When Nephi and his brothers returned to the camp of their family in the wilderness, their father, Lehi, examined the sacred writings contained on brass plates which they had retrieved. After searching the record and learning about its contents, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord and began to prophesy:
That these plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed.
Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time. And he prophesied many things concerning his seed.
(1 Nephi 5:18-19)
More than 500 years later, as Alma passed these same plates on to his son Helaman, he used similar language to talk about the importance of keeping the record intact for the benefit of future generations:
And these plates of brass, which contain these engravings, which have the records of the holy scriptures upon them, which have the genealogy of our forefathers, even from the beginning
Behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers, that they should be kept and handed down from one generation to another, and be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon.
And now behold, if they are kept they must retain their brightness; yea, and they will retain their brightness; yea, and also shall all the plates which do contain that which is holy writ.
Lehi prophesied that these writings would never “perish” nor be “dimmed,” and that they would be accessible to all of his descendants. Alma said that, if the records were kept, they would “retain their brightness.”
What does it mean for a record to retain it’s brightness and never be dimmed?
I think it means that it retains its relevance, its ability to illuminate and to educate. Lehi and Alma are expressing a profound truth here: sacred records, even very old ones, can continue to accomplish their core purpose many years later and in many different cultural contexts.
The Old Testament (which overlaps substantially with the writings on the brass plates) was written in a different era, with different cultural norms and constraints than we live in. Some aspects of those writings may be challenging for us to understand, difficult to apply to our lives, and potentially even offensive to our sensibilities. But both Lehi and Alma testify that these writings can “retain their brightness” for us. Why?
- We all need to be culturally multi-lingual, capable of empathizing with people who come from different backgrounds and live in different circumstances from us. Taking the time to understand a foreign culture better, even an ancient one, can help us develop that important skill.
- The fundamental truths of the gospel—how to draw close to God and receive His salvific power—are constant over time. That is why prophets have frequently testified that God is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” (See 2 Nephi 27:23, Moroni 10:19, Hebrews 13:8). Therefore, if we can understand the basic truths taught by a sacred text, those truths will be as applicable today as they were when the text was written.
- Ancient records contain prophecies about us. Consider, for example, the following statement by Joseph Smith:
The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory.
(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, “Chapter 15: Establishing the Cause of Zion“)
Today, I will be grateful that the scriptures have “retained their brightness” over time—that they are relevant, applicable, and meaningful to us, so many years after they were written. Like Lehi and Alma, I will treasure the word of God, study it, and apply what I learn to my decisions.