Finding Doctrine and Meaning in Book of Mormon Isaiah

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The book of Isaiah & Book of Mormon: Finding Doctrine and Meaning in Book of Mormon

For many readers of the Book of Mormon, the Isaiah passages quoted in 1 and 2 Nephi, Mosiah, and 3 Nephi present an almost insurmountable obstacle made up of Hebrew poetry and imagery. Particularly daunting is the sudden change of style from historical narrative and the sermons and teachings of Nephi, Lehi, and Jacob to the more literary and symbolic style of the Isaiah passages.

Since Nephi clearly states that he loves “plainness” (2 Nephi 25:4), many readers are somewhat perplexed by the inclusion of the Isaiah chapters in his writings. What these readers fail to understand is that Nephi included the writings of Isaiah not as a test or advanced course for scripture readers but because they formed the foundation of his own scriptural understanding, which he then communicated in plainness in his writings. [2] In other words, the simplicity in Nephi’s writings reflects a depth of understanding that can only be grasped after fully absorbing the meaning of Isaiah’s words. Therefore, the reader who absorbs and plumbs the depths of Isaiah’s writings, as Nephi did, will more fully understand the profound insights contained in the clarity of Nephi’s words. The plain and more accessible writings of Nephi, Abinadi, Christ, Mormon, and Moroni act as keys to illuminate Isaiah, and the writings of Isaiah in turn act as a key to fully unlock the profound nature of Book of Mormon prophetic thought.

Twice the Savior urged the Nephites to study the words of Isaiah. First, after declaring that they would be fulfilled, Jesus commanded, “Behold they are written, ye have them before you, therefore search them” (3 Nephi 20:11). Second, after quoting Isaiah 54 and numerous other passages, the Savior admonished the Nephites:

“Ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles” (3 Nephi 23:1–2).

In response to this commandment, this article’s chief purpose and contribution to existing Isaiah scholarship is to show how the main doctrines and purposes of the Book of Mormon, found on the title page and in the writings of Book of Mormon prophets, mirror and follow the central focus of the Isaiah chapters. [3] Specifically, we will show how the scattering and gathering of the house of Israel, due to their acceptance or rejection of the covenant of Christ, illustrate the doctrines of justice and mercy as taught in the Book of Mormon. While in one sense this article simplifies the message of Isaiah by pointing to overarching themes recognized by the Book of Mormon prophets, we do not intend to obfuscate the complexity of Isaiah’s teachings, the nuance of his literary skills, or his multilayered approach that emphasizes numerous concepts not mentioned in this article. In this article, we intend to focus on one way of teaching Isaiah that will help students synthesize the overarching themes of his messages, rather than to minimize other important concepts he taught that have been discussed by other scholars. [4]

To create a foundation for this discussion, we will first briefly describe Isaiah’s writing style and historical context. Next, we will propose new possibilities for how Nephi and Jacob used Isaiah’s teachings as they applied his writings to their own situation, which will be followed by a discussion of Nephi, Abinadi, and Christ’s extensive quotations of Isaiah. Finally, illustrations of the connections between the major purposes of the Book of Mormon and the writings of Isaiah will illustrate the meaning and relevance of many of Isaiah’s statements and demonstrate why Nephite prophets and the Savior found it so important to quote the writings of Isaiah.

(read this entire article Here: “Finding Doctrine and Meaning in Book of Mormon Isaiah,” Religious Educator 15, no. 1 (2014): 95–122)

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[1]Boyd K. Packer, “The Things of My Soul,” Ensign, May 1986
[2] Karel Van der Toorn, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), 101–2, as discussed in Brandt A. Gardner, “Musings on the Making of Mormon’s Book: Preliminary, Nephi As Author,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture
[3] Victor L. Ludlow, Unlocking Isaiah in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 13–15
[4] other important Latter-day Saint studies include, but are not limited to, Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982); Unlocking Isaiah in the Book of Mormon; Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry, and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1998); Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch, Isaiah in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998); Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Combining Ancient Sources (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2001); David R. Seely, “Nephi’s Use of Isaiah 2–14 in 2 Nephi 12–30,” Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, 151–71; Avraham Gileadi, The Book of Isaiah: A New Translation with Interpretive Keys from the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988); Ann N. Madsen, “What Meaneth the Words That Are Written? Abinadi Interprets Isaiah,” Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 10, no. 1 (2001): 4–14; Monte S. Nyman, Great Are the Words of Isaiah (Springville, UT: Horizon Publishers, 2009); David J. Ridges, Isaiah Made Easier: In the Bible and the Book of Mormon(Springville, UT: Bonneville Books, 2002); John Bytheway, Isaiah for Airheads (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006); Philip J. Schlesinger, Isaiah and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: P. J. Schlesinger, 1990); Mark Swint, Compare Isaiah: Understanding Biblical Scriptures in the Book of Mormon (Springville, Utah: Horizon, 2009); H. Clay Gorton, The Legacy of the Brass Plates of Laban: A Comparison of Biblical & Book of Mormon Isaiah Texts (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1994); Sidney Sperry, “The Isaiah Problem in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4, no. 1 (1995): 129–52. W

Authors: RoseAnn Benson and Shon D. Hopkin| Benson (rabenson@byu.edu) was an adjunct professor of ancient scripture and Hopkin (shon_hopkin@byu.edu) was an assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU when this article was published.

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RoseAnn Benson was an adjunct professor of ancient scripture and Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University. She has served as the assistant coach for the BYU swim and dive team. Sister Benson first started coaching at St. Petersburg Catholic High School in 1973. She has also coached at San Diego State University, James Madison University, Southern Illinois University, San Jose State University, and at West Florida Lightning Aquatics. RoseAnn Benson attended Brigham Young University where she earned a BA in physical education and minors in history and biology. Additionally, she obtained a K-12 teaching certificate. A few years later, Sister Benson returned to BYU to receive a MS in exercise science with a minor in health science. Later, she went to Southern Illinois where she received a PhD in community and school health, emphasizing in nutrition. She also received an MA at BYU in ancient near eastern studies, emphasizing religious education.

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