Theology in Mosiah

One of my favorite sets of publications in recent years are the Brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon. James E. Faulconer’s excellent contribution to the series is the volume focused on the Book of Mosiah. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Faulconer shared some of his insights related to this book. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Very early on in the discussion, James E. Faulconer stated that “Mosiah is my favorite book in the Book of Mormon” and it’s understandable. Mosiah is fascinating, both for its literary organization, captivating stories, and theological discussions (especially from King Benjamin and Abinadi). For example, Faulconer discussed the internal chronology of the book:

The internal chronology of Mosiah is very interesting because the story told is not told using a straight time line. Instead, it turns back on itself.

If the book of Mosiah had followed a strictly chronological order, it would have begun with Zeniff’s departure from Zarahemla, told of Abinadi’s preaching and execution, and then narrated the story of the elder Alma’s conversion.

Only after that would we read of King Benjamin’s sermons and Mosiah II’s coronation.

Instead, the events of Mosiah are presented out of order. The sermon of King Benjamin is related at the start of the book, while the earlier stories of Abinadi’s preaching and the elder Alma’s conversion are not told until the book is halfway over. …

Putting the stories out of order gives a doctrinal context to the stories in the middle, giving us teachings to help us understand the importance of the stories and reminding us that the Book of Mormon is more about what it teaches than the history it recounts.

For example, “King Benjamin also taught the unity of the Father and the Son (Mosiah 3:8). King Benjamin understands that Christ, is the Creator, the Father of Heaven and Earth.”

Given that Faulconer’s book is about theology, it makes sense that the teachings of Abinadi and King Benjamin were heavily featured. In the interview, he discussed both of these sermons. For example, he shared some insights from King Benjamin’s sermon:

As I see it, King Benjamin teaches that service is the evidence we have received a remission of sins. It isn’t that we get our remission of sins by doing service, but that receiving the loving grace of a remission of sins brings us to want to give loving grace to others. We want to serve others because our sins have been remitted. … I hope readers will recognize King Benjamin’s emphasis on salvation by grace and the resulting necessity of service and obedience.

He also grappled a bit with Abinadi’s teachings about the Godhead:

As I read what Abinadi teaches, we should understand Jesus to be both the Father and the Son each in two ways.

  1. He is the Father because he has been like the Father from the beginning and because he is the Creator of heaven and earth.
  2. He is the Son because he was created premortally by the Father and because he took on mortality through the power of the Father.

He added insights into how Latter-day Saint beliefs diverge from traditional Christian understandings of the Trinity:

Latter-day Saints agree with traditional Christians that the Creator is both Father and Son. We also agree that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in intention, wisdom, and will. But we disagree in that we teach that each is a separate being and traditional Christians, as I said above, teach that the three are one being.

As a result, we agree with mainstream Christians that Jesus is the Creator, but we disagree with them because we believe that the Son and the Father are different beings.

For more on insights about theology in the Book of Mosiah, head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk.

5 comments for “Theology in Mosiah

  1. The insistence by some on emphasizing how LDS views on the godhead differ from (and are superior to) traditional Christian views on the trinity is unfortunate and unnecessary. We are far more alike than we are different, and insisting that we’re right and they’re wrong seems uncharitable.

    I like the theology presented in Mosiah. We also read in Mosiah that “God himself” will come to live among mankind.

  2. I think Abinadi’s teachings on the Godhead serve as a nice theological bridge between the ancient view of Jehovah as God and the Christian view of God in the Book of Mormon and the modern church.

    Also, as it relates to Faulconer’s thoughts on the structure of the Book of Mosiah, I find it interesting that Abinadi’s quotation and expansion of the suffering servant seems to come right down the middle of the book.

  3. I generally agree with ji. The vast majority of Christian denominations have denounced modalism as a heresy, so we are indeed much closer to them than we think we are and nobody is well-served by insisting otherwise. I would instead say that we are right and the modalists (as opposed to “they”, which I interpret to mean other Christian denominations) are wrong. Perhaps Faulconer is responding not to the theologians of those denominations, but to their members, many of whom seem not to have received the memo about modalism.

  4. Faulconer didn’t really convince me that Mormon structured Mosiah the way he did for literary reasons. Mormon tells us he found the Small Plates of Nephi while searching for information on King Benjamin, which suggests his sources were organized by king and the Small Plates were in “The Benjamin Collection” because Amaleki gave them to King Benjamin. If that’s so, the records of Zeniff’s expedition would presumably be in “The Mosiah(2) Collection” for the same reason, and Mormon tells their story when he does because that’s when he ran into it.

    Loved the book though, and he certainly convinced me of other things. The whole series is great.

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