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The relationship of chapter 8 to the rest of the book is discussed at Moroni. Chapter 8 can be outlined as follows.
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- B. Decay within church: infant baptism of those not accountable because incapable of sin or repentance (Chapter 8)
- • My beloved son, I rejoice in your faithfulness and call to the ministry (1-3)
- • And now my son, I grieve that there are disputations regarding infant baptism (4-5)
- • And now my son, remove this error because there is no need, little children cannot sin so it is mockery, my beloved son (6-9)
- • Behold I say, teach that parents need baptism unto remission of sins, little children do not need repentance or baptism, God is impartial (10-13)
- • Behold I say, its proponents have not faith, hope or charity for it is awful wickedness to suppose that those lacking baptismal ordinances are cast off (14-15)
- • Wo to proponents who shall perish (boldly), but I am filled with love, God is impartial, little children cannot repent so it is awful wickedness to deny them the mercies of Christ, they are alive in Christ (16-20)
- • Wo to proponents who are in danger of hell (boldly), those without law cannot repent so they are alive in Christ and it is mockery denying the mercies of Christ and putting trust in dead works (21-23)
- • Behold my son, this ought not to be for repentance leads to baptism unto remission of sins, visitation of the Holy Ghost, hope and perfect love (24-26)
- • Behold my son, I fear the wicked Nephites will soon perish (27-30)
The beginnings of most of these sections become clear upon reading this chapter aloud. On the other hand, many distinctive phrases appear twice each in this chapter, but not necessarily in a discernible pattern. Because most of these sections are so closely intertwined share a common logical argument, this entire chapter is treated on a single page.
The doctrinal logic throughout - this can be further refined - is that little children are not under law and are therefore whole in Christ, only those capable of being under law are capable of sin, only those capable of being under law are capable of repenting, also only those who sin can repent, and baptism follows repentance and is unto the remission of sins, as well as unto the fulfilling of the law as in the case of Christ. Baptism should therefore be administered to those who are capable of sinning and repenting, is unnecessary for those who are not, and when administered unnecessarily mocks the power of Christ's atonement to save alive those who are not under law. When properly administered baptism is a step on the path toward a complete change of heart. Different pieces of this logic are repeatedly explained in different sections of this chapter, but in an overlapping montage, not once in a single clear logical sequence.
- Verse 7. The fact that Mormon chooses to take this question to the Lord indicates that in at least some sense the question of whether to baptize children was at the time an open question for Mormon--a question for which it made sense to seek revelation. But how could it be an open question, if as we see in verse 14, anyone who believes such a doctrine must go to Hell? This question will be addressed in the commentary between here and verse 14.
- Verse 8.
Mormon precedes verse 8 by telling us that these are the words the Lord delivered through the power of the Holy Ghost. This revelation tells us much about the curse of Adam. The curse Adam receives in Gen 3:17 is really a cursing of the ground "for [Adam's] sake." However the Lord isn't taking away this curse of the land; he isn't making it so that thorns and thistles don't grow or that we don't have to work by the sweat of our brow. Instead Mormon is referring to some type of spiritual curse. Though the phrase "curse of Adam" is no where else used in the scriptures, the type of curse referred to seems similar to the discussion of Adam in 2 Ne 2:19-25. Specifically verse 21 is helpful:
- And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men. For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents. (Emphasis added.)
The curse of Adam is this: everyone is lost because of Adam's transgression. 2 Ne 2:21 tells us that Adam's transgression placed the whole world in a lost state from which (without Christ) there is no escape. Here in verse 8, we learn that the same is true for little children. The Lord say "The curse of Adam is taken from them in me." So, though we usually think of the purpose of the atonement as to take away the sins of the guilty who repent (and it is)--the Lord makes it clear that another purpose is to take away this curse from the innocent. Without Christ Adam's curse would apply to the innocent. They would be punished for Adam's sin. But because of Christ, we are only punished for our own sins (second Article of Faith).
- Verse 9. Mormon bases his knowledge, that infant baptism is mockery before God, on the revelation from God he has just received--that those who are not capable of sinning already have the curse of Adam taken from them.
- Verses 10-11.
Verse 8 stopped short of explicitly saying that repentance is not required of the innocent (though it seemed to imply it). Now in verses 10 and 11, Mormon makes this explicit.
In verse 8 Mormon quotes Christ saying "the whole need no physician, but they that are sick." (See also Matt 9:12, Mark 2:17 and Luke 5:31 for similar quotes in the NT.) In this context we might interpret this as meaning that only those who sin need to be baptized. But here in verse 10, Mormon says something a little different. Instead he says "those who are accountable and capable of committing sin" need to be baptized. For all of us who are (1) accountable and capable of committing sin and (2) do commit sin, there isn't much of a difference. But it in the case of Christ himself the difference suggests that Christ did need to be baptized even though little children do not.
- Verses 12-13.
"Alive in Christ" in this context may mean something like made alive through Christ. See commentary on verse 8.
The argument that God would have to be a partial God if he requires baptism doesn't seem to take into account the possibility that things could be setup so that little children, like their unbaptized parents, can be baptized by proxy. It could be that Mormon doesn't address this objection to his reasoning because he didn't consider it and that he didn't consider it because his people didn't practice baptism for the dead. Though the New Testament mentions baptism for the dead, there isn't any evidence that those in the Book of Mormon knew about or practiced it.
But even so, this is curious. One would think that anyone who believes that requiring children to be baptized would make God a respecter of persons (given how many little children have died without baptism), would quickly draw the same conclusion about adults.
- Verse 14.
This verse has been interpeted to mean that all who believe in infant baptism automatically go to hell. That isn't a good reading. Remember that Mormon himself thought the question worth taking to the Lord (see [[Moro 8:7|verse 7). And looking back to verse 9 we see that Mormon believe the idea of infant baptism is mockery before God in light of the revelation he received. Another reason, it doesn't make sense to read Mormon as saying that all who believe in baptizing little children will go to hell, is that this turns Mormon into a hypocrite. Imagine someone who believes in infant baptism but doesn't know better. They are innocent. Will they go to hell? Mormon explicitly arguing against holding the innocent guilty.
On a related note we need to understand the difference between the belief that Mormon is condemning and that held by many Christians who do practice infant baptism today. Mormon is condemning the belief that God sends unbaptized children to Hell. But most Christians do not believe unbaptized children go to Hell. (Some believe they go to Limbo, but the concept of Limbo is all together different than the concept of Hell spoken of in the Book of Mormon. See related links for more info.) For more on this see the related links section.
But, back to the topic. Why is Mormon's langague so harsh? Mormon is not saying that anyone who believes in infant baptism will go to Hell. Rather he is speaking to a set of members of the church who grew up with the truth of the gospel and now have begun to baptize children. To these people Mormon says 1) he has received a revelation from God that this isn't right and 2) for them to believe that children need baptism shows their lack of faith, hope and charity. And that those who lack faith, hope and charity will go to hell.
It is interesting then that at its core this sermon centers not really on the question of belief in infant baptism, but rather on the presence or lack of faith, hope and charity. Note that this is the same theme of the previous sermon by Mormon which Moroni records (see Moro 7:1).
- Verse 26: Remission of sins bringeth meekness. It is interesting that Mormon tells us that being forgiven for our sins leads to meekness and lowliness of heart and this then leads to the visitation of the Holy Ghost. This is a little different than the chain we might think of: humility -> repentance -> remission of sins -> cleanliness -> visitation of the Holy Ghost. As Mormon explains it here, humility is key to the visitation of the Holy Ghost. Further, this humility comes because of receiving a gift: the remission of sins. Mormon doesn't explain why receiving remission of sins leads to lowliness of heart. It may that the recognition of receiving a gift we do not deserve prompts this meekness. It may be that this lowliness in heart is part of what it means for the Lord to change us from a carnal state to a state of righteousness (Mosiah 27:25).
- Verse 26: Faith preceding hope and love. Given the mention of faith in verse 25, verse 26 here describes hope and love as subsequent virtues to faith. This seems consistent with 2 Ne 31:19-20, Ether 12:4, and Moro 7:42, although Moro 7:40, Ether 12:6, and Alma 32:21 could be taken as presenting a different view.
Points to ponder
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- Verse 7. How are we to understand Mormon's inquiry to the Lord given that he was already aware of King Benjamin's revelation on the relationship between Jesus's atonement and the innocence of children? (See Mosiah 3:11, Mosiah 3:16, Mosiah 3:20-21.)
- Verse 8. The phrase "I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" occurs in the Synoptic gospels at Matt 9:13, Mark 2:17, and Luke 5:32, but does not seem to occur in 3 Nephi. Should we assume that Christ said something similar to the Nephites, but it wasn't recorded? or that Christ and Mormon are referencing an older teaching that Nephites and those in Jerusalem were familiar with? or that Mormon was taught this same teaching by revelation and/or that Joseph Smith record Mormon's teaching by appropriating Synoptic phraseology? or something else entirely?
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- See Julie M Smith's post "Mormon in the Congo" for some discussion on the meaning of verse 14.
- The Catholic church has no official position on what happens to infants who die with out baptism see Wikipedia's article on Limbo and the section "Limbus Infantium" in Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Limbo for greater detail.
- For some discussion of protestant view's on Limbo/Infant Baptism see this article from religioustolerance.org.
- See Accountability, Age of in the TG.
- See "The Salvation of Little Children" by Bruce R. McConkie
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