Mosiah 15 and D&C 93: Divine Investiture or Swedenborgian?

In my post on Book of Mormon Doctrine of Deity, Divine Investiture, Representational Modalism, I mentioned the idea that some people hold up Mosiah 15:1-5 as proof that Joseph Smith (as supposed author of the Book of Mormon) originally wrote the Book of Mormon to support a Swedenborgian view of God (aka Serial Modalism) where The Father is a spirit that took on a body called Jesus.

In my opinion, this point of view ignores a lot of facts or at least force fits them. For example, the Book of Mormon also presents both the Spirit of the Lord as being a person as well as the premortal Jesus. It also presents the premortal Jesus as talking from Heaven as a personality separate from the Father.

But there is a bigger problem I have with the assumption that Mosiah 15:1-5 can only be historically read as Swedenborgian and thus (we are told) we must assume Joseph Smith meant it that way.

It’s D&C 93.

Do Joseph Smith’s own writings count as counter evidence if he explicitly tells us what he means?

If we take Joseph Smiths’ revelations as historical documents and as “his” writings, then I’d have to say D&C 93 completely undermines the Swedenborgian interpretation of Mosiah 15:1-5 in favor of a Representational Modalism / Divine Investiture interpretation instead.

For those not aware of this, please take a look at the following chart that shows that D&C 93 was clearly meant to elucidate Mosiah 15:1-5. (But to get the full effect, read one and then the other in the right verse order.)

Mosiah 15 D&C 93
v. 2: And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son— V. 13-14:   13 And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; 

14 And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.

v. 3: The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son— V4: The Father because he gave me of his fulness, and the Son because I was in the world and made flesh my tabernacle, and dwelt among the sons of men.

14 And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.

v. 4: And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. V. 3: And that I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one
v. 5: And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people. V. 12: And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace
V 6: And after all this, after working many mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be led, yea, even as Isaiah said, as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. v. 5: I was in the world and received of my Father, and the works of him were plainly manifest.

This was the clincher for me. This is only May of 1833, still nearly two years away from when skeptics claim the Church switched, during the Lectures on Faith, to believing the Father and the Son were distinct [1]. In other words, this is still a very early explanation from either Joseph Smith or God as to how to interpret Mosiah 15:1-5 and it’s pre the suppposed change of doctrine of 1835.

Therefore, when “Joseph Smith’s writings” outside the Book of Mormon are included in the discussion, there just is no doubt he didn’t read Mosiah 15:1-5 as Serial Modalism. Worse yet for the skeptics, D&C 93 is an almost perfect description of Representational Modalism / Divine Investiture based on growing grace from grace and taking upon the Father’s fullness rather than a literal putting of the Father’s spirit into a body at the birth of Jesus. In other words D&C 93’s version of Mosiah 15 is mutually exclusive from the Swedenborgian interpretation.

D&C 93 proves beyond doubt that there was supposed to be at least a Divine Investiture / Representational Modalism interpretation of Mosiah 15:1-5 back amongst 19th century Mormons. Therefore, we know for certain that the Swedenborgian interpretation isn’t the only one possible for the 19th century Mormons and the skeptics are wrong in insisting theirs is the sole possible interpretation.

Now, to be sure, if I were a skeptic, I’d merely claim that between 1830 and 1833 Joseph changed his mind. But we should note that if D&C 93 has been written in 1831 we could claim the same. Indeed, if it had been written even one month after the Book of Mormon we could claim the same. Therefore, I submit that D&C 93 is the final arbiter on this subject unless the skeptics can give us any reason whatsoever that Joseph actually believed Mosiah 15:1-4 was intended as Serial Modalism and then changed his mind by 1833.

[1] Wikipedia states: “Before about 1835, Mormon theological teachings were similar to that established view [of the Trinity]”

For those that want to see the 1835 edition of D&C 93, see here and here.

9 thoughts on “Mosiah 15 and D&C 93: Divine Investiture or Swedenborgian?

  1. Bruce, I like how you link Mosiah 15 and D&C 93. I’ve never noticed that connection before, and your argument is extremely convincing. Thanks.

  2. The biggest problem with modalist readings of Mos 15 is that they ignore other passages in the book that are clearly non-modalist such as 3 Ne 11.

    For more Swedenborish passages I always found Alma 42 far better a pick than Mos 15.

  3. Bruce: Did you get this from Ostler’s Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of God p. 456 where he presents the same parallels?

  4. Clark, it’s funny, but the server is not slow for me, but apparently it is for most people. Brian D is looking into solutions.

  5. Christine,

    No, I found it on my own. I’ve never read Ostler. This is probably the hundreth time someone has quoted Ostler to me. He has apparently thought of everything I have already.

  6. The term “representational modalism” is new to me. I know “monarchial modalism”, but when I googled representational modalism, it only came up with a few LDS references, such as this one. If you are using it as a synonym for divine investiture of authority, it seems to me to be a little bit fuzzy. As I read discussions of divine investiture – from Justin Martyr to LDS scholars – it deals with either Jesus, the Holy Ghost, angels or prophets speaking with the same voice, words, power and authority of The Father. This explanation helps us deal with the “who’s speaking” question in scriptures like Moses 1. Whereas, as I understand it, modalism – as used in Christian history – refers to One God taking upon Himself different modes to perform different functions, i.e. Christ to come to earth, the Holy Ghost to comfort and witness.

    I actually like the term, but I’m confused by it’s usage.

  7. Larryco,

    This post is sort of part of a series. I coined the term “representational modalism” in my last post. You’ll have to read the link.

    But rest assured, it’s a term I made up myself (and say so in the post where I coined it.)

    I lay out my argument in the post as to why I feel the the term “modalism” has been stretched by the scholars to the point where Divine Investiture must now be considered at least a form of modalism, albeit a very non-standard one. I do feel it would be inconsistent to call Swedenborian doctrines modalism and not call Divine Investiture modalism also.

    This does leave a fair question as to whether or not we should pay any head to the scholars that use the term “serial modalism.” If you feel we should, then I think consistency demands understanding Divine Investiture as a form of modalism as well. But if you don’t agree with those scholars, then refering to divine investiture as “representational modalism” is not needed.

    I care not for words themselves. I am just requiring consistency.

    If the term works for you, feel free to use it. If it doesn’t, drop it and don’t worry about it. I personally found it useful.

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