Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

The Redundancy of the Book of Mormon

Posted by BrianJ on December 23, 2007

An interesting article—a joint venture by (non-LDS) Christian scholars Paul Owen and Mosser—appeared in FARMS several years ago, reviewing the book How Wide the Divide?. The article issues several challenges to LDS belief, but one that I think is particularly relevant for Sunday School is below. The gist of the challenge is,

“If the Bible contains a sufficient body of information for…the Christian gospel, then no more scripture is necessary. This would not in and of itself prove that the Bible cannot be added to…. [In] theory no conclusive reason exists why the canon must stay closed, …it is difficult to see how any new book could ever successfully be added to it.”

Why is this relevant to Sunday School? Because we will be studying the Book of Mormon next year, and I think Owen and Mosser’s challenge is an excellent exercise for us as we consider the value of the Book of Mormon.

Is the Book of Mormon an imposter, diverting our attention away from the true canon? Is the Book of Mormon redundant, containing only doctrines that we already have in the Bible? Is the Book of Mormon corrective, pointing out the errors of the Bible’s scribes and translators? Is the Book of Mormon additive, agreeing with but going beyond what we have in the Bible? Is the Book of Mormon indicative of Joseph’s prophetic status, but beyond that unnecessary?

Owen and Mosser continue:

“Another way of putting this would be that from an Evangelical perspective, the Bible contains all the truth “necessary” to get a person into the kingdom and keep him or her there…. In order to show the inferiority of the Evangelical view it would behoove [LDS author Stephen] Robinson to demonstrate what information…necessary for salvation is lacking in the Bible, and how uniquely Latter-day Saint canonical sources supply this indispensable data.”

This leads to what again is the fundamental question in this particular point of the discussion: What aspects of God’s self-revelation in Christ that are necessary for salvation in the kingdom of God have been restored through the uniquely Latter-day Saint canonical additions? If none exists, then whence the need for further scriptures beyond the historically preserved apostolic deposit? Even if such additional revelation “might increase our understanding” (p. 58), but not reveal new knowledge necessary for salvation, they would be superfluous and anticlimactic to what God has revealed in these last days through Jesus Christ.

My Challenge (to my class)

In light of this challenge, here is what I have asked my Sunday School class to think about for next week’s lesson: What essential truths would we be missing if we only had the Bible and not the Book of Mormon?

In addressing this question, I have asked the students to come to class prepared to discuss specific verses and specific doctrines. In other words, saying that “the Book of Mormon clarifies the Bible” is an unacceptable response: first, it is not specific; and second, it missed the whole point. If the Bible contains everything we need, but it’s just hard to understand correctly in places, then all we really needed was Joseph’s commentary (e.g., JST and D&C), and the Book of Mormon really is unnecessary. Likewise, answering that “the Book of Mormon gives an account of Jesus’ personal ministry to another people” is unacceptable because it doesn’t explain why that is essential information.

Side Thought (i.e., not the main point of the post)

Now, in case you are a little frustrated by this post, I’ll throw out one more challenge made by Owen and Mosser—what they call the “Advent argument.”

We see that when God closed the Old Testament canon he did so with an indication of what was supposed to happen next—the Messiah and his messenger were to come. [Cf. Malachi]. The Old Testament was closed with the indication that the next event in salvation history was to be the first advent of Christ. The people of God were supposed to welcome a new revelatory dispensation only when they saw the messenger preparing the way of the Lord—the Elijah figure, and the Sun of righteousness himself….

When we get to the last written book of the New Testament, the Revelation of John, we find a similar phenomenon. The New Testament canon closes with the expectation of Christ’s second advent (see Revelation 22:12, 20) and gives definite indicators of the signs preceding this. If God is consistent in his pattern we anticipate that there will be no new scriptural revelation in the time between Revelation and the second coming of the Lord Jesus. We have no reason to suppose that God has changed what appears to be his clear pattern of revelation. And, since Jesus has not returned, we should believe that the canon remains closed by God.

I’m actually quite surprised that Owen and Mosser make that argument, since—depending on whether one views the Second Coming as an event or a process—the argument insists that one accept LDS scripture as the third opening of the canon. (Also, of course, depending on whether one believes the events of Palmyra and especially Kirtland.)

30 Responses to “The Redundancy of the Book of Mormon”

  1. brianj said

    And yes, I have my own answer to this question, but I’ll wait for others to post before I reveal it.

    (meaning, that I’ll wait for Robert to post something brilliant and then I’ll claim that I thought of it too)

  2. Horebite said

    Interesting question. I don’t have a good answer right now, so I’ll be interested to see if anyone has anything, or if I can come up with anything.

    However, I’d also like to point out a fallacy in the challenge itself. Let us assume for a moment that the Book or Mormon contains only redundant and/or unnecessary doctrines. Based on that argument, couldn’t we also say that most of the Bible is unnecessary? If we’re limited to just what is “needed” for salvation, and also limited to only teachings the doctrine once, then we can pretty much discard everything in the Bible except for the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and maybe a few other passages related to the atonement of Christ. I’d say more than 90% of the Bible would be discarded, since they only contain stories and teachings that are redundant with other parts of the Bible, or are not necessary for salvation (do we really need to know the signs of the second coming to be saved?).

    So why do we have the redundancy? As any teacher knows, people learn in different ways and it’s good to teach principles in multiple ways–by teaching them directly, by giving examples, by analogy, etc. Also the “unnecessary” doctrines help reinforce the necessary doctrines. Teaching about the second coming, for example, reinforces the doctrine that we need to repent, and not procrastinate.

    So, while I think it’s an interesting challenge to identify a doctrine that is both unique to the Book of Mormon and necessary for salvation, it’s not the defining challenge of the Book of Mormon. As the cover states, it is another testament of Jesus Christ.

  3. NathanG said

    One initial question that makes it either hard or easy to answer the challenge. Are we lumpers or splitters? If we lump gospel principles, then the challenge can only be answered by providing completely new doctrines not referenced anywhere else. That is a great challenge. If we are splitters, we can argue that expanded details of principles of the gospel satisfy this challenge (my example of baptism below is an example)

    I read through part of the original article (not enough time right now to finish) and found some interesting expanded quotes that I think make it easier to answer their challenge. (Apoligies if my formatting isn’t quite correct).

    “The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contains all the words of God which he intends his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly and for obeying him perfectly.”

    Certainly it does not go beyond the “first principles” of the fourth LDS Article of Faith—namely faith, repentance, water baptism, and laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. According to the third Article of Faith, salvation is available to all who comply with these laws and ordinances.16 In order to show the inferiority of the Evangelical view it would behoove Robinson to demonstrate what information concerning these foundational laws and ordinances necessary for salvation is lacking in the Bible, and how uniquely Latter-day Saint canonical sources supply this indispensable data. Thus, given Robinson’s own premises, no apparent reason exists why he should not affirm the sufficiency of the Bible for “salvation in the kingdom of God.”

    At this stage of redemptive history we needed to regain instruction of how to perform the saving ordinances correctly. Particularly baptism being performed a certain way was given by Christ (3 Nephi 11) and the manner of conferring the power to baptize to another person (and also how the power to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost (as well as the Sacramental prayers) was provided by Moroni).

    If correct understanding of the gate by which we enter the kingdom of God isn’t important, then I don’t know what is.

    This next quote I found ironic. The authors were referring to other evangelicals who had dismissed the book without reading it fully. Then they say this:

    Of course, it is also possible to read a book (completely) with a mind bent on something other than letting it speak for itself. Prejudgments may blind someone to a book’s actual content and goals. Selective reading is as inappropriate as failing to read at all. One Evangelical apologist, who was gracious enough to let us see a prepublication copy of his review, has described How Wide the Divide? as “one of the most disturbing and troubling books [he has] read in a very long time.” If such is the case, one has to wonder how widely this person reads. One can readily find far worse books by Evangelicals on the market that should be more disturbing and troublesome to one’s theological sensibilities.

    I would suggest that the same prejudgments have prevented these people from finding the value of the Book of Mormon. This warning can go both ways I’m sure and members of the church may be equally guilty of reading the Book of Mormon we such prejudgments that we miss valuable lessons.

    Finally, is the Book of Mormon correcting or adding knowledge to the Bible or to our understanding of the Bible? The Christian “community” has so many varying interpretations that they seem to just accept (baptism is once again an example) that we needed reaffirming of what the basics of the gospel are.

  4. phdinhistory said

    You could look at _By the Hand of Mormon_ by Terryl Givens. He argues that in the early days of the church, the Book of Mormon was not really read or appreciated for its content. Instead what mattered was that the book served as a sign of the Lord’s hand in the restoration movement.

    Or you could consider one of the answers I heard in the MTC: “Almost all of the doctrines of the gospel are taught in the Book of Mormon with much greater clarity and perfection than those same doctrines are revealed in the Bible. Anyone who will place in parallel columns the teachings of these two great books on such subjects as the atonement, plan of salvation, gathering of Israel, baptism, gifts of the Spirit, miracles, revelation, faith, charity, (or any of a hundred other subjects), will find conclusive proof of the superiority of the Book of Mormon teachings” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 99).

    Another argument you will encounter is that the Book of Mormon, unlike the incomplete Bible, contains the “fulness of doctrine” and “fulness of the gospel.” Some have argued that they see this argument being made in the recent change to the Introduction to the Book of Mormon.

    You might also want to consider a recent BYU speech where the speaker provided “a list of precepts that [he] felt were unique to the Book of Mormon.”

  5. The very presence or existence of the Book of Mormon and other modern LDS Scriptures teaches one thing that a “closed” canon cannot–namely the principle of divine and *continuing revelation*. Even if the Book of Mormon or other uniquely LDS scriptures said nothing more than what is in the Bible (which I think is a faulty conclusion), its mere presence teaches that God can and does continually speak to humanity (and thus could always add more in the future). I think this is substantial.

  6. And yet with all the scriptures we have, we still struggle to understand God’s will and live it

  7. Clark said

    Joshua, I’m not sure that’s true. I think most of us have a pretty good idea of the general things God wants us to do. We may not understand all of it. But I think it’s rare we don’t know what’s right. Of course in various particulars when there are hard choices it’s often hard to know what God wants. But I think those are the rare exceptions even though they are often what we pay the most attention to.

    Now doing it is often much harder. Especially because often God seems (IMO) to try us by making it hard or by putting things in conflict.

  8. brianj said

    Okay – lots of initial discussion about the challenge, but not much that answers it. Is that because you dislike the challenge so much that you don’t think it’s worth answering, or do you want more time to answer the main question (highlighted in bold italics above)?

    Horebite: Yes, “another” testament. So is that all the BoM does: reiterates what we already have in the Bible? If so, why do we need it? The Bible itself contains several witnesses of Jesus Christ.

    NathanG: split or lump however you like, but I agree that you make an important distinction. As for the correct mode of baptism: Mosiah 18 is somewhat different than how I was baptized, and many other Christian denominations baptize by immersion. “…the manner of conferring the power to baptize….” Help me understand how Alma gained that power (Mosiah 18). Also, BIG applause for the perfect formatting.

    phdinhistory: So Givens supports the “BoM as {merely} indicative” argument? I would have to test McConkie’s argument before I believed it. Thanks for the link to William Barrett’s talk. He doesn’t actually share his list of unique doctrines; rather, he says that he made a list and then shares a different list:

    “A year or so ago I conducted another experiment. I began to write down a list of precepts that I felt were unique to the Book of Mormon. Several hours and several pages later I knew that I had only just begun. Allow me to close where I began, by sharing a few of the precepts from the Book of Mormon that have become precious, personal precepts to me and that get me nearer to God.

    • Nephi’s “I will go and do”…
    • Lehi’s “opposition in all things”…
    • Jacob’s “infinite atonement”…
    • Saved by grace, “after all we can do”…
    • From cover to cover, the Book of Mormon teaches me that Jesus Christ is and was the long-promised Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, our Savior and Redeemer, the Lamb of God, the Son of God…
    • And, finally, enduring to the end….

    With the exception of “Jacob’s ‘infinite atonement'” I don’t think anything on that list is unique to the BoM. (And I’d have to think about the Jacob one in detail.)

    Yellow Dart: Yes, I agree that an open canon is substantial. But Owen and Mosser argue that it is redundant (i.e., superfluous, unnecessary, pointless, etc.).

    {and now, back to the dissy}

  9. Joe Spencer said

    Just a couple of quick thoughts while I’ve got the time this morning.

    First, there are a few rather isolated… I’ll call them ideas… that the Book of Mormon teaches but the Bible does not (“infinite atonement” is a good example; others are that without resurrection we would all become devils and angels to a devil, that baptism of infants is damnable, etc.). But, in the end, I think the fact that these ideas are scattered and relatively circumstantial (“infinite atonement” has more to the do with the argument in which it appears than it has to do with some kind of “doctrinal teaching,” for example) ought to teach us something: the Book of Mormon, because it is historical like the Bible is, gathers its ideas in a piecemeal fashion, and it is always a mistake to take it as some kind of doctrinal treatise that adds to the Bible, this latter being understood similarly as a doctrinal treatise of some kind.

    Hence, second, I think it is very important to note that the Book of Mormon is fundamentally redundant at the doctrinal level. In a sense, we should expect and hope it to be so. But it is not redundant historically, nor covenantally, nor experientially, etc. Which is to say that I don’t think the Book of Mormon gives us some long lost clue to salvation (salvation is and will always be a question of grace), but it does open up the meaning and possibility of exaltation, and this is what is so important, in my opinion.

    This deserves much closer and sustained attention that I haven’t the time for this morning (later this afternoon?), but the basic picture is this: the Book of Mormon opens up a striking theology of angels and keys, of texts and writings, of a unique understanding of the Abrahamic covenant and how it affects history, etc. These are teachings that are at best hinted at in the Bible (there are, that is, “precedents” of a sort), but the Book of Mormon comes out with something like a “complete” picture. (Of course, seldom is this even picked up on in readings of the Book of Mormon because we read the Book of Mormon like evangelicals read the Bible….)

    Hmm… I don’t think I’ve said this clearly, so I’ll have to get back to it later today if possible (Christmas Eve is Christmas in my family… so we’ll see).

  10. robf said

    Amen Joe. Off to Utah for the holidays, so won’t get back to this for a couple days probably. I vote in parts redundant (all speak of Christ), corrective (even OT prophets spoke of Christ), additive (Joe’s got started on a good list–nature of priesthood, angelic ministrations, necessity of ordinances, possibility of exaltation), and indicative (but not unnecessary).

  11. larryco_ said

    “We see that when God closed the Old Testament canon…”

    I can see how non-scholars may view the Old Testament as a tidy, planned-out beginning to book, God having neatly decided with Moses to provided the opening chapters; and, 1,000 years later, Malachi providing the last words that were to be in it. But since this flies in the face of everything we know about how the OT was compiled (including Daniel probably being the last book written), all that follows Owen’s & Mosser’s statement above is on shakey ground, to say the least. Are we really sure that all of the “lost books” mentioned in the OT were never meant to be included in the canon? Are we absolutely sure that God spoke to no prophet in Israel during the intertestamental period?

    Bad arguments breed bad conclusions.

  12. larryco_ said

    RE: Important lesson from my first sentence: always review what you’ve written before you hit the “submit” button.

  13. NathanG said

    Don’t really know what to say about the method of baptism in Mosiah. However, the event of baptism in Mosiah gives some good information on the covenant that we take on with baptism.
    Where did his authority come from? Same place as mine, from someone who had it before. Don’t know who that was or if the argument that he already had the priesthood (as one of Noah’s priests) is true.
    Other Christians having baptism by immersion doesn’t lessen the need for clear teaching on baptism as other Christian denominations don’t baptise by immersion and others doubt the need for baptism altogether (couldn’t tell you who, but I met several of these church goers on my mission). Christ said that we argue too much about the method of baptism and he just set the record straight and this is how it should be done.

  14. JWL said

    Here’s one: the BoM is far more detailed than the Bible in explicating the social aspects of the Gospel. For example, no figure in the Bible is as vivid in exemplifying the just conduct of war as Captain Moroni. Another example is the BoM’s far more explicit and unequivocal denunciation of class inequality vs. the Bible’s expression of general principles of brotherhood but explicit acceptance of slavery and other egregious social inequities. Another is the BoM’s acknowledgement of the Lamanites’ eventual superior righteousness over the Nephites, an acknowledgement of the value of other ethnicities which has no parallel in the Bible (except perhaps for some late incipient NT anti-Semitism which is very different than Mormon’s regretful description of his people).

    Another is the BoM’s soteriolgy which contains critical insights lacking in the Bible. No biblical passage explicitly states the doctrine of the culpa felix like 2 Ne. 2:25 or the independent existence of eternal law like Alma 42:13. I would argue that this more complete understanding of the plan of salvation (with the later elaborations of the D&C and PoGP) is important to salvation because it helps salvation make sense. We are more motivated to do things if they make sense. Of course, as Calvinists Mosser and Owen don’t see the need for us to do anything for our salvation, but that they could hold this belief based on the Bible demonstrates for us the need for the further understandings offered by the BoM and modern revelations.

  15. JWL said

    Sorry — in my second paragraph only “culpa felix” was supposed to be italicized. [Christmas miracle! it’s fixed]

  16. Horebite said

    8: Horebite: Yes, “another” testament. So is that all the BoM does: reiterates what we already have in the Bible? If so, why do we need it? The Bible itself contains several witnesses of Jesus Christ.

    It’s not just another witness, it is another witness from an entirely separate nation, without the possibility of collaboration or cross-influence. It would be like if space aliens visited and told us that Joseph Smith visited them as an angel and gave them the Book of Mormon. That would pretty much seal the deal, even though many (earthly) witnesses have already been given.

    My point is that, even if the Book of Mormon is redundant, that doesn’t make it unnecessary. And you summarized my point again by saying that the Bible already contains many witnesses. If redundancy=unnecessity (sorry for the made up word), then why do we need more than one witness in the Bible? Why do we need Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? If we’re going to make the argument that the Book of Mormon (assuming it is redundant) is not necessary, then we also make the argument that the majority of the Bible is also unnecessary. I doubt Owen and Mosser would be comfortable with that.

  17. NathanG said

    Several comments have cited the Book of Mormon’s unique view of an infinite atonement. The authors of the paper assert that Mormons believe in a finite God who is not capable of making an infinite atonement and that it is ironic that the Book of Mormon references an infinite atonement. They assert that the evangelicals hold to a belief in an infinite atonement.

    I don’t buy into their arguments, but they also don’t explain what is meant by a finite God very clearly. Does anyone know what they are referring to?

    I would add to the list of unique doctrines is the explanation it gives of how the Book of Mormon is a sign of the beginning of the last days and the gathering of Israel and that God would remember his covenants with Israel. The covenants portion is interesting because Nephi explains that plain and precious parts will be removed using several different phrases. He talks about plain and precious part being removed from the book, plain and precious parts being removed from the gospel, and the covenants being taken away. See 1 Nephi 13:23-29. We don’t have to have much as far as missing text to fulfill what Nephi saw. Covenant making just needs to be forgotten. The Book of Mormon renews the doctrine of covenants and that God is ready to honor his ancient covenants with his people.

  18. Sam said

    In “The Book of Mormon and the American Revolution” Richard Bushman argues that the politics of the BoM are much different than the surrounding environment. One thing he highlights was that the main method of resistance was gathering all one’s people and running away (Lehi, Nephi, many examples in Alma). This isn’t new scripture per se but certainly a guide as to how one could possibly act; did the Saints take this as a model for their journeys?

    Another point: suppose we only had Jesus’s statement that ‘all the law and all the prophets’ hang upon ‘love the Lord your God’ and ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’ Then afterwards we learned of the rest of the Bible and the BoM. Questions:

    – Would the Ten Commandments be counted as new doctrine? We had the summary already.
    – Would clarifications of ‘to love’ like ‘if you lust in your heart, you’ve already broken the law’ be counted as new doctrine?
    – Are elaborations in the BoM new doctrine? Specifically, I’d focus on passages like Alma 32:28-40 vs the Biblical ‘ye shall know them by their fruits.’
    – If you think the answer to the first or second questions is yes, shouldn’t the answer to the third question be yes also?

  19. Robert C. said

    I agree with many of the above posts that there aren’t really any essential truths that would be missing if we only had the Bible, and that to look at the Book of Mormon this way runs the risk of mistaking what the purpose of scripture is—namely, to repent and turn toward God with full purpose of heart, feasting on all the words he has given us, not in order to learn doctrine(s), but in order to prove our faithfulness to him, and to learn of his infinite mysteries.

    And, in this sense, where we think more in terms of mysteries rather than “doctrines” (where “doctrines” has some finite sense to it), I think that every word in the Book of Mormon is non-redundant. This seems an important way to approach scripture, as God’s living word. When we approach living beings, there is a very important non-exchangability involved, something that is perhaps best illustrated when thinking about twins, or pet animals. It’s like Dwight trying to make amends for the death of Angela’s cat by giving her a stray (see synopsis here): even if it were the original cat’s identical twin, there’s something inherently non-exchangeable with regard to living things….

  20. Joe Spencer said

    Let me add an amen to Robert’s comment on mysteries vs. doctrine.

    Nathan #13: Nothing in the BoM text suggests that Alma had to have “the priesthood” in any sense in order to perform baptism (it in fact seems to me to suggest precisely the opposite). I wouldn’t bother to mention the point at all except that it is the (almost universal) tendency to force the Book of Mormon into a position in line with current doctrinal orthodoxy that makes it so difficult for us to see what it is actually saying: could it be that Alma’s baptism of these people was without priesthood and that we ought to think of Alma’s church in a way rather different from the way in which we think of our own? In the end, I think this is necessary, and I think it would also suggest that we ought to be careful about collapsing the enormous gap between our own baptismal experience and the one at the waters of Mormon. That church of Alma’s plays an enormous role in the Book of Mormon, and thinking its nature does a great deal, I think, for us, but I think it is necessary to “bracket” our current orthodoxy in order to read it for what it is, and therefore to let it change our thinking and call us to repentance.

    I bring all of this up for one reason, really (and let me be quite clear that I don’t mean to pick on you, Nathan! not at all!): the uniqueness of the Book of Mormon, its purposiveness over against or perhaps above and beyond that of the Bible, can only be recognized, I think, when we have allowed the Book of Mormon to speak from its own unique position, a position from which it calls us to repentance, to the task of rethinking our contemporary situation in light of an ancient one. The Book of Mormon does not confirm our place, but radically casts us out of it (not only does the Book of Mormon itself preach this, the D&C does—section 84).

    JWL #14 is, I think, in the same boat: I don’t think I agree with any of the (admittedly brief) readings offered in that comment. I don’t think 2 Nephi 2 lays out a doctrine of felix culpa; I don’t at all think that Alma 42 teaches independent law (it teaches, I think, the opposite, in fact); the status of Captain Moroni has been discussed a number of times on this blog; etc. Nor do I think the Bible has so much about it to be criticized: it teaches more clearly than the Book of Mormon, I think, the evils of class inequality (the OT prophets are quite sharp on this point); ethnic relations are discussed far more profoundly in the Genesis narratives than anywhere in the Book of Mormon, and far more richly in Paul than anywhere in the Book of Mormon; etc.

    Again the point is this: the Book of Mormon is, as yet, a totally unexplored book. I think the reason we have so little a sense for what its place in this gospel really amounts to is that we have really not yet opened it and read it.

    (Let me be really, really clear that I am not criticizing Nathan or JWL personally: I’m using their comments as guinea pigs to put quite on display what are, so far as I see things, almost universal ways of reading the Book of Mormon. Though I am criticizing these readings, I’m hardly attaching them to Nathan and JWL, but rather to the Church as a whole people: we all read this way, and the D&C condemns us for doing so…)

  21. JWL said

    Re: #20

    So, you agree with Owen and Mosser that whatever knowledge is necessary for salvation can be found in the Bible alone?

  22. Joe Spencer said

    Cf. my #9 above: “Which is to say that I don’t think the Book of Mormon gives us some long lost clue to salvation (salvation is and will always be a question of grace), but it does open up the meaning and possibility of exaltation, and this is what is so important, in my opinion.”

    Even the Bible is unnecessary, strictly speaking, for salvation: salvation is an event, while the text is a supplement to the event. I think we go wrong precisely in misunderstanding this fact. The event of salvation is not something on the other side of the scriptures, to which the scriptures point us or for which the scriptures provide us the rules, etc. It is an event that allows us at last to make sense of the scriptures, to see what is at work in them, etc. And what we find there, when we read under the influence of the Spirit (and so to read is to live out the event of salvation in the very act of reading), is the meaning of the event, its purpose in the broadest sense, its place in a far greater “economy”: what we might obscurely call exaltation but which deserves a great deal more discussion than just that!

    In a word, I think Owen and Mosser and wrong for the same reasons that the “average” LDS take on this question is wrong (the two positions are ultimately two sides of the same counterfeit coin): while it must be admitted that the Book of Mormon is no more necessary than the Bible for salvation, one must go further still by making quite clear that the texts do not play some kind of prescriptive or doctrinal role.

    Or so it seems to me.

  23. brianj said

    Joe (and Robert, you’re in on this too): I liked your #9 better than your #20. I don’t want to dismiss the argument Robert makes in #19, that no scripture is really essential (only Christ saves—nothing and no one else), but if you parse too much then that argument dismisses the whole point of my question. Try to play fair, both of you, and answer the original question by replacing “essential” with something softer…like Joe does in #9. And Joe, I think you meant “the Book of Mormon is, as yet, a totally incompletely unexplored book.”

    Oh, and with the goal of making our discussion more easily integrated into the Feast wiki, could I once again ask for specific verses?

  24. brianj said

    larryco: yes, I agree that there are problems with the “tidy OT argument.”

    Horebite: thanks for the response about redundancy does not equal unnecessity. (I’ll allow your made-up word because it’s a good point)

    JWL: thanks for the specific verses (you get a free order of fries)! While Joe clearly disagrees about culpa felix, I hadn’t heard the term before. Could it be that you and Joe disagree on the precise relationship of 2 Ne 2:25 with culpa felix, but that you both agree that Nephi is explaining the Fall as a “good” thing and it is not so clearly explained in the Bible?

  25. brianj said

    Oh, and I just remembered that I still need to share my example. The “essential” (scare quotes intended to bug Robert and Joe) doctrine in the BoM that I find most compelling:

    Alma 25: 15-16
    Yea, and they did keep the law of Moses; for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses as yet, for it was not all fulfilled. But notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them. Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come. (there are lots of other places in the BoM; I just picked the first example)

    Why? Because so many Christians (LDS and others) reject the Law of Moses, and with it most of the Old Testament, seeing it as an inferior law, blah, blah, blah. We miss out on sooooo much if we do that. To be explicit: the Bible shows that the Law of Moses was a type of Christ, but it does not show an example of a nation that lived the law the right way; rather, the Israelites abused the Law. The Nephites followed the Law and believed in Christ, and the result is a fascinating comparison between Nephites and Israelites.

  26. Joe Spencer said

    Well, Brian, you’ve made me laugh out loud. I’ll respond a bit more directly as I have time later on this afternoon.

  27. NathanG said

    Don’t worry, I didn’t feel picked on. I hope my comment on Alma baptizing at Mormon emphasized the covenant making process rather than the priesthood. Your view is very interesting to consider. I have never known what to do about authority there. I did wonder if there is a difference between baptism under law of Moses times verses what Christ set forth personally.

  28. NathanG said

    I was thinking more about your comment about the need for “the priesthood”, and I had to go back to the text. Mosiah 18:13 Alma says “Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God…” then in verse 17 “whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his Church.” Then in the next verse “Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests…”

    So, I agree that we should be careful how we read the Book of Mormon and (if I understand you correctly) we should not force their church to fit perfectly with how things are done in our church today, but it does seem there was reference to authority. I still wonder if there was something inherently different about baptism under law of Moses times. I also wonder if explicit instructions on method to baptism as Christ put forth later were because there is an inherent need to perform an ordinance a certain way, or if it is simply to eliminate the contention that surrounded ordinance.

    As Book of Mormon unique doctrines I like Alma’s exlicit instructions for the priests that he ordains. They are to teach and be with the people, but they are not to make it their full time job (not to be confused with seminary and institute teachers) and that they should labor for their own support. This seems to be some of the basis for having a lay ministry instead of a professional clergy.

  29. Horebite said


    So you’re saying that the scripture is like a key that allows us to unlock doctrines in the Old Testament? So what essential doctrines does in unlock? I agree that it makes the Old Testament more interesting, and perhaps more edifying, as we can see types of Christ in the rituals of the law of Moses, but could we not achieve salvation if didn’t have that knowledge about the law of Moses?

  30. s james said

    The word ‘redundancy’ caught my attention. Here is a slightly different slant, than the definition given in #8.

    Redundancy is a term I keep an eye on for in sociolinguistics and textual analysis it often refers to ‘message abundance’. All ‘natural’ languages possess redundancy, ie, are able to ‘say’ the same thing (theoretically) in a number of ways. Chiasmus, parallelism etc. all realise the principle of redundancy.

    As Horebite notes #2, in teaching we use redundancy for rhetorical purposes: to put a point a different way.
    In scripture study redundancy requires close attention, it marks among other things, an intensification.
    Information theory posits that redundancy refers to information which can easily be forgone, but in textual analysis this is debatable.

    Given this, the question relating to ‘essentials’ outlined in the original post might be cast: ‘What does scriptural redundancy signal, what is its work?’; or ‘What is essential about scriptural redundancy?’

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