King Benjamin’s address found in Mosiah 2-5 is one of the most treasured passages in LDS scripture.  I have enjoyed diving into this and studying it in depth in preparation for Gospel Doctrine lessons 15 “Eternally Indebted to Your Heavenly Father” and 16  “Ye Shall Be Called the Children of Christ”.

One of my favorite topics is Book of Mormon historicity.  But another favorite topic is how much I love the Book of Mormon for its truth and beauty.  This article will go into both of these topics.

 

 

Is King Benjamin’s address modern?

This passage was one of the very first identified by Book of Mormon critics as having obviously modern influence.  As Richard Bushman stated, even faithful LDS are adopting this view more and more frequently.

When the Book of Mormon was first published, this passage stuck out to people in Joseph Smith’s day as resembling a Protestant revival camp meeting.

Camp meetings were popular in early 1800’s America, especially in frontier areas (ie western New York) that were not heavily populated with many churches and preachers.  A preacher would travel to the location and hold a series of intense sermons and worship sessions over a few days.

 

Camp meeting revivals were so common in New York and the surrounding areas the leading revivalist and theologian Charles Finney coined the term “burned over district” because no one was left to convert.

Similarities of 1800’s revival camp meetings to King Benjamin’s address:

  1. Preacher up on a tower
  2. People staying in tents
  3. In the Book of Mormon, they gathered at the temple. A revival hosted by Bishop William M’kendree in 1826 in New York where attenders pitched their tents facing the raised stand, referred to the camp as God’s temple.
  4. A prolonged worship session that lasted several days or mores.
  5. Purpose was to teach atonement of Christ, the need for a Savior, and call sinners to repentance.
  6. At the end, the audience was “born again”, yet there was no baptism involved. (wait Mormon’s don’t believe in being born again, do we?)

Mosiah 5:7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

 

In addition to the correlation to 1800’s revivals, another point for this being a modern work is the very specific, modern era Christian doctrine taught.

In a previous article, I talk about how it’s a bit unrealistic to see such mature Christian arguments in the Book of Mormon.  These arguments sound exactly like they did in Joseph Smith’s era, after Christianity had matured through the early Christian period, Pelagianism, Catholic period, the Protestant Revolution, and the debates of Calvinism and Arminianism that led to the state of American Protestant Christianity in Joseph’s day.  The Book of Mormon enters the debate exactly at this advanced state.

Doctrines and topics such as:

  • limited vs infinite atonement
  • depravity of man
  • nature of grace: irresistible, prevenient, etc
  • justification
  • Fall of Man
  • Treatment of those without the law
  • Free Agency, Free Will, Determinism
  • Anti-Catholicism

Even the apostles of Jesus who learned the gospel directly from Him did not teach with any level of clarity on these subjects in the Bible.  These doctrines developed over time, like all human thought does: building on previous body of work, arguing, debating, expanding it, and then arguing over those expansions, etc.

An interesting example of this is where the Book of Mormon addresses what will happen to those that die without the law.  The Book of Mormon takes the Arminian view that due to the nature of the atonement being infinite, that they will receive salvation, similar to little children who die before reaching age of accountability.  (Wait a minute—Mormons don’t believe that.  We believe those that die without the law will receive the gospel in the next life and choose, which is different than little children who receive salvation.  Let’s see what the Book of Mormon says)

Mosiah 3:11
11 For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.

Mosiah 15:24-25
24 And these are those who have part in the first resurrection; and these are they that have died before Christ came, in their ignorance, not having salvation declared unto them. And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration of these; and they have a part in the first resurrection, or have eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord.
25 And little children also have eternal life.

 

Is King Benjamin’s address ancient?

Many LDS scholars have pointed to correlations between King Benjamin’s address and ancient Israelite customs.

Taylor Halverson summarized these points in an article in the Mormon Interpreter.

He lists the six patterns evident in this passage that BYU professor Stephen Ricks outlined as correlations to ancient Israel.

Ancient Israel:

  1. Preamble—“God is introduced as the one making the covenant or in which his prophet is introduced as spokesman for God”  (Exodus 19:3)
  2. Antecedent history—“gives a brief review of God’s relations with Israel in the past” (Exodus 19:4)
  3. Terms of the covenant—“notes the terms of the covenant, listing specific commandments and obligations that God expected Israel to keep” (Exodus 19:5-6)
  4. Formal witness—“the people bear witness in formal statements that they accept the covenant” (Exodus 19:8)
  5. Blessings and curses—“gives a list of blessings and curses for obedience or disobedience to the covenant” (Exodus 19:5)
  6. Recital of the covenant and deposit of the text—“provisions are made for depositing a written copy of the covenant in a safe and sacred place and for reading its contents to the people in the future” (Exodus 19:7)

King Benjamin:

  1. Preamble—Mosiah 1:1-2:9
  2. Antecedent history—Mosiah 2:9-21, 23-30
  3. Terms of the covenant—Mosiah 4:4-30 (2:22, 31-41)
  4. Formal witness—Mosiah 5:2-8
  5. Blessings and curses—Mosiah 5:9-15 (3:24-27)
  6. Recital of the covenant and deposit of the text—Mosiah 6:1-3, 6 (2:8, 9)

Halverson adds another important one.  The plea for the covenant and atonement found in Mosiah 4:1-3.

Kevin Christensen frequently cites non-LDS scholar Margaret Barker, and argues that content in the New Testament and Old Testament has been removed, that otherwise would correlate strongly with LDS style temple ceremonies and covenant making.  He sees the Book of Mormon as being chock full of these references, most notably in the passage of King Benjamin’s address.

 

LDS scholars argue that King Benjamin’s address and focus on temple and covenant making has more parallels with the Old Testament than the modern era.

Joshua 24:25

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.

Compare the covenant of Jeremiah’s people and King Benjamin’s.

Jeremiah 31:33

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Mosiah 5

12 I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you.

 

FairMormon makes a case that the camp meetings in Joseph’s location would have occurred when he was very young or later after the Book of Mormon was published, and he likely would have had no first hand experience with them.

Additionally, there are many aspects of camp meetings that don’t correlate with King Benjamin’s address, especially the singing of hymns which were primary in importance in camp meetings and don’t make an appearance in the BOM account.  Also, important in camp meetings and absent in King Benjamin’s address were exotic spiritual manifestations like speaking in tongues, faintings, erratic head movements, etc.

LDS scholar Blake Ostler takes an interesting position where he acknowledges both modern and ancient content.   I wrote about this in a prior blog article on Book of Mormon anachronisms.

A good example of this is King Benjamin’s address found in Mosiah 2-5.  Ostler sees modern elements of Joseph’s environment, such as 19th century revival meeting similarities, camping in tents for several days, call to repent and accept Christ, attenders would experience change of heart, etc.  But he also sees distinctly ancient elements: call for entire nation to gather to witness coronation of king, burnt offerings, covenant renewal, etc.  He believes traditional LDS apologists are unable to sufficiently explain the modern elements, but critics are unable to explain for the complexity and ancient elements in ways that are “above Joseph”.   The only sufficient explanation is to combine the two, using his Expansion Theory.

 

My View

I side with the LDS scholars that Richard Bushman references as believing the Book of Mormon to be an inspired work but most likely not correlating to an ancient text.  A beautiful definition of scripture and revelation I first heard from Blake Ostler is the “synthesis of the creativity of man responding to divine persuasion”.  I believe it’s very likely the 1800’s camp meeting revivals were in Joseph’s subconscious mind as he responded to divine persuasion and produced this beautiful passage of scripture.  I find the passage both beautiful and complex.

 

Beauty of the Text

Regardless of whether you believe this passage is 100% ancient, 100% modern, or somewhere in between, believing Mormons agree that King Benjamin’s address ranks as one of the most important sermons in all of scripture.

Mosiah 2:17 one of our favorite scriptures in the canon on service

17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

 

Mosiah 2:21 expanding on the unprofitable servant from the Parable of the Talents, which King Benjamin will come back to later

 21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

 

Interesting and profound logic of why we stay indebted to God.  1) He gave us life 2) If we attempt to repay him through service, he immediately blesses us, keeping us in debt.

Mosiah 2:23-24

23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.

24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

 

Mosiah 2:41 Excellent verse outlining “practical religion”.  Living the commandments of God results in a state of being where one can be happy and feel blessed.  A natural state of the consequences of good decisions and choices in our lives.

 41 And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.

 

Mosiah 3:5-11.  Beautiful passage talking about the condescension of God, similar to Nephi’s view of it 1 Ne 11.  We don’t always emphasize this aspect of the life of Jesus as God coming to Earth to experience it as a man.  He really did suffer human emotion, discomfort, and pain.

5 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, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.
6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.
7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.
8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.
9 And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.
10 And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.
11 For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.

 

Mosiah 3:19  Natural man.

 19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Natural man is an enemy to God.  What does it mean for the natural man to be an enemy to God?  I think the natural man is an enemy to godliness in the sense that it’s not always our natural default state.  Without exerting discipline over our natural state, our bodies tend to want to sleep too much, be a little lazy, have sexual desires that are not the best for us, crave food that’s not best for us, we’re naturally selfish and jealous and gossipy and, we’re prone to anger.  Godliness is to master our physical desires and to be selfless and serving and good to other people.  How do we move from that natural state to that godly state?  Become as a child, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to God’s will.

A child submits to his father

A sister in a former ward told this story.  I was out shopping with my husband and 9 year old son.  As we checked out, my son threw in a piece of candy.  Just a cheap little 15 cent sucker or something.  My husband looked at him and without expression on his face, just shook his head and said no.  I didn’t understand what was going on.  I interjected, “just let him, it’s no big deal”.  He didn’t answer, just shook his head.  I turned to see if my son was feeling crushed over this, but he had already turned around to walk back to take the sucker back.  What’s going on here?  Why wasn’t he fighting back or whining or complaining?  My boy came back and he seemed to be taking it just fine.  OK, I’ll let it go.  So, we get in the car and we’re driving, and I ask him again, “I don’t understand what just happened, that was so weird.”  It was right then, my husband turned the car into Krispy Kreme donuts.  Yay.  Krispy Kreme donuts for everyone.  My son was elated.  But he didn’t seem surprised.  There was some kind of unspoken communication here.  When the father told the son no, there seemed to be an understanding that the only reason he was saying no was that there was something bigger and better on the horizon.  The son submitted to the will of the father in perfect submissiveness, meekness, humility, and patience, trusting him to meet his needs and wants.

In Mosiah 4:11 King Benjamin talks about the goodness of God and the need we have of a Savior

 11 And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

 

Now that he’s outlined what God does for us, he’s going to outline what God expects from us.  He’s about ready to put the people in a covenant, and he’s defining what will be their part.

Mosiah 4:

12 And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.
13 And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.
14 And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
15 But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
29 And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.

King Benjamin seems to intentionally stack the deck, making it impossible to keep our end of this.  But at the same time, he gives a very grace centered message to soften the blow of how difficult this may seem.

27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

That’s a very gentle way to remind us that we’re not perfect, we’re going to make mistakes, we’re not going to go as fast as we probably want to.

Stephen Robinson — Parable of the Weightlifting Spotter

Stephen Robinson in Believing Christ gives the Parable of the Weightlifting Spotter to give insight into this idea of how we seem to have so many commandments that it’s impossible to obey them all, seemingly driving some into guilt and fear.  A person goes to lift weights.  He puts on enough weight to do about 10 repetitions.  But he’s never done 10 before.  He wants to push his muscles to the brink, because he knows that is the way to grow his muscles.  His spotter is there to help him if he can’t make it.  He does seven reps.  On the 8th he falters.  The spotter says “push it, you can do it, one more”.  He gets up the 8th rep on his own with no help!  He wants to quit, but the spotter says “one more you can do it”.  He attempts the ninth but can’t.  The spotter pulls up the weight to help him and he gets it.  “One more” the spotter cries out.  So, exhausted, he takes the weight down and attempts to push it up.  The spotter has to lift most of the weight this time, but he gets it up.  The weight lifter failed in his attempt to lift 10 reps on his own.  But he doesn’t go home and guilt himself to death “I wasn’t able to do 10 reps, I’m such a loser, I’ll never make it to heaven.”  No, he is proud of his effort and knows the growth that will come due to his effort, even if he didn’t make the 10 reps himself.

 

Mosiah 4:17-22 King Benjamin expands on the Parable of the Talents, going deeper into the comparison of man to beggar in a power position to man to God in a weak position.  This is something the Book of Mormon does over and over.  It will take a passage from the Bible and expand on it.  By carefully comparing the Bible version to the Book of Mormon expansion, we see what doctrinal emphasis and insight the Book of Mormon is giving us.

17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.

One more comment on verse 26 from this passage

26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.

God cares about not just our needs but our wants.  He is a good God.

At the end of this sermon, the people are convinced of the message and desire to enter into a covenant, to take on the name of Christ and be his people.

Mosiah 5:6,7

 6 And now, these are the words which king Benjamin desired of them; and therefore he said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant.
7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

 

What is the point of this covenant?  It is for King Benjamin’s people to have Christ in their hearts.

Mosiah 5:12

12 I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts,

 

The whole purpose of King Benjamin’s address seems to come down to this thing about our hearts.  Having him in our hearts and us in his heart.

Mosiah 5:13

13 For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?

 

King Benjamin’s Address Complexity

In addition to the doctrinal beauty and inspiration, I find some very interesting complexity to this.  I don’t go so far as to say Book of Mormon complexity proves that it couldn’t have been created by Joseph Smith (creativity of man responding to divine persuasion).  But it’s enough to give me pause from time to time.  Many LDS authors and scholars have pointed at complexity in this passage.  Here are some of the highlights of that list.

1.  As mentioned already, the expansion of the Bible in a way to show doctrinal emphasis: Jeremiah 31:33, Parable of Talents, Parable of Sheep and Goats

2.  Some very profound commentary on modern U.S. politics, both from a conservative perspective (Mosiah 2 talking about political leaders not taking payment and keeping taxes low) and from a very liberal perspective (Mosiah 4 a very Socialistic view of community, taking care of all beggars and reducing poverty).

3.  Chiasmus.  A fairly complex chiasmus in Mosiah 2:41 ((John W. Welch, and Stephen D. Ricks, King Benjamin’s Speech: Made Simple, pp. 225, 229, 259)

a) humble themselves
b) become as little children
c) salvation through the atoning blood of Christ the Lord
d) natural man
e) enemy to God
f) has been from the fall of Adam
f) will be forever and ever
e) yieldeth to the Holy Spirit
d) natural man
c) become a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord
b) become as a child
a) submissive, meek, humble

4.  Michael Barker also makes note of the use of other poetic structures, for example.

4:4 “My friends and my brethren, my kindred and my people”   This is an interesting sentence structure.  It goes from non-familial to familial, then back to familial followed by non-familial.

5.  Textual phrases.  We see both the drawing on of powerful phrases already given in what would have been popular sermons of Nephite history “goodness of God” drawing from 2 Ne 9.  And also from Michael Barker, the creation of phrases that go onto become part of the Nephite prophet vocabulary, ie “change of heart”.  See Alma 5:7, 12, 13, 14, 25; 19:33; Helaman 15:7.

6.  A complex review and summary of the Christian doctrines of grace, atonement, and obedience available at the time of Joseph Smith, but bringing them together in a new, unique offering.

7.  King Benjamin was the king over two distinct groups: Nephites and Mulekites.  His message seems to have this subtext of racial tension and economic disparity as the backdrop.  The message has a very strong ring of community togetherness, acceptance, and cooperation.  This would be a good model for race relations in the modern world.

 

 Conclusion

 

Whether you think Joseph Smith made this up with no inspiration, or you think it’s an ancient text translated by Joseph, or you think it’s scripture produced through the mind of Joseph with no ancient text, or some combination, I hope we can appreciate this passage for the beauty and inspirational messages.

 

 

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