Saturday, April 29, 2006

Only (adj) in Modern Scripture, Part 1 of ?

Sometimes the word “only” confuses me in the scriptures. It is, on one hand, a word I like to see because it can imply some harsh precision—instead of mushy “most,” “some,” “few,” or “many” there is a nice, clean “this and no other.” Unless, that is, it means something else. In the interest of understanding better I have begun to compare various uses of “only” in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. I’m posting what I figure out (or don’t) here in the hopes of transperspectional enlightenment. (Do I get bonus points for making up words or for extra syllables?)

I count 195 total sightings of “only” in 189 verses using In this post I’ll review the ones that completely flummox me, the ones that (I think) don’t give me any trouble at all, and start working through the adjectives. Depending on my ambition level I’ll discuss the remaining adjectives and the (more vexing) adverbs and conjunctions in later posts.

My “method,” if we can call it that, is to classify the occurrences using the Oxford English Dictionary (online; OED) and a mimeograph of an 1828 Webster’s Dictionary and then compare similar constructs in hopes of sussing out meanings.

I don’t understand what D&C 104:53a and D&C 136:40 mean [1]. As it turns out, I don’t care (for the present; feel free to enlighten me for my future edification). Moving on: there are 49 appearances of “Only Begotten,” all of them straight-forward references to the Savior [2].

“Only” makes 19 appearances as an adjective [3]: “the only sure foundation” (Jacob 4:16; 11 occurrences; OED, adj: 2a), “…what the queen desired of him was his only desire” (Alma 19:7; 2 occurrences; OED, adj: 3a), “his only son” (D&C 101:4; 1 occurrence; OED, adj: 2c), and the 5 below that confuse me:

--“…the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased…” (D&C 1:30)
--“…the only living and true God…” (D&C 20:19a)
-- “…the only wise and true God…” (D&C 132:24)
-- “…this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…” (2 Ne. 31:21)
-- “…the true and only God…” (Ether 2:8)

I’ll start with D&C 1:30: I normally gloss this phrase as: “…the only church upon the face of the whole earth that is both true and living and the only church of any persuasion with which the Lord is well pleased….” This allows the possibility of other churches being “true” or “living,” but not both simultaneously.

On the other hand, my strict constructionist parsing is: “…of all the churches that are true and living, this is the only one with which the Lord is well pleased”—leaving open the possibility of other “true and living” churches as well as churches that are not “true and living” but with which the Lord is “well pleased.”

Some observations: (1) It is past my bedtime, as usual. (2) D&C 1:30 is not one of the scriptures that led me to this analysis; trying to answer another question led me here. (3) I am not troubled at all by my confusion—my gloss has served me well and I intend to keep using it—but perhaps there is something more I could learn.

My questions to you: How am I to understand this scripture? What can I learn from this?
[1] Multiple "only's" in a verse are labelled "a" and "b"; e.g., D&C 104:53 has two: 104:53a and 104:53b.

[2] “Only Begotten”: 2 Ne. 25:12, Jacob 4:5, 4:11, Alma 5:48, 9:26, 12:33, 12:34, 13:5, 13:9, D&C 20:21, 29:42, 29:46, 49:5, 76:13, 76:23, 76:25, 76:35, 76:57, 93:11, 124:123, 138:14, 138:57, Moses 1:6a, 1:6b, 1:13, 1:16, 1:17, 1:19, 1:21, 1:32, 1:33, 2:1, 2:26, 2:27, 3:18, 4:1, 4:3, 4:28, 5:7, 5:9, 5:57, 6:52a, 6:52b, 6:57, 6:59, 6:62, 7:50, 7:59, 7:62.

[3] “only,” OED, adj: 2a: 1 Ne. 22:31, Jacob 4:16, Alma 33:18, D&C, 10:62, 20:19b, 45:69, 76:37, 76:38, 129:6, 135:2, OD 1.

“only,” OED, adj: 2c: D&C 101:4.

“only,” OED, adj: 3a: Alma 19:7, 43:30.


At May 03, 2006 12:04 AM, Anonymous Robert C. said...

Very interesting, Edje. I added a link and made a couple comments (basically a summary of your points) here at the Feast wiki. Sorry I don't have any new insights—you've piqued my curiosity though, so I'll keep you posted if I have any new thoughts or come across anything....

At May 03, 2006 9:44 AM, Anonymous Matthew said...

I also found this interesting. And thanks Robert for posting a link to this blog on Feast. Inspired by this post I wrote up a bit on D&C 136:40 there. That was my best try at making some sense of that verse but I am not very confident in it.

On D&C 1:30, I think another possible interpretation of this phrase is "...the only church upon the face of the whole earth that is both true and living. The Lord is well pleased with this church .... "

At May 12, 2006 3:54 PM, Blogger Eric James Stone said...

I agree with matthew's alternative parsing.

As for "only true and living," at the time of the revalation there were other living churches (in that they were viable organizations) that were not true. And, in the past there were true churches in both the Mediterranean area and the Americas, but those churches no longer existed. Only one church fulfilled both criteria.

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