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How Did Abinadi Influence Book of Mormon Prophets?

Abinadi’s testimony of Christ affected generations and clearly had an important textual influence on later Book of Mormon individuals.

The prophet Abinadi may be best known for being burned to death after testifying before King Noah’s Court in Mosiah. At the time of his death, he likely thought that he had only one convert, namely Alma the Elder. But Abinadi’s example was far-reaching. He devotes more of his teachings to the resurrection of Jesus Christ than any other Book of Mormon prophet, and noticeably influenced Alma, Amulek, King Benjamin, and Mormon. In this interview, John Hilton III explains more.

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Who was Abinadi?

In approximately 150 BC Abinadi was called to preach to a group of Nephites who had been led into wickedness by King Noah and his corrupt priests in the land of Nephi. We do not know anything of Abinadi’s lineage, family situation, or even age (contrary to popular paintings depicting him as an old man). But we do know that when he was called by God to preach, he answered the call.

What led you to study Abinadi’s influence in the Book of Mormon?

At one point I realized that there were lots of textual similarities between the words of Abinadi and Alma, when Alma was speaking to Corianton. This made me wonder whether there were other individuals who were influenced by Abinadi.

How did you find instances where Book of Mormon prophets used his teachings?

The free software program WordCruncher has a Phrase Compare Report that will analyze two texts and help you identify specific phrases that they have in common. This helped me find many phrases that I would have otherwise missed.

What challenges did you face tracing his influence?

The biggest challenge was going through each phrase from Abinadi that was used by later authors and trying to determine whether the later author was intentionally trying to connect to Abinadi’s words or if they were both simply employing common phrases.

Which Book of Mormon prophets rely on Abinadi?

Alma, Amulek and Mormon seem to particularly draw on Abinadi. Surprisingly, King Benjamin also appears to have been influenced by Abinadi (see below).

What are some of Abinadi’s key themes?

Proportionally speaking, nobody talks about resurrection more than Abinadi does. That is one of his major doctrinal contributions.

Is Abinadi’s testimony in King Noah’s court similar to King Benjamin’s sermon?

Yes! There are multiple textual connections between Abinadi’s testimony in King Noah’s court and King Benjamin’s sermon.

Learn more about Abinadi’s testimony before King Noah’s Court. John Hilton III says that it has many similarities to King Benjamin’s sermon.

Based on the Nephite timeline presented by Mormon, King Benjamin gave his address in about 124 BC (see Mosiah 6:4). In contrast, no explicit dating information is given about when Abinadi spoke. Nevertheless, through contextual clues we can approximately determine this information. Alma the Elder died in 91 BC at the age of eighty-two (see Mosiah 29:46).

Thus Alma the Elder was born in 173 BC. He was a “young man” at the trial of Abinadi (Mosiah 17:2). Unless the definition of “young man” is stretched to include one who is fifty years old, Abinadi clearly spoke before King Benjamin’s address in 124 BC. If we assume “a young man” was about twenty years old, Abinadi spoke in 153 BC, approximately thirty years before King Benjamin.

Accepting the premise that Abinadi spoke before King Benjamin eliminates the possibility that Abinadi heard Benjamin’s address and used it as he spoke in King Noah’s court. And it seems unlikely that Benjamin heard Abinadi’s words and later used them in his speech, given that the people in Zarahemla had no knowledge of what had happened to Zeniff’s descendants (see Mosiah 7:1–2).

This article gives more detail on Abinadi’s textual legacy.

How is Abinadi’s witness of Christ central to the overall message of the Book of Mormon?

Abinadi’s influence on the text of the Book of Mormon may be underestimated by some. As a pivotal prophet who spoke 450 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, he is responsible for the conversion of Alma the Elder.

Alma the Elder and his posterity would keep the sacred records and guide the Church for the next 470 years. Abinadi, living chronologically halfway between Lehi and Mormon, thus radically shaped the second half of Nephite history. The textual connections I have described in this chapter illustrate instances in which multiple phrases from Abinadi appear in connection with specific later pericopes.

Abinadi may have died thinking his words had influenced only one.

Abinadi’s testimony of Christ affected generations and clearly had an important textual influence on later Book of Mormon individuals.

Abinadi’s influence also causes me to ponder Mormon’s words about Abinadi’s trial:

But there was one among them whose name was Alma. . . . He was a young man, and he believed the words which Abinadi had spoken.

Mosiah 17:2

The last Abinadi saw of Alma the Elder was him fleeing the court and King Noah sending guards to execute him. Abinadi may have died thinking his words had influenced only one . . . and that one had perished.

But Alma the Elder survived and went on to gather “four hundred and fifty souls” (Mosiah 18:35) from among the people. Eventually he became “the founder” of the church of the Nephites (Mosiah 23:16; 29:47). His son Alma, grandson Helaman, great-grandson Helaman, great-great grandson Nephi, and great-great-great grandson Nephi each in turn kept the plates. This last Nephi was present when Jesus Christ came and ministered to the Nephites. In other words, Abinadi’s influence extended far beyond the “one” he was aware of.

The textual connections between Abinadi and later voices in the Book of Mormon speakers provide a literary reminder that there was more than “one” who listened to Abinadi’s words.

Seeing this big picture of Abinadi’s influence reminds us that while at times our efforts may seem fruitless, we can influence generations unseen through our diligent efforts to teach others.

Because there was one, literally millions were blessed.

What advice would you give to those who want to learn more?

First, carefully read his words again and again! Abinadi was a real person, with a powerful message to share. This book (available for free) might also provide some fruitful insights.

About the interview participant

John Hilton III is a Professor of Religious Education at Brigham Young University. He holds a PhD in Education and has published several books about the Latter-day Saint faith, including Considering the Cross and Voices in the Book of Mormon. Hilton also has a podcast called Seeking Jesus and is the author of a Master Class on the Book of Mormon.

A headshot of John Hilton III, the BYU professor who authored the Book of Mormon masterclass.

Further reading

Abinadi resources

  • Abinadi’s Legacy: Tracing His Influence Through the Book of Mormon (BYU RSC)
  • Voices in the Book of Mormon: Discovering Distinctive Witnesses of Jesus Christ (Deseret Book)
  • Textual Similarities in the Words of Abinadi and Alma’s Counsel to Corianton (BYU Studies)
  • Abinadi: He Came Among Them in Disguise (BYU RSC)
  • Abinadi: The Prophet and the Martyr (BYU RSC)
  • All the Ways Abinadi’s Story is a Type of Exodus and How it Teaches About the Atonement (Book of Mormon Central)

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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