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Story. The first detail we get about Abinadi's interrogation is a question asked of him by King Noah's priests. Abinadi answers with two questions of his own. The remainder of this conversation can be understood as developing the answers to these three questions, plus another that Abinadi raises near the end:
- Verses 12:17-32: Three initial questions: (1) What is the meaning of Isa 52:7-10 (How beautiful are the feet …)? (2) What do the priests teach? and (3) Does salvation come by the Law of Moses?
- Verses 12:33-37: Those who keep the Ten Commandments will be saved, but the priests have neither obeyed them nor taught the people to do so.
- Verses 13:1-10: Abinadi withstands Noah's guards and warns that his own fate will foreshadow King Noah's fate.
- Verses 13:11-26: The remainder of the Ten Commandments, but the priests have not taught them.
- Verses 13:27-35: The Law of Moses is a type of Christ, of whom all the prophets have preached.
- Verses 15:1-9: Abinadi's prophecy of Christ's mortal ministry.
- Verses 15:10-31: Fourth question: Who are Christ's seed in Isa 53:10? His followers. And how beautiful are the feet (Isa 52:7-10) of those who bring salvation to that seed.
- Verses 16:1-15: Christ enables the resurrection and final judgment, so repent and teach that the Law of Moses is a type of Christ through whom comes salvation.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in this passage track closely with the questions posed by Abinadi and the priests, and include:
- Salvation comes through Christ rather than through obedience to the Law of Moses, which is a type of Christ.
- Those who obey the Lord's laws are his seed who will be saved. Those who knowingly disobey will suffer wrath.
- How beautiful are the feet of those who bring that salvation to the Lord's seed.
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- Interpretation. More and more, I'm thinking that the question of interpretation is at the heart of what we want to do with Abinadi. I'd like to start here with possible interpretations of the Isaiah quotation cited by the priests. No time to work it out nicely this morning.
- Verse 12:25. It seems that the priests were using Isaiah’s praise here to justify their flattering of the people and their own debauched lifestyle Mosiah 11:7. In contrast, Abinadi has been telling the people that they were sinning and needed to repent (e.g. Mosiah 12:13). In verse 25 Abinadi asks the priests why, since they are the priests, they are looking to Abinadi to explain the scriptures. Then in the next several chapters Abinadi provides his explanation culminating in Mosiah 15:10-14 where he says that those who prophesy of the coming of Lord and remission of sins are those Isaiah is talking about in verse 21.
- Chapter 15: Setting of the Discourse. Many readers consider the first verses of this chapter among the most confusing in the Book of Mormon. By way of context, this discourse follows immediatly upon Abinadi's full quotation of Isa 53, and should be seen as an explanation of Isaiah's song of the Suffering Servant. In particular, one way to read Abinadi's commentary here of Isa 53:2 (Mosiah 14:2), is to make the following pronouns substitutions: "For he [Christ] shall grow up before him [Elohim] as a tender plant" (see Nyman and Tate, pp. 165-166). In Mosiah 12:21ff, the priests of Noah quoted Isa 52:1ff; then in Mosiah 12:28ff, the priests respond to Abinadi's question about what they are teaching the people by claiming to teach the law of Moses which they later claim brings salvation (Mosiah 12:32). In response, Abinadi chastises the priests for perverting, failing to understand, and not teaching the law of Moses. In Mosiah 12:27ff, Abinadi begins to explain that the priests were wrong for believing that the law of Moses brings salvation. Abinadi's discussion of Isa 53, then, is given in response to this question about the purpose of the law of Moses. In returning to the very passage the priests quoted to Abinadi earlier (or one that was most likely in very close proximity to the one the priests quoted, in whatever scroll or book the priests were reading from), Abinadi shows the priests how they failed to "appl[y] their hearts to understanding" (Mosiah 12:27) by explaining how Isaiah's words should've been (or at least could've been) understood in terms of the Son's crucial role in bringing salvation.
- Verse 15:1.
Abinadi's discourse—or really, the whole situation in which Abinadi delivers his discourse—is riddled with direct quotation, something that happens relatively infrequently in the large plates. This verse, as in every other instance of quotation connected with Abinadi, closes off the quotation with a narrative note of return: "And now Abinadi said unto them..." (cf. 12:25, 37; 13:25). In all previous instances, Abinadi turns immediately to comment upon, or at least to refer to, the texts just quoted, and one might be justified in assuming that something quite similar is at work here: Abinadi's words in this chapter would likely best be read as a kind of commentary on Isaiah 53, albeit a rather complex and unsystematic commentary (that is, it is not a verse-by-verse commentary as one commonly finds today).
Perhaps this is confirmed by the phrasing of Abinadi's first words as recorded in this first verse: "I would that ye should understand...." It would appear that Abinadi knew how Isaiah's words would be interpreted, and so his first words of commentary—though they do not amount to direct commentary at all—anticipate a misunderstanding. Indeed, this first verse might be read as Abinadi's laying out his own presuppositions (quite authoritatively): there is a truth, undiscussed in the text in question, through which the text is to be read. Strictly speaking, of course, this is "bad literary technique," but perhaps it lends some credibility to readings of these verses from a post-First-Vision standpoint. At any rate, it is quite clear that Abinadi announces a kind of programmatic reading: Isaiah 53 is here to be read from the standpoint of one who believes in a still-to-come divine redemption, a condescension through which salvation is to come. This presupposition makes all the difference, and it itself deserves careful interpretation.
The presupposition, in short: "God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people." On the surface, this sentence would not have seemed too radical to Israelite ears (cf. Ex 6:6: "I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments"). And yet it is clear that Abinadi expects Noah's priests not to bring this idea to bear on their reading of Isaiah. It would seem, then, that though Abinadi hardly introduces a radical idea in suggesting that "God himself shall come down ... [to] redeem his people," he recognizes that this idea would never be attached to Isaiah 53 in any kind of traditional reading.
- Verse 15:1: Children of Men. This phrase (HEB Ben Adam) occurs only sparingly in most of the Old Testament--only 9 times (Gen 11:5,1 Sam 26:19, 2 Sam 7:14, 1 Kings 8:39, 2 Chronicles 6:30, Proverbs 15:11, Lamendations 3:33, Eze 31:14, Daniel 2:38) outside of the 14 times in Psalms. Its primary use in Psalms may indicate that it perhaps has an unrecognized ritual context. In particular, it occurs in the early Davidic Psalms and four times in Ps 107, presumably written after the Exile for the dedication of the Second Temple, which has the theme "The LORD delivers from trouble".
- This phrase is much more common in the Book of Mormon, where it occurs 7 times in 2 Nephi 27, and more especially in King Benjamin's discourse about Christ (Mosiah 3). Its usage here by Abinadi is practically identical to that used at roughly the same time by King Benjamin, where he declares that "For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles" (Mosiah 3:5). Both statements are in turn closely related to Nephi's account of his vision, where he reported that "I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men" (1 Ne 11:24)
- The singular version of this phrase (son of man) is very common in the OT after the exile, occuring 108 times. This phrase is a title for the Messiah/Christ that some scholars such as Margaret Barker believe date to First Temple practices preserved in apocryphal literature such as 1 Enoch that pre-date more extensive usage in the New Testament.
- Verse 15:2: Will of the Father. In the small plates, the Son is referred to as the son of the Father or the son of God in several places: 1 Ne 11:21; 1 Ne 13:40; 2 Ne 25:16, 19; 2 Ne 31:11-14, 18, 21; Jacob 4:5. However, in the large plates, there is only one previous reference to "the Son of God," in Mosiah 3:8, and this is followed by the modifier, "Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things," which is similar to the wording here. Even if Nephi thought about the Father and the Son as separate persons, it is not clear whether Abinadi would have had this understanding. Notice also that in a subsequent story, Amulek answers affirmatively when Zeezrom asks, "Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father" in Alma 11:38ff. Later, in 3 Nephi, the Son seems to refer to himself as the Father, or in terms of the Father ("of the Father because of me", 3 Ne 1:14) early on but, after his resurrection, he refers to himself as being "with the Father", in a term that seems to imply distinction, although "in the Father" (3 Ne 9:15).
- Verse 15:21. The name Christ had already been used in 79 verses prior to Mosiah 15. This clarification "for so he shall be called" seems strange here on the 80th usage when considering the context of the Book of Mormon as a single book, but not when considering Abinadi's context.
- Verse 16:2-5. Abinadi tells us in verse 3 that because of the fall all mankind is carnal, sensual and devilish. He teaches us in verse 5 that we start out in this state of "carnal nature"—as indicated by the terms persists, goes on, and remaineth. Only by hearkening to the Lord's voice (verse 2) can we be redeemed from that state.
- Verse 16:6. Abinadi notes that he is now speaking about the coming of Christ in the past tense. Is there some significance to this switch? If so, what?
Points to ponder
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I have a question
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- Verse 12:21-25. Why do Noah's priest choose to quote this part of Isaiah? How in quoting this part were they hoping to "cross [Abinadi], that therebey they might have herewith to accuse him" (verse 19)? What trap were they laying for Abinadi?
- Verse 14:1: Chapter breaks in Isaiah. Most modern commentators seem to begin this suffering servant passage with Isa 52:13. What do we know about the history of these chapter breaks in Isaiah as we have received them today? Why might Abinadi not include Isa 52:13-15? How do the different ways of breaking up the chapters in Isaiah affect the interpretation of these passages?
- Verse 15:1. What does it mean for God to "come down"?
- Verse 15:1. What does the plural phrase "chidren of men" mean and how might it be related to the identical (in Hebrew) but singular title "Son of Man" which is later used for Christ?
- Verse 15:1. If Christ comes down "among" the children of men, is that how he attains the title "Son of Man"?
- Verse 15:1. Who are "his people" that God will come down to redeem? What makes them "his"?
- Verse 15:1. Is there a difference between "the children of men" and "his people"?
- Verse 15:3. Here it states that Christ is the Father because He was conceived by the power of God. How does this make Christ more of a father rather than a son if He was begotten of another?
- Verse 15:3. In verse 3 "God" must refer to God the Father--the father of Jesus Christ. Why doesn't Abinadi give God the Father a title that would distinguish him from the many names he is using for Jesus Christ in these verses?
- Verse 15:4. Does the title "the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth" refer to Christ? If so, why does Abinadi apply this title to him?
- Verse 15:4. With our understanding of the Godhead, this seems like a really complicated way to explain things. Did Abinadi have the same knowledge about the Godhead that we now do? If so, why did he choose this way of explaining things?
- Verse 15:13. The phrase "that has not fallen into transgression," sandwiched between two statements about the prophets, seem out of place. Is it referring to anyone in particular?
- Answer: Yes, Abinadi is getting ready to turn this all around on the wicked priests. He can't give them any wiggle room.
- Verses 15:21-25. Who will partake in the first resurrection?
This heading is for listing links and print resources, including those cited in the notes. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
- Chapter 15. Nyman, Monte and Charles D. Tate. Mosiah: Salvation Only through Christ (link is to the relevant chapter, "Abinadi's Commentary on Isaiah," in GospeLink).
- Chapter 15. Millet, Robert. Jesus Christ, Fatherhood and Sonship of. Millet explains here references in the Book of Mormon to Jesus Christ as the Son and the Father and explains Jesus's role in each case.\
- Chapter 15. Kathryn Lynard Soper has posted some thoughts on verses 1-11 of this chapter at the T&S blog here.
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves, such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word. In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources are preferable to footnotes.