Mosiah 12:31-37 — LeGrand Baker — Abinadi’s response
Abinadi, having dodged the possible charges of treason by not responding as the king and his priests expected to the meaning of the Isaiah passage, he shows that his evading the question had nothing to do with fear. He now lays charges at the feet of the king and his priests which will ultimately bring about his own death.
Abinadi began this part of the conversation by asking the priests a question as fundamental as the one with which they had challenged him: “Doth salvation come by the law of Moses?”
As I have pointed out before, we have little idea of what he meant by “the law of Moses.” The version we have of the books of Moses and the Law were severely edited after the Babylonian captivity. That editing removed at least those portions of the New Year festival which included the part which the king and the people played in the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles, and the editors left only instructions for what was done be the members of the Aaronic and Levitical priesthood. Any Melchizedek priesthood functions were also removed. Those changes all took place after Lehi left, So we may suppose the Nephite scriptures still had all everything in them which were soon to be taken out by the Jewish leaders. What that means to our reading of the Abinadi story is that when he asked, “Doth salvation come by the law of Moses?” we do not know the exact meaning of his question, but we do know the implication of the priests’ answer and of Abinadi’s response.
The priests answered, “that salvation did come by the law of Moses.”
We can understand what they meant by that, when we read Abinadi’s response. He said, “I know if ye keep the commandments of God ye shall be saved; yea, if ye keep the commandments which the Lord delivered unto Moses in the mount of Sinai,. . . ”
Here again Abinadi turns tables on them. Their answer apparently meant that salvation comes through following the performances of the law. (In our day that would be the same as saying that salvation comes through being baptized, having someone lay their hands on our heads to give the Holy Ghost, paying tithing, and then going to the temple to do all the things there that are required. For one in our time, Abinadi would say the same thing he said to the priests of Noah. That is: “I understand one has to do those things – however….”)
Abinadi immediately turned from their focus on performances of the ordinances, and instead focuses on the things of the heart. He asks, do you keep these commandments:
35 Thou shalt have no other God before me.
36 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing in heaven above, or things which are in the earth beneath.
Abinadi’s challenge, and the priest’s prior response suggests that their apostasy under king Noah had been was something like the 10 tribes’ under Jeroboam. When he separated Israel from Judah, he changed their religion just enough to make it unnecessary for the people in the Northern Kingdom to continue to look to the temple in Jerusalem as their center of worship. He established two new religious centers: Dan in the north and Bethel in the south. He built sanctuaries there and set up images of two calves, which he said represented Jehovah, and said the calves had brought the people out of Egypt. Thus he apparently changed the religion but kept the performances of the religion. It appears from this conversation that the priests of Noah had done something like that.
Abinadi asks, accusatively, “Have ye done all this? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not. And have ye taught this people that they should do all these things? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not.”