Return to About Mormons home

Sources for Words of Jesus Christ

by J. Philip Schaelling

For followers of Jesus Christ, nothing has more authority or significance than his very words. Called ipsissima verba or logia, they are not colored by paraphrase or interpretation, but represent his exact instructions, whether spoken by Jesus himself in the first person or by another commissioned by him, speaking in the first person—as if God—through the power of the Holy Ghost (2 Ne. 32:3; 33:10-11; D&C 1:38; cf. Rev. 19:1-10).

The status given Jesus' words goes back to early Christianity. Much current interest in New Testament apocrypha rests in the hope of recovering authentic sayings of Jesus. For example, in the words of a modern editor, "The Gospel of Thomas is not a "gospel' in the proper sense…. it is no other and no less than a collection of 114 logia, the most extensive collection of sayings of Jesus, or sayings attributed to Jesus, that has yet come down to us independently of the New Testament tradition" (Puech, pp. 284-85).

Some ancient and contemporary sources unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints augment the known body of Jesus' words. The Church teaches that Jesus Christ is both the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Therefore, it views quotes attributed to God in the Old Testament as ipsissima verba of Jesus. For example, God's command to Moses to "stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it" is considered to be from Jesus Christ (Ex. 14:16; cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-4). Moreover, when ancient prophets quote God in the first person, such as "I the Lord love judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering" (Isa. 61:8), these words are reckoned as Jesus' ipsissima verba (see Jesus Christ: Firstborn in the Spirit and Jesus Christ, Names and Titles of).

As the Prophet Joseph Smith produced under inspiration the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST), many logia were recorded. For instance, after Moses broke the first set of tablets with the Ten Commandments, the Lord commanded him to make another. In current Hebrew manuscripts, God says that he will rewrite what was on the first. But in the JST, the Lord adds, "It shall not be according to the first [tablets], for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them" (JST Ex. 34:11-12; Deut. 10:1-2; cf. D&C 84:18-27).

The JST also adds logia to the New Testament. As background to Jesus' illustration of not putting new wine into old bottles, the JST adds, "Then said the Pharisees unto him, Why will ye not receive us with our baptism, seeing we keep the whole law? But Jesus said unto them, Ye keep not the law. If ye had kept the law, ye would have received me, for I am he who gave the law. I receive not you with your baptism, because it profiteth you nothing. For when that which is new is come, the old is ready to be put away" (JST Matt. 9:18-21). Such passages, although not in any extant Greek text, are accepted by Latter-day Saints as true sayings of Jesus.

In addition to accepting biblical scripture, the Church has canonized other scriptures which preserve ipsissima verba of Jesus Christ: the Pearl of Great Price, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants.

In the Pearl of Great Price, the Book of Moses—an excerpt from the JST—preserves the declaration well known among Latter-day Saints, "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). The book of Abraham also contains teachings of Jehovah, or Christ. In chapter 3, Jehovah compares the nature of the universe to the variety of spirits, or intelligences, that inhabit the universe. Recounting God's dealings with people inhabiting the American continent, the Book of Mormon also preserves sayings given to their prophets. In addition to specific words from "the Son" recorded by Nephi1 (2 Ne. 31:12, 14) and others (e.g., Moroni in Ether 12:26-28), Jesus' words spoken to the people of the Western Hemisphere soon after his resurrection also appear. Besides a discourse similar to the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7 (3 Ne. 12-14), the risen Jesus spoke of baptism (3 Ne. 11), the Sacrament (chap. 18), the gathering of Israel, and the helping role of the gentiles (chaps. 16, 20-21).

The Doctrine and Covenants records sayings of Christ directed to people of the contemporary world: "Hearken, O ye people of my church,…verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together," are words spoken in 1831 (D&C 1:1). This volume comprises an extensive collection of the words of Jesus Christ as a voice of warning and instruction on how to prepare both the earth and one's own heart for his second coming.

An additional contemporary source for the words of Christ resides in statements of the presidents of the church. The Lord has declared that "his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth" (D&C 1:38; 21:5). Thus, whenever the President of the Church speaks officially within his office and calling, his words are considered by Latter-day Saints to have the same authority as words of the Lord himself.

Bibliography

Millet, Robert L. "The Formation of the Canonical Gospels." In Apocryphal Writings and the Latter-day Saints, ed. W. Griggs. Provo, Utah, 1986.

Puech, Henri-Charles. "Gnostic Gospels and Related Documents." In New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Vol. 1, pp. 231-362. Philadelphia, 1963.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Jesus Christ, Sources for words of

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

All About Mormons