A look at how Alma and Lehi talk about “law”
15 And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.
16 Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul.
17 Now, how could a man repent except he should sin? How could he sin if there was no law? How could there be a law save there was a punishment?
This is some interesting reasoning. Sin comes before repentance. Law comes before sin. And punishment comes before law?
That is curious. The law of Moses seems to be what dominates most of the conversation about law in the Book of Mormon (outside of 3 Ne-Moroni, of course). But 2 Ne 2, 2 Ne 9, & here, seem to confuse that reading. Could it be then, that we can assume there is always a “law” of one sort or another, though what it is in detail can change? Here is seems that the punishment must be set, and then the law could change from time to time as needed. But the punishment in general would be the same. That would be an easier way to read 2 Ne 2 than trying to figure out which law Lehi is talking about.
This sort of reading does make sense of 2 Ne 26 (when Christ comes, what he teaches will be their new law) and also Moses 5:26 (Adam is given another law and commandment, but without any new punishment being talked about).
It seems the punishment is always the same: being cut off from God, in one way or another?
We can also see the Law of Moses and even D&C 42 as talking about who is cut off from the community, but in some sense isn’t that meant to be the same thing as being cut off from God? If you are cast out of Zion, then you don’t have access to the temple & other ordinances, revelations, blessings, etc. When you have group who actually are “God’s people” – as in, they are His people and He is their God – then the covenant is with a group, and if you are cast out of that group, are you then cast out of the covenant?
This does bring up some interesting questions. When is a covenant with a group and what does that mean? Even when there is a group covenant are there still individual covenants? Or ideally, would there be a people who were a covenant people?
2 Ne 2
5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.
6 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
7 Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.
Verse 5 definitely shouts “Adam and Eve” to me – knowing good from evil, temporal/spiritual laws… etc. I don’t think it has to be read that way, but I’ve been conditioned to hear those words as referring to the garden story. But we could see it otherwise, I don’t doubt. Especially since “temporal law” is such a tricky phrase anyway.
But, these verses could be read as referring to the law of Moses, and I don’t want to overlook that. There could be powerful reasons to see it that way. Plus, the law of Moses contained many things that were not new ideas, commandments gathered together now in a law with some specific details on the “how” and the punishment. Same goes for D&C 42, by the way – most of it is not shocking in the slightest, but a list of commandments gathered together with some specific detail. So even if some of this sounds like what was taught to all men, starting with Adam and Eve, that doesn’t exclude the possibility of him talking about the law of Moses.
We read the verses about Christ fulfilling the atonement and thus fulfilling the ends of the law, and automatically think of some outside-of-time law that was given before the world was. I think that Christ does fulfill a plan decided before the world was – don’t get me wrong – but I also think we could read this as the law of Moses. Is it not exactly the way that Nephi (etc etc) talk about it? Christ came to fulfill the law? Once He dies then the law is no longer necessary? He fulfills the ends of the law, you could say?
And Nephi says that since they’ve had visions and revelations concerning Christ, the law is dead to them, but they still live it anyway until Christ comes. Doesn’t this sound like 2 Ne 2:26-7, where men are free to choose because they know about Christ’s fulfillment of the law? Perhaps Nephi and Lehi are explaining the same thing here.
Lehi does spend a lot of time talking about Adam and Eve, but is this just using them as an example of opposition? Or is it directly related to his talk about law?
When he transitions back into talking about law, he says that the atonement overcomes the fall, but we are still judged by the law and can still feel the law’s effects if we need to be punished at the last day. The atonement overcomes the fall, but not the law. These are two different things. Are we free to read his conversation about law as the law of Moses?
The reason this would be interesting to me is that each person would then be referring to “the law” as whatever “law” was last given. The D&C talks about D&C 42 this way, once it was given. But in all the cases, we can learn about law as a general structure, one that gathers together commandments and inflicts “the punishment” of being cut off from God. So, if this is the case, then in some sense it doesn’t matter which law Lehi is talking about – the principle or pattern is the same. It sets up a place for justice/mercy and allows the punishment to be executed, if need be.