Let’s start with the text of 2 Nephi 2:5-6. (Note – there are no textual variants in these verses (nor any in 2 Nephi 2 until verse 10)).
And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever. Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth”
The First Guiding Question
I’d like to start by addressing a portion of our first guiding question:
“What relationship does the sermon of 2 Nephi 2 bear to scripture generally—whether in terms of its immediate setting, its reliance on other scriptural texts, or its influence on other scriptural texts?”
As I read the text for this week, a phrase that jumped out at me was “full of grace and truth.” Clearly this phrase is related to John 1:14, what surprised me was that the phrase also appears five times in the Book of Moses (1:6, 32, 5:7, 6:52, 7:11). Is it possible that the book of Moses was a key part of Lehi’s message in 2 Nephi 2?
This led me to a very interesting article by Noel B. Reynolds called “The Brass Plates Version of Genesis.” In this article Reynolds argues that the Book of Moses was closely related to the brass plates and that a series of textual connections between the Book of Mormon and Moses are present because of the influence of the brass plates on Nephite thought.
He states that 2 Nephi 2 is “the chapter that reminds us most strongly of the Moses texts.” While Reynolds does not mention “Full of grace and truth” in his article he does provide other examples that may demonstrate a relationship between 2 Nephi 2 and Moses. Reynolds writes:
“The doctrine of divinely given free agency is implicit in all of scripture, but is only taught explicitly as a fundamental concept in the book of Moses and the Book of Mormon. In Moses we learn that “Satan . . . sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3), that God “gave unto man his agency” (Moses 7:32; 4:3), and that men are therefore “agents unto themselves” (Moses 6:56). Lehi picks up these same themes in a major discourse on freedom of choice or agency and teaches that “God gave unto man that he should act for himself” (2 Nephi 2:16); that by the redemption “they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:26); and that men “are free to choose liberty and eternal life, . . . or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27)….
One sentence from Moses seems to have spawned a whole family of formulaic references in the Book of Mormon: “And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice” (Moses 4:4). This language is echoed precisely by both Lehi and Moroni, who, when mentioning the devil, add the stock qualification: “who is the father of all lies” (cf. 2 Nephi 2:18; Ether 8:25).”
There are several other phrases in 2 Nephi 2 that may come from Moses. Consider these two:
“And after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit they were driven out of the garden of Eden, to till the earth” (2 Nephi 2:19) – compare “Therefore I, the Lord God, will send him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken” (Moses 4:29).
“For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents” (2 Nephi 2:21) – compare “But God hath made known unto our fathers that all men must repent” (Moses 6:50).
There’s more that can be done here, but I’ll leave this point for now. At the end of this post I’ll provide a list of 53 four-word phrases that 2 Nephi 2 shares with the Book of Moses (of course some of the most important connections could be thematic or have fewer connected words).
The Second Question
Next, a thought on the 2nd question: “In what ways is audience important to the theological bearing of 2 Nephi 2? More specifically, how important are the details of Jacob’s life to the theological interpretation of Lehi’s words, particularly in the first half of the sermon?” While preparing this post, I went back to the 1830 text of the Book of Mormon. What I found probably belongs this comment thread, rather than this post, but here goes. I noticed that there is no chapter break between 2 Nephi 1-2 in the original text of the Book of Mormon. Here is how it appears in the 1830 text (structurally, for convenience I’m using the current text). I’m starting with 2 Nephi 1:28:
And now my son, Laman, and also Lemuel and Sam, and also my sons who are the sons of Ishmael, behold, if ye will hearken unto the voice of Nephi ye shall not perish. And if ye will hearken unto him I leave unto you a blessing, yea, even my first blessing. But if ye will not hearken unto him I take away my first blessing, yea, even my blessing, and it shall rest upon him. And now, Zoram, I speak unto you: Behold, thou art the servant of Laban; nevertheless, thou hast been brought out of the land of Jerusalem, and I know that thou art a true friend unto my son, Nephi, forever. Wherefore, because thou hast been faithful thy seed shall be blessed with his seed, that they dwell in prosperity long upon the face of this land; and nothing, save it shall be iniquity among them, shall harm or disturb their prosperity upon the face of this land forever. Wherefore, if ye shall keep the commandments of the Lord, the Lord hath consecrated this land for the security of thy seed with the seed of my son. And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my first-born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren. Nevertheless, Jacob, my first-born in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain. Wherefore, thy soul shall be blessed, and thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother, Nephi; and thy days shall be spent in the service of thy God. Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men…
And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away. And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon….
To me this softens contrasts between 2 Nephi 1 and 2. In the original text there is a break between what we have as 2 and 3 and also 3 and 4. So 2 Nephi 1-2 constitute one unit and 2 Nephi 3 a separate unit. 2 Nephi 2 and 2 Nephi 3 both end with “Amen,” 2 Nephi 1 does not, again arguing for a continued discourse. Viewed as one continuous block of text it seems like Lehi is going around circle, (as his family is in the tent) speaking with different individuals. Thus what we have as 2 Nephi 2:14 may not be the “big shift” back to everybody. If all are present, Lehi’s eye contact could have shifted the focus even before verse 14. Perhaps this is a conversation we can pick up at a later point.
Now this post is already growing long, and we haven’t addressed perhaps the most important question, at least as it pertains to these verses: “Is there a consistent or coherent theology developed in 2 Nephi 2—particularly with respect to purpose, creation, freedom, law, opposition, redemption, and agency?”
2 Nephi 2:5-6 focuses on several of these issues. Knowledge of good and evil and law are both connected agency. Elder Paul V. Johnson stated: “There are several things necessary to make agency operative: eternal law, opposition or opposites, including enticement to the good and the evil, a knowledge of good and evil, sometimes referred to as knowledge of good from evil, and the freedom or ability to choose. Without each of these elements agency and the accompanying personal accountability for our choices would not function” (Elder Paul V. Johnson, Satellite Broadcast to Seminaries and Institutes, August 2003).
Commenting on these two verses, Brandt Gardner states:
“The eternal law itself cannot exalt us because violating any portion of that law places us in a position of nonjustification. Lehi acknowledges that this is exactly what he means, for his second sentence defines the first: ‘by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off.’ The law cuts us off from God. It does not bring us closer—again because we will, perforce, violate the law.
“Lehi’s next sentence further defines our predicament: ‘By the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.’ While he does not define ‘they’ at this point, they are Adam and Eve, to whom he returns later in the discourse. In the context of the Garden of Eden and the law, Lehi’s two types of separation are understandable. The ‘temporal law’ is the Fall’s physical impact on their daily lives—e.g., difficulties in earning their daily bread. The ‘spiritual law’ with its spiritual fall separated them from all that was good—by definition, God’s presence. Therefore, the effect of the spiritual fall was eternal misery.
“As I read Lehi’s sermon, he is constructing his case in dramatic extremes: the world’s condition had there been no Atoning Messiah. Lehi is showing the darkness of despair before the Messianic hope brightens our lives.” [Gardner, Second Witness, 2:37-39]
So a simple construction of these verses could be as follows:
Men know right from wrong, and there is a law that clearly designates what the right choices are. There is no way a person can comply with the law in such a way that they are saved by the law alone. Because of this redemption can only come through the Messiah.
I know there are a lot of loose ends here, so I’ll sign off with a couple of questions in hopes that together we can together work through a few of these issues this week.
- Does eliminating the chapter break between 2 Nephi 1 and 2 alter in any way our conception of the setting in which this discourse took place, or our understanding of the context of this pericope?
- How do connections between 2 Nephi 2 and the Book of Moses inform our understanding of 2 Nephi 2? Could 2 Nephi 2 provide a lens of “Lehi reading Moses” as 2 Nephi 26-27 illustrates Nephi reading Isaiah?
- How can we develop the theological connections between verse 3 (“thou art redeemed because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer” and verse 6 “Redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah for he is full of grace and truth”). Thus in both of these verses the emphasis on redemption through Christ, not through man, and not through the law. How does this interchange with agency and other focal points that Lehi will emphasize?
Last note: four-word phrases shared by the Book of Moses and 2 Nephi 2.
|all men must repent|
|all the children of|
|and all things are|
|and the fowls of|
|And the days of|
|beasts of the field|
|behold all things have|
|bring to pass the|
|by the power of|
|children of men and|
|children of men were|
|Eden to till the|
|father of all lies|
|for he is full|
|fowls of the air|
|full of grace and|
|good and evil And|
|he is full of|
|in the days of|
|in the end of|
|in the last days|
|in the presence of|
|inhabitants of the earth|
|is full of grace|
|know good from evil|
|knowing good and evil|
|of all the earth|
|of Eden to till|
|of God and he|
|of God that they|
|of grace and truth|
|of the air and|
|of the children of|
|of the field and|
|that all men must|
|that they may know|
|the beasts of the|
|the children of men|
|the earth And the|
|the father of all|
|the fowls of the|
|the inhabitants of the|
|the power of the|
|the presence of God|
|the things which I|
|the tree of life|
|there is no God|
|these things are not|
|they were created and|
|to till the earth|
|unto the children of|
|unto the inhabitants of|
|ye shall be as|