37 Now Abinadi said unto them, Have ye done all this? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not. And have ye taught this people that they should do all these things? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not.
1 And now when the king had heard these words, he said unto his priests: Away with this fellow, and slay him; for what have we to do with him, for he is mad.
As noted in the discussion of Mosiah 12:37, Abinadi has effectively accused Noah and his priests of blasphemy. He has accused the king and the priests of not teaching the law of Moses, the very law that they say they are teaching.
We do not necessarily know what the priests reaction was to Abinadi's statement, but king Noah was greatly offended and decides on the spot that Abinadi is guilty and should be taken away. He so commands.
2 And they stood forth and attempted to lay their hands on him; but he withstood them, and said unto them:
3 Touch me not, for God shall smite you if ye lay your hands upon me, for I have not delivered the message which the Lord sent me to deliver; neither have I told you that which ye requested that I should tell; therefore, God will not suffer that I shall be destroyed at this time.
When the functionaries of the king attempt to apprehend Abinadi, he is able to withstand them and continue with his discourse. Because Mormon is giving this recounting, we don't known whether or not the "withstanding" was a physical thing first, and then secondly verbal. It is most likely that the reason he withstood is described later, with this comment that "he withstood them" being a foreshadowing of the next events.
Specifically, Abinadi declares that they should not lay hands upon him. This suggests that while the functionaries may have made a move to do so, they had not yet touched him. Abinadi notes that he has a message to deliver, and that it is not completed. It is important for our understanding of the character of Abinadi that he mentions that he should not be "destroyed at this time." He clearly understands that his is a fatal mission. Even in the apparent prophetic foreknowledge of his personal destruction, Abinadi yet accepts his mission from the Lord.
4 But I must fulfil the commandments wherewith God has commanded me; and because I have told you the truth ye are angry with me. And again, because I have spoken the word of God ye have judged me that I am mad.
This is a direct response to Noah's outburst. Noah has declared that Abinadi is mad, and Abinadi counters that declaration with his own declaration that his are the words of God. Thus if Abinadi is said to be mad, Noah is accusing God of being mad.
5 Now it came to pass after Abinadi had spoken these words that the people of king Noah durst not lay their hands on him, for the Spirit of the Lord was upon him; and his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses' did while in the mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord.
No one dares attempt to lay hands on Abinadi because they witness in him a visible transformation. The power of the spirit in Abinadi was sufficient that it became a visible "luster." We do not read of such a visible expression of the spirit's protection in an incident between Nephi and his brothers, but clearly Nephi warned his brothers just as Abinadi has warned his would be captors. Somehow, Nephi's brother's clearly received the message, just as in this case (see 1 Nephi 17:47-49).
Heavenly beings are frequently described in terms of "light" (see, for instance, Joseph Smith History 1:16; 1:30). It would appear that the things of the spiritual realm may be accompanied by what we perceive as light, and the powerful presence of the spirit with Abinadi (and also Moses) was such that the face appeared transformed and lighted. Since the face is our major means of identification of each other, and becomes symbolic for the whole person at times, it is quite possible that there was an aura of light all around Abinadi, but that it was most evident in the face as that would be where we would naturally concentrate our vision.
Textual: From Daniel Ludlow:
"Notice the following interesting reference concerning Abinadi as he made his defense before Noah and the wicked priests: "the Spirit of the Lord was upon him; and his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses' did while in the mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord." (Italics added.) This statement is of particular interest because of the controversy among biblical scholars and translators concerning the facial appearance of Moses after he had talked with the Lord on the mount of Sinai. The King James Version renders Exodus 34:30 as follows: "And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him." However, the Catholic translators of the Douay Version followed the pattern of the Septuagint Bible by translating the same verse as follows: "And he knew not that his face was horned from the conversation with the Lord. And Aaron and the children of Israel seeing the face of Moses horned, were afraid to come near." Because of this faulty interpretation, the great sculptor Michelangelo put horns on his famous statue of Moses!"(Ludlow, Daniel H. A Companion To Your Study Of The Book Of Mormon. , Deseret Book, 1976, p.182).
6 And he spake with power and authority from God; and he continued his words, saying:
7 Ye see that ye have not power to slay me, therefore I finish my message. Yea, and I perceive that it cuts you to your hearts because I tell you the truth concerning your iniquities.
8 Yea, and my words fill you with wonder and amazement, and with anger.
Abinadi can tell that his words are effecting Noah and his priests. He specifically notes that "it cuts you to your hearts because I tell you the truth…" The effect of hearing the truth on those who have justified their actions is to bring back the sharp recognition of the pain of sin. Because that is an uncomfortable feeling, and exposes the coverings placed over the sin, anger is a very typical response.
In order to feel this pain, however, their hearts had to be capable of being touched by the spirit, otherwise they could not have recognized that they were personally in conflict with message Abinadi was delivering. This pain is the first step to an ability to repent, but it clearly does not guarantee repentance. Of all of the priests who were pierced by this awakening of the spirit, only one is known to have accepted the pain for what it was and repented.
9 But I finish my message; and then it matters not whither I go, if it so be that I am saved.
10 But this much I tell you, what you do with me, after this, shall be as a type and a shadow of things which are to come.
Abinadi is pretty clear that he understands that his mortal frame will not survive this encounter with Noah. It is possible that there were options open, for if all had repented as did Alma, then the result could have been the freeing of Abinadi, and perhaps the destruction of Noah's regime might have been avoided. Clearly, however, Noah and most of his priests not only did not repent, but they gave no credence to his words, for they chose to burn him, even though he prophesied (correctly) that such would also be the fate of Noah.
The account of Abinadi before Noah appears to have a foregone conclusion from its beginning. However, even though the probable outcome of the encounter was known, probably even to Abinadi, yet the Lord left room for repentance.
11 And now I read unto you the remainder of the commandments of God, for I perceive that they are not written in your hearts; I perceive that ye have studied and taught iniquity the most part of your lives.
Textual: The most interesting and problematic part of this verse is Abinadi's declaration that he will "read" the texts that he recites. There was no indication that he was reading in his prior citations of Isaiah, nor will there be when he cites Isaiah extensively. This does not indicate that he was no reading in the other indications, but raises the possibility that we might interpret the word "read" loosely in this case. Abinadi could be "reading" them the law just as one might be read his rights.
Of course Abinadi was able to read, or he would have had much more difficulty in memorizing the large passages he does cite. This ability to read also increases the possibility of John Tvedtnes' suggestion (noted in the comment on Mosiah 11:20) that Abinadi might have been a deposed priest of Zeniff, as the priests would surely be able to read, and have access to the scriptures.
Abinadi could have asked for copies of the scriptures and looked them up, with that part of the proceedings simply being missing from our record. That would not be surprising. In any case, both possibilities, of reading, and citing remain a possibility for this encounter.
12 And now, ye remember that I said unto you: Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of things which are in heaven above, or which are in the earth beneath, or which are in the water under the earth.
Rhetorical: Abinadi is picking up on a theme that he began and interrupted (see Mosiah 12:34-36). He has already cited this particular commandment, but stopped his citation of scripture at that point and began his discussion of how they were not teaching that particular commandment. Now he repeats it, along with the rest of the basic commandments listed in Exodus. Why?
Abinadi is condemning Noah and his priests. He has a message to deliver from God, and will not stop until he has delivered it. What is that message? As Abinadi's discourse develops it becomes clear that his message is the Messiah. The art of Abinadi's discourse is the way in which he turns the situation in which he finds himself into an occasion to deliver the essential message, which is the mission of Jesus Christ.
The approach he takes to this message continues to confirm the hypothesis about the nature of this new religious order that has been instituted by Noah. The priests declare that they are teaching the law of Moses, and that salvation comes through the law of Moses. That Abinadi must preach the Messiah to them clearly indicates that they have rejected that part of the religion they brought with them from Zarahemla (and the land of Nephi not all that long before). The priests are basically teaching the religion that Sherem proposed to Jacob, and Mosaic law without the Messianic understandings that had come to the Nephite prophets. It is an ancient law, and an interpretation that accepts it while denying modern revelation (modern to them).
Abinadi breaks the discourse at the command to have no other God(s) before Him because that is the crux of his message. The Noahites are believing in the wrong God, despite claiming to believe in the law of Moses. Abinadi picks up with the rest of the Exodus commandments because he will now deal with the entirety of the Law to show how the understanding of the priests does not match the reality of God. Of course the law of Moses is more than just the particulars that Abinadi cites, but these laws create the moral basis of the law, and it is a proper departure point for the argument that Abinadi is building.
Translation: Whether or not Abinadi is reading may be in question, but the comparison of the two citations Abinadi makes of this verse suggest that the translation process rendered them differently. In the citation found in Mosiah 12:36 the translation leaves out the conjunctive phrase "that is". It is returned in this verse, but becomes "which are," on the agreement with the plural "things" which is singular in both Exodus and Mosiah 12:36.
The sense of the verse is not changed, but the slight change of singular to plural with the resulting change from "that is" to "which are" would appear to be an indication of the oral translation/dictation method rather than a specific change in the underlying text. It is also impossible to know whether or not this change happened when Joseph translated, or when Oliver hear and wrote. There are clear indications that Oliver did hear incorrectly, and then made a change, so this may be a scribal error on Oliver's part (see Skousen, Royal. "How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon; Evidence from the Original Manuscript." In: Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. FARMS 1998, Volume 7, number 1, p. 25).
13 And again: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate me;
Translation: There are only minor differences between this verse and Exodus 20:5. First, the "and again" is not present in Exodus. This is a continuation of the oral discourse. Even were Abinadi reading, this should be seen as an oral addition. The second change is again a shift from singular to plural. The Exodus text has "iniquity" and this text has "iniquities." As with the other change in number, this is probably an artifact of the translation process rather than a version difference, although Tvedtnes does note that the underlying Hebrew word may be used in a collective sense even though it is grammatically singular (Tvedtnes, John A. "Isaiah Textual Variants in the Book of Mormon." FARMS paper, 1981, p. 92).
14 And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.
15 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
16 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
17 Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work;
18 But the seventh day, the sabbath of the Lord thy God, thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates;
19 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
20 Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
21 Thou shalt not kill.
22 Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal.
23 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
24 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's.
Abinadi cites these verses to give the foundation for his argument. The pivot against which these verses become relevant is the declaration of the priests of the Noah that they teach the law of Moses (Mosiah 12:28). Abinadi therefore begins by reciting the compact form of the law of Moses.
Textual: The 1830 breaks a chapter here. While this is an awkward chapter break for a modern reader because it splits a continuous speech (though no more so that the current way this event is split up), it nevertheless appears to follow a regular rule of Mormon's editorial method. He is citing a source up to this point. The chapter break occurs when the citation ends and Mormon interjects some of his own words.
Translation: These verses are included with no changes from the KJV other than spelling (such as "shewing/showing" "neighbour/neighbor").
25 And it came to pass that after Abinadi had made an end of these sayings that he said unto them: Have ye taught this people that they should observe to do all these things for to keep these commandments?
Textual: While Mormon's short interjection appears to be the reason he split the chapters, it is still somewhat problematic in that it is such a short interjection between cited material. Mormon tends to interject when he is leaving out material in the original, and therefore we may presume that there is some recorded event here that has been left out. It is difficult to speculate what that might be, because Abinadi's text appears to be here in full. Perhaps the skipped material had to do with the manuscript he may have been reading. Perhaps there was an official response from the priests declaring that they did believe in the laws that Abinadi has cited, similar to that which occurred earlier in his discourse. In this case, the similarity in this opening to that seen in Mosiah 12:37 ("… Have ye done all this? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not. And have ye taught this people that they should do all these things? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not.") could be seen as similar responses to similar stimuli, though 12:37 responds to comments in 12:32 which appear to have precipitated the recitation of the Mosaic proscriptions.
26 I say unto you, Nay; for if ye had, the Lord would not have caused me to come forth and to prophesy evil concerning this people.
This response was quite clear to Abinadi. They could not be teaching the gospel correctly or the Lord would not have called Abinadi to stand before them. His words are poignant. He has come to "prophesy evil." The evil is in the nature of the things that he has foretold. Those events indeed would be seen as "evil" in the hindsight of the people who had endured them when Ammon arrived.
27 And now ye have said that salvation cometh by the law of Moses. I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you, that the time shall come when it shall no more be expedient to keep the law of Moses.
This is where Abinadi reaches the reason for his discourse. He has declared that the priests are not teaching correctly, and he identifies the law of Moses, having specifically delineated the most succinct catalog of those moral laws. However, these are precisely the things that the priests say that they have taught. How is it that Abinadi will move from what the priests think they have taught to what Abinadi must proclaim they have not taught? Herein will lie the real message of Abinadi. This is what he came to declare. He came not to "read" the Exodus catalog of proscriptions, but to declare that the priests have not taught the true revealed import of those statements.
He begins with the assertion that salvation comes through the law of Moses. This is essential, because if the law is sufficient for salvation, then the priests would be teaching correctly. His first position is to establish a recognition of the value of the law; "it is expedient that yeshould keep the law of Moses as yet…" This statement upholds the value, but foreshadows the changes that will come upon the law. The word "expedient" is used to indicate a temporary nature, and the term "as yet" makes it clear that this law will not be the final answer, though it is important for now. In this approach, Abinadi before the priests uses a similar tactic to Jesus Christ when he explained his approach to the law: " Matt. 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.).
Abinadi is much more blunt than Christ, however, indicating that there would come a time when they would not need to obey the law of Moses. This is a very different sentiment from Christ's and should be analyzed.
On the face of it, the two statements appear contradictory. However, both are leading to the revealed reality. Jesus calls it fulfilling, but the nature of the fulfilling was to abandon some of the features of the law for the heart of the law as emphasized in Christ's gospel. Abinadi is foreshadowing that removal of pieces of the performance law while retaining the transformation. While he does not buffer his discussion as does Christ, Abinadi will end up in the same place. Abinadi apparently felt no need to worry about further antagonizing his captors.
28 And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses.
This is the point of contention between Abinadi's religion and that taught by the priests. As noted, it is the Sherem religion, a brass plates religion devoid of the Messianic prophecies of the Nephite prophets. Also as noted, perhaps we should not be surprised to find this religion popular in the land of Nephi as it was in this very land that Sherem preached. If we remember that not all of those who were considered Nephites at the time left with Mosiah, and that those who remained were those most likely to have invited Sherem's preaching (see the discussion of Jacob 7) then we might see that brass-plate-minus-Messiah religion as the regionally dominant one, and one supported by those who probably spoke the same language as these newly returned peoples to this area. It may be no surprise that the change in religion could occur so quickly if it was the dominant religion of the area, and one that had roots similar to those of the people of Zeniff-now-Noah.
Abinadi's argument presupposes that the priests of Noah are aware of the Messianic teachings. He takes for granted that they have heard of the atonement by the Messiah. If Abinadi were one of Zeniff's priests as Tvedtnes has suggested, then he would know first hand that such things had been taught in this land. Abinadi proceeds not by revealing things that they have never known, but by explaining to them the things they have chosen to disregard. They sin not in ignorance, but by choice, and perhaps by avarice.
There are two important points that Abinadi makes. The first is that the atonement is the salvation, and the good that comes from living the law of Moses comes because of that atonement, not apart from it.
The second, and perhaps most interesting, is his statement that "God himself" will effect the atonement. It is clear from the following verses (particularly verse 34) that Abinadi is linking God and Messiah into the same being. This is not current LDS theological practice, but as indicated in the prior instances in the Book of Mormon, this conjunction of God and Messiah is a normal occurrence for this people surrounded by a polytheistic society. What is important is not the canard proposing a conflict with modern doctrine, but the internal consistency with Abinadi's slight alteration of "gods" to "God" in Mosiah 12:35. In that verse Abinadi shifts "gods" in Exodus 20:3 to the singular God. As was noted in the comment on that verse, it is possible that this is not intentional nor meaningful. However, it is also very possible that it is.
When we understand that Abinadi is speaking of the Messiah, and referring to the Messiah in terms of "God himself" atoning for man, we can see Abinadi setting up a situation in which the priests of Noah are teaching a false god because they are denying the Messianic role of that God. Thus Abinadi is very purposefully exposing the priests of Noah as having another god before the true God, the God-who-will-be-Messiah.
As a last point to clarify the theology, is Abinadi wrong? Is he missing something that we understand from modern revelation? Perhaps not. If we remember that the God of Abinadi was referred to as Jehovah, and that Jehovah is the premortal name of Christ, then it is absolutely true that God (Jehovah) himself came down among us and atoned for us.
29 And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God;
30 Therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him.
Abinadi and Paul both express the relationship of the law of Moses to the law of the Gospel. Paul's statement
Gal. 3:24 "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith."
Both of these statements are essentially the same, but the perspective is different. Paul's statement has a more positive connotation to it. The law was necessary, but it was simply a teacher, and the Gospel would bring a more important way. Abinadi's statement is less positive, casting the law as necessary for a "stiffnecked" people. His explanation of how it worked in relation to Christ's law is essentially, the same, however. This "law of performances and ordinances" allowed these "children" to learn slowly, with rigid instructions for each day. It is this rigidity of practice that would be replaced.
The difference in connotation comes form the situation in which both prophets give their explanations. Paul was trying to win over converts, and therefore placed the points of contiguity of belief in the best possible light. Abinadi, on the other hand, appears to have no expectation of conversion (though he makes one convert that justifies his entire mission). He is condemning. In particular, he is condemning a group of priests who are placing the law above the gospel of Christ. In that case, it is Abinadi's purpose to show that they are mistaken in removing Christ from their teachings, and therefore he must show that the law of Moses is not as powerful nor salvific as they preach.
31 But behold, I say unto you, that all these things were types of things to come.
The ordinances of the law of Moses were schoolteachers because they provided symbolic precursors to the mission of the Savior. In the vocabulary of the Book of Mormon, these are the "types." Abinadi allows himself this much of an explanation, and no more. We may assume that the theological arguments that explained the practices of the law in terms of their symbolic relation to the revealed Messianic mission were part of the Nephite religion that had been deleted in the Noahite version. Were this brand new information we would expect that Abinadi would at least give a few examples to show what he means. He does not, and so we must presume that his audience understood this argument in depth from the quick reference. This requires that they had heard it before, and Abinadi is simply referring to a known argument.
Apocryphal Literature: See the book of Barnabas as a post-Christian examination of the symbols of the law of Moses, interpreting them in a Christian context, as Abinadi suggests can be done.
32 And now, did they understand the law? I say unto you, Nay, they did not all understand the law; and this because of the hardness of their hearts; for they understood not that there could not any man be saved except it were through the redemption of God.
The Jews did not understand the law because they were missing an essential piece, a true understanding of the atoning mission of the Messiah. The hardness of their hearts against this atoning mission is something that would not have been included in the brass plates. While the brass plate texts certainly contained prophets calling Israel to repentance, it is never clearly because they rejected an atoning Messiah. Indeed, for much of its history Israel expected a conquering Messiah rather than an atoning one. Abinadi's evidence for the hardness of the hearts of the Jews concerning this part of the gospel is interesting as it can come from only two discernible sources. One would be direct revelation. The other would be the writings of Nephi. On the small plates that we have, Nephi records information specifically related to the Jews rejecting the atoning Savior. Both his father Lehi speaks of this (see 1 Nephi 10:11) as well as Nephi himself (1 Nephi 15:17).
While it would be tempting to say that Abinadi had access to a copy of the small plates, this is very unlikely, as the plates were probably given to Mosiah after the departure of Zeniff (Noah's father) or the land of Lehi-Nephi. However, if Nephi recorded his father's words in short form in 1 Nephi 10, it is quite likely that they existed in fuller report in the Book of Lehi (on the large plates). It is possible that a copy of this work as well as the brass plates accompanied Zeniff and was a primary text for his priests (again speculating that Abinadi was one of those priests and therefore had access to this information.
It is interesting that Abinadi refers to this stiffneckedness in the past tense, when the evidence for it lies yet in the future. Since the prophecy is in the past, and for Abinadi the word of the Lord is sure, this future event is as good as accomplished.
Rhetorical: Abinadi is pounding home the essential point of his discourse, that the mission of the Messiah is essential even for the law of Moses. He is continually underlining that the religion of the priests cannot be effective to save precisely because it denies the Savior, as did (will!) the Jews.
33 For behold, did not Moses prophesy unto them concerning the coming of the Messiah, and that God should redeem his people? Yea, and even all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began—have they not spoken more or less concerning these things?
It is not clear to which part of the scriptures Abinadi is referring when he proclaims Moses as prophesying the redemption of Israel through the Messiah. The modern Book of Moses is certainly clear on this point, but those are sections of the Book of Moses that do not correspond to our received text of Genesis. Perhaps there were some differences in the brass plates and these included more specific prophecies from Moses that we do not now have.
Polemics: It is fascinating that it is Moses that is mentioned, and not Isaiah. Abinadi is going to cite Isaiah, but he first references Moses. The rhetorical reason for so doing is obvious. He has spent time showing the gospel of the Messiah as superior to the law of Moses. He clinches the argument by declaring that Moses himself knew this, and prophesied of this Messiah that the priests deny.
While this is a tremendous rhetorical ploy, it is a poor one for one who is writing the Book of Mormon as a novel or a fantasy. Here would be an easy place to submit a proof text that is accepted (such as the Isaiah citations that will come). However, rather than the safe entry, we have this odd one that would appear to be deniable from the current Bible. A good imposter would have avoided this argument, even though it is powerful. In a true ancient work, however, Abinadi could easily have access to information that is not in our current version of the scriptures.
34 Have they not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth?
35 Yea, and have they not said also that he should bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, and that he, himself, should be oppressed and afflicted?
Abinadi again presumes the understanding of the argument. He asserts that many prophets have been very specific about the mission of the Messiah. The introduction to the idea does not give examples, but he will provide a very specific example in the next section of his discourse. The current text of the Book of Mormon splits chapters here. This perhaps camouflages the connection between the cited passage from Isaiah and its function as evidence for this assertion of many prophets predicting specifics of the Messiah's earthly mission. One must remember at this point that Abinadi does not have the hindsight that is available to use to understand the mission. His understanding of Isaiah must come from his own prophetic experience, or his understanding of the prophetic experience and writings of other Nephite prophets, such as Lehi and Nephi.
Textual: The 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon has no break at this point. The following citation from Isaiah should be seen as immediately following this declaration of the Messianic prophecies of the historical prophets.
|by Brant Gardner. Copyright 1999|