Abinadi Re-Imagines Isaiah

589px-Michelangelo,_profeti,_Isaiah_01Our reading this week (Mosiah 6-8 CofC/9-16 LDS) is the beginning of our book within the book. We’re now reading “The Record of Zeniff” which is engraved on one of the two sets of plates mentioned in the Ammon and Limhi story. The record starts in the voice of our first named narrator, who begins his story with a familiar Book of Mormon formula: “I, Zeniff, having been…” This will later recur when the new beginning of the text is dictated and we hear the famous phrase: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…” (I Nephi 1:1 CofC/1 Nephi 1:1 LDS).[1]  After King Zeniff tells his tale and retires (conferring his kingdom on his son Noah), the voice once again shifts to anonymous narration (as King Noah does not keep the record).

The story within the story is set across the wilderness from Zarahemla, in the Land of Lehi-Nephi (sometimes just called Nephi) and the neighboring lands of Shilom and Shemlon. This week’s reading gives us our first taste of warfare and slaughter between the Lamanites and Nephites and it also introduces the Book of Mormon’s take on the Deuteronomic history embedded in the Bible. Put briefly, the Biblical author/editor(s) who composed the related books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, envisioned a history for Israel which showed that the nation was alternatively punished by disobedience to God and redeemed and blessed by obedience to God. This is most evident in Judges where God uses foreign nations like the Philistines to chastise the Israelites, later calling a judge to deliver the people when they are sufficiently chastened. Similarly, the kings of Israel and Judah in the books of Kings are portrayed as either wicked or righteous depending on their commitment to the Lord.[2]

The parallel in “The Record of Zeniff” comes as the righteous King Zeniff is succeeded by his wicked son, King Noah. As frequently happens to unrighteous kings in the Books of Kings, King Noah is treated to a lengthy rebuke from one of the Lord’s prophets, in this instance a man named Abinadi. After some relatively boilerplate jeremiads where Abinadi promises the Lord is going to do a whole lot of smiting,[3] the priests of King Noah enter the ring to debate. In a move reminiscent of questions posed to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees, the priests ask Abinadi to interpret a passage of scripture (Isaiah 52:7-10, quoted from the King James Version): “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings…” This is the beginning of a passage that Christians came to read as a prediction of Jesus and it is our first block quote taste of the Book of Mormon’s love of Isaiah.

At first, Abinadi refuses to play that game: if they claim to be priests they ought to know what it means themselves! Instead he asks them what it is that they teach. They reply that they “teach the law of Moses” (Mosiah 7:84 CofC/12:28 LDS) and after some sparring they additionally affirm “that salvation did come by the law of Moses” (Mosiah 7:93 CofC/12:32 LDS). Abinadi rebukes them for not keeping the laws they claim to teach using repeated rhetorical questions that he himself answers: “Have ye done all this…? Nay, ye have not!” “Have ye…? I say unto you: Nay!” in between which he “reads”[4] the complete text of the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20:2-17 (KJV).

The multi-page discourse Abinadi delivers is a second major sermon, which shares some of the same ideas and themes with King Benjamin’s sermon. The recitation of the Ten Commandment leads Abinadi to a higher teaching about salvation:

And now ye [the priests of Noah] have said that salvation cometh by the law of Moses. I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you that the time shall come when it shall no more be expedient to keep the law of Moses. And moreover I say unto you that salvation doth not come by the law alone. And were it not for the atonement which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses. (Mosiah 8:3-5 CofC/13:27-28 LDS)

After quoting an entire chapter of Isaiah (53:1-12 KJV), Abinadi goes on to lay out a Christology similar to that described by King Benjamin:

God himself shall come down among the children of men and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in the flesh, he shall be called the Son of God… and they are one God, yeah the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth (Mosiah 8:28-29, 31 CofC/15:1-2, 4 LDS).

Abinadi then interprets the Isaiah passage he quoted to predict details of Christ’s ministry:

…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 that he opened not his mouth — yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain… (Mosiah 8:33-34 CofC/15:6-7 LDS)

Beyond reiterating the message that salvation comes through Christ’s atonement, the new message here is that all the prophets of the Old Testament predicted Jesus Christ. It’s not just King Benjamin and Abinadi who knew the details and meaning of Jesus ministry, all prophets of the Old Testament knew it. As Abinadi rhetorically asks, “did not Moses prophesy unto them concerning the coming of the Messiah and that God should redeem his people?” (Mosiah 8:11 CofC/13:33 LDS) Sadly he fails to answer that one up with an “I say unto you: Yay!” But he does later assert that “all the holy prophets have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord” (Mosiah 8:41 CofC/15:11 LDS).

Abinadi then turns back to the passage of Isaiah that the priests had asked him about and re-composes it. The original went:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, the publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation.

In Abinadi’s re-imagining this becomes explicitly Christological:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord who hath redeemed his people, yea, him who hath granted salvation unto his people (Mosiah 8:51-52 CofC/15:18-19 LDS).

This is a point that Christians have attempted to make all the way back to the era when the texts of the New Testament were being composed — as the evangelists repeatedly argued that the Old Testament scripture predicted Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon continues this tradition of re-imagining the Hebrew prophets by setting Christian interpretation in the mouth of a character who is meant to have lived before Christ.

Temporal Anomalies and the Mechanics of Composition by Dictation

I think the overall concept of a predictive Christian gospel — perhaps a prophetic proto-gospel — is clever. That it was composed after the fact, is actually in keeping with the general character of literary prophecy in scripture. For example, the Biblical Book of Daniel, although set in the 6th century BC, can be fairly precisely dated to the 2nd century BC because of “predictions” (technically postdictions) it makes about the Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus IV Ephiphanes.[5] Nevertheless, as anybody who’s ever watched a time travel episode in Star Trek knows, talking about the future of the past from the perspective of the present where the past’s future is also now past is complicated. And it’s very easy to mess up your verb tenses.

This happens pretty starkly when Abinadi begins a phrase saying “And now if Christ had not come into the world…” using the pluperfect had from Joseph Smith’s perspective (Mosiah 9:79 CofC/16:6 LDS). Then, before finishing the thought “there could have been no redemption,” we have a tangential explanatory phrase “speaking of things to come as though they had already come” which brings things back to Abinadi’s literary time frame.

This appears to highlight an interesting feature of the Book of Mormon’s composition process. When not quoting (reading directly from) the Bible [recall note 4], Joseph is dictating the text to scribes. Once he’s said it, it’s composed. Fixes have to be made in the next lines as they are orally composed. A regular author could just go back and fix the verb tense “if Christ will not come into the world.” That option isn’t open to Joseph and so the correction takes the form of this odd, supplemental explanation “speaking of things to come as though they had already come.”

Just prior to this, Joseph actually made a much bigger error. In predicting Jesus Chirst, although using exactingly precise details like the crucifixion, Abinadi had nevertheless gone out of his way to name him “the Son of God,” the Messiah, or the Lord. But when explaining that “there cometh a resurrection, even a first resurrection, yea, even a resurrection of those that have been and which are and which shall be, even unto the resurrection of Christ” (Mosiah 8:55 CofC/15:21 LDS) he slips up and mentions “Christ.” As we remember from our last reading, the very heart of King Benjamin’s sermon was the idea that he was going to reveal a name to his people as a reward for their righteousness, possession of which would make them choice above all other exiled Israelites. And now Abinadi, whose story is set a generation before King Benjamin’s story, has revealed the word “Christ” to wicked people he’s in the middle of cursing and rebuking. Once again, the error must have been obvious when dictated, because the following phrase quickly explains “…for so shall he be called.”[6]

Other Observations

• With Mosiah 6 (CofC)/Mosiah 9 (LDS), we’ve come to our first chapter header in the original text: “An account of his people from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until the time that they were delivered out of the hands of the Lamanites.” Although left out of the versification schemes, this header is an actual part of the Book of Mormon text unlike the many additional chapter headers in the LDS version which are, like the chapter headers printed in many Bibles, simple editorial helps added by the publisher.

• We’ve started to encounter original Book of Mormon words beyond names. “Neas” and “sheum” are included among a list of seeds, and “ziff” is twice among lists of precious metals.

• In this reading, we encounter some pretty terrible European American biases in their contemporary view of Native Americans. The Lamanites are described as “a lazy and idolatrous people” (Mosiah 6:15 CofC/9:12 LDS) and as “a wild and ferocious and bloodthirsty people” (Mosiah 6:45 CofC/10:12 LDS). Obviously, I believe these say nothing about actual customs of Native Americans and merely stand to condemn the bigotry of European Americans in the 1820s.  Nevertheless, I want to punt a broader discussion of this at least one more week.


[1] This formula is reminiscent of the introduction to the Book of Tobit “I, Tobit…” (Tobit 1:3), a book of the Apocrypha commonly included in King James Bibles which is notable for the appearance of the angel Raphael and many magic-like miracles. Since the beginning of the book of Mosiah was lost, we don’t know if it might have begun with a similar formula. In fact, the narrator of the surrounding Ammon and Limhi story is still anonymous at this point in the text.

[2] We will have plenty of occasion to discuss the Book of Mormon’s cycle and the Deuteronomic history in weeks to come.

[3] After all the smiting, the Lord promises King Noah’s people that “except they repent, I will utterly destroy them from off the face of the earth. Yet they shall leave a record behind them, and I will preserve them [the record on the plates] for other nations which shall possess the land. Yeah, even this will I do that I may discover [sic] the abominations of this people to other nations” (Mosiah 12:8 LDS). Thus Abinadi’s prophecy of national destruction predicts the colonization and possession of the land by “other nations” and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

[4] Abinadi says “And now I read to unto you the remainder of the commandments of God” (Mosiah 7:111 CofC/13:11 LDS).  Given that the quotation is read verbatim from the King James Bible, I believe we can assume that when block quotes are read from the Bible, Joseph switched from oral composition to simply reading from the Bible directly.

[5] This is generally accepted. See the Oxford Companion to the Bible (1993): “The book of Daniel is one of the few books of the Bible that can be dated with precision… The discussion of the date of the book can be summed up as follows. With the possible exception of minor glosses, the book reached its present canonical form in the middle of 164 BCE…” (p. 151)

[6] I’m aware that Christ is not actually a name and that the word is the English version of the Greek word for the word in Hebrew that comes into English as “messiah”. But it’s clear from Abinadi’s phrase “for so he shall be called” that he views the word the way King Benjamin did, “he shall be called Jesus Christ” (Mosiah 3:8 LDS).

King Benjamin Is Serious about Panhandlers

MiamiBeachOne thing about committing to a weekly schedule is that Wednesday comes around no matter what. Capping off an intensely busy work week last week, extreme weather in Toronto caused flooding at the building where my congregation has church, resulting in the cancellation of my Sunday School class. While you might think that would mean I’d have had lots of time to get ahead on my blog post, that didn’t happen. Instead, nothing got done prior to packing and getting on a plane Monday morning.  Now we’re here on our first vacation in a long time, visiting Miami Beach to celebrate Mike’s 40th birthday. (This was the destination of our first vacation together 17 years ago, so it’s a special place for us.) Anyway, long story short, I don’t have all my books with me this week, and I think I’m the only person reading the Book of Mormon here on the beach. But at least it’s sunny and 82° F.*

This week, King Benjamin is wrapping up his sermon and he’s got a message that is pretty explicit about a couple key ideas.

(Point #1) You must give money to beggars when asked. You may have all kinds of ideas about makers and takers in society. You may like to rant about a culture of dependency, but you’re totally wrong. According to King Benjamin, it’s a simple commandment: “ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish” (Mosiah 2:29 CofC).

Got some qualifiers on that? Want to rationalize your way out of this? King Benjamin’s way ahead of you.

Perhaps thou shalt say, “The man has brought himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance, that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just.”

Exactly! I’m good because I give charity freely to other, theoretical people who are “deserving poor” — not this guy in front of me, who is doubtless a welfare king.

Wrongo! According to KB:

“I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this, the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done, he perisheth for ever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.”

O man! For ever. (As an aside, although there’s no room for nuance in King Benjamin’s absolute formulation, I can’t help but reflect that the panhandlers here in Miami Beach have a bit of a different experience than the folks back home in Toronto enduring the polar vortex.)

That aside notwithstanding, the teaching about giving freely to all beggars continues very explicitly (Mosiah 2:37-45 CofC). This kind of personal charity, according to King Benjamin, is directly analogous to God’s grace, which is the other key point in the sermon’s wrap up.

(Point #2) From God’s perspective “are we not all beggars?”

Do we not all depend upon the same being, even God, for all the substance which we have; for both food, and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all all the riches which we have of every kind? (Mosiah 2:32 CofC)

In King Benjamin’s formulation, we are totally dependent on God for everything, but most important of all, we are dependent on God for our salvation. As “unworthy creatures,” who ought to be aware of our own “nothingness” and our “worthless and fallen state,” salvation can only come as a gift freely given by God.

There is none other salvation, save this which hath been spoken of; neither are there conditions whereby man can be saved, except the conditions which I have told you. Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things both in heaven and in earth… Believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he will forgive you…And behold if ye do this, ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; (Mosiah 2:12-22 CofC)

Theologically, this whole passage struck me as very Protestant. No doubt many a Baptist preacher would like such an explicit description of the idea of grace. In King Benjamin’s formulation, salvation is the ultimate gift. We can’t earn it; we can only receive it if we humble ourselves completely and accept ourselves to literally be on par with the panhandlers.


Narrative Developments

When King Benjamin’s sermon ends, the whole assembly speaks a liturgical formula, which is called a covenant and is functionally like a mass baptism and confirmation, as they all take upon themselves “the name of Christ” (Mosiah 3:11 CofC).

When that’s finished, King Benjamin retires to emeritus status, his son Mosiah becomes king, and the narrative lurches forward. I know that the Book of Mormon is famous for being dull and repetitive — and maybe that will happen when Oliver Cowdery shows up, the dictation speeds up, and the well goes dry — but for now in this early phase, there’s a lot packed into a little space.

Right away King Mosiah sends a guy named Ammon (a descendant of Zarahemla, which was hitherto just introduced as the name of the land) along with fifteen other “strong men” to the “land of Lehi-Nephi” to find out what happened to “the people who went up to dwell” there (Mosiah 5:1-4 Cof C). Presumably, both the story of the people going to Lehi-Nephi and the story of Zarahemla were part of the lost 116 pages.

Ammon and his party find the land of Lehi-Nephi and its king, Limhi, who is the grandson of the leader of the original expedition, Zeniff. King Limhi and his people pay tribute to Laman, King of the Lamanites and hate their condition enough that they’d prefer to be slaves to Ammon’s people (who are being identified as the Nephites here, I think, for the first time) (Mosiah 5:22 CofC).

But there’s more! In addition to the records of his own people, King Limhi has a set of “twenty-four plates, which are filled with engravings; and they are of pure gold” (Mosiah 5:64 CofC). They were found in the wilderness amid the ruins of a desolate battlefield. The record will, no doubt, “give us a knowledge of this very people who have been destroyed” (Mosiah 5:70 CofC).

King Limhi can’t “translate” the gold plates, but Ammon is aware that King Mosiah has inherited that capacity, which “is a high gift from God” (Mosiah 5:75 CofC). Specifically, King Mosiah is a “seer” — which is to say a man commanded by God to look at things called “interpreters” “wherewith that he can look and translate all records that are of an ancient date” (Mosiah 5:72-73 CofC). Moreover, Ammon goes on to explain:

…a seer is greater than a prophet… a seer is a revelator, and a prophet also, and a gift which is greater, can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God. But a seer can know of things which have past, and also of things which are to come; And by them shall all things be revealed, or rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them; And also, things shall be made known by them, which otherwise could not be known… Doubtless, a great mystery is contained within these plates; and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men… (Mosiah 5:77-83 CofC).

Thus we will be treated to a story within the story — gold plates within gold plates. And with King Mosiah the seer and his interpreters, we have a precedent for Joseph Smith the seer and his seer stones.

Next week: I’ll be reunited with my books in the winter wonderland of Canada and our reading will be Mosiah 6-8 CofC/Mosiah 9-16 LDS.

* At least it was that temperature Tuesday when I was doing my reading, not so today as I’m posting.

The Gospel According to King Benjamin

book-of-mormon-2This week we’ve jumped into the text of the Book of Mormon proper with Mosiah chapter 1 in the Community of Christ version, which is chapters 1-3 in the LDS version.[1]  Although the dictation process in the initial phase after the loss of the 116 pages was apparently slow and halting, the resulting text was certainly not lacking in ideas and content. Indeed, in this week’s reading we have the first portion of King Benjamin’s sermon — one of the most celebrated components of the Book of Mormon. As a result, this post will run a little longer than my plan for a normal week, but hopefully you’ll find it worthwhile.

As we begin our reading, we find ourselves at the end of the life of King Benjamin. We are told by the narrator that “there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla among all the people which belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days” (Mosiah 1:1 CofC and LDS). As we discussed last week, it’s tempting to speculate that the first part of the Book of Mosiah was lost among the 116 pages (which may well have contained many more lost books than just the lost Book of Lehi). If so, the missing section would presumably have covered a period of warfare prior to this time of peace.

An Introduction to the Text

Although we are picking up mid-story, we are given a bit of an introduction to the overall text in the form of a lesson spoken by King Benjamin to his sons “concerning the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass”:

My son, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God. For it were not possible that our father Lehi could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates… were it not for these things which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God that we might read and understand of his mysteries and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren the Lamanites, which know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct. (Mosiah 1:4-8 CofC/1:3-5 LDS)

This restates the purpose of the text we read in last week’s revelation from the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 2:6a-e CofC/D&C 3:16-20 LDS) in greater detail but with an important difference. In the D&C revelation the “Lamanites” — for which we should read the Native Americans in Joseph Smith’s day[2] — are to be given a written history that will lead them to “believe the Gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ.” In King Benjamin’s teaching, the same dilemma (fro is cited: lacking such a written history, Native Americans refuse to believe “even when they are taught”. But unlike in the D&C where the gospel of Jesus Christ is cited, King Benjamin calls this knowledge the commandments and mysteries of God, (for an important reason we’ll see later in the reading). In King Benjamin’s teaching, the appreciation of the power of text expressed here is something that resonates especially for me.

A Model for Righteous Leadership

King Benjamin next makes a proclamation for all his people to gather to hear a lengthy farewell address, during which he promises he will “give this people a name that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem.” (Mosiah 1:17 CofC/1:11 LDS)[3]

Addressing the gathered multitude, King Benjamin first presents himself as a kind of perfect model of sacred kingship — providing a check list for the righteous exercise of authority, both secular and religious. Since these are a list of his own qualities and acts, he is forced to include a slightly defensive humblebrag: yes, humility should be on the list, so you can be sure “I have not done these things that I might boast…I do not desire to boast…” (Mosiah 1:47-48 CofC/2:15-16 LDS).

As a model leader, King Benjamin has not sought gold, silver, and riches, but he has insisted that his people “keep the commandments of the Lord.” In words that must have been reassuring to readers in the young American republic who had only a few generations previously thrown off the rule of their British monarch King George III, in part, over the issue of taxation, King Benjamin reminds his people he had never caused them to “be laden with taxes” or to bear that “which was grievous to be borne.” (Mosiah 1:43-46 CofC/2:12-14 LDS)

In what I think is a very important message, King Benjamin stresses that his people should not “think that I of myself am more than a mortal man” since “I am like yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities of body and spirit.” (Mosiah 1:40-41 CofC/2:10-11 LDS) Leaders, even kings and prophets, are the same as everyone else.  Indeed, admitting his old age and infirmity, King Benjamin’s address marks his final act as king, since he has decided to retire from his position. (This is an interesting scriptural precedent for leaders retiring from active service to emeritus status, which has been the practice for the prophets and presidents of Community of Christ, but not the LDS Church.)

But the foundation of righteous leadership, in Benjamin’s teaching, is service. In a passage I found lovely, he takes his message of service even further:

Behold, ye have called me your king. And if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then had not ye ought to labor to serve one another? And behold also, if I, who ye call your king — who has spent his days in your service and yet hath been in the service of God — doth merit any thanks from you, O how had you ought to thank your heavenly King! (Mosiah 1:50-51 CofC/2:18-19 LDS)

The Gospel According to King Benjamin

The content of this sermon doesn’t let up. Although we’re skipping a lot — there’s far too much here to cover in one blog post — I want to get to place where King Benjamin fulfills his special promise to reveal a name to his people, which knowledge will make them “distinguished above all people” exiled after the destruction of Jerusalem.

At what is perhaps the core moment of his address, King Benjamin relates a vision of an angel, which I’ll quote here at length:

And he [the angel] said unto me: “Awake and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto thee glad tidings of great joy…

“For behold the time cometh and is not far distant that with power the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, which was and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay;

“And shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases. And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwelleth in the hearts of the children of men.

“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.

“And he shall be called Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary. 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 as a man and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him and shall crucify him. And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world.”

This vision is a brief “gospel” in the sense that it is an account of the life of Jesus with a theological interpretation of its meaning. By way of comparison, the apostle Paul gives an even briefer summary gospel in his first Letter to the Corinthians:

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news (“gospel”) that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8 NRSV)

When someone produces a summary, it can be interesting to observe which details are left in and which are left out. Paul, perhaps tellingly, omits relating anything about the teachings or acts of Jesus in life, focusing solely on his death and the resurrected Christ.[3]  King Benjamin’s summary, by contrast, includes many of the events of Jesus’ life recorded in the four full-length Biblical gospels, while still leaving out any teachings. (I notice that detail, perhaps, because if I were to undertake my own summary, it would probably focus almost exclusively on Jesus’ teachings.)

As in Paul’s theology, the purpose of Jesus Christ’s ministry in King Benjamin’s gospel is “that salvation might come unto the children of men, even through faith on his name.” This idea is explored in considerable detail elsewhere throughout King Benjamin’s address (and Paul’s letters). One critical distinction that King Benjamin makes is that although those who have knowledge of Christ must repent and have faith in Christ to be saved (Mosiah 1:108 CofC/3:12 LDS), Christ’s atonement automatically covers those who are ignorant of Christ’s gospel (Mosiah 1:107 CofC/3:11 LDS), including especially those who die in childhood (Mosiah 1:114-15/3:16 LDS), meaning damnation in King Benjamin’s conception is reserved only for those who have heard the gospel and reject it (Mosiah 1:127-29 CofC/3:25-27 LDS).

Finally, I’m struck by the “high Christology” of King Benjamin’s gospel. Since the death of Jesus, Christians have wrestled with his nature and the relationship between the ideas of Jesus, Christ, the Holy Spirit, God the Father, and God (explorations known as “Christology”). If there is only one, omnipotent God, who is Jesus? Was he simply a righteous man (a very “low Christology”)? Was he a righteous man who was “adopted” by God to become divine (adoptionism)? Was Jesus divine but subordinate to God the Father (Arianism)?  Was Jesus fully divine at birth and only appeared to be a man (docetism)? After centuries of wrangling, the orthodox position emerged that Jesus was both “fully human” and “fully divine” and that there is “one God in three persons.” This doctrine of the Trinity holds that God the Father and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are all one God, but Jesus is not the Father or the Spirit, nor is the Spirit the Father — a very complicated solution that is often described as a “mystery.”

King Benjamin’s calls the pre-existent Christ “the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, which was and is from all eternity to all eternity” and goes on twice to use the formula “Christ the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 1:116,118 CofC/3:17,18 LDS). This strong equation of Christ with the Lord Omnipotent might imply either a Trinitarian outlook, or an even higher Christology — the idea that the pre-existent Christ is God the Father (modalism or Sabellianism). We’ll surely get more hints as we continue.

If you’re reading along and other content-related things popped out at you, please feel free to comment!


Next Week:

Next week’s reading is Mosiah 2-5 (CofC), 4-8 (LDS), where we’ll hear part 2 of King Benjamin’s sermon.


[1] As I noted in the first post outlining the project, the Book of Mormon was only broken up into verses after the schism of 1844.  As a result, the LDS Church and Community of Christ have completely different versification systems.

[2] Because there’s so much content to consider this reading, I want to temporarily side-step a lengthy discussion of race and the Book of Mormon. We will surely have much more to say in future weeks. For now, I’ll say that to my thinking, the Anglo-American worldview of the early 19th century was itself unarguably racist and the Book of Mormon reflects the historical biases of its day, just as Paul’s epistles reflect the biases of the Roman Empire of the 1st century CE. Since we are not reading the Book of Mormon as a history this year, I am not supposing here that the text has anything at all to do with the actual history and pre-history of peoples indigenous to the Western Hemisphere prior to 1492. Instead, I expect the description of Lamanites in the text will tell us about the ideas (and prejudices) of Joseph Smith and other Anglo-Americans in the US of the early 19th century.

[3] According to Biblical stories, the exiles from the fallen kingdoms of Judah and Israel would include those taken to Babylon, those who (like Jeremiah) fled to Egypt, along with the members of the northern kingdom who had previously been removed by the Assyrians.

[4] Paul’s writings pre-date the composition of the four full-length gospels of the Biblical canon, and thus the “summary” in his case would be those details about the life of Jesus that Paul thought were most relevant, based on what Paul might have known from the contemporary oral tradition.


A Couple Stray Observations:

• Last week in the D&C revelation, we were told “neither doth he [God] vary from that which he hath said” (D&C 2:1c CofC/D&C 3:2 LDS) and in this reading the same teaching is repeated: “he [God] never doth vary from that which he hath said” (Mosiah 1:56 CofC/2:32 LDS).

• In explaining why he needed to rehearse his characteristics as ruler to his people, King Benjamin said “I, at this time, have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless and that your blood should not come upon me when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you” (Mosiah 1:64/2:28 LDS).

This reminded me of the theology of King Henry V’s men in the famous scene in Shakespeare (act iv, scene i). The king, in disguise, talks to common soldiers to get a sense of his army’s mood on the eve of battle and at one point states: “methinks I could not die any where so contented as in the king’s company; his cause being just and his quarrel honourable.”

To which the first soldier replies: “That’s more than we know.” The second agrees, saying: “Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know enough, if we know we are the kings subjects: if his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us.” And the third further explains: “But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all ‘We died at such a place;’ some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.”

Henry’s theology is more sophisticated and he disagrees (the text is here), but King Benjamin’s words imply that he may agree with the men.

The Earliest Part of the Book of Mormon

ChapterheaderSample1Although our project this year is to carefully read the Book of Mormon in the order of its composition, the earliest portion of Joseph Smith’s gold plates manuscript was lost (and consequently did not make its way into the Book of Mormon when it was published in 1830).

The first phase of the writing began after Joseph and Emma moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, where her father Isaac Hale set them up with a small house of their own in December of 1828. The composition process was oral: Joseph dictated and Emma wrote down the text. Martin Harris, who was emerging as the chief financier of the project, visited a couple times in early 1829 before relocating to Harmony on April 12 and taking up work as the principal scribe.[1] By the middle of June, a significant portion of the work was complete and Martin convinced Joseph to let him take the working manuscript back to Palmyra, where it was stolen and probably destroyed.

The lost section is generally called the “116 pages,” (although that figure refers to the number of pages of the later replacement manuscript covering the lost section and not the actual number of pages lost). This first section is also called the “Book of Lehi.” From the later internal narrative of the Book of Mormon, the lost text was said to have been first part of an abridgment or edited summary of a much longer collection of records. The Book of Mormon takes its name from Mormon, who was the editor of the abridgment. Properly speaking this name should only refer to the lost 116 pages and the section of the text from “Words of Mormon” through the “Book of Mormon” within the Book of Mormon, i.e., because the Book of First Nephi through the Book of Omni, and then the Book of Ether and the Book of Moroni are not meant to have been part of Mormon’s abridgment.

We’ll explore the device of texts within the text in future weeks; suffice to say that that although we’re attempting to read the book in the order it was composed this year, we can’t start with the original beginning because it is lost. However, we do have something else. (If you’re following along in our weekly readings, you’ll already know what that something is.) In July of 1828, Joseph dictated a new text — with Emma once again replacing Martin as scribe. Joseph used the same procedure that he had been employing to dictate the Book of Mormon with the key difference that the plates were not involved at all, even conceptually. The result was an original message of rebuke, but also consolation. (Because of later alterations when the text was published in the Book of Commandments and again when included in the Doctrine and Covenants, I’m quoting here from the text as copied into the “Revelation Book 1” manuscript, transcribed by the Joseph Smith Papers Project.)

Beginning with the assurance that “the works & designs & the Purposes of God cannot be frustrated”, we read: “although a man may have many Revelations & have power to do many Mighty works yet if he boast in his own strength & Sets at naught the councils of God & follows after the dictates of his will & carnal desires he must fall to the Earth & incur the vengence of a Just God”.[2]  However, the warning is probationary: Joseph has messed up, but he’s going to get a second chance:

[B]ehold thou art Joseph & thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord but because of transgression thou mayest fall but remember God is merciful therefore repent of that which thou hast done & he will only cause thee to be afflicted for a season & thou art still chosen & will & will again be called to the work & except Thou do this thou shalt be delivered up & become as other men & have no more gift[.][3]

In the first several paragraphs, God is referred to in the third person (he, his) and Joseph in the second (you, your, thou, thee, thy) as if the Joseph who is dictating the text is acting as a kind of disembodied narrator to the Joseph who is receiving the message. However, that changes briefly in the final paragraph[4]:

[F]or as the knowledge of a Saveiour hath come to the world so shall the knowledge of my People the Nephities & the Jacobites & the Josephites & the Lamanites come to the Lamanites knowledge of the Lamanites & the Lamanites [Lemuelites] & the Ishmaelites which dwindeled in unbelief because of the iniquities of their Fathers who hath been suffered to destroy their Brethren because of their iniquities & their Abominations & for this very Purpose are these Plates prepared which contain these Records that the Promises of the Lord might be fulfilled which he made to his People & that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their Fathers & that they may know the Promises of the Lord that they may believe the Gospel & rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ & that they might be glorified through faith in his name & that they might repent & be Saved Amen[.]

With the phrase “my People the Nephites,” Joseph appears to slip into the prophetic voice for the first time — moving from the indirect discourse of God speaking of his people to the direct discourse of God speaking about “my people” in the first person.[5] (And I say “appear to slip” in because by the end with “his People” and “his name” he has already slipped back out again.) Joseph’s use of the prophet voice (which will build considerably in future revelations) was a restoration or imitation of ancient Israelite prophets, as recorded in the Hebrew Bible, who presumed to speak messages of rebuke, counsel, and hope to people and individuals, invoking God in the first person.

Thus, out of the crisis of the lost text, we have the start of something new: Joseph the seer is now beginning to act as Joseph the prophet. Ultimately, the assertion of direct revelation was probably just as important as the publication of the Book of Mormon for the foundation of the Latter Day Saint movement that followed. But as the first instance illustrates, the history and forms of both are intertwined.

We can note also that in addition to rehearsing some of the contents of the lost text — it was apparently a story about the Nephites, Jacobites, and Josephites who were destroyed because of their iniquities and abominations by the Lamanites, [Lemuelites], and Ishmaelites — we also are told the purpose of the work: to give the “Lamanites” a history that will lead to belief in Jesus Christ and ultimate salvation. We’ll surely talk more about all of the above in the weeks to come.

Next week’s assignment: Mosiah 1 (CofC); Mosiah 1-3 (LDS).



[1] An extremely useful chronology of this period is found in Dan Vogel (ed.) Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. (Signature Books, 1996-2003), 5:337-456. A briefer, but still useful chronology can be found in Grant Hardy (ed.) The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (University of Illinois, 2003), 643-52.

[2] In the original, the scribe wrote “the words of designs” but crossed out “words of” correcting the text to read “works & designs”. See: http://josephsmithpapers.org/ : the-papers, Revelations and Translations, Manuscript Revlation Books (2), Revelation Book 1, pages 3-4.

[3] Later edits will soften this rebuke somewhat. When published in the 1833 Book of Commandments as “Chapter II”: “thou mayest fall” becomes “if thou art not aware thou wilt fall.” And by the time the same text was included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as “Section XXX,” the line “therefore repent of that which thou has done & he will only cause thee to be afflicted for a season & thou art still chosen” became “therefore repent of that which thou hast done, which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen”.

[4] This changed when the text was edited. The text in the Book of Commandments read: “Therefore, repent of that which thou has done, and he will only cause thee to be afflicted for a season, and thou are still chosen…” The altered text in the D&C reads: “therefore, repent of that which thou hast done, which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen…” which retroactively introduces God as “I”.

[5] These prophetic compositions (now usually referred to as “revelations”) were often initially called “commandments” and were collected, edited, and published in the Book of Commandments (1833). They were later edited again and rebranded as “covenants” when included in the Doctrine and Covenants (1835). This first revelation became “Chapter II” of the Book of Commandments and “Section XXX” of the 1835 D&C. (It’s now Community of Christ D&C 2 and LDS D&C 3.)

This series is cross-posted on Wheat and Tares.

Reading the Book of Mormon in 2014 with Fresh Eyes

BooksOfMormonIn the new year 2014, I’m going to read the Book of Mormon.

I’ve opined more than once that as a major work of American literature, the Book of Mormon is unfairly ignored by readers outside the Restoration tradition. I believe the book can (and should) be read as an epic of the young American republic in the first generations after the revolution. With a few exceptions like Harold Bloom, most non-Mormons have either followed Mark Twain’s humorous panning of the text (as impenetrably boring)[1] or they’ve disregarded it altogether.

Even within the Restoration tradition, the book has tended to be used in particular ways. For the earliest members in the 1830s, the Book of Mormon was apparently more important as a sign of the end times and prophetic authority than as a source of theological content for preaching.[2] Over the years I suspect that readers within the tradition have tended to read the text as a history book — in keeping with the idea that the religion of Mormonism has history in place of a systematic theology. Recently, for many readers committed to reading the text as a literalistic history of the ancient Americas, this has led (in my opinion) to substantial distortions of its original meaning as the book is reframed through the prism of our ever-expanding knowledge of actual Meso-American history.  (In Community of Christ, it’s been read less and less according to informal feedback from members in my own congregation and around North America, with many people unsure how to approach the book anymore.)

I’m planning to approach the text differently. Instead of reading the book as a sign of Joseph Smith’s prophetic authority or the authority of one of the successor churches of the religious movement he helped found or trying to read into it a history of the ancient Mayans or Olmecs, I’m intending to read the Book of Mormon for its theological and philosophical content. To better understand this content, I’ll attempt to place it within Joseph Smith’s immediate context — the fervent North American Protestant religious revival in early the 19th century known as the “Second Great Awakening.” I’ll try to read the stories for what they are trying to teach as stories, rather than as histories of past events. I hope to track the early development of Joseph Smith’s religious thinking and how it influenced the early Restoration, but I also want to see how I will find meaning in the Book of Mormon’s theology and philosophy for those of us living now in the 21st century.

I think I’m returning to the Book of Mormon with a unique vantage. On the one hand, I’m fairly knowledgeable about the background history of its composition and publication and I think I’m rather familiar with its contents in a general sense. But I haven’t actually read the book cover to cover since I was a young teenager. I’m therefore approaching the text with eyes that are at once informed but also somewhat fresh.

I also come at the text armed with a different understanding of scripture than many other faithful members of Restoration traditions that are more literalistic. My views are largely in keeping with Community of Christ’s statement on scripture. This view includes the idea that scripture is not inerrant scientifically or historically. Rather, scripture is a human response to the Divine and the prophet or evangelist who authored the text was subject to the biases and errors inherent in his or her historical context. Rather than excuse ethical or philosophically bad teachings in scripture, in my view we need to understand them for what they are and use them to help us explore the ethical and philosophical questions we face in our lives today.

My own bias at the outset includes my belief that the Book of Mormon is a work of 19th century scripture, composed orally by Joseph Smith and written down by various scribes (especially Oliver Cowdery). If you believe the text is a translation of an ancient American text, I think you may still derive benefit from reading along with me and examining the text in a different light. However, the resulting discussion will not be a forum for historicity debates; those can be held elsewhere. Similarly, if you aren’t sure about or don’t believe in God or have value for the word or concept of “scripture,” I think you may still benefit from reading along and examining the book’s content in context.

Scope of the Project / How You Can Read Along

The text of the Book of Mormon as we have it today is different from the text as it was composed. Thousands of edits were made in Joseph Smith’s lifetime and the different churches and publishers made subsequent changes. One of the biggest changes was the division of the book into numbered verses, which each church did on its own. The LDS Church also divided the long, original chapters into shorter chapters — thus the chapter and versification between the Community of Christ and LDS versions are entirely different. (I’ll cite both reference systems as I post.) To get at the earliest text, I’m going to do my principal reading from Royal Skousen’s The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (Yale, 2009). I’ll supplement it using Grant Hardy’s The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (University of Illinois, 2003) for the LDS text along with my copy of the Community of Christ’s “Authorized Edition” of the Book of Mormon (Herald House, 1992).

In order to take in the development of the Book of Mormon’s ideas, I’m going to read it in the order it was composed, rather than in the order of its internal chronology. The earliest part of the text is famously lost: the so-called “116 Pages” given to Martin Harris. When Joseph began to compose again, he started at the point of the narrative where he’d left off with the story of King Benjamin in the Book of Mosiah. He then dictated the text to the end of the Book of Moroni before starting in on I and II Nephi through Words of Mormon. Using that order, I’ve divided the book into reading sections, which I’m posting here for anyone who wants to read along. Each Wednesday I’ll publish a blog post with my reflections on that week’s reading and we can share in discussion here.

My first post will be next Wednesday (on New Year’s Day), where we’ll talk a little bit about the book’s composition process and the original, lost part of the text. Since we don’t have the “116 Pages,” our reading will come from the Doctrine and Covenants (Community of Christ Section 2, which is LDS Section 3).

Next year I’m teaching adult Sunday School in the Toronto congregation who will be reading along with me and discussing the text each Sunday at 10 am.  I’ll be posting posting on Wheat and Tares for the Mormon audience and here for the Community of Christ audience.  Feel free to read along and join us!




[1] Mark Twain, Roughing It (1872). Twain devotes chapter 16 to a humorous review of the Book of Mormon. Although Twain’s quip that the book “is chloroform in print” is much quoted, the joke no longer translates as people have ceased to remember chloroform as a sleep-inducing anesthetic. I much prefer Twain’s take on the Eight Witnesses, which still holds up: “I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.”

[2] In her study of the writings of William McLellin, one of the original Latter Day Saint apostles, Jan Shipps noted that “although the Book of Mormon is always mentioned, at only three points does this extended account of six years for Mormon preaching in the early 1830s [i.e., McLellin’s journals] indicate that this scripture was used as a source for sermon texts.” More important than its content for early members was “the fact of the book” and “its coming forth a the opening event in the dispensation that was serving as the ‘winding-up scene’ before the curtain rose on the eschaton.” See Jan Shipps, “Another Side of Early Mormonism,” in The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831-1836, eds. Jan Shipps and John W. Welch (BYU Studies and University of Illinois Press, 1994), 6.

Where I Find Beauty in Christianity

I would not call my father an ultra-deep religious thinker, at least not openly. He has been a church-going Catholic for over five decades, just like his parents and their parents so on and so forth. Yet even in his quiet devotion, he has come up with some gems over the years. One such pearl of great price is his emphasis on religion and beliefs being personal and determined by the individual first and foremost. That will serve as the basis of this post. However, as a corollary, I think beliefs should involve the input of others, so I encourage comments as a way of stimulating thought and inquiry.emmaus

Christianity is, for me, rooted in the present. At the same time, it is also rooted in Jesus of Nazareth. I try not to get caught up in the death of Jesus, because although that has played an important role in much of Christian history, I don’t think it captures the essence of the “Jesus movement.” In contrast to the Stoic resignation which had enabled the socioeconomic and political domination of a small percentage of elites, the message of Jesus was one of nonviolent action. The kingdom of God is a reality for the present, for the here and now. Unlike the Maccabees of a century earlier, the power of the Jesus movement and its ability to last would be based on its inclusiveness, justice, compassion, and focus on living intimately with God in this life, rather than violent revolt which provided only a temporary solution.

While I hold the physical life of Jesus in high esteem, I keep the resurrection just as close to my heart. I choose, however, not to view it as a climax because that connotes finality. I find little satisfaction in viewing the resurrection as an event which took place on a single day, in which the body of Jesus walked out of a grave. I am unable to relate to such an occurrence. Most likely, the disciples fled while Jesus was on the cross, his body was buried amongst other crucifixion victims, and he was left alone. Yet it is that situation that demonstrates the power of the Jesus movement. Most other disciples, when their leader had died, would have abandoned their dream of radical change. The disciples of Jesus however, as days, months, and even years went by, realized that it was more than a man who made the movement. The kingdom was waiting to be unleashed, and the presence of Jesus was inscribed forever on their hearts. The resurrection is much more powerful than a body rising from a grave. It is an experience which can be partaken of even today. The despair the poor, socially marginalized disciples had to overcome is testament to the dying and rising that occurs everyday. Despair is the closest we can come to death, meaninglessness, and emptiness; rather than stoic resignation, the resurrection calls for us to conquer despair. The resurrection is a courage to overcome the forces which bind us in this life. I try to embrace it. That, for me, is the crux of where I find beauty in Christianity.

This powerful experience could only be described in metaphorical, physical language. The stories the Gospel writers used are powerful expressions of the meaning of the resurrection. Perhaps the most common symbol is Jesus as the paschal lamb, sacrificing himself as a ransom for atonement. While this may be one image which has been developed more than others, it is certainly not the only one. However, its meaning extends into the heart of Jewish Christianity in the first century. No longer would the bonds of sin and legalism hold back anyone from the God accessible to all.

A favorite of mine is the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. This captures the despair which the disciples must have experienced. Two of them are walking and meet a man (Jesus) whom they do not recognize. They sadly recount all that as happened, but the man encourages them, saying it was all meant to happen. As they eat the disciples recognize the man as Jesus, and he vanishes. It concludes by stating how they recognized him in breaking bread. The meal is integral to Christianity. It represents friendship, openness, and acceptance. Those virtues are representative of the kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus. Even early in his mission, it is emphasized that Jesus opened up the table to all who desired. This story is at the heart of Christianity, and the call to courage and action manifested in the resurrection.

During this holiday season, I am immensely grateful for my Christian upbringing. I am also thankful that I have been able to explore and, as my dad has said, make my beliefs personal.

“How Blessed the Day when the Lamb and the Lion…”

I know I’m not alone when I confess that my favorite hymn is “The Spirit of God like a Fire Is Burning.” The song holds a special place in Restoration history as the last entry included in Emma Smith’s original 1836 hymnal, and was sung as part of the dedication ceremony for Kirtland Temple.  I always enjoy singing it, but the most special times I remember have been in the temple itself:  (1) during a interdenominational Latter Day Saint service at a John Whitmer Historical Association conference, (2) during the dedication of the new temple visitors center, and (3) during a worship service at an Affirmation conference.

We in Community of Christ sing the song a little differently than our Utah cousins.  Some of the notes are different, especially in the chorus.  We have the “…a-ar-mies of hea-eav-en, Ho-sa-nah…” while the LDS version adds more notes “…a-ar-mies of hea-ea-ve-en, Ho-o-sa-nah…”*  Also, in the Utah tradition, the hymn tends to be sung slowly and ponderously, while it’s way more up-beat in the Community of Christ tradition.

When I first encountered the text in the 1981 maroon RLDS hymnal, Hymns of the Saints, I was surprised to discover one additional difference: only three verses of the hymn were included.  The LDS version includes four verses culminating with:

How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion
Shall lie down together without any ire.
And Ephraim be crowned with his blessings in Zion,
As Jesus descends with his chariots of fire!

The original hymn actually had six verses of which “How blessed the day…” was the last.  Apparently both churches agree that verses four and five were worth skipping.  These are “We’ll wash and be wash’d and with oil be anointed, withal not omitting the washing of feet. For he that receiveth his penny appointed, must surely be clean at the harvest of wheat,” and “Old Israel that fled from the world for his freedom, must come with the cloud and the pillar amain; a Moses, an Aaron, a Joshua lead him, and feed him on manna from heaven again.”  While it might be interesting to speculate who lyricist W.W. Phelps considered Moses, Aaron, and Joshua — Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon for the first two, perhaps Lyman Wight (the general of Zion’s Camp) for the latter? — I feel like we aren’t losing too much by pruning these off.

CommunityOfChristLogoBut it’s a shame to lose the lamb and the lion in Zion verse.  After all, this was the RLDS verse!  Since the late 19th century, the church seal has been a picture of the lamb, lion, and child emblazoned with the motto “Peace.” It’s a Restoration distinctive going back to Kirtland, but for some reason it was omitted from the 1981 hymnal.  (In fact, I have one of the previous gray 1956 RLDS hymnals and I see the verse was already missing back then.)  While the “Ephraim be crowned…” bit is a little weird (referring to an early Restoration notion that Latter Day Saints were somehow literally descended from the Biblical tribe of Ephraim), the offending imagery was probably Jesus in the chariot of fire — evoking a much more militant concept of the vision of the lamb and the lion than is consonant with the church’s “Peace” motto.

When I got a hold of a copy of the new Community of Christ Sings hymnal this week, I immediately looked for my favorite hymn.  (I’m excited for all the new hymns, but first thing’s first.)  I was pleasantly surprised to see what I had always thought of as the RLDS verse restored — or rather, a new and improved Community of Christ “How blessed the day…” verse has been added:

How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion
shall lie down together in peace with a child.
With one heart and mind may the Lord call us Zion:
a people of justice, by God’s love inspired.

Beautiful!  Can’t wait to sing it in the temple.


* According to the version printed in the hymnal published independently by J.C. Little and G.B. Gardner — the first Latter Day Saint hymnal that included music — the Community of Christ version is closer to the original.  However, in the Little and Gardner version there are additional notes in the first part of the chorus: “We’ll si-ing and we’ll shou-out…”  See Richard Clothier, 150 Years of Song: Hymnody in the Reorganization, 1860–2010, (Herald Publishing House: Independence, Missouri, 2010), 14–16.