Getting it Strait

Note: This is one of those posts where readers will fall into two camps:

  1. Yeah, I’ve known this for a long time. Yawn.
  2. 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.

Blank stares.

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)

Oppressed?

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:

STRAITadjective

  1. Narrow; close; not broad.
  2. Close; intimate; as a strait degree of favor.
  3. Strict; rigorous.
  4. Difficult; distressful.
  5. 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:

  1. This is what we signed up for.
  2. This is how we can attain salvation and exaltation
  3. 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)

About the author

Comments

  1. I was in Camp 1, but not always in that camp as when I was younger I read it as an Old English variation of “straight”. I did some more research as I got older and learnt about the analogy of the Strait of Gibraltar. Love the 1800’s dictionary reference. Very cool!!! 🙂

  2. Nicely done – digging up the 1828 Webster’s context (isn’t the internet grand?) gets you serious bonus points and adds great insight. Definitions #3 (strict, rigorous) and #4 (difficult; distressful) made me think of 1 Ne 8:30, Nephi’s account of Lehi’s description of those he saw in his dream who were making their way down that “strait and narrow path” by “continually holding fast to the rod of iron”, finally arriving at the Tree of Life:

    “…behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth AND FELL DOWN and partook of the fruit of the tree.” (emphasis added)

    Someone once pointed this particular phrase out to me. Why did they fall down? Could it be that staying on that strait and narrow path was indeed rigorous, difficult and distressful? That it takes everything one has to make it? Of course, as you point out, it’s hard for good reasons. And, in all of this, Christ’s “arm is outstretched still” to help us make that difficult journey whenever we need it but our job is to continue to try and ask for His help all along the way.

    For some added perspectives on the possible meanings of “strait”, I offer the following. I learned Dutch while on my mission and according to linguists, there is no other language closer to English than Dutch – they are “sister languages” on the language tree (only one generation away from the same root). The Dutch translation of “strait and narrow” is “eng en smal”. “Eng” has several different English meanings. Here are some: scary, narrow, strait, tight, eerie, cramped, grisly, close-fitting and close-grained.

  3. Great insights!! I find it helpful to think of the word “strait” as it is used in the term strait-jacket, meaning confining. or as in the Straits of Gibraltar, also a narrow and confined passageway. I rarely think of the path of our mortal journey as being “straight” as in not winding or curving. I believe our narrow and confined covenant path through life is very curvy because we can’t see very far ahead and it takes faith to keep putting one foot in front of the other, holding on to the Iron Rod, proceeding forward toward our goal.

  4. I also like to think of how carefully you would need to travel a strait and narrow path if there was a sharp, deathly fall on either sidel. You would need to step with “exactness” and it would be difficult and rigorous.

    Another thought I have when I read those verses is of one of those shape balls where you have to use the correct shape or it won’t fit into the hole. The path into the ball must “fit” exactly, it is a strait and narrow fit. Just as our works help “fit” us to the kingdom.

    Thanks for your insights.

  5. Love the 1828 context. That was new to me. I’ve just started reading the D&C with that 1828 tab open. I’m discovering I’ve mad wayyyy too many assumptions about what the Prophet was trying communicate.

    Isn’t it miraculous how we have so many resources so immediately available to grow our understanding?

    It’s like my own personal Liahona.

  6. I read this first thing this morning. Then I opened my scriptures to study (don’t judge the order?). I’m on Helaman 5:12, one of my all time favorites. As I read about “the rock” I looked at the cross reference to Moses 7:53 where the Savior says in part, “I am…the Rock of Heaven, which is broad as eternity”. I couldn’t help but compare this to the “strait and narrow gate”, which is rigorous and strict. There is only one path that takes us back to our Heavenly Father, but Christ’s atonement is “broad as eternity”. No matter what our short comings, weaknesses, sins, and struggles, Christ’s atonement is broad enough to cover it! That is great news!!! Thanks for sharing your insights so I could gain greater insights in my own studies.

  7. It’s interesting to me that Elder Neal A. Maxwell in every instance that I have read, which is certainly not exhaustive, uses the straight spelling. He is known to be quite the wordsmith, so this is a bit puzzling to me.

    On a different note, I remember hearing a quote from J. Golden Kimball (and I always wonder how many of them are real) about the “strait” path. He was asked if he was on “the path”. His reply was, “No, but I cross it as often as I can.”

  8. I learned something new. I figured I was reading it wrong. Thanks for sharing the value of knowing the context in history. Thanks for doing the homework and sharing.

  9. Thanks for this very interesting and thought-provoking article. I thought you would be interested to know that these two words “straight” and “strait” have been changed back and forth in the text of the Book of Mormon a few times. This article from the original FARMS is pretty interesting. I remembered reading it a few years ago, so looked it up and found it for you. I hope it makes your study of these two similar, but not quite the same, words even deeper. https://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/jbms/10/2/S00005-50e5e927829865ReynoldsSkousen.pdf

  10. I, also, am in camp 1 but it never hurts to review and be reminded. Excellent insight. Thank you.

  11. Great post! I knew most of this for a long time, but I appreciate the extra definitions of the word “strait” from the 1828 Dictionary that I did not know before. It truly does give added light and knowledge as to what the strait and narrow path is actually like. I often think about the scriptures that teach that the course of the Lord is one eternal round and that he has no shadow of turning. Without even a shadow of turning–now that is indeed very strait! Thanks be to our Savior that when we “turn more than a shadow” we can repent and correct our course.

  12. I was in Camp #1, but it has been many (pre-internet) years since I looked up the definition of strait. I love that you used an early 1800s dictionary to see what Joseph Smith would have understood it to mean. Very cool!

    I always enjoy your posts. The Spirit testifies of truth, even if we “already knew this”. That’s my thought for the morning before we head into Fast and Testimony meeting.

Add your 2¢. (Be nice.)

%d bloggers like this: