20 years ago, you could be a Mormon that was inactive so you used your free agency to tell your Home Teachers you didn’t want a visit. Today it is all different. Today you would be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who was less active, so you used your agency (not free anymore) to tell your Ministers you don’t want an e-mail.
Lots of other words have changed in Mormon speak. What I find most interesting is when the word does not change, but the meaning changes to fit a shifting knowledge, doctrine, or culture.
For example, the words Celestial Marriage, and New and Everlasting Covenant used to mean plural marriage (polygyny and sometimes polyandry). While a strict reading of D&C 132 can still convey this meaning, for the most part today it is used to mean a monogamous marriage that is sealed in the temple.
The word Lamanite used to mean any Native American, Pacific Islanders, or South American indigenous people. There are multiple example in the D&C of this:
And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.D&C 54:8
This is one of those “Thus saith the Lord” sections in the D&C, so even God thought the Lamanites were Native Americans, just over the boarder from Missouri. Is it any wonder that even modern Prophets up until about 30 years ago referred to them as such? So what happened? Science is what happened. In fact it was so obvious that the indigenous people of the Americas did not come from Jerusalem, that the church changed the introduction to the Book of Mormon in 2006, indicating that the Lamanites are no longer the “principal ancestors of the American Indians”, they are just among the ancestors.
The word “translate” is morphing right before our eyes today. It is ever so gradually changing from the accepted definition of “expressing the sense of words or text in another language”, to expressing the mind of the Lord (revelation) into English, with no original text needed. The “catalyst theory” of the Book of Abraham is a good example of this. Also see Elder Soares talk in General Conference below:
The translation process of the Book of Mormon was also a miracle. This sacred ancient record was not “translated” in the traditional way that scholars would translate ancient texts by learning an ancient language. We ought to look at the process more like a “revelation” with the aid of physical instruments provided by the Lord, as opposed to a “translation” by one with knowledge of languages. Joseph Smith declared that through God’s power he “translated the Book of Mormon from [hieroglyphs], the knowledge of which was lost to the world, in which wonderful event [he] stood alone, an unlearned youth, to combat the worldly wisdom and multiplied ignorance of eighteen centuries, with a new revelation.” The Lord’s help in the translation of the plates—or revelation, so to speak—is also evident when considering the miraculously short time Joseph Smith took to translate them.April 2020, Saturday Afternoon
There are lots of other words that have changed over the years. Horse means something other than a horse (tapir anyone?). Jehovah once meant God the Father, but since Talmage’s book “Jesus the Christ” was published, it now means Christ. The word “know” means to believe something, or have faith in something.
What words can you think of that the church has changed the meaning of over the years?
“priesthood” per Merriam Webster:
1: the office, dignity, or character of a priest
2 : the whole body of priests
per Lexico (sponsored by OED):
1The office or position of a priest.
2 Priests in general.
per Gospel Topics: Priesthood
“The word priesthood has two meanings. First, priesthood is the power and authority of God. …
Second, in mortality, priesthood is the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children.”
Dallin Oaks, rejecting the common usage 2d definition: “We should always remember that men who hold the priesthood are not ‘the priesthood.’ … We should refer to ‘the holders of the priesthood…'”
But, it seems, it once meant something like the “sealed” human family as in “it must be joined to gether so there would be a perfict chane from Father Adam to his latest posterity.” (Brigham Young) and as in “born in the priesthood” as reported by J Stapely in “The Power of Godliness.”
With Hinckley, Mormon meant “more good”….now lds are taught that satan delightith with use of the word.
Wondering’s comment made me think about “Aaronic Priesthood”. Today we would generally think of the male youth in the church, but my understanding is that was not the case 100+ years ago and giving younger and younger boys the priesthood was an attempt to try and keep them on the strait and narrow – increase their commitment to the church. Seems to parallel the change in missionary age a few years ago. If there is a problem of many boys finishing High School and then after a year or so with more freedoms they realize they don’t want to serve a mission, then close that gap so they don’t have time to really reconsider.
And it does seem common that many words and phrases (and even doctrine) change over time. I am just reading a book on Brigham Young and it is going into how “speaking in tongues”. In the church today you would be escorted off to the hospital if you performed one of these “manifestation of the spirit” in church. Today “speaking in tongues” is of course missionaries being able to speak foreign languages.
How about sealings and the Mormon use of the term “sealed.” In Mormonspeak and in Mormon doctrine, a “sealing” means something like a marriage, but yet something quite different. A temple sealing (performed under some type of Mormon authority, maybe the priesthood and maybe some sort of temple-based authority) is, as used in Mormondom, an ordinance that turns a temporal marriage into an eternal marriage. So it’s sort of like a marriage. But people who are legally married go in and get “sealed,” so it’s something added to a marriage. And when Mormons practiced plural marriage, people who were never legally married (second and later “wives”) went in to get “sealed.” So not-sealed people can be married, and not-married people can get sealed. Of course, the term is also extended to “sealing” children to parents and, in the 19th century, “sealing” men to each other.
The term derives from ancient legal usage, as in a contract or deed that was “signed, sealed, and delivered.” A signature that was “sealed” was more credible. In some cases, a ring with some icon or design was pressed into wax to constitute a “seal” affixed to a document. This might make sense for the Mormon usage if a “sealing” were to verify and authenticate a marriage that might otherwise be questionable. It might also signify a marriage that was extended in time (in some cases, a “sealed” contract might stay in force longer than one with a mere signature). But that doesn’t fit for sealing with no prior legal marriage (plural marriages) or for sealing men to men. And notice the shift in reference: a “seal” was a thing affixed to a contract. A “sealing” is an action or performance.
The current Mormon usage seems to have changed the term “sealing” to mean joining or binding, kind of like applying some glue to hold a joint or to join two objects. That seems to come from D&C 128:18, which talks about “a welding link of some kind or other” to bind “the fathers and the children.” Here is an example of the current Mormon usage, from then-Elder Nelson in Conference in April 2008:
“Any discussion of family responsibilities to prepare for exaltation would be incomplete if we included only mother, father, and children. What about grandparents and other ancestors? The Lord has revealed that we cannot become perfect without them; neither can they without us be made perfect. Sealing ordinances are essential to exaltation. A wife needs to be sealed to her husband; children need to be sealed to their parents; and we all need to be connected with our ancestors.”
How about the change from the “Plan of Salvation” to the silly “Plan of Happiness”?
Mormon for “more good” to mormon for offending Jesus
While there has been a change of senior church leader preference from “plan of salvation” to “plan of happiness,” both phrases (and “plan of redemption”) are used in the Book of Mormon — apparently for the same thing, e.g., pos Alma 24:14 and 42:5; poh Alma 42:8; por Alma 12:25, 42:11. So “plan of happiness” is not recent, though its being emphasized is relatively recent. Maybe the missionary department thought happiness more attractive to people than salvation, even though in context the promise of happiness in Alma is relevant to the afterlife and not mortality.
Thanks, Dave B. You motivated my looking at the use of “seal” and “sealed” in the NT, BoM, and D&C. In early Mormonism, it had a variety of uses other than a ritual sealing family members to each other. I like this one from Mosiah 5:15:
“Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life…”
“Sanctity” as in “SSM will destroy the sanctity of marriage.” Since these years later my hetero marriage seems completely unaffected, I’m wondering in what sense this word was used.
How about the phrase “covenant path?” Not really a change, per se, but kind of a newly coined phrase that suddenly became almost ubiquitous within a remarkably short period of time.
Sealed is a great one Dave. Mormon’s use it like the seal on a new jar of pickles (nod to Bednar), while the original meaning in the scriptures is that it had God’s seal of approval, like the King’s signet ring in the wax “seal” on the envelope.
Reading my Utah Mormon great grandmother’s account of her life, it was striking to me that she uses a lot of different phrases than are common now. One example is how often she called God “Higher Power” but never once”Heavenly Father.”
“clean-living” and “strived for betterment” came up a lot as the specific indicators that someone was good / religious / faithful in her view.
Religious freedom used to be the I think the covenantright to practice your religion or not.
In the church it is now the right to impose your religious beliefs on others (over their religious freedom).
I think “the covenant path” and “the chior at temple square” have become virtu signalling, along with not being mormon etc.
Bishop Bill: perhaps the most important point in your piece is: “so what happened? science happened”. Just think of all the examples we could come up with where science has invalidated LDS beliefs and truth claims. You know what else happened? The Internet.
Yeah. Happy Hubby is right that “Gift of Tongues” has been totally redefined.
Also, “Priesthood Authority” used to mean duly ordained to a priesthood office to officiate. Now it means that anyone who instructs anyone else in the Church (e.g. primary teacher, RS president) receives priesthood authority when set apart.
“Preside” has–like the British Monarchy–declined from being a powerful head to a ceremonial placeholder that occasionally calls on someone to bless the food. Even the bishop’s role of presiding over the ward has been replaced with the Ward Council.
The historical inaccuracy of this post is a bit baffling. The word “translate” has a long history of being used by Latter-day Saints in exactly the way Elder Soares described. Hence we have the Joseph Smith “Translation” of the Bible, not the Joseph Smith “Commentary”. It was clear from the beginning that the “inspired translation” was not based on a specific text. Further, the notion that the Book of Mormon was “translated” without knowledge of the source language is foundational to the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and has been so from the beginning.
“Jehovah” meant Christ, as distinct from the father, long before Talmage. It was fundamental in the Temple narrative.
As for “horse” meaning something other than a “horse”, what do you expect? The American buffalo is not a buffalo at all. Nor is a panda bear a bear. There is a long history of giving things names based on a familiar name, even if it’s taxonomically inaccurate.