I Am One Of His Witnesses: Chiasmus in Bruce R. McConkie’s “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane”

bruce-r-mcconkie_april1985_lds-dot-org
Bruce R. McConkie (lds.org)

Bruce R. McConkie served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from October 1972 until his death in April 1985. Prior to this, he served in the First Council of the Seventy beginning in October 1946. Professionally, Elder McConkie practiced law and worked on a newspaper editorial staff. During World War II, he served as an army intelligence officer.

Elder McConkie is remembered for his prolific writing and extensive doctrinal knowledge. His books, Mormon Doctrine, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (3 volumes), The Messiah Series (6 volumes), and A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, are classics in Mormon theology.

Elder McConkie is also remembered for his final public testimony of Jesus Christ given in General Conference on April 6, 1985, thirteen days before his death. He explained how he gained his own witness of Christ, described the events of the Lord’s atonement in vivid detail, invited church members to put forth the effort to gain their own witness, and closed with a powerful testimony. This final address, titled “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” is chiastic, featuring both chiasms and parallelisms throughout. This article presents a diagram and detailed analysis of his concluding testimony (the best-remembered portion of his final address), followed by a less-detailed treatment of eight additional chiasms and parallelisms.

[Note: For an in-depth explanation of our methodology, see our article, “Recognizing Parallelisms and Chiasmus in the Scriptures,” under the Methodology tab.]


Diagram and Analysis:

A: And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God
B: I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha,
C: and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King.
D: This I know of myself independent of any other person. I am one of his witnesses,
E: and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet
E: and shall wet his feet with my tears.
D: But I shall not know any better then than I know now
C: that he is God’s Almighty Son,
B: that he is our Savior and Redeemer,
A: and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.

conferencereport_april1985_9_mcconkie
Conference Report, April 1985 (archive.org)

A=A: “[P]erfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God” equals “his atoning blood.” The shedding of Christ’s blood was an essential component of his “perfect atonement,” by which salvation is made possible for all mankind.

B=B: “Gethsemane and at Golgotha” complements “Savior and Redeemer.” Christ shed his blood at both Gethsemane and Golgotha in order to become our Savior and Redeemer. By overcoming spiritual and physical death he made it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins, be resurrected, and become like our Heavenly Parents and enjoy the blessings of exaltation.

C=C: “Son of the Living God” equals “God’s Almighty Son.” Christ is the Son of God.

D=D: “I know of myself independent of any other person” complements “I shall not know any better then than I know now.” Through personal revelation, Elder McConkie is a primary source for the events of the atonement. This sure knowledge would not increase “in a coming day” when he would personally meet Christ in the spirit world and “feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet” and “wet his feet with [his] tears.” As mentioned in the introduction, Elder McConkie’s death occurred thirteen days after giving this talk, on April 19, 1985.

E=E: “I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet” complements “shall wet his feet with my tears.” Although this personal meeting with Christ would not increase his witness of Christ and the events of the atonement, the emotions of the moment would cause him to weep with gratitude for the blessings of the atonement extended on his behalf. (For similar events in the scriptures, see Luke 7:37-38 and 3 Nephi 17:10.)


Additional Chiasms and Parallelisms:

#1: This chiasm describes the process whereby Elder McConkie developed his own witness of the atonement of Christ. As he studied the words of the prophets, “the Holy Spirit of God” testified to him “that they are true.” As a result of this divine witness, whereby he “heard his voice and know[s] his word,” Elder McConkie possessed his own independent knowledge of the atonement of Christ. As a witness of Christ, his teachings about the atonement become the voice of the Lord to us in our efforts to qualify for our own witness.

A: In speaking of these wondrous things
B: I shall use my own words,
C: though you may think they are the words of scripture, words spoken by other Apostles and prophets.
C: True it is they were first proclaimed by others,
B: but they are now mine, for the Holy Spirit of God has borne witness to me that they are true, and it is now as though the Lord had revealed them to me in the first instance.
A: I have thereby heard his voice and know his word.


#2: This parallelism details six key aspects of the atonement. The first two proclaim it to be the pinnacle event or act in all of eternity. The final four describe the glorious blessings that have come as a result of the atonement.

A: His atonement
B: is the most transcendent event that ever has or ever will occur from Creation’s dawn through all the ages of a never-ending eternity.
A: It
B: is the supreme act of goodness and grace that only a god could perform.
A: Through it,
B: all of the terms and conditions of the Father’s eternal plan of salvation became operative.
A: Through it
B: are brought to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
A: Through it,
B: all men are saved from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment.
A: And through it,
B: all who believe and obey the glorious gospel of God, all who are true and faithful and overcome the world, all who suffer for Christ and his word, all who are chastened and scourged in the Cause of him whose we are—all shall become as their Maker and sit with him on his throne and reign with him forever in everlasting glory.


#3 This parallelism details what we know and what we don’t know about Christ’s sufferings while he was accomplishing the atonement.

A: We do not know, we cannot tell, no mortal mind can conceive
B: the full import of what Christ did in Gethsemane.
A: We know
B: he sweat great gouts of blood from every pore as he drained the dregs of that bitter cup his Father had given him.
A: We know
B: he suffered, both body and spirit, more than it is possible for man to suffer, except it be unto death.
A: We know
B: that in some way, incomprehensible to us, his suffering satisfied the demands of justice, ransomed penitent souls from the pains and penalties of sin, and made mercy available to those who believe in his holy name.
A: We know
B: that he lay prostrate upon the ground as the pains and agonies of an infinite burden caused him to tremble and would that he might not drink the bitter cup.
A: We know
B: that an angel came from the courts of glory to strengthen him in his ordeal, and we suppose it was mighty Michael, who foremost fell that mortal man might be.
A: As near as we can judge,
B: these infinite agonies—this suffering beyond compare—continued for some three or four hours.


#4: This chiasm describes the mockery inflicted upon Christ by the leaders of the Jews and Romans following his arrest. With their worldly authority Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod mocked Christ’s divine and rightful authority by placing a “crown of thorns” upon “his trembling brow.” With their saliva they mocked his holy face, which is only revealed to his special witnesses in our day. With “vicious blows” they mocked his sacred body that was part mortal and part immortal, and which was his vehicle for overcoming spiritual and physical death on our behalf.

A: They took him to Annas, to Caiaphas, to Pilate, to Herod, and back to Pilate. He was accused, cursed, and smitten.
B: Their foul saliva ran down his face
C: as vicious blows further weakened his pain-engulfed body.
C: With reeds of wrath they rained blows upon his back.
B: Blood ran down his face
A: as a crown of thorns pierced his trembling brow.


#5: This chiasm describes the agony Christ experienced as he “carried his own cross” toward the “hill called Calvary.” As a result of the physical and spiritual torture he had experienced over the previous twelve hours, Christ “collapsed from the weight and pain and mounting agony of it all.” Insightfully, Elder McConkie describes how the “helpless disciples” of Christ “looked on” as he was nailed to the cross and experienced a similar agony “in their own bodies.” Perhaps this experience prepared them to carry their own crosses as they worked to spread the Gospel throughout the ancient world.

A: Then he carried his own cross
B: until he collapsed from the weight and pain and mounting agony of it all.
C: Finally, on a hill called Calvary
C: again, it was outside Jerusalem’s walls
B: while helpless disciples looked on and felt the agonies of near death in their own bodies,
A: the Roman soldiers laid him upon the cross.


#6: These two parallelisms describe the essential roles of Adam and Christ in our eternal development. By bringing death into the world, Adam is the “father of mortality.” By bringing life into the world, Christ is the “father of immortality.” Without the Fall, mankind could not experience “mortality and death.” Without the Atonement, mankind could not experience “immortality and eternal life.”

A: As Adam brought death,
B: so Christ brought life;
A: as Adam is the father of mortality,
B: so Christ is the father of immortality.

A: Thus, Creation is father to the Fall; and by the Fall came mortality and death;
B: and by Christ came immortality and eternal life.
A: If there had been no fall of Adam, by which cometh death,
B:there could have been no atonement of Christ, by which cometh life.


#7: This parallelism describes the process of moving from having “a superficial knowledge” to possessing “a sound and sure knowledge” of the Atonement. We must “cast aside the philosophies of men” that encourage us to have only a passive reliance upon the Lord. We must cast aside “the wisdom of the wise” who only believe what they can see. Instead, we must seek to have “faith like Enoch and Elijah.” In order to “believe what [Enoch and Elijah] believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived,” we must “hearken to that Spirit which is given to us to guide us into all truth.” In other words, we need to develop our spiritual capacities and sensitivities, so that we can confidently act on revelation and see the hand of God in our lives.

A: Many of us have a superficial knowledge
B: and rely upon the Lord and his goodness to see us through the trials and perils of life.
C: But if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah
D: we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived.
A: May I invite you to join with me in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement.
B: We must cast aside the philosophies of men
C: and the wisdom of the wise
D: and hearken to that Spirit which is given to us to guide us into all truth.


#8: Continuing in this process of “gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement,” this parallelism focuses on the role of scripture study. Elder McConkie invites us to “search the scriptures,” which means we must “read” them, “ponder” their contents, and “pray” for spiritual insight and confirmation. By accepting the scriptures as “the mind and will and voice of the Lord,” “our minds” will be open to divine instruction and testimony about what happened in the “three gardens of God” — the Garden of Eden, where spiritual and physical death were introduced into the world; the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ overcame spiritual death; and the Garden of the Empty Tomb, where Christ overcame physical death. These events are “the very power of God unto salvation.” Hence, the scriptures that teach and testify of these events are also the power of God unto salvation, since they help us develop faith in Christ.

A: We must search the scriptures,
B: accepting them as the mind and will and voice of the Lord
C: and the very power of God unto salvation.
A: As we read, ponder, and pray,
B: there will come into our minds a view of the three gardens of God—
C: the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Garden of the Empty Tomb where Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene.


Conclusion:

Chiasmus in Bruce R. McConkie’s final public testimony, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” emphasizes and clarifies different aspects of his message. First, it details the process of how he gained his own witness of the atonement of Jesus Christ and how we can gain our own. Second, it brings to light unique aspects of his witness, suggesting that each person’s witness may be unique in certain details while agreeing in essentials (for an example of this in the scriptures, see 1 Nephi 15:27). Lastly, it demonstrates the strong witness of Christ that we can each possess if we put forth the required effort, as did Elder McConkie.

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