First, I’ll note that these verses have a fairly complicated textual history, for which it is useful to return to Grant Underwood’s textual analysis, pp. 123-126.
Verses 53-56 add an important clarification to the ideas of consecration and stewardship, by making a distinction between the system being revealed here and fully common ownership. I stumble a bit at the idea of Saints paying each other directly, rather than having all transactions go through the storehouse. Is there some secondary economy contemplated, in which people could buy and sell laterally? And “pay” introduces some questions–are we talking about a monetary transaction, or system of bartering? Does it matter? Ultimately, though, it seems to me that this clarification makes it possible that one should “stand in the place of [her] stewardship”–setting up the requisite confidence in personal ownership to motivate careful and efficient care and husbanding of resources.
Verse 56 seems like an abrupt interjection of a new and, at first glance, unrelated topic. The traditional interpretation of these verses asserts that they refer to Joseph’s “translation” of the New Testament that was underway at the time this revelation was received. This seems historically reasonable, but hermeneutically unsatisfying. We have to wonder why these verses are included in this important revelation, and whether they are intended to have a wider valance than a strictly historical interpretation of the text can render (which is to say that, to a lit. crit. wannabe, practically everything looks like an invitation to grandiose speculation on the place of The Text in the large scheme of things).
I don’t think I have anything like a coherent interpretation of these verses, so for the sake of getting discussion started, I’ll just throw out some sets of related questions.
1) What is the place of textual production and reception within a Zion community? It’s interesting that the discussion of receiving/translating/interpreting scripture follows a proscription against idleness and an enumeration of healing works. What does it mean about revelation if receiving it is considered work or part of a stewardship?
2) What is the function of scriptural texts in representing the community to the world? Why is it important for this particular iteration of scripture to be received in full before being discussed, when the process of revelation, revision, and canonization was otherwise ongoing and fairly public? Do the consequences in v. 60 attach to those who have been taught in every nation, kindred, and tongue, or is there a turn in verse 59 from scripture that is to be taught to everyone and scripture that becomes law and is exclusively binding upon the church?
3) What does it mean that these scriptures are denoted “law”? In particular, if this passage is referring to Joseph’s midrash of the New Testament, where do we find “law” in the NT? We (or at least I) generally think of the Old Testament and the Doctrine & Covenants as the site of enumerated laws, and the New Testament and Book of Mormon as something different–textual sites devoted mostly to working through of abstractions, the theoretical underpinnings and soteriological context of those laws and their fulfillment. Obviously, that’s an oversimplification, but does this passage potentially illuminate that distinction (or eliminate it)? (Perhaps this is an invitation to Nate to tell us why it’s all law!)
4) Where does the authority that saves or damns (v. 60) inhere? Some of the earlier versions of the text leave room for an interpretation of v.56 that suggests that receiving the scriptures means that the people of God will be preserved in safety. Is the Word itself salvific? Or is the Word a source of a set of rules (a “law”?), adherence to which is the mechanism of salvation? Is it particularly Joseph’s mediation of the New Testament that creates this law, or is it the extant text, merely clarified by Joseph’s interpretation? Or, looking ahead to v. 61, is it the project of receiving and codifying revelation, and creating a community devoted to this project, that brings joy and eternal life?
Extra credit: Assign antecedents to the pronouns in these verses. Golly!