God, Knowledge, and Change (again)

A couple of weeks ago Kaimi posted a question about God’s perfection and eternal progress. That led to various discussions, including discussions of foreknowledge and what it means for him to forget the past. I don’t want to resurrect that whole thread, but I’ve got some more or less random responses to some of the issues that I wanted to post and only now have time to do so.

1. In part of his original post, Kaimi said “the progress of God may explain the apparent change in God’s behavior between the Old and New Testaments.” I see two related problems here. First, the idea that the God of the OT is different than the God of the NT is, I think, much more a matter of a Christian tradition about how to understand the two Testaments than it is a matter of what the texts actually say. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the difference owes at least something to anti-Semitism. Second, if you accept the Book of Mormon, then you have to accept that OT people didn’t have a conception of God that differed so much from that of NT people.

2. Kaimi mentioned Ostler’s notion that God knows the future by knowing its possibilities. As those who were at last weekend’s meetings of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology know, besides his work, there are several Protestant theologians who go by the name of “openness theologians” who’ve laid out arguments in support of this position, e.g. Clark Pinnock and John Sanders. I think those interested in following up on their work will find that their positions, though different than LDS perspectives in important way, are for the most part compatible with our beliefs.

3. The term “all-knowing” came up a couple of times. I don’t have anything to offer along the lines I will suggest, but I wonder if there might be any profit in understanding omniscience in terms of knowledge of the things there are rather than knowledge of states of affairs, thinking of knowledge in more Hebraic terms, as fundamentally intimate acquaintance rather than knowledge-that. To know everything there is by intimate acquaintance would be to be all-knowing, whatever the case with regards to whether one could accurately describe all the possible states of affairs.

4. Clark addressed this before and I said “amen” (though I don’t remember where either occurred), but I’ll repeat it here because it fits in the discussion: If one thinks of the moments of time as one understands beats in a rhythm, then it isn’t difficult at all to understand the present as changing the past. If the past can change, and if God knows it accurately as it has become, then he has forgotten the old past because he remembers the new. Because it would take far too much space to say what I have to say about that here, you can go here to read some notes I’ve made on time. Sections III and V are particularly relevant to this question.

15 comments for “God, Knowledge, and Change (again)

  1. Gary Cooper
    March 22, 2004 at 8:29 pm


    Thanks for the post. This whole issue is fascinating, though at times bewildering. You make an excellent point about events in the present changing the past. Let me add some more to this idea.

    One of the conflicts that I have encountered with some other Christians (particularly Jehovah’s Witnesses, but not limited to that group), is the LDS conception, very pronounced in the BoM, that Christ’s Atonement affects not only those people alive at the time of His sacrifice and those who would live in the future, but also all those who had previously lived. I have had some Christian friends denounce this as unreasonable, declaring that, before Christ’s Atonement, actual blood sacrifice did atone for sins. I don’t think we’re unique in saying that the Atonement is eternal in nature, but when one reads the BoM, it’s clear that prophets and believers BEFORE Christ actual FELT the power of the Atonement in their lives, even though it had not yet happened. How can this be, unless it is possible for God to alter the past?

    At least in the sense of the Atonement, clearly God has some power over time, or rather He has power to change CONDITIONS that existed before (a man under the bondage of sin, like Alma the younger, finds himself freed spirtually by the Atonement, which is yet future). If He has this kind of power over the past, and it is clear He can act in the present in ways the affect the future, how does He keep track of this? If God knows everything that has already happened, and is aware of everything that is present, what is the extent of His knowledge of the future? Is it just a matter of possibilities?

    The problem I have with Blake Ostler’s theories (which I otherwise find quite agreeable) is that he doesn’t seem to have a clear answer for the fact that, throughout the Scriptures, we have numerous examples of God predicting future events with great exactness. This is so much the case that one gets the impression that God is allowing His prophets to actually look into the future as if watching a TV monitor. Yet, it is difficult to argue with Ostler’s point that if God truly does know EVERYTHING in the future, agency as we know it cannot exist, and agency is a constant the Scriptures insist on. In any case, when Joseph Smith said that with God all things are one great eternal “now”, he was on to something, though Ostler is right that it was not the neo-Platonic view of omniscience.

    I’m not sure I know where I’m going with this, but I look forward to following the comments on this post!

  2. Gary Cooper
    March 22, 2004 at 9:07 pm


    I wasn’t able to open up the link to your notes earlier, but now I just did. Again, you’ve thought this through very well. In fact, your thoughts on how repentence can affect the past actually explained Blake Ostler’s position to me better than his own writings have. Just a couple more thoughts, then I realy want to see how others and you discuss this:

    1. Given the Hebrew understanding of time that your note discussed, what can we make of statements such as “in the DAY thou eatest it, thou shalt surely die,…” or “On the first DAY God created the heavens and the earth…”, or the statement in the D&C that we must work while it is TODAY, for TOMORROW the Lord will return?? Perhaps the Lord isn’t talking at all about time in the Greek sense, but in the Hebrew sense.

    2. Your comment in your note about LABOR is interesting. It reminds me of the statement from the Lectures on Faith, that when a man works by faith, he works less by physical exertion but primarily by WORDS.

    Still, given what you are saying and what Ostler is saying, I want to know: How can God, through His prophets, predict future events with great exactness?

  3. March 22, 2004 at 9:45 pm

    You’ll notice that I referred to Ostler’s and open theology’s theories in another post (and I can’t seem to find where right now) and I’ve said some things here that may support such views. But I don’t yet really have a view. Obviously, my tendency is to go with the view that the Father has all knowledge by knowing the possibility of the future. However, since I don’t know quite how to think about those possibilities, I quickly get to a point where I don’t know what it would mean to say what that point seems to require me to say. So, I don’t have an explanation.

  4. March 22, 2004 at 9:46 pm

    And I forgot, but shouldn’t have: thanks to Kaimi for making the link work.

  5. March 22, 2004 at 10:11 pm

    Jim you shouldn’t give credit to me for that bit on time. Rather it was something I got from *you* via a rather extensive email you sent me a few years back. I still have it stored away somewhere.

    Gary, I think Blake and others with that view actually have a very good answer. The “visions” are predictive and not exact. I think they’d even argue that they sometimes fail. I tend to agree with you, but their position does answer the question rather well.

  6. March 23, 2004 at 12:15 am

    Clark, I think what you’ve saved is probably a version of what I linked to in the post.

    I agree that open theologians have an answer. Whether it is good depends in some measure how you decide what is good. Since the predictions have things in them that are quite exact–such as names of persons–I don’t think it works well to say that such prophecies are not exact.

    But John Sanders said something Saturday night that I’ve often said: one of the reasons for choosing an explanation is that you’re bothered less by its problems than by its alternatives. I’m less bothered by the problem of future prophecy than I am by some of the other problems.

    However, I tend to think that future prophecy is better explained by God’s ability to bring about his purposes: he can arrange things to be as he has prophesied them to be. True, some prophecies fail, but it isn’t clear what to make of those. So I think it may be that because he knows those person on whom he depends for his work, he is unlikely to have to rearrange things to fit with his plans, but he can if needed.

    (But what I find amazing about the fact that I started this thread is that I think it is generally not helpful to worry about these kinds of theological problems! It only proves that the philosophy bug is very powerful and can cause people to suffer from great and inexplicable fevers.)

  7. March 23, 2004 at 1:09 am


    Great post. Thanks for the link. You are right that the classical Hebrew concept of time is different than our Western geometry-inspired concept of time. In Biblical Hebrew the verb indicates whether the action is completed or still continuing. Only the perfect and the imperfect aspects (tenses) exist and these two aspects can be translated in a variety of ways depending on the context and the speaker ( the writer’s perspective of the event is key).

    Although I appreciate the logical difficulties in suggesting that free-will (where actual alternatives exist) is compatible with an omniscient God, I am deeply troubled by the implications of limiting God’s foreknowledge.

    Bruce Ware has written a piece on this that largely sums up my worries. Although there are lots of theological implications of such an open view of God’s knowledge, which affect God’s character, purposes, and work. the accuracy and certainty of scripture and prophecy, the salvific work of Jesus Christ, etc. I think that many of you have already touched upon those issues. For the moment (okay, for the last four years) I have been more troubled on a regular basis by the practical implications that follow from denying God’s foreknowledge.

    In his book _God of the Possible_ Greg Boyd tells the story of “Suzanne,” a young woman who was “raised in a wonderful Christian home, had been a “passionate, godly disciple of Jesus Christ” from her youth and had a near life-long desire to be a missionary to Taiwan. She prayed daily for her future husband that he would share her vision for Taiwan, “remain faithful to the Lord and remain pure in heart.” She met and courted such a man for more than three years during college. After months of prayer, fasting, and consulting with their parents, pastor and friends, everyone agreed that “this marriage was indeed God’s will.” Suzanne herself received a special confirmation of this while in prayer one day.

    Shortly after her marriage, while in missionary school, Suzanne’s husband began a pattern of adultery and abuse and refused to be helped or to repent.”

    What are the implications of the denial of God’s foreknowledge for Suzanne? Well, on one hand it might rescue God’s benevolence for her. After all, if God didn’t know this was going to happen, then he can’t be resented for leading her into such misery. In this way such a theology might seem comforting to her and help her retain a conception of God’s goodness. But, what of Suzanne’s future? Since God didn’t know this was going to happen to her, Suzanne can’t rest in the knowledge that her affliction and suffering were known beforehand and permitted by God because he knew they would be important in her development or were necessary experiences for her to go through as part of his larger plan for her life. A God with limited foreknowledge can’t really have a very coherent plan for one’s life. Further, will Suzanne ever trust God again? Can she place her confidence in his direction when it seems like his imperfect and thus, fallible knowledge is what led her into suffering? Without perfect foreknowledge God’s beliefs and plans will have to change based on the freedom of human agents. Things can happen that he wishes didn’t and that he didn’t know in advance. Since God does give us sometimes very specific direction, how do we interpret this direction if God’s foreknowledge is limited? Does he give us direction based on his best guess about what he believes will happen in the future? If God doesn’t actually know what will happen then it seems that at any given moment God will possess innumerable false beliefs. How can this be a God we would pray to, have faith in, and trust enough to follow over our own feelings or experience?

    Once again, I understand well this philosophical difficulties in suggesting that free-will and foreknowledge both exist, but after much thought I wonder if, on this issue at least, the God of philosophy is unfit for religious purposes.

  8. March 23, 2004 at 1:40 am

    Your final comment has a lot to do with why I am amazed that I started this thread. None of the people I read regularly ever discuss the issue of how to explain God’s foreknowledge, but I get sucked into it–not always by someone else either.

    That said, let me see if I can think of something that might be worth saying in response to your objection. But give me a little time.

  9. Ned
    March 23, 2004 at 2:24 am

    Comments like “the God of Philosophy” are meaningless to me because I have no honest way of seperating my philosophical conceptualizations with my theological conceptualizations. How can one maintain such a distinction?

  10. March 23, 2004 at 10:01 am


    I don’t have time to give you a complete answer right now, but the short answer has to do with the way I understand theology. Philosophy is troubled by inconsistency, contradictions, paradox. In philosophy you can overturn (or at least challenge) someone’s argument by showing that it is inconsistent, contains contradictions, etc. Logic and reasoning are privileged. Think of the God of classical Christianity. Why do they have a Neo-platonic God? One that is immutable, impassible, timeless, eternal, etc? Because it would be inconsistent to say that God was “perfect” and yet subject to change. They rejected any paradox, any contradiction—to the point that they ultimately rejected the God of the Bible.(IMHO)

    I wouldn’t define theology as simply philosophically articulating the intellectual content of religious beliefs (although many people define theology that way explicitly or implicitly). Theology has to be more than that. My theology isn’t informed solely by my reasoning on scripture. It is informed by many things, including my own experience with God—which is frankly full of contradiction and paradox. Does that mean that I just throw up my hands and give up trying to understand and make sense of God? That I stop thinking, reading, praying, and talking about these things? No, but in the end there is more to my theological understanding of God than my philosophical account of God allows. While it is difficult to rest in that tension, it is where I live at the moment.

    Perhaps as I develop as a philosopher that will not always be the case.

  11. March 23, 2004 at 12:50 pm


    Since reputable philosophers, from William James to Martin Heidegger to Paul Ricouer, have made the same distinction that Melissa has made, it isn’t likely that it is meaningless, even if it is wrong. Whether it is wrong is, of course, an interesting philosophical question.

  12. William Morris
    March 23, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    Melissa’s post sums up my current thoughts quite well. I’ve never understood how God’s foreknowledge restricted my agency on a practical, lived-in-time level.

    So this for me is also something in tension. The great thing is that, at least so far, the tensions Mormon theology creates in relation to others way of knowing/explaining are all things I can live with, that are productive instead of crippling, that suggest to me that there’s something to this whole plan and how it plays out on this earth. But I also find that that’s only the case when I immerse myself in Gospel discourse (the scriptures, Sunday worship, church service, etc.) to a sufficient degree. I lose a certain clarity without that immersion.

    A few thoughts on Jim/Clark’s rhythm thing.

    1. The idea of the present changing the past brought to mind a recent Slate article on memory and the neuroscience of the new Jim Carrey movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” See: http://slate.msn.com/id/2097502/

    The most relevant quote, I think, is:

    “For a long time, memory researchers assumed that memories were like volumes stored in a library. When your brain remembered something, it was simply searching through the stacks and then reading aloud from whatever passage it discovered. But some scientists now believe that memories effectively get rewritten every time they’re activated, thanks to a process called reconsolidation. To create a synaptic connection between two neurons—the associative link that is at the heart of all neuronal learning—you need protein synthesis. Studies on rats suggest that if you block protein synthesis during the execution of learned behavior—pushing a lever to get food, for instance—the learned behavior disappears. It appears that instead of simply recalling a memory that had been forged days or months ago, the brain is forging it all over again, in a new associative context. In a sense, when we remember something, we create a new memory, one that is shaped by the changes that have happened to our brain since the memory last occurred to us.”

    Of course, we don’t know if God’s mind operates via protein synthesis, but the idea that memory, the past, is always forged anew in a new “associative context” is an interesting parallel to the discussion of repentance I think.

    2. My failing when it comes to philosophy is that I can’t escape my literary training. I tend to take ideas and extend them into narratives or riff of images and extend metaphors. I’ve been doing that recently in a series of not-quite-parables, not-exactly-stories, not-quite-essays/commentaries that I’m calling speculations. These things probably fall apart if looked at theologically or philosophically but they’re having a certain metaphoric resonance that is working for me at the moment.

    At any rate, one of them has to do with God as storyteller and progression as narrative. I’ve been thinking about the 1/3 of the host of heaven that didn’t choose correctly and we’re cast down. We learn from the scriptures that they seek to make men miserable like themselves. I agree. But I also think that that’s not quite all.

    We often speak of this 1/3 in terms of being damned by not having access to physical bodies. There is a minor theme in Mormon discourse portraying them as craving a physical body, of possessing animals and humans, and seeking to cause us to sin out of some sort of resentment over their incorporeality [physically speaking, of course, since they still maintain their spirit bodies]. I think this is the case. But I’ve also been thinking about damnation in relation to narrative — that part of their frustration, of the state of their damnation, is that they are cut off from God’s narrative i.e. from progression and that much of their actions are an attempt to re-enter the narrative. Think of Satan and his role in the Garden of Eden, or his attempts to influence men to exact blood and horror on the story of human history. But the thing is — they can’t really enter the narrative as characters or players in the sense that we sometimes speak of them. Having lost all agency, they may be able to try and influence the characters in the human drama, but all action is still predicated on the choices of the characters. They are in some sense simply props. A bottle of whiskey on the stage that doesn’t really take on meaning until a character picks it up and takes a swig, or bashes another character over the head with it, or simply moves it from the liquor cabinet to the table. I don’t want to take this too far. As with any extended metaphor it breaks down if examined to closely. And I can already think of specific actions that suggest that these spirits aren’t quite as cut off as I think, that they are ‘players’ in some sense. And I don’t know how crucial this is to our conception of God in Mormon theology. But I do think that the relationship of the lost 1/3 to time and rhythm and the narrative of human history is of minor interest and is something that Mormon theology can approach in a unique way because of our views on agency, mortality, progression, God, time, etc.

  13. Gary Cooper
    March 23, 2004 at 3:06 pm


    You have summed up my own concerns better than I have. One thing I would add, and didn’t even think of until reading your threads, is how Christ’s experience in Gethemane relates to this. If we understand that Christ’s suffering there consisted of both suffering for all the sins that ever were or would be committed, AND taking upon himself all the sorrows and pains that any of us would ever suffer, this seems to raise a number of implications that impact this discussion:

    1. Christ came to know each of us, as individuals, in an intimate way, coming to experience all the suffering and travails, and the pain of our sins. This at least implies that He had reveealed to Him the detailed past, present, and future of every human being–and so likewise the Father must have this same knowledge, and one assumes the Holy Ghost would as well. This would seem to indicate that God’s foreknowledge consists of far more than just knowing possibilities (as regards the mortal path of His children, at least), but also particulars as well; and–

    2. In some unfathomable sense, Christ in Gethsemane was able, or rendered able by the Father, to “span time”—to literally be “present” with each human being and “experience” our individual sorrows, guilt, etc. The Father must have this same knowledge, too, and one assumes the Holy Ghost also. This all seems to point to the idea that while God is subject to time (as Blake Ostler ably demonstrates), yet He has some power to control time, or at least supersede some of the constraints that time places on us in mortality. To me, the single biggest argument against the idea that God does not know all of the details, or at least all of the important details, of the future, is the very nature of the Atonement itself. Even greater than the issue of detailed prophecies, the Atonement looms huge against the arguments of Ostler, et al., because I cannot fathom exercising saving faith in the hope that God truly knows and understands who I am and what I am and what I experience, unless Christ did in fact gain the knowledge the Scriptures say He did, and I can’t fathom Christ having knowledge that the Father doesn’t.

    William Morris–great thoughts on how Satan and his hosts play into this discussion. I have had similar thoughts myself, but didn’t make the connection to this issue. I would add that Satan’s preoccupation with secret combinations, wars, political tyranny, etc., also seems directly related to his frustration at “not being part of the picture”–he can really only affect us here (the true “reality”, as opposed to the un-reality he is forced to live in) by swaying individual mortals or groups of mortals, and he must constantly find himself frustrated by the extreme limitations God’s power places on him. We are here in TIME, where our actions have an impact that is real, wheras the 1/3 are trapped in TIMELESSNESS, where nothing they can do or say will make any difference upon their own condition now or at the Final Judgement. (I, too, don’t want to imply that that the 1/3 can’t have a tangible and very real impact upon us, as I know through personal experiences that they can.)

    Finally, while not stated, I think all of us would agree, that the fundamental source of God’s power and foreknowledge, whether such are as limited as some involved in this discussion suspect, is not based on His simply being smarter than all of us, but somehow it derives from His perfect LOVE–God loves so completely and fully and perfectly that He has all power to save, and we become like Him in exaltation and gain His knowledge, not ultimately by studying or philosophizing, or reasoning, though these things are very helpful, but by learning to LOVE the way He does. “Charity never failith…”

  14. March 24, 2004 at 7:17 pm

    My apologies in advance for a super-long post.

    A. Melissa,

    I have two responses. The first is the one I find least satisfying. It may work for me intellectually (I’ve not decided that yet), but—as you point out—the question is ultimately not an intellectual one. And it is the one that takes me into philosophical territory where I am normally not to be found. The second is the more satisfying, both philosophically and spiritually.

    1. The quick version of my response is that I don’t see why the practical difficulties of openness theology are any more problematic than are the practical difficulties of postulating that God has both omniscience in the traditional sense and divine power. Greg Boyd’s story of Suzanne is a case in point. You (Boyd?) say that the denial of foreknowledge puts her faith in jeopardy. But so does the assertion of omniscience and power: God has the power to and knows how to prevent her suffering and does not do so. How can she have faith in such a being? (The stories of innocent suffering that Ivan tells Alyosha just before he tells the story of the Grand Inquisitor make the point very well.)

    Equally, if God knows exactly what will happen, then I have yet to see an account of that knowledge that doesn’t include the determination of those events: they will be that way and no other. In my mind such a position not only denies human agency, it denies God the power to save, unless he is the creator ex nihilo of the world, which I assume neither you nor I believe.

    Both of those are very big problems, big enough that I prefer the problems of openness theology to them.

    Further, it is important to recognize that openness theology doesn’t deny that God has foreknowledge. It denies that he has foreknowledge of the sort that has traditionally been predicated of him. That doesn’t imply that he gives direction based on his best guess. He can know a great deal that will causally come to pass. What he does not know, according to openness theologians, is the exact decisions that any person will make. (If he did, then there would be no rationally coherent account of agency.) He can know that person well and, based on that knowledge, give possibilities varying weights. He can know all of the possibilities that there are as well as (and this is important) how to respond to each of those possibilities should they come to pass. Even without determinate knowledge of the determinate future, he knows a great deal in advance. It seems to me that is enough to preserve each of the things you worry will disappear if God does not have determinate foreknowledge.

    So, we choose our intellectual responses in accordance with which problems we prefer, but it seems to me that the openness theologians end up with fewer problems than do the traditional ones.

    2. Though I can be sucked into discussing questions such as these and, in fact, can suck myself into them, I don’t think they are the best way to think about religion, for—as you point out in your second post—they don’t deal with religion in its own terms. Problems like the problem of theodicy come up only when one steps back from religion and, in a sense, is no longer religious: they require an analysis of the beliefs of religion, and religion is fundamentally about neither beliefs nor their analysis. (Thinking that it is is one of the ways that theology and philosophy have seduced us.)

    I think it is much more philosophically fruitful to describe the Christian experience of faith, prayer, sacrament, etc. My attitude toward what it means to do philosophy of religion is well summed up by Paul Ricoeur in his essay, “Experience and Language in Religious Discourse” (in _Phenomenology and the “Theological Turn”: The French Debate_) and in “Philosophy and Religious Language” (in _Figuring the Sacred_). Ricoeur understands scripture to be superior to philosophy in that the former can reveal human existence in its relation to both the Divine and evil in ways that philosophy cannot. Generally agreeing with Ricoeur, I think the job of the philosopher of religion is twofold: (a) to use the tools of philosophy to interpret religious texts so that they can be heard again both by believers and by those outside the house of faith, and (b) to describe religious phenomena as carefully as possible so that they can be experienced again and so that those outside of one’s tradition may have some idea of what they are about.

    I am personally more interested in the first of these than the second, so my response to the problem of God’s knowledge is to begin by asking where that problem occurs in scripture. If we can find a locus for it, then I’m willing to try to figure it out in the context of that locus (unless I’ve been sucked into the other discussion). Otherwise I think the problem of divine knowledge is incomprehensible as a problem of RELIGION. Thus, my second response is that I think you and I are pretty much in agreement about how one should approach these problems. Note, however, that your use of “theology” isn’t the usual LDS usage. As I see it, when most LDS use the term, they either mean merely “the beliefs we hold,” without specifying what those are, or “systematic theology.” Often the two meanings are, I believe, confused. Thus, within an LDS context, I am willing to say that I question the need for theology and, in fact, believe that it is dangerous.

    B. William,

    The neuro-science to which you point is very interesting, but I think it doesn’t quite address the business about rhythm, for the point about the analogy of rhythm is that the past can ITSELF change, while the neuro-science to which you point shows that our memory can change.

    And, if you’ve not already, you really ought to read Ricoeur’s _Time and Narrative_, as well as some of his essays in _Figuring the Sacred_ and perhaps _Thinking Biblically_. In them, you’ll find a philosopher who thinks in ways quite similar to yours.

    C. Gary Cooper,

    You said: “Christ came to know each of us, as individuals, in an intimate way, coming to experience all the suffering and travails, and the pain of our sins. This at least implies that He had revealed to Him the detailed past, present, and future of every human being.” I don’t see why that follows. I can suffer with someone and, in Christ’s case, suffer the same suffering, without knowing the details of that person’s life. All that is required is that I know the same suffering. I have a similar problem with your second point. It is a reasonable possible explanation of things, but I don’t see what gives it any argumentative or philosophical force. In other words, it is reasonable to say “Christ being literally present with each of us in some way could explain how he experiences our suffering.” However, that it is reasonable doesn’t make it convincing.

    And though I agree that God is love, I don’t know that I would agree that “the fundamental source of God’s power and foreknowledge [. . .] derives from His perfect LOVE.” I don’t know how we would know what the source of God’s power, foreknowledge, or anything else is. I think you claim more than we can possibly know.

  15. March 24, 2004 at 7:44 pm

    A comment on doctrine: I find it interesting that, speaking to Joseph Smith, the Lord says, “They teach for doctrines the COMMANDMENTS [not the teachings] of men, having a form of godliness, but THEY DENY THE POWER THEREOF [presumably of the commandments]” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19; my emphasis). In that context, notice how often the New Testament identifies doctrines with commandments rather than with beliefs. See, for example, Matthew 15:1-9 and Mark 7:5-9; as well as Colossians 2:20-21. This also seems to be the spirit of the Lord’s remark “he that is not against us is on our part” (Mark 9:40; see also Luke 9:50). In Latter-day scripture, we can also see this focus on practices rather than beliefs in Doctrine and Covenants 19:31: “And of tenets [Websters 1828: “doctrines”] thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.”

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