In Doctrine and Covenants 4:6, the Lord invites us to develop ten Christlike attributes. Today, I decided to study the second of those attributes: virtue. Here are some of the insights I gained:
Insight #1: Virtue is power.
The word “virtuous” appears three times in the King James Version of the Old Testament, always as a translation of the Hebrew word chayil (חַיִל). This word means strong or capable. Consider, for example, three appearances of that word, each translated a different way:
- When Moses’s father-in-law counsels him to delegate some of his responsibilities, he advises him to find “able men, such as fear God, men of truth” (Exodus 18:21). The word translated “able” in that passage is chayil.
- After David was anointed to become king of Israel, the servants of the current king described him as “a mighty valiant man” (1 Samuel 16:18). The word translated as “valiant” is chayil.
- When Boaz recognizes the greatness of Ruth, he describes her as “a virtuous woman” (Ruth 3:11). The word translated as “virtuous” is chayil.
Some other translations of the Bible render that last phrase as “a woman of noble character” or “a woman of excellence,” in an effort to capture the full meaning of the word. Ruth was powerful and capable, just like the leaders selected by Moses and just like King David. Her ability to achieve great things was rooted in the goodness of her character. (The same meaning applies to the “virtuous woman” described in Proverbs 12:4 and Proverbs 31:10, 29.)
On three occasions in the New Testament, the King James translators chose to render the Greek word dunamis (δύναμις) as “virtue” (Mark 5:30, Luke 6:19, Luke 8:46). On all three occasions, the word refers to Jesus’s power to heal. In other places, this word is translated as “power” or “mighty works.”
Similarly, Mormon uses the word “virtue” to signify power or efficacy. As Alma struggles to decide how to help a group of people who have fallen away from the true religion, he remembers that “the preaching of the word” has been more impactful than anything else which has happened to his people. “Therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5).
Insight #2: Virtue is excellence.
The other Greek word which is translated as “virtue” in the New Testament is areté (ἀρετή). This word appears in 2 Peter 1:5-8 (which is the original source of the list in Doctrine and Covenants 4). It also appears in Philippians 4:8, which talks about seeking after things that are virtuous, of good report, or praiseworthy. Other translations of these verses render this word as “goodness” or “moral excellence.” (See 2 Peter 1:5 and Philippians 4:8 on biblehub.com.) The implication is that virtue means being very good—acting in a way that is above reproach.
Insight #3: Virtue is goodness for it’s own sake
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary lists ten different definitions for the word virtue. The third definition emphasizes the voluntary nature of virtue, and includes this statement: “VIRTUE is nothing but voluntary obedience to truth.”
The manual Preach My Gospel, which is used by missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, teaches the same principle in practical terms: “What you choose to think and do when you are alone and you believe no one is watching is a strong measure of your virtue” (Preach My Gospel, Chapter 6: “How Do I Develop Christlike Attributes?“)
Insight #4: Virtue begins with our thoughts.
While Joseph Smith suffered in Liberty Jail, the Lord admonished him, “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly,” coupled with the following promise: “Then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of the Lord” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:45).
Preach My Gospel explains that unvirtuous thoughts disqualify us for the companionship of the Holy Ghost:
Virtue originates in your innermost thoughts and desires. It is a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards. Since the Holy Ghost does not dwell in unclean tabernacles, virtue is prerequisite to receiving the Spirit’s guidance.Preach My Gospel, Chapter 6: “How Do I Develop Christlike Attributes?“
Today, I will remember that God’s power is available only to those who strive for moral excellence. I will seek goodness for it’s own sake and will strive for virtue in thought and action.