2 Ne 2:11-15

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Second Nephi > Chapters 1-5 > Chapter 2 > Verses 2:11-15
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Relationship to Chapter 2. The relationship of Verses 2:11-15 to the rest of Chapter 2 is discussed at Chapter 2.


Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 2:11-15 include:


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  • 2 Ne 2:11-13: The import of Adam's fall. Verse 11 indicates that "life" was not possible without the opposing forces introduced in the fall; such things as righteousness and wickedness, good and bad, health and sickness, holiness and misery. Adam would not have ceased breathing if he'd not eaten of the forbidden fruit. In our usual sense of the word, he would have been alive, but in another sense, life is strictly required to involve change; either growth or decay. (health and sickness, life and death) Adam's state, as a closed system, was unchanging, as was Eve's. He could not progress and he could not decay.
In verse 12, if Adam could not die, then he could not truely live or progress, and since the earth was created for the express purpose of enabling man's progress, Adam's mortality (and, by extension, ours) was necessary in order to bring about the earth's purpose. Otherwise, all of creation would have been a thing of naught.
IN verse 13, such a state of things would belie an imperfection in the wisdom of God who had purposed the creation. (Likewise his inability to bring about his purpose would imply an imperfection in his power and by extension, many of his attributes.) Since God is, at least in part, defined as a being of perfect wisdom, then, if Adam had not fallen, then our God would not be a God and we would therefore have no God at all.
  • Adam, like Christ, was willing to die in order to bring forth much "fruit". Adam was not deceived, but knowingly and willingly partook of the fruit in order "that man may be".
  • 2 Ne 2:11. This verse has often been referred to as the most philosophically sophisticated passage in the Book of Mormon. It deserves very close scrutiny.
A basic problem divides the standard interpretations of this verse into two camps. At issue is the status of "wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one." One camp takes this to be a restatement in new words of the opening sentence ("for it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things"). In other words, one camp takes "all things must needs be a compound in one" to be a summary of the way things actually are (and, indeed, should be). The other camp, however, takes this to be the conclusion of the sentence that immediately precedes it ("if not so," etc.), the result being that it is itself restated in what follows it ("wherefore, if it should be one body," etc.). In other words, the other camp takes this to be a summary of the way things are not (and shouldn't be). It is best to solve this problem first and then to move on to interpretation of the verse more generally.
  • Structure. A number of clues suggest that there is a deliberate structure to Lehi's words in this verse:
  For it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things.
     If not so, [series of opposites: righteousness/wickedness, happiness/misery, good/bad], could not be brought to pass.
  Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one.
     If it should be one body, [series of opposites: life/death, corruption/incorruption, happiness/misery, sense/sensibility], must needs remain as dead.
Verse 11 thus appears to have a basic ABAB structure, with a deliberate parallel set up between "it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things" and "all things must needs be a compound in one" (with ties marked by italics and bolding above), and another deliberate parallel set up between the "if not so" and "if it should be one body" sentences (with ties again marked by italics and bolding).
This structure alone suggests that there is a kind of equivalence between "it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things" and "all things must needs be a compound in one." This structure, and its interpretive implication just noted, will guide all further interpretation of this verse.
  • It must needs be that. It is worth noting that Lehi says "it must needs be that there is" rather than "there must needs be." This appears a minor difference, but it seems to mark the gap between what philosophers call ontological or metaphysical necessity and logical necessity. Had Lehi said simply that "there must needs be an opposition in all things," he would seem to have been saying only that there is a logical necessity, a necessity about the way things appear, bound up with opposition. But because he said that "it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things," he seems rather to have been saying that there is an actually ontological necessity, a necessity about the way things are, bound up with opposition. The basic inconsistency ("opposition") Lehi identifies apparently runs right down into being, whether or not it appears in the world.
  • There is. It is worth noting also that Lehi says "it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things" rather than "it must needs be that an opposition is in all things." Again this appears a minor difference, but it marks the difference between topological localization and unlocalized universality.
  • An opposition. It is further worth noting that Lehi speaks of "an opposition" rather than "opposition" pure and simple. Lehi thus seems to have reference not to opposition as such, opposition in general, to the category of opposition, but rather to a particular opposition, a specifiable opposition, a singular opposition.
  • In all things. It is also worth noting that Lehi speaks of "an opposition in all things" rather than "an opposition for all things." Lehi highlights a kind of interiority rather than an exteriority with this one minor choice of word. It is not that there is some opposition that is brought to bear on things so much as an opposition that is at work within things, internal to them.
  • All things. Before any further interpretive work can be done, it is necessary to determine what Lehi means when he speaks of "all things." There are at least three distinct possible meanings.
  • Compound in one vs. one body. Although, at first blush, it may seem that "compound in one" and "one body" are very similar concepts (emphasizing oneness), it seems here they are being juxtaposed in a way that emphasizes the duality (or multiplicity) inherent in the term compound (cf. Alma 43:13 where compound refers to the Lamanites as an amalgamation of peoples). The idea of one body can be read here as a contrast to this oppositional nature of the word compound. The implication seems to be that if Adam's fall had not occurred, things would have remained in a state of unity. Interestingly, the word atonement also seems to presuppose a fusing together. (See also Gen 2:24 where man and woman are commanded to leave their parents and then to cleave to each other.)
  • 2 Ne 2:13. This verse tells us that if there is no sin there is no righteousness. This doesn't mean that in order to be righteous one must sin. Clearly, Christ's example shows us that this is false. We might read then this as saying that sin has to be known (someone has to sin) in order for there to be righteousness. Or maybe this means simply that sin has to be possible--man must be enticed (see verse 16). That reading would suggest that Christ had to be tempted in order for him to be righteous, but he didn't have to give in to temptation.
  • 2 Ne 2:14. Note that between verses 11 and verse 14, Lehi switches from addressing Jacob only to addressing his sons collectively.
  • 2 Ne 2:14. The first part of the verse answers the string of if-then statements in 13: Verse 13 says “if this, then not that,” etc. Verse 14 begins by saying “but that is true.” It follows that the first “this” in v. 13 isn’t true.

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  • 2 Ne 2:11: In the ancient Mediterranean Basin and Near East, many religions understood the world as a continuum: ultimately there is no difference between the lowest insect and the highest god; there is a unity of all-in-all, a state that could be described as “compound in one.” Some religions today hold similar beliefs. Perhaps Lehi has such religions in mind here. If so, why would he think it important to teach Jacob that they are false?
  • 2 Ne 2:11: If there must be opposition in all things for there to be good, why are those who oppose God’s law punished?
  • 2 Ne 2:11: What does “opposition” mean, “contrariety” or “difference"?
  • 2 Ne 2:11: One meanings of “opposition” is “contrast.” Could that be the meaning here? Does that change our understanding of the verse?
  • 2 Ne 2:11: Does it follow from what Lehi says here that there must be evil acts?
  • 2 Ne 2:11: What does it refer to in the phrase "if it should be one body"?
  • 2 Ne 2:12: Why would the world have been created for nothing, without purpose, if there were no opposition?
  • 2 Ne 2:12: Why would that “destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God"?
  • 2 Ne 2:12: What is God's power, mercy and justice?
  • 2 Ne 2:12: Does Lehi mean this phrase to be understood as one thing, or does he mean us to understand each thing separately?
  • 2 Ne 2:12: What does “destroy” mean in this case?
  • 2 Ne 2:12: The phrase “no purpose in the end of its creation” is odd since “purpose” and “end” seem to mean the same thing in this case. What do you make of that odd phrasing?
  • 2 Ne 2:13: Look at each step in the chain of this argument. Can you explain why each step is true? For example, why is it that if there is no righteousness, then there is no happiness?
  • 2 Ne 2:13: To what does “these things” refer in the phrase “if these things are not there is no God,” to righteousness, happiness, punishment, and misery, or only to the last two?
  • 2 Ne 2:13: Variations of the phrase “to act and not to be acted upon” occur in several places in Lehi’s address (v. 14 and v. 26). If we are affected by something, we are acted upon, so if we have bodies or emotions, we are acted upon. Since Lehi doesn’t deny that we have bodies or emotions, he must mean something different. What does “acted upon” mean to him? What things act? What things are acted upon?
  • 2 Ne 2:13: In what sense are the forbidden fruit and the tree of life opposites?


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  • 2 Ne 2:13-14. David A. Bednar, "And Nothing Shall Offend Them," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 89–92. Elder Bednar says it is "ultimately impossible for another person to offend" us because it is "a choice we make [and] not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us. ... To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation."


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