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A Mosaic/Nephite model of typology: obedience disrupted

Posted by joespencer on March 31, 2007

We’ve been dancing about the question of typology for some time, and I apologize that I’ve not taken it up until now (more especially because I’m writing an entire book about typology in the Book of Mormon right now, and that should make me all the more eager to spend time discussing this question in a forum like this!). But, apologies aside, let me here take up what seems to me to be an important model of typology, to be found in both the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. (That this same way of thinking about typology can be found in the temple experience suggests to me that it spreads itself across the broad spectrum of Joseph’s revelatory experience, from 1829 to 1842 at least, and that means to me that we cannot relegate it to some earlier stratum of Joseph’s “development,” whatever that means.)

The model might be summed up, as it is above, as “obedience disrupted.”

We all remember this story in the first part of Moses 5, right? Adam and Eve leave the Garden of Eden, and they are soon after given the commandment to offer sacrifice (other versions of the story offer a different chronology, but that’s immaterial for our considerations). This commandment is issued as a covenant, of course, and it is coupled with the covenant to keep the law of obedience. This is vital because verse 5 tells us: “And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.”

But suddenly, this apparently long stretch of obedience (“many days,” but whole generations of children are mentioned in the first verses of the chapter) is disrupted by a visit. We know the verse well: “And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord?” The question is interesting, because it sounds like a test, but it is one that Adam must ultimately fail unless he is completely honest: he has never been given a reason. His answer, then: “And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.” Obedience. Period.

Now the disruption is confirmed profoundly: “And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.” Now, here we can begin to have some fun reading into the text, suggesting that because Adam had been sacrificing he must have had the keys of the Aaronic priesthood, and that because the angel brings news about “the [order of?] the Son,” Adam here receives the keys of the Melchizedek priesthood and is thereby prepared to part the veil and return to the presence of the Father. But let us set these interesting things aside for a moment and take up the question of typology.

The model of typology offered here is interesting: Adam and Eve are called upon to obey for quite a time before they are given to understand what is at work in the rites they perform. And it is an angel (a messenger from heaven) who comes and disrupts that obedience by reordering it according to another way of thinking. The angel, moreover, gives Adam and Eve a directive, to allow the typological structure of what they are doing spread to everything in their experience: “thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son.” Not only is the one thing a type, but as soon as they are given to see the typology at work, then everything they do–all their experience–becomes typological, becomes typologically tied to something heavenly (or something apocalyptic, at any rate: heaven and earth tied in a revealing event).

Two key points: first, what becomes typologically oriented is at first simply a “normal” worldly (in the literal sense) act; second, it is specifically a messenger from heaven who orients this worldly act typologically. Now, one can notice in these two key points that typology is a binding up of heaven and earth, of the earthly being reoriented by the heavens. As such, it is perhaps entirely appropriate to bring in questions of the priesthood as I did above, and it is all the more appropriate still to bring in questions of the temple: typology is a question of binding up something earthly with something heavenly, and it is something to be done by one who is sent from heaven (the council) with the keys to seal things up. (Perhaps this suggests something about reading the scriptures in the Spirit, according, that is, to the Holy Spirit of Promise, which seals up.)

The same model, I would suggest, appears in 2 Nephi 25:23-25. We, says Nephi, who are Nephites commanded to keep the Law of Moses, have been visited by heavenly messengers who have told us why we are living the Law: it is unto the typifying of the coming Messiah. So it is that we (again, Nephites before the coming of Christ) know that it is by grace that we are saved! And we know when that will come: “after all we [note: they, the Nephites commanded to keep the Law of Moses] can do.” They have been commanded to keep the Law, and an angel has showed up asking them why they do it, and they have responded simply that they have been commanded to do so, and so the angel has told them how it is typologically oriented to the apocalyptic events still to come. “Wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.” The point: the earthly Law has become heavenly by the interposition of a divine messenger, and grace has finally been introduced, but because they are still commanded to perform the task of maintaining the Law, there is much they “can do” still. But the experience of the Law has been fundamentally changed, they experience the Law as if Christ had already come among them (Mosiah 3:13). Hence, “all we can do”: keep the covenants of obedience and sacrifice and wait for further light and knowledge (hardly a salvation by works model, which is usually read in 2 Nephi 25:23).

At any rate, the question that this leaves us with: how do we read the scriptures typologically? Does this model suggest that the texts are primarily earthly, and that some heavenly messenger must recast them for us? And does this suggest that there is no unified way to go about typological reading? If types point to the apocalyptic still-to-come, won’t the Spirit guide us toward a “universally valid” reading, one that holds for all? Doesn’t this question “personal” understandings of typological reading? Are we given two tasks here, one way of reading the pre-Christian and another away of reading the post-Christian?

Discuss. Open my thinking.

18 Responses to “A Mosaic/Nephite model of typology: obedience disrupted”

  1. robf said

    A lot to think about here. Just a few random thoughts: I see a connection here with the teachings in the Lectures on Faith, where we are told that we are given the testimony of the prophets (the scriptures) so that we may begin to exercise faith (by being obedient–step 1) and that we will only recieve the full testimony ourselves after we have sacrificed (step 2) all that we are in following and serving the Lord.

    So, just like the parables, maybe the rest of the scriptures are useful to (among other things) a) inspire us seek after Christ and further light and knowledge from true messengers, b) give us food for thought as we try to be obedient (“likening the scriptures unto ourselves”–whatever that means!), and c) help us feel and recognize the Spirit leading us to Christ.

    Along the way, we will be tempted to mingle the scriptures with our own favorite philosophies, so we maybe have to be careful in how we interpret the scriptures (b) as we move forward in the gospel (a & c). Finally, after having proven true and faithful, we will receive further light and knowledge from true messengers–obedience disrupted.

    Maybe this pattern repeats over and over again in our lives as we are given truth line upon line, and receive further light and knowledge, prove ourselves true and faithful to the new knowledge, and continue to experience fellowship with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn. Somewhere along here we would expect to receive the blessings promised in D&C 93:1-3.

  2. John said

    As far as I can tell from your description, obedience disrupted is likely to be followed by further (probably more profound) obedience. After all, once the rote action is understood fully, it becomes a self-motivated imperative. So is “disrupt” (interrupt, interfere, disorganize, disorder) the right word here?

    Wouldn’t “unveiled” be more appropriate?

  3. m&m said

    John,
    I’m starting to sense that our brains might work in similar ways. :)

    As to the post, I don’t think we need heavenly messengers individually to help us see the typology (not that that is outside the realm of possible, of course). After all, we have already been told many times by prophets called of God that everything we do is supposed to focus us on Christ. It seems to me that part of the reason we have the scriptures is to learn from what these people learned, such as these vital truths about WHY we obey and WHY we have commandments/laws.

    We HAVE had heavenly messengers “unveil” the things we are asked to do — starting with the first vision, through all the heavenly visits Joseph got to establish the kingdom (including receiving additional scriptures, ancient and latter-day). And I think we continue with chosen messengers who are given the charge and responsibility to help the “residue of men” have faith. (See Moroni 7:29-32 …too tired to link, sorry.)

    I do think that often we will do things out of obedience first, but really, if you think about it, I think we have been encouraged to make the Savior the focus of all we do. Even our baptismal covenants “unveil” this for us — that we are to “always remember Him.” I think the challenge is getting to the point in our spiritual progression (through obedience, study, living the program as it were, etc.) that focusing on Him becomes second-nature and His nature starts to become ours through grace. Late nite thoughts as I head to bed….

  4. Rob, thanks for these thoughts. I’d like to follow up the connection with the Lectures on Faith a bit further. Especially in light of Elder Holland’s comments on those lectures yesterday.

    John, your point is well taken. I chose “disrupted” over “distracted” at the last minute. What I’m trying to capture is not that the action of obedience is disrupted, but that obedience itself has its nature changed, and I’m calling that change a kind of disruption (I’m using overly Continental terminology). I suppose I can justify my usage with reference to Nephi’s “dead” Law that is nonetheless to be kept. The obedience continues, but it has been fundamentally changed… not unlike what Elder Bednar was talking about yesterday: the same has been made radically different. To call that a disruption is only to emphasize the discontinuity, but you may be right that such a term unjustifiably de-emphasizes the continuity at work as well.

    Michelle, I agree with everything you said. I’m not sure whether your comments imply that I was unclear: I certainly wasn’t arguing that everyone needs to experience a heavenly messenger in order to think/read typologically (I do think that everyone must receive heavenly messengers in order to get into the celestial kingdom, but that is another topic entirely). Your citation of Moroni 7 is right on target: those who are taught typological thinking from above then have the duty to teach the same to others. My point was to suggest how typology is essentially a reworking of obedience, a rethinking of law. In short, I’m trying to think about typology, not about the visitation of heavenly messengers so much.

    In short (in response to all), what I’m trying to think about here is the twofold pattern that underlies typological insight: obedience, and then obedience rethought. I don’t think we can skip over that first step (Moroni 10:3-5 is a perfect example of a scriptural passage pointing this out). And if this is the pattern that opens up the theme of typology, then it seems to me that we have a lot to think about.

    Does that help?

  5. robf said

    The more I think about this, the more important I think it is. I think it relates to Givens’s take on the Book of Mormon–it stands as a symbol representing the re-opening of the heavens. What marks the Latter-day Saint experience from that of the rest of Christianity is the open heavens and our relationship (through priesthood and the Spirit) to the heavens. Rather than a “People of the Book” bound to God and each other by a text, we are a “People of Revelation” seeking further light and knowledge in a personal relationship with God, Angels, and those present as authorized servents here in mortality.

    I think this has huge ramifications for how we approach the scriptures. I’m not sure how to fully express this right now, but I have in mind a contrast between being focused on trying to divine the Word from the scriptures (in some sort of rabbinic or hermeneutical fashion) vs trying to seek the Divine Word–through the Spirit, angels, or directly from Christ.

    Sometimes I wonder if we are too quick to dismiss Moroni 7:36-37. Maybe we really don’t expect to see angels or miracles? Perhaps expecting angels=faith? We don’t want to think that we don’t really have faith if we aren’t seeing angels, but perhaps it really is true? In my own thoughts about likening the scriptures to myself, I ask if I am having the same types of experiences with the heavens as are depicted in the scriptures. Am I being led by the Spirit? Am I conversing with angels? Am I viewing the throne of God and the Heavenly Host? Do I live my life as though this were a reality, or am I living my life as if the scriptures and Church teachings were just another narrative that I can use to justify my actions or occasionally inspire me to “be a better person”?

    I agree that the scriptures can be a Urim and Thummim. But recall that after Joseph Smith was more fully experienced, he relied on the Urim and Thummim less and less. How does this relate to our own relationship to the scriptures as we gain more experience with the Word?

  6. Rob, these are wonderful thoughts. Thank you very much for them (and I’m sorry I’ve been so busy for the past two days that I haven’t had a chance to get to them until now). I really think we ought to be asking ourselves, almost constantly, the questions you are asking yourself here. I’ve had a couple of rather heavenly experiences in the past week that force me again and again to recognize how real this all is. What a work!

    Moreover, while agree with your recharacterization of Mormonism as a “people of revelation” rather than a “people of the book,” I wonder if it draws too sharp a distinction between these two. To explain what I mean by that would be to write up the seventy pages of my first chapter (of my book). In a word, however: revelation, in our scriptures, comes as an angel with a book, or as a throne theophany where God holds a book, etc. There is something interesting there.

  7. Robert C. said

    Since Joe has been writing about this for some time on the wiki, at the Reading Abraham Seminar, and at lds-herm (anyone’s welcome to join!), I’ve been thinking about this a lot and have too many thoughts to really address the topic here, though I think this is indeed a profound (and profoundly Mormon) way to think about scripture, the gospel, and everything that entails! So I eagerly await Joe’s book.

    But I will address robf’s specific mention of Moroni 7:36-37. One of the key words there is “unbelief” (the reason given for why the appearance of angels might cease), which in the New Testament comes from apistia which is simply the Greek prefix “a” meaning “not” plus pistos meaning faith. So the key issue in that verse is faith.

    Although I’m very sympathetic to m&m’s view on this verse, which I think it’s the most common view, but I have deep misgivings about this interpretation. It seems the whole point of the verse has to do with the continuation of such ministering—this, coupled with all the discussion in the D&C about the Aaronic (not Melchezidek!) priesthood and the keys of ministering of angels….

    I’ve wondered about this a lot because faith does not come easy for me (what I mean is that many, my wife for example, seem to have much more faith than me and struggle less to maintain and exercise that faith, whereas I struggle more with faith and less with other aspects of the gospel…). I think the verse is supposed to make us struggle, at least those of us who haven’t had heavenly angels visit us. I’ve also been thinking a lot about modernism as an obstacle to faith—I’ll probably post something on this soon. In partifular, I think this notion of faith in Joe’s description is very interesting in light of Alma 32 and the bit about sign-seeking there. The more I think about this, the more convinced I become that modernism is quite deeply antithetical to faith, and is largely a version of sign-seeking….

  8. robf said

    Amen, reminds me of a conversation I had with my friendly neighborhood Jehovah’s Witnesses the other day. They said that the Bible was sufficient, but that someday we would be given more. I said we affirmed that that day had already arrived. They didn’t have much more to say after that, and soon left.

    So when I say we aren’t people of the book, I want to say something like we aren’t restricted to trying to divine truth from a book, or even books. While the books are important–it is an open canon and angels can show up with new books at any time, as Joe stated.

    As for Modernism, I think all the time about this. I’m sure there are many aspects of Modernism that keep us from expecting, exercising faith in, and experiencing angelic ministrations. There are probably man other things that do the same. How often when I’m about to turn on the TV do I wonder if that hour spent seeking entertainment might be better spent seeking the Lord?

    I also wonder if we don’t experience fellowship with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn because we just aren’t engaged in what they are interested in? If you are immersed in teaching the gospel, temple work, family history research, etc. you probably have a much higher chance of being in a position to interact with angels than you do when you are watching television, listening to Itunes, or reading the newspaper–or probably even this blog.

  9. Robert C. said

    robf #8: I get too brain-tired at night to resist the temptation of (mindless) television and so, using Ulysses and the Sirens as inspiration, we decided not to get any cable subscription. We’ve been very happy with this decision and have very much enjoyed the money and time saved on books, better internet service, better family conversation, more playing with the kids, and renting of films (online reviews make it pretty easy to find the best flims out there, esp. if you aren’t averse to subtitles)….

  10. m&m said

    A few thoughts:

    But recall that after Joseph Smith was more fully experienced, he relied on the Urim and Thummim less and less.

    But recall that some of the greatest revelations we have were received after prophets pondered, usually scriptures.

    It seems the whole point of the verse has to do with the continuation of such ministering—this, coupled with all the discussion in the D&C about the Aaronic (not Melchezidek!) priesthood and the keys of ministering of angels….

    I think it’s true that we underestimate perhaps what roles angels can and do play in our lives. We have had this discussed over the pulpit, in fact. I think, though, that Moroni 7 could be both. The fact that there are “chosen vessels” and “the residue of men” tells me that it may not be simply about all people having the same angelic access. Again, not to say angels are inaccessible for personal level needs, but just to acknowledge a pattern of how prophets often get the information they teach to the people they are called to teach. We may each strive for the faith and worthiness to access angels, but that won’t authorize us to teach “the residue of men.”

    I also wonder if we should be striving or seeking to see angels. I don’t know the answer, but I wonder.

  11. robf said

    I think we should probably be putting ourselves “out there” to such a degree of service in the kingdom that we should be expecting angels to be helping us. I don’t think we should be “striving or seeking to see angels” as an end in and of itself, but should be living so that it we can’t avoid interacting with them as we seek to serve others.

    While sometimes we think we don’t need the ministring of angels in our lives if we already have the Church and our Church leaders, my favorite story to counter that is the angel visiting Amulek while Alma is staying at his house. What was that all about?

  12. m&m said

    Robf,
    I think that we underestimate and probably don’t understand what the ministering of angels means, but I don’t think it always means that we have to be able to SEE angels in order to enjoy that gift.

    I would never be one to say we don’t need the ministering of angels in our lives. I just am not convinced that it will always come through a vision or seeing them.

    “We do not consciously realize the extent to which ministering angels affect our lives.”
    James E. Faust, “A Royal Priesthood,” Ensign, May 2006, 50–53

    I wonder, too, if the ministering of angels allows us to speak with the tongue of angels as we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (a la 2 ne. 32)

    One of the things that will become more important in our lives the longer we live is the reality of angels, their work and their ministry. I refer here not alone to the angel Moroni but also to those more personal ministering angels who are with us and around us, empowered to help us and who do exactly that (see 3 Ne. 7:18; Moro. 7:29–32, 37; D&C 107:20).

    Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘For a Wise Purpose’,” Ensign, Jan 1996, 12

    What does it mean to you to be in a position to have angels minister unto you? It means that you are entitled to have inspiration and guidance in all phases of your life if you are honoring your priesthood. It provides protection to you from evil and danger.

    Read about Elisha and his young servant, who saw their city surrounded by the mighty army of Syria. Fearful, the servant appealed to his master: “Alas, my master! how shall we do?”

    The response of Elisha suggests what protection is given with the key of the ministering of angels:

    “And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

    “And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kgs. 6:15–17).

    Robert L. Backman, “The Hope of Israel,” New Era, May 2001, 45

  13. m&m said

    eeek…that comment starting with “I wonder, too…” was supposed to be at the end. Sorry for not clearing out the quotes better. And I was in a hurry, so just know that I’m in musing mode and quotes help me do that. :)

  14. robf said

    While I agree that there are numerous times when angels will minister unseen, I think there is still something there in Moroni 7:36-37 that indicates it is important that they “appear and minister”. So I don’t feel completely off the hook if they aren’t appearing to me. More than anything, it makes me wonder if I may not be as anxiously engaged as I need to be in doing “the work of the covenants of the Father” (Moroni 7:31).

  15. m&m said

    I don’t feel off the hook, either, but is there anything that says it’s a necessity to have angels we can see in order to somehow validate our faith?

  16. A key term in the endowment regarding our relationship to angels is “waiting,” which suggests to me a kind of confidence/expectation as well as patience, a willingness to work/obey in the meanwhile. (In the end, I think Moroni 7 is a talk primarily about how to detect true messengers from false ones while we wander in this telestial world.)

    I wrote up a paper (with the idea of submitting to the Ensign… at the behest of a number of people who have been in lessons where I have taught about the subject) about the keys of the ministering of angels. Maybe it is worth posting on here? [note: posted here]

  17. Cherylem said

    #16. Joe, post away.

  18. brianj said

    Joe, #16: Absolutely: post it!

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