Ether 12:4-30 & Hebrews 11:1-27 – ‘faith’ as covenant – LeGrand Baker

Mormon and Moroni organized the Book of Mormon after the pattern of the ancient Israelite temple drama. {1} The book ends with a dramatic crescendo whose theme of faith, hope, and charity is repeated three times, in Ether 12, Moroni 7, and Moroni 10.

Once again, an understanding of those scripture hangs on the meaning of “faith.” So once again, let me quickly say that in the New Testament “faith” is translated from the Greek word pistis {2} and that in the Book of Mormon, “faith” has the same meaning as it has in the New Testament.

In New Testament times, pistis was then a commercial or diplomatic term whose nearest modern English equivalent is contract or covenant. Using this definition, faith in the Savior is a covenantal relationship where the covenant is between Heavenly Father and us, his children, and the Savior is the personification of the terms, the validation, the hope, and the fulfillment of that covenant (Moroni 10:32-33).

About 75 or 100 A.D., as the apostasy came to dominate Christian thinking, the church lost the terms of the covenant, so “faith” came to mean something like: believing without evidence; or wishing really hard; or believing without that belief impacting one’s actions. {3}

Paul defined pistis with succinct precision when he wrote:

1. Now pistis is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

There are five parts of Paul’s definition of pistis. Three are stated. Two are implied because they are obviously so necessary that they are simply a given.

1. This is a given: To be a covenant or contract it must define the agreement and the way it will be accomplished.
2. “Substance” – There must be a mutually understood about what is the object of the covenant (I get you money, you give me the car).
3. “Evidence” – The act (a handshake, signature, etc) that validates the agreement and guarantees the fulfillment of the covenant.
4. “Hope” – Believing and acting as though the terms of the covenant were already fulfilled (the bank really owns the car but I treat it as though it were already mine).
5. Finally, another given in Paul’s definition – the fulfillment of the terms of the covenant.

Throughout chapter 11, each time we see the word “faith” Paul has used the word pistis, meaning covenant. Paul assures us that:

6 But without [the covenants] pistis it is impossible to please [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him [that God keeps his part of the covenants] (Hebrews 11:6).

Paul cites about 20 examples where God and man work together through covenants. His first example is the creation, in which Jehovah and the members of the Council in Heaven participated together.

3 Through [covenants] pistis we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear (Hebrews 11:3).

Some of his other examples are:

11 Through [covenants] pistis also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised (Hebrews 11:11).

17 By [covenants] pistis Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son (Hebrews 11:17).

22 By [covenants] pistis Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:22).

27 By [covenants] pistis he [Moses] forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible (Hebrews 11:27).

The point is, God is not a vending machine that all we have to do is wish hard for an outcome, and cause God to respond to that nickle. Rather, in reality, all things are done by covenant, otherwise God would be capricious and our relationship with him would be entirely unpredictable.

In Ether 12, Moroni teaches us about our covenants the same way Paul did. He writes:

4 Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope [living in anticipation of the fulfillment of the covenant] for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith [our covenants], maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.

We cannot know what Nephite word Moroni used that is translated as “faith,” but it is apparent that the word had the same meaning as pistis because he taught us by using the same principle that Paul used by giving us examples of how God and man work together through covenants. Moroni defines “faith” almost the same way that Paul does, beginning with the premise that the covenant is a means of obtaining an objective that is not yet accomplished.

6 And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith [pistis] is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith [pistis].

In one of his examples, Moroni uses “faith” two different way, and both are important.

30 For the brother of Jared said unto the mountain Zerin, Remove—and it was removed. And if he had not had faith [had fulfilled the terms of the covenant] it would not have moved; wherefore thou workest after men have faith [have received the covenant].

If there had not been a covenant already in place in which the Lord had promised the brother of Jared he would move the mountain, no matter how hard the brother of Jared had wished it, and no matter what words he had used, the mountain would not have moved. Conversely, had the brother of Jared not fulfilled his part of the covenant, and acted in righteousness [zedek] according to the terms of the covenant, the mountain would not have moved.

(In the following, I have replaced “faith” with “[covenant]” to help you think about the concept rather than the meaning of the word.)

7 For it was by [covenant] that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had [covenant] in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had [covenant] in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.

8 But because of the [covenant] of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen.

9 Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have [the covenant].

10 Behold it was by [covenant] that they of old were called after the holy order of God.

11 Wherefore, by [covenant] was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by [covenant] that it hath been fulfilled.

12 For if there be no [covenant] among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their [covenant].

13 Behold, it was the [covenant] of Alma and Amulek that caused the prison to tumble to the earth.

14 Behold, it was the [covenant] of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost.

15 Behold, it was the [covenant] of Ammon and his brethren which wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites.

16 Yea, and even all they who wrought miracles wrought them by [covenant], even those who were before Christ and also those who were after.

17 And it was by [a covenant] that the three disciples obtained a promise that they should not taste of death; and they obtained not the promise until after their [covenant].

18 And neither at any time hath any wrought miracles until after their [covenant]; wherefore they first believed in the Son of God.

19 And there were many whose [hope in the covenant] was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of [covenant], and they were glad.

20 And behold, we have seen in this record that one of these was the brother of Jared; for so great was his [belief in the covenant] in God, that when God put forth his finger he could not hide it from the sight of the brother of Jared, because of his word which he had spoken unto him, which word he had obtained by [covenant].

21 And after the brother of Jared had beheld the finger of the Lord, because of the promise which the brother of Jared had obtained by [covenant], the Lord could not withhold anything from his sight; wherefore he showed him all things, for he could no longer be kept without the veil.

22 And it is by [covenant] that my fathers have obtained the promise that these things should come unto their brethren through the Gentiles; therefore the Lord hath commanded me, yea, even Jesus Christ.

If I have read these scriptures correctly, it is a certainty that in our relationship with God there is nothing coincidental or haphazard, but everything is based on first making, then keeping our covenants.
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FOOTNOTES

{1}For a review of that organization see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, the chapter called “Mormon’s Outline of the Book of Mormon (first edition, 655-70, paperback edition 472- 75). The paperback edition is available on this website under “published books.”

{2} I have discussed the meaning of faith many times. The most complete is in the chapters on faith hope and charity in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord (first edition, 1005 – 1043, paperback edition 696- 722).

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament devotes almost 50 pages to the original definition and the historical evolution of the meaning of pistis. Part of that definition reads:

Stress Is often laid on the fact that this pistis is a higher endowment than wealth….Concretely pistis means the “guarantee” which creates the possibility of trust, that which may be relied on, or the assurance of reliability… pistis is the “oath of fidelity,” “the pledge of faithfulness,” “security.” This leads on the one side to the sense of “certainty:’ “trustworthiness,”
On the other to that of “means of proof,” “proof,” In particular pistis denotes the reliability of persons. “faithfulness.” It belongs especially to friendship. (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Edited by Gerhard Friedrich, translated and edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan), 6: 177.)

{3} The highly respected Bible scholar, David Noel Freedman, explained faith this way:

Faith is a peculiarly Christian concept. While other religious traditions have aspects of what the churches have come to name “faith,” none has the specific quality of intellectual assent that distinguishes faith from fidelity. The problem of faith and the central discussion of it arises in the context of the medieval attempts to codify and integrate the Christian experience into the emerging philosophical language of the scholastics. (Article on “Faith” by David Noel Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, [Doubleday, New York, 1992], vol. 2 p. 744-745.)

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