Minor Rant About Scripture Mastery

On a whim I started having the kids memorize a scripture. I think it happened because we were trying to do a faster version of bedtime one night, which sometimes involves reciting a scripture rather than reading. The kids seemed to like it, so we started saying it every night to practice. Most of my best parenting ideas have their origin in laziness.

The scripture that we’ve been working on is John 3:16. At this point they’ve actually got it down pretty well, so we’re working on verse seventeen too. I picked the verse because it was the first one I thought of. On further reflection, though,  I think it’s a very appropriate verse for first one that the kids learn. It encompasses the central idea of Christian belief. If you only know one scripture, that’s not a bad choice.

Since this little habit has been going well for us, I’ve decided to continue it and have been looking for a nice list of scriptures which I could use to get good ideas for memorizing. Naturally, having participated in the seminary program, I thought of the scripture mastery verses. I looked them up, all ready to cross off our first one.

Unfortunately, John 3:16 is not a scripture mastery verse.

I’m sure there are reasons that this verse was omitted, but I found it extra strange because there is another verse in John 3 that did make the cut:

John 3:5 – Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

It’s a fine scripture, but it seems like it was included because it’s a scripture in the Bible that can be understood as saying that baptism is necessary. Not even everyone will read it that way (quick story, on my mission I brought up this scripture with a guy and he viewed it as meaning that your actual birth was being born of water, and your acceptance of Jesus was being born of the Spirit. Based solely on the text, that’s not an unreasonable interpretation.) Here’s the thing, there are much clearer scriptures about the necessity of baptism. How about this one:

2 Nephi 31:17 – Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

This one is not a scripture mastery (though to be fair, nineteen and twenty, which talk about enduring to the end, are). It’s obviously a lot more clear than the one in John.

If that’s a little long for you though, here’s another:

Doctrine and Covenants 33:11 – Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.

Short, to the point, and almost unmistakable in what it is saying.

It seems like the only reason to include John 3:5 is so that missionaries know a scripture in the bible that more or less says the same thing, so they have something to point at when dealing with other Christians.

This might be (probably is) me projecting my own issues onto everyone else, but I feel like I would have been a much better missionary and person if I had thought a little more about John 3:16-17 (like the part about not being sent to condemn the world, for instance) and a little less about John 3:5 and convincing people that their understanding of the Bible was flawed. If you can convince them to read the Book of Mormon and gain a testimony of it (admittedly that’s a really, really big if), then it doesn’t matter where the scripture that you’re using comes from.

In the grand scheme of things, the inclusion or exclusion of specific verses in the scripture mastery list is not really a big deal, but this seems like a microcosm for a problem I see in the way that we sometimes approach members of other religions. We’re too quick to look for doctrinal difference, and too slow to look for shared ground.

Well, as for me and my kids, we’re going to stick with John 3:16-17 for a while. Don’t hold your breath for John 3:5 to come up.

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