The Book of Mormon is an ambitious book in it’s scope, covering 1000+ years of history and multiple civilizations, while putting forward, as its primary purpose, a sophisticated theology. As a result, the narrative runs pretty quickly, weaving together the story with enough strategic pauses to make these theological points. Given the scope and reach of the book, it leaves plenty of room for personal interpretation, forcing the reader to fill in gaps, often with their own biases and predispositions. The narrative is delivered from the point of view of very human narrators. If the reader believes in the book’s historicity, the primary narrators are Nephi, Mormon and Moroni, if not, than Joseph Smith with possible assists from Oliver Cowdery and their contemporary influences tell the story. Either way, the book’s narrative comes through flawed filters, allowing for very human, though potentially, and I will try to make this case, inspired points of view.
I worry, then, that the standard interpretations of the Book of Mormon suggested by official church manuals, have played too heavy of a hand for the typical, faithful reader. As church members are encouraged to read the Book of Mormon daily, we aren’t encouraged, often enough, to read it carefully or critically. We don’t allow, nearly often enough, the book to take an active role in our lives. The characters in the book are portrayed superficially, not spending time on backstories or motivations that might paint the “evil characters” with greater sympathy and nuance or the “good characters” more critically. The casual reader may assume the book to be merely a training manual on how to be on the good side of that ledger. We need to go deeper and allow the book to challenge us in unexpected ways .
With that introduction, let’s dive into Mosiah 25-28. Mosiah begins with a deep dive into King Benjamin’s sermon, but then moves back in time to describe the story of Zeniff’s attempt to build a society near the Lamanites. After establishing a successful community, things change abruptly when Zeniff’s wicked son Noah takes the reigns. Abinidi’s warning sermon to Noah and his priests that lead to Abinidi’s death. Alma, one of Noah’s priests, end up becoming Abinidi’s lone convert, but as he attempts to share Abinidi’s message, enough people are convinced to form a church. Forming that church gets them chased into the wilderness. Things don’t end up well, when Lamanite military conflict lead to Noah’s death and Lamanite control over the people. Both Alma’s people and Limhi’s people ultimately escape Lamanite bondage and control and find their way back to the people of Zerahemla under King Mosiah’s rule.
Brief Summary of Mosiah 25-28
Mosiah 25 describes the reunion, Alma’s call to organize churches among the people of Zerahemla. In Mosiah 26, we read about the rising generation that include both Mosiah’s and Alma’s children who reject the church’s teaching and work to persuade others out of belief. Mosiah 27 describes Alma’s and Mosiah’s conversion through an angelic rebuke. Finally, Mosiah 28 describes Mosiah’s sons desire to live among Lamanites in hopes of converting them to the church.
Through these chapters, church organization, conversion and rebellion contrasts the conflict between believers and unbelievers. In that tension, we can about the role sin plays for those inside and outside the church, what it means to live lives of faith, and why and how each of us must experience our own conversion.
The next three sections describe general themes and verses that specifically reference those themes.
Theme One: Sin
- 25: 11 “And again, when they thought upon the Lamanites, who were their brethren, of their sinful and polluted state, they were filled with pain and anguish for the welfare of their souls.”
- 26: 1 “They did not believe in the traditions of their fathers. They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.”
- 26:2-4 “And now because of their unbelief they could not believe the word of God; and their hearts were hardened. And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.”
- 26: 32: “Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward.”
- 27:8 : Alma “became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.”
- 27:14 “that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.”
- 27:16 “Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them.”
- 27:30 “I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all.”
- 28:2 “That perhaps they might bring them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and convince them of the iniquity of their fathers; and that perhaps they might cure them of their hatred towards the Nephites, that they might also be brought to rejoice in the Lord their God, that they might become friendly to one another, and that there should be no more contentions in all the land which the Lord their God had given them.”
Theme Two: Church
- 25:15 “And Alma did speak unto them, when they were assembled together in large bodies, and he went from one body to another, preaching unto them repentance and faith on the Lord.”
- 25:18 “and as many as he did baptize did belong to the church of God; and this because of their belief on the words of Alma.”
- 25:22 “And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God.”
- 25:23 “And it came to pass that whosoever were desirous to take upon them the name of Christ, or of God, they did join the churches of God; and they were called the people of God. And the Lord did pour out his Spirit upon them, and they were blessed, and prospered in the land.”
- 26:15-18: “Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi. And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them. And blessed art thou because thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people. Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.”
- 26: 22 “For behold, this is my church; whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive.”
- 27: 5 “Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the graceof God.”
Theme 3: Conversion
27:25 “And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in no wise inherit the kingdom of God.”
Questions and Possible Answers
- These verses are very vague on what what it means to sin, what sort of sins do these verses point to?
- These verses describe a very active role within church membership. It comes down to repentance and faith in the Lord. But there are a few passages that connect belief, primarily belief the resurrection and the coming prophecies of Jesus Christ to this kind of life. How are belief and behavior connected?
- The Book of Mormon constantly connects prosperity with righteousness. How are they connected in ways that don’t sound like the prosperity gospel?
- Why is it important to remember the sacrifices, deliverances, and traditions passed down from our heritage or to consider the sins and mistakes of this heritage? Verses in these passages describe both.
- What is church and how broadly can we define it?
- When the Book of Mormon describes sin and righteousness, I think it has much more to do with a willingness to be led by truth. If God is truth, belief in God is belief in truth. It’s a willingness to shed ideologies, personal stories, or anything else that keeps us from living in the world in its fullness.
- Facing the world without deep conversion is unbearable. We must accept our own limitations, we must be willing to deal with pain, the pain we experience and the pain others feel, and in all the ways we’ve been complicit in it. We must accept our own failures. This kind of honest living in the world, requires grace. A willingness to walk in faith, live by grace, readily forgive others, readily repent and ask for forgiveness. It’s not easy. It requires deep conversion.
- Conversion is a willingness to become children of God, to live and abide in spirit, to connect ourselves with others, to be merciful and to accept mercy. To be concerned with the welfare of both the group and of the individuals living within the group. To seek for both equality and peace and to love our enemies.
- A willingness to live in deep truth, opens up the doors toward prosperity in ways that are equitable and sustainable. Conversion does not free us from suffering, but in the suffering, we learn and as we learn, we find connection with others and with the world in ways that allow us to live with more fullness, deeper understanding and in this way, with more abundance.
- Deep conversion yields fruit, allowing us to face our heritage – it’s sins as well as its accomplishments – American slavery and native American genocide, but also the drive toward freedom, equality and prosperity. Or within the Mormon tradition, the deep and painful consequences of polygamy, exclusions of blacks from the priesthood, early Utah theocracy, Mountain Meadows Massacre, etc. But also the strong leadership of Brigham Young, the vision of Joseph Smith and the significant sacrifice of early Mormon pioneers who managed to build up the Utah community and eventually build a thriving, global church.
- Expand the notion of church that extends beyond institutional boundaries. Recognize that there are many who live by word and deed in grace, forgiveness, and a vision for a better world. There are churches across the world, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist that share in these goals. We should find common cause. Deep conversion happens across institutional boundaries. We should support each other in the core goal of broad conversion and help as many people find their way to it through whatever cultural and religious contexts works for them.