Sunday, May 28, 2023

Another Comforter and Second Comforter: Reflections on President Henry B. Eyring, General Conference, April 2023

In the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, edited by Joseph Fielding Smith, we read of the First and the Second Comforter (149-151). The Prophet describes the Second Comforter as Jesus Christ. Most Latter-day Saints have learned about the doctrine of the First and Second Comforter.

My intent is not to speak to doctrine or to delve into any mystery. The Prophet Joseph invites us to read the Scriptures with new understanding. Everytime we read of the Comforter or of Another Comforter in the Holy Scriptures or in the teachings of the Prophet Joseph, or other modern prophets and apostles, we

It is, however, a priceless discovery to learn that the Prophet Joseph never actually spoke of a Second Comforter. On JosephSmithPapers.org the reader will find the original source of the Prophet's teaching about the Comforter, as given in Commerce, Illinois, in late June or early July 1839, and recorded later on by Willard Richards ("Discourse, between circa 26 June and circa 2 July 1839, as Reported by Willard Richards").

Here we read not of the Second Comforter but of "Another Comforter," thus conforming to the very language of Scripture, John 14. The wording "Second" Comforter represents, then, an editorial choice, made prior to publication after the Prophet's death.

Of course, "Another" does often imply "Second." For example, in Swedish "andra" or "another" (depending on the context) is the word for "second," forsta, andra, tredje. . . 

The historical note found on JosephSmithPapers.org., while helpful in giving historical context, does not effectively clarify the doctrine relative to "another Comforter"; rather it confuses the matter yet more by claiming that the 1839 discourse represents clarification and even correction of what was previously revealed in 1832 and recorded as Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants. While the Prophet did add, under inspiration, to doctrines set forth earlier in his ministry, Did he really correct direct revelations? I intend no offense, since we all would agree that history is a discipline concerned with interpretation of sources and events, rather than a theological study. The claim, and it's quite a claim for historians to make since historians do not ordinarily define (or worse, decide or declare) doctrine, is not sound. While hoping neither to misunderstand or to give any offense, I like the idea that the Joseph Smith Papers, and accompanying annotations, are open for response. 

Let's start here: The notes, recorded some years later while Willard Richards was in England, of a discourse or discourses given in 1839 in Illinois do not "correct" scripture recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants. Such notes, discourses, teachings provide additional doctrine insights in harmony with, not in contradiction of, scripture. It may not always be simple or easy to find the harmony but it's simplistic to point to "contradiction," "correction," seven years later in need of correction, etc. I say this because John 14, Doctrine and Covenants 88, and the Joseph Smith Discourse of 1839 do require some comparative study and reflection, but such study should rest on the foundation stone of all three constituting correct and clearly stated doctrine. It is up to us, in every case, to read and read again until understanding comes. A moment's thought will show how ready we are to dismiss scripture or to assume it requires revision. There is no instance of Joseph Smith giving a discourse to correct insufficiencies, or hopeless obscurities, in the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants. The editors of the Joseph Smith papers duly note the usage of "another Comforter," "other Comforter," though they do not detail how a later 19th century editor or editors changed the wording to "Second Comforter" (as published first in the Deseret News) or how such a change may matter. 

Yet what interests me most particularly is how an editorial change removes us, however unintentioned, from the immediacy of Scripture. Joseph Smith had that immediate tie to the language, expression, feeling of Scripture. When Latter-day Saints hear or read the words "Second Comforter," they tend to think of "deep doctrine," "mystery," the all-but-unattainable. The edited words take on their own connotations and leave the Greek and the Wyclifian English far behind.

We will better understand what Joseph Smith intended to teach us about John 14 if we went back to his original words: "Another Comforter." Setting aside momentarily what the Prophet taught us about Prophets, Apostles, and Saints and the visitations of the Lord Jesus Christ, I am also powerfully impressed about what President Henry B. Eyring teaches us today, that is to say, what he invites us all to do today, this very moment.

Perhaps we should say, given that John 14 is a discourse on love, that there ultimately are no deep doctrines in the Kingdom of God, only a deep, deep love.


Quoting from President Eyring's latest conference talk, April 2023, we read: 

"The Holy Ghost will come and abide with us. The Lord says that as we continue to be faithful, the Holy Ghost will dwell in us. That is the promise in the sacramental prayer [note the context of the Last Supper] that the Spriti will be our companion and that we will feel, in our hearts and minds, His comfort." Again: "The Savior promises that as we keep our covenants, we can feel the love of the Father and the Son for each other and for us. We can feel Their closeness in our mortal lives, just as we will when we are blessed to be with Them forever."

Think of it: We can feel Their closeness in our mortal lives, just as we will when we are blessed to be with Them forever.

We can start today and receive today. We can love and come to know Divine Love. Our present and our future blessings are not limited nor curtailed, nothwithstanding our weakness. 

The Prophets and Apostles in our days are providing counsel according to who we are and what we, today, are able to bear. They wish to make things as simple and as clear as possible for all of us, no matter our circumstances, so we can take hold of the principles of the Gospel with confidence, and thereby allow the Lord to make our lives easier. He teaches in a manner that all can understand, all can follow today, all can receive. We are not asked to be today, or to become tomorrow, as Ezekiel, John on the Isle of Patmos, or Joseph Smith, in order to receive the promises of John 14 (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 149-151). And yet we can walk the same path of covenantal love.

We can begin, as we are, and no matter where we are on the covenant path, to receive all the blessings promised by the Savior in John 14-17. Any disciple can ponder the love of the Father and the Son for each other and for themselves. By thus doing, any can feel Their closeness, beginning today, just as they will when they are blessed to be with Them forever. By so doing, all of us, no matter our spiritual preparation are already enjoying blessings associated with the "Other Comforter," or "Second Comforter," even while we as yet are not able to bear the presence of angels or see the face of God (Doctrine and Covenants 88). 

We can already understand, without reaching beyond our capacities, what Joseph Smith taught: "There are two Comforters spoken of" in the Scripture. We can receive the Holy Ghost. We can be filled by the Comforter "with hope and perfect love," as Mormon taught. We can feel the closeness of our Father and of our Redeemer. That understanding will help all Saints to stay on the Covenant Path, avoid looking beyond the mark, avoid fainting by the way, and even avoid supposing that everyone, today and everyday, must reach the spiritual attainments of Biblical prophets. No. We can be ourselves, live our lives, and yet receive all that our Father hath, if only we will deepen our love for God and His Son.

Additional insight available to all, and of great worth in our spiritual walk, has to do with the very idea of a Comforter. My lexicon, Liddell and Scott, tells me that the Greek word ho parakletos, or Paraclete (an English word borrowed from Greek and found in any English dictionary), can be translated as Helper, Comforter. I note that Wyclif was the first to use Comforter to translate Paraclete. His sense of the word differed in some ways from our own: con and fort, combines an intensive with the idea of strengthening so well as comforting: the Strengthener (see "Paraclete. A Gospel Word Study," The Expository Times, 10:4). Tyndale followed Wyclif's choice of words. (Compare Luther's Bible, the Troester.) The most recent, and up-to-date, lexicon, one that carefully weighs the linguist usages found in Greek papyri is The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Frederick William Danker). I'm continuing to explore this lexicon, On pages 267-268, we find definitions associated with the verb and the noun in question: parakaleo: "call to be at one's side"; invite with connotations of urgency or firmness; entreat, impore, for securing help/assistance; 'hearten in time of trouble,' comfort, console; 'encourage performance,' urge, exhort, encourage; say something friendly. 

Paraklesis: 'emboldening for facing or carrying out a responsibility or task,' exhoration, encouragement; 'heartening in time of trouble,' through word or demeanor,' consolation, comfort.

Ho Parakletos: 'one who is called on to provide guidance or encouragement,' counselor, encourager; of Jesus offering encouragement to a sinner. . . .more to come from this lexican; page under construction. . . 

Thus we have:

Strengthener

Encourager

Cheerer

Sustainer

One who pleads your cause (Advocate, see 1 John 1:2, and again look to Jerome, Wyclif, Tyndale.


(More to Come in just a moment)

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