2 Ne 25:20-30
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- Verse 23: After and prevenient grace.
At the time this was translated, the most common meaning of "after" (verse 23) was, as it is now, "subsequent in time to." However, that is not its only meaning. The 1828 Webster's dictionary notes that "to follow after, in scripture, is to pursue, or imitate; to serve, or worship" and gives two scriptural examples (Romans 8:5 and Isaiah 11:3) of where "after" means "according to" or "according to the direction and influence of." See also meaning #5 at dictionary.com: "Subsequent to and because of or regardless of: They are still friends after all their differences." The emphasis of the verse becomes quite different than it is usually interpreted if we interpret "after" as meaning something like "despite."
If the word after here is taken in the temporal sense, this verse suggests a view that would contradict the doctrine of prevenient grace (that grace is offered prior to any act of human will; this is taking "prevenient" in its most literal sense—it could be that the only act required to trigger grace is the acceptance of God's love but this would not be a strict notion of prevenient grace).
Alternate meanings of after (see lexical note above and related links below), albeit less common, might allow for an interpretation that does not contradict a strict notion of prevenient grace. For example, consider the following rendering: "for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, in accordance with all we can do." If this rendering is considered equivalent to verse 23, then one could argue that grace precedes our works and that our works derive from grace. Also, if after is taken to mean something like "regardless of" or "despite," one could maintain that this verse is consistent with a strict notion of prevenient grace.
Another reading consistent with a strict notion of prevenient grace can be based on the notion that agency itself is a gift of grace. On this view, we are saved by grace because only through grace are we able to do anything (cf. 2 Ne 2:26, "because they are redeemed [notice the past tense] from the fall they have become free forever"). So on this view, first we receive agency-enabling grace, then we do what God asks, then we are saved.
Another possible interpretation can be that "all we can do" is to repent. This is justifiable by comparing this passage with Alma 24:10-15.
- And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son. And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain— Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren. Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins. And the great God has had mercy on us, and made these things known unto us that we might not perish; yea, and he has made these things known unto us beforehand, because he loveth our souls as well as he loveth our children; therefore, in his mercy he doth visit us by his angels, that the plan of salvation might be made known unto us as well as unto future generations. Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.
- Verse 24.
The "And" with which this verse begins is perhaps quite important to any interpretation of verse 23, because it suggests that there is some kind of continuity at work here. To make the most sense of this, it is best simply to drop the almost parenthetical "notwithstanding we believe in Christ." If one does this, one has (in verses 23-24): "for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. And we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled." Reading the two verses this way is ultimately quite helpful. It highlights several points. First, it becomes quite clear that whatever might be meant by verse 23, it is to be read in terms of keeping the Law and believing in Christ. Second, it appears that verse 24 is a kind of "application" of verse 23 ("And we keep the law," that is, we do all we can). Third, the lengthier and more complicated content of verse 24 provides an alternate way of thinking the relation between "grace" and what "we can do," which reinterprets what is being said in the apparently more straightforward verse 23. All of this calls for a careful look at verse 24, and then at how this in turn reworks what is said in verse 23.
Structurally, verse 24 sets up a kind of opposition precisely by defusing it (all of this is accomplished by the careful word "notwithstanding"). In a sense, it suggests that it would be common to recognize an opposition between two things this verse does not see as being in opposition. The two things: on the one hand, "we believe in Christ"; on the other hand, "we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled." This defused opposition is, it should be noticed, not equally balanced: it is the latter of the two "things" that does not withstand the former. This little detail is important, because it shows that Nephi is placing one of the two at the foundation: "we believe in Christ." In other words, Nephi seems to place the greatest emphasis on what might be called the parenthetical statement of the verse, the unnecessary part of the verse: it is that belief that matters most. In fact, it is precisely the importance of belief that makes it somewhat unnecessary in the structure of the verse: it is an unquestionable presupposition, while the longer question of "we keep the law of Moses," etc., needs to be stated emphatically. In short, it is quite clear that it is belief that matters most to Nephi here.
What emerges in the course of the foregoing, then, is the fact that Nephi expects his readers to see some kind of difficulty inherent in combining belief in Christ with keeping the Law of Moses. Actually, this may be a rather simplistic reading of the verse. In the end, it may not be the keeping that specifically stands against the belief, but the deferral of any real relationship with Christ: "notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we ... look forward with steadfastness unto Christ." The "unto" combines with the "until" of the final phrase of the verse to suggest a kind of postponement, one that would appear to cancel faith, to render it meaningless. But it is precisely this opposition that the verse calls into question. That is, faith/belief does not preclude the possibility of keeping the Law of Moses in a kind of postponement of Christian fulfillment (in a double sense). But this calls for further comment.
Perhaps what emerges here, then, is a picture of faith as it must be had by those who lived before the coming of Christ but with an understanding of His (historical, that is, covenantal) "plan," a plan Nephi seems to understand primarily in terms of Isaiah's prophecies. This last point is perhaps vital, since in the parallel passage (2 Ne 11:4), Nephi discusses typology and its relation to the Law of Moses precisely in terms of interpreting Isaiah. In fact, this detail may be taken to suggest that it is within the boundaries of Isaiah's writings specifically that one is to detect this kind of forward-looking, faithful obedience. In light of these comments, it is certainly worth asking how one should regard Nephi's usage of terms like "fulfilled." Of course, any detailed commentary on such a point would have be appended to a full exploration of Nephi's Christology. At the very least, then, there seems to be pictured here a kind of regard for the Law that recognizes in it the possibility of coming before Christ in faith.
This spirit of these comments perhaps provides for two different readings of verse 23. On the one hand, one might suggest that "we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do" means that "all we can do" refers specifically to keeping the Law of Moses, and that the saying must be limited to a pre-Christian faith-relation (those under the Law recognize that grace itself is only to be manifested after all has been done with regard to the Law). On the other hand, one might suggest that the phrase be interpreted in light of the intertwining faith-and-obedience relation that is apparently to be read in Isaiah. That is, perhaps "all we can do" is come before Christ in a confession of faith, in a covenant of obedience, and then His grace is sufficient.
- Verse 25. If the previous verse begins to hint at a kind of intertwining of faith and obedience to the Law, this verse begins to probe that picture profoundly. But it begins with a rather vague phrase: "For, for this end was the law given." The primary difficulty here is the ambiguous reference in "this end": is "this end" what has just been described, or what is about to be described, or what? If "this end" points backwards, does it point to "believe in Christ," "keep the law of Moses," "look forward with steadfastness unto Christ," "the law shall be fulfilled," or some combination of some or all of these? If "this end" points forward, to what does it point, and how can one think through the grammar of such a pointing? In the end, one must make a decision as regards this question.
Points to ponder
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- Verse 20. Why does Nephi use the term "the nations"? After all, it was individuals who were bitten by the serpents, not really nations.
- Verse 21. Is Nephi conflating the preservation of the plates with the survival of the seed?
- Verse 22. How does the Book of Mormon continue to be transformed and transmitted from generation to generation in the dispensation of the fullness of times?
- Verse 29. In verse 29 it says '...bow down before him (Jesus) and worship him..." Might not nonLDS use this statement to suggest that we should Pray to Jesus, as they do? And how do I as believer, who prays unto the Father, as the Savior taught and showed me, also follow this admonition, to bow down and worship, without inappropriately "praying" unto Jesus?
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- Verse 20: None other name. The phrase "none other name" is only used in two other verses (Acts 4:12 and D&C 18:23), and the phrase "no other name" is only used in two other verses (Mosiah 3:17 and Mosiah 5:8). Click here to see the verses displayed side by side.
- Verse 23. See this post at the BCC blog by J. Nelson-Seawright (Jan 15, 2008) for a summary of traditional and "revisionist" readings of this verse followed by a "3rd way" admonition to tread this verse as an exhortation rather than a systematic theological claim.
- See Eph 2:8-10 for discussion of faith, grace, and works.
- See User:RobertC/Grace for discussion of prevenient grace in LDS thought and scriptures.
- Prevenient grace article from Wikipedia.
- Ostler's view. See p. 222 in Blake Ostler's Exploring Mormon Thought: The Problem's of Theism and the Love of God (ISBN 1589580958). Ostler argues that the Mormon view is consistent with prevenient grace and that after in verse 23 should be be taken in atemporal, non-causal sense. See also his Dialogue articles referenced here.
- Richard G. Scott, "The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 40–42. Elder Scott said: "[Jesus Christ] is perfect in every attribute, including love, compassion, patience, obedience, forgiveness, and humility. His mercy pays our debt to justice when we repent and obey Him. Since with even our best efforts to obey His teachings we will still fall short, because of His grace we will be 'saved, after all we can do.'"
- Verse 26. Margaret S. Lifferth, "Behold Your Little Ones," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 74–76.
- "It's easy to know what to teach. The scriptures and our prophets are clear about what to teach our children... How do we do it? Begin by following the counsel of our prophets and making time in our homes for family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening. Have we heard that counsel so often that it seems too simple? Or are we so busy that adding one more thing feels too complex? I testify that... obedience alone invites the blessings of the Lord."
- Kathleen H. Hughes, "Remembering the Lord’s Love," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 111–12.
- "Our families need the peace of God in their lives, and if we can't or won't invite the Lord into our lives, then our families become a reflection of our own turmoil. Women are asked to be nurturers to their families, but we must also be firm; we must be the hard rock footings on which our homes can stand. Our families need us to speak peace to them, just as the Lord speaks peace to us. Our homes need to be places where our families and friends want to be, where all who enter our homes can draw strength and courage to face the challenges of living in an increasingly wicked world."
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