Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 15

MOSIAH 1:1-2

The beginning of Mormon's abridged record

Note that the main story in the book of Mosiah is told in the third person rather than in the first person as was the custom in the earlier books of the Book of Mormon. The reason for this is that someone else is now telling the story, and that "someone else" is Mormon. With the beginning of the book of Mosiah we start our study of Mormon's abridgment of various books that had been written on the large plates of Nephi. (3 Nephi 5:8-12.) The book of Mosiah and the five books that follow—Alma, Helaman, 3 Nephi, 4 Nephi, and Mormon—were all abridged or condensed by Mormon from the large plates of Nephi, and these abridged versions were written by Mormon on the plates that bear his name, the plates of Mormon. These are the same plates that were given to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni on September 22, 1827.

MOSIAH 1:1-5

Were the brass plates written in Egyptian?

The statement that "Lehi . . . having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read" the engravings on the brass plates of Laban quite clearly indicates these plates were written in the Egyptian language. Thus they were almost certainly not started until after the flood and the tower of Babel, as there was no Egyptian language before those events. The brass plates were probably not started until after the Israelites went down into Egypt in the days of Joseph, although the writers on these plates may have had access to records that had been written earlier.

Two other evidences supporting this thesis are: (1) Laban "was a descendant of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers had kept the records" (1 Nephi 5:16), and (2) the great prophecies "of Joseph, who was carried into Egypt . . . are written upon the plates of brass" (2 Nephi 4:1-2), as these records contained "the five books of Moses" (1 Nephi 5:11). Other writers continued recording on these plates "even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah" (1 Nephi 5:12)—the very year Lehi left Jerusalem (1 Nephi 1:4).


The temple in the land of Zarahemla

This is the first reference to a temple in the land of Zarahemla. The building of a temple mentioned earlier in the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 5:16) refers to the temple in the land of Nephi. Our present Book of Mormon does not provide any additional information concerning when or by whom this temple in Zarahemla was constructed.


Benjamin's statement on service

One of the most widely quoted scriptures in the entire Book of Mormon is the statement of King Benjamin: "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." (Mosiah 2:17.) In this statement Benjamin includes the essence of the two great commandments that were later enunciated by the Savior: (1) that we should love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and (2) that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-40.)

If we truly love God and keep his commandments, we will serve our brothers because he has commanded us to love them. Therefore, as King Benjamin indicates, when we are in the service of our fellow beings we are only in the service of our God.

MOSIAH 2:38 and 3:27

Hell is "like" an unquenchable fire

The major Christian churches that believe in a place called hell refer to it as a place of endless burnings and punishment. The leaders of these churches evidently get this belief partially from their interpretation of such scriptures as Luke 16:28 (where hell is referred to as a "place of torment") and from Matthew 13:42 (where hell is referred to as a "furnace of fire," where there will be "wailing and gnashing of teeth"). However, the exact wording that hell is a place "where people are continually burning but are never consumed" is not found in the scriptures; largely this concept comes from false interpretations by men. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord has explained what is meant by the terms "endless torment" and "eternal damnation":

Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.

Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name's glory.

Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.

I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.

For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—Eternal punishment is God's punishment.

Endless punishment is God's punishment. (D&C 19:6-12. Italics added.)

The Book of Mormon indicates that hell as a place is not a place of eternal fire. However, the feeling of guilt, pain, and anguish that the sinner feels is "like an unquenchable fire" (Mosiah 2:38), and his torment is "as a lake of fire and brimstone" (Mosiah 3:27).

MOSIAH 3:11, 16-18

Jesus Christ atones for the sins of children and those who have died without law

Most of the so-called Christian churches today teach the doctrine of original sin. Essentially, this doctrine is that all of us are born sinful onto this earth because of the original transgression of Adam and Eve. One church has explained the doctrine of original sin as follows:

On account of their sin Adam and Eve lost sanctifying grace, the right to heaven, and their special gifts; they became subject to death, to suffering, and to a strong inclination to evil. . . .

On account of the sin of Adam, we, his descendants, come into the world deprived of sanctifying grace and inherit his punishment, . . .

This sin in us is called original sin. It is the state in which every descendant of Adam comes into the world, totally deprived of grace, through inheriting the punishment, not of Adam's personal sin, but of his sin as head of the human race. . . .

Because of original sin, heaven was closed to all men until the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord instituted the sacrament of Baptism in order to restore to us the right to heaven that Adam had lost.

. . . only Baptism can remit original sin; no one with any taint can enter heaven. (Louis LaVoire Morrow, My Catholic Faith [Kenosha, Wisc.: My Mission House, 1963], pp. 48-49, 269.)

As indicated in the last sentence of the above statement, the many churches that believe in the doctrine of original sin also usually teach that original sin can be removed only through baptism. Such teachings deny the right of unbaptized people, including unbaptized infants, to gain the presence of God (heaven). However, the Book of Mormon prophets clearly and definitely teach that the atonement of Jesus Christ fully atones: (1) for the original transgression of Adam and Eve, (2) for the sins of unbaptized infants who die before they are accountable, and (3) for the sins of all people who die without having an opportunity to receive the "will of God concerning them." In his famous discourse on the atonement, King Benjamin says concerning the Savior: ". . . his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned." (Mosiah 3:11.)

MOSIAH 3:15-27

The relationship of the laws of justice and mercy to the atonement of Jesus Christ

The law of justice works in relationship to the other laws of God in the moral realm. In essence, the law of justice might be explained as follows: (1) every law has both a punishment and a blessing attached to it; (2) whenever the law is transgressed (broken), a punishment (or suffering) must be inflicted; (3) whenever a law is kept (obeyed), a blessing (or reward) must be given.

The law of justice requires that God must be a God of order and that he must be just and impartial. Because of the law of justice, God can make such statements as these: "I the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise" (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10); "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21).

The law of mercy agrees entirely with the law of justice. However, the law of mercy introduces the possibility of vicarious payment of the laws that have been transgressed. In essence, the law of mercy might be paraphrased as follows: Whenever a law is transgressed (or broken), a payment (or suffering or atonement) must be made; however, the person who transgressed the law does not need to make payment if he will repent and if he can find someone else who is both able and willing to make payment. Note that the law of mercy insists that the demands of the law of justice be met fully. As Alma stated, . . . "justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved. What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God." (Alma 42:24-25.)

The law of justice made the atonement of Jesus Christ necessary. When Adam fell, he transgressed a law that had physical and spiritual death as its punishment. Thus the law of justice demanded payment (or atonement) for the broken (or transgressed) law.

The law of mercy made the atonement of Jesus Christ possible. In order for Jesus Christ to pay fully for the law Adam had transgressed, it was necessary that the Savior be both able and willing to make atonement. He was willing to make payment because of his great love for mankind, and he was able to make payment because he lived a sinless life and because he was actually, literally, biologically the Son of God in the flesh. Thus he had the power to atone for the spiritual and physical deaths introduced by the fall of Adam and Eve. Because of this atonement (or payment), he is rightfully referred to as the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind.

Every person benefits unconditionally from two major aspects of the atonement: (1) the resurrection, and (2) the full payment for the original transgression of Adam and Eve. However, as Mosiah indicates, there are also some conditional aspects of the atonement, and in order to benefit from these a person must repent of his sins. Otherwise, "mercy . . . could have claim" upon the person "no more forever," for the law of mercy is made active in the life of a person only upon the conditions of repentance. (Mosiah 3:25-27.)

(Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], .)

Commentary by Rodney Turner:

A Solemn Assembly

Three years before his death, knowing that "he must very soon go the way of all the earth," Benjamin instructed Mosiah to call a solemn convocation of the Nephites and the people of Zarahemla. King Benjamin's purpose was twofold: (1) to announce his own abdication and the selection of Mosiah as his successor, and (2) to bestow another name upon his people.

We are uninformed as to when and by whom the temple in Zarahemla was built. However, in all probability it was erected in the third century b.c. by Mosiah I subsequent to his arrival in Zarahemla and after his appointment as king over those living in that land. (Omni 1:12, 19.) It was to this second Nephite temple that the people gathered to hear King Benjamin.

In doing so, they came prepared to offer "sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses." (Mosiah 2:3.) This has led to a current theory that the king chose that particular date because it coincided with an annual religious festival. While not unlikely, Benjamin's instructions to his son Mosiah (Mosiah 1:10), together with his unprecedented message to the people, suggest that Mosaic law and ritual were, at best, of secondary concern.

At present, we cannot determine with any accuracy the extent of the land of Zarahemla, nor its population in 124 b.c. However, the fact that the people were given only a day's notice to gather indicates that no point was more than about fifty miles from the city. And although the population is described as being "a great number, even so many that they did not number them" (Mosiah 2:2), even with their tents, they were accommodated within, or adjacent to, the walls of the temple. Then too, while the hastily built tower did not enable King Benjamin to be heard by everyone, such had been its purpose. Therefore, the people could not have been widely scattered. All this suggests that the combined populations of both Nephites and "Mulekites" was, at most, numbered in the thousands.

Yet it was a vast number who gathered to offer sacrifice, give thanks for their blessings, and hear their king. Unable to be heard by everyone, King Benjamin had his words "written and sent forth among those that were not under the sound of his voice." (Mosiah 2:8.)

King Benjamin's Stewardship

King Benjamin was the embodiment of a king of the Melchizedek order—a truly righteous sovereign who was the greatest of all because he was the servant of all. When purely worldly monarchs are measured against his example, they are all found wanting. But King Benjamin partook of the spirit of Nephi, who, in speaking of his own service to his people, said, "I did for them according to that which was in my power." (2 Ne. 5:18.) Doubtless this spirit characterized most, if not all, of Nephi's successors so that his dynasty was surely among the most righteous in all history.

King Benjamin began his message with a traditional accounting of his stewardship. (See Deut. 17:14-20.) He had honored the law of God, and he had not exalted himself above those he served: "I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind." (Mosiah 2:11.) He had been accepted by the common consent of the people; consecrated by his father, Mosiah I; and preserved by the "matchless power" of the Lord.

His rule had been both whole-hearted and benevolent. Unlike the tyrants of history who viewed their power as an instrument of self-gratification and self- aggrandizement, Benjamin had not robbed his people of their gold and silver, nor confined them in dungeons, nor permitted slavery—a practice common to Israel and the ancient world. The moral injunctions of the law of Moses had been enforced: murder, adultery, plunder, and theft, together with all other forms of immorality, had been forbidden.

Under the Nephite prophet-kings, as in Moses' time, civil and religious authority were one and the same—the government was essentially a theocratic monarchy. It remained a theocracy even when the monarchy was replaced in 91 b.c. by a system of judges. But following the resignation of Alma the younger as the first chief judge, the theocratic character of Nephite government began to be eroded by the division of civil and religious powers and responsibilities. Between the years 50 and 30 b.c., the two were once more unified, only to be separated thereafter until at least a.d. 34. fn The moral decline of the Nephites and the instability of their later government is evidenced by the fact that six of their last nine chief judges were murdered. The Book of Mormon teaches that the ideal form of government is theocratic—the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 29:12-13.)

The people had not labored to support their king; he had earned his bread by his own sweat as the Lord had commanded Adam. His son, Mosiah, did likewise. (See Mosiah 6:7.) Consequently, the people were not "laden with taxes." (Mosiah 2:14.) Burdensome, unjust taxation is a form of theft. King Benjamin realized that a government has no more right to steal from its citizens than the citizens have to steal from one another. When all labor, none are oppressed. Since political morality depends upon personal morality, the strict observance of the moral code by both the ruler and the ruled was the very foundation of his benevolent reign.

Benjamin understood that service to mankind is service to God: "I have only been in the service of God." (Mosiah 2:16.) He knew the meaning of stewardship. He knew that king and commoner, president and people—all are accountable for the talents and opportunities afforded them. All must come to judgment. Would that all of us could say with King Benjamin, "I can answer a clear conscience before God this day." (Mosiah 2:15.)

Jesus said: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16.) This is precisely what King Benjamin wished to do. He wanted the people's gratitude for his service to be magnified toward the Lord: "If I . . . do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!" (Mosiah 2:19.)

Mortals are forever "unprofitable servants" because the Lord has done far more for his children than they can ever do for him. (Mosiah 2:20-22; Luke 17:7- 10.) You are everlastingly in God's debt, said Benjamin, for his having "granted unto you your lives." (Mosiah 2:23-24.) Our obedience can never repay this debt for life, because obedience only produces ever more blessings. Thus the debt is like an ever-receding horizon before which looms an ever- higher mountain of divine grace.

King Benjamin was keenly aware of our utter dependence upon the Lord: "Can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth. . . . And I . . . am no better than ye yourselves are." (Mosiah 2:25-26.) This theme is echoed by Mormon: "O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth." (Hel. 12:7.) In other words, where God's commandments are concerned, people are less obedient than the earth itself.

King Benjamin cited himself as an example of human fragility: "I can no longer be . . . your king; for even at this time, my whole frame doth tremble exceedingly while attempting to speak unto you; but the Lord God doth support me." (Mosiah 2:29-30.) He then announced the inspired selection of Mosiah as their new ruler and expressed his own desire that the people would continue faithful and keep "the commandments of God which [would] be delivered unto [them] by him." (Mosiah 2:31; see also Hel. 4:22.)

The Day of Salvation

Benjamin emphasized a major Book of Mormon doctrine: "This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God." (Alma 34:32; italics added.) Those having a knowledge of God's laws, as found in the plates of brass and as made known by the Nephite prophets, were without excuse before the bar of God. If a man willfully violated those commandments, and remained defiant, he would die in his sins "an enemy to God." Divine justice would "awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever." (Mosiah 2:38.) Being unrepentant, he would be ineligible for mercy. "Therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment." (Mosiah 2:38-39; see also 3:25-27.) The repentant, on the other hand, would be blessed both temporally and spiritually and be received into heaven—"a state of never-ending happiness." (Mosiah 2:41.)

Thus, concerning our eternal destiny, the Book of Mormon seems to speak in extremes: the highest heaven and the lowest hell, salvation with God or damnation with the devil. fn As Nephi told his errant brethren, "The final state of the souls of men is to dwell in the kingdom of God, or to be cast out." (1 Ne. 15:35; see also Mosiah 2:40-41.) A soul is either saved or lost; there is no middle ground. The modifying doctrine of multiple heavens or degrees of salvation, as revealed to Joseph Smith in 1832, is not found in the Book of Mormon. However, there is no real contradiction between the two viewpoints; the concept of multiple heavens is simply an extension of the principle of heaven itself. While a degree of salvation is to be had in all of the "many mansions" comprising the kingdom of God, the fact remains that there is no salvation outside of that kingdom. And all who are saved do repent and accept the Savior—every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ. (Philip. 2:10-11; Mosiah 27:31.) Those who refuse to repent during their probationary period—the time between birth and resurrection—are sons of perdition; they do suffer the fullness of hell or the second death, even as King Benjamin said. Never repenting—even after death—they remain "filthy still." (2 Ne. 9:16; D&C 88:35.)

In this regard, another doctrine that is not explicit in the Book of Mormon is that our "probationary state" includes the spirit state as well as mortality. Consequently, the doctrine of postmortal repentance is also missing; the tenor throughout is that physical death seals the fate of the wicked. Only in the dispensation of the fulness of times have we learned the meaning of 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6. (See also D&C 138.) Although Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, it was not until January 21, 1836 that he learned of the doctrine of salvation for the dead. In a vision of the celestial world, he saw his deceased brother Alvin and "marveled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that kingom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins." (D&C 137:6.) Work for the dead began with the resurrection of Christ; before that event, the gospel was not taught to them. (Moses 7:38-39, 57.) Therefore, before Christ's ministry to the spirit world, the Book of Mormon doctrine that "this life is the [only] time for men to prepare to meet God" (Alma 34:32) was technically correct. Mercifully, modern revelation has extended the meaning of the phrase "this life."

"Glad tidings of great joy" had been communicated to King Benjamin by an angel of the Lord. (Mosiah 3:3; see also Hel. 13:7.) fn They were to be shared with Benjamin's people so that they, too, might "be filled with joy." (Mosiah 3:4.) These tidings concerned the then-not-far-distant first coming of "the Lord Omnipotent" to the earth. He was to be called "Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary." (Mosiah 3:8.)

Centuries before, Nephi had written a brief summary of his own vision of the Messiah's mortal ministry and death (1 Ne. 11:31-33); the extent to which Nephi shared that vision with others is unknown. In any case, he did not describe the atonement's attendant agonies. Consequently, the first—and the most graphic—description in the Book of Mormon of Jesus' sufferings was provided by this angel. He prophesied that the Lord Omnipotent would work "mighty miracles" of every kind and also "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; see also Alma 7:11-12; D&C 19:16-18.)

No one else has understood sin as did the sinless Son of God. He alone had the intelligence—the light and truth—to comprehend all of its ramifications. In doing so, Jesus endured false accusations, rejection, betrayal, scourging, crucifixion, and, above all, the wrath of God. (See D&C 88:106.) But all these things prepared him to judge the world. (See D&C 19:2- 3.) For he not only knew its sins and suffered because of them, but he triumphed over them. (See John 16:33.) The cross became a sign of God's victory over humanity's last enemy—death and hell.

The fact that the angel prophesied in detail of the Lord's mortal experiences indicates that Jesus accepted his mission—not blindly, but with an understanding of all it would entail. President Joseph F. Smith wrote: "I believe that our Savior . . . no doubt possessed a foreknowledge of all the vicissitudes through which he would have to pass in the mortal tabernacle. . . . If Christ knew beforehand, so did we. But in coming here, we forgot all, that our agency might be free indeed."

Christ's mission was not in vain; neither was it to be trifled with. Salvation cost heaven dearly; the angel's testimony emphasized that fact. The atonement automatically covered those who "died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned." (Mosiah 3:11; see also 2 Ne. 9:25-26; Moro. 8:22.) This included those heathen nations who lived and died in ignorance of both gospel and Mosaic law, all little children, and the mentally retarded.

Paul wrote: "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23; see also Moses 6:57; Alma 42:6, 9.) Therefore, the atonement covered these groups, not because they did not commit sins, but because they were not legally answerable for them. The demands of justice were met in their behalf by the Savior. Speaking of little children, the angel said: "As in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins." (Mosiah 3:16; italics added.) Even if young children were free of all sinful thoughts or acts—which they are not—they would still need the atonement to overcome the physical and spiritual effects of the fall. (See Moses 6:55-57.) So it is with all people.

The Book of Mormon does not teach the doctrine of human depravity, but it does teach that people have a fallen nature, and that they are prone to disobedience and ingratitude. (See 2 Ne. 2:29; Alma 34:9; 42:6, 9; Hel. 12:1-7; Ether 3:2.) Only when human nature is contrasted with the divine nature can we begin to appreciate the extent of the fall, and of our utter dependence upon the Redeemer for both physical and spiritual redemption.

Since all are fallen, all must eventually hear the message of redemption. To this end, ancient prophets declared that message "to every kindred, nation, and tongue." (Mosiah 3:13.) The angel's words suggest that a knowledge of Christ was had by the ancient world on a much wider basis than is commonly assumed. (See 2 Ne. 26:13.) In due time, "none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children." (Mosiah 3:21.) "Every nation, kindred, tongue, and people" will, in effect, hear the angelic message: "Righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood." (Moses 7:62.) All will know of the Savior; none will sin in ignorance; none will have claim upon the atonement except those who receive the fullness of the gospel. (Mosiah 3:20- 21.) Upon hearing the angel's message, Benjamin's people were "no more blameless in the sight of God." (Mosiah 3:22.) His words would "stand as a bright testimony" against them "at the judgment day." (Mosiah 3:24.) Their relationship to God had changed forever.

The Law and the Atonement

Retroactive in its spiritual effects, the atonement was as efficacious before as it was after the Savior's death. (See D&C 20:26.) The remission of sins, which was preached from the fall, cannot be isolated from the atonement, which makes such remission possible. But the "stiffneckedness" of ancient Israel gave that people an unjustified sense of spiritual security independent of Christ. Rather than recognizing that the very imposition of the law of carnal commandments was proof of their spiritual immaturity, they believed that the law proved them superior to the rest of God's children. (See 1 Ne. 17:33- 34.) The temporary means became, for Israel, the permanent end. (See Mosiah 16:14; Alma 34:14.) They did not understand that "the law of Moses availeth nothing except it were through the atonement of his blood." (Mosiah 3:15; see also 13:28-32.)

The "preparatory gospel" was meant to lead to, not supplant, the fulness of the gospel. As was previously noted, Nephi had introduced the "holy order" and taught the law of the gospel to his people. But with the passage of centuries, the Mosaic law and its associated ordinances seem to have overshadowed the doctrine of Christ. (See 2 Ne. 5:10; Jacob 7:7; Jarom 1:5, 11.) The destruction of the first Nephite nation, and the subsequent amalgamation of the Nephite remnant under Mosiah I with the spiritually illiterate people of Zarahemla (Omni 1:12, 19), probably intensified this trend. But while the law of Moses ministered to the moral and religious needs of "the natural man," it could not deliver Israel from its carnal state.

(Kent P. Jackson, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 7: 1 Nephi to Alma 29 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 205.)

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