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Relationship to Chapter 7. The relationship of Verses 7:1-19 to the rest of Chapter 7 is addressed at Chapter 7.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 7:1-19 include:
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- Verse 7:1-19: Outline.
- • judging between good and evil (1-19)
- • address to followers of Christ who have obtained hope as shown by their peaceableness, hope defined (1-4)
- • good people yield good fruit, evil people yield evil fruit (4-11)
- • good comes from God, evil comes from the devil, judge between them carefully in the light of Christ (12-19)
- - God entices to do good, the devil entices to do evil (12-13)
- - judge carefully through the Spirit of Christ that is given to every man (14-16a)
- - God entices to do good, the devil entices to do evil (16b-17)
- - judge carefully in the light of Christ and lay hold on every good thing to be a child of Christ (18-19)
- - God entices to do good, the devil entices to do evil (12-13)
The first half (verses 4-11) addresses how good and evil are manifested in the lives of people. The second half (verses 12-19) addresses how good and evil enticements can be distinguished.
Moro 7:1-4: Address to audience
- Moro 7:1: Faith, hope, and charity. Though this chapter concludes by talking about faith, hope and charity, along the way other subjects are discussed. But Moroni's introduction here suggests that we should read the entire chapter as a single sermon on faith, hope and charity, i.e., we should read the first handful of verses as somehow leading up to faith, etc.
- Moro 7:1: After this manner. Moroni tells us that Mormon spoke "after this manner." We might interpret this phrase as an indication that this chapter is the type of sermon Mormon delivered rather than a particular sermon delivered on a particular occasion. Another interpretation is that this is a particular sermon (or at least a part of one) but that Mormon spoke in a similar way many times. A third interpretation, somewhere between these first two, is that Moroni is writing something from memory and that he is therefore warning that it was only "after this manner" that the discourse was given. If Moroni's avowal that he is writing "a few of the words of my father Mormon" is to be taken quite strictly, then it seems likely that one of the latter two readings would be preferred.
- Moro 7:1: In the synagogue. The wording suggests Moroni is referring to a single structure. It is curious that there would be one synagogue that could be identified in this way rather than many synagogues.
- Moro 7:1: For the place of worship. It is interesting that Moroni does not make reference to "a place of worship," but "the place of worship." Moreover, it is certainly significant that the sermon recorded in this chapter was given in connection with worship: in a post-Third-Nephi setting, one might assume that this would suggest a eucharistic setting. This point is absolutely vital for a close reading of verse 2.
- Moro 7:2: Grace of God. Paul also uses the phrase "the grace of God" to refer to his work for the Lord, see 1 Cor 3:10.
- Moro 7:2: By the grace of God . . . I am permitted to speak. It is interesting that Mormon's first words of this noteworthy sermon are about Christ's calling to him and the grace of God giving him this "gift" of a calling. This short verse expresses Mormon's humility and gratitude with regard to this calling. It seems likely that the calling Mormon refers to, when he speaks of Christ calling unto him, is the calling he discusses in 3 Ne 5:13, namely, that he is called to declare the gospel.
- This beginning is similar to the beginnings of other sermons in the Book of Mormon. Jacob (Jacob 2:1) and Alma (Alma 5:3) both begin with reference to their calling from God. And though King Benjamin does not make explicit reference to his calling from God in the beginning of his sermon which commences in Mosiah 2:9, he makes it clear that he considers himself to be serving God in his service as king, and answerable to God for the sins of the people (see Mosiah 2:28, 30 in particular; Jacob says something similar in Jacob 1:19).
- Mormon's tone, however, stands in contrast to the beginning of these other noteworthy Book of Mormon sermons in that he says "it is by the grace of God . . . that I am permitted to speak unto you" emphasizing the privilege that Mormon considers it to give this sermon, rather than the responsibility he feels. Mormon may particularly feel it a privilege to speak because at other times he has been prohibited from preaching (see Morm 1:17). It also may be that he considers giving this sermon a privilege because it addresses positive key aspects of the gospel, viz. faith, hope and charity (cf. verse 1), as opposed to less positive aspects of the gospel. (In this sense, Jacob's sermon seems to be at the opposite end of the spectrum since he has to address the grave sins of pride and infidelity. Although King Benjamin and Alma do not seem to address gross sins as directly as Jacob, there still seems to be more of a call-to-repentance tone in their messages than Mormon's: King Benjamin saying "remember the poor" and Alma saying "remember your forefathers.")
- Moro 7:3-4: Peaceable followers of Christ. Mormon notes here that he speaks to "the peaceable followers of Christ" and those with a "peaceable walk." Contrast this with Morm 4:11 where Mormon says that the Nephites delighted in shedding blood continually. It seems that Mormon may be addressing here a select group of peaceable followers of Christ in the midst of a nation that delighted in the shedding of blood. If the insight, that the followers of Christ were few in number at this point is correct, it may also explain the language of a single synagogue structure in verse 1.
- Moro 7:4-13: Real intent and judging by works. This passage starts with Mormon telling his audience that he judges them as peaceable followers of Christ—people with a sufficient hope to enter into the rest of the Lord (v. 3)—because he sees their "peaceable walk with the children of men."
- Mormon then goes on to say that good works can only be done by those with real intent. We might expect that an emphasis on intent would be used to caution people against judgments based on works. As Christ's teachings against hypocrisy illustrate (e.g. Matt 23:13-33), people may do something that looks good without the right intent. This also seems to be Paul's message in 1 Cor 13:3. But here Mormon uses the discussion of intent to justify his claim in verses 4-5 that he judges his audience by their works. We might wonder how judgments based on works are compatible with the idea that what makes an action good or evil is the intent.
- One way to explain the difference between what Paul is saying in 1 Cor 13:3 and what Mormon talks about here may be in the different audiences that each addresses. Paul was addressing a culture where many people valued outward acts that seemed good. In such a society some people were doing good works to be seen of men. In contrast, Mormon was talking to people in a society that, as already noted above, delighted in the shedding of blood (see Morm 4:11). It may be that in Mormon's society being a peaceable follower of Christ was so unpopular that it simply wasn't something people did "to be seen of men."
- In any case, Mormon seems to use his discussion of intent to justify his claim that he knows his audience is good because he sees their good works. This suggests that Mormon has the ability to judge intent when he sees works. Mormon justifies his claim by citing "the word of God" on this subject (v. 5), possibly referring to Christ's teachings in 3 Ne 14:16-20, "by their fruits ye shall know them." It seems that Mormon's understanding of Christ's teaching assumes that good fruit/works implies real intent—that is, we can tell the difference between someone who gives a good gift grudgingly and someone who gives it with real intent.
- Moro 7:4-17: By their works ye shall know them. As we start into this section, in verses 4-5, Mormon seems to be giving an explanation of how it is that he knows that those whom he is addressing are peaceable followers of Christ and have obtained a sufficient hope to enter into the rest of the Lord. But the fact that Mormon continues the discussion through verse 17, and warns us along the way to be careful in how we judge (verse 14) suggests that Mormon has some additional reason for addressing this topic that goes beyond simply backing up his claim about the audience being peaceable and having sufficient hope to enter the rest of the Lord. Why does Mormon spend so much time on the topic of judging by works?
- How we answer this question depends on how we read the rest of the chapter. Here's one outline: verses 4-17 tell us how to judge what is really good; verses 18-19 raise the next natural question—how do we get what is truly good; verses 20-48 then answers this by explaining how we can get what is good by having faith, hope and charity. In summary, Mormon is saying that when we recognize what is good, then desire it, we attain it through faith, hope and charity. (Compare this with Alma's teaching in Alma 32:26-30.)
- Another interpretation of verses 4 through 17 in this chapter is to see it as a mini-sermon within the larger sermon which has the same point as the larger sermon. In this view, the point of this mini-sermon is to teach us that good works can only be done if they are done with real intent. This is very much the same point that the entire chapter is making, namely, that without charity nothing else is of value.
- Moro 7:6: Real intent. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines real as "1. Actually being or existing; not fictitious or imaginary; 2. True; genuine; not artificial, counterfeit or factitious; 3. True; genuine; not affected; not assumed." These 3 definitions are all similar to each other. Interestingly, there is another definition listed with a different connotation: "5. In law, pertaining to things fixed, permanent or immovable, as to lands and tenements; as real estate, opposed to personal or movable property." This suggests that transient intentions, no matter how fervent, may not qualify as real intent. For a similar idea regarding the sincerity of one's gift or offering, see Lev 19:5.
- Moro 7:6: Profit. Interestingly, the first occurrence of the term "profit" in scripture is in Gen 25:32 where Esau describes the birthright in terms of profit. This perhaps illustrates the wrong way to think about the birthright, in terms of how it can profitable. With this in mind, there might be a subtle kind of play on words or concepts here where Alma is using the term profit solely from the perspective of the evil man. That is, rather than Mormon talking in terms of profit to describe a gift, Mormon might said to be deliberately mentioning "a man being evil" first, before talking about a gift in terms of profit.
- Moro 7:6ff. The teaching of these verses is similar to that of 1 Corinthians 13:3. Just as Mormon tells us here that doing good without real intent provides no benefit, so Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that he could give everything he has to the poor, but if he doesn't have charity/love, doing so provides no benefit. Clearly charity and doing good with real intent are used similarly. It is consistent with these verse to view charity as a requirement for doing good with real intent. In that interpretation, we cannot do a good dead for someone with real intent if we don't love them.
- These teachings are also similar to the the first verses of Matthew 6. There Jesus teaches that those who give help to others for the right reasons have a reward from their Father in heaven, but those who do so for earthly glory are not similarly rewarded. The same is said of praying: if we pray to be seen of men we have no heavenly reward. Mormon's message here is a more general version of the same message. Mormon tells us that praying without real intent profits nothing the person who prays and is, in fact, counted as evil.
- Compare also King Benjamin's comments in Mosiah 4:24-25 that those who would give to the needy if they had the means, are not condemned like those who have the means but do not give. All these teachings emphasize intent over action. (See also 1 Sam 16:7.) Of course, intent cannot be completely separated from actions--it is impossible to have the right intent and the ability but not to do the good work (see James 2:15-16).
- Moro 7:6-10. Verses 6-10 collectively form a double clarification of the claim made in verse 5: "for if their works be good, then they are good also." (It is followed, in verse 11, by a much more succinct—and familiar—second clarification of the same claim.) The connection with this claim must not be forgotten at any point in working out the logic of the complex argument of these verses, lest it be missed that the argument is not itself self-sufficient.
- The basic structure of the argument is easily abstracted from the text:
- Preliminary argument concerning the basic claim of verse 5, marked by "For behold" (verse 6a)
- Explanation of the preliminary argument, marked by "for if" (verse 6b)
- Claim (without argumentation) supporting the explanation of the preliminary argument, marked by "For behold" (verse 7)
- Step one of an argument bearing out the claim of verse 7, marked by "For behold, if..., [then]" (verse 8a)
- Step two of the argument, marked by "wherefore it" (verse 8b)
- Step three of the argument, marked by "wherefore he" (verse 8c)
- The inverse of the claim (of verse 7) is also offered, marked by "And likewise" (verse 9a)
- The inverse claim is emphasized by a second iteration, marked by "yea, and" (verse 9b)
- Claim (without argumentation) supporting the explanation of the preliminary argument, marked by "For behold" (verse 7)
- The preliminary argument, having been proved, is restated word for word as a conclusion, marked by "Wherefore" (verse 10a)
- The passage oddly ends with the excrescent doubling of the conclusion "neither will he give a good gift" (verse 10b)
- Explanation of the preliminary argument, marked by "for if" (verse 6b)
- Preliminary argument concerning the basic claim of verse 5, marked by "For behold" (verse 6a)
- This outline of the argument in verses 6-10 should make it quite clear that no one statement in these verses should be taken without reference to the passage as a whole: every aspect of the argument is tightly woven into the intentions of the whole.
- Moro 7:6. The preliminary argument, which ends up needing so much clarification, runs as follows: "God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good." How should the grammar of this sentence be understood? It could be punctuated in several ways. First, should it be understood to be a direct or an indirect quotation?
- God hath said: "A man ..."
- God hath said [that] a man ...
- If the sentence is punctuated as a direct quotation, then it would seem that Mormon should be understood as making reference to an actual text or to an actual revelatory event. If, however, the sentence is punctuated as an indirect quotation, Mormon can be understood to be summarizing, paraphrasing, or otherwise dealing only loosely with an actual communication from the Lord. A decision on this point of punctuation determines the direction of one's exegetical endeavors with the text.
- It should be remembered that Mormon's words here were reportedly delivered in a public setting (he was speaking in the synagogue). If he had reference to some kind of personal revelatory experience, rather than to a text, it seems most likely that he would—following the usual Nephite style—at least make passing reference to the occasion (see 2 Ne 10:3; Mosiah 3:2; Alma 10:7). But if he had reference to some kind of (scriptural) text, then either he had reference to a text that is no longer extant (or at least not currently available in scripture), or he was only paraphrasing or citing the basic intention of the text he had in mind. The latter might, in the end, be the case. If Mormon was only loosely summarizing or paraphrasing a scriptural text with his "God hath said," then it is possible that he had reference to what is now Jeremiah 13:22-24 (and it should be remembered that the brass plates contained "many prophecies" attributed to Jeremiah, according to 1 Ne 5:13): "And if thou say in thine heart, Wherefore come these things upon me? For the greatness of thine iniquity are thy skirts discovered, and thy heels made bare. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. Therefore will I scatter them as the stubble that passeth away by the wind of the wilderness." At any rate, presuming that Mormon was only drawing loosely on the text he had in mind, one can confidently state that there is scriptural precedent for the basic idea of Mormon's preliminary argument.
- A second point of grammar and punctuation: how should the verbal phrase "being evil" be understood?
- ... a man being evil cannot do ...
- ... a man, being evil, cannot do ...
- If the phrase "being evil" appears without being set off by commas, it functions as a qualifier of "a man," such that Mormon is talking only about an evil man, a man who (presumably intentionally) does evil things. If, however, the phrase is set off by commas, it functions as a clarification (rather than a qualification) of "a man," such that Mormon is talking about all men, understanding them all—because of the fall, presumably—as being in some sense "evil." A decision on this point of punctuation determines the direction of one's theologically interpretive endeavors with the text.
- It should be noted that there is an important scriptural precedent for the use of the verbal phrase "being evil": Matt 7:11/3 Ne 14:11. In this text, which deals precisely with the question of the theme of giving gifts, Jesus appears to use the phrase in a way that assumes that all (fallen) human beings are in some sense "evil": "Or what man is there of you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" How does this precedent shed light on the present passage? At the very least, it strengthens the case that "being evil" here should be set off by commas, such that Mormon has reference to all human beings as "being evil" in some sense. The following comments proceed on the assumption that that is the best reading, though it should be noted that the other reading—according to which Mormon means only to speak of specifically evil people—remains a (strong) possibility.
- Following out the possibility that Mormon means to speak of all human beings as being, in some sense, evil, it must next be asked what he can mean by "evil." On this point, it should be noted that the word translated as "evil" (in "being evil") in Matt 7:11, while it can take the moral sense of "wickedness" or "evil," can also be used in non-moral senses, where it should be translated as "oppressed by toils" or "in a sorry plight." On this point, it should be noted that the word "evil" in English need not imply anything moral. Indeed, the 1828 Webster's Dictionary lists as the first definition of "evil": "1. Having bad qualities of a natural kind; mischievous; having qualities which tend to injury, or to produce mischief." Similarly, a quick glance through the Oxford English Dictionary makes it clear that, historically speaking, the word has had reference much more commonly to physical and non-moral "evils" than to moral ones. (The etymological meaning of the word simply implies the superseding of some kind of boundary.) Taking all of these clues together, it is at the very least possible to suggest that Mormon, like Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, is trying to talk about specifically fallen human beings, about human beings as evil in the sense that they are in a world of sorrow and sin—not in the sense that they are inherently depraved or necessarily wicked.
- Following out this reading, one would have to take Mormon's meaning in the first part of verse 6 to be that, because of the Fall, human beings cannot of themselves "do that which is good." This reading, as it turns out, will be confirmed and clarified in important ways by the complex discussion of "counting" in verses 7-8. At this point, it is perhaps necessary only to spell out that basic claim.
- The second part of verse 6 offers an explanation—a kind of defense—of this first, basic claim: "for if he [the fallen human being] offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing." Again, Matt 7/3 Ne 14 seems to be in Mormon's mind: the single theme of the "evil" human being unable to do good is here split into the "evil" human being who has the double task of (1) giving good gifts and (2) praying to God. In Matt 7/3 Ne 14, it is precisely this double theme that is at work: Jesus talks there not only about giving good gifts ("If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children,..."), but also about praying to God ("...how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"). Each of these two themes deserves careful attention. Moreover, the question of giving/praying is further complicated by the inclusion in this second half of the verse of two unclarified concepts: "real intent" and "profit." What might be said of each of these themes?
- The phrase "real intent" appears only five times in scripture (and always is preceded by "with"): once in the small plates (2 Ne 31:13) and four times in the Book of Moroni (Moro 6:8; 7:6, 9; 10:4). (The phrase "with real intent" is not only unique to the Book of Mormon in scripture; it seems also to be unique to Mormonism in religious dialogue!) The word "intent," according to the 1828 Webster's Dictionary, means: "Literally, the stretching of the mind towards an object; hence, a design; a purpose; intention; meaning; drift; aim; applied to persons or things." The word "real," in the Book of Mormon, seems usually to mean "genuine" or "true" (see Alma 32:35; Hel 11:24; these are the only appearances of the word where it is not paired with the word "intent"). To do something "with real intent," then, seems simply to be to do it, as 2 Ne 31:13 says, without "hypocrisy" or "deception." It must be, it seems, a genuine act of one's own will (and not something dictated by the perceived desires of others).
- But there remains an ambiguity here, because there is an ambiguity in the notion of giving: to give a gift can be taken as primarily a question of the giving or primarily as a question of the gift. In other words, it is difficult to know whether one's "real intent" is meant to qualify one's giving or one's gift. Is it that one must genuinely and willingly give, or is it that one must genuinely will that the givee be granted use of the gift? One understanding reduces the giving of the gift to the act of giving; the other reduces the giving of the gift to the object given. To compare the giving of the gift to the act of creation: the one model reduces creation to the traditional Christian notion of creation out of nothing; the other model reduces creation to the popular scientific notion of a purely mechanistic universe. Is one of these two models of gift-giving to be preferred, or are they both wrong together? What, in other words, is "real intent" in the act of giving a gift?
- Perhaps the two models should be combined. To give a gift with real intent is genuinely to give something, but it is to do so without allowing the gift itself to drop out of the equation: the material gift must be more than a mere token of the relationship of giver-and-givee. On the other hand, to give a gift is ultimately to do something with an object, but it is to do it without allowing the act of giving itself to drop out of the equation: the act of giving must not be a mere halo around the given object. Here, perhaps, the comparison to creation can again be taken up, but now it can be compared with the notion of creation in Mormonism: God creates a world out of something; human beings have a purely material world that nonetheless was created.
- There is a strong sense in which it is this kind of (combined) model alone that allows for a genuine experience of the gift on the part of the givee (who in turn must receive the gift as a gift, and that, it seems, in a similar two-fold way): the gift is not lost because it is caught up entirely in social (or even divinely social) relations on the one hand, and it is not lost because it is reduced to the status of a "mere" object on the other hand. The gift is, on this model, finally given up for use. One might say that the gift is, here, at last subtracted from the play of possession and ownership. The gift functions here neither (1) as a way of translating objective ownership and possession into interpersonal ownership and possession, nor (2) as a way of simply transferring ownership of an object from one individual to another. Here, it seems, the gift is given precisely in that it is freed from ownership and possession as such, set free at last to be used.
- All of this said, what of the clause "it profiteth him nothing"? Here, the stakes of interpretation have been raised somewhat, because the very notion of (pecuniary) profit seems to cancel the idea of the gift that is in question: if one receives profit for giving a gift, can it really be said that the gift was given as a gift? It should first be noted that the word "profit" need not carry any specifically monetary weight: the word derives from the Latin proficio, literally, "to drive forward." Nonetheless, there seems to be no escaping of the fact that the word carries the idea of receiving advantage, and thus it seems that, even without monetary implications, the use of the word still threatens the integrity of the gift. However, some of the peculiarities of grammar here might open up a way to make sense of this difficulty. The phrase "it profiteth him nothing" uses the verb "to profit" in the curious transitive form, rather than in the intransitive form or (what would usually be even more likely) in the form of a noun. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb was originally only intransitive (meaning that it could not take a direct object), though it could take an indirect object (something would "profit to someone," not "profit someone"). (On this point, it is interesting to compare the Wycliffe and Tyndale translations of Matt 16:26. Wycliffe's earlier translation: "what profitith it to a man...?" Tyndale's later translation: "whatt shall hit proffet a man...?")
- The basic intransitivity of the verb seems to mark the fact that "profit" as such resides within the thing that proliferates, that abundance or productivity is less a question of reward rendered to this or that person than of excess or abundance inherent in the "profitable" things itself. This would seem to imply that the "profit" accruing from the "real intent" with which the gift is given or the prayer is offered is not to be understood in any kind of economic fashion: it is not that the truly given gift somehow makes for an economic return, but that the gift, truly given, proliferates in an excess that outstrips economy. Indeed, to say that a "falsely" given gift "profiteth ... nothing" is ultimately to say that the falsely given gift is precisely what remains trapped within economy, because it returns to one only what one has given (there is no profit). (The presupposition that leads, it seems, to the difficulty of seeing "profit" here as a threat to the integrity of the gift is the belief that economy marks progress, when the exact opposite is the truth: economy fixes assets so that they cannot increase, so that the exchange of goods can only make a local "profit" by registering a "loss" somewhere else in the bounded economy.)
- These comments play well into the comments above about the gift being what is released from the economic play of ownership and possession. There is a sense in which the giving of a gift—with real intent—translates "profit" as something that accrues to an individual to something proliferating within the thing itself, within the thing given. This, however, is not because the object that is the gift is somehow reduced from the equation so that its sacred halo can be thought in and of itself; rather, it seems that the giving of a gift is the way that an object or a thing is finally allowed to release its own excess, to proliferate after its own fashion. To give a gift is to give something to itself, to allow it to be used in a productive way, to subtract it from the "merely spiritual" economy of society and the "merely physical" economy of efficient causality so that it can be put to genuine use.
- But all of these details of exegesis and interpretation might finally be brought together. It seems that Mormon's "defense" of his initial proposition—that fallen human beings cannot do good—amounts to the claim that only "real intent" allows the (double because split) economy introduced by the Fall to cease to hold sway through the supplementary act of giving a gift. The shape this supplement would take will only be laid out in the subsequent two verses.
- Moro 7:7-8. These two verses seem primarily to be an attempt to offer support for the defense offered in the second half of verse 6. In light of the comments there, it is also clear that they serve to clarify the nature of the "supplement" that marks the profitability of the prayer or gift offered with "real intent." Here the operative term is the verb "to count." In verse 7, it is clear that "it profiteth him nothing" is essentially equated with "it is not counted unto him for righteousness." In verse 8, this is rendered "it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift," and the further statement that the person in question "is counted evil before God" is set forth. All this "counting" deserves extended comment. Moreover, in these verses' attempt to clarify the nature of the "supplement," the return to the individual's being "evil" at the end of verse 8 serves to make much clearer that the two "halves" of verse 6 are more closely related than they might at first appear: the profit one is after, in offering gifts and praying, is precisely the possibility of outstripping one's fallenness, the possibility of being no longer evil. That, at the end of verse 8, one is (because one does not offer one's gifts or prayers with "real intent") still "counted evil before God" makes it clear that one's gifts and prayers "profiteth him nothing" precisely in that they do not allow one to get out of "being evil." These two initial points, taken together, organize the basic necessary program for interpretation of verses 7-8: the "supplement" labeled "profit" in verse 6 must be understood as something that allows one to escape the basic finitude imposed through the Fall, and the thing precisely that allows for that escape (and so is the "supplement") is, of all things, a "counting." What, then, is at work in the term "counting"?
- There is unquestionably a reference, in verse 7, to Gen 15:6 (though see also Ps 106:31). In that text, Abram has just been given the promise of Isaac's (impossible!) birth: "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be" (Gen 15:5). The narrator then records Abram's response to the promise, as well as the "consequence" of that response: "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen 15:6). Saint Paul, in Romans 4, spells out what he took to be the vital importance of this passage: for Paul, it served as the proof text that clinched his case concerning salvation by faith rather than by works. His argument, which proves important for the interpretation of Mormon's words here, runs as follows: (1) Genesis 15 says that Abraham believed, and that that faith was counted unto him for righteousness; (2) but Abraham was still, in Genesis 15, uncircumcised, since circumcision was given to him as a "law" (a work) only in Genesis 17; (3) circumcision (the law) was thus only given as a sign or as a seal of his already-saving faith; (4) therefore, Christ's atoning work, to which the Abrahamic covenant ("the promise") inexorably, similarly renders humans righteous through their faith (apart from the law). In a word, for Paul, no one can claim that it was circumcision (as a figure of the Law or works) that saved because Abraham was already rendered righteous because of his faith before circumcision was given to him as a law. How do these Old and New Testament texts shed light on what Mormon is saying in verses 7-8?
- Paul's discussion makes it clear that the "righteousness" of Abraham was not his own. That is, his righteousness was an imputed righteousness—it was counted unto him by God. Paul's careful reading here highlights something that might otherwise be missed in the language of "counting": to say that something is "counted for righteousness" is to say that it is not itself, in the first place, righteous; it only becomes righteous when it is counted as such. But what does the text mean by the verb "to count"? In the Hebrew text (of Gen 15:6), the verb is hashab, which means quite literally "to think" or "to meditate," by extension (as in Gen 15) "to esteem" or "to account." (The Septuagint or Greek Old Testament—and so Paul as well in the New Testament—uses the Greek verb logizomai, literally "to reckon" or "to account.") From all of this, it seems quite clear that whatever Mormon is saying here in verses 7-8, it must be recognized that the righteousness in question is something God bestows (literally reckons) rather than some kind of righteousness that would be inherent in the think so reckoned. And it seems also that the act by which that bestowal takes place must be understood to be some kind of (roughly) "cognitive" act, some kind of thinking, esteeming, reckoning, accounting, even story-telling: the counting is without question a kind of mental work on the part of God.
- From all of this, it already begins to become clear how all of this is important in light of verse 6. There, it seems, human beings are regarded as fallen (as "being evil") and so as essentially unable to "do that which is good" in and of themselves. The language of "counting" in verses 7-8 would then seem to imply that the only way the act or deed of a fallen human being can be of any positive value is if it is counted for righteousness by God. Such, at any rate, seems to be the necessary preliminary conclusion. However, there is much more going on in verses 7-8 that has not yet even been considered. For example, and just to get started: verse 7 does not speak directly of something being counted for righteousness, but of something not being counted for righteousness—as verse 8 goes on to speak of a person even being "counted evil before God." This negativity, moreover, appears in verse 6, though it was missed in the comments worked out above for that verse: verse 6 does not, strictly speaking, say that the gift given with real intent does profit the giver; rather, it only says that the gift that is not given with real intent does not profit the giver. What should be read into these points of negativity?
- The simplest way, perhaps, to make sense of the "nothing" of verse 6 and the "not" of verse 7 (the "counted ... as if" and "counted evil" of verse 8 will call for a separate treatment) is to recognize that these statements are intended not to explain how one does give a gift, but are intended rather to burst the bubble of those who believe that they can accrue some kind of profit just from having given, though they have not done so with real intent. Here it is worth making reference to verses 5 and 11. Both immediately before and immediately after he makes this extensive argument of verses 6-10, Mormon states that good cannot come from an evil source, nor evil from a good source. If verses 6-10 are meant to strengthen this point, they are, in an important sense, trying to deal with the implicit objection that evil people do things like pray, give gifts, etc. Here, though, Mormon is making quite clear that precisely because the evil person gives a gift only with the expectation of receiving some reward, the gift is not actually a gift, and no profit accrues. Put in terms of verse 7, it is precisely because one gives with the hope that the act of giving will be counted for righteousness that the giving of the gift is not counted for righteousness. Wherever one counts—counts the cost of the gift, counts on receiving something, counts on God's approbation, etc.—God does not count, unless (as in verse 8) he counts the gift as "evil" or even as having been "retained."
- But all of this is clarified in an interesting way in the beginning of verse 8: "if a man, being evil, giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly." Here it is necessary to clarify the word "grudgingly." The 1828 Webster's defines "grudging" in an interesting way: "Uneasiness at the possession of something by another." To give a gift grudgingly, then, would seem to be to give it while being uneasy about the givee's actually possessing the gift given. That is, to give grudgingly is to give something to someone for any other reason than to give them access to the thing given. Or, in other words, it is to give someone access to something only in order to accomplish something else. This is an important clarification. The usual understanding of "giving grudgingly" takes the phrase to refer to giving reluctantly—as if the problem were one's unwillingness to part with the thing given. Rather, though, it seems the phrase refers to giving with an ulterior motive. It might be to give a gift in order to put someone in one's debt ("If I give this person something expensive, they'll feel like they owe me something"), or it might be to give a gift in order to get attention ("If I give the perfect gift, then everyone will see how generous and thoughtful I am"), or it might be to give a gift in order to receive pity ("If I give something quite meager, the gift will make everyone realize how much help I need"). The list could go on and on, but the point, one hopes, is clear: to give a gift grudgingly is to use the act of giving as a way of sustaining a rivalrous and self-centered relationship. Moreover, it is usually to do so by transferring an object that, because of the social implications of the giving, the givee will never really feel free to use. And so, to give a gift grudgingly is ultimately not to give a gift at all, since what it is to give a gift is to give it up for use.
- For these very reasons, it seems that Mormon's further statement—that "it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift"—is completely justified. To gift a gift grudgingly is, in an important way, precisely to retain the gift, though one obviously transfers the object to the givee. But, with all that said, it is necessary to turn at last to the final clause of verse 8: "wherefore he is counted evil before God." What is most peculiar about this phrase is that, at the beginning of verse 8 (as well as at the beginning of verse 6), the "man" in question is already described as "being evil"; in light of that, why is it necessary that he again be "counted evil before God"? What is at work in this effective doubling of the grudging giver's status as evil?
- At the very least, this doubling seems to suggest that there is a difference between merely being evil and the double position of both being evil and being counted evil. If, as suggested in the commentary for verse 6, the phrase "being evil" should not be taken to mean that human beings are necessarily wicked, then perhaps the difference between these two statuses—being evil and being-and-being-counted evil—measures the distance between "being evil" as being fallen and "being evil" as being (intentionally?) wicked. That is, though human beings—according to the reading worked through here—are necessarily "evil" (that is, fallen), they need not, for that reason, be counted evil. One might be "innocently" evil (by embracing, rather than rejecting, grace), or one might be "guiltily" evil (by rejecting, rather than embracing, grace). But can all of this be more specified?
- Actually, it might be possible to use this distinction, coupled with the theme of the possibility of giving good gifts, to spell out three positions one might assume:
- (1) A human being, being (necessarily) evil/fallen, might give the gift hypocritically—that is, by not only pretending but openly denying that s/he is not evil/fallen; such a person would ultimately not only be evil, but also be counted evil, assuming the most evil position possible.
- (2) A human being, being (necessarily) evil/fallen, might not give the gift at all, recognizing his/her natural fallenness and so his/her desire to give the gift only in a hypocritical way; such a person would, while remaining evil/fallen, not be counted evil and so obtain a slightly better position.
- (3) A human being, being (necessarily) evil/fallen, might give the gift with real intent—that is, recognizing but regarding as immaterial his/her natural desire to give the gift only in a hypocritical way; such a person would (presumably) be counted as righteous, even while remaining technically evil/fallen.
- On this model, it is only the third of these three persons who genuinely releases the gift from the bondage of ownership/possession and so finds her/himself released in turn from the bondage of fallen desire (rivalry). If this brief typology is not amiss, then it seems that what is key to giving good gifts is the refusal to regard as material the (desires of the) "natural man," instead regarding only the gift itself as genuinely material. To take anything but the material gift—as something to be given up (out of the dialectics of possession and ownership) for use—as being material (whether as "good" or as "bad" material) is ultimately to mistake the immaterial for the material. It is, in a word, to believe that one's works, rather than the material grace of the gift itself, as what delivers or saves one from the fall.
- So much, then, for the moment, for the question of the gift. The next verse takes up the parallel case of prayer.
- Moro 7:8: Grudgingly. A similar expression is used in 2 Cor 9:7 where the Greek root lype is used, meaning "sorrow." The idea, then, seems to be that one should not give with any regrets, but be a "cheerful giver," as it says later in 2 Cor 9:7.
- Moro 7:9. As pointed out above, verse 9 effectively offers a reflection parallel to verses 7-8, now in terms of prayer instead of the gift. Importantly, except in the important fact that it takes up the obviously distinct topic of prayer, it adds very little to the discussion: except in its last clause ("for God receiveth none such"), it repeats phrases that have already appeared in the passage: "counted evil" (see verse 8); "with real intent" (see verse 6, though this verse adds "of heart"); "it profiteth him nothing" (see verse 6 again). Comment on this verse, then, should be relatively straightforward: (1) it is necessary to discuss first what is at work in prayer if it is taken as parallel to gift-giving; (2) it will be necessary to discuss second what should made of the additional assertion that "God receiveth none such."
- Moro 7:14: Take heed. Mormon gives a word of caution here about not judging incorrectly. Throughout Mormon stresses judging based on what people do and whether that "inviteth to do good and to persuade to believe in Christ" (v 16). Mormon's warning may also apply to how we judge ourselves (cf. 1 Cor 11:31). We should not try to rationalize things that are evil, or beat ourselves up (i.e. get overly discouraged or depressed) when our actions are good.
- Moro 7:16-19: . In verse 16 Mormon tells us that he will show unto us the way to judge. Then in the remaining part of this verse and in verse 17, he lays out a very simply principle: whatever inviteth and persuadeth to do good is from God; whatever persuadeth men to do evil and believe not in Christ comes from the devil. Despite the simplicity of this principle, Mormon doesn't believe that its application is simple. First, he warns us in verse 18 against not judging wrongfully. Then in verse 19, he tells us that we should search diligently in the light of Christ to know good from evil. Though the principle is simple, its correct application requires diligent searching to know good from evil. In verse 14 Mormon warns us not to judge good for evil or evil for good. Interestingly, verse 19 concentrates only on not judging that which is actually good as evil. It may be that this is the side more pertinent to his forthcoming discussion of charity.
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Prompts for life application
This section is for prompts that suggest ways in which a passage can influence a person's life. Prompts may be appropriate either for private self reflection or for a class discussion. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
- Moro 7:3: Peaceable followers of Christ. Mormon tells us that he is speaking unto those who have enough hope that they can enter into the rest of the Lord from "this time henceforth until [they] shall rest with [the Lord] in heaven." How does knowing that this sermon is addressed to people who already had such faith inform how we understand this chapter?
- Moro 7:3: Sufficient hope. Are we also, like the people Mormon is talking to, people people who have enough hope that we can enter into the Lord's rest now?
- Moro 7:3: Rest of the Lord. What does it mean to enter into the Lord's rest in this life?
Prompts for further study
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- Moro 7:2-3. In opening his address, why might Mormon have used the phrase "holy will" in a context where we might have expected him to have said "the Holy Ghost"? What does Mormon mean by "holy will"?
- Moro 7:4-17: Real intent. Mormon's discussion in these verses could stand on its own as a sermon on works and real intent. Why is this discussion of works and real intent part of this chapter which Moroni identifies in verse 1 as a sermon on faith, hope and charity?
- Moro 7:6-10: If we know we should give a certain gift (e.g. help a neighbor) but don't feel a real desire to do so, what should we do? Is going ahead and giving the gift what Mormon calls here doing it grudgingly?
- Moro 7:6: Intent vs. desire. What is meant by the word intent here? It is interchangeable with desire? If not, what is different between desire and intent? Would it be justified to think of intent as being more conscious, more of a choice, than desire? If desire is less consciously produced, and more of a condition that is evoked from beyond our consciousness (e.g., by our body rather than our mind, say), what is the significance here regarding the way Mormon talks about a gift? At first blush, it seems that intent, if it is more conscious, runs more risk of spoiling or economizing a gift than desire, at least in a certain sense. On the other hand, perhaps Mormon is suggesting that is altogether different than this way of thinking. It seems Mormon is suggesting that intent is precisely what makes a gift possible. It is "real intent" of the giver that seems to be required for the production of a gift. In this sense, perhaps "desire" would be a less apt term here precisely because it does not connote the conscious intent required by a giver. If the desire to give is a gift given by God, beyond ourselves, then this would not be a gift given by a man, only from God. Thus, for man to participate in the process of gift giving, might we think that man must have a conscious intent to give?
- Moro 7:8: What does it mean that we will be judged with the same judgment by which we judge?
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- Moro 7:2-3. For a poetic attempt to think through the meaning of the hope/grace themes of verses 2-3, see User: Joe Spencer/to those of the church.
- Moro 7:16: Light of Christ. The Church's Guide to the Scriptures and Bible Dictionary have interesting entries under the heading "light of Christ" which compare and contrast the light of Christ with the gift of Holy Ghost and with the power of the Holy Ghost. Many scriptural cross-references are also provided.
- Moro 7:16. Elder Boyd Packer gave a talk at a 2004 seminar for new mission presidents titled The Light of Christ: What Everyone Called to Preach the Gospel, Teach the Gospel, or Live the Gospel Should Know. (also printed in the April 2005 Ensign)
- Moro 7:18: With that same judgment which ye judge. See BrianJ's post and the related discussion "The Lord will judge unrighteously?" at the Feast blog.
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