asked them how writing has strengthened their faith in the gospel? Rebecca related an experience from a few years ago when she was asked to write a gospel-related message for a blog. She was doing some research on the Book of Mormon and was impressed by the word count and depth of the work.
“Now that I’m a writer and I see how much work goes into one of my novels, my appreciation for Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon has increased,” Belliston said. “I’ve always known the Book of Mormon is true, but now I feel like I can tell people there is no way he just wrote this in six weeks of his own accord when he was 25 years old. I’ve gained such an appreciation for the miraculous way the Book of Mormon came about.”
I was intrigued by her comment. Then her father, who served in the Second Quorum of the Seventy from 2002 to 2008, told me he had once compiled a lecture he titled, “A Writer’s Perspective on the Book of Mormon.” One example he shared from that lecture referenced a study that Susan Easton Black had done on the use of titles of Christ in the Book of Mormon. He said there are about 140 different titles throughout the book, with one of those titles being used about every 1.7 verses.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Bro. Lund said. “From a writer’s point of view, I’m writing along and its been six lines. OK, I need to work in a title of Christ and it has to sound totally normal. Then in seven more lines, I got to do it again.”
Bro. Lund later shared one other thought on the topic.
“If you are writing on gold plates with a stylus and you make a mistake, how do you fix it?” he asked.
No delete button for that, I thought. Needless to say, it gave me a lot to think about.
As I continued to ponder the subject, I came across a book by Gene R. Cook called “Searching the Scriptures: Bringing Power to Your Personal and Family Study.” In the first chapter, the author talks about the cost of preserving the scriptures and names some of the remarkable men who “felt the scriptures were so important that they were willing to give their lives for them.” (This sort of wavers from the writer’s perspective, but I decided to go with it because I was fascinated with where these thoughts were taking me.) John Wycliffe sought to create an English translation of the Bible. William Tyndale sought to translate and provide a printed version of the English Bible. Both men suffered greatly for this cause. Wycliffe died soon after completing his work, but because of it, his body was later dug up and his bones were burned with the ashes being scattered in a river. After Tyndale was betrayed by a friend, he was captured and imprisoned in a dungeon for more than a year. Then he was tied to a stake, strangled and burned.
Joseph Smith was also killed for the Book of Mormon and his work to restore the gospel. So I think about not only the ancient prophets who must have spent countless hours engraving on the plates, but also for men like these who gave their lives for us to have the scriptures today.
“Truly a tremendous effort has been made to bring these scriptures to the latter days, to where we stand today,” Elder Cook wrote. “They ought to be held in a sacred way.”
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve asked these interesting questions in his April 2010 conference talk, “The Blessing of Scripture.”
“What did they know about the importance of scriptures that we also need to know? What did people in 16th-century England, who paid enormous sums and ran grave personal risks for access to a Bible, understand that we should also understand?”
Two thoughts came to me when I read those questions. First, how many times have I walked through a church building, seminary or a home and seen scriptures laying around in random places, being stepped on or covered with a layer of dust?
Second, would I be willing to give my life for my set of scriptures, or even a special chapter or verse?
I want to think more about this and see what other insights I can glean. I feel I’m just getting started. I welcome any thoughts or insights that readers might be willing to share. But clearly, more has gone into writing and preserving the holy scriptures than I ever realized, which helps me to appreciate this thought shared by author and speaker S. Michael Wilcox:
“Every night that I pray, I thank God for the scriptures,” he said. “They address just about any situation life can hand you. They don’t make life any easier, but they make life easier to deal with. They help you understand everything that happens to you. They help you respond to life, face life, enjoy life and live life better. God didn’t write a bad book.”