Friday, November 16, 2012

Whosoever that looketh to lust: KJV with JST versus Book of Mormon


 In these verses, Jesus expounds the higher law that one should not look on a woman (or anyone, I suppose) to lust, and looking to lust was to commit adultery in the heart.  However, Matthew and 3 Nephi have different attending explanations that seem to have different emphases.

KJV with JST:

27 ¶Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
 28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
 29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
 30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.  And now this I speak, a parable concerning your sins; wherefore, cast them from you, that ye may not be hewn down and cast into the fire.
 (Matt 5:27-30, JST added in green)

Book of Mormon:

27 Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery;
 28 But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.
 29 Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart;
 30 For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell. (3 Nephi 12:27-30)

I notice that the KJV has “hath committed adultery with her,” but the Book of Mormon has only “hath committed adultery.”  The KJV “with her” seems to imply that the woman participates too, but the Book of Mormon doesn’t, leaving the impression that it is all the man’s (or onlooker’s) sin.

3 Nephi doesn’t have anything about plucking out eyes or cutting off hands, so perhaps the Jews needed the extra vivid language more than the Nephites did.  Concerning this intense imagery, the JST gives us the info that Jesus was not speaking literally, which is a relief.  (We suspect it was the case, but it is nice to know for sure, since there have been people who have taken the extreme view from time to time.)  Learning it is a parable about our sins invites us to look deeper.

Comparing our sins to parts of our bodies shows that Jesus knew our sins can be so much a part of us that the prospect of repenting can seem as devastating as losing an eye or our dominant hand, such that we may ask ourselves, “What am I going to do instead?” especially when it is a favorite way of releasing tension, coping with stress or difficulty, relaxing, having fun, or passing time that weighs heavily on our hands.

I also think that Jesus’ choice of body parts in that parable is not accidental.  The eye is the way we see the world and our perspective, which means it is really about how we think, so Jesus meant we have to cast away sinful thoughts.  The hand is about the things we do, so I think Jesus mean we have to cast away evil deeds.  Evil deeds and evil thoughts that have become attached to us like body parts qualify for the terms “bad habits” and “addictions.”  Seen this way, we can understand why Jesus would use such extreme language about plucking out and cutting off. 

The Book of Mormon’s additions add more to this idea.

29 Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart;
 30 For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell. (3 Nephi 12:29-30)

Jesus makes it a commandment to guard our hearts so that we keep lust (and other ungodly desires) from entering.  AS someone has said before, maybe the bird lands on your head, but you can keep it from building a nest there. 

It is clear Jesus recognizes the difficulty of keeping this commandment, especially if there have been previous problems.  He calls it “tak[ing] up your cross.”  That implies to me a daily burden, a decision made every day that requires great care and self-denial.  I love that He says taking up that cross is better than being cast into hell because it exalts that painful watchfulness into a legitimate part of His higher law.  Thus, anyone who is recovering from an addiction need not think of the hard work of vigilance they do to stay clean as something that only brings them up to the level of ordinary morality.  Rather, it puts them on the higher way—Jesus’s way.  It is, after all, what He commanded as part of the higher law. 

I’m rather stunned to discover this.  I never thought of it in that way before!  What do you think?

Bonus: I found a neat PDF of Semitic idioms in the Bible that explains the meaning of some phrases that are odd in the KJV because they were idioms literally translated instead of explained.  Very instructive; I recommend it.  (It even had a bit about the plucking out of eyes and cutting off of hands, showing that it was an Aramaic idiom meaning about the same as stated above.)