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An Attorney and a Gentleman
The “Moment” of the Atonement
Greetings listeners! This is Chris Heimerdinger and this is ForeverLDS. A little background on today’s episode. This is my second interview with Dr. Thomas Wayment, Brigham Young University professor of New Testament and classical studies. I interviewed Dr. Wayment toward the end of last year—Episode 41: Insights on the Nativity and the New Testament. It was December, therefore a conversation about the Nativity certainly seemed timely and appropriate.
Today’s episode focuses much of its attention on the Atonement, which also, seasonally speaking, is apropos, but the genesis of this interview came about much differently than my first interview with Dr. Wayment. Our first conversation—even though I’m virtually always inclined to get off into the weeds whenever a guest says something that prompts a question—our first interview was admittedly more planned, organized, all that stuff. This interview was much more off the cuff.
I wasn’t even sure I’d release it as a podcast. Essentially, it came about because I had several burning questions related to research that I was pursuing on my latest Tennis Shoes novel, Thorns of Glory. Many who follow this series know that my story is heavily intertwined with events in the last week of the life of Christ. Also with the final battle at Cumorah. Quite the ambitous agenda, right? But that’s one of the unique opportunities of a genre like time travel.
Anyway, as it pertains to the last week of the life of Christ, like any novelist, I wanted to bring to the table—to the story—something that was new and real, stuff that no other author has explored in other fictionalizations—dramatizations—of these events. New information. Original insights. Whatever.
Dr. Wayment and I had already exchanged a few emails and it was clear that in order to glean all the info I felt I needed, we’d have to have a conversation. I asked if I could record it, just in case it was interesting enough to transform into a podcast episode. He said that was fine, but honestly, I wasn’t sure if what ultimately came out of our conversation would serve the interests of ForeverLDS. I wasn’t sure if the discussion would hold the attention of the average listener. I feared it might be too esoteric. I.E., boring. The only real sin in podcasting or any other form of entertainment is to be boring, right? Okay, there are other sins, but “boring” is right up there. Maybe the worst. I knew the conversation would be focused upon some very specific research points, and boring the listener to tears was an natural concern. Especially if we just dove in, laying no foundation for the audience, who would become, essentially, third-party eavesdroppers.
Even in my novels, if I include an in-depth chapter note, I’ll place it at the end of the chapter wherein the research applies. This gives the reader a clear point of reference. The foundation is laid. Most research never becomes a chapter note. I’ve read entire books just to make a single paragraph—a single sentence!—sound plausible. Explaining all that to a listener would be about as effective as a hospital anesthetic.
Moreover—and this was probably a little more concerning—some of the questions I wanted to ask Dr. Wayment, might have been a bit controversial. Why introduce controversy into my podcast if I don’t have to? I’m certainly not afraid of controversy. But to do that you have to lay the proper foundation. The audience can’t feel like they’re dropping in on the middle of the conversation. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. I didn’t think there was time to bring the listener up to speed on the mountain of data that serves as a backstory to the questions I wanted to ask. I wasn’t sure Dr. Wayment would have time to rehearse all the doctrinal, historical, and cultural issues behind my questions. We’d already laid out the foundation and backstory in our emails. Now I just wanted answers. I wanted to learn Dr. Wayment’s perspective. Therefore we could get right into the meat, potentially leaving podcast listeners in the dust.
In retrospect, it was a very silly thought process on my part. Why? Because of the character and personality of Dr. Wayment. He is one of the most gentle, meek human beings I’ve ever met. I think if I’d have used those words to describe someone in high school they’d have punched me in the mouth. As an older, more mature, human being, such character traits are, in reality, deep compliments. Dr. Wayment, despite his intelligence and his faith, is one of the most giving and forgiving conversationalists I’ve encountered. He’s an expert on Greek and ancient history, particularly first century Christianity. Speaking with him is an honor, yet my motivation is, “This is the approach I’d want to take with my novel. Is it plausible? Is it plausible?”
Listening to the conversation later, I wished I’d just shut up more. I feel like I can hear, during my various monologues, how Dr. Wayment would love to chime in, but I just keep prattling on. Like I say, I wasn’t sure it would ever become a podcast episode, so I guess I have that excuse. But the takeaway I got was, if you’re interviewing an expert, just seal your lips. Let the expert talk. I mentioned this later to Dr. Wayment, after I started editing the episode, and he politely assured me that I was overthinking it and the conversation went just fine.
Okay, fine, but I fear I missed an opportunity to learn a lot more than I already knew as a result of being hyperfocused on seeking a “thumbs up” on ideas already marinating in my head. Doesn’t matter, I guess. Thom has become a good friend and I’m sure we’ll speak again.
Here’s the point. In spite of every concern I might have had, this is a fascinating episode. At least in my view. Some listeners might have their jaws drop as they listen because they’ve never thought about the things we discuss in quite the way we discuss them. At least I had luxury of several months and even years to let these ideas sink in. For some listeners it might feel it’s being dropped on you like an anvil in a single hour.
Okay, now I’ve really oversold what you’re about to hear. Maybe it’s none of these things. But it is sacred stuff. The Atonement is a hallowed conversation, no matter how you approach it. You can’t get much more sacred than the Atonement of Jesus Christ, what it means, how it occurred, and the historical events surrounding it. Add to that perceptions of the Restored Church, as well as the rest of Christendom.
Please understand, Dr. Wayment is a scholar of early Christianity. He comes from a modern discipline of analysis that today permeates virtually every academy of higher learning—He calls it the “Germanic” approach because the tradition was more or less established by German and European scientists of the 19th century who believed all scholarship must be very dispassionate, skeptical, and antiseptic. Very Joe Friday. “Just the facts Ma’am.” What can I say? I believe this approach works very well in fields like physics and medicine, geology and psychology. Where it doesn’t work, I feel, is in a field like religion or religious scholarship. Dispassion can certainly “tame” or “temper” or keep a faithful researcher honest, especially when combined with disciplines like archeology or anthropology, but it should not dominate the narrative. However, it does, and it has. Many would argue that to totally eliminate bias is impossible. The scholar is just a pretender. I happen to be one of those. Everybody has a bias, however determined they might be to try and hide it.
But here’s the real problem. The invariable result of this modern antiseptic, skeptical, dispassionate approach in religious scholarship is that it churns out an alarming number of agnostics and atheists. A bright-eyed, faithful believer goes in, and a cynical, detached non-believer comes out. Dr. Wayment believes that number is as high as 20%, and I believe he’s being very generous. Most, he concedes, who pursue a higher degree in these fields simply never graduate. That’s what happens when you descend into the crucible of the theological departments at Yale, Harvard, Cambridge, etc. In other words, if a student seeking an advanced degree does not emerge as a natural skeptic—someone who questions the most fundamental aspects of their own faith and belief—how can they honestly call themselves an unbiased, neutral, truth-seeking scholar? Some academies might conclude that if they were to send out into the world any other brand of scholar, the department fell short. They failed.
The good news is, at least as far as Dr. Wayment is concerned, this strict, antiseptic approach to religious scholarship is starting to collapse from within. However, believers are still very careful to keep their biases—their personal faith—a secret from their peers.
Healthy? I don’t think so. How could that ever be healthy to devote your life to religious scholarship but hide your true feelings about your faith. If Dr. Wayment is right, some dramatic changes may be in the works. It seems to be human nature that when something is repressed long enough—something true, something that’s an inherent part of the human psyche, it kind of explodes. It comes back tenfold.
Take the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for example. We might just be on the forefront of this natural counter-reaction. It’s abundantly clear from recent addresses delivered by our Apostles to scholarly organizations funded and sanctioned by the Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the traditional approach to scholarship that has dominated for many decades is being openly rejected.
See, today, in virtually every part of the academic world, if a religious scholar is conducting research that is perceived as apologetic—or in other words in support of or defending any position of sincere faith or belief—that scholar will effectively torpedo his or her own career. If you’re a Catholic—or even a Muslim—and you write a paper that argues in favor of the tenets of your particular belief system, you are blackballed by your colleagues and peers. Your reputation plummets and your future contributions are tainted. Or ignored. It’s true. It’s why scholars who are also members of the Church sometimes wait until they have tenure or until they’re older and established in their fields—in other words, until they reach a point where they just don’t care what their colleagues think—before they admit to or write about, for example, corollaries between the Book of Mormon and New World archeology.
Oh, I know you’d love me to name a few Latter-day Saint scholars who have done this, and indeed I can. However, because I’m still trying to decide if this approach is wise in the long run or inherently hypocritical, possibly even cowardly, I will politely and prudently refrain.
My point is that as far the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is concerned, scholars who publish on topics related to the Restored Gospel do not have the mandate to be neutral and unbiased and non-committal. I’ll provide a link in the show notes to an address recently delivered by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland to the Maxwell Institute for those who wonder what the Church feels is the proper approach for our religious scholars. In short, the ancient tradition of apologetics is very much encouraged. And for those of you who still think the word apologetics somehow has anything to do with the word “apology” or “apologizing”—It gets really tiresome to keep repeating this distinction, but some folks just can’t wrap their head around it. Apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing. It means making an argument. Presenting an intelligent, logical, thought-out position.
Anyway, as far as Dr. Wayment is concerned, and despite enduring that “Germanic”, dispassionate, non-committal approach to religious studies as espoused by the academies of higher learning where he earned his degrees, he did NOT emerge as a skeptic or non-believer. That doesn’t mean he rejects the scholarship presented to him. Quite the contrary. He allows it to inform, shape, and elevate his understanding of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He emerged from that crucible with a much more nuanced, mature, satisfying, and eminently faithful conclusion. Which I find invigorating, particularly as a result of what I’ve learned while reading his newly-released, English translation of the New Testament, which we discuss toward the beginning.
Okay, enough intro. If my voice sounds weird, it’s because I was fighting a cold when it was recorded. So be it. Here is the interview....
(I tried to find a direct link to the talk presented by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland to the Maxwell Institute. There is a full video of the presentation of this talk on Youtube. As well there is the Maxwell Institutes annual report, wherein Elder Holland's talk begins on Page 9.)
Chris: I got to say, the translation—you discussed this in the first podcast that we did—and I ordered it, very shortly after we did that podcast. It was well received and it was also something that really interested me. So I go onto Amazon, and I place the order, and I’m immediately informed that it’s out of print, and not available, so I probably should have just called you directly, to see if I could get a copy. But I paid my money, and I waited. So this was December, and I waited until the end of February before that book finally arrived. So I’ve been immersed int hat ever since, of course with the Come Follow Me program. But also just my own personal interest—it’s as if every verse that you read gives you a different nuance to how you feel about verses of the scripture that you’re very familiar with from the King James version. We’re so indoctrinated in that language—I mean, those of us who take the time to read the New Testament, we are used to that language, and it carries a certain mood, it gives you an emotional impression of what the event entailed. And your book gives you a whole different take on practically every verse, and I had no idea. I mean you told me this back last December, and I wasn’t sure how much I really believed that that was true. I mean, how different could it be? It’s so different. You made the statement that Latter-day Saints in other countries, that speak other languages like Spanish or German, they have such an advantage because they have translations of the Bible, the New Testament, that are in common, everyday, modern vernacular as far as their own languages are concerned. And Latter-day Saints don’t really enjoy that because we are so caught up in the King James Version. I now understand what you’re talking about. The book is incredible because at the bottom in all of your chapter notes, you will very fairly state that “There’s one manuscript which gives this rendering, or this reading, and it’s a respected manuscript so we need to consider the alternative,” or you’ll say “This is in later manuscripts and we think that it’s dubious,” but you’ll give it to us, you’ll offer us the option so we can sit there and ponder it. And I thought that was gracious, I thought that was really generous to be able to do that. Now here’s my question: the King James version, they had dozens of scholars who were involved in this translation process. They had committees and subcommittees and people overseeing those committees. And the same thing happened with the Revised Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version and the New International—I mean, with all of these different versions of the Bible, there were teams, whole teams that were involved with these translations, and yet here you are, not claiming that you had the direct help of anyone, that you did a translation of the New Testament that was specifically for the reading of Latter-day Saints. And you did it alone. How did you pull that off?
Dr. Wayment: A lot of time and effort, a lot of work. I have no idea how to conceptualize how much work—for five years, it was really the only thing I consistently worked on. I got to the point towards the end where I could typically do a chapter a day; that became my goal in a lot of it. But yeah, it’s a hard answer. There’s a lot of value in a committee translation like you said, it brings a lot of perspective, and a lot of energy and manpower. That would have been great; it would have produced a different type of product.
Chris: How would a committee have produced a different type of product?
Dr. Wayment: When you consider what a translator is in a text like this, a translator is someone who engages the text through their own eyes, through their own experiences. You find a consistency in a single-person translation that you won’t find in a committee. Committees try to approach mechanical conformity and similarity, so every Greek verb—this particular Greek word—will be translated the same throughout. But a single translator has that more limited, if you will, or personal approach to the text. So you’re experiencing me experience Mark, and you get the same “me” in Hebrews, and the same “me” in Jude. Whereas you find a very different kind of approach where a committee typically assigns a book or a block of books to a group, and that feel can fundamentally change across a spectrum. For example, in KJV, you find a very translator in Romans than you do elsewhere. If you’re reading the Hebrew Bible, you find the same KJV difference in Isaiah versus, say, Genesis. And a single translator like a Tyndale or Wycliffe or others—they bring a more consistent pattern to it, a more consistent rhythm, if you will. So there’s benefits and obviously limitations on both approaches.
Chris: So what you’re saying is that the concept of a single translator is nothing new; Wycliffe did it and Tyndale...so that’s not totally unique.
Dr. Wayment: No.
Chris: But maybe it was for speed or efficiency? I mean, what was the purpose of the King James translators, what was their thinking in having entire committees? Was it just to be able to break down assignments for different groups so they could be overseen? What was their motive?
Dr. Wayment: A lot of times we forget that the King James Bible is an intentional revision of the Bishop’s Bible. So what they have is a Greek text called the Receptus, or Textus Receptus.
Chris: The Bishop’s Bible—is that the Geneva Bible?
Dr. Wayment: No, that’s a different one still. The Bishop’s is the official Bible of the Church of England. And what they’re doing is they’re saying, the Bishop’s Bible is rather heavy-handed; it’s not a great translation in my opinion. And they were commissioned to correct or revise the Bishop’s. And what they do is they really rely on Tyndale and some Wycliffe to do that. It’s a really remarkable process when you peel back the layers. They’re so influenced by Tyndale, so what they’re doing is correcting the official (if you will) Bible by Tyndale, and these very popular Bibles that the public really likes. Tyndale strikes a chord with people at the time. And I think what the church is trying to do is saying, We need to own the best Bible, we need to own the most accurate, et cetera, so KJV is a very corrective Bible in its worldview. Geneva is very interpretive, if you will; Geneva is trying to capture Calvinist dynamics of the day.
Chris: I listened to a podcast recently that had a pretty intellectual speculation, that they believed the Book of Mormon itself, may have—that Tyndale may have been one of the spirits that was literally dictating to Joseph Smith some of the flavor of what the Book of Mormon says, how it preserved the King James language—King James light, was I think the term that you used. And that Tyndale himself may have been one of the voices behind what Joseph Smith was seeing in the hat, or what he was reading from the Gold Plates. That would be an interesting idea that Tyndale the angel might have been—you’ve heard this, right?
Dr. Wayment: Yeah, I’ve heard similar expressions of that. From a translator’s perspective—and I don’t pretend to be in the realm of Joseph Smith; I don’t want to make that comparison—but a translator really has to dig deeply in themselves to find a rhythm or a style for the hymns, and the speeches, and the narrative, and there’s these different types of speech in every biblical book and I find myself really having to push myself to capture the language that—of poetic. And I would love to hear how Joseph or others found, as you say, drawing upon inspiration there. It’s really challenging to say something in English that is elegant in Greek or Hebrew, and then say it also with elegance in our modern language.
Chris: It’s a rather ethereal idea, the idea that Tyndale was behind Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon, because of the respect—I mean, he is a martyr, he died, he was put to the stake, right?
Dr. Wayment: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: He was burned at the stake for his contribution of translating the Bible. So it was a dangerous thing to embark upon in those days. And yet Tyndale was the one who, if you’re talking about individual translators, was the one most relied upon by the King James translators, because of the beauty of the language he was able to bring to the text. Anyway, all of that, of course, brings me back to your translation, an individual effort to try and create a translation of the New Testament which is aware, sympathetic, to Latter-day Saint values, to Latter-day Saint perspectives, and how there may be versions of the Bible that are—like the New International Version—which don’t take that approach. And sometimes offer translations of different verse which are more worried about its political correctness than possibly Latter-day Saints ought to feel comfortable with. In fact, most people, even you, who try and refer a Latter-day Saint to a translation of the New Testament that might be more comfortable than the King James Version might first recommend the New Revised Standard Version before you would recommend any of the international versions that came out in the late 80s, 90s, in that period of time. For that reason, because those are less interested in making sure that King James language is somehow—its beauty and poetry—is preserved. The whole process was enlightening to me. I just hadn’t realized how complex—and also how individualized the choices could be—when you talk about translating Greek into English. It has been such a longstanding tradition among Latter-day Saints that we rely upon the King James Version. And the whole idea that we possibly ought not, or at least be open to other translations was a new concept for me. I don’t’ know if it is for other latter-day Saints. But it ought to be—especially after reading yours—and the idea that you give us choices in your notes: “There are renderings of this verse that will give us this, and you need to know that you have that optional way of being able to understand this particular verse.” I thought this was insightful, but it was also a great gift; most Bibles don’t do that; you have the committee making a choice—”We’re going to go with this manuscript and we’re not even going to make the reading public aware that there is another way to look at it.” I thought that that was wonderful, because then we could go back to the advice the Lord gave to Joseph Smith regarding the Apocrypha, right? Where we could say that those who are guided by the Holy Ghost are going to be able to make a spiritually mature decision about which rendering of the Greek they prefer. But also just that everyday language kind of a feel sometimes gives you just a different interpretation of the whole scripture. And I wasn’t expecting it to be that profound of an experience, but it really is, so in a sense you feel like you’re reading the New Testament for the first time.
Dr. Wayment: Yeah, I hope so. I’ve been encouraged by some responses I’ve had, personal responses, where families are feeling that they’re able to read the Bible with their kids and their children understand it. I would love to see Biblie literacy increase. So yeah, readability is very important to me; having someone access a kind of a deeper slough of scholarship and feeling that it’s not confrontational to know that there are different readings and renderings of verses. I hope that message gets out there. From a translator’s perspective those are important points.
Chris: My particular emphasis or interest right now—because I’m writing a novel and I am discussing the last week in the life of Christ—right now I’m here hovering over the events of the Garden of Gethsemane and wondering how to interpret it, and trying to think of all that I’ve been taught throughout the course of my membership in the church. I’ve been a member of the church since I was 18 years old; but that’s fine, I don’t think prior to 18 years old I was immersed in trying to read the New Testament anyway, so becoming a member of the church put me in that habit anyway, going on a mission, etc. I took a class at BYU on the New Testament from Dr. Anderson—can’t get much better than that. He opened up a lot of wonderful things. Being able to read the New Testament, get through that often difficult language, all of the manuscripts of the New Testament, just to be clear, are written in Greek, the versions that we currently have. Is that right?
Dr. Wayment: Starting in late Antiquity, and starting about the 5th, 6th century, we do have other languages at that point. We do have Latin manuscripts, nto a lot early on, but later we have lots of them. We have Coptic, fragments, but we don’t have anything in Aramaic or Hebrew. So you’re right to say, from point zero to the first three or four hundred years it’s Greek.
Chris: Nothing in Aramaic? Not even Matthew? Or even Paul’s letter to the Hebrews? What are the earliest Antiquity manuscripts that are given the most respect? The Sinaiticus?
Dr. Wayment: The Sinaiticus is obviously a very important manuscript, maybe the most important ssingulary important manuscript. We have a papyrus collection of Paul’s epistles, P46, and that becomes an incredibly important witness early on, 3rd Century. When you hit those early complete Bibles like Vaticanus, or Sinaiticus, those becomes really the foundation, if you will, the skeleton of the reconstruction of the Bible. We tend to compare the new witnesses that we find, like little scraps of papyrus, or a page here or a page there, we begin to compare those to something like Sinaiticus or Vaticanus or Alexandrinus.
Chris: But the point is, they’re all different. There are slight variations in all of them.
Dr. Wayment: There are, and there’s two ways to see those differences. Some like to characterize those differences as an argument for instability of the Bible. ANd that’s fair on one level, but I think most readers or listeners would like to know—and us, you and I—that there’s this issue that a lot of the Bible is really stable. When we talk about differences, we are talking about a different type of the word “and” or a different order of words but the same words, a different punctuation. And so when we get down to verses that are really unclear—”what does this mean?” or real corruption—that’s not a very large percentage of verses.
Chris: No, as I’ve said in my emails to you, what I find most fascinating is the unity that the Gospels have. The idea that they’re telling the same story using different words and a different perspective, and yet they’re testifying of the same experience, just as a human personality would talk about the same event in a different way. You did your doctorate degree on the Book of John. Your doctoral thesis.
Dr. Wayment: Yes.
Chris: Well that’s cool, because that’s probably what I wanted to talk about, probably most. That and Luke, with regard to the Atonement, as Latter-day Saints interpret it from the scriptures, especially the Book of Luke. I think we put most of our emphasis on the Book of Luke because of D&C 19, where it says that “—caused such suffering (paraphrasing) that even I, God, the greatest of all, bled at every pore and trembled.” Otherwise when you look at the verse in Luke it seems metaphorical—”as it were great drops of blood.” So that you can come away with an interpretation of Luke is just trying to express the agony of it, but he’s not necessarily saying that it was blood, it was so painful it was “as if it were.” And you could live with that—you could say, Okay, that makes sense, because that doesn’t force us to try and envision Christ as He walks out of the Garden and greets His disciples and wakes them all up or as He is arrested He’s not shocking in appearance, He’s not covered in blood. Nobody describes him that way in any other scenes that are post- events that take place in the Garden. And that description in Luke and possibly from D&C 19 gives you the impression that that’s what you ought to envision. But that’s something that would have kept the priests far away from Him, if that’s how He really appeared. And I’m not quite sure how to interpret that! So was He covered in blood or was He not?
Dr. Wayment: Let me back up just a little bit—and this is simply my perspective on this. I think when we look at Matthew, Mark, and Luke in particular, the narrative from almost day one but particularly after the baptism is event-driven. There are stories, and there are sayings, and there are teaching moments, that all form part of a larger narrative for us towards Gethsemane and the Cross. And I think a Latter-day Saint sees Gethsemane as equal to, or nearly equal to, the Cross. But when you think about—if they’re really doing this, they’re trying to get you to Gethsemane and His death and then the Resurrection. You have to ask why they told what they told.
Chris: Why the Gospel writers told what they told.
Dr. Wayment: Yeah, why not tell more about Gethsemane? Why not relate, as you phrased the question, why not mention His physical appearance? And Matthew in particular makes Gethsemane an altar, a kind of sacrificial altar. And what I mean by that is Matthew seems to envision Gethsemane as the moment where Christ effectively and willingly offers Himself. And that offering Himself is characterized by Matthew as a turning over of His will. Matthew’s account—and I think you noted in your email, there’s these differences—and Matthew’s difference is: Jesus asserts a different will than God’s. That He allows and indicates, “I will accept Your will.” And if you stand back and look at that as a portrait, you almost have Christ the Lamb willingly laying down His life. It’s like the mind of the animal that’s being killed on the altar: “I don’t want to do this, but when I see your perspective, I do it, and when I see my own, I don’t.” And Luke, I think, has a very close perspective, but he uses that word “agony,” which is a word of struggle in Greek literature, a word of contest, a wrestling. “Agony” is a great translation of it, but to kind of get behind it, it’s a wrestling, a struggle, a turmoil. And I really don’t know—and I’ve asked the same question you’re asking me: did He bleed from every pore? I see Doctrine and Covenants 19—yes. But I think if you ask Luke, I think what he’s saying is He’s in a crushing agony—and he’s trying to describe—he’s never seen it; he may have talked to people who saw it, but he never saw it—I think what’s so moving to him is the idea that He wrestled to the point of bloodshed, and that blood was His own. I don’t know if Luke was aware or not if He was covered in blood, which you note rightly is a really big historical moment, but it’s that altar scene again, it’s the animal being laid upon the altar of the temple and getting its throat cut. And so to me—I know this will sound hard to a lot of Latter-day Saints if you do air this, and I don’t mean it to be confrontational in any way—but I don’t know if either one of them saw that moment as Atonement, but as turning over, of giving back, of relinquishing. And maybe that is beginning with Atonement, but I don’t think that was the moment for Him. I think it was the point where the narrative takes its turn: “this is Me giving over to God.”
Chris: Right, and your translation of the New Testament—maybe it’s clearer in the King James Version, but I don’t think I’ve had the maturity spiritually, and the knowledge where I’ve immersed myself in the New Testament the same way as I have reading your translation recently—and so as I read this, it’s easy to gain the impression that the Atonement itself—that Latter-day Saints’ emphasis taking place—would you agree that that’s the common interpretation that Latter-day Saints have given, [that] we have been indoctrinated on the idea that the Atonement, the at-one-ment, took place in the Garden of Gethsemane; and it’s really only a more recent agreement by those who teach about the Atonement to say, “Well, we’re talking about the entire time period from what took place in the Garden until Christ gave up the ghost on the cross: that is the act of Atonement. Which, of course, we’re able to accept, we’re able to nod, and we’re able to say that makes sense, but at the same time, it waters down some kind of a visualization that we demand as readers: what was the actual moment where Christ paid for the sins of mankind? I’m not sure we need to be obsessed about “the moment,” but we definitely have been trained to think about “what was the moment.” And it seems to me that early church leaders wanted to emphasize what took place in the Garden, possibly because of D&C 19:18. However—I presented, threw it out there, nothing about D&C 19:18 definitively ties that to the Book of Luke. It doesn’t tie it to the moment where Luke says “bled at every pore.” I mean, it sort of does because it also mentions, “I was willing to take this cup”—and you add a beautiful analysis, at least is your impression from the Greek manuscripts themselves, that this is symbolism that relates right back to the sacramental cup, as it was handled in the Last Supper. That’s what Christ is referring back to when He talks about the “cup.” He’s talking about—”that cup” is what Jesus is willing to accept, and what that cup later, and still to this day, symbolizes to us when we partake of the sacrament. What’s your impression with regard to the “moment”? Or is it even necessary to interpret there being a specific moment where Christ took on the sins of the world?
Dr. Wayment: That’s a really good question. I tend to agree with you that it’s probably the prevailing Latter-day Saint view that it begins in Gethsemane and ends with the Cross. For me and the New Testament, I think that what the ancient mind looked at was the effect of the Atonement. Rather than when, the moment of beginning, they wanted to know more How. Did it cover sin? Did it pay for sin? Was it a new lamb on the altar? Was it restitution? Putting things back, if you will, right? Exemplary? I’m really convinced that a lot of Christians saw Christ as the example of turning our will over to God and that is atonement. And it’s not that all of these things are right or wrong, better or worst. I think Latter-day Saints in our modern world love to define and structure information in linear ways, it begins here, ends here. That’s a really great way to think, but I think the ancient mind really wanted to know—when I look at Christ, and I read his life, and I want to experience the Atonement, or what He did—I think a lot of them are convinced that “I do what He does”—Paul talks about being conformed to His sufferings. Paul sees his shipwreck in the Mediterranean as part of atoning, part of him becoming like Christ. And so for him, I don’t think it would have made sense to think of one moment for beginning and end, but rather a conformity that takes place over time. And so I suppose more than anything I’d want to expand the discussion, rather than defining the moment of when. Now having said that, I do think there’s an argument for the linear beginning with Luke in particular, that when blood is spilt, it is the beginning of the end of His life. If that’s the point we want to recover and add value to, I think you do have to say that the first drop of blood that’s shed is the beginning of the Cross.
Chris: I think we’re all conceding that we don’t comprehend the Atonement. We don’t understand. We try to, and we accept it—I mean, that’s actually the biggest moment of faith, I think, that’s required from any Christian—is that we accept that Christ paid for our sins. I’m wondering if it’s possible that Latter-day Saints decided to emphasize what took place in the Garden of Gethsemane, and—forgive my ADHD, but now that takes me to another subject, and that is, we use that phrase, “the Garden of Gethsemane” with a very sacred thought, a very sacred feeling behind it. And yet you in a sense want to make sure that we understand, the word “Gethsemane” only means “olive-press.” We don’t necessarily know that there was a specific garden; there’s no need to identify a tourist attraction of a specific place on the Mount of Olives that was the Garden of Gethsemane, so to speak. Because in essence, we’re just talking about a random garden that was a place where they grew olive trees and probably have an olive-press. But I think it’s John who says they did meet at this place and have discussions often.
Dr. Wayment: And John is the one who uses the word “garden” to describe it, whereas others emphasize the “olive-press” that was there.
Chris: So it might have even been a plot of land that was not currently in use as a garden. Or just a place where all olive-growers would bring their produce in the season thereof and have their olive literally pressed into oil. And that’s where they actually held, or that’s where the Savior knelt, and that’s where the apostles fell asleep, and where he was constantly waking them up—which of course begs the question of, If Christ is experiencing this agony and He’s having trouble keeping his apostles awake and watching, who is witnessing this? Who is telling their perspective of what Jesus Christ was saying or experiencing? Because they were all asleep! Now in the case of Matthew, we can assume Matthew kept one eye open. I mean, we don’t know that, but somebody is talking about a personal witness of what Jesus Christ actually experienced at that moment. Latter-day Saints sometimes can simply draw the impression, Well, the Lord can give you a revelation of exactly what Jesus Christ experienced! But there’s no doubt that the overriding theme of every Gospel—of every event in the New Testament!—is that, “We’ve put this together as a result of witnesses giving their ideas, their contributions, to what occured in the life of Jesus Christ during the ministry of Jesus Christ. So who witnessed what Jesus Christ actually did? And then you go to John—John throws a new rendering of the entire event! He doesn’t even talk about suffering! He doesn’t even talk about any kind of prayer where He says “Take this cup from me!” But he still offers this glorious Intercessory Prayer—and we’ve even given it that capitalized term, Intercessory Prayer. And it’s not found ina ny other Gospel. One interpretation of John—and you’re the best man to ask about it—is that the Gospel of John, being the last written, was a Gospel whose objective was to try and subtly correct or restore some misinformation or missing doctrine that may not have existed in the other three synoptics. You get the impression that the author of John was well aware of the fact that the other three synoptic Gospels existed and may have read them and simply said, “Let me fill in some of the blanks here,” or possibly “correct”—but he did it in such a careful, political way that he didn’t want to undermine, he didn’t want to lessen the importance of the other three Gospels; he knew how sacred they were—”But let me just add my two cents so that people have a better understanding of what it was that the Savior did; let me make sure that I fill in some of the missing information.” That’s generally the impression that I get from reading scholarly works, that they’re saying that was John’s motive. Faithful scholarly works, they’re saying John was trying to fill in missing information, correct a few points of mistaken information from other synoptic Gospels, but at the same time do it carefully and respectfully, because he knew that the people loved the synoptic Gospels, “but let me just add a few things.” Is that an accurate picturing of what John’s motive was? Or whoever the author—it is a fair appraisal, the idea that John himself may not have been the author of “John.” And I think the best evidence for that is the fact that it constantly refers to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” At least, our modern sensibilities about that would be “Well, that’s kind of egotistical!” to sit back and say, always constantly referring to someone in the first person as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”And he beats Petater in a footrace to the Tomb. But that would be what a direct disciple of john would do; their overwhelming respect for John would be to emphasize his role in what took place during all the events of the life of Christ. And so we may still be dealing with someone who had direct association with John, even if it wasn’t John himself. I think that that’s a fair assessment and it certainly doesn’t diminish the importance of the Gospel of John, to think that he himself was not the direct author. However, its seems abundantly clear that the author of John was a close associate of John, or of other apostles, but John in particular. Is that all accurate? I’m just blubbering on about material and impressions that I have, and wondering if there’s any accuracy to it or how you might add to it.
Dr. Wayment: Let me try to bring a couple threads together that you’ve mentioned. If we started this issue of what is Gethsemane for John, or would he have ever used that phrase. ANd you think again about his narrative, and the way his narrative is built, is there is a witness that is very, very close to Jesus, effectively closer than any of the other Gospels might claim. Now, that’s from John’s perspective; I’m not making that claim as a historian. But if John is telling his story, he wants you to know there’s this insider, this disciple that Jesus loved. And in his telling, like the others, there’s this movement toward the Crucifixion. And the narrative is building and building. ANd when he gets to the moment of Gethsemane, and he wants to tell, if you will, the same thing Matthew, Mark, and Luke have told in different ways. You mentioned that he must know their stories, and he has to be aware of that. If that’s the case, he describes—he’s the only author to describe it—he uses the word “[Greek word]” that can mean vineyard; it can mean orchard; it can mean “garden” in a broad sense, but not a garden where you might grow carrots or corn or something like that, but more of a cultivated plot of land that could be used for the production of fruit. Greek has a word for a real garden that’s like a beautiful place with trees where you can sit and contemplate—that word’s parádeisos, from which we get “paradise.” And he doesn’t use that. So when you think about John’s movement of the narrative, here’s a witness telling you that at the moment of Gethsemane, Jesus moved into a sphere that’s productive, that’s agriculturally productive, and it’s as though his story is going to plant a seed that’s going to sprout into something new. He’s literally going into land that can be cultivated, or arable, and that new seed will be the death of Jesus. And maybe it’s a little rough for some ears to hear, but the water that will plant that seed and grow it will be the blood of Jesus. So he’s not totally distant from Luke in particular; he’s more akin to the idea that, as a topic I don’t want to talk about, but it’s built into his narrative. Something happened there that he thinks telling you and I the words that were spoken, as you said the Great Intercessory Prayer, the High Priestly Prayer, somehow those words—
Chris: Which, by the way, so people will understand, that’s all of John chapter 17. The longest prayer—and you know this—the longest prayer by Jesus in any location except possibly for 3 Nephi.
Dr. Wayment: Yes, absolutely. And so I think that if you kind of stand back for a minute, if you’re micro-focusing on the words, that’s gonna give you one perspective that’s valuable, but if you stand back for a minute, Luke and Matthew and Mark’s prayer is too short to produce the wrestle, the agony necessary. And I think you could say, from a faith perspective, that John’s trying to tell you that these are the words He was agonizing over, the departure and the loss of His friends, the loss of His disciples, not in the sense they’re falling away, but He’s leaving, and that, if you will, when you overlay with Luke, produces the agony of Gethsemane. It’s a departure, it’s friendships being changed forever. I recently gave a talk, technically now a year ago, Easter, and I tried to point out that for early Christians, and in particular these disciples, that the Crucifixion and the Empty Tomb were not triumphant; that’s not a triumph for a friend of Jesus. That this is a story characterized by loss, by suffering, by struggle. I’m not trying to counter our modern perspective, but the ancient perspective was that Gethsemane and the Cross and the Tomb are a tragedy. And it becomes triumph over time, as people try to put this back together. And one of the really powerful things now, going back to this witness, is he sees all this; he’s part of the story; and he gains—you remember in John 2, we didn’t get this stuff until after the Resurrection, but you’re becoming a disciple with him! You’re saying, “We saw some of this stuff, and didn’t fully get it, but I pieced it together and now I have a different view!” And I think that’s what the author, I believe that’s what the author is trying to do, is have this beloved disciple become a type of all disciples—the you and I of this story.
Chris: Well, what to me is so moving about the Gospel of John is the dialogue that he has with specific—it’s interesting that it names such specific disciples. They just didn’t understand. He’s sitting there saying, “I’m leaving you. I’m going, but I’m preparing a place for you. You’re going to come to me!” And the disciples are agonizing—we’re talking about Christ’s agonizing in the Garden; the disciples are agonizing. They have the expectation that they’ve probably had beaten into their heads since they were youths, that the Messiah is going to be a military conqueror, and they’re expecting—in fact, probably the whole population of Jerusalem at the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, where Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, they were expecting this to be the moment that he rode into the temple and took command, that he basically became the leader of the world. And the disciples are just trying to understand, “Why didn’t that happen? We’ve been with you since the beginning, we’ve watched some incredible things, and now we’re confused. We don’t understand what your mission is!” And you feel that, and you also feel from Christ, a sense of His humanity, as He’s almost pleading with His disciples, in a sense of sympathy, in a sense of loss that “You guys are about to experience some real grief, and I want you to prepare your hearts for this.” And John, more than any other Gospel writer, captures that, and his Intercessory Prayer is a part of capturing that feeling. The disciples really did not understand what was about to take place. This all had to come in future months as they came to grips with the fact of, “No, this happened in exactly the way the Savior told us it was going to happen, it was supposed to happen this way, and it is the beginnings of the Gospel, the New Testament, the good news. It did occur exactly as it was supposed to occur.” So even at the point of the night o the Savior’s arrest, the disciples are still wrestling with the idea of what does this all mean. And they didn’t come to that understanding until the Spirit, the Holy Ghost, became a part of their lives on the Day of Pentecost, or just over time as they contemplated the tragedy that occurred on this day, the letdown of not only the twelve disciples, the twelve men who later became apostles—eleven, you could say, with the replacement being Matthias—and all of their efforts to try and comprehend, what did this all mean? Why did we go through all this? Of course, all of this would be clarified when Jesus Christ was resurrected on the third day, and they had the opportunity to see Him, to talk to Him, to feel the prints of the nails in His hands, all of this. Then they started to understand. That’s really probably the moment when they were faced with, “Now I get it. Now I’m starting to really grasp what it means to have this new interpretation of Judaism that I wasn’t brought up with. I never understood. I have to understand the Messiah in a completely different way than I ever understood it before. It was an intellectual and emotional and spiritual struggle for those men, for those men who then led the church. But they came to that understanding step by step, carefully, the exact same way each of us individually have to come to that understanding. I just love the humanness—that’s why I write novels!—because I enjoy looking at it from the perspective of real people having to come to this understanding. The depression that everybody feels on that day—and the depression probably began right after Jesus Christ marched into the temple on the day of the Triumphal Entry and… nothing happened. He didn’t declare Himself the King of Israel. The kingdoms of David and Solomon were not reborn at that moment. And the people, all of His followers, all of those who were groupies who kinda gathered at Bethany, at the house of Simon the Leper—that’s where you imagine everyone gathered who was a follower of Jesus, and you get the impression that they’re all pretty depressed. Things are not happening the way they thought that they were going to. And then you also from that get the understanding why everybody was cheering on Jesus and laying palm reeds in front of the donkey as he rides into Jerusalem—and a couple of days later they’re calling for him to be crucified. We’ve often talked about how it was the Pharisees and the Sadducees who started that chant, who started that mob or riot feeling, but the people fell into that because this guy did not do what we have been taught all our lives that he was supposed to do. We’re disappointed, we’re mad, so yes, crucify him! It’s interesting, at the Triumphal Entry, crowds pressing in on Jesus Christ—and by the way, on Lazarus. Lazarus was kind of a celebrity in his own right; they felt he’d been raised from the dead, so he’s part of the Triumphal Entry. And so we have this parade of celebrities going into Jerusalem, and I think the people thought they were going to declare themselves kings—and it didn’t happen. And so the people were then in a state of despondency, of depression, and so they were going to be willing to accept the judgment of the Sanhedrin that crucifixion—”Yeah, that’s too good for this guy, because he’s a phony, he’s a fraud, he didn’t do what we’d been taught all our lives, what you the priests of the Sanhedrin taught us the Messiah was going to do, he didn’t do it. He was just another fake.” They’d been dealing with fake after fake for generations, and this man was no better than all the others. And this was the one we had the most hope in! It’s an interesting psychological study—what happened during that week? So many people have brought their impressions of what happened to it, and I wondered what you might add to what I’m rambling on about here.
Dr. Wayment: I think about unfulfilled wishes and unfulfilled dreams and whatnot. Acts starts with a lot of energy. They’ve decided to—
Chris: You’re talking about the book of Acts?
Dr. Wayment: Yeah, book of Acts, and it starts with a lot of community energy, a lot of focus to live a kind of united order, a kind of let’s-sell-our-property, and they’re taking care of the poor, they’re really trying to achieve the type of community that has no inequality in it, and other things. It’s leveling, if you will. When we see that, the tragedy generates a lot of interest to create a society that Jesus can come back to. When we look at it, it becomes a type of the early church, and other things that—one way to see it, is a society trying to mitigate a tragedy. Let’s prepare a place, let’s prepare a people, let’s prepare our hearts, even, to be ready for Him.
Chris: That’s what we’re going through today, right? In fact, that’s been—everybody has misestimated when the Second Coming is going to be. We hear the phrase, or hear the scripture, “No man knoweth the day or the hour,” but we all like to think we know the day and the hour. And that we can make it happen! There’s nothing wrong with that, I think. We want to bring about a Zion society worthy of the receipt of the Second Coming of the Savior. So what you’re describing, is that the disciples, from the very moment that Christ departed, the second time after His resurrection, that’s what they’re eager to do: they’re eager to create a world, a community that Christ is willing to come back to, and they all believed it was soon! They all believed it would happen within their lifetimes or very shortly thereafter. They didn’t understand, they weren’t able to achieve it, and we haven’t been able to achieve it either, but that’s our goal. I think that’s the most important theme you can take from all of this: we’re still trying to build that community that is a worthy place for the Savior to come back to.
Dr. Wayment: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think it gives a different way of seeing the New Testament, as a story of tragedy that becomes triumph as a reason to do what we do. It doesn’t always articulate—like you said earlier with Gethsemane—it doesn’t always articulate the exact moment it began and the exact moment it ended or even how—but it’s a story that continually evolves, if you will, almost where’s Jesus: is He with us? Is He coming back to us? If He’s coming back to us, we need to be ready for Him. We need to be the type of people He wants to be with.
Chris: Well, I discussed this a little bit in my correspondence with you through email—the Latter-day Saint perspective that the symbolism of the Cross—that’s something that we reject. As we look at it today—with, I don’t know, if I’m looking at it with a more watered-down perspective, or with a more merciful and even insightful perspective—I don’t see anything wrong with that symbolism, and what it means to other Christian denominations today. As a missionary, of course, we were often asked, “Why aren’t there any crosses on your church?” And, you’ve heard the axiom, that we would commonly respond, “Well, if Jesus Christ was killed with a gun, would you wear a gun around your neck?” And that kind of a dismissive response, when somebody is referring to something very sacred to them, and what it symbolizes to them, I wonder if our early rejection of that symbolism was more an effort for us to distinguish ourselves from other denominations, as opposed to really understanding that it’s a rather harmless symbol.
Dr. Wayment: I would agree. I would agree completely. I feel that it’s an artifact of us becoming a community, of us becoming a people, and it’s not surprising to me that we were turned off by the actual cross itself. I think what Latter-day Saints were trying to say at the time is, when we look up and we see Christ on the cross, you know, a broken body, I think what we’re saying in our 20th century, 21st century mindset, that’s not a symbol of hope. And I think what we missed by saying that is that our other Christian sisters and brothers do see it that way. They see it as triumph, the lifting up, the raising up of the eyes, the fulfillment. They saw different things! And as we tried to become a community, I’m afraid, we were turned off—for reasons that now in retrospect weren’t doctrinal or necessary.
Chris: I can see how we might have been turned off by the bloody images, where they would try and emphasize something that was just replaying how tortuous or agonizing the Cross was. And you’ve seen some of those images, they exist. The simplicity, though, of just a cross, as it stands on most other denominational churches, or as it hangs around the neck of a believer, I think is a pretty harmless thing. I’m in a sense neutral to the idea. I respect its symbolism and what it means to another Christian. I think that it’s okay for Latter-day Saints to think, you know, let’s think about what that means to our brothers and sisters in Christ. And it’s okay! It’s certainly nothing that we need to look down upon. It’s their way of celebrating that moment of the Atonement, and it’s just fine.
Dr. Wayment: I would whole-heartedly agree. Chris, it’s been really good to talk to you. Hopefully we did get to the bottom of what you’re hoping for.
Chris: I don’t know! We can have this conversation all day! You are a teacher at heart, you’re a professor, and you’re in constant demand. I would think that this book is putting you at even greater demand, especially on a year where the church is focusing upon the New Testament. I don’t know if you have a spare moment to breathe, so, any time that I can get from you to be able to get further insight on the Atonement—what I think I have to settle with as an author is trying to pin down a moment when Christ paid for our sins is unnecessary. We’re not really looking at a moment in time, as much as we’re looking at the whole idea that Jesus Christ had the power to not do it. He did not have to die that day, and He chose to do so, for us. That whole act is the Atonement. That decision on the part of God, on the part of the Son of God, is the Atonement, and we don’t really need to try to pin it down to a specific event or time period or anything else.
Dr. Wayment: I’m on board with you there, Chris, absolutely. Well, thanks for having me today and talking it out! And I’m sure we’ll be in touch.
Chris: I appreciate it, Dr. Wayment. You have a wonderful day.
Dr. Wayment: And Tom is great, too!
Chris: Tom! Tom. You’ve told me that a dozen times. I’ll have to take you up on that!...
Again, I can’t emphasize enough what an honor it is to have Dr. Wayment—Thom—contribute his insight which, for me, presents a much more in-depth, and even a greater appreciation of what Jesus the Christ endured—a mortal man, with very human, mortal emotions, facing a decision-point that, if it were possible, He would have preferred not to endure.
For some, maybe that diminishes the Atonement in their eyes and the Savior’s ultimate sacrifice. Are you kidding me? For me, it does anything but. It emphasizes—adds an exclamation to—what the Savior’s choice really meant. He didn’t want to do it. He didn’t have to do it. But He did it anyway. He did it because His Father asked Him to. If there had been any other way—any other mechanism besides offering Himself up as a lamb to be slaughtered for the sins of the world, He wanted to know. Unfortunately, as the Savior realized, there was no alternative. So He voluntarily accepted His fate. He drank the cup.
It’s likely only a novelist who gets hung up on the literalness of bleeding at every pore, how that ought to be portrayed, if it was in the garden or on the cross. Honestly, I don’t know what I’m gonna do with that yet. Give me your opinion! I’d love to hear your perspective in the comment section at ForeverLDS.com.
Whatever I decide, however I dramatize it, it’s almost certain that I’ll be wayyy off as far as what really happened. I’m just doin’ the best I can. Thankfully, in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter.
For me the Atonement is defined by two things: The Savior’s obedience, His decision to follow through, to drink the cup, according to His Father’s will. And secondly, the consequences of what happened as a result of that decision. And, I suppose, the fact that the Savior didn’t stop it. He certainly had the power to. He could have altered the events that were set in motion at any time. But for the sake of you and me and the rest of humankind, because of the infinite love He felt and feels for each one of us, as reflected by the very words He uttered from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” He completed what He promised. What he’d promised to do from the foundation of the world. He endured to the end, until the very moment when He declared, “It is finished.”
Then it was over. He won. And we won. And our gratitude should be eternally unbounded.
Remember, this podcast is not affiliated the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m just privileged to be a member of that faith, and even more privileged to have an opportunity to trumpet my testimony of its magnificence and its truthfulness whenever and however I can.
Thank you for joining us today on ForeverLDS. I’d like to give a shout out to Neal Silvester who actually took me up on my request a few weeks ago to type up transcripts of prior interviews that we’ve conducted on ForeverLDS. Somebody—I don’t remember who—specifically requested that we post a transcript of my first interview with Dr. Wayment, Episode 41. Well, now it’s up there. Neal is an aspiring author himself and has a new book published entitled, The Hero Doctrine: Awakening Your Eternal Potential.
A great read, although right now I’m just amazed and grateful that Neal is a very fast and efficient typist. I’m sure he’ll make the transcript for today’s interview with Dr. Wayment available soon, for those who prefer to read these things, or who like to read and listen simultaneously. I’m actually one of those, when I’m not driving and the opportunity permits.
Stay close to the Lord. If you don’t feel as close to the Lord today as you did yesterday, well….whose fault is that? You know.
Listeners, thank you for your dedication to ForeverLDS. It’s tough. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. I really need to set up a Patreon or Go Fund Me to help out and still work on my novel. Time. It’s all about finding time.
Until we meet back here again, have a marvelous Easter. And a marvelous year. This is Chris Heimerdinger. And this is ForeverLDS.