The Divine Investiture of Authority: A Brief History
This year, Latter-day Saints will be studying the Old Testament as part of a four-year rotation of the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants Church History.
The first lesson begins with the Book of Moses and the encounter of Moses as he talked with God face to face. In the narrative, God tells Moses:
6 And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all.
When Moses asks God how and why he creates, God responds:
32 And by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth.
33 And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.
A plain reading of the text would indicate that it is the Father who is speaking to Moses about his Only Begotten. However, the Old Testament manual includes this note to instructors:
Note: Class members should understand that Jehovah, not Heavenly Father, appeared to Moses in this vision. Jehovah was the premortal Jesus Christ and the God of the Old Testament. He is one with his Father in purpose and represents him in power and authority. His words are those of the Father, and sometimes, as in Moses 1:6, he speaks in the first person for the Father. (See James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, 12th ed. , 470–71.)
How should instructors understand this seemingly odd note? Does the reference to Talmage shed any light on the matter? Does this note enhance the lesson?
On June 30, 1916 the Church published a pamphlet titled “The Father and the Son, a Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve.” It was reprinted in the Improvement Era August 1916. At this time Joseph F. Smith was the president of the Church with Anthon H. Lund as first counselor and Charles W. Penrose as second counselor. Other prominent members of the Twelve at the time included Heber J. Grant, Reed Smoot, George Albert Smith, Orson G. Whitney, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith and James E. Talmage.
Issuing a doctrinal exposition seems to be a rarity in Mormon history. However, at this time the Church was responding to several questions regarding Darwin’s Origin of the Species and the relationship between science and religion. James E. Talmage and John A. Widtsoe both addressed these issues at the time. As a result, in November 1909, Joseph F. Smith had issued a doctrinal exposition titled Man, His Origin and Destiny.
J. Reuben Clark compiled a series of first presidency statements including “The Father and the Son”. See James Reuben Clark. Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), vol. 5:, p.23-34. He notes however, how little information there is surrounding the circumstances for its issuance:
So far as the writer of these notes has discovered, no official explanatory notes as to the occasion or circumstances surrounding the issuance of the Exposition have been recorded or published. B. H. Roberts does not mention its issuance in the Comprehensive History of the Church. Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., does not mention its issuance in his biography of his father, President Joseph F. Smith. The official clerk and recorder for the General Conferences of the Church and secretary to later First Presidencies indicated that he knew of no statement in the minutes of the presiding councils of the Church for 1916 that specifically mentions or elaborates on the issuance of this Exposition. Messages, vol. 5, p. 24.
Writing on this less-known period of Mormon history, the historian Thomas G. Alexander noted:
Widtsoe’s work on the nature of God and Talmage’s discussion of Christ together with his earlier work on the Godhead preceded an authoritative statement on deity. A clarification of this point was necessary because of the apparent confusion in various scriptures relating to the unity of the Father and the Son, the discussion of Jesus Christ as Father, and the ambiguity over the roles of the Father and Son in the creation. The church undertook to do this in 1916, through a statement prepared by the Fist Presidency and Council of the Twelve and published to the church membership. The effect of the statement was to make clear the separation of the two beings and to indicate the roles of God and Christ. Thomas G. Alexander. Mormonism in Transition: A History of The Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930. University of Illinois Press, 1986, p. 280.
J. Reuben Clark, undeterred by the scarcity of history, produced no fewer than 37 pages of research notes on the Exposition. As part of some condensed notes of that effort, he cited an April 1916 General Conference talk by President Charles W. Penrose:
There still remains, I can tell by the letters I have alluded to, [i.e. those coming to the First Presidency] an idea among some of the people that Adam was and is the Almighty and Eternal God . . . the notion has taken hold of some of our brethren that Adam is the being that we should worship . . . I am sorry that has not been rectified long ago, because plain answers have been given to brethren and sisters who write and desire to know about it, and yet it still lingers, and contentions arise in regard to it, and there should be no contentions among Latter-day Saints…. Who was the person Adam prayed to? Adam prayed to God…. So Adam was neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Ghost, was he? Then who was he? Why, we are told he was Michael in his first estate, and as Adam he will stand at the head of his race. Messages, vol. 5, p. 25 citing Charles W. Penrose, Conference Report, April 1916, p.16.
While the exact details of the Exposition may not be clear, it does seem that an overriding concern was to foreclose the idea that Adam was God. According to President Penrose, Adam was “neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Ghost.” The Exposition notes four ways in which Christ can be considered the Father. Heading number four, Jesus Christ the “Father” By Divine Investiture of Authority, notes that the Son has the authority to speak for the Father.
Back to the Manual
What does this, if anything, have to do with the Book of Moses? An examination of the Doctrinal Exposition reveals nothing to suggest that the First Presidency desired to advance a particular interpretation of the Book of Moses. Indeed, the Book of Moses is not referred to at all under the heading “Divine Investiture of Authority.”
The reference in the manual is misleading for several reasons. First, it refers not to Talmage’s own writings but to an appendix that includes a 1916 statement by the First Presidency. (Although there is the possibility that Talmage played a role in the drafting of the exposition). Second, the Exposition itself does not provide the reason for interpreting the Book of Moses as the manual instructs. So where does this idea come from? The curriculum writers leave neither the instructor nor the class with any clue.
Looking for Hidden Citations
The divine investiture of authority has been cited by others to argue for the reading of Moses that the Father in the narrative is actually the Son. The source can be traced to a statement by Joseph Fielding Smith contained in Doctrines of Salvation, compiled by Bruce R. McConkie.
JEHOVAH GIVES ALL REVELATION. All revelation since the fall has come through Jesus Christ, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. In all of the scriptures, where God is mentioned and where he has appeared, it was Jehovah who talked with Abraham, with Noah, Enoch, Moses and all the prophets. Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, 3 vols. compiled by Bruce R. McConkie. Bookcraft, 1954, vol. 1, p. 27.
Unfortuntately, McConkie does not provide the reader with the important circumstances (date, place, etc.) under which such statements were made.
Commentators following Joseph Fielding Smith typically refer back to his statement. For example, Joseph Fielding McConkie, grandson of Joseph Fielding Smith cites Doctrines of Salvation and then continues:
An illustration of Christ’s appearance to an Old Testament prophet-speaking by divine investiture of authority, in the name of the Father-is found in an experience of Moses on an unnamed mountain: “My works are without end,” Jehovah spoke for Elohim, “and also my words, for they never cease.” And then he continued: “And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth” (Moses 1:4, 6). Joseph F. McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, Jacob through Mosiah. Bookcraft, 1988, p. 228.
Perhaps the curriculum writers had this in mind when they wrote the Old Testament manual published in 1996.
This is a good example of how a manual can unfortunately confuse more than enlighten. It certainly provides the instructor with no way to respond to those who wonder why they must disregard the plain reading of the text, other than to say “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s just what’s in the manual.” In fact, much valuable lesson time can be squandered addressing this issue.
The lesson does not seem to require a discussion on the divine investiture of authority. It’s not clear what harm there is in allowing the plain reading that the Father is speaking to Moses about the Son. Query whether there is any evidence that Joseph Smith or the early saints understood the Book of Moses in the way the manual suggests. One wonders whether Moses himself would have understood that he was actually speaking to the Only Begotten.
Furthermore, such a reading does not seem to touch on the Doctrinal Exposition, which seemed to have been written to address the Adam-God doctrine. My recommendation is that either the curriculum writers provide transparency through appropriate citations, or more preferably eliminate this note from the manual as every four years it seems to confuse the audience and distract from the more important lessons the text has to teach us.
Jim F. “OT Lesson 1 Study Notes: Moses 1.” Feast Upon the Word Blog, December 20, 2009.
Geoff B. “To whom is Moses speaking in Moses 1?” The Millennial Star blog, January 3, 2010.
Further Reading on Doctrinal Expositions
“The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” Ensign, Apr. 2002, 13. Reprint from Improvement Era, Aug. 1916, 934–42.
James Reuben Clark. Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), vol. 5:, p.23-34.
Thomas G. Alexander. Mormonism in Transition: A History of The Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930. University of Illinois Press, 1986, p. 280.