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Relationship to Moroni. The relationship of Chapter 8 to the rest of Moroni is addressed at Moroni.
Story. Chapter 8 consists of ____ major sections:
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 8 include:
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Outline and Structure
- I Editorial introduction by Moroni (v. 1)
- II Mormon's epistle proper (vv. 2-30)
- A Epistolary introduction and address (vv. 2-3)
- B Doctrinal exposition (vv. 4-26)
- 1 Preliminary identification of the epistle's theme: baptism of "little children" (vv. 4-5)
- 2 Presentation of a revelation that implies the wrongness of such baptism (vv. 6-9)
- 3 Parallel outlines of the central doctrine (vv. 10-23)
- a Outline of a doctrine of the salvation of children and its implications (vv. 10-13)
- b Bold assertion of the existential consequences for misunderstanding this doctrine (vv. 14-16a)
- Transition focused on Mormon's subjective investment in the question (vv. 16b-17)
- c Another outline of the doctrine of the salvation of children (vv. 18-19)
- d Another bold assertion of the existential consquences for misunderstanding the doctrine (vv. 20-23)
- 4 Explanation of the possibility of receiving revelation as Mormon has (vv. 24-26)
- C Closing remarks concerning Nephite wickedness (vv. 27-30)
Rhetorical markers indicating divisions within the text are often formulaic and readily discernible (see, for instance, the use of "and now" in vv. 4 and 6 or the use of "behold" in vv. 10, 14, 24, and 27). Other divisions are more subtle and have primarily to do with structural features of the chapter's basic thematic presentation (as in vv. 16b, 18, and 20). Several distinct phrases and terms appear twice each in this chapter, and the pattern of their usage is difficult to discern. Nonetheless, some general points can be made about the larger structure of the chapter.
The core of the chapter clearly consists of verses 4-26 ("doctrinal exposition"), where the focus is the baptism of little children. After an introduction of the theme (vv. 4-5), Mormon's discussion opens (in vv. 6-9) with a presentation of a revelation—"the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord, and your God (v. 8)—which deploys a number of phrases and terms that appear again in the final verses of the discussion (vv. 24-26, "explanation of the possibility of receiving revelation"). Compare, for instance, "the curse of Adam" (v. 8) with "the curse of a broken law" (v. 24); "did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me" (v. 9) with "cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost" (v. 26); "wherefore, my beloved son" (v. 9) with "behold, my son" (v. 24); and "it is solemn mockery before God" (v. 9) with "it is mockery before God" (v. 23). The literary connections strongly suggest an intentional inclusion structure, with the core of Mormon's discussion opening and closing in deliberately parallel fashion. Especially significant is the repetition of references to "the Holy Ghost," since they together suggest that the discussion works its way from Mormon's unique leaderly reception of a revelation through the Holy Ghost to the promise that all earnest seekers can receive revelation through the same Holy Ghost. This casts the material between the opening and closing sequence of the text (vv. 6-9 and 24-26 respectively) as persuasive in nature, presenting a divinely received message as authoritative but presenting arguments for its truth along with exhortations to be serious about its import—and serving all together as an invitation to have the revelation's truth confirmed by the same divine source by which the revelation came in the first part.
The material found in verses 10-23 ("parallel outlines") also exhibit certain structural features that deserve notice. It can be divided rather naturally into two halves, with unique phrases and terms from the first half reappearing in the second. Note the following parallels: "their little children need no repentance" (v. 11) and "little children cannot repent" (v. 19); "God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons" (v. 12) and "God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being" (v. 18); "he that supposeth that little children needeth baptism" (v. 14) and "he that saith that little children needeth baptism" (v. 20); "should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell" (v. 14) and "they are in danger of death, hell, and an endless torment" (v. 21); "awful is the wickedness" (v. 15) and "it is awful wickedness" (v. 19); "I speak with boldness" (v. 16) and "I speak it boldly" (v. 21); "perfect love" (v. 16) and "perfect love" (v. 17); "all children are alike unto me" (v. 17) and "they are all alike" (v. 17). This is a rather striking list of repetitions, and they seem to indicate that the whole sequence of verses 10-23 divides in two after the first line of verse 17. In essence, verses 16-17 serve as a kind of pivot (with material in vv. 16-17a repeated in v. 17b) around which the whole central sequence of Mormon's discussion turns. The first half of the discussion works its way toward the themes of perfect love and children's general alikeness, while the second half of the discussion takes these same two themes as a point of departure for re-presenting all the material from the first half in a new way.
Beyond these points, there doesn't seem to be any particularly obvious structure organizing the text of Moroni 8. Its principal form of organization, then, lies in a presentation of its key points in two larger sequences. The first half, verses 6-17a, begins from a few words of revelation received through the Holy Ghost and presented by Mormon, and it works its way toward a kind of culminating statement regarding perfect love and the universal alikeness of children. The second half, verses 17b-26, begins in turn from these last themes of perfect love and universal alikeness, and it works its way toward an injunction that all receive revelation through the Holy Ghost. Numerous repetitions of phrases and terms from the first half in the second half tie them together in an essential way. And because this ties the whole chapter together so tightly, it's here treated on a single page.
Matters of Context
When did Mormon write this first letter that Moroni copies into his book?
The only explicit attempt at contextualization is found in verse 1, where Moroni explains that the letter was written "soon after [his own] calling to the ministry." It seems relatively clear from the superscription to Moroni 9 ("The second epistle of Mormon to his son Moroni") and Mormon's use of the word "again" in the opening to the other letter (Moroni 9:1) that Moroni copies the two letters in the order they were actually written. The second letter was written soon after "a sore" and unsuccessful "battle with the Lamanites," in which "a great number" of Nephites, three actually named, die (Moroni 9:2). This particular loss seems to have been one that led Mormon to "fear" that the Nephites would be destroyed, "for they do not repent, and Satan stirreth them up continually to anger one with another" (Moroni 9:3).
In it, Mormon describes major developments in Nephite wickedness and in Nephite destruction in war. This makes clear that Nephite wickedness wasn't yet fully ripe at the time Mormon wrote the letter included in Moroni 8.
Comments on Particular Verses
Unless Moroni edits or redacts his father's letter as he copies it into the plates, this is the only verse in this chapter where we hear his voice. He tells us very little by way of introduction—and nothing of his reasons for including the epistle. All he says by way of historical contextualization is that the letter was written "soon after [his] calling to the ministry." This itself is peculiar, since nowhere else does Moroni (or Mormon) have anything to say about Moroni's calling to the ministry. Indeed, the historical report in Mormon 1-7 concerning the final years of the Nephites would naturally lead us to guess that there was no organized ministry during Moroni's life (though Moroni's report concerning ecclesiastical matters in Moroni 2-6 might suggest otherwise). This raises the question of what exactly Moroni means when he says that he was called to the ministry. By whom was he called (note that it certainly wasn't his father who called him), and in what fashion (directly by God or through some kind of established earthly institution—and if the latter, by what protocols)? What exactly does he mean by "the ministry"—an established public institution (a missionary or pastoral program) or a private responsibility (executed simply in conversation with God)? The only word Mormon offers regarding this point comes in verse 2, when he expresses his joy that "Jesus Christ ... hath called [Moroni] to his ministry, and to his holy work." This, unfortunately, doesn't clarify much.
Other details concerning historical context can be derived from verses 27-30, as well as from the further epistle in chapter 9. From verses 27-30, one learns that Mormon writes this letter (chapter 8) at a time when he can already say that "the pride of ... the people of the Nephites hath proven their destruction except they should repent." This indicates that much of the history recounted in Mormon has already taken place, since much destruction has already taken place; but it's clear that the end isn't yet arriving, since Mormon still speaks of the possibility of repentance—and mentions a verse later that he's only begun to "fear lest the Spirit hath ceased striving" with the people (compare Mormon 4:23; 5:2, where Mormon gives up on any hope). Also significant in verses 27-30 is the fact that Mormon speaks to Moroni of what's happening in his "part of the land," obviously by way of contrast to what's happening in Moroni's part of the land. This indicates at the very least that there's an uneven development among the Nephites toward total wickedness. The fact that Moroni is being called to the ministry suggests that the end, even if it must be "soon" (as Mormon says), is still some way off. All these details are confirmed by chapter 9, which is clearly presented (in Moroni 9:1) as a later letter. In it, Mormon describes major developments in Nephite wickedness and in Nephite destruction in war. This makes clear that Nephite wickedness wasn't yet fully ripe at the time Mormon wrote the letter included in Moroni 8. It's probably best to say that Mormon's letter regarding the baptism of children was written at a kind of turning point—at that point when it became clear that full destruction was coming, but before the Nephites had collectively decided to reject every possibility of repentance.
An epistle of my father Mormon, written to me, Moroni; and it was written unto me soon after my calling to the ministry. And on this wise did he write unto me, saying:
- "an epistle"
- "of ... written to me"
- "my calling to the ministry"
- "on this wise"
- Moro 8:7 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.
- Moro 8:8. 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).
- Moro 8:9. 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.
- Moro 8:10-11. 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.
- Moro 8:12-13: Alive in Christ. "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.
- Moro 8:14. This verse has been interpreted 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).
- Moro 8:26: 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).
- Moro 8:26: 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.
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- Moro 8:7. 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.)
- Moro 8:8. 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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- Verse 8:14. 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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