What is Isaiah Doing in the Book of Mormon?

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Joseph Spencer, author, and religious educator

In an LDS Perspectives Podcast released November 9, 2016, Laura Hales interviewed Joseph Spencer, author of Vision of All to answer that question. Here are a few excerpts from that interview.

“I look at Isaiah, the Book of Mormon, the apostle Paul — there is this emphasis on a covenant that was made with Abraham and his descendants,  that governs the way God works with human beings through history.” He said to just “look at how carefully integrated Isaiah is into the Book of Mormon. Nephi’s doing something much more careful and much more theologically interesting” than just some preoccupation he has with Isaiah; his focus is the covenant they must keep in the new world.

Spencer cautioned readers to not “miss the richness, the theological depth of the claims the Book of Mormon is making with Isaiah. …Already in 1 Nephi, he tells you that the stuff at the core of 2 Nephi is his most important of the plain and the precious things he is recording, and then even in 1 Nephi, you’ve got Nephi quoting from Isaiah.”

He explained in a second narrative “hinge” using Isaiah, Abinidai “is prophesying at the time of Noah. People aren’t terribly happy with what he’s saying, so he ends up accused in a kind of trial setting. But Noah’s priests present him with a passage from Isaiah and say, ‘Interpret this passage. …it seems relatively clear from the context that they understand the passage to justify their power. They’re using it to say, ‘Oh, we are the people who Isaiah spoke about who have rebuilt Jerusalem.’ Meaning the land of Nephi, and who have allowed the Lord’s arm to be made bare in the eyes of all the nations, i.e. we’ve won battles against the Lamanites, etc. They see Isaiah saying, ‘This regime is the right one,’ and so on. Abinadi is forced to interpret this text in a way that is not going to justify corrupt power, and so he introduces a totally non-Nephi-like interpretation of Isaiah.

“You can see the Nephites saying, ‘Okay, if Abinadi is right and Isaiah is really just about Jesus, can we just talk about Jesus?’ And so for generations, and for one hundred years of the Book of Mormon, there’s no talk of Isaiah, really, at all.

“A third narrative hinge comes when Christ shows up, and he says, ‘Let’s go back to what Nephi was saying.’ I think, we’re relatively familiar with that because we like to quote Jesus saying, ‘Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of bIsaiah.’ …So, we know Jesus like’s Isaiah, but we don’t tend to look at what he has to say about him.

“What’s really striking is not only does He go back to reading Isaiah in a Nephi-like way …he uses the very passage that Noah’s priests presented to Abinadi, and he interprets it in terms of the covenant and the history of Israel rather than in terms of the coming of Jesus.

“We have Christ himself saying, ‘Yeah, maybe that’s about me in a certain way, but he refocuses Isaiah on the covenant and on Israel’s history, and especially on the future of Israel’s history. The remnants of Israel, the New World, Lamanite’s to survive into the present, and the role they have in relation to gentile Christianity brought from Europe.

Then he “likens  the “whole story and says we can find, in Isaiah, a clear pattern for understanding what’s at stake … and it’s important for us to read them in Isaiah’s context, and history, and setting and then recognize the Book of Mormon is tampering in a good way — in a theologically productive way with Isaiah. Nephi himself emphasizes the importance of understanding the manner of prophesying among the Jews.

“The Book of Mormon was written to the remnant of Israel to show what great things the Lord has done for their fathers, and also to the convincing of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. Its primary purpose is to focus on the Abrahamic covenant and the way the Book of Mormon makes sense of the Abrahamic covenant is through Isaiah.”


You can listen to the entire podcast or download the transcript here: www.ldsperspectives.com/2016/11/03/episode-8-braving-nephis-isaiah

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Search Isaiah is a resource for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to dive into the book of Isaiah. By sharing a vast range of resources including study guides, articles, podcasts, and more, we hope to provide readers with ways to search the book of Isaiah.

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