Book of Mormon Notes– How deep can you dig?

2010, May 29

“Book of Mormon | “Are the Disputations about Infant Baptism Truly ‘Puzzling’ in Moroni 8?: An Additional Response to Edwin J. Firmage, Jr.” by grego

Book of Mormon | “Are the Disputations about Infant Baptism Truly ‘Puzzling’ in Moroni 8?: An Additional Critique of Edwin J. Firmage, Jr.”

grego
(c) 2010

Edwin Firmage, Jr., commented on the “puzzling” need, after hundreds of years of baptism, for help from Jesus about whether infants should be baptized in “American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon“:

“The matter of infant baptism, which heads up Campbell’s list, is broached for the first and only time in Moroni 8:4ff–part of what I have called the handbook. This is puzzling since the Nephites have been practicing baptism at least since Alma the Elder’s time (Mos. 18:10ff). How is it that only at the end of the history does the question arise? By way of comparison, although there is no trace of it in the New Testament, infant baptism was nevertheless an established practice by the late second century when Tertullian advised against baptizing children for fear they would sin before they could be reasonably expected to act differently (On Baptism, xviii). Infant baptism is mentioned by Irenaeus and is an apparently normative albeit localized practice (II:xxii). The issue can scarcely have been avoided by the Nephite church.

Nevertheless, Moroni 8 implies that the issue is new: Mormon and Moroni are initially at a loss for a response. Even with his thorough knowledge of Nephite history, Mormon has to go to God himself for an answer (v. 7). Mormon’s justification (v. 8) is a pastiche of New Testament sentiments taken out of context in a manner not uncharacteristic of the rest of the Book of Mormon. His quotation of Jesus to the effect that “the law of circumcision is done away in me” is the most peculiar. This Pauline sentiment makes sense in its original social setting: the struggle to establish the independence of the gentile church from Jewish ritual. But what relevance does it have to Moroni’s practical difficulty? In fact, the problem faced by Paul could scarcely have arisen among Nephite leaders who all along had championed the rejection of Jewish “Law” in terms that could be called anti-Jewish. The problem of infant baptism cannot realistically be located in the sort of world which the Book of Mormon itself would lead us to expect. But in Joseph Smith’s world, the issue was very much alive. Presbyterians, the most popular group around Palmyra, New York, held with Calvinism that baptism as a sign of conversion was not necessary as a means to salvation. It was not administered to infants. Methodists, the next largest group in the area, required infant baptism. Baptists, also well represented, who felt that only believers should be baptized, excluded children from the rite. Universalists allowed baptism in any number of forms but held that it was not mandatory. The Friends did away with sacraments altogether. One could therefore find among major religious movements in the area just about every possible attitude toward baptism. The key to understanding Moroni 8, and many of the other passages discussed below, is the reference to Ancient American “disputations” (vv. 4-5), which these revelations are meant to quell. This is, in fact, the only hint of such disputations in the Book of Mormon. Reference to theological conflict makes great sense in the context of New York revivalism.” (http://207.224.220.202/excerpts/apocrypha.htm#criticism)

I responded to many of his other points in his article in American Apocrypha in a previous article, here on the blog. This is an addition, as I (finally) realized that there is a reason for “anticipation” of the disputations, which I will now explain.

First, Firmage is quite forceful in his desire to make things appear as he would; in other words, he wrests the scriptures to his liking. Let’s look at the verses that are being talked about:
Moroni 8:1 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:
2 My beloved son, Moroni, I rejoice exceedingly that your Lord Jesus Christ hath been mindful of you, and hath called you to his ministry, and to his holy work.
3 I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end.
4 And now, my son, I speak unto you concerning that which grieveth me exceedingly; for it grieveth me that there should disputations rise among you.
5 For, if I have learned the truth, there have been disputations among you concerning the baptism of your little children.
6 And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently, that this gross error should be removed from among you; for, for this intent I have written this epistle.
7 For immediately after I had learned these things of you I inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And the word of the Lord came to me by the power of the Holy Ghost, saying:
8 Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.
9 And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children.
10 Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.
11 And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.
12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!
13 Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.
14 Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.
15 For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.
16 Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.
17 And I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation.
18 For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.
19 Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy.
20 And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption.
21 Wo unto such, for they are in danger of death, hell, and an endless torment. I speak it boldly; God hath commanded me. Listen unto them and give heed, or they stand against you at the judgment-seat of Christ.
22 For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing—
23 But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.
24 Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.
25 And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins;
26 And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.

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So: “The matter of infant baptism, which heads up Campbell’s list, is broached for the first and only time in Moroni 8:4ff–part of what I have called the handbook. This is puzzling since the Nephites have been practicing baptism at least since Alma the Elder’s time (Mos. 18:10ff).”

grego: First, please remember:

not written about in the Book of Mormon =/= it didn’t happen!

How many times do the Book of Mormon writers/ editors write something like this:
Mormon 5:9 …therefore I write a small abridgment, daring not to give a full account of the things which I have seen, because of the commandment which I have received, and also that ye might not have too great sorrow because of the wickedness of this people.
Jacob 3:13 And a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, which now began to be numerous, cannot be written upon these plates; but many of their proceedings are written upon the larger plates, and their wars, and their contentions, and the reigns of their kings.
Words of Mormon 1:5 Wherefore, I chose these things, to finish my record upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi; and I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people.
Helaman 3:14 But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work.
3 Nephi 5: 8 And there had many things transpired which, in the eyes of some, would be great and marvelous; nevertheless, they cannot all be written in this book; yea, this book cannot contain even a hundredth part of what was done among so many people in the space of twenty and five years;
3 Nephi 26: 6 And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people;
Ether 15: 33 And the Lord spake unto Ether, and said unto him: Go forth. And he went forth, and beheld that the words of the Lord had all been fulfilled; and he finished his record; (and the hundredth part I have not written) and he hid them in a manner that the people of Limhi did find them.

Ok, now that that is hopefully out of the way… Did anyone read “infant baptism” or even “infant” in any part of Moroni 8? You didn’t? Neither did I! Firmage makes a beginning critic’s mistake of mistaking the chapter heading for the actual content. The disputation might be over “infant baptism”, but it’s over baptism of little children. Well, grego, infants are little children! Yes, but they’re infants. Most languages distinguish that. And not all little children are infants. (This is basic subset logic.) It is possible that “little children” in the Book of Mormon might mean very young children, or even infants (well…); but always? No. For example, note that in the following Book of Mormon verse, king Benjamin is obviously not speaking of infants when he says “little children”:
Mosiah 2:40 O, all ye old men, and also ye young men, and you little children who can understand my words, for I have spoken plainly unto you that ye might understand, I pray that ye should awake to a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression.

Alma also says:
Alma 32: 23 And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.
Unles there are many examples of infants speaking that confound the wise and the learned many times, I think Alma is on the same level as king Benjamin here. It’s Firmage that needs to join them.

Next, Firmage’s statement about children and baptism is only partially correct. See these verses:
Mosiah 3:16 And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.
18 For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
21 And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.

Mosiah 6:2 And it came to pass that there was not one soul, except it were little children, but who had entered into the covenant and had taken upon them the name of Christ. (See this verse in light of: Mosiah 2:40 O, all ye old men, and also ye young men, and you little children who can understand my words, for I have spoken plainly unto you that ye might understand, I pray that ye should awake to a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression.
So, even though king Benjamin knows some of the little children understand his words, nevertheless, they are not allowed to enter into covenant.)

Mosiah 15:25 And little children also have eternal life.

Note that all of these references are not just before Moroni 8 in the Book of Mormon and in the translation process, but even before Mosiah 18!

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“How is it that only at the end of the history does the question arise?”

grego: How come some couples are married for years and years, but only after 40 years do they argue about _? I mean, that’s never happened, right? ;)
This is also a special time (which is explained later in this article).

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“By way of comparison, although there is no trace of it in the New Testament, infant baptism was nevertheless an established practice by the late second century when Tertullian advised against baptizing children for fear they would sin before they could be reasonably expected to act differently (On Baptism, xviii). Infant baptism is mentioned by Irenaeus and is an apparently normative albeit localized practice (II:xxii). The issue can scarcely have been avoided by the Nephite church.”

grego: So, just because in the Bible and at Jerusalem X happened, then X had to happen anywhere else too? Faulty logic.
But, as shown, it wasn’t. Though, like shown, there’s no reason it might have been avoided until then.
Could the Nephite problem have been the same reasoning as mentioned by Tertullian? And is it widespread, or is perhaps it a local practice, as mentioned by Irenaeus (Moroni 8:5-6)?

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“Nevertheless, Moroni 8 implies that the issue is new: Mormon and Moroni are initially at a loss for a response. Even with his thorough knowledge of Nephite history, Mormon has to go to God himself for an answer (v. 7).”

grego: Moroni does not imply; Firmage infers. “Initally at a loss for a response”? I guess one could see it that way… though I don’t. “Mormon *has* to go to God”, or “Mormon goes to God”? Is the meaning of those two sentences the same? What does the scripture say? Though it’s funny, because one could use that very sentence to say, “Even with his thorough knowledge of Book of Mormon and Mormon history, Firmage _”. Oh, grego, but Firmage isn’t a prophet like Mormon!” Ok, that might be true… But does going to God denote a complete absence of knowledge? Or, once more, is that something that Firmage seems to infer? I think so.

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“Mormon’s justification (v. 8) is a pastiche of New Testament sentiments taken out of context in a manner not uncharacteristic of the rest of the Book of Mormon.”

grego: At least, so a few critics say…

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“His quotation of Jesus to the effect that “the law of circumcision is done away in me” is the most peculiar. This Pauline sentiment makes sense in its original social setting: the struggle to establish the independence of the gentile church from Jewish ritual. But what relevance does it have to Moroni’s practical difficulty? In fact, the problem faced by Paul could scarcely have arisen among Nephite leaders who all along had championed the rejection of Jewish “Law” in terms that could be called anti-Jewish. The problem of infant baptism cannot realistically be located in the sort of world which the Book of Mormon itself would lead us to expect.”

grego: I wonder when readers (including critics, sometimes) will realize that it *is* often the “most peculiar” things in the Book of Mormon that are insightful?
First, let’s understand that the Nephite leaders never once “championed the rejection of the law of Moses (Jewish “Law”)”. (If anyone could point out which verse exactly, I’d be happy to reconsider.)
Second, consider that two things are addressed: “original sin” and circumcision. Both are related to child baptism, and the feeling of the need to baptize children to save them.
Third, while many might be confused and think that the law of circumcision is part of the law of Moses, let’s understand that it is *not* under the law of Moses. It was instituted as a covenant practice earlier, with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-12, etc.):
9 ¶ And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you;

What was the significance of 8 days old? Was it lost over time? Or was it just lost to a small group of some Nephite members who were uncharitable, as seems to be the case in the Book of Mormon?

Abraham and Moses obeyed it, before the law of Moses was instituted. It was not followed in the wilderness, but was restarted with Joshua (Joshua 5). (It was correct for Mormon to talk about circumcision in his revelation, and not the law of Moses–the latter having been fulfilled and done away with, and the first being a separate covenant. Nice job, Joseph Smith!)

Jesus said the law of Moses was done away with him; but what about the other laws? Did some members lump the law of circumcision in with the law of Moses? Was the meaning forgotten? Did some members, in the environment of fear of death surrounding them, fear for their little children and their eternal life? Did some members also perform baptisms along with the circumcisions (yes, then this would be “infant baptism”)? Did some members believe that children needed baptism to be saved? But even if not, were some members unclear about exactly when was a child “responsible” and needed to be baptized? Was it a case of “better earlier than never”?

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And what were the physical and spiritual conditions that this group of Nephites were under? Let’s look at Mormon 4, Mormon 5, and Moroni 9 to get a taste of what was going on near the time. It was not a pleasant scene:
Mormon 4:11 And it is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites; and every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually.
14 And they did also march forward against the city Teancum, and did drive the inhabitants forth out of her, and did take many prisoners both women and children, and did offer them up as sacrifices unto their idol gods.
21 And when they had come the second time, the Nephites were driven and slaughtered with an exceedingly great slaughter; their women and their children were again sacrificed unto idols.
22 And it came to pass that the Nephites did again flee from before them, taking all the inhabitants with them, both in towns and villages.

Mormon 5:5 But it came to pass that whatsoever lands we had passed by, and the inhabitants thereof were not gathered in, were destroyed by the Lamanites, and their towns, and villages, and cities were burned with fire…
7 And it came to pass that we did again take to flight, and those whose flight was swifter than the Lamanites’ did escape, and those whose flight did not exceed the Lamanites’ were swept down and destroyed.

Moroni 9:4 Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them.
5 For so exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually.
7 … behold, the Lamanites have many prisoners, which they took from the tower of Sherrizah; and there were men, women, and children.
8 And the husbands and fathers of those women and children they have slain; and they feed the women upon the flesh of their husbands, and the children upon the flesh of their fathers; and no water, save a little, do they give unto them.

Moroni 8:27 Behold, my son, I will write unto you again if I go not out soon against the Lamanites. Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction except they should repent.
28 Pray for them, my son, that repentance may come unto them. But behold, I fear lest the Spirit hath ceased striving with them; and in this part of the land they are also seeking to put down all power and authority which cometh from God; and they are denying the Holy Ghost.

The Nephites were wicked, life was in a constant state of disarray and move-quickly-or-die, the Nephites were denying the all power and authority from God, including the Holy Ghost; they had lost their love; bloodshed and revenge—not mercy and forgiveness—were in their constant thoughts; there was dread over the entire land. In addition, children were dying everywhere, in awful circumstances; people were likely concerned about their children. What other time in Book of Mormon history had these conditions?
Is it impossible to imagine that at this time, there might have been disputations concerning infant baptism?

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And is that the real reason for Mormon’s lengthy revelation on infant baptism? ;) Note that the revelation does not just talk about children; it talks a lot about the connection between infant baptism and the lack of charity/ love of the church members (no, this was not written to/ for non-members! These were members who should have already had a firm grasp on the atonement of Jesus Christ).

Let’s connect the dots further. Note the placement of Moroni 8—right after Moroni 7, which is Mormon’s discourse on faith, hope, and… charity and love. And, amazingly, right before Moroni 9, which talks about the lack of love and charity among the people, and the resulting downfall from that.

There really is relevancy and purpose in content and placement in Book of Mormon—though many might not see it, for whatever reason.

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“But in Joseph Smith’s world, the issue was very much alive. Presbyterians, the most popular group around Palmyra, New York, held with Calvinism that baptism as a sign of conversion was not necessary as a means to salvation. It was not administered to infants. Methodists, the next largest group in the area, required infant baptism. Baptists, also well represented, who felt that only believers should be baptized, excluded children from the rite. Universalists allowed baptism in any number of forms but held that it was not mandatory. The Friends did away with sacraments altogether. One could therefore find among major religious movements in the area just about every possible attitude toward baptism.”

grego: Wow, religions and churches differed in their doctrine and beliefs?!?! Shocking!! As they would have differed about many other tenets of the Gospel.
Maybe it’s in there because the Book of Mormon was written for them, maybe?

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“The key to understanding Moroni 8, and many of the other passages discussed below, is the reference to Ancient American “disputations” (vv. 4-5), which these revelations are meant to quell. This is, in fact, the only hint of such disputations in the Book of Mormon. Reference to theological conflict makes great sense in the context of New York revivalism.” (http://207.224.220.202/excerpts/apocrypha.htm#criticism)

grego: I disagree; I believe that the key to understanding those passages is actually to more fully understand the Book of Mormon.

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