Preaching the gospel had been restricted during Christ’s ministry, with few exceptions, to the House and children of Israel. In a series of days on the beautiful coast of the Mediterranean Sea—all that would change. It reminds us of a very special day in June of 1978—a day never to be forgotten. We will talk about that in just a few minutes.
Hello, we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this is the Come Follow Me Podcast entitled “The Word of God Grew and Multiplied” and covers Acts chapters 10-15. Thank you so much for joining us—we love studying together with you and, of course, Maurine and I love studying together as a couple—it’s about our favorite thing in the world.
Thank you to Paul Cardall for the beautiful music that opens and closes this Podcast.
Will you continue to spread the word about the Podcast—tell your friends and family to go to latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast or just search for Meridian Magazine–Come Follow Me on their favorite Podcast platform. We would love to have them join us.
And can we just tell you: We love running into you wherever we go and have you comment on the Podcast or tell us about your experiences with it. We now have pictures in our mind of many of you who have stopped us to talk about the Podcast. That always makes our day. Thank you so much for joining us each and every week.
What we’re going to see in this week’s lesson is a series of amazing heavenly manifestations—but just as importantly—we’re going to see the precise timing of the Lord.
Using Nephi’s teaching method, “for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning,” (1 Nephi 19:23)—let’s see how the stories and experiences in these chapters this week relate to us and our time and circumstances.
Our story begins in Caesarea on the beautiful Mediterranean seacoast. We call this city today: Caesarea Maritima. This impressive port was conceived and built by Herod “the Great” or, as we would rather call him: Herod the Great Builder—or even more accurately, Herod who had a Great Builder and Architect (whom we know nothing about). He was doing everything he could to impress Rome and he wanted to have a beautiful, safe harbor to receive the ships from the West. He built this deep-water port from 22-9 BC. It is a beautiful city to this day—although the harbor now lies in ruins—having been destroyed by the forces of nature—including many earthquakes.
Heavenly Manifestations to Cornelius
Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, lived in Caesarea—and he lived well. He was a special character—so special, that the author Luke highlights him in detail.
First of all: What is a “centurion”? You have to understand that the political super power of the world at the time of Christ was the Roman Empire. Roman divided their powerful armies into legions. A legion was composed of 6,000 soldiers and each legion was then divided into 10 cohorts, with each cohort containing 6 centuria. A centurion was the commander of about 100 men—and there were 60 centurions in a legion. A centurion received much higher wages and a greater share of the spoils of war than that of a common solder.
Cornelius was a over the band called the Italian Band—more accurately translated—he was centurion over the Cohort II Italica Civium Romanorum—a cohort based in Caesarea from Italy formed from Roman citizens—most of whom, we learn from Josephus, were probably volunteers.
It was no small task to get a 100 volunteers to go to a remote outpost in the Roman Empire. This tells us something about Cornelius: He was no ordinary soldier, no ordinary Roman and no ordinary centurion. He clearly was a gatherer of people. We will learn more about that in a minute.
Luke tells us that Cornelius was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway” (Acts 10:2) Luke is telling his story to a sophisticated, educated Greek audience. For him to say Cornelius prayed to God always—he was clearly saying he believed in One God—not the Roman pantheon of gods.
The Romans at that time borrowed their belief system from the Greeks and had 12 Olympian gods—six male and six female. We will mention their names here because you will run into some of them mentioned in your readings in Paul’s epistles. The six male and six female gods were in pairs: Jupiter and Juno, Neptune and Minerva, Apollo and Diana, Mars and Venus, Vulcan and Vesta (hey, I had a Great Aunt Vesta!) and Mercury and Ceres. Five of these twelve pagan gods are referred to in Paul’s writings.
Back to Cornelius: About 3:00 in the afternoon on one particular day an angel of God came to him and called him by name:
“Cornelius.” I love that this Roman centurion was known in the heavens on a first name basis! He was at first afraid and he answered humbly: “What is it Lord?”
Here we learn about Cornelius’s fervent prayers:
“Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.” (See Acts 10: 3-6)
Scot and Maurine (every other)
Look at all we learn here:
- Angels know us by name (in the cases of Cornelius, Peter and Simon)
- Angels are dispatched because of faith to answer prayers
- Angels know where people are lodging (as in Peter at Simon’s home)
- Angels know geographic locations (as in the coastal city of Joppa)
- Angels know people’s professions (as in Simon—a tanner)
- Angels know exact addresses (as in Simon’s house by the sea side)
- Angels give exact instructions to carry out God’s exact purposes (as in: Go get Peter—he will know and tell you all that you should do)
Of course, all these things tell us of the perfect knowledge of God in sending these servants from the heavens. We see this pattern in certain sacred places—God sending specific servants to carry out very specific assignments to bless His children.
So, immediately after the angel departed, Cornelius did just as he was told: “He called two of his household servants and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually” (see Acts 10:7) and he told them all about his vision and then sent them on their way to Joppa.
Remember, the vision was around 3:00 PM. We don’t know how long the vision lasted—we likely have only a small account of what happened–But this is late in the day—the three men left first thing the next morning to make their 40-mile one-way journey from Caesarea to Joppa straight south of them.
Heavenly Manifestations to Peter
Now, watch the amazing timing that’s about to happen in our story.
As the three men are coming close to the city of Joppa, the Apostle Peter went up upon the housetop of Simon the tanner’s home to pray. This was about noon. Peter surely had the habit of praying morning, noon and night—just like the Prophet Joseph Smith would later do as his daily devotions to God.
Peter was very hungry and would have eaten the meal that was being made ready downstairs, but instead “he fell into a trance.” (Acts 10:10) Footnote here: We’re not used to using the word “trance” for a spiritual experience. This is very common in ancient times and cultures. We see it in the Book of Mormon with Alma the Younger, with King Lamoni and his household including the Queen and other servants, and King Lamoni’s Father and the queen. Some cultures, like the Mevlevi Order or Whirling Dervishes of Konya, Turkey—have practiced to achieve a trance-like state in their traditional spinning dance—and they’ve done this for over 700 years!
Now, I studied 38 different translations of this verse and seven of these translated it as “he had a vision” or “a visionary experience.” I like Wycliffe’s translation: But while they made ready, a ravishing of the Spirit felled on him [an excess of soul, or ravishing of Spirit, fell on him].” (Acts 10:10 – John Wycliffe’s 1382 translation of the Latin Vulgate)
Peter saw in vision heaven opened “and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him,
Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
But Peter said, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (see Acts 10: 11-15)
This same vision was shown to him three times. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Lord repeats His lessons, so he is certain we understand. Moroni came three times to Joseph Smith the night of September 21 and 22, 1823 and repeated his message to young Joseph with some additions.
“Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean (here’s the perfect timing): the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house , and stood before the gate…While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold three men seek thee. Arise therefore (he has still in his kneeling or praying position from the vision), and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.” (see Acts 10: 17-20)
Peter doesn’t yet know who the men are who are calling for him and he doesn’t know about Cornelius in Caesarea—he is just told to doubt nothing and they have been sent by divine command.
Take note here: These three men do not know much about Cornelius’ vision. They just know that they are to come and fetch Peter and bring him to their master. The three men lodge that evening at this home (after their 40-mile-journey) and prepare so they can all leave on the morrow for Caesarea. Peter brings six certain men with him to make the journey and, of course, so that the law of witnesses can be in place.
Remember, we learned early on that Cornelius is a gatherer of people. Most of his cohorts were volunteers. When the ten men arrive back from Joppa the next day, Cornelius had “gathered together his kinsmen and near friends.” He had had four days to think about his vision and was surely thrilled to find out what Peter would have to say to him. Of course, he is going to share this message with all the people that he loves and is close to. They were all there prepared to receive Peter and whatever he would tell them.
Heavenly Manifestations to the whole gathering
I wish we could take you with us to Caesarea. We go there every year and teach this same story—right in the city where it happened. This was a sophisticated, upscale city.
When Peter walked in, the centurion Cornelius did a very uncharacteristic thing for a man of his position: He fell down at his feet and worshipped him. “But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.” (Acts 10: 25,26) This was an extremely humbling thing for a centurion to do—but Cornelius was humble and ready to receive the word of the Lord from Peter.
Peter looked over the situation in this very large gathering, saw that the place was full of Roman soldiers and citizens and Gentiles and he immediately said a very cultural thing: “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?” (Acts 10: 28,29)
Peter is completely out of his element here—but the Lord, through the vision he sent to Peter, had prepared him for this very moment. And here would be the hinge-point of the growth of Christianity in the Church in this meridian of time.
Cornelius explained to Peter and all in the room the reason for his sending for him. Note that Cornelius had not received any specific doctrinal information from the heavens—he was just to send for one called Peter and he would tell him all things whatsoever he should do.
“Then Peter opened his mouth and said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
“But in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.
“The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)
[“That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;
“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.]
“And we are witnesses (remember there are 6 other Jews who came with Peter) of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; who they slew and hanged on a tree:
“Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;
“Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.” (See Acts 10:34-41)
Here Peter is witnessing specifically of the resurrected Lord—that He had been slain by the Romans on the cross and yet He was raised from the dead and in His resurrected state He did eat and drink with them.
[“And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the judge of quick and dead.
“To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10: 42-43)]
Now, something amazing happens at this point.
“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
“And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
“For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.” (Acts 10: 44-46)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie teaches us about Cornelius:
“God here pours out the Holy Ghost upon Cornelius, his kindred, and friends as a sign to Peter (and through him to all Israel) that the gospel was now to go to the Gentiles. The Holy Ghost is the greatest gift a man can receive in this life, and it comes to those who believe and obey the laws of the gospel. Since the Gentiles are here so visibly anointed with this heavenly endowment, it is evident that the Lord is offering to them the gifts and blessings of that gospel which heretofore has been preached almost exclusively to the house of Israel.” (McConkie, Bruce R., Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Volume 2, p. 106)
Joseph Smith explained: ‘Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him. Until he obeyed these ordinances and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands, according to the order of God, he could not have healed the sick or commanded an evil spirit to come out of a man, and it obey him.’ (Teachings, p. 199.)
The men who came from Joppa were astonished, but Peter, seeing the outpouring of the Spirit and understanding more clearly his own vision, says:
“Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
“And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” (Acts 10: 47-48)
I’m sure that they just walked out to the nearby Mediterranean Sea on the beach—this Roman centurion and all his kinsmen and near friends and they were all baptized. This would not have been an ordinance that could have been hidden that day—perhaps hundreds or even thousands looked upon this scene as one by one these Gentiles were baptized. What a beautiful and amazing day this was in the early Church!
Peter overcame his own culture and personal experience and was able to move ahead and offer baptism to those he personally would have considered unclean.
Don’t we all have similar paradigms to overcome? As missionaries either in full-time service or in our home-centered missions, should we continue to carry our own foregone conclusions and prejudices about who should or shouldn’t be offered or receive the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? We cannot look upon the outer man and judge and say, “He certainly does not look like a person who would receive the Gospel,” or “She is certainly not someone who would ever be interested.” Or so-and-so is certainly not ready to receive the Gospel!
The Lord gave the injunction: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” (Matt 28:19) and that word “all” means ALL.
We remember a time over 40 years ago when the priesthood was not available to those of African descent. For those of us who grew up during this time, it was never easy for us to understand and oh! How we rejoiced when the revelation was given that the priesthood could be given to all worthy males regardless of race.
Maurine and I had the immense privilege of attending the Accra Ghana Temple Dedication back in 2004. We immediately fell in love with our fellow Ghanaian saints there—but especially with one pioneer member: Joseph William “Billy” Johnson. We had the blessing of interviewing him extensively and visiting with him in his home.
Billy Johnson started his studies in 1964 by reading a tract on Joseph Smith and the first vision, and said he, “I was convinced. I believed. I felt the spirit when I read the story of Joseph Smith, especially how the Father and the Son revealed themselves to him. That moved me a great deal.”
He took his studies of the Book of Mormon with equal conviction, poring over the pages. Then, he said, “One early morning of March 1964 while I was about to get up to prepare for my daily chores, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me. I heard a voice from heaven speaking to me saying, ‘Johnson, if you will take up my word as I will command you to your people, I will bless you and bless your land.’ Trembling in fear, I replied in tears, saying ‘Lord by thy own help, I will do whatsoever thou would command me.’
“From that day on,” said Brother Johnson, “the Spirit of the Lord constrained me to propagate the restored gospel to my people. I started door to door and performed open missionary work preaching the new message we read from the Book of Mormon.”
Unending Challenges and Trials
As soon as he started to do this work, persecution was heaped upon him. From a distance, we might have assumed that the Church flourished as it did because the Africans were easy and receptive, able quickly to cling on to the good news of the gospel.
That wasn’t so. It was the same story that had been replayed in England and Denmark more than 100 years before. The gospel is introduced and all hell breaks loose.
“We were ridiculed and heckled by mobs who did not believe the Book of Mormon and the testimonies of Joseph Smith,” he said. They believed only the Bible and they would not accept any other book of scripture as the word of God. A lot of Churches took notice of us and started calling us names. They branded our group as an anti-Christ organization.”
Remember, at this point in 1964, Brother Johnson had not been called on a mission by the Church. No mortal has asked him to preach the gospel. He is devoting full time to a calling that he feels only within himself. He has a message that includes exclusion of the priesthood, limitation to blessings, and no church to attend.
This can’t be readily appealing. What keeps him going? He is harangued by day, but taught by night. With enormous spiritual hunger, he called upon the Lord who continually answers through his Spirit, “Here am I.”
He preached the Book of Mormon and people answered that they had read the Bible. They told him that it is the only book. He explained that the 66 books of the Bible were not all written at the same time. He reminded them that Christ had said he had other sheep. And he kept plodding along, crying to the Lord for more.
One time after he had been fasting for three days, he dreamed of walking on a plain and he looked ahead and saw two enormously heavy books. He was told, “Johnson, go carry them. Go carry them. Go carry them.” It seemed impossible to him, but he followed the instruction, picked them both up and found the books were light. “They were light,” he said, “because they supported each other. Once I saw it in a vision, I didn’t doubt any more.”
Brother Johnson said, “Persecution became bitter, so much that we nearly gave up from the very onset, but through much prayer and fasting, we waxed strong in faith and continued to preach the gospel without flinching.”
One day at Accra Post Office Square, a religious group suddenly broke up the meeting by distributing anti-Mormon pamphlets. “They thought they could discourage us, but we were undaunted. We persisted and won the hearts of 40 people that day.”
Pleading for Direction from the Church
Won them for what? Mere scraps of information, but nothing they could model. Brother Johnson or a member of his group wrote letters to the Church, and they received kind letters of encouragement, magazines, a hymnbook and instructions about how to run a meeting. First, have an opening song. Next an opening prayer. The correspondence was continuous through the years. The plea was “Come for us.” The response, “We want to. The time is not yet.”
Brother Johnson persisted. Their church group met in a school owned by the Anglican Church who finally decided that the rate of growth of Johnson’s group was a threat to their own. The LDS group was asked to leave.
They moved their meetings to a storeroom in Brother Johnson’s house. The group outgrew it. They registered with the government. They started a primary school called the Brigham Young Educational Institute. Brother Johnson named his son Brigham. He was not a bishop so they called him the Reverend Minister Johnson. They hung on, sometimes with tears, but they hung on.
In 1969, Brother Johnson moved to Cape Coast where he established what became 10 separate congregations in the little villages that dotted the area. Their meeting houses with the odd little signs that announced themselves as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were a motley group. The Cape Coast group met in a converted old cement warehouse. The front wall had a large painting of Christ and at the back of the podium a finely crafted and polished statue of the Angel Moroni. The tin roof leaked when it rained and Brother Johnson spent much time trying to get a government permit to fix it. Attached to the pulpit was a picture of the Bible and the Book of Mormon and the room was decorated with the pictures of Joseph Smith, the Tabernacle Choir, and other Latter-day Saint scenes. The Assin Fosu Branch met in a room of the village school building. Sekindi-Takoradi Branch met in the restaurant of the ‘branch president.’
They had high hopes to be baptized members of the Church, but the years were long. In 1977 he was approached by no less than four denominations who tried to influence Johnson’s Church ‘with large sums of money to cause a change of our name to theirs’…In each case they knew that Mr. Johnson’s church could not have been recognized by the Church in Salt Lake because of the Church’s position in regard to the priesthood. In each case Mr. Johnson was approached by these churches telling him that the Church in Salt Lake would never recognize his congregation and that he might just as well give up hope and come and join their ranks. [One group] offered Mr. Johnson a scholarship in theology and a full time salaried position as a minister in their church. They also offered to contribute $10,000 towards the purchase of some improved facilities and equipment.
“The contingent which included a bishop, stayed in Mr. Johnson’s home for about one week. Towards the end of the week Johnson ‘decided to pray and ask the Lord to confirm that this is what he should do.’ During his supplication he heard a voice tell him, ‘Do not confuse my people,’…He immediately got up from his knees and went into his living room where at the same time the bishop of the aforementioned church also came into the living room and before Johnson could say anything himself, the bishop said that the Lord had just revealed to him that he should not persuade Mr. Johnson and his congregation to depart from their own church.”
Despite prayers answered and heavenly manifestations, sometimes Brother Johnson was discouraged. Elder Emmanuel Kissi wrote, “Whilst in anxious prayer one of those days, Johnson heard an unidentifiable voice…saying to him, “I will come and help you. Do not be discouraged. Be patient. The Church in America will help you.”
The Revelation Finally Came
Then on June 9th, 1978, Brother Johnson had difficulty sleeping, so he listened to the radio, a radio that had not been working very well of late. During the midnight broadcast of the BBC, he heard the news that the Church was going to extend the priesthood to all worthy males. The floodgates were opened. The blessings that Brother Johnson had sought for so long would now be available. He “sat there and cried.”
At a Regional Representatives seminar that same year, President Spencer W. Kimball, who had prayed so long for this revelation on the priesthood, said, “We have an obligation, a duty, a divine commission to preach the gospel to every nation and every creature…We feel that the Spirit of the Lord is brooding over the nations to prepare the way for the preaching of the gospel. Certain political events have a bearing upon the spreading of the truth, and it seems as though the Lord is moving upon the affairs of men and nations to hasten their day of readiness when leaders will permit the elect among them to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ…And what about Africa? They have waited so long already…Are they not included in the Lord’s invitation to ‘teach all nations?’ Are they not included in the utmost part of the earth?’”
At that same meeting President Kimball read a letter from Brother Johnson, “We therefore solemnly declare in the name of Jesus Christ that God has prepared the groups in Ghana for you, and we have no where else to go but forward, looking for your missionaries to help us understand the Church better.
“It is our burning desire to live by that faith and attain its standards.”
On the day of the Ghana temple dedication, Brother Johnson said, “We will always remember what the missionaries have done for us. My heart is burning with love and appreciation. When I started preaching with the Book of Mormon, everyone said, they won’t come. Leave the Church. I said, ‘I know they will come because the Lord has told me.’”
The First Missionaries Arrive in Ghana
When the first two couples Rendell and Rachel Mabey and Ted and Janath Cannon came to Ghana, the land was in a drought, conveniences were hard to come by and food was difficult to obtain. Brother Johnson said, “I remember Elder Cannon had a characteristic movement. He was always pulling up his pants because he had lost so much weight.”
It was a rainy day in Cape Coast when the missionaries came. Since the roof was so full of holes “we could look through the ceiling and see the birds,” the rain poured through and everyone was wet. Still, nobody moved, so intent were they on hearing the gospel. “We were sitting in the room wet, and we were listening to the missionaries. They would explain things to us, and ask if we believed. We nodded, saying, ‘We believe. We love the Church. We love it. It is close to our hearts.’”
They had been taught through the Spirit, and they knew.
Of course, some things needed to be corrected. They had not ever seen a Latter-day Saint Church service so they had incorporated ideas they had seen in other churches. They had a collection plate, they used drums in their worship, they had interpreted the Word of Wisdom to mean that they could eat wheat but not oats. They changed as soon as they understood, including something that could have been sticky.
So the day of the temple dedication, Brother Johnson had “shining tears of joy.”
One night, before the Church had come, he had been weeping for a different reason. He was discouraged and pained, wondering, “Will our brothers from the West ever come for us?” Then in a dream his brother, who had died four years before Brother Johnson had found the Church came to him and said, “Do not weep. I have found your Church in this place, and I want to be baptized, but I cannot without your help.” To prove to his brother that he spoke the truth he sang for him “Come, Come Ye Saints.”
Brother Johnson said, “Temple work is the sweetest part of the Church to which my heart and soul have always clung. I want to meet my mother and father in the resurrection prepared to enter the kingdom of God.
“There is a chorus of God’s love inside every member of the Church today. We can’t express our gratitude for the blessings we have received.”
As for the future, he said, “It is time to do more missionary work. This is not the time to rest on our laurels. It’s the time to work harder so we can raise up more missionaries to spread the message of love for the world.
I had the immense blessing of standing in line with Joseph William “Billy” Johnson as we went into the temple dedication. He said he had spent the entire night before prostrate upon the floor in fervent prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord for giving his people this temple.
I talked to him again when we came out of the Temple—and he told me that during the Hosanna shout and the singing of The Spirit of God he had seen an open vision of the hosts of the Ghanaian dead who were all in their tribal garb and awaiting their work to be done.
Cornelius and the reception of the gospel by the Gentiles was the turning point in that early day Church. West Africa and the taking of the Gospel to the African people, we believe, was also a great turning point in the history of the latter-day Church.
Back to Peter: He returned to Jerusalem and those of the circumcision were very upset that he had preached among the Romans—these unclean gentiles. In chapter 11 of Acts, Peter rehearsed the whole of his experience to these doubters.
And “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:18)
It would take us many hours to cover the rest of the material in these chapters. Fortunately, you do have many hours in your homes to cover this material.
We do want to say a word in closing about circumcision.
The law of circumcision had been implemented in Abraham’s day and had been a standing law and practice for the faithful ever since. Most of us are familiar with this law:
“This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
“[And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin;] and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
“And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations…
“…and the covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.” (Genesis 17: 10-13)
That’s the part of the law we know and are familiar with, but in addition we learn a fascinating doctrine from the Joseph Smith Translation about the law of circumcision that we seldom talk about.
In JST Genesis 17:11 we learn: “And I will establish a covenant of circumcision with thee, and it shall be my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, that thou mayest know forever [pay attention here] that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old.”
This means that in their very flesh they wore the constant reminder and the sign of the covenant that they age of accountability was eight years old and that was when they would submit themselves to the ordinance of baptism.
This practice and law was later discontinued and is no longer part of the sacred covenants the Lord requires of His people.
But by Peter’s day they had been practicing this law for nearly 2,000 years! In doing missionary work to the Gentiles, who were uncircumcised, many of the early missionaries felt strongly that this should be required of the new converts.
“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)
This caused so much contention in Antioch that Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the apostles. As they arrived a certain sect of the Pharisees (wouldn’t you know it) said, “That is was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15: 5)
Then “the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
“And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
“And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, given them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
“And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
“Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
“But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15: 6-11)
Paul and Barnabas also stepped forth and gave their feelings and a brief report of they mission among the Gentiles.
Finally, James stood forward and spoke his feelings:
“Men and brethren, hearken unto me…
“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.
“Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
“But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
“For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day…”
Then the apostles sent an epistle by the hands of Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch saying,
“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…” (Acts 15:28)
They clarified the matter to the Saints and new converts living away from the central location of the Church in Jerusalem.
Here we see early on how the apostles were there to regulate the Church and see that there was unity among the doctrines and practices of the early-day Saints.
Thanks for listening. The scriptures are rich and full and we hope that in our time together you are learning things that will help you in your home-centered studies.
Next time the lesson will cover Acts, chapters 16-21 and is entitled “The Lord Had Called Us for to Preach the Gospel.”
We’ve loved being with you. Please share this with your friends and family—tell them to search on their favorite Podcast platform for Meridian Magazine-Come Follow Me.
Have a wonderful week and we’ll see you next time.