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Finally: An Outline of a Book of Mormon Remnant Theology

Posted by joespencer on May 7, 2010

In a long series of posts, I have worked through every passage in the Book of Mormon—as well as a number of the obvious predecessors in the Old Testament—employing the word “remnant.” What I would like to do now, finally, in a last post is to begin to formulate, on the grounds of all this work, an actual remnant theology in light of the Book of Mormon. I hope this is a satisfactory conclusion to all this work.

If the Bible has a “remnant theology,” it is, in large part, because Saint Paul came along. Of course, as I’ve already pointed out in previous posts, there is clearly the outline of a remnant theology in the Hebrew Bible, studied historically-critically by Gerhard Hasel in his book, The Remnant. It seems, according to Hasel, that the Hebrew remnant theology was in large part borrowed from other ancient Near Eastern traditions, according to which the remnant is what survives a terrible disaster (a war, a plague, a flood, etc.) and so perpetuates a nation. Like other “foreign” traditions, the remnant theology is given an important twist as it is inserted into the Hebrew Bible: it is, rather quickly, enmeshed in the theme of covenantal promises made to Abraham’s seed (this enmeshing takes place over the course of a trajectory of remnant passages: Noah and the flood; Abraham and the city of Sodom; and Jacob and Esau). From there it ends up being a central theme of the Elijah cycle, which seems to suggest that it had taken hold in the Northern Kingdom, perhaps as a popular theme. Amos thus takes advantage of its popularity in Ephraim in order to criticize harshly his hearers, almost exclusively employing the theme in a strongly negative way: Israel will be left without a remnant. At one point, however, he holds forth the possibility that a remnant can be constructed positively. Isaiah and Micah—whose writings I have analyzed in some length in my previous posts—take over the positive possibility and begin the work of systematizing the remnant theology: the remnant is employed as a figure of hope in the midst of prophecies of utter desolation. Giorgio Agamben nicely summarizes: “Something like a paradox is found in these prophets, for they address themselves to the elected people, to Israel, as though they were a whole, while announcing that only a remnant will be saved.” (Agamben, The Time that Remains, p. 54)

If there is a theology here, it has been drawn out by the remnant theologian: Saint Paul. Agamben explains elsewhere: “What is decisive is that, as theologians have observed, ‘remnant’ does not seem simply to refer to a numerical portion of Israel. Rather, remnant designates the consistency assumed by Israel when placed in relation with an eskhaton, with election or the messianic event. In its relation to salvation, the whole (the people) thus necessarily posits itself as remnant. This is particularly clear in Paul.” (Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz, p. 163) What is implicit in the prophets—that the whole “posits itself as remnant”—is worked out in the greatest rigor in Paul. So what is Paul’s remnant theology?

Scholars dedicated to Paul have not missed the centrality of the remnant for Paul’s theology—particularly in the past couple of decades when more attention has been paid to Romans 9-11 than previously. For Paul, Israel as a whole will be saved, but that “whole” is, precisely, the remnant. Moreover, as with the prophets before him, the remnant of Israel is to include Gentiles: the remnant doesn’t take shape without reworking the division between Jews and Gentiles imposed by the law—a reworking that is accomplished through the introduction of the category of the spiritual (“of the flesh” vs. “of the spirit”). The remnant is a question, that is, of the spirit, and not of the flesh.

Agamben provides a remarkable analysis of Paul’s remnant theology by focusing on the role of the remnant in what he consistently translates from Paul as “the time of the now.” If the construction of the remnant was a future projection for the “Old Testament” prophets, something that would take shape only after the coming of the Messiah, for Paul the remnant was a thing of the present, of the time of the now, because the Messiah had already come. But of course, for Paul, the end was not yet: Christianity—the construction of the messianic community, the construction of the remnant—dawns in the period between the coming of the Messiah and the apocalyptic end (the “second coming”). Because any and every whole would not take shape until the end (when God would become “all in all”), but because the time of mere parts had already begun to pass (the time of everything being only “in part”), Paul saw himself as being caught up in the time between parts and the whole, essentially in the very place of the incommensurability of parts and whole (an incommensurability that, after the twentieth century, can be explained mathematically). Agamben argues that it is precisely this incommensurability between parts and whole that Paul calls “the remnant.”

In order to give this strange between position—this “time of the now”—a more rigorous formulation, Agamben draws on the language of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan: the remnant is neither “whole” nor “part” (both of these terms being caught up within the dialectic of the “all”), but instead “not-all.” Lacan talks about two completely distinct ways of talking about “everything,” two different logics, so to speak. On the one hand, the set of everything can be established through a constitutive exception, by something being outside of the rules that reign over everything. This is the kind of model asserted in orthodox Christianity: everything (the “whole” world) holds together in its consistency because it was created by a “thing”—namely, God—that is outside of everything (something other than or beyond being). Thus, at one and the same time: (1) for all x (“everything”), x falls within the order; but (2) there exists some x (“God”) that does not fall within the order. That is one way of talking about everything. This is what Lacan calls the logic of the “all” (as also “masculine” logic). On the other hand, however, one can talk about everything without gathering everything into a set. That is, one can assert that there is no “all,” no ultimate set that gathers everything together. Here one asserts: (1) not for all x (“everything”), x falls within the order (in sum: there is no “everything,” no “all”); yet (2) there does not exist any x that does not fall within the order (in sum: there is no “God” of the tradition, no God outside of all being, etc.). This is another way of talking about everything: not everything falls within the order of things, but there is no thing I come up against that does not fall within the order. This is what Lacan calls the logic of the “not-all” (as also “feminine” logic).

According to Agamben, what happens in the time of the now—in this period after the fulfillment of the law but before the end of time—is that the masculine logic of the all (which reigns both with the law and after the eschaton) is replaced by the feminine logic of the not-all. The remnant is that excess of the situation over itself, that something that escapes the logic of the flesh (escapes the “all”) and so that cannot be reduced to any identitarian subset of the situation (“the Jews,” “the Greeks,” etc.). The remnant is that unspeakable something more that prohibits the closure of the “all,” that remainder (“remnant” and “remainder” are obviously etymologically related) that the Messiah has come to liberate—a remainder that is constituted by everything the situation overlooks: the poor, the lame, the blind, the leprous, the offscouring of all things, the weak and simple, the non-beings, etc.

This remnant, for Paul, is a community that develops a radically new relationship to the law (that is, of course, to the Law of Moses): the law is, as Agamben translates Paul’s term, “deactivated” through its being brought to “fulfillment.” This means that the law remains (it has not been destroyed, as Christ explains both in the Sermon on the Mount and in His similar sermon to the Nephites, but fulfilled), but its normativity is deactivated: it becomes, as Agamben says elsewhere, “a law that is studied but no longer practiced” (State of Exception, p. 63). In a word, the law becomes “the old testament,” a set of texts to be studied intensely but whose normativity has been lost: one can finally begin to see what was at work in the texts one has always trembled before. Those gathered into the remnant are free, so to speak, to begin to read creatively—that is, typologically.

But if all this is becoming clear—something I think I doubt—what has it to do with the Book of Mormon? The question is particularly poignant because, as I’ve argued from the beginning, it seems that the Book of Mormon derived its basic remnant theology from Isaiah, and therefore not from Paul. That said, however, there is much in the Book of Mormon that is remarkably Pauline. This is true not only in the sense that the occasional phrase seems to have been drawn directly from Paul (whether through the mediation of the translator—the translator being Joseph or God, take your pick—or whether through the similarity of culture, thought, theology, or inspiration), but much more profoundly in the sense that there are shared theologies. So soon as I began seriously studying Paul’s theology a few years ago, I realized quickly that the Nephites are through and through Pauline. That this suggests a connection between Paul’s remnant theology and the theology of the Book of Mormon can be confirmed with a simple point: Paul’s remnant theology is worked out in the most intricate detail in his comparison of the Israelite-Gentile relations to the breaking off and regrafting in of so many branches of an olive tree (see, of course, Jacob 5). The Book of Mormon is closer to Paul than it might at first appear.

The Pauline connections are strongest, importantly, when Nephi (and his several sources: Lehi and Jacob in particular—and all these drawing on Isaiah) outlines the Nephite relationship to the law. And it must not be missed that, as made clear in the discussion above, Agamben’s Paul sorts out the remnant theology precisely in his careful approach to the question of the law.

But all this only sets up the problem. Now I want to come at it quite directly.

One could construct a (terse!) one-line formula of Paul’s remnant theology as follows: The remnant is that excess of the specifically Jewish situation—of that situation structured by the law—over itself (one that is set in motion by the Messiah’s already-having-come and so by the associated “deactivation” or “de-normalization” of the law), and so is that gathered community that obscures the boundaries ordained by the law and so is allowed to read the law, for the first time, typologically. Putting things in this way hopefully makes it possible to begin to see how the Nephites are, from the very beginning, Pauline. The crucial passage, one that never mentions the remnant but that is obviously related to Paul’s thinking of the remnant, is 2 Nephi 25:23-30. Quoted in full:

23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.
25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.
26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
27 Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away.
28 And now behold, my people, ye are a stiffnecked people; wherefore, I have spoken plainly unto you, that ye cannot misunderstand. And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not; for by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law.
29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.
30 And, inasmuch as it shall be expedient, ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses.

The Nephite experience of the law is, through and through, Messianic, in that the law—in light of the coming of the Messiah—has become for them “dead.” The oddity, of course, is that this takes place, for the Nephites, quite literally hundreds of years too early, some six centuries before the actual coming of the Messiah. The Nephites seem to be living a kind of Pauline Christianity before it’s possible to do so. This calls for a series of remarks.

First, it should be noted that this has long been a point of criticism regarding the Book of Mormon. It has, from the very first years of the books circulation, been pointed out that there is something deeply anachronistic about the Nephites’ Christianity. This reaches its most severe point of absurdity—according to the argument—when the Nephites learn and begin to use the name “Christ” (in place of the Hebrew “Messiah”), an explicitly Greek word that would not come into Judeo-Christian usage until long after the Nephites had left Jerusalem. Of course, the Book of Mormon claims that the word “Christ” was introduced to them through a direct revelation (see 2 Nephi 10:3), but it remains to be explained why God would bother to reveal to the Nephites five hundred years before the fact that Greeks would be translating the Hebrew “Messiah” into their own language in order to speak of Jesus’ role as the Messiah. Hugh Nibley, of course, had much to say about the the pre-Christian “churches of anticipation” in the Judean wilderness that can be taken as parallels to the Nephite experience and so that make it clear that the clear anticipation of the Messiah among the Nephites is not so sharp an anachronism as it might at first appear. However, Nibley’s work does not explain the use of the Greek word “Christ,” nor again does it deal with specifically Nephite Messianism, an emphatically Pauline Messianism (the law has entered into its fulfillment) rather than a Judean Messianism (the law remains in normative force). (Regarding the introduction of the term “Christ” to the Nephites, note that 1 Nephi 12:18 has forced believers to ask still more perplexing questions about the out-of-placeness of the word in the Book of Mormon. As that verse read in both the original and printer’s manuscripts, as well as in the 1830 edition, it employed, far “too early,” the word “Christ,” since the term was not revealed to the Nephites until 2 Nephi 10:3. Joseph Smith, apparently recognizing the difficulty, replaced “Jesus Christ” with “the Messiah” for the 1837—and every subsequent—edition. However, it doesn’t really seem that the employment of the name “Jesus Christ” in 1 Nephi 12:18 really presents any more of a problem than does the mere introduction of the term “Christ” among the Nephites. It can be explained in one of two ways. Either Nephi himself was, like his brother later on, introduced to the name during his revelatory experience, though he never makes enough of a fuss about it to make sure that we know that this was a startling revelation to him. Or, on the other hand, because Nephi only recorded this event long after his brother had already announced the name “Jesus Christ” to the Nephites, Nephi accidentally placed it anachronistically into the text when he was recording his experience. Either way, it isn’t necessarily any more problematic than the mere existence of the term “Christ” among the Nephites.)

Second, if this first point seems to be a real problem, it should be noted that the Book of Mormon is quite aware of the problem—that is, the Book of Mormon recognizes that there is something quite strange about its having been pressed, hundreds of years in advance, into a kind of Greek Gentile experience of the Messiah as already-come. A couple of poignant texts: “Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was” (Jarom 1:11); “And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them” (Mosiah 3:13); “And now if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come as though they had already come, there could have been no redemption” (Mosiah 16:6); “And now, my son, this was the ministry unto which ye were called, to declare these glad tidings unto this people, to prepare their minds; or rather that salvation might come unto them, that they may prepare the minds of their children to hear the word at the time of his coming. And now I will ease your mind somewhat on this subject. Behold, you marvel why these things should be known so long beforehand” (Alma 39:16-17); etc. From these texts it seems pretty clear that the Nephites themselves recognized the oddity of their experience: they were, at times, just as baffled as the modern reader at the fact that they were living a kind of post-Easter Christianity avant la lettre. At the very least, it is important to recognize that to point out the out-of-place-and-timeness of Nephite Messianism is not, somehow, triumphantly and brilliantly to recognize a “slip-up” or an accident; rather, it is to see what the Book of Mormon itself is plainly wrestling with and trying to make sense of. If the anachronicity of the Book of Mormon is a problem, it is a problem first and foremost for the Nephites, and only secondarily for the latter-day reader trying to make sense of the book. One would do best to stop trying to criticize the Book of Mormon and instead begin to criticize one’s own overly dismissive approach, attempting instead to ask what the book might be doing messianically.

Hence, third, it should be noted that the Book of Mormon’s Messianism is—like Paul’s—tied as much to its anticipation of the end-times apocalypse as it is to its taking-as-given the already-having-comeness of the Messiah. That is, both Pauline and Nephite Messianism situates itself between the two comings of Christ, between His first and second advents. Of course, there is, at the same time, and important difference between the Nephites and Paul on this point: Paul is actually situated between the arrival of the Messiah and the apocalyptic time of the end, while the Nephites situate themselves between those two events “only” virtually. The result of this difference is important: while Paul expects that the apocalypse will happen any day now, the Nephites know that the apocalypse itself is at a (remarkably great) distance from them, though they are given to analyzing it. Like Paul, Nephi understands the law to have pointed (typologically) to the coming of the Messiah (to the time of the law’s fulfillment) and the prophets to have anticipated the events of the end time (the eventual consequence of the law’s fulfillment). And like Paul, the Nephites understand this division of labor between the law and the prophets is to be connected to the question of the covenant: the law is fulfilled and deactivated precisely so that the (Abrahamic) covenant can come fully into its own and itself be fulfilled. At any rate, it must be recognized that the Nephites (or, at least, Nephi and Christ among the Nephites) read the prophets—and of course Isaiah in particular—as having outlined the apocalyptic events surrounding the fulfillment of the covenant. The Nephites embrace not only an explicitly messianic but also a fully apocalyptic theology.

Fourth, however, the major difference between Paul and the Nephites—this question of timing, this question of the Nephites employing a Pauline Messianism too far in advance—must be measured, especially because it grounds what is unquestionably the remarkably unique contribution to Messianism and apocalypticism staged by the Book of Mormon. What seems primarily to have oriented the Nephites to what I have thus far called a Pauline theology is the crucial apocalyptic vision of Nephi, to be found in 1 Nephi 11-14 (connected in obvious but complex ways with Lehi’s dream in 1 Nephi 8, explained in an initial way in 1 Nephi 15, and exposited in terms of the Old Testament prophets in various ways in 1 Nephi 19-22 and 2 Nephi 6-30). There it is that Nephi learns very specifically concerning the coming of the Messiah and thus of the “beginning of the end.” But he also learns there of the curious hiatus that characterizes the thus-ushered-in “time of the now”—a hiatus characterized by the usurpation of especially scripture by the rise into power of “the great and abominable church”—a hiatus that distracts those gathered into the messianic community from the question of the covenant, and hence from its apocalyptic fulfillment. Rupturing this hiatus, in the story that unfolds in Nephi’s vision, is the sudden emergence of a book, a book to be connected with the Bible, but a book that outstrips the de-covenantalized framework of the received Bible. That book, which of course turns out to be the very book Nephi is helping to write—something Nephi doesn’t himself seem to realize until nearly the end of his life—thus serves to bring the fully-messianic-because-once-again-apocalyptic era Paul had announced into existence. In other words, in Nephi’s vision it is the Book of Mormon that essentially re-Pauline-izes Christianity by reintroducing the covenant and its apocalyptic fulfillment. And, crucially for the concerns I’m here trying to outline, that reintroduction of the covenant accomplished by the Book of Mormon is inseparable from the reintroduction and centralization of the concept of the remnant.

Having made these remarks—attempting to outline the relevance of Paul to the Book of Mormon—I think I can begin to ask at last after what the remnant theology in the Book of Mormon might be doing.

Without question, the first thing that must be said is that the Isaianic tradition on which the Nephites (or really, Nephi in particular) draw for the formulation of their remnant theology is one in which the “coming community” that will be the remnant is to be, specifically, a reading community, the community of readers who are finally prepared to read the testimony sealed up for that later time. Moreover, that community of readers projected by (specifically First) Isaiah is described (by specifically Second Isaiah) as the eschatological community of gathered Israel. In other words, Isaiah as appropriated by the Nephites is a question of both (1) a projection of the eschatological remnant as a community gathered specifically by a text that has been sealed and (2) an articulation of that eschatological reading community in its activities. It is in the texts that outline this projection-and-fulfillment that the Nephites find the basis for their own remnant theology.

However, even in its earliest formulations, the Nephite remnant theology is founded on a very definite reading strategy, one Nephi names “likening”: having had apocalyptic revelations of their own, and being able to see the basic outlines of their visions in the eschatological framework provided by (Second) Isaiah, the Nephites believe it is possible to “liken” Isaiah’s writings to themselves, employing Isaiah’s texts to make sense of what they see happening with their own people in the latter days. There is, in this reading strategy, a very important gap between Isaiah’s prophecies in themselves and Isaiah’s prophecies as employed by the Nephites: that an explicit act of likening has to be identified makes clear that there is an irreducible difference that separates the New World Isaiah from the Old World Isaiah. Subtly confirming this gap and difference is Nephi’s consistent employment of the phrase “a remnant,” obviously at some distance from Isaiah’s equally consistent “the remnant.” Whatever the Nephites intended originally to say about remnants, it was at once mediated by Isaiah and yet in excess of what Isaiah himself had had to say.

Importantly, the Nephite apocalyptic experience provided them with what seems at first to be a relatively non-theological conception of the remnant: the remnant of Lehi’s seed seems simply to be whatever is left of them rather than—as in the Old Testament—something very specifically constructed. But precisely because this almost non-theological conception is woven into the emphatically theological framework provided by Isaiah, the “likening” work of Nephi end up theologicizing the Nephite conception of the remnant, at least in a rough and ready way. This is something, however, that it seems the Nephites missed for most of their history—at least until the time that Christ came among them in order to begin talking again about the remnant. Mormon, whether because of the tradition that had come down to him from Christ or, more likely, because he had an opportunity to read the small plates before he got to work on everything we have in the Book of Mormon from him, inherited Nephi’s preliminarily theologicized notion, though he didn’t begin to impose it onto his record until he came to about the time of the visit of Christ.

Mormon offers his first word on the question of the remnant in 3 Nephi 5, in the passage where he first introduces himself as editor into the text quite explicitly (and at surprising length after his absence for three full historical books). If the passage is read too quickly, it would seem to appear that Mormon does nothing innovative; however, read carefully, 3 Nephi 5:23-24 makes clear that Mormon is borrowing but also modifying slightly Nephi’s Isaianic scheme. Borrowing: like Nephi, Mormon speaks of a remnant of Joseph when he refers to the Lamanites, and of the remnant of Jacob when he speaks of the eschatological remnant beyond or larger than the Lamanites. Modifying: unlike Nephi, the relationship between a and the remnant is, for Mormon, not a question of likening, but is instead a question of direct historical entanglement. That is, whereas Nephi borrows Isaiah’s theology of the remnant in order to liken it to what he has seen in vision regarding a (more “secularly” literal) remnant, Mormon asserts that there will be a direct relationship between the (more “secularly” literal) remnant of the seed of Joseph and the (more theologically understood) remnant of the seed of Jacob.

Of course, all the elements that go into Mormon’s slight alteration to the Nephite remnant theology are present in Nephi’s writings; it is just that Nephi never quite put things together in the fashion that Mormon does. With Mormon, it becomes clear that the to-be-constructed remnant of the Old Testament prophets cannot be disentangled historically from the “naturally”-left-over remnant of Nephi’s apocalyptic visions. As Mormon goes on to theorize further in his own book—and as Moroni confirms in his contributions—this relation between a and the remnant is crucial: the one, unconstructed remnant is what allows for the other remnant to be constructed, and everyone—the Lamanites remnant, the Gentiles, the Jews, and all of Israel—will have to become a part of that constructed remnant to be saved at the last day. (It is significant that for both Mormon and Moroni it is not that people in the last day do not need simply to become Israelites to be saved; they need to become part of the remnant of Israel. Adoption isn’t into some Israelite whole, but into the Israelite remnant. Here the Nephite theology looks more Pauline than ever.)

With all these details clear, it is possible, at last, to deal with 3 Nephi 20-21 in order to put the finest (outlined) point on the Nephite remnant theology. First, it should be noted of course that Christ takes up as His primary textual source something in addition to Isaiah: Micah forms a major part of His most crucial discourse on the remnant, and of course the entire book of Micah is structured around the question of the remnant. Importantly, Christ seems to equate Micah’s the remnant with the Lamanite (a) remnant, but He doesn’t seem to do so because He is likening. Here, that is, it seems that Christ privileges the particular Lamanite remnant (in all its secularity) as being central to the construction of the larger Isaianic remnant, and so He simply equates the Lamanite remnant with the Mican remnant. In some sense, this isn’t much of a surprise, given the privileged role of the Nephite record (the Book of Mormon) in the unfolding of the eschaton Christ spells out. But it does clarify the adoption mechanism only implied elsewhere in the Book of Mormon: the Gentiles, because they are to be the translators and propagators of the Book of Mormon, are to be adopted into this very specific remnant, the Lamanite remnant, and so gathered to the New Jerusalem that is to be built, where consecration is to unfold. The gathering of the Gentiles into Israel (or into the larger Israelite remnant) is to happen through their being associated with the very particular remnant that is the “remnant of Joseph.”

That said, it is necessary at last to deal with the emphatically theological text that concludes Christ’s sermon on the remnant. Here again—and these words from Christ are likely the source for Mormon’s similar exposition—the remnant that is the Lamanites serves as something like the mobilizing foundation for all other remnants to be gathered together into the remnant. The Lamanite remnant is privileged in that its complex relationship with the Gentiles leads to the building of what is to be called the New Jerusalem, a gathering center around which the entire eschatological event will take its orbit. The building of the New Jerusalem is anything but the organization of a communitarian project oriented to the Gentiles and their obsession with economics. Rather, it is the laid foundation for the construction of the much larger remnant project.

Taken together, then, and summarized quite briefly, it seems that the Book of Mormon has a roughly Pauline remnant theology, qualified in only a few crucial points: (1) in the Book of Mormon, the remnant theology is anticipatedly Pauline rather than directly Pauline, in that everything in the small plates is worked out in a strictly Pauline fashion before the arrival of the Messiah; (2) the Book of Mormon provides a number of remarkably specific details about the actual historical working out of the construction of the remnant; (3) because the Book of Mormon is so historically specific, it at times seems to have a much less theological approach to the question of the remnant, though the sermons in Third Nephi in particular make clear that there is a latent theology at work throughout the text; (4) the most crucial historical detail among all those introduced by the Book of Mormon’s unique prophecies is the fact that the Book of Mormon itself will be the mobilizer of the construction of the eschatological remnant; (5) the centralization of the role of the Book of Mormon in the Nephite remnant theology betrays the Nephite interest in a very specific Old Testament source for remnant theology, namely Isaiah, thus differing from Paul’s broader interest in the larger Old Testament theme; (6) the eventual introduction—by Christ—of Micah into the story shows the remarkable complexity of the Book of Mormon remnant theology, a complexity generally missing from Paul (which is not to say that Paul’s doctrine is easy, just that it isn’t complex).

This, at last, seems to me to be something of an outline of the Book of Mormon remnant theology.

But all that said, much obviously remains to be done. Once the whole picture has been constructed, it is worth going back to individual passages to see how they might be clarified or reread. Such further work should alter the picture in a number of crucial ways, and more careful readings of Paul (and of Agamben!) should help to put a finer point on things. For now, however, I’ll let this several-month-long study suffice.

5 Responses to “Finally: An Outline of a Book of Mormon Remnant Theology”

  1. This is really excellent Joe.

  2. Robert C. said

    Very nice, Joe, lots to digest and think about.

    This is perhaps only tangential to your main project, but I can’t help thinking for some reason about the tension you address of the natural/secular vs. theological remnant in terms of grace and works, the grace of what is (naturally) given as opposed to the work of construction—a work that is necessarily built upon the grace of the naturally given/found remnant. It is this entanglement improperly understood that effects the apostasy and the need for restoration, which is . . . well, a call to redeem grace via works (i.e., the work of construction).

    Anyway, thanks again—this will surely be a recurring topic in future discussions.

  3. […] At Feast: Last post on remnant theology May 21, 2010 by Karen Finally: An Outline of a Book of Mormon Remnant Theology […]

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