John 8:12-69, Moses 5:18-26, Jude 1:3-6 — The Power of Jesus’s Words — LeGrand Baker

How literally should we understand the Savior’s accusation: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.”

In our egalitarian society, where “equality” is the cultural and political watchword, it is difficult to wrap our minds around the idea that some people chose to be bad in the premortal world, still choose to be bad in this life, and will always be bad. Yet, the authors of the ancient scriptures believed and taught that is true. If we take Jesus’s words at face value, he also believed that about some of the Jewish leaders. I would like to discuss Jesus’s language in John 8, and some of the implications of his accusations against the men who would eventually preside at the legal farce by which they murdered him.

Before I discuss the Savior’s words in John 8, I would like to examine the problem of cultural code language, then examine Moses 5:18-26 and Jude 1:3-6, both of which contain ideas that are key to understanding what the Savior said.

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THE PROBLEM OF CULTURAL CODE LANGUAGE: “Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word (John 8:43).”

Just as it is true that the important thing is not what you look at, but what you see; so it is true that it is not so important what you hear, as it is to which words you actually listen.

Language is used for a whole spectrum of purposes, and conveying ideas is one of the most important. Words are used to give information, and the more precise the information the more precise the words must be. The other side of that same coin is that words are also used to misinform. In that case, the more sophisticated the listener, the more adroit the speaker must be, for the intent of his language is to give the false impression that he is conveying accurate information without outright lying.

When spoken honestly, words have power, but the extent of the power is determined by the meaning the speaker attaches to them, and the meaning the listener understands them to convey. Words have the most power when the speaker and the listener can converse in the same language—including the same cultural or sub-cultural, academic or vernacular languages.

People in each culture, or subculture speak a language that is unique to themselves. A translation changes the words to those with somewhat similar meanings used by a different culture, but translation usually cannot transfer the cultural innuendoes of the first language into the cultural language of the second. {1}

Code language has a unique power because not everyone who hears or reads its words can understand their intent. The code words themselves select their own audience and no others are welcome into their secret space.

Language of all cultures is code when spoken between people within the culture. To know the language, one must also know the culture. Three examples: (1) The Mormon church is its own subculture with its own language. Consequently, new converts must learn Mormonese or they cannot understand all that they hear other church members say. (2) Another example is that the pre-Civil War African slaves communicated their hopes and frustrations in songs that were deeply encoded in language that reflected their African culture. Their white masters had little to no idea what their slaves were saying to each other. (3) The reason the code words of the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama are so important in the Book of Mormon and the New Testament is that they establish a cultural unity between those ancient Christians and modern Latter-day Saints.

Similarly, there are two different ancient gospel code languages. One is in the code words and the other is in priesthood ordinances and covenants and their relationships with those code words. Persons who had received those covenants and ordinances were initiated into a sacred order and given a new identity which included a new covenant name.

The wonderful power of the symbolism of the ordinances is that it transcends culture and speaks to everyone in their own language. That must be so because it enables perfect continuity within God’s kingdom.

The Lord explained this in two places in the Doctrine and Covenants. The first one says everything must be done correctly (zedek) or it is counted as not done at all.

7 And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead
8 Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion (D&C132:7-8).

The second is about the importance of people being able to understand what they are taught.

11 For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ (D&C 90:11).

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MOSES 5:18-26 — THE CONSTANCY OF CAIN’S REBELLION

Hugh Nibley has suggested that the way the Lord’s statement to Cain, that he would “rule over” Satan, should be understood with a backdrop of Goethe’s Faust — and that is the only way that makes sense to me.

In the story, Faust makes a pact with the devil exchanging his immortal soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures in this life. So, while he lives, Faust rules over the devil in that the devil will give Faust anything he desires. However, when his life ends, the terms of the contract reverses, and the devil claims Faust’s soul. The story of Cain follows that same pattern.

18 And Cain loved Satan more than God. And Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord.
19 And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
20 And Abel he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;
21 But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. [Not because of the nature of the fruit offering, but because he was obeying Satan rather than God.] Now Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
22 And the Lord said unto Cain: Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen?
23 If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted.

These words are the key to the whole story. God does not close the door to anyone’s salvation. It can only be one’s Self who closes that door.

23b And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him;

This is the Faust covenant/relationship. For as long as Cain lives, Satan will give him everything he wishes. The Faustian nature of the covenant, and the beginning of the fufillment of its terms are shown just a few verses later.

The Lord’s warning to Cain continued.

24 For from this time forth thou shalt be the father of his lies; thou shalt be called Perdition; for thou wast also before the world.

That last phrase does not say “you also had a premortal existence.” Everyone has that, so that would not make Cain at all unique. I read those words to say, “you were perdition before you were born into this world.” If that is correct then it asks a very important question: How was Cain able to be born into this world as an innocent baby if he had already shown himself to be perdition? I think the answer is simple. We come into this world with things: our agency, our personality, and our integrity. Our agency is a given. Without it we could not exist (“All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence” — D&C 93:30).

We have been developing and perfecting our personalities forever. That isn’t going to change much while we are in this world.

It is our integrity that is challenged by this world. In the premortal spirit world we were asked “Will you obey?” In this world we are asked, “Why did you obey?” and thereby is our integrity put to the test.

The Lord’s warning to Cain continued.

25 And it shall be said in time to come—That these abominations were had from Cain; for he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God; and this is a cursing which I will put upon thee, except thou repent.
26 And Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord, neither to Abel, his brother, who walked in holiness before the Lord (Moses 5:18-26).

So Cain had a tantrum and made a covenant with Satan.

30 And Satan sware unto Cain that he would do according to his commands. And all these things were done in secret.
31 And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness.
32 And Cain went into the field, and Cain talked with Abel, his brother. And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him.
33 And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands (Moses 5:30-33).

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JUDE 1:3-6 — SATAN’S FIFTH COLUMN

Apparently there were two groups who followed Satan in the war in heaven. One group never received physical bodies, but as evil spirits taunt men and try to thwart the work of God on the earth. Others, like Cain, came here as a fifth column to work within God’s system to destroy it.

“Fifty column” is a military term. The four columns of an army attack the city from the north, south, east, and west, but the fifth column attacks from within, like the men in the Trogon horse. During World War II the French underground cooperated with the Germans in the day, but sabotaged them at night. They were called the “fifth column.”

The people on Satan’s side who enter this world as a fifth column are not slouches. Among them are Cain, who was “perdition” before he was born (Moses 5:22-25), and the leaders in Jerusalem who took it upon themselves to kill the Savior and destroy his Kingdom. The Savior said to them:

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)

There were others of the same ilk who came shortly thereafter, who infiltrated the Church of Christ so they could destroy it from within. Jude (who, like James, was Jesus’s half-brother) warned against such people. Before we read this, there is one phrase we ought to define. The phrase “of old” frequently refers to the time of the Council in Heaven. (Psalm 25:6, 68:33, 93:2, 102:25; Isaiah 25:1; 2 Peter 2:5. The Prophet Joseph used them interchangeably in D&C 76 and in his poetic version of the vision he wrote ten years later. In the Doctrine and Covenants we find:

And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom. (D&C 76:7)

In the poetic version, those lines map to:

From the council in Kolob, to time on the earth,
And for ages to come unto them I will show
My pleasure and will, what the kingdom will do
Eternity’s wonders they truly shall know.
(Times and Seasons, February 1, 1843)

The other thing we need to know is that he uses “Egypt” as code for the pre-mortal spirit world. That will become apparent as we read the scripture. With that in mind, here is what Jude wrote:

3. Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered unto the saints.
4. For there are certain men crept in unawares [into the church], who were before of old ordained to this condemnation,

My Heavenly Father most certainly did not ordain them “to this condemnation.” Jude was referring to a premortal covenant with Satan’s fifth column. He continues,

ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
5. I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt [code for the pre-mortal spirit world.], afterward destroyed them that believed not.
6. And the angels that kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. (Jude 1:3-6)

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JESUS’S AWARENESS OF THE ETERNAL NATURE OF HIS ANTAGONISTS.

John’s gospel repeatedly gives us examples of how well Jesus knew who and what people were. In the very first chapter:

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! (John 1:47)

In the second chapter:

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
24 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men,
25 And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. (John 2:23 – 25)

In my discussion of chapter 3, I showed how Jesus immediately recognized Nicodemus as a trusted friend.

Before his death, Jesus explained how he had exposed the duplicity of the religious leaders who sought to kill him.

22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin (John 15:22).

These men could reveal their true nature only if they believed they had a chance to destroy the God of Heaven.

If good people were insulated from bad people, how could the bad people define, identify, and expose themselves?
Or if bad people could not hurt good people, how could the good people know that they were strong in their integrity and testimony? A world without contrasts or contradictions would do nothing for our eternal growth.

Jesus understood that, and he also knew the intent of his enemies. During his conversation with them, recorded in chapter 8, he was not just sparring with them, calling each other names like teenagers and pouting. Actually, I see the Pharisees acting that way, being driven to frustration by their failure to counter this man whom they both hated and feared.

The way I read this confrontation is that Jesus is dignified, imperturbable, logical and straightforward, answering questions with accuracy, and describing his antagonists just as he sees them.

Now, with all that as background, let us read what Jesus said to his accusers in Jerusalem.

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JOHN 8:12-69 — YE ARE OF YOUR FATHER THE DEVIL, AND THE LUSTS OF YOUR FATHER YE WILL DO.

12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
13 The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true.
14 Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go.
15 Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man.
16 And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.
17 It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true.
18 I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.
19 Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.
20 These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.
21 Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.
22 Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come.
23 And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.
24 I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.
25 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning.
26 I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him.
27 They understood not that he spake to them of the Father.
28 Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
29 And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.
30 As he spake these words, many believed on him.
31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
33 They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.
36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
37 I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.
38 I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.
39 They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
40 But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.
41 Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.
42 Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.
43 Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.
44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
45 And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
46 Which of you convinceth [convict] me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?
47 He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.
48 Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?
49 Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me.
50 And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth.
51 Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
52 Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.
53 Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?
54 Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God:
55 Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying.
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by (John 8:12-69).

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FOOTNOTE

{1} Thanks to Garret Nash for the following note:

The idea of socio-linguistic codes is readily accepted by anthropologist, linguists, and semioticians. Signs (words, images, sounds, gestures and objects which convey meaning) make sense only when they are placed in cultural context in which they are meant to be understood. (See Chandler, D. (2007). Semiotics: the basics. Routledge.)

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