3 Nephi 12:27-32 – LeGrand Baker – the law of chastity

3 Nephi 12:27-32

27 Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery;
28 But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.
29 Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart;
30 For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.
31 It hath been written, that whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.
32 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whoso shall marry her who is divorced committeth adultery.

To say the commandment against adultery is not about sex, is like saying that taking someone to dinner is not about food. Each statement is both true and false. Taking someone to dinner is about being with the someone, it is not primarily about eating to avert starvation. Yet, eating the food is what one does, so taking someone to dinner is about food. Similarly, the probation against adultery was not so much about sex as it was about preserving the legal and sacral relationship of the wife and the husband. The covenant of fidelity is fundamental to the covenant of marriage. (For a discussion of Psalm 45 and the eternal nature of the marriage covenant, look in the “scriptures” section and then go to “Mosiah 13:22 — LeGrand Baker – Thou shalt not commit adultery.”)

Leviticus 20 is a catalogue of sexual sins. It lists almost every possible combination of partners except a man and his lawful wife. For each combination the punishment is the same: “they shall surely be put to death.” Apparently the law was not taken any more seriously in ancient Israel or among the ancient Nephites than it is in own culture. In the Bible and the Book of Mormon there many evidences that adultery was almost common place, but there are no accounts of mass executions on account of it.

The definition Leviticus gives of adultery is:

10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death (Leviticus 20:10).

Adultery is defined as infidelity in marriage. It is violating the marriage covenant. Premarital sex is different from adultery because there has been no covenant to violate. However, casual premarital sex can inhibit or even negate one’s ability to later experience real emotional intimacy, and therefore might cripple a later marriage relationship.

When the Savior condemned adultery, he did not limit himself to condemning the act, rather he condemned the attitude that precipitated the act. Without the attitude coming first, the act would never happen.

Marriage is both a legal contract and a religious covenant. The legal contract can be broken by the act, but the religious covenant can be broken by the attitude. Just as the act can negate the contract, so can the attitude negate the covenant.

The last page of the Book of Mormon contains a review of the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama. The last verse of that review is a promise of eternal marriage and eternal increase. That verse reads:

31 And awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion; and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled (Moroni 10:28-31).

This is a paraphrase of Isaiah, so it comes from his culture rather than from Moroni’s. In the Near Eastern desert, when a man married, he gave his wife a tent, just large enough for the two of them. It was then hers, and she was responsible for it. As her family grew, she made additional flaps for the tent, and added more stakes to secure it. Thus, Moroni’s statement may be a reference to family homes—eternal families— “forever” —rather than being about future church units of wards and stakes. The Isaiah passage that Moroni paraphrased is also about God’s promise of eternal families. It reads:

2 Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes (Isaiah 54:2).

“Thine habitations” are homes. The tents are the places where families dwell. Moroni continues with the promise that the tent will be expanded “forever”:

and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled (Moroni 10:31b).

As those words are about the ancient Nephite temple experience, so Moroni’s last words are about what one did after one left the ancient temple:

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot (Moroni 10:32-33).

This is a portion of the discussion of Moroni’s review of the Nephite temple drama in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, 722-24.

The prophet Jeremiah used the word “adultery” in another way also. He represented the people of Israel as God’s covenant “bride.” and condemned them for “committed adultery with stones and with stocks,” referring to their worshiping pagan gods made of stone and wood. While the Savior does not make specific reference to that kind of adultery, it would certainly apply to anyone who breaks their sacred covenants (Jeremiah 3:6-11, Jeremiah 5:7-9).


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