Hungry like the… (feasting on the words of Christ)

September 26, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 3:47 pm   Category: Personal Revelation,Scriptures

We often read Nephi’s injunction to “feast on the words of Christ” as instructions to dig into the scriptures. I heartily endorse digging into the scriptures, but as I read that portion of Nephi’s sermon, I don’t think that is what Nephi meant. Nephi is telling us exactly what we are supposed to do after we “enter in by the way” – and I think that is to enter into a revelatory dialogue with God.

This is no stretch – just look at the text of 2 Nephi 32. I’ll paraphrase for fun (feel free to check up on me).

Verse 1 – Looks like you’re wondering what you should do after you get baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost… What’s your problem?
Verse 2-3 – Didn’t I just tell you you’d get the tongue of angels? How do you think angels even speak with power? – It’s by the power of the Holy Ghost (Duh!) And because Angels speak as inspired by the Holy Ghost they speak the words of Christ. Now that you have the Gift of the Holy Ghost, start feasting on the words of Christ (meaning Christ’s direct words to you through the Holy Ghost) because those words of Christ will tell you all of your further instructions now that you’ve entered in by the way.

See how that works? The words of Christ we are specifically told to feast on come directly to us from Christ through the Holy Ghost. The person that has entered in by the way has the Gift of the Holy Ghost so they can actually do that. So sure, Christ will certainly instruct us to study the scriptures – but the scriptures are not the specific “words of Christ” he says we must feast on. We must have a much more fresh and living feast than that (even if the direct revelatory words of Christ come to us while we read the scriptures).

Moving on…

Verse 4 – Look, if you’re not getting my point about your need to get revelation it is because you are not trying to get revelation hard enough. Unless and until you manage to get it you are in serious spiritual trouble.
Verse 5 – As I keep saying, it is the Holy Ghost that needs to be your guide now that you’ve been baptized and confirmed – nothing else. God himself will show you all the things you are supposed to do next through the Spirit.
Verse 6 – This is the entire doctrine of Christ. If there is more he’ll tell you when he personally visits.

Ok, so here it is. The entire doctrine of Christ (as laid out beginning in chapter 31) is to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized, receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, then use the Gift of the Holy Ghost to get all further instruction. If we are not receiving direct instructions then we are in real trouble according to Nephi.

Finally…

Verse 7 – I’d love to tell you more but the Spirit told me not to. But I will say that a lot of you people apparently don’t care enough to get your own revelation like I do. Further, you seem to insist on missing the point and looking to other sources for guidance rather than getting revelation.
Verse 8 - The Spirit tells me that you are so remedial that you are wondering what you ought to do to get revelation through the Holy Ghost. Here’s an idea – why don’t you try praying? (Duh!) I’m not even sure why I have to answer such dumb questions, but God seems to think I should.
Verse 9 – Ok, sorry about my impatience with y’all. Look if you pray always and really work at this things will work out wonderfully from you. I know because it has worked that way for me and I’m no different or better than you.

Perhaps you don’t read in the grouchy tone that I did this time around, but I think that regardless of tone, Nephi’s message here is clear. He expects anyone with the Gift of the Holy Ghost to have the same direct access to God that he had. He says if we don’t then we should try harder. What do you think?

16 Comments »

  1. I agree.

    Comment by John C. — September 26, 2005 @ 4:36 pm

  2. Well that was easy…

    Comment by Geoff J — September 26, 2005 @ 5:10 pm

  3. I think that verses 2-3 require additional attention. “[A]fter ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels,” says Nephi. How do angels speak? By the Holy Ghost. Hence, any words spoken by the power of the Holy Ghost are spoken with the tongue of angels and are the words of Christ. So feasting on the words of Christ means feasting on what has been spoken by the power of the Holy Ghost. Reading this as only or even primarily “Christ’s direct words to you through the Holy Ghost” adds an unnatural restriction to the text–which is really wide open in terms of who is allowed to do the speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost. If all words spoken/written by anyone with the power of the Holy Ghost are the words of Christ, then we might find the words of Christ written in our own hearts, but we might also find them written in the scriptures, in theology texts, in literature, in the newspaper, in graffiti on a subway wall, or even on a Mormon blog. Hence, the injunction to feast on the words of Christ ends up looking a lot like the advice to seek wisdom from the best books.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — September 26, 2005 @ 5:47 pm

  4. RT,

    I agree with the idea that we are often led to seek wisdom from the best books. But even when we read scriptures or any other inspired text it is still the Holy Ghost that makes the difference; it is still direct revelation that teaches and changes and edifies us. In other words, the best books are spiritually useless to us without the direct “words of Christ” through the Holy Ghost searing the truths found in the best books into our souls.

    I think Nephi’s primary point was what I claimed it to be — that after we enter in by the way we have special rights and privileges to revelation (aka the words of Christ). We can use that to be guided about what to do, what to read, and to discern what is true out of everything we do read. In other words, the Holy Ghost really will show us “all things that (we) should do”. So while the words of Christ may be written in lots of places, it requires the immediate and direct words of Christ through revelation to recognize and digest them when we read them.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 26, 2005 @ 6:24 pm

  5. What RT says makes sense from our modern perspective, but the lack of written material available to the Nephites plus Nephi’s own reliance on personal revelation might make it more likely that he is emphasizing revelation.
    I’ll bet they had cool graffiti, though :>

    Comment by C Jones — September 26, 2005 @ 6:58 pm

  6. C Jones, if we think that Nephi was writing for our day (there’s no evidence that anyone in the rest of the Book of Mormon had read Nephi’s account in the first two books), then objections on the basis of what was available then lose some force. Furthermore, Nephi himself obviously made extensive use of written material in his religious life. See, for instance, more than half of 2 Nephi!

    By the way, who knows what Nephite graffiti might possibly consist of. But here’s a link to really cool Moche (northern Peru) graffiti!

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — September 26, 2005 @ 9:45 pm

  7. Maybe Nephi had to rely on the Holy Ghost because there wasn’t much else to read and study. If we didn’t have so many scriptures to study, maybe we would rely on the Holy Ghost more too….instead of those other scriptures we continue to search and study for our answers.

    Comment by don — September 26, 2005 @ 11:45 pm

  8. Its not like the Holy Spirit would say something different from what the Scriptures say, its just that it might be tailored to the immediate situation we find ourselves in. And, assuming we could enter into the same kind of correspondence Nephi enjoyed without performing similar works as Nephi did is a non-sequiter. A great deal of Nephi’s revelations dealt with explaining to him the backstory to why all of these kind of wild and crazy things were happening to him and his family, and why he had to put up with Laman and Lemuel, and so on. We arent in that situation, we arent the single elect progenitor of a race of covenant peoples. Now, that said, we certainly are encouraged to have the Holy Spirit, but if we dont get on the Lord’s train, then there isnt any reason for the Holy Spirit to talk to us.

    Comment by Kurt — September 27, 2005 @ 3:38 am

  9. It sort of makes me understand why Nephi’s brothers didn’t like him. And then I think God might have cut them some slack also because who likes somebody preaching to them about how cool they are?

    Comment by annegb — September 27, 2005 @ 8:31 am

  10. RT- I’d like some of that Moche tile for my kitchen remodel!
    I’m not really objecting to what you said and I agree with you as far as our day is concerned. But a few verses back into 2 Nephi 31 he is talking to his people about baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost so it just made sense to me that his emphasis for those of his day was probably on personal revelation. I wonder if the common man had much access to the written material that Nephi did.

    Comment by C Jones — September 27, 2005 @ 9:01 am

  11. I think this dichotomy that is arising in this discussion between written revelation and personal revelation is a false one. If we had 100 times the canonized scripture we currently have would that mean we would need little or no personal revelation? Absolutely not. Our need for constant revelation is completely independent of the quantity of canonized scripture we have. As I mentioned before, scriptures are essentially useless to our souls without personal revelation anyway — it all just rolls off of us without the Holy Ghost there to ensure that the actual truths God wants to teach us are sinking in.

    The context of this sermon seems to make it clear that Nephi is talking about personal revelation. He is giving a set of instructions on what to do after we enter in by the way. Anyone on the planet can read the scriptures, but only those with the Gift of the Holy Ghost can truly feast on the words of Christ in the way Nephi describes it because they can now speak with the tongue of angels (and always have the spirit to be with them).

    Comment by Geoff J — September 27, 2005 @ 11:14 am

  12. Anne – The tone I used in my restatement does make Nephi sound a bit impatient and grouchy, huh? Perhaps he was this way a bit (and hence 2 Nephi 4). Or it could be that he got a bit more crotchety in his later years when this was probably written…

    Kurt – The idea that you are hinting at seems to be the very idea that Nephi was railing against. That is; saying that Nephi-like revelation (in quality at least) is not and will not be available to us now. I think his writings say quite the opposite and he is frustrated when he is shown that we will continually fall back on excuses rather than follow his example.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 27, 2005 @ 11:23 am

  13. This is a very interesting discussion, but I wanted to pose a related question. Has anyone else thought that there was something to be learned from the distinction between what the words of Christ do (Tell you all things what you should do) and what the Holy Ghost does (Show unto you all things what you should do)?

    I have often thought that the words of Christ on which we feast are so many and from so many sources, as mentioned by others in this thread, that disciples often have a difficult time deciding what to do now, or next. Finding balance and prioritizing are one of the most challenging tasks that we have in day-to-day living. That is where the Holy Ghost plays such a wonderful role – in showing us what to do. We receive in our minds/hearts the promptings to guide our actions, thus discerning through that gift which among all the words of Christ we should do now.

    A side effect of taking the Holy Spirit as our guide is that we don’t have guilt for the many things which we could have done but which we didn’t get to, because we were doing the most important things first.

    Comment by GrandpaS — September 27, 2005 @ 11:56 am

  14. Excellent thoughts, Geoff. I would agree that the feasting mentioned by Nephi is not reading the scriptures. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to constantly have the words of Christ in my heart, regardless of whether I’m brushing my teeth or driving to work or playing with my kids or sitting in a meeting at work?

    I’m too quick to rationalize the lack of such feasting in my life. Simply put, I lack the faith. But I don’t want to beat myself up about it too much, so I convince myself that it is okay to be faithless. That kind of thought only spreads and obviously weakens my faith. It also seems easy for the rationalization to spread among a family or community until we don’t expect constant dialogue with God outside of the common rituals of scripture study, prayer, and church attendance.

    As you mentioned, the gospel of Christ is very simple. And yet why do we have so much other information in the scriptures? Nephi sure has a lot more to say than just 2nd Nephi 32. Even Christ, after explaining his gospel in a few verses, goes on to say quite a bit more. I don’t think we can throw this extra stuff away, and yet does it become a distraction? Is all this extra stuff there to help get us to the path and then after that we’re on our own?

    I’m torn when I read about Nephi. On one hand, I think if I were to meet someone like him I would not want to hang out with him much at all. The self-righteousness and arrogance just seems too much. Yet on the other hand, I’m anxious to hear more about the daily experiences of people who live with Christ always in their hearts. Listening to them makes me realize that I need to improve, a lot, and that’s painful. It’s probably just hard for me to listen to anyone who is closer to God than I am, and knows it, without feeling defensive. And yet hopeful at the same time — hence, mixed feelings.

    There are times when God is with me and times when He is not. One thing I’m sure of is that the gift of the Holy Ghost is precisely that, a gift. My life is so much better when the Holy Ghost is present, most notably in my internal reactions to negative experiences. The Holy Ghost means power and peace, no matter what. I haven’t figured out the exact incantations to invite the Holy Ghost into my life, but for me it has boiled down to a combination of gratitude and humility, towards God and his children. When I offer that, God doesn’t often disappoint. Why don’t I do it continually?

    Again, thanks for the post and letting me ramble. Keep up your crusade to emphasize personal revelation on this blog.

    Comment by Matt Jacobsen — September 27, 2005 @ 5:19 pm

  15. Geoff J,

    We arent going to have the same sorts of revelations that Nephi had, to me that seems obvious. The point I was, admittedly rather obscurely, trying to make is that unless we do the Lord’s work, as Nephi was, then there isnt any reason at all for the Holy Spirit to reveal anything to us. So, we can have revelations, as Nephi admonishes us to seek after, but they will not be similar in content to what Nephi had, as his role in the Lord’s plans is nothing like ours. They will be relevant to our role in the Lord’s plan. But, if we arent participating in the Lord’s plan, then there isnt much likelihood the Holy Spirit will reveal much of anything to us.

    Comment by Kurt — September 28, 2005 @ 5:06 am

  16. GrandpaS – First of all, I like your pseudonym (are you really a grandpa?). I hadn’t thought about the difference between the tell and show wording you bring up. No doubt some interesting points could be drawn from that distinction. But as I read the entire chapter it seems to me that Nephi is saying that the Holy Ghost always delivers the words of Christ so they are essentially the same thing from our perspective. That is, we can’t really understand the words of Christ without the Holy Ghost, and when the Holy Ghost communicates with us he only shows and tells the words of Christ.

    Matt – Thanks for the kind words and thoughtful comment. You bring up and interesting problem — that is that telling someone you have received revelation almost inevitably is offensive to them if they have not received it too. We see that with Nephi (people think he comes off as a jerk), we saw it in the text of the Book of Mormon: “Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold are not this people as good as thy people?”, and we saw that claims of modern revelation were the cause of most of the persecution of the early saints. But as I have said in lots of places, it is personal revelation and authority that makes this church different. If we aren’t getting personal revelation and lots of it then we are wasting our Mormonism.

    Kurt – I agree that the revelations we are entitled to are not necessarily going to be similar in content to those Nephi had; but I think that we can have revelations similar in quantity and quality. Our roles may indeed be different, but I suspect that Nephi’s role was largely one of his own making. In other words, I don’t think he was pre-destined to be a mighty prophet (though probably pre-disposed to be one based on pre-mortal progress). Rather, I think he obeyed the laws necessary to receive regular high quality revelations. There is nothing stopping us from doing the very same thing (accept our culture, our lack of faith, distractions, sins, etc…)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 28, 2005 @ 11:08 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.