2 Nephi 9 is one of the most important chapters in the Book of Mormon concerning the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ. The chapter itself is long and there is a lot to work through – the context of the preceding Isaiah chapters, how it draws on other familiar imagery, the situation of the twice-exiled Nephites, just to name a few things to consider. As always, I don’t have the time or word count to really do the chapter justice, so rather than try and cram it all into one post, in this post I’ll cover the first half of the chapter with its focus on a doctrine of the flesh and Christ’s Atonement, and in the next post I’ll look at the second half of the chapter and its warnings against the wisdom of the world.
Broadly speaking, in this post I’ll highlight some textual things I found interesting and point you to a couple of other resources if you want to look at this chapter in more detail. A lot the ideas and questions are drawn from work done by Joe Spencer and Julie Smith.1,2 If you have time, I’d recommend working through their notes.
Spencer suggests that the chapter is structured around the constant repetition of the exclamation “O!” He proposes the following structure:
Verses 4–7: Introduction – Basic outline of the doctrine of the flesh
Verses 8–27: First series of (six) O’s, all marking praise of God
Verses 8–9: First “O!” – On the corruption of the flesh
Verses 10–12: Second “O!” – The triumph over hell
Verses 13–16: Third “O!” – The resurrection of the righteous and judgment of the wicked
Verses 17–18: Fourth “O!” – The judgment of the righteous
Verse 19: Fifth “O!” – Double deliverance
Verses 20–27: Sixth “O!” – Law and atonement
Verse 28a: Transitional “O!” – Satan’s cunning
Verses 28b–46: Second series of (six) O’s, all exhorting humans to repent
Verses 28b–38: First “O!” – A series of woes
Verse 39: Second “O!” – Against seduction by Satan
Verse 40: Third “O!” – On hearkening to the truth
Verses 41–43: Fourth “O!” – Passing into God’s presence
Verse 44: Fifth “O!” – Shaking off the blood of a generation
Verses 45–46: Sixth “O!” – Preparation for the judgment
Verses 47–52: Conclusion – Justification of the sermon and final invitation
Do you find this structure helpful? One thing to consider is that 2 Nephi 9 comes in the middle of a broader sermon that Jacob was giving to the Nephites. Either side of 2 Nephi 9, Jacob quotes and interprets selected writings of Isaiah. So it is worth considering how Jacob’s reading of Isaiah informs the doctrine he teaches in this chapter (more of that in the next post).
Verse 4 reads:
For I know that ye have searched much, many of you, to know of things to come; wherefore I know that ye know that our flesh must waste away and die; nevertheless, in our bodies we shall see God.
This is reminiscent of Job 19:26:
And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.
But note how Job speaks of the destruction of the body but of seeing God in the flesh, whereas Jacob speaks of the destruction of the flesh but of seeing God in the body. Do you think it’s significant that Jacob inverts Job’s use of body and flesh?
Verse 5, in part, reads:
For it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him.
Of this subjection, Spencer says the following:
There’s a beautiful paradox here. It’s only in that God becomes subject that it is possible for God to subject something. God has to become entirely enfleshed if He would gain ascendency over the flesh of others. If the flesh, generally speaking, is to be redeemed, it can only be through Christ’s entering into it to redeem it… Allowing human beings to put Him to death, Christ becomes fully subject to them, entirely immersed in flesh, as it were. Once fully immersed, it’s possible to redeem that flesh, to change its very nature.
Verses 7–9 read:
Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more. O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself.
This, I think, is a fascinating and uniquely Mormon doctrine. Jacob seems to be suggesting that without a redemption of the flesh all spirits become entirely subject to the devil and thus become devils themselves. The way I read this is that once a spirit has tasted the flesh it is changed forever – just as Adam and Eve were changed forever by partaking of the forbidden fruit. At this point there is no turning back to a state of innocence. Without redeemed flesh, our spirits would become angels to a devil. This mortal experience – the flesh – changes our identity forever. Therefore, to sign up for this mortal experience – to become subject for a season to fallen flesh – was to exercise great faith in Christ. We were willing to give up our innocence forever with the risk of becoming devils forever because we had faith that Christ would ultimately overcome fallen flesh. I think it is significant to think that all of humanity has already put their trust in Christ and exercised great faith in Him.
Also, notice that in v7 it mentions that without the Atonement our flesh would rise no more, and in v8 it describes the devil who fell to rise no more. Do you think the double use of ‘to rise no more’ is deliberate? If so, what is the link between unredeemed flesh and the devil?
Do you think there is a relationship between the father of lies in v9 and mother earth in v7?
Verse 14 reads:
Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.
Of this verse, Jim Faulconer offers the following observations and questions:3
What kind of symbolism do you see in the contrast between guilt, uncleanness, and nakedness on the one hand, and enjoyment and the clothing of purity and the robe of righteousness on the other hand?
Notice the pattern:
unrighteous — righteous
guilt — enjoyment
uncleaness — righteousness
nakedness — clothed with purity, even the robe . . .
What do you learn from the pairing of guilt and enjoyment? Is the fourth pairing related to the nakedness/clothing in the Garden of Eden?
In the next post I’ll look at Jacob’s warnings in second half of this chapter and revisit some of this first half (and the context of the Isaiah chapters) to outline some thoughts regarding Christ’s Atonement and the redemption of the flesh.
Next week’s reading: 2 Nephi 9:28–54