Book of Mormon Theology

What Does Mosiah Contribute to Theology?

The Book of Mosiah is a theologically rich collection of stories and sermons.

The Book of Mosiah is a theologically rich collection of stories and sermons in the Book of Mormon. The sermon of King Benjamin, the story of Abinadi, and the conversion of Alma1 all bring some important thoughts to the table. This interview with James E. Faulconer discusses some of the theological contributions in the Book of Mosiah.

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Read more about the Book of Mosiah in Mosiah: A Brief Theological Introduction.

What led you to write Mosiah: A Brief Theological Introduction?

In 2018, Spencer Fluhman, then director of the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, had the idea of producing one volume of theological reflection on each book of the Book of Mormon. He brought a number of people together as a committee to think about what those volumes should look like, to choose writers, and to edit their work.

When we were discussing who to invite to write each volume, because Mosiah is my favorite book in the Book of Mormon, I was presumptuous enough to volunteer myself—and the committee agreed.

Is there evidence that part of Mosiah was in the lost 116 pages?

We know little about the contents of the 116 pages, except that it was an abridgement by Mormon of Lehi’s record. But a couple of clues suggest that they also contained at least some pages of the book of Mosiah that we do not have.

The first is the short history of King Benjamin which Mormon tells us in Words of Mormon 12–18. Little of that history is included in the book of Mosiah, which—as we now have it—begins with the end of King Benjamin’s reign. It seems natural to assume that the book of Mosiah included that which Mormon briefly rehearses.

The second is that Mosiah begins with the peace established by King Benjamin at the end of his reign, but the wording of that beginning suggests that the text we have is the continuation of a story rather than the beginning of one:

Now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla.

Mosiah 1:1

That seems to suggest that the writer has told us at least something of the contention that has come to an end. But, of course, that evidence is not conclusive.

What’s important about the internal chronology of Mosiah?

The internal chronology of Mosiah is very interesting because the story told is not told using a straight time line. Instead, it turns back on itself.

If the book of Mosiah had followed a strictly chronological order, it would have begun with Zeniff’s departure from Zarahemla, told of Abinadi’s preaching and execution, and then narrated the story of the elder Alma’s conversion.

Only after that would we read of King Benjamin’s sermons and Mosiah II’s coronation.

Watch this Maxwell Institute podcast to learn more about how James E. Faulconer thinks Mosiah makes theological contributions to the Book of Mormon.

Instead, the events of Mosiah are presented out of order. The sermon of King Benjamin is related at the start of the book, while the earlier stories of Abinadi’s preaching and the elder Alma’s conversion are not told until the book is halfway over.

Alma1’s conversion occurs twenty to twenty-five years before Benjamin’s first sermon, and his converts are united with the people of Zarahemla only about four years after that sermon in the year 120. The story begins in about 124 BC and ends in about 91, but in the middle we read of events that occurred between about 200 and 120.

Much of that discussion misunderstands what the word nothingness most likely meant anciently.

Putting the stories out of order gives a doctrinal context to the stories in the middle, giving us teachings to help us understand the importance of the stories and reminding us that the Book of Mormon is more about what it teaches than the history it recounts.

How do you interpret the term “inflict” in King Benjamin’s sermon?

Mosiah 3:19, where we are told to be “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father,” can be difficult to read.

The word inflict may seem to some to assume punishments that could be abusive. Since I don’t believe that the Lord condones abuse, I look at the use of the word in that verse as it might seem to the child: a parent could punish a child in an appropriate though difficult way (such as insisting that they apologize to someone they have hurt). The parent would not be inflicting anything on the child.

In spite of that, though, it isn’t difficult to imagine the child feeling like the punishment had been inflicted on them. If the child is humble, patient, and submissive to a good, loving parent (as the angel’s language enjoins), presumably time will show that these experiences were all for the child’s ultimate happiness.

The angel is articulating a position that is sympathetic to the child who feels the discomfort of the parent’s loving but demanding requirements, even as that discomfort ultimately supports the educative and protective aims of the loving parent.

What does King Benjamin’s sermons say about sin and service?

As I see it, King Benjamin teaches that service is the evidence we have received a remission of sins. It isn’t that we get our remission of sins by doing service, but that receiving the loving grace of a remission of sins brings us to want to give loving grace to others. We want to serve others because our sins have been remitted.

King Benjamin’s sermon is one aspect of the Book of Mosiah that James E. Faulconer believes make theological contributions to the Book of Mormon.

How do you interpret the term “nothingness” in King Benjamin’s sermon?

This word has caused a lot of discussion in church classes, but I think much of that discussion misunderstands what the word nothingness most likely meant anciently. Rather than “absolute absence,” prior to many centuries after Christ, the word meant “chaotic” or “formless” or “without meaning or purpose.”

King Benjamin is reminding his people that without God’s creative act in the beginning, we are nothing. In other words, without the Creation, we would have no meaning or purpose; our existence would be chaotic. He is also reminding them that without the salvation offered through Christ, we are spiritually without meaning or purpose. We are chaotic.

What is the connection between King Benjamin’s speech and Hannah’s hymn?

Hannah’s hymn (1 Samuel 2:3) is one of the few biblical references that can give us evidence for how we should understand the word beggar in Mosiah 4:16–26. Hannah praises the Lord who

lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory.

1 Samuel 2:8

King Benjamin could have had a version of 1 Samuel and, knowing of it, he could have had her image in mind as he spoke.

We should understand Jesus to be both the Father and the Son each in two ways.

In addition, I believe that “the beggar” in King Benjamin’s sermon is a type rather than a reference to a specific group of people: The beggar is not the same as the poor, as Mosiah 4:24 makes clear. The beggar is the type for those who have nothing, neither property nor even the means to survive from day-to-day—not even daily bread.

As Benjamin uses the term beggar, I think it is both a type of Christ, who has “descended below them all” (D&C 122:8), and a type of the person who stands before God in nothingness—or in the meaningless of existence without God.

How does King Benjamin’s sermon prepare us for Abinadi’s teachings?

King Benjamin also taught the unity of the Father and the Son (Mosiah 3:8). King Benjamin understands that Christ, is the Creator, the Father of Heaven and Earth.

How do you interpret Mosiah 15:2–4 about Jesus being the Father and the Son?

As I read what Abinadi teaches, we should understand Jesus to be both the Father and the Son each in two ways.

  1. He is the Father because he has been like the Father from the beginning and because he is the Creator of heaven and earth.
  2. He is the Son because he was created premortally by the Father and because he took on mortality through the power of the Father.

How does that square with other forms of Christianity?

That is a complicated question, but let me see if I can give a summary of how I answer it: Mainstream Christianity teaches that the Father and Son are two persons in the Godhead, but only one being.

That means that each of the two persons has the same essence, which is possible because mainstream Christians believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are purely spiritual rather than embodied beings.

Arian Christians have taught that the Son is created by the Father but, as Creator, he is also the Father. For Arians, too, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are purely spiritual.

Latter-day Saints teach that the Father and Son and Holy Spirit are not only three different persons, but also three different beings. That is possible because they are embodied beings rather than beings of pure spirit.

Latter-day Saints agree with traditional Christians that the Creator is both Father and Son. We also agree that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in intention, wisdom, and will. But we disagree in that we teach that each is a separate being and traditional Christians, as I said above, teach that the three are one being.

As a result, we agree with mainstream Christians that Jesus is the Creator, but we disagree with them because we believe that the Son and the Father are different beings.

What do you hope people will take away from Mosiah: A Brief Theological Introduction?

I hope anyone reading the book will come to understand how rich in teachings the Book of Mosiah is. In particular, I hope readers will recognize King Benjamin’s emphasis on salvation by grace and the resulting necessity of service and obedience.

Finally, I hope that those who read the book will be able to see ourselves in Abinadi, Benjamin, and Mosiah: we too look forward to the coming of the Messiah. A second coming, to be sure, but we are in the same position in relation to that coming as were the prophets of the Book of Mormon: we must anticipate it and hope for it in trust and faithfulness though too much of the rest of the world our trust and faithfulness will seem misguided at best.

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About the interview participant

James E. Faulconer is an American philosopher, a former Richard L. Evans Professor of Philosophy at Brigham Young University, the former director of BYU’s London Centre, a Fellow at the Wheatley Institution (and its former associate director), and a senior research fellow at the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. He previously served as the dean of undergraduate education and the chair of the Philosophy Department at BYU.

Further Reading

Theological contributions of Mosiah resources

Brief Theological Introductions interviews

By Chad Nielsen

Biotech professional. Armchair historian. Latter-day Saint.

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