a uniting concept from Joe Spencer’s “An Other Testament”

One of the key concepts Joe Spencer discusses in his illuminating book, “An Other Testament” (available at Salt Press ), he explains that a change occurs among the Nephites in regards to understanding Isaiah 52 and the covenant between God and Israel.

For Nephi, man’s relationship with God and the atonement had to do with the covenant. Later, due to necessity, Abinadi changes the understanding of the covenant from one dealing with the nation to one dealing with the individual via the atonement of Christ.  Later, Christ would reestablish Nephi’s understanding, without ridding us of Abinadi’s teaching.

I’ve been thinking of this and thought I’d add some thoughts of my own in connection with this.  Nephi symbolizes Abraham.  God made a covenant with both Abraham and Nephi in conjunction with their descendants as a group.  Nephi actually understand baptism in this manner. In 2 Ne 31, he explains the “Doctrine of Christ” as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost being “one God” and we are to be one through following the steps of Christ: faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost.  Baptism becomes the gate through which we learn to be one with each other and the Godhead.

Abinadi represents Moses, and his face shines as Moses’ did as he relates the 10 Commandments. For Abinadi, he changes the understanding of Isaiah 52 and baptism to be an ends in itself for salvation. It is now an individual’s ordinance, so Abinadi focused on one’s personal relationship with Christ and the atonement. This is not wrong, but is incomplete.  We see its emphasis through Alma’s baptizing of his flock (Mosiah 18), etc.

In 3 Nephi 11, Christ reestablishes baptism, not because authority was lost or that the baptism was wrong, but to reemphasize the covenant of Nephi.  Again, we learn of the “Doctrine of Christ” which is that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are “one God”, and we are to be one, even as they are. The pattern to follow is as Nephi taught: faith, repentance, baptism and Holy Ghost. While Christ blesses individuals, his focus is on the whole covenant people, foreseeing their future collapse and restoration, etc.  All of this in anticipation of them becoming one in Christ.

Today, we see baptism much in the way Abinadi did: as an individual ordinance that ties us in with the atonement of Christ. This is correct, but as with the Mosaic law, we find there is more that completes it. As Joe notes, the Mosaic Law should be viewed as a gift of grace for ancient Israel, not just a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ.  Baptism is connected to the Aaronic Priesthood, which provides the keys of the Terrestrial kingdom.

 

But we can consider baptism in light of the “Doctrine of Christ”. It opens the gate for higher ordinances that lead us from an individual salvation through Christ to a uniting covenant of the people. Both the endowment and sealing in the temple are ordinances that unite us as a covenant people in heart, mind and voice.  These ordinances reflect the covenant God made with Abraham and with Nephi, of uniting their descendants as an eternal people.

Joe notes that in focusing entirely on Abinadi’s covenant of baptism, we miss out on some very important doctrines of Christ. I highly agree.  Perhaps some of my thoughts here can be a beginning of discussion.  Perhaps there are better ways to consider it than what I’ve suggested.

Thoughts?

 

11 thoughts on “a uniting concept from Joe Spencer’s “An Other Testament”

  1. Weren’t the covenents the Lord made with Nephi (regarding occupying the land, righteousness brings blessings, and wickedness brings destruction) the same ones the Lord made with Lehi?

    I’ll have to go check, but I think the covenants were first made to Lehi, then re-affirmed with Nephi. Like how the Abrahamic covenant was re-affirmed with Isaac and then again with Jacob.

    And as Lehi was father to a branch that was unrighteous for a while (via Laman and Lemuel), so was Abraham (via Ishmael) and Isaac (via Esau).

  2. As Abraham saw his covenant passing through Isaac (and not Ishmael or his other sons), I see Lehi’s covenant passing through Nephi as the son given the birthright.

    So, Isaac and Jacob become Abraham, in that they become the possessors of that covenantal promise. Nephi inherits that same covenant, as he and his father discover they descend from Joseph (who also obtained the promise and birthright).

    The point isn’t about blessing for righteousness, curses for wickedness, although those are part of the equation. It is about covenant with God – whether it is just an individual action or a community event. Baptism becomes individualistic under Abinadi/Alma, but was viewed by Nephi as entrance (a gate) into the community’s covenant with God.

    Today, most LDS seem to separate out the ordinance of baptism from the other ordinances, thinking it is highly individualistic. We think of it in terms of Abinadi’s teachings. However, if we were to see it as the gateway to communal unity in the temple ordinances, we would see an entirely different level to the baptismal covenant.

    BTW, baptism is not revealed by Lehi, but by Nephi. Nephi sees it as the ordinance to enter into the covenant.

  3. I would agree that as for comparative relationship of covenants, Lehi = Abaraham (original covenant of promised land, righteousness and blessings, etc), and Nephi = Isaac (renewal of covenant). Moreover, it seems apparent that Enos (as the third generation, although he is the son of Jacob) saw himself as a type of Jacob- wrestling, and receiving again, a renewal of covenant for posterity.

    I would also agree with Ram about differing ideas of baptism as individualistic as well as communal based. It would greatly enhance the understanding of the saints if we could simultaneously understand both of those concepts.

  4. Rew, excellent points. I like the idea of Enos being the third generation of the covenant.

    Joe Spencer actually notes that Abinadi gets the initial impetus of the individual covenant from Jacob, brother of Nephi.

    While Enos seeks first his own forgiveness, he then looks to the community (Nephites and then Lehites), and their relationship with the covenant.

    Preserving and restoration of the record becomes part of the covenant, it seems, as it represents the community’s history and sense of being. Enos would unite the community again under the covenant, and understands that the records are a key in preserving the covenant and transmitting it to the future generations.

  5. Ram, Ok. But I still think you’re shorting Lehi somehow. I don’t think Nephi knew anything that Lehi didn’t already know. Though there is a detail or two in the iron-rod/tree dream. However, that doesn’t mean Lehi didn’t notice or didn’t understand that detail, just that he didn’t verbally communicate it to Nephi.

    We don’t know what all Lehi taught or revealed to his family since we don’t have his (Lehi’s) record. We only have Nephi’s record, and his shortened/abridged record at that. So yes, Lehi doesn’t reveal baptism _to us_, through Nephi’s record. But that’s not really saying much.

    If Lehi had talked about baptism in the Book of Lehi, Nephi may have decided that he didn’t need to repeat his father’s teachings on the matter, and merely added his own teachings as reaffirmation of his father’s, that is, as a 2nd witness.

    I think we have to assume that neither Nephi nor Mormon knew at the time that the Book of Lehi was going to be lost to us. Therefore I think 1st and 2nd Nephi were written under the assumption that we were going to have the Book of Lehi.

  6. Nephi wrote HIS book in a way to describe Himself as the leader/prophet of a new nation. What we get from Lehi are the things that Nephi interprets for us (as he interprets Isaiah).

    We do not know what Lehi wrote about, as we do not have the record. So, all we can do is assume what was on that record. We do not know if Lehi had as detailed an understanding of the Messiah as Nephi had. For me, Nephi and Mormon describe a developing understanding of the Messiah. In fact, it seems as if it has to be reintroduced a few times. Jacob announces Jesus’ name, and later King Benjamin also has to have it revealed to him by an angel. It seems the plates of Nephi may have become lost in the archives by that time, if information had to be revealed anew.

    What we can do is say what Nephi claims for himself and his father. Since Lehi does not go into detail on Jesus and the revelations of John, we can just as easily presume that only Nephi shared this OR Lehi did not share it with his family.

  7. First, Rameumptom, I’m flattered by the interest you’re taking in my humble book. You have my thanks. I think you’ve summarized some of my larger points well, and I’m glad to see you attempting to go further with them. I don’t know that I’ve anything in particular to add at the moment to the original post, however. I’m just interested to see what others might say. (That is to say, I have thousands of things I’d like to add, but I think I’d prefer to see what I can learn by sitting back a bit.)

    A few thoughts, nonetheless, in response to Bookslinger:

    Lehi’s place in the Book of Mormon as we have it is complex. We have no “Book of Lehi,” nor are we terribly sure how much it would have had to say about or from Lehi’s perspective. (It’s hard to know how much time it would have spent on Lehi, since it apparently covered four hundred years of history, and it’s unlikely it would have done so in the too-rapid fashion of the shorter small plates books.) Even more troubling, though, is the somewhat ambivalent role Lehi plays in the story Nephi tells. Grant Hardy does a good job tracking down subtle tensions between Nephi and his father in the record, and more remains to be done in thinking about Nephi’s relationship to his father.

    All that said, you’re absolutely right that Lehi deserves more attention. In my own work, I consistently call the covenant Nephi articulates “the Lehitic covenant,” emphasizing precisely what you point out—that this all began with Lehi. It’s curious, however, that we don’t learn directly about Lehi’s reception of the covenant until 2 Nephi 1 (except, maybe, for an indirect hint in 1 Nephi 5), while we get an account of Nephi’s reception of it in 1 Nephi 2.

    We need to do more work mining the details concerning Lehi. (I understand that Don Bradley’s forthcoming book on Lehi will do a good deal of this work. I’ve not read it yet.) What do 1 Nephi 1 and 1 Nephi 10 tell us about Lehi’s theological proclivities? (There is, in those two chapters, an incipient Lehite messianism that is ostensibly distinct from Nephi’s.) What’s really going on in Lehi’s dream, and what is its relation to Nephi’s vision? (I tend to draw a rather sharp line of distinction between the two, convinced that Nephi had a pretty different sort of vision—though some or much of what he saw that outstripped Lehi’s dream may be things Lehi saw in his much-more-clearly-apocalyptic visions in 1 Nephi 1.) What might we discern about Lehi from texts like 2 Nephi 2? (That chapter is most provocative, and there’s good reason to do serious theological work on it. On that note, I’m happy to announce that the next Mormon Theology Seminar project will be on 2 Nephi 2.)

    And so on. I think I can agree that there wasn’t much Nephi knew that Lehi didn’t know. But I doubt they had anything like the same perspective on the things they knew, so that it doesn’t mean much to say that they knew the same things. Nephi gave a strong and unmistakably unique theological cast to something Lehi saw in drastically different terms. That’s certainly important.

    And I think I need to mention, since it has come up in the course of the discussion. Nephi wrote his record for a very specific reason that we pay almost no attention to: to get his descendants to write the Book of Mormon. Nephi seems only to have figured out in the last pages of his writings that his own words might actually end up in the book he had seen in vision. Before that point, his aim was to spur his children to the task of producing the book he knew would play a central role in the unfolding of the covenant.

  8. A couple interesting thoughts that hit me as I was thinking about this last night.

    We’ve discussed how Lehi, Nephi and Abinadi represent Abraham, Isaac and Moses. It got me wondering on what Alma’s role in this would be. It seems to me that Alma becomes Abinadi’s voice to the people. At first, I thought, perhaps he represents a Joshua, as successor to Moses. However, it may be that he more resembles Aaron and his sons as the successors as high priests. As Joe notes that Abinadi’s covenant is an important, albeit lesser, grace from God, so is the Aaronic covenant an important but lesser grace.

    Second, in my thoughts on individual vs the unity of community in the covenant, I thought about the theophanies we find in the BoM.

    Lehi’s theophany (1 Ne 1) shows him accepted into the divine council. Christ and his 12 apostles descend from the throne room, give him a book to read. Upon reading, he is able to praise God and prophesy, even as the archangels do in council with God. He is brought into unity of the covenant with the divine council.

    Nephi and Lehi, in the Vision of the Tree of Life, have a guide. Lehi’s vision is definitely tied to family and its unity (he calls for them to join him at the Tree). In a different form of the vision, Nephi is brought into the divine council wherein they show him the events of the future regarding his people. Again, we are looking a community of covenant, Nephi and his people.

    Contrast this with Alma the Younger’s theophany (Alma 36). Alma is alone. When he repents and sees God, it is from a distance. He can see the divine council praising God and prophesying. From a distance. He wishes he could be with them. There is a longing for the covenant of the divine community, but he does not receive it (at least not at that time).

    The question is whether Alma’s theophany is distinct because he’s barely begun his walk in the light and has not yet become holy enough to be part of the divine council, or if Abinadi’s teachings of individual salvation may have some affect on this (remember, Alma repents only after remembering the words of his father regarding Christ).

    There definitely are some interesting things to consider here.

  9. Very interesting points, Rameumptom, about the two kinds of throne-visions, and how they parallel the authors’ teaching emphases.

    I have a question about the two strands being examined (Nephi/communal salvation, and Abinadi/individual salvation). When I read Joe Spencer’s “Prolegomena to Any Future Study of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” I tried to summarize his points in a chart, which you can see at this article on my site. You’ll notice, though, that there is a counter-intuitive row that doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the pattern: the emphasized purpose of baptism. Nephi emphasizes remission of sins / receiving the Holy Ghost, while Abinadi/Alma emphaize supporting other members of the new community.

    In a follow-up article I interviewed Joe and asked him about that (see under point number 7). He agreed that it’s not what you would expect, given the rest of the items in the pattern.

    So I guess this is my question: Why this exception to the pattern? Am I omitting important data in my summary chart? For example, if we looked at Nephi’s teachings more broadly, would we find he emphasized community more than he discussed individual forgiveness? Would we find the opposite for Abinadi? Is this apparent exception just the result of my having only looked at a handful of passages?

    Or, are these counter-intuitive baptismal teachings not really exceptions? Do they actually support the pattern in some way I/we haven’t seen yet?

  10. First, I would imagine some overlap. Second, a closer look at the baptismal covenants suggested by Nephi/Christ and Abinadi/Alma may give some clues.

    In Alma’s serving others, we are not necessarily looking at the original covenant of unity. But Alma would still seek to have some unity among his people. Service becomes a very important issue for Alma (King Benjamin, etc) that is not discussed by Nephi (that I’ve noticed). For Alma, it is possible that the teachings of King Benjamin/Abinadi are more focused on service to other individuals, rather than a focus on unity. There is no discussion of a united community in the covenant, even though they may still arrive at that unity.

    For Nephi (2 Ne 31) and Jesus (3 Ne 11) the focus of the baptismal covenant is unity. Jesus teaches there are two doctrines: his and Satan’s. Satan’s doctrine is contention. Jesus tells us that his doctrine is that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are “one God”, and then explains that the manner for us to gain such unity is through faith, repentance, baptism/ordinance/covenant, and the Holy Ghost.

    The rest of Jesus’ teachings to the Nephites are all focused on us becoming one with each other and with the Godhead (what manner of men ought ye to be?; be ye perfect even as I or your Father).

    So, while it seems backwards, I see it as actually supporting Joe’s contention. We are going to see some overlap. However, in this instance, it is the reasoning behind it: serving another is not the same as having a communal covenant. Nephi/Jesus’ first principles and ordinances are specifically tied to the Godhead’s unity.

    Another thing is that baptism is a one time thing for Alma.

    Nephi and Jesus see it as a process. It fits in with justification and sanctification: through faith and repentance, we receive the grace of justification/sinlessness in Christ’s blood. In making/receiving covenants with their attached ordinances, we receive the Holy Ghost, which sanctifies us/makes us holy.

    D&C 93 explains that Jesus had to go from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace, until he received a fulness of grace or being one with God. This is the pattern for us. As we grow in faith, repent, receive new/renew ordinances/covenants, we are filled with a greater portion of the Holy Ghost, making us even more holy. Eventually, we will gain a fulness also. A fulness of what? Being one with the Godhead.

    Clearly there is such a difference in these. Jesus noted contention among the Nephites regarding baptism. He then explains Nephi’s version of the covenant, clarifying and removing the contention. Those who already were baptized before, now had to be baptized anew, and receive the new ordinance of the Sacrament in place of the Law of Moses/Abinadi.

    Joe noted in his book that the 10 Commandments are a gift of grace given that led to the higher law. Abinadi/Alma’s baptism is a gift of grace that led to the higher baptism. Service to others is important, but is encapsulated within becoming One.

  11. Rameumptom, thanks for that. I find very persuasive your explanation of how, while there are common teachings and practices in both threads, “it is the reasoning behind it” that differs. Very good.

    That’s another interesting idea, that the Abinadi thread would emphasize baptism as being done only once, since it is about a requirement for personal salvation, but the Nephi thread could involve multiple baptisms as part of a process. That Nephi emphasis would also correspond to partaking the sacrament, since that is a way of renewing baptism repeatedly, in the process of sanctification. Hence the Savior, in renewing the Nephi thread, also instituted the sacrament. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any time before that in the Book of Mormon where the sacrament was performed. Can anyone else think of one?

    I also thought the debate about the baptismal prayer was interesting (see the last row of my chart). That’s because this exact same debate is still going on today in the Christian world. On my mission to El Salvador (1997-99), I was asked literally dozens of times by people we talked to on the street whether we baptized in the name of Jesus Christ or of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It was almost a “test” question of our orthodoxy, to see whether we were worth investigating further. There were some people who held to one view, and some to the other. The answer I gave, which I luckily heard from an MTC speaker, was “both” (in the name of the three, but also “having been commissioned of Jesus Christ”). I find it interesting that that is still an active and unresolved debate in some Christian circles. Before reading Joe’s article (and this summary), I don’t think I ever would have connected it to a parallel debate about whether baptism is for individual salvation or communal covenant.

Comments are closed.