In Sunday School today, I was browsing through Alma 36 and the word “taste” caught my attention again so I decided to do a little digging. I’m interested in how the word taste relates to the experience of obtaining divine knowledge.
Here’s one version of a word translated as “taste” from Hebrew via Strong’s:
Taste – (ta`am) from ‘ta`am’ (2938); properly, a taste, i.e. (figuratively) perception; by implication, intelligence; transitively, a mandate: — advice, behaviour, decree, discretion, judgment, reason, taste, understanding.
Here’s a particular definition via Noah Webster:
Taste – 6. To experience; to feel; to undergo.
And here are the places in the Book of Mormon that you can find the word “taste” used relevant to the context I am exploring:
For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen; therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God.
Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
And I, being fifteen years of age and being somewhat of a sober mind, therefore I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus.
O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?
And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love…
Just for kicks, ponder the meaning of this terminology in light of this verse:
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
In the New Testament we only find the word taste used in the context of “taste of death”. The Book of Mormon seems to use the word when the speaker is attempting to stress intimate personal knowledge through experience. Taste is an interesting sense to compare with receiving divine knowledge; it seems to indicate a close proximity. You can see and hear things from afar, but to taste something it has to be right there in your face.
In that context, think of how that idea relates to this verse:
And because of their iniquity the church had begun to dwindle; and they began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation; and the judgments of God did stare them in the face.
This verse which has already been mentioned is great because we have taste mentioned with the phrase “eye to eye” – another proximity reference:
For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen;
Speaking of tasting in a negative context, what about when “a dog returns to its vomit”? (Proverbs 26:11)
Back on the positive side, I am also reminded of the sacrament where we literally taste tokens of a covenant. We find many Hebrew idioms in the text of the Bible and when we read of eating or drinking, this is another way of saying “Make my teaching a part of you“. Since you literally are what you eat physically, ‘eating’ a true doctrine nourishes the mind.
I think “tasting” is similar in that respect but is less about taking something into you and more about encountering and experiencing something in a close and intimate fashion.