God will never cease to be God! Searching the Scriptures Series

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We will examine the expression, “God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:13b, see also Alma 42:25; Mormon 9:19). May I suggest that these expressions in the Book of Mormon are often misunderstood. There are those who suppose that if God fails to comply with every principle of justice and righteousness, then He could cease to be God.
I shall attempt to demonstrate, instead, that these expressions are essential parts of Hebraic oath formulas. And that God will never cease to be God.

What is an oath?

In the Hebrew Bible oath formulas were composed of two parts: (1) the if, אִם, condition, or protasis, on the one hand, and (2) the then (or consequence) or apodosis on the other. The consequence or apodosis most often remains floating in the air as a vague threat. At times, also, the apodosis is gestured as an indication of the punishment to come. If you do not comply (or, if I do not comply) … accompanied by a gesture that represents the punishment. These things are of ancient and often ceremonial origin. Sometimes the apodosis hangs in the air as an elliptical expression, and sometimes the protasis is elliptical.[1]

In Nehemiah we see an example of a vague threat accompanied by a gesture, so we have (1) gesture, (2) apodosis, (3) protasis, (4) apodosis.

(1) Gesture (may have accompanied the apodosis)
“Also I shook my lap,” [Regarding the “lap,” John Wesley suggested: “The extreme parts of my garment, which I first folded together, and then shook it and scattered it asunder. This was a form of swearing then in use.”]
(2) Apodosis
“and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour,”
(3) Protasis
“that performeth not this promise [that is, regarding to Nehemiah 53:11 the restoring of lands, vineyards, olive groves and so forth to their brethren who were in debt],”
(4) Apodosis
“even thus be he shaken out, and emptied.” (Nehemiah 5:13a).

Oaths associated with Jehovah

There is another type of swearing (i.e., oath). Such as those wherein the Lord, or rather His life, form an integral part of the oath. “As the Lord liveth” (חַי־יְהוָ֑ה) is a frequently seen oath in both the Old Testament (Judges 8:19 and 26 additional times) and in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 3:15 and 16 additional times).

Another variation is when the Lord swears on His own behalf, “As I live” (חַי־אָ֣נִי), Isaiah 49:18b. So also Ezekiel 17:19a, where we read, “כֹּה־אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יהוה חַי־אָנִי אִם־לֹא“, “thus saith the Lord God [Adonai Jehovah]; As I live, surely …” The word surely is the English translation of yet another oath, if-not, אִם־לֹא. The idea here is that Adonai Jehovah assures us that as He lives, such and such a thing will come to pass. Barnes says that God is often represented in the Scriptures as ‘swearing’—and usually as swearing by himself, or by his own existence.

Isaiah 62:8

This brings us to Isaiah 62:8a, yet another example of Jehovah extending an oath in His own name: “The LORD hath sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength, Surely I will no more &c.”

“Surely I will no more give thy corn [to be] meat for thine enemies.” Not corn, but rather wheat or grain. The Hebrew Masoretic text (𝔐) reads, אִם־אֶתֵּן, “if give.” That is understood as “if I give,” and here has an elliptical oath associated with it. Most translators instead give the bottom line meaning, “I will not give.”

Alexander explains that the elliptical expression in this oath has God saying that failure to comply means that He is not God. Cowles, similarly, suggests: “The form of this oath is in the peculiar Hebrew idiom, but especially emphatic and solemn. Literally, it is not, ‘Surely I will no more give,’ etc., but ‘If [אִם] I shall any more give’ etc., then (the implication is) I am no longer God.”

While the idea that God ceases to be God is given as an elliptical one in our Hebrew Bible, in the Book of Mormon the apodosis is spelled out. The Hebraic expression in the Book of Mormon is: “… if so, God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:13b, also see Alma 42:25; Mormon 9:19—each of these contains either an if so or an if not). These are oath expressions in themselves, as the surely, or if not [אִם־לֹ֥א] we have already spoken about.

Sometimes if not [אִם־לֹ֥א] is translated as verily. In Jeremiah 15:11a we have, “The Lord [Jehovah] said, Verily …”, אָמַ֣ר‮ ‬יְהוָ֔ה אִם־לֹ֥א. It is another way of saying that the promise is sure and under the most solemn oath, as in “And verily, verily, I say unto you, I come quickly. I am your Lord and your Redeemer. Even so. Amen” (D&C 34:12).

The expression in the Book of Mormon, “if so, God would cease to be God,” should be understood as follows: “I give it to you as a most solemn oath that God could never act against justice or righteousness. It would be just as impossible for God to act with injustice or unrighteousness, as it would be for Him to cease to be God. , God would have to cease to be God—but the one thing we know above all things is that this would not happen, for God will never cease to be God.” While the apodosis is implied in Isaiah 62:8, it is spelled out in the Book of Mormon. This, then, is yet another example of a Hebraic expression in the Book of Mormon.

I conclude with my own testimony, that He lives! God will never cease to be God!

Footnote

[1] “Ellipsis may be found in protases as well as in apodoses” say Joüon, P., & Muraoka, T. (2006) in, A grammar of biblical Hebrew (p. 594). Roma: Pontificio Istituto Biblico.

Additional sources

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: SESB Version. (2003). Stuttgart: German Bible Society.

Billikopf, Gregorio (2017, 3rd edition). Isaiah Testifies of Christ.

Bullinger, E. W. (1898). Figures of speech used in the Bible. London; New York: Eyre &

Spottiswoode; E. & J. B. Young & Co.

Encyclopaedia Judaica (2nd edition), XV, 358-364.

Kitz, Anne Marie (2013). Cursed Are You!: The Phenomenology of Cursing in Cuneiform and Hebrew Texts, Eisenbrauns.

Niccacci, Alviero (2002). Sintaxis del Hebreo Bíblico, Jesusalem, Traducido por Guadalupe Seijas de los Ríos-Zarzosa. Editorial Verbo Divino.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Gregorio
    Having been a Boy Scout and then a Scouting leader, we have recited the Scout Oath hundreds of times. We take it for granted and treat it lightly. Your article has really given new meaning to the word “oath.” Thanks for the insight.

  2. Thanks so much, Darryl, and thanks for all that you have done for the Boy Scouts of America. I served as a Scout Master for a brief time.

  3. In other words, it should be read as an equation and not an implication.

  4. hi as a follow up to my question, because you said that in the following statement, that “It would be just as impossible for God to act with injustice or unrighteousness, as it would be for Him to cease to be God. , God would have to cease to be God”.
    Then if it is impossible for God to cease to be God, then why would God have to cease to be God if he can’t do so? Unless you are suggesting something that is just an idea but something that would not happen?
    Thanks for answering my question! Appreciate it 🙂

    • Dear Tamago Oishi. Yes, I am suggesting that it is just an idea, that it would be preposterous for God to cease to be God just as it would be impossible for Him to act unjustly. (Please note that we have been bombarded with spam and I luckily found your post and approved it. If I do not respond quickly to any further replies, please write to me at bielikov2@yahoo.cl – thanks for taking the time to write).

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