Mosiah 15

I suspect Mosiah 15 – particularly the first few verses – may cause some confusion. In fact I’m reminded of a Sunday School class (over a decade ago now) where a teacher asked the class what the Book of Mormon taught us. Someone claimed something along the lines of it restoring a complete and true knowledge of the Godhead and someone there happened to point out that it actually doesn’t.

In fact quite a few scholars – somehow expecting it to have a “complete” doctrine along those lines – have gotten quite confused at the Book of Mormon’s approach to this, with Mosiah 15 being one of the passages that sparks confusion. This has led to suggestions that the Book of Mormon teaches Modalism (the belief that God is one person who manifests himself in three modes), or Trinitarianism, or Arianism, or whatever. This contradictory list indicates the problem is with their assumption that the Book of Mormon is even trying to teach a “complete” doctrine of the Godhead. Rather it’s keen to emphasise certain key points: that Christ is one with and in perfect harmony with Heavenly Father (indeed so much so that – along with the Holy Ghost – they are sometimes described as one God, as in 2 Nephi 31:21); and that Christ is divine and may justly be termed God (indeed teaching such is given as one of the book’s key aims). It’s also clear (from episodes in which they converse, as in 2 Nephi 31, or indeed their ability to bear witness of each other) that Jesus is also a distinct person from Heavenly Father. But beyond this, the Book of Mormon isn’t trying to convey a complete theology any more than the New Testament is.

I think it’s important to remember this, when people are trying to tie everything up into one grand unified theory but some of the details don’t quite match up. In some cases, different scriptural passages are addressing different topics, and so the same terms might not always mean the same thing. Some of the same confusion  – as I’ve mentioned before – exists around the “name” Jehovah (which is in any case a Anglicization of the Hebrew word at stake – YHWH – with the vowels from a completely different word). In the modern Church, we use “Jehovah” to refer to Christ, including in his pre-incarnate state, and “Elohim” specifically to refer to the Father. This is fine as a modern practice to help clarity. But this isn’t the case in the scriptures: there are clear examples where YHWH refers to Heavenly Father (such as in Christ’s own reading of Psalm 110:1 in Matthew 22:44 and Luke 20:42, in which YHWH addresses the Messiah), or where such a distinction just plainly doesn’t make sense (as in Deuteronomy 6:4, where if you insisted both were proper names, you’d end up with the reading that “Jehovah our Elohim is one Jehovah”), and indeed places in Restoration scripture where the title “Lord” – often substituted in for YHWH – is specifically referring to Heavenly Father and not to Christ (Abraham 3:27).  Trying to pretend this isn’t the case (as I’ve seen some do, to supposedly “reduce confusion”) seems mistaken; that approach would seem to warn people away from actually reading the scriptures lest it confuse them! But this need not worry us if we remember that these are not simply names but titles and descriptions, and we don’t need to try and slot it all in to the picture (and the way we describe it) that we have now.

In fact some details about the Godhead were conveyed quite a bit later than some people might imagine. D&C 130:22, for instance, comes from instructions in 1843, 13 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. Some details are clarified in the First Presidency’s doctrinal exposition on “The Father and the Son” in 1916. Which suggests some of these details, though true, may not be quite as important as we think them to be, especially compared to those things the Lord chose to reveal earlier.

With that caveat in mind, onto the first eight verses of Mosiah 15:

And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.

(v. 1)

This one shouldn’t be such a struggle for people – since it’s clearly visible elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, but Abinadi here by God means the pre-mortal Christ, who is fully divine, and (as the title page states) “the ETERNAL GOD”. But sometimes I’ve seen people use God as a proper name, as in the question I read today asking “are Jesus and God the same person?” To which the correct answer is “who do you mean by God?” If Heavenly Father is meant, then the answer is no. But here the answer is yes!

And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son

(v. 2)

And here’s where we introduce some confusion. Christ here is called both the Son (and specifically “the Son of God”) and the Father. How is this so?

The aforementioned doctrinal exposition of 1916 goes into some detail in explaining three ways in which Christ may be called Father: as the creator (namely the Word by which Heavenly Father created the worlds, as in Moses 1:32-33); as the Father of those who abide in the covenant (see, for instance, Mosiah 5:7); and divine investiture of authority, by which Christ can speak as Heavenly Father (and indeed angels sometimes speak as them). However – as we shall see! – none of those reasons applies to this passage. We have discovered another sense in which Christ is “the Father”!

It’s also worth noting that there’s more than one sense in which Christ is “the Son of God too. This should be evident when we consider that at least one of those senses is one we share with him.

The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son

And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.

(vv. 3-4)

This is the reason Christ is given the title “Father” here: “because he was conceived by the power of God”. And the reason he is called “the Son” here is “because of the flesh” (matching verse 2: “because he dwelleth in the flesh”). What is meant by this distinction – between his conception by divine power on one hand, and his dwelling the flesh on the other.

My suggestion is that we can better understand this passage if we understand the former to refer to Christ’s divine nature, and the latter to refer to his human nature, the flesh he shares with us. Christ in mortality possessed both natures: divinity on one hand, humanity on the other.

While we may not be used to thinking in these terms, this is an important topic, because this hasn’t always been realised. The subject of Christ’s natures used to cause riots in late antiquity (the Byzantines used to find fun stuff to riot about, and while that sort of passion may seem remote to us, the doctrinal consequences shouldn’t. After all, if Christ only had one nature (as some argued), which was it? If divine, than can he have truly been tempted, or suffered, or actually died? Or did he merely appear to do so (hence the early heresy of the docetists). But if human, than he would only be a mere man, and then how could he have done the mighty works people claimed he did, or risen from the dead, or save us? Keep these points in mind for the next few verses.

As mentioned, there are points in the Book of Mormon where the entire Godhead – Heavenly Father, Christ and the Holy Ghost – are together termed one God. But verse 4 isn’t one of them: it’s referring here specifically to Christ, who with both his human and divine nature is one God, the very Eternal Father of heaven and Earth (a reference, as discussed in the aforementioned 1st Presidency statement, to his role as creator).

And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people.

6 And after all this, after working many mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be led, yea, even as Isaiah said, as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.

7 Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.

8 And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men

(vv. 5-8, italics and bold text my emphasis)

Thus we now turn to the verses following, and I believe now with this concept in mind – Christ’s divine and human natures – and bearing in mind the concerns people had in mind about these, we can now see more clearly what Abinadi is getting at. I have marked the quotation above accordingly, italics for those that relate to his human nature, bold for those that relate to his divine. Thus because of his human nature, Christ could experience temptation, but because of his divine nature, he never succumbed. Because of his human nature he could suffer all that we do, and did. Because of his divine nature, he could work mighty miracles. Because of his human nature, he could be slain, the will of his flesh* becoming subject to that of his divine nature even unto death. And because of his divine nature, he breaks the bands of death, not just for himself but for all; yet because of his human nature he understands our experience and can intercede for us (thus Alma points out that Christ suffered “according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities”, Alma 7:12).

If we try and read this passage as relating to the Godhead (meaning the relationship between Heavenly Father and Christ), then I think it little wonder we might find ourselves getting confused. Rather, this passage appears to address the two natures of Christ, the two qualities he needed – and had – in order to perform his atoning work and redeem us, that very work being the subject of the rest of this chapter and the next.

* It was actually only when I was writing this very line that I made the connection to Lehi and Jacob’s teachings in 2 Nephi 2:29 and 2 Nephi 10:24, where they teach that we likewise have to contend against “the will of the flesh”. Even for us, it is evidently scriptural to speak of that side of us having a somewhat separate will that we have to bring into line.

 

Mosiah 5

The first of the wholly fresh chapter write ups! Reading this chapter several times this last couple of days, I’ve not been entirely sure what to write up. Obviously it concludes King Benjamin’s sermon, and is the moment of covenant-making and name giving that the whole sermon has been building up to. So there’s definitely profound things in this chapter. I’m just not sure at the beginning of this what sticks out.

One thing that I’m puzzled about to a degree is the response King Benjamin gets from the people:

And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them.

And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things.

And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.

And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.

I don’t doubt that the people felt as described, but I have to confess it’s the mechanics of this that puzzle me a little. To recap, King Benjamin’s audience is very large, so large that parts can’t actually hear him, and so are having to have his words written and sent to them (Mosiah 2:8). This clearly hasn’t been forgotten, since rather than simply asking, King Benjamin here sends a message to find out if his people believe his words (v. 1). In response we get this very eloquent reply, speaking of the witness of the spirit the people have felt, the change of heart they have experienced, their feelings of joy, and their desire to make a covenant to keep the commandments of God. But its very unlikely that this response could have been dictated by all the people at once (they’re not the Borg). Nor is it likely that a committee of at least thousands could quickly compose such a thing. So I’m wondering where the actual words come from? Is it a composite, that someone has later put together of various sentiments that were sent back? Is it a later composition, but one which does reflect how the crowd actually felt (if maybe not quite so eloquently)? The latter practice was regarded as acceptable in classical writing (see the likes of Greek historians, or for that matter the conflux of Classical and Jewish writing that is Josephus), and I’d lean towards that, but I’m still curious.

It’s interesting that up until now the word “covenant” hasn’t been mentioned in King Benjamin’s sermon, although he’s clearly happy at this outcome. Thus he calls it a “righteous covenant”, and states that because of this covenant his people will now be called the children of Christ, but it’s interesting that he appears to have made no effort to dictate the form or wording of the covenant the people want to make. It’s rather a spontaneous promise by the people (albeit, one assumes, one guided by the Spirit). Which is interesting, because most of the covenants we make within the church have defined forms – we enter them, but we don’t set or propose the terms. Scripturally, of course, there’s plenty of individuals who propose individual covenants with God and with others. This seems to be a rather unique case, however, where it’s a collective covenant with God that the people have proposed.

King Benjamin then goes on to confer a name upon the people, which is the name of Christ. This name business is an interesting facet of the Book of Mormon’s theology: there’s plenty of passages that speak of the importance of having faith in his name (I discuss an example, and why that might be, when discussing Helaman 14), and likewise there’s significant importance attached to this concept of taking upon ourselves the name of Christ, something that is reflected in the Sacrament prayers we have today. I’ve discussed part of that in the post on Mosiah 1, that to take another’s name may be part of an effort to seek the attributes that go along with that name, so to take upon ourselves the name of Christ would represent our desire (and through his gospel, the goal) to acquire his character and attributes. But there’s surely other aspects too, some of which come out in this chapter.

One aspect is that of family. The most common way we share names (especially surnames) in Western society is of course by relation, and likewise, taking Christ’s name upon us also appears to indicate a family connection:

And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

(Mosiah 5:7)

Another sense, perhaps linked to this, is one of belonging. To bear someone’s name is in some sense to belong to or with them (and belonging need not connote inanimate property – hopefully when we talk of our family and our friends and even our pets, we mean something a bit different from when we speak of our shoes). One image both the Book of Mormon and the Bible employ is that of a flock and its shepherd. It may not be as clear as in Alma 5, but I believe one can see it here too:

And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.

And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.

(Mosiah 5:9-10)

And again, doth a man take an ass which belongeth to his neighbor, and keep him? I say unto you, Nay; he will not even suffer that he shall feed among his flocks, but will drive him away, and cast him out. I say unto you, that even so shall it be among you if ye know not the name by which ye are called.

(Mosiah 5:14)

If we are called by the name of Christ – and this image appears to play on the ambiguity of “call”, meaning both that we bear his name, and respond to that name when it is called – then we are part of his flock. But if we do not, then we do not belong to the Shepherd and are part of some other flock.

Another sense that I believe is discernible in this chapter comes in verses 12-13:

I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you.

For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?

From my reading of these verses, I believe one idea is that in order to be called by Christ’s name, we need to know his voice and his name, and in order to know those we need to know them not just a label, but need to know him, our master. Master is an interesting word (albeit one modern culture tends to shy away from, in some cases for good reason). In this particular case, however, I believe it implies several possible relationships. One is of servant to master, and the emphasis in verse 13 on serving someone being required to knowing someone suggests this is definitely one intended meaning. By bearing his name, we claim to serve him. Of course, another possible relationship suggested by the word master – seen above all in the gospels – is that of disciple, or student. By taking his name upon us, we claim he is our teacher and exemplar, who we seek to learn from and pattern ourselves by. I believe this sense is also encompassed by the idea that we need to know him, and that he needs to be close to our thoughts and intentions.

I’ve always found the broader idea, in verse 13, that serving someone is closely connected to knowing someone, very interesting. I’m not convinced that we can really love someone we do not know, and yet Christ commands us to love everyone. How do we do that if we don’t know them? Verse 13 would appear to suggest one way.

 

Easter Saturday

A few years ago, during a particularly challenging and emotionally turbulent period of my life, I found myself at Easter thinking about the disciples, and how they must have felt on Friday night and then the Saturday following the crucifixion. I wrote:

I find myself thinking about how a small group must have felt on a friday evening almost two thousand years ago. The scriptures are almost silent about that Friday evening and the Saturday. We know the events of earlier, but that group didn’t understand them yet, and so wouldn’t have understood that the suffering they had witnessed would lead to good. And the victory of the Sunday Morning was both so far away and unimagined. What did they feel, I wonder, at this point when despair must have been at its greatest? How did Simon Peter feel, believing perhaps that he’d never have the chance to make right his denial of his master, that he irrevocably lost? What did they do on that Saturday in that moment of grief and uttermost sorrow? And could they have remotely imagined that in the space of a couple of days this would be turned all upside down, and their mourning turned to joy?

The New Testament is indeed mostly quiet about this Saturday (with only the appeal for guards for the tomb by the Chief Priests and Pharisees in Matthew 27:62-66 perhaps falling on it). Compared to the events of the Friday, and those that were to come on the Sunday, perhaps it doesn’t matter much in terms of Christ’s work (at least on Earth – in the world of spirits he was quite busy!). But I think it does matter from a human perspective. That sense of crushing disappointment, of abandonment, of grief, of hopes unfulfilled and dashed; these are feelings we can understand (as my own despair of the time helped me to), because they are feelings that – at least in some stages in our life – in some way we tend to tangle with as well.

There is a bit more scriptural material to work with for this time in the New World, where the Nephites had a voice speak to them from the heavens, with Christ declaring himself and announcing why his judgments had fallen upon their cities (3 Nephi 9:1-10:7). However, as to the condition the people were in during this period, we have this passage in 3 Nephi 8:20-25:

And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness;
And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all;
And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.
And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; and there was great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually; yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them.
And in one place they were heard to cry, saying: O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and then would our brethren have been spared, and they would not have been burned in that great city Zarahemla.
And in another place they were heard to cry and mourn, saying: O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and had not killed and stoned the prophets, and cast them out; then would our mothers and our fair daughters, and our children have been spared, and not have been buried up in that great city Moronihah. And thus were the howlings of the people great and terrible.

The disciples in Jerusalem were in emotional darkness; the people here were in literal darkness, thick clouding darkness that prevented any spark or fire. But they too wrestled with grief, with regret, and with despair. Could there be any hope? Could light ever come again?

Following the voice from the heavens, all they can do is mourn again (3 Nephi 10:8):

And now it came to pass that after the people had heard these words, behold, they began to weep and howl again because of the loss of their kindred and friends.

Yet in just the next two verses (vv. 9-10):

And it came to pass that thus did the three days pass away. And it was in the morning, and the darkness dispersed from off the face of the land, and the earth did cease to tremble, and the rocks did cease to rend, and the dreadful groanings did cease, and all the tumultuous noises did pass away.
And the earth did cleave together again, that it stood; and the mourning, and the weeping, and the wailing of the people who were spared alive did cease; and their mourning was turned into joy, and their lamentations into the praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord Jesus Christ, their Redeemer.

What perhaps most struck me when I first thought about this was that, as bad as the disciples must surely have been feeling, in but a few short hours their grief would be turned to joy, the source of their sadness turned into one of jubilation. We the readers know this: we may have read or heard the story before, we can turn the page and look ahead. But they had no way of knowing or imagining this. As Mary Magdalene was weeping and pleading with the gardener to tell her where the body of her Lord had been moved (John 20:15), could she have at all expected to get the answer she was about to get in the next few seconds? One which must surely have upturned and overturned all that she had felt (the Gospel does not record her emotional reaction, but we can imagine it; certainly the Saviour then had to urgently tell her not to touch him, vv. 16-17). Deliverance, euphoria, relief, all close at hand, but unimaginable in the moment of despair.

Of the Easter period we remember Good Friday and the Easter Morning: the moments of great sacrifice, and the moments of joy, catharsis and blessing, but for those who passed through it, Saturday must have loomed large. And in our own life, we have our times of sacrifice, and our times of deliverance, but we may spend a good while in the Easter Saturdays of our life, where darkness surrounds us, hope has fled, and deliverance impossible. We are not like the readers of the Gospels; we cannot turn the page and look ahead and see the morning to come. Yet perhaps the message of Easter Saturday we can take into such times is that deliverance will come. It may not come the very next day (as it did for the disciples), and it may well come in ways that we cannot expect or anticipate (as did, in fact, happen for the disciples), but it will come. For those of us in the Easter Saturdays of life, Easter Morn will come, and if we hold on until that dawn – whether it be the very next day or at the time of the final judgment itself – our mourning will be turned to joy, and our lamentations into praise and thanksgiving.

The Cross in the Book of Mormon

The Cross in the Book of Mormon

Easter is approaching once more, and with it my thoughts turn once more to what we commemorate and celebrate at this time of year. Not spring, as nice as that can be (albeit with restricted access in our Covid-19 world!), nor chocolate (which – alas – I must restrict!), but the atoning work of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Just under 2000 years ago now, he performed that pivotal labour, that act which grants our existence hope, which means we have more to look forward to than the cold grave or endless aeons damned as demons in hell.

I exaggerate not, as Jacob taught:

O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.
And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.

(2 Nephi 9:8–9)

However, as I think about it this year, and especially in conjunction with what is taught about it in the Book of Mormon (since that is the Sunday School reading this year), I find my mind catching on the image of the cross. I think we don’t talk much about the cross on a popular level within the Church; that is, within our local meetings and so on. In fact it sometimes seems like Christ’s sufferings in the garden of Gethsemane are more prominent. On one hand this is partly understandable: due to a few passages of modern scripture (one in the Book of Mormon, mentioned below, the other Doctrine and Covenants 19), we understand that the trial that Christ faced there was not one of mere anticipation of sufferings to come, but that his more than mortal, vicarious suffering for the sins and pains of mankind began there. As such, we have more to work with than the biblical account alone, which describes the bloody sweat (Luke 22:44), but in terms which have left some in the rest of Christianity unsure as to whether this was mere metaphor.

On the other hand, however, sometimes there’s an overcorrection. When I hear some mistakenly teach that the atonement was completed in the garden, that his offering was done entirely there, and indeed teach misguided ideas about the atonement of Christ on that basis, then I know there has been some level of misunderstanding. This is a topic I’ve addressed before, writing about Easter last year. Christ’s atoning work was one whole, it is perhaps a human tendency to subdivide and categorise. As to why the popular misunderstanding errs in this direction, I’m not sure why. Perhaps there’s a natural tendency to emphasise what we teach differently from others, even where that detracts from true teachings that we share in common. The same perhaps happened with teaching on grace, a word and concept that was seemingly much avoided in some Latter-day circles in the mid-twentieth century. What happened there was that – perhaps as a consequence of President Benson prophetically re-emphasising the importance of the book – people began finding the teaching of grace all throughout the Book of Mormon, and as people turned to the teachings there (and as it was taught in conference), a greater understanding of grace returned.

Similarly, some readers of the Book of Mormon may be surprised at the prominence the Book of Mormon gives to the cross, especially in comparison to the garden. There are few specific references to Christ’s sufferings in the garden at all. In fact, indeed there is only one clear reference that I can find:

And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.

(Mosiah 3:7)

This verse augments the witness of Luke concerning the bloody sweat, and directly ties it to his suffering for our wickedness and abominations. Note however that it also places it into a context of his suffering temptations, pain of body, hunger, thirst, fatigue and so on, all of which apparently encompasses earlier parts of his life (that this is “more than man can suffer, except it be unto death” is still surely true when we factor in, for instance, the 40 days Christ fasted in the wilderness). These are part and parcel too: the beginning of Christ experiencing the pains and sorrows we face in mortality was not in the Gethsemane, but in Bethlehem. I can find no other such references to the suffering in the garden; one could perhaps equate the “bitter cup” Christ announces he has drunk out of in 3 Nephi 11:11 with that he speaks about in Doctrine & Covenants 19:18 and the “cup” he wishes could “pass” from him in Matthew 26:39 & 42, but while the latter two verses take place in the garden, that term might rightly be judged to apply to the whole event.

In contrast, the cross and the crucifixion are specifically referred to on many occasions in the Book of Mormon (bold text is my emphasis):

And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.
And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.

(1 Nephi 11:32-33)

And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel.

(1 Nephi 19:10)

And as for those who are at Jerusalem, saith the prophet, they shall be scourged by all people, because they crucify the God of Israel, and turn their hearts aside, rejecting signs and wonders, and the power and glory of the God of Israel.

(1 Nephi 19:13)

Nevertheless, the Lord has shown unto me that they should return again. And he also has shown unto me that the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, should manifest himself unto them in the flesh; and after he should manifest himself they should scourge him and crucify him, according to the words of the angel who spake it unto me.

(2 Nephi 6:9)

But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.

(2 Nephi 9:18)

Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ—for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name—should come among the Jews, among those who are the more wicked part of the world; and they shall crucify him—for thus it behooveth our God, and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God.
For should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations they would repent, and know that he be their God.
But because of priestcrafts and iniquities, they at Jerusalem will stiffen their necks against him, that he be crucified.

(2 Nephi 10:3–5)

But, behold, they shall have wars, and rumors of wars; and when the day cometh that the Only Begotten of the Father, yea, even the Father of heaven and of earth, shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh, behold, they will reject him, because of their iniquities, and the hardness of their hearts, and the stiffness of their necks.
Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings; and all those who shall believe on his name shall be saved in the kingdom of God. Wherefore, my soul delighteth to prophesy concerning him, for I have seen his day, and my heart doth magnify his holy name.

(2 Nephi 25:12–13)

Wherefore, we would to God that we could persuade all men not to rebel against God, to provoke him to anger, but that all men would believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world; wherefore, I, Jacob, take it upon me to fulfil the commandment of my brother Nephi.

(Jacob 1:8)

And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.

(Mosiah 3:9)

Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.

(Mosiah 15:7)

Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.
And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.

(3 Nephi 11:14–15)

For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.

(3 Nephi 12:30, note while a quotation of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:30 does not contain any reference to the cross. Of course, that predated the crucifixion, while in 3 Nephi 12 it is the risen Christ who is speaking)

And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.

(3 Nephi 27:14–15)

And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.

(3 Nephi 28:6)

Of these, two verses (2 Nephi 9:18, 3 Nephi 12:30) are speaking of crosses in a metaphorical sense – that is, speaking of the “cross” all believers are to bear – but still must allude to the cross to be understood. The rest, to a greater or lesser degree, are clear and direct references to the crucifixion. There are 14 such specific references in total, when counting multiple references in one passage as a singular reference, and there are 9 uses of variations of the term “crucify” in the Book of Mormon alone (and 11 in the Doctrine and Covenants, lest anyone think that is also sparing). This is not including more general references to Christ being slain or his death, of which there are many (e.g. 2 Nephi 9:5, Alma 21:9 and many others).

I take it as a key in interpreting the scriptures, that whatever is mentioned most matters most. As such this repeated mention of the cross in the Book of Mormon suggests this particular episode was an important part of Christ’s atoning work. Of course, it is possible to overcorrect too far in the other direction, to obscure the rest of the atonement of Christ by focusing solely on the actual event of the crucifixion (and indeed, the Book of Mormon is hardly sparing in mentioning the resurrection either!). But we are hardly in danger of that at the moment, and the prominence the Book of Mormon affords the cross and the crucifixion suggest this should play a significant role whenever we reflect and remember what Christ has done for us.

So why the particular importance attached to this event? Why should this be a particular part of our own remembrance of Christ? Some thoughts:

1) In the garden, Christ began the process of vicariously suffering for the sin of Mankind, and taking upon himself our pains and sufferings. But it is the cross that that he most directly suffered at the hands of other human beings, the point at which he suffered most for the injustice of his trial, and so symbolically experienced judgment at the hands of all mankind (1 Nephi 11:32, 2 Nephi 9:5). It is because of this, according to Jacob, that he in turn has the power to judge mankind. The crucifixion also most signifies his own people’s then rejection of him (Mark 8:31, 2 Nephi 10:3–5, 2 Nephi 25:12, Mosiah 3:9). Thus Christ becomes just as the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, which was driven into the wilderness, symbolically bearing the sins of the people (see Leviticus 16, especially verses 5, 8-10, 20-22).

2) Then there is the imagery of being “lifted up” (a phrase the Book of Mormon plays with): by being crucified, Christ was physically hoisted up, and made a public spectacle, subject to mockery and an execution that was considered shameful (Hebrews 12:2, Jacob 1:8). And yet it was through this that God wrought the greatest victory (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23-24), so that while nominally lifted up for mockery and shame, in eternal reality, his act on our behalf blesses us with victory over death, and inspires us to follow him (3 Nephi 27:14-15). Because he has been lifted up upon the cross, so too will all men be lifted up: not to instruments of execution, but in the resurrection to newness of life. But likewise, to follow him we too must endure “crosses” and bear the shame the world would cast at us (2 Ne 9:18).

3) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this was the key moment of offering: one crucial aspect of the atonement of Christ is that it is a sacrifical offering on our behalf, much as on the Day of Atonement. However, in this offering Christ played all three roles: as High priest (as the offerer), as the sacrifice (as the offering himself), and as the scapegoat (bearing our sins away). It is why only he could do it: only a perfect and eternal high priest could offer a such an offering that would last forever (Hebrews 7:22-28), only an infinite and eternal sacrifice could suffice for the sins of the world and only a divine scapegoat could truly and justly bear another’s sins (see Alma 34:10-12, Alma 42:15)

But this sacrifice was not simply one of pain: it was an offering of life. Only by offering his infinite life – and thus his death – would suffice to atone for the sins of the world (Alma 22:14), and bring to pass the resurrection of mankind (Alma 11:42, Helaman 14:14-16). And while Christ began his more than natural sufferings in the garden, it was on the cross that he offered up his life and gave it up. It was on the cross too that he was cast out of the camp of this world, bearing the sins of the people into the wilderness without. And his offering not simply his physical life either, for it is on the cross that he experienced the withdrawal of the presence of the Father (“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, Matthew 27:46). When we are separated from God, we call that spiritual death. Christ offered up his life, and so experienced death in every way that each of us does.

I’m sure there are perhaps more reasons, and perhaps this is as good a time as any to ponder them. In any case it seems appropriate that when thinking the Saviour’s sacrifice that we not neglect a dimension of which the scriptures amply teach, and let the episode of the cross take its proper place in our remembrance of his work for us.

2 Nephi 26

2016 notes;

And after Christ shall have risen from the dead he shall show himself unto you, my children, and my beloved brethren; and the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do.

(2 Nephi 26:1)

Nephi’s particularly talking of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to the Nephites here, but it applies to us too. I find myself thinking that – though I believe in Christ and try to follow him – how often do I actually treat and think of his words as law?

And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God;

(2 Nephi 26:12)

Part of this section addresses the fact that both Jew and Gentile have gotten Christ wrong in some regards. At a time when people increasingly do not believe in the divinity of Christ, I think this verse – and the accompanying message – apply more than ever. It also surprises me when I have met young members of the Church who, while accepting Christ as their Saviour and talk of their “elder brother”, seem to have difficultly understanding him as their God. But this is one of the key messages of the Book of Mormon, as stated on the title page: “that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD”. He is not just a great teacher, or a perfect man, or the Messiah, or our Saviour, or an examplar, though he is all of these things. He is also our Lord and our God. And thus, as Nephi says in the preceding chapter:

And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

(2 Nephi 25:29)

2020 Edit:

Several things stood out to me today.

One was Nephi once again showing a strong emotional reaction to events in the far future (in this case the devastation that would occur in connection to the death of Christ amongst his people):

O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people! For I, Nephi, have seen it, and it well nigh consumeth me before the presence of the Lord; but I must cry unto my God: Thy ways are just.

(2 Nephi 26:7)

Once again it’s interest that his perspective was such, and his visions of these events were vivid enough, that they made the sort of emotional impact one would expect of contemporary events (and indeed that Nephi often doesn’t seem to react as strongly to his present).

Then there’s the statement in verse 8 (which goes along with similar statements in verses 3 and 5):

But behold, the righteous that hearken unto the words of the prophets, and destroy them not, but look forward unto Christ with steadfastness for the signs which are given, notwithstanding all persecution—behold, they are they which shall not perish.

For Nephi’s people approaching the calamities that would accompany his first coming to them (i.e. his post-resurrection appearance), a crucial factor determining one’s safety (and I’m sure this is not speaking in a purely physical sense; that is there isn’t necessarily a guarantee of physical safety here, but on the other hand even more is offered) was one’s reaction to the prophets: those who cast out, stone and kill  the prophets (vv. 3, 5) will face destruction, while those who do not, but listen to them and look forward “with steadfastness” for Christ will not perish. I think it is undoubtedly the case that there is a type in Christ’s appearance to the Nephites for that which is to come in the future.

I also found (although perhaps partly because it relates to topics I’ve already thought about) the following verse sticking out:

And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.

(2 Nephi 26:20)

There’s several elements here, a listing of various errors that the Gentiles of the last days and their churches will often fall into. A number of these themes will return as a running theme in this passage (meaning 2 Nephi 25-30), but two which catch my attention in particular are:

  1. “they put down the power and miracles of God” – while the Book of Mormon does address the topic of atheism (for example, with Korihor in Alma 30), something it seems to spend even more time warning against is what I sometimes dub “practical atheism”: that is, beliefs that may acknowledge the existence of God, but which deny his power, the existence of miracles or that he is prepared to actively intervene in our lives. It should be noted that the first vision likewise addresses this point, with Christ warning Joseph Smith against those that ‘“… teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”’
  2. They “preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning”: they will set up their own learning as the content of their teaching (in contrast to, as 2 Nephi 25-30 addresses, the knowledge available from God). Jacob in 2 Nephi 9 of course condemns those who are learned but do not hearken to the counsel of God; the error here is in some respects even more pernicious, that some will set up their learning and teach it as if it were the counsel of God. And some will do this to “get gain” (priestcraft), and to “grind uponthe face of the poor”. It’s interesting that these are two items, suggesting that simply getting gain isn’t enough for those it is talking about; they not only seek to enrich themselves, but also to deprive others (something that, unfortunately, rings true with human psychology: unfortunately we only tend to think of ourselves as rich or prosperous not when we are, but when we’re doing so compared to other people).

The next few chapters will build upon these themes.

 

 

2 Nephi 25

2016 Comments:

There’s so much in these chapters and the next few, sadly too much to really fit into my thesis, so a case study around 2 Nephi 25-30 had to get chopped out (though some of my thoughts on this section can be found here).

A few verses that stuck out this time though:

And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews because of iniquity, even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities; and never hath any of them been destroyed save it were foretold them by the prophets of the Lord.

(2 Nephi 25:9)

A general pattern is being described here: ancient Israel was punished many times for their iniquities, but they were always warned first. On one hand this can be quite reassuring, especially on an individual scale (it reminds me of Elder Packer’s comment that the Lord will always warn us if we’re about to make a major mistake). On a bigger scale, it’s perhaps less reassuring, because the nations of our time have been warned: the Book of Mormon is all about the destruction of whole civilisations.

Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.

(2 Nephi 25:22)

The next couple of verses tend to get a lot of attention, but there’s a lot here too. I keep coming back to this this notion of us being judged by the scriptures. When we first come into contact with them (especially the Book of Mormon), it is we who are in the position of judge, trying to determine if they are true. When we gain a spiritual witness that they are, however, that relationship changes: now we are accountable for how we measure up to them.

I find myself wanting, on many things.

2020 edit:

While included in the reading of 2 Nephi 11 onwards for 2020’s Come Follow Me schedule, 25 really begins a separate section from 2 Nephi 25-30 (indeed, there’s a chapter break at the beginning of 25 in the pre-1879 chapters too). However, it does begin by talking about interpreting Isaiah, which is why I guess it got folded into an already packed week.

Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.

(2 Nephi 25:4)

If anyone struggles to understand Isaiah, apparently you are not alone in this as Nephi explains here that Isaiah is not plain, in comparison to his own writings. In verse 1 he likewise states that “Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand”. Apparently knowing “the manner of prophesying among the Jews” (v. 1), knowing “concerning the regions round about” (v. 6), and knowing about the “judgments of God, which hath come to pass among the Jews” (v. 6 again) can help in interpreting Isaiah,  but above all else it is “the spirit of prophecy” that can make Isaiah “plain”.

One important reason that prophecy is needed to understand Isaiah comes down to the fact that Isaiah wasn’t writing purely for his own time. Some of what he spoke did apply to his own time, as indicated by Nephi pointing out the utility of knowing things “which hath come to pass among the Jews”, past tense. But he spoke of other time periods as well, often at the same time, with events of different time periods mingled together, or speaking in such a way that the thing he was speaking about has multiple fulfilments in many different times and places. Thus, per 2 Nephi 16//Isaiah 6, we’ve seen that Isaiah’s own contemporary audience were not given to understand him, while Nephi goes even further:

But behold, I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err; nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.

Wherefore, they are of worth unto the children of men, and he that supposeth that they are not, unto them will I speak particularly, and confine the words unto mine own people; for I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them.

(2 Nephi 25:7-8)

Isaiah will be understood when it is fulfilled, and so will only be completely understood in the last days (which we haven’t quite reached yet).

I’ve also written before about the themes on the title page (more on this in The Book of Mormon & the Bible). Here in 2 Nephi 25, however, we can see how those three themes (revelation & prophecy, the restoration of Israel, and Jesus being the Christ & eternal God) are part of a cohesive whole:

And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.

Wherefore, he shall bring forth his words unto them, which words shall judge them at the last day, for they shall be given them for the purpose of convincing them of the true Messiah, who was rejected by them; and unto the convincing of them that they need not look forward any more for a Messiah to come, for there should not any come, save it should be a false Messiah which should deceive the people; for there is save one Messiah spoken of by the prophets, and that Messiah is he who should be rejected of the Jews.

(2 Nephi 25:17-18)

In order to restore Israel, God will bring his words to them, and those words will convince them that Jesus is the Christ. Thus all three themes relate to the “marvelous work and a wonder” that God will carry out in the last days. And the Book of Mormon will be a tool in carrying that out, something which Nephi has become very much aware of:

Wherefore, for this cause hath the Lord God promised unto me that these things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation, that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph, that his seed should never perish as long as the earth should stand.

Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.

(2 Nephi 25:21-22)

Perhaps one reason that Nephi dwells mentally so much in the future, and not so much with his own people is because he has become painfully aware that the real significance and influence of his own writings will occur several thousand years in the future. On one hand it’s an awe-inspiring and rather scary responsibility (and thus perfectly understandable that Nephi then writes of “labor[ing] diligently to write”). On the other, one can see how it’d focus one’s perspective rather differently than is the norm.

Nephi is speaking of his writing also makes a statement about grace:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

(2 Nephi 25:23, my emphasis)

That last clause – “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” – has often been understood as implying that God’s grace only comes after we have done everything we possibly can in terms of living righteously, as if we must become perfect first. But I believe that has been misunderstood. Such a notion is incompatible with how the Book of Mormon speaks about grace in other passages (see, for instance, Mosiah 2 and Mosiah 4, and for that matter 2 Nephi 2). Our very capacity to act comes as a gift from God. Sure, we need to choose to accept and follow Christ, and seek to repent, but we then need grace to accomplish that very act of repentance. Moreover it is not just the scriptures that teach this; I know from my own experience that I have needed grace long before “perfection” and what’s more, God has given it. He’s never held back his grace, his blessings, or his miracles from me until I’ve done everything I possibly could.

I think our mistake here is to read “after” in the sense of “until after” as if the verse said we are not saved by grace, until after all we can do. But it doesn’t say that. What seems more in keeping with the teaching of the rest of scripture is to understand the “after” in the same way we’d understand it in the phrase “after all is said and done”: We are saved by grace, after all is said and done; we are saved by grace, after all we can do. That is, our acts alone cannot save us (as 2 Nephi 2:5 very clearly teaches), nor perfect us. After all we have done, no matter all we have done, we need grace to save us. “After” does not mean “because” (as Elder Uchtdorf points out, in a Conference address that turns out to cover much the same topic). Nor does it mean “following”. It can mean “despite”, if we seek, as Nephi urges in that very verse, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God.

2 Nephi 22

And in that day thou shalt say: O Lord, I will praise thee; though thou wast angry with me thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.

(2 Nephi 22:1//Isaiah 12:1)

I’ve mentioned before that I tend to worry about messing things up. It’s comforting to know that – while we may well do things that displease the Lord – He is merciful and forgiving, and always prepared to receive and comfort us if we repent.

2020 Edit:

This chapter – the quotation of Isaiah 12 – is very short, as Isaiah 12 is, an artefact of imposing the Isaiah chapter divisions upon the lengthy quotation in 1879. As such, I can pretty much quote it in full, and I’m going to:

And in that day thou shalt say: O Lord, I will praise thee; though thou wast angry with me thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation.

Therefore, with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.

And in that day shall ye say: Praise the Lord, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted.

Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things; this is known in all the earth.

Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion; for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.

(2 Nephi 22//Isaiah 12)

Why quote this in full (other than because I can)? Because this chapter really serves as a conclusion, a summary and even a punctuation to many of the preceding chapters, which have laid out both forthcoming judgments to come upon Israel for her wickedness, but also the future deliverance, found above all else in the figure of Christ, the Holy One of Israel, who will restore and redeem Zion. And true to the way that Isaiah can, and should, be read as having multiple fulfilments, as being filled with types and antitypes, it can apply to each of us individually too (as I did in my original post). I suspect Nephi did too; the whole statement that “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid” is reminiscent of his own words in 2 Nephi 4:19 that “nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted”. Likewise this chapter is echoed in his declaration in the same passage that:

Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

(2 Nephi 4:30)

The Lord is praiseworthy; despite our individual and collective rebellions and weaknesses, he is merciful, and has provided for our salvation and our joy. In him we can trust, and not be afraid. And trust is the crucial thing: trust is what separates true and living faith from simple belief. The devils believe God exists, and tremble (James 2:19), for they did not trust him and rebelled against him. Likewise we might believe about him (that he exists), but not in him (that we trust him, and place our confidence in him). But we need to have that confidence and trust in him to follow him, to take us through what may seem some very strange roads and through the valley of the shadow of death itself. If we let go at that point, out of fear and doubt in his judgment, we will be lost. But if we hold on, trusting in his guidance, trusting that whatever trials we may go through, and indeed submitting to all things he sees fit to inflict upon us, then he will bring us safely through to the other side. For he is our strength and our song: he, and he alone, has the capacity and full will to save us, and will if we trust him enough to let him.

2 Nephi 18

Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear all ye of far countries; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces.

Take counsel together, and it shall come to naught; speak the word, and it shall not stand; for God is with us.

For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying:

Say ye not, A confederacy, to all to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.

Sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

(2 Nephi 18:9-13//Isaiah 8:9-13)

Unfortunately the people of Judah were prone to react to future fears the way we do: to seek for security elsewhere. They sought it in alliances (hence the warning not to “associate yourselves” and “a confederacy”). For us, I guess we can end up looking for that security in wealth, power, status or even our relationships. But like the ancient Judahites, any real, eternal, security, can really only come as we draw closer to God.

2020 edit:

Oddly enough, it was pretty much exactly the same passage, and the same point, that came to my mind as I read this chapter today.

Lest I just repeat myself, however, there was another verse that also caught my attention:

And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

(2 Nephi 18:14//Isaiah 8:14)

This verse, along with a couple of others with similar stone themes, has been applied to the Savious in the Gospels, in 1 Peter 2, and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (in Jacob 4; interestingly while Jacob 4 associates the same three verses – Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22 – as 1 Peter 2 does, they quote different portions of some of those verses. More on that in chapter four of The BoM & the Bible). In many of those it’s applied to the Saviour’s relationship with Israel, namely that he’ll be rejected, but will ultimately become a sanctuary to them.

Yet a thought that’s been running though my head recently is that this verse likewise has a wider application. The Lord frequently permits parts of the gospel to become “a stone of stumbling” or “rock of offense” to us: aspects we don’t understand at first, things that may go against our own views at the time, or we just find difficult. And I’ve found that in many cases there are answers to these difficulties, indeed that with such answers things previously perceived as difficulties may turn to be things that strengthen one’s testimony. But such answers only tend to arrive after one has already persevered through them. I am forced to conclude that while the Lord wants us to succeed and wants us to exercise faith, he doesn’t make it easy for us. This life, after all, is a test.

Mosiah 3

This is a very well known and oft quoted chapter, particularly the portions relating to the prophecy of  Christ’s mortal ministry and atoning sacrifice (vv. 5-10) and the famous passage that really encapsulates the core of the Gospel:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

That really covers almost everything important: the fallenness of man, guidance through the Holy Ghost, repentance and sanctification through the Atonement of Christ and how we should be as disciples and God’s children.

Perhaps one bit of that verse that catches a little less attention is that whole bit about being ‘willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him’. I think it’s easy to read the verse, and see it as being willing to submit to everything God may ask of us and in addition what he permits may happen to us. But the word inflict is rather more active than that, in that it requires us to accept and submit to what God may do to us, even if unpleasant. An interesting article I’ve already linked to in this blog which discusses the concept of an Abrahamic Test quotes this verse in that context, noting that the scriptures teach that God both chastens us (which is correction or punishment upon those that have disobedient) and tries us, in which the refiners fire falls upon the righteous. It is interesting that a crucial part of our discipleship is the degree to which we accept both of these processes.

I don’t know whether I can say I’m grateful for any of the trials I’ve experienced, and in many respects I’m quite fortunate, so I don’t know how others may feel about that either. But I’ve certainly found with some unpleasant experiences that – often given time and opportunity to reflect – I’ve been able to perceive some of the positive results of them too. I don’t know that we’re actually being asked to be glad about unpleasant things (though perhaps with sufficient perspective we can be; thinking about it there are a couple of things I think I can now say I am appreciative for). But perhaps what this is really getting at is the core measure of our trust and loyalty towards him, the capacity to say “not my will, but thine be done”, no matter what that appears to entail for us.

Linked to this verse, but really catching my attention today, was verse 16:

And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.

It’s an interesting point in general that the Atonement establishes both justice and mercy (for instance, see v. 10-11 and 2 Nephi 9:26). But what attracted my eye today was the whole phrase about ‘in Adam, or by nature, they fall’. When we talk of the fall, we often talk of Adam and Eve, but really in a sense each of us falls as we grow up. We are born innocent before God (D&C 93:38), and we are not held responsible for the sins of our forebears (Moses 6:54). But as a consequence of the fall, human nature is opposed to God, and our natures mean that as we grow ‘sin conceive[s] in [our] hearts’ (Moses 6:55) and we yield to our unrighteous instincts (‘the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein’, 2 Nephi 2:29) and become fallen people. We each experience the fall individually; I guess in a similar manner to the way in which while Christ atoned once for sins in an infinite and eternal offering, we must experience the power of that redemption individually too.

I think it’s also important to remember this self-sabotaging nature that we all inevitably have. We can become ground down trying to perfect ourselves, or we might try to persuade ourselves that some inner tendencies can’t possibly be wrong, or why would we have them? But human nature as it is is morally flawed, and is not perfectible by our efforts alone. But there’s two crucial caveats there, which again verse 19 addresses: our current nature is not the nature God wishes for us to carry into the eternities, and we can put off that nature and become something else – a saint, that is holy – as we “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” and accept the power of Christ’s atonement into our lives. God wants us to change, and through Christ’s power we can.

2020 edit:

I’m beginning to think there’s some kind of weird joke: once again when reading there’s certain verses that leap out at me, and once again I find it’s exactly the same verses I’ve already written about. Admittedly, this seems to be particularly the case in posts like this, where the first part was written not that long ago (less than a year). Furthermore, while it’s the same verses that have stood out on this occasion, there’s somewhat different aspects.

So back to Mosiah 3:16:

And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.

What caught my attention this time was the notion that “the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins” – that is, the sins of little children. I would partly credit Elder James Rasband’s talk this past general conference for this, in which – citing this very verse – he stated that “[a] righteous judgment also required, he taught, that “the blood of Christ atoneth for” the sins of little children.” That phrase stood out to me because I’ve never heard it put as bluntly as that. Indeed I suspect there might be some who’d recoil from that phrase. But it’s quite clearly there in Mosiah 3:16, although perhaps we may pass over it all too easily by not enquiring as to who “their” refers to. But there is only one possible referent.

How do we square this with what Mormon writes in Moroni 8, which states that “little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin” (Mormon 8:8)? Some points are worth considering.

Firstly, Mormon is speaking of the world in which the atonement of Christ is a given fact, while King Benjamin is speaking of what would have happened if the atonement had never taken place, and what the atonement does. Mormon concurs with the role of the atonement in this, as he continues in verse 8 to relay the Lord’s statement that “wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it have no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me”. It is through the Lord’s atonement that little children have become whole. Indeed, even the condition of innocence in infancy is through the atonement of Christ, as stated in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God” (D&C 93:38, bold is my emphasis – it should also be remembered that innocent is not the same thing as good).

Secondly, we must refer back to the fall, and how pervasive and powerful it is. Without the atonement, its influence would be so powerful no human being could possibly escape it. Would that be just? No, but that’s just the point: the atonement of Christ is not just a means of mercy, but also establishes justice, as is taught by Jacob in 2 Nephi 9:26 and by Elder Rasband in his talk.

Thirdly, the principle of accountability is important to understand why the effects of the atonement vary in their application. Little children (and presumably others such as the mentally handicapped) have limited accountability. Their “sins” are not sins of their own volition, in the same way ours are, and they have limited capacity to repent: thus their sins are atoned for automatically. Those who “died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned” (Mosiah 3:11), who did not know enough to be considered fully accountable, likewise have their sins atoned for. However, the time of such ignorance is limited:

And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.

(Mosiah 3:20-21)

As for those who are accountable and have a necessary level of knowledge, and so have committed sin of our own volition, then atonement for sin is conditional, “for salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and Faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Mosiah 3:12). Thus Mormon instructs Moroni to teach “repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin” (Moroni 8:10), surely meaning in this case, those capable of choosing to sin and knowing that it is wrong.

It is perhaps not always entirely necessary to know more that what Mormon teaches in this case. And yet, perhaps it may help some to appreciate even more what Christ has done for all of us, to realise that the salvation of little children was not “free”, but was likewise brought with the blood of Christ.

The forgotten fall

As might be inferred from my statement at the beginning of this edit, the other verse which caught my attention this time around was indeed verse 19 again. In this case, it was particularly the first few clauses:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless…

Obviously there’s a pretty big “unless” there – indeed the whole heart of the gospel, the “good news”, is contained and followed by that “unless”. And yet we cannot truly appreciate that “unless”, and indeed the very choices we face on a day to day basis, unless we truly understand and keep in mind those first few clauses.

Over the last decade, I have come to the conclusion that the Fall has become somewhat of a forgotten doctrine in Christianity at large. One can see this in various discussions which hinge on claims of “God made me this way”, or in which it is assumed that what is natural must be good. Even some Latter-day Saint scholars appear to misunderstand the fall, if for different reasons: it seems some get caught up so much in understanding that the fall was a necessary part of God’s plan that they forget the negative effects of the fall (negative effects which, if anything, Latter-day scripture is even more explicit about). Likewise, in their desire to defend Adam and (especially) Eve, they appear to conflate the perspective they both enjoyed at a later date after a great revelation (Moses 5:9-11), with the far more limited perspective they would have had at the time.

The fall is the necessary counterpoint to the atonement of Christ. Without understanding the fall, we cannot understand the atonement. If we negate the importance of the fall, and its negative effects, we negate the importance of the atonement, and its positive effects. Moreover understanding the fall is crucial to understanding ourselves and the situation we face right now, in our mortal lives, and the choice that has been provided to us by Christ. Understanding the fall answers so many of the questions the modern age seems otherwise confused by.

Because of the fall, none of us is as God eventually intends us, nor is this earth. Nature I’ve already written about, if in a rather speculative tone. The facts of non-human “nature”, however, should surely establish that an awful lot of it isn’t presently good: the naturalistic fallacy (the idea what if something is “natural”, it is therefore “good”) should fall apart in the face of things like infanticide amongst lions, never mind those wasps that lay their larvae in other creatures and which eat their way out.

Likewise, amongst human beings, understanding the fall means understanding that due to the fall, we must all contend against “the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein” (2 Nephi 2:29), that “because of the fall our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2), and that as King Benjamin points out “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). Each of us has a part of us that doesn’t want to do good. It thus should not disturb us, should there be any who appear to have inherent tendencies that lead away from obedience to God’s commandments, because we all have such inherent tendencies. Such tendencies may be in areas that aren’t obsessed about or approved by our culture: we may have tendencies towards alcoholism, or kleptomania, or greed, or road-rage, or wanting to crush our enemies and see them driven before us. But whichever direction our fallen part would propel us, we all may have such a fallen part.

Now, the great and glorious and wonderful good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to give in to that part: we all have a choice. Due to the atonement of Christ, we are free to “choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit; And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein”. It’s not necessarily an easy choice, indeed it’s a choice I think we have to make over and over again until it sticks. But as Mosiah 3:19 teaches, we can “[put] off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord”. That fallen nature need not be who we eternally are, it need not be the inherent part of ourselves, but can be shed. The body can become subject to the spirit, and become sanctified so that when we stand before God we might be entirely holy. We cannot do this alone, it is true, but we do not have to: Christ purchased this choice for us, with his own life; he atones for our sins and anything in which we err; and he can give us grace and strength and power to choose his will whatever the natural man would have us do, until the glorious day when it can be kicked off entire, “that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48).

Mosiah 1

As always, these posts are not, and do not claim to be, exhaustive overviews of the chapters in question, but simply a reflection of what I happen to pick up or think upon as I am personally reading them. Sometimes that ends up being quite a bit, like last time, and sometimes its quite brief, like today. That’s not a reflection on the chapter itself, simply of what impinged on me during my reading.

As it happens, it was actually the very first verse that made the most impact on me today:

And now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days.

This life often isn’t easy, and it isn’t meant to be easy. While the gospel ultimately offers happiness, we’re not promised continual happiness in this world. We need at times to experience misery (2 Nephi 2:23), to truly follow Christ and be glorified with him we also need to suffer with him (Romans 8:17), and then there’s simply the trials attendant to living in a fallen world surrounded by other people who have agency too. This life is often unfair, as Christ himself – who received a death sentence due to false witnesses and a corrupt court – could tell us.

Yet while it is important to bear these things in mind, and not have false expectations that living the gospel should bring ease, I believe it’s also important not to go the other way. This life often isn’t one of unremitting trial. Lehi and family experienced trials crossing the wilderness and the great deep, but found sanctuary at Bountiful in between. King Benjamin here has had to deal with foreign invasion and internal sedition, and the peace that followed came at the cost of great effort on his part and the part of the prophets (Words of Mormon 16-18), but he did get to experience peace. Those moments do come, the oases of life do exist, even if sometimes they can feel so remote and hard to come by.

2020 edit:

I was struck by verses 11-12:

And moreover, I shall give this people a name, that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I do because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord.

And I give unto them a name that never shall be blotted out, except it be through transgression.

Names are funny things. On one side, it might be argued that names are relatively unimportant: they do not change the actual nature of a thing (“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet;” and all that). On the other hand, others have held the act of naming to be very significant indeed. Thus in teachings attributed to Confucius, the act of naming is regarded as supremely important in maintaining order, with proper naming needing to correspond to reality:

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect

(Analects, Book XIII, Chapter 3, verses 4–7, trns. James Legge)

I think it’s fair to say that both perspectives have a degree of truth to them: the name of something, in and of itself, doesn’t change the nature of a thing. On the other hand, the act of naming can have a very significant effect: giving something its proper name can be a vital act of truth telling, and conversely accepting a false name or label for something can be a form of lying (as can be seen in several modern examples).

We may think our culture does not place much importance on names, but even here there are powerful exceptions. We may be reluctant to accept treatment from someone who gained the name “doctor” in illegitimate ways, for instance. When we call someone a “Judas” or a “Quisling”, we are laying a powerful charge by imputing the attributes of well-known traitors. Some current political movements, as linked to above, insist on certain names for things in their attempt to shape reality.

Likewise, naming is a significant act within the scriptures. There are multiple examples, but one might merely begin with God himself naming things in creation, culminating with Adam, Adam naming the animals, or examples like the renaming of the patriarchs Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel. Scriptural names are often not just names but also titles, describing the very thing or person at stake. As seen in the examples of Abraham and Israel, new names can reflect new or intended attributes, a change that has already happened or a change or promise that will come to pass.

King Benjamin here obviously intends to give a rather specific name to his people; those who’ve read the Book of Mormon before will know what that name is, and I’ll cover that when we get to it. But this is rather significant for us, especially as we end up taking the same name upon us. I think once again there can be two elements to this, as can be seen in King Benjamin’s act: firstly there’s the element of proper naming. The name must reflect in some way the underlying reality, or it will not work. Thus the people have had to be diligent in keeping the commandments of God to be given this name (v. 11), and if they transgress, the name can be “blotted out” (v. 12).

However, there’s also a degree to which the naming is aspirational: to give a new name when it belongs to someone else (as the name King Benjamin plans on, and the name we take upon ourselves, does) is to seek to clothe the named with the attributes of the name. It is to seek to place the one named in a course in which all the attributes and characteristics that go with that name may be acquired and thus belong in truth to the one named. Thus – one day, far from now – we hope that we will have become like the One to whom that name becomes, and share in his virtue and his nature.