Note: This is one of those posts where readers will fall into two camps:
- Yeah, I’ve known this for a long time. Yawn.
- How did I not know this?
If you are in camp #1, shush. Go back to whatever it is you are doing and let the rest of us learn something.
For the rest of us…
The other day we were reading out of Jacob, chapter 6 in the Book of Mormon and came across verse 11, which says, “Oh then, my beloved brethren, repent ye, and enter in at the strait gate, and continue in the way which is narrow, until ye shall obtain eternal life.”
Pretty normal stuff, right? I’ve read it a zillion times, too. But this time the word “strait” popped out at me, and I asked the fam if they knew why it was spelled strait, rather than straight.
I know you’ve seen it, and it is quite prevalent in the Book of Mormon, (at least 10 times in our version, closer to 20 in the original manuscript.) But it is also part of a key New Testament scripture that you are familiar with, as spoken by the Savior:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
The only other time “strait” is used in the New Testament is when Luke referenced a similar quote from the Savior:
“Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them. Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” (Luke 12:23-24)
Out of curiosity I decided to find out what “strait” in Greek: Here’s one reference: “The Greek word stene(s), translated “strait” in the King James Bible, is defined as “narrow.” The word for “narrow” is the perfect passive participle of thlibo, meaning “pressed together, made narrow, oppressed.” (link)
Although the initial definition is the word “narrow,” that makes little sense in the context of the scripture, because a narrow and narrow gate and path is a bit redundant.
Off to the Book of Mormon: Joesph Smith used “strait” in describing the pathway in Lehi’s dream.“And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.” (I Nephi 8:20)
Again, a “narrow and narrow” path doesn’t make sense, so I kept digging. I looked it up in a 1828 version of Webster’s Dictionary, to see what it would have meant to Joseph Smith in his day. Here is what I found:
- Narrow; close; not broad.
- Close; intimate; as a strait degree of favor.
- Strict; rigorous.
- Difficult; distressful.
- Straight; not crooked.
Hmmm. now this is getting interesting.
I always thought of the straight and narrow path as being straight – like a straight line. It is, but it is more than that when you dig in.
If we look at the path and gate as strait, with the definitions of the day, some insights come into focus: The strait gate is close and intimate, yet strict and rigorous – even difficult. Now that makes sense. The path is a challenging path – or else there would be a lot more than the “few there be that find it.”
This is also reinforced in modern scripture, “For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it.” (D&C 132:22.)
Years ago, Elder Sterling W. Sill, a very eloquent speaker, took on the idea of the straight and narrow path:
“Everyone wants to be successful and happy, and yet many fall down. The primary reason for failure is the natural tendency to want a broader road than any real success will permit. The broad road leading to destruction maintains its popularity because it is easier to follow. It makes fewer demands upon its travelers, and it allows much more room for sidestepping, meandering, and turning around.
Most people want more latitude than the narrow road can give. Almost all failure begins by merely broadening the way. Too frequently people yield to their natural tendency to explore the side roads and travel the dead-end streets. Because the road leading to death is broad enough to permit many forbidden activities, many travelers never arrive at their desired destinations. No one ever leaves the success highway at right angles; instead of acknowledging that they are stepping out of bounds, they try to keep in good standing with themselves and make things appear legal to others by merely broadening the way.” (“The Strait Gate”)
The path is straight, and strait. The gate is also strait. It is strict, rigorous and, and eventually, difficult to enter.
There are many in these last days who would like to see the Church broaden the path, to make it easier and less strict. Rather than get on (and stay on) the strait path, they would rather expand the path to include where they prefer to stand. Many have walked away because they feel that the gospel is too demanding. The irony is that by broadening the path, and making it easier, we would essentially render the Church powerless to save.
The problem is as Christ said: the broad road leads to destruction. To get where we are going, we must keep pushing along the strait and narrow path, and prepare to enter the strait, restrictive gate that the Lord has waiting of us. When we find ourselves complaining that things are too strict, too rigorous, too demanding, or just plain too difficult, that is the time that we need to remind ourselves of a few things:
- This is what we signed up for.
- This is how we can attain salvation and exaltation
- Christ offered to help us along the way when He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
If this is new to you, like it is to me, then the next time we read about the “straight and narrow” path, we can remind ourselves that it is really the “strait and straight” path.
And that’s the way it must be.
(FYI: The picture is from Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana. If you get the chance to visit it, I highly recommend it)