Word Study: “One Eternal Round”

This is such an interesting phrase. It appears three times in the BOM, but never in the New Testament or Hebrew Bible. It appears a few times in the D&C and Lecture on Faith #3.

Over the years I’ve heard various interpretations of “one eternal round.”  One of the more popular ones is the belief it refers to “multiple mortal probations” or reincarnation; another that God is continually “progressing,” passing through various levels of exaltation. None of these interpretations can be correct and I can comfortably say that because of how it’s used in the Book of Mormon:

For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.” (1 Nephi 10)

I perceive that it has been made known unto you, by the testimony of his word, that he cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong; therefore, his course is one eternal round.” (Alma 7)

And it may suffice if I only say they are preserved for a wise purpose, which purpose is known unto God; for he doth counsel in wisdom over all his works, and his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round.” (Alma 37:12, XR D&C 3:2)

In short: God is consistent.  He has established patterns.  He does not vary. He is consistent in his righteousness, His promises and His blessings. He does not deviate from that course, nor from what He has said. That’s what “one eternal round” means. It’s really that simple and we need not ascribe any more meaning to it than that.

But where does this phrase come from? Is it unique to LDS scripture? I thought it might have been. I had never heard it anywhere else. I looked it up on Google’s Ngram viewer and to my surprise, found many hits pre-dating the publication of the Book of Mormon. By and large, “one eternal round” is used the same way as it is the Book of Mormon,

“Bewilder’d in extremes of rage and dread! I’m cruel from my fears, and from my cruelty, my fears increase, while one eternal round of torture plays the tyrant in my breast….” (The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, page 316, 1768)

“Honour that shall ever shine, and never be reproached nor contemned: Glory that shall never fade away, whilst one eternal round of joy shall, through vast eternity, break in upon the soul.” (The Methodist Review, Vol. 4, page 227, 1821)

“Through life, to death, shall shield their breast,
And give new blessings every hour;
Not time itself his love can bound,
It rolls in one eternal round.”
(The Works of William Mason, Vol. 1, Page 483, 1811)

“He rarely retires to rest before midnight; and the whole day long his is in one eternal round of occupation.” (The Literary Gazette, page 322, 1820)

“And no sooner does his foot alight from the stairs of his pulpit on one Sabbath, then he must commence his studies in preparation for the next, or at least stand in perpetual and ghastly fear of the fast approaching time when he must commence them. And thus he is a complete slave of one eternal round of artificial duty.” (“The Importance of Evangelists,” The Quarterly Christian Spectator, Vol 2, page 514, 1828.”)

“One eternal round” It was a fairly common idiom of that time, particularly in religious writings. Interestingly, there we no hits prior to 1750, which explains why it’s not in the KJV. The earliest hit was 1758. (There could be pre-1750 instances not listed in the Ngram search engine.) It’s important to remember that the Book of Mormon is a cultural translation, not a 1:1 or word-for-word translation. Whatever idioms and phrases the Nephite writers used would likely be meaningless to contemporary readers. It had to be culturally decipherable to the people reading in 1830. People reading the Book of Mormon in Joseph’s day would have understood exactly what “one eternal round” meant.

 

 

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