A common accusation against members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that our faith is a works-based religion and denies the sovereign Grace of God. This accusation stems from the perspective of Sola Gratia – Grace Alone. This teaching appears to center on Ephesians 2:8-9. And it is common for an Evangelical Christian to quote 2 Nephi 25:23 in order to compare it with what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus. Here is how this is accomplished:
2 Nephi 25:23 in the book of Mormon says “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” The Bible says that we are saved through grace alone and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). In other words, Mormons believe that salvation comes through works, but the Bible contradicts this and says that salvation is a free gift.Apologetics and Evidences – Nace Howell: “Defending Christianity against Mormonism“
The question arises is this: Are Evangelical Christians properly quoting 2 Nephi 25:23? Or, are they misquoting and missing the point entirely of what was contained in the context of 2 Nephi 25?
what does 2 nephi 25:23 specifically say?
One discovers that the phrase “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” is only small portion of the full verse. In this verse, Nephi makes clear what he is writing about:
For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
While this does not give us the full understanding of what the writer is saying; it does help us focus on the object of truth.
- To persuade our children and our brethren to believe in Christ
- To be reconciled to God
These are two important truths to bear in mind. Still, it does not satisfy the question as to whether or not Evangelical Christians are properly quoting 2 Nephi 25:23. This is where we want to take a look at the full context that surrounds v. 23.
Isaiah, Judgments, And Prophecies to be fulfilled
2 Nephi 25 opens up with Nephi expressing what he wrote regarding Isaiah (v. 1). He observes that those words are hard for his people to understand and how it was hard for many to understand. This, as Nephi states for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews.
He then describes how he did not teach many things concerning the manner of the Jews. What he does say is that he writes to his people, and all others, for the purpose of knowing the Judgments of God and how these judgments come upon all nations.
It is when we get to v. 4 that we read Nephi pronouncing a prophecy. In doing this, he describes the fulfillment of Jerusalem’s destruction and the Babylonian captivity (cf 2 Nephi 25:4-11).
In this prophecy, Nephi writes:
…and when the day cometh that the Only Begotten of the Father, yea even the Father of heaven and of earth, shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh, behold, they will reject him, because of their iniquities, and the hardness of their hearts, and the stiffness of their next
Nephi continues and describes the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, his death, burial, and resurrection. Not only does Nephi record the coming Messiah and his resurrection, he also prophesies how Jerusalem will be destroyed a second time:
And behold it shall come to pass that after the Messiah hath risen from the dead, and hath manifested himself unto his people unto as many as will believe in his name, behold, Jerusalem shall be destroyed again; for wo unto them that fight against God and the people of his church
Jerusalem and the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Roman Army. This destruction of the city and its temple caused the end of the Jewish Age and the scattering of the Jews (cf 2 Nephi 25:15).
Nephi continues with how the Jews will be scattered and scourged, and then persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God, and the atonement, which is infinite for all mankind. He continues with the prophecy of a restored nation of Israel. A restoration which will be a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men. He returns back to the prophecy of the coming Messiah.
In vv. 20-22, Nephi writes plain things that will go forth among the nations of men and as fulfillment where Joseph’s seed will never perish.
Once we read v. 23 in proper context, we continue past to see if there is any further understanding. Here is what we find:
And, not withstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For, this end was the law given; 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. And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophecy of Christ, and we write according to our own prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.2 Nephi 25:24-26
Nephi continues writing his thoughts:
Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away.2 Nephi 25:27-28
Nephi offers up a warning to all of us that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy one of Israel. He also calls for all to worship Christ. It is in v. 30 that we find this summation:
And, inasmuch as it shall be expedient, ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses.
What does this reveal about 2 Nephi 25:23? Well, for one thing, it is not about doing all that you can do and then God’s grace comes along and helps you. In the actual context, Nephi is saying that him and his people are saved by God’s grace after all they can do in observation of the performances and ordinances of God until the fulfillment of the Law. This goes back to the prophecy of the coming Messiah and the law will be done away with and fulfilled.
Missing the jewish context of the law
Modern Christian Evangelicals, when employing 2 Nephi 25:23 and then compare it to Ephesians 2:8-9, fail to understand the Jewish context of what the Law was supposed to do – point people toward the fulfillment of the coming Messiah.
Matthew 5:17-20 provides us what Christ taught:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall not in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Notice that Christ said that while he was ministering, no one is to break or teach others to break the least of the commandments. Those who teach them and instruct others to teach them, they will have a greater reward. The Savior also said that one’s righteousness ought to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Here, Christ is distinguishing that of the religious leaders and those who follow after Christ. The Greek for Righteousness means the Judicial Approval of God. So, unless those who hear and follow Christ, and that the judicial approval of God exceeds that of the Pharisees. We understand that Christ did not approve of the religious leaders. This is evident of the constant attempts to trap and blaspheme the Savior.
Misquoting Paul and the Evangelical False dilemma Fallacy
We turn our attention to what Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus. Here, we read the two verses as follows:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works lest any man should boast.
Writing on this subject, James (at his website: Lehi’s Library) writes this:
This passage is used as a club against the Latter-day Saints because we believe that one must actually do something to maintain the covenant that God makes with us.
But too often our critics set up a false dilemma. They will demand that one is either saved completely by grace (and nothing else at all), or completely by our own works (and nothing else at all). Latter-day Saints recognize a third way, in which we are asked to do something and we are able to do it because of the grace of Christ.
What does James mean by this? He quotes three passages of the Apostle Paul:
- Romans 8:24 – we are saved by hope – and not one that is seen
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 – saved by receiving the Gospel that is preached
- Romans 5:10 – Saved by reconciliation through Jesus Christ and His life
He remarks that these three passages suggest three other things besides grace that saves us. God’s grace, our hope in Christ and God, and through the Gospel message where we are reconciled to the Father through Jesus Christ.
I want to step a bit further than what James is saying here. By misquoting the Apostle Paul, the Evangelical Christian who uses Ephesians 2:8-9 as a comparison to 2 Nephi 25:23 is in danger of proving Paul is contradicting himself and that they essentially have declared Paul himself a person who adds to the Gospel of Grace those conditions needed for salvation. In the end, their own misquoting and misunderstanding falls short of proper interpretation.
The answer appears quite clear:
- Evangelicals who use 2 Nephi 25:23 and Ephesians 2:8-9 falsify the spiritual truths of Nephi and Paul
- Evangelicals miss the Jewish context of the Law and its intent and purposes through misquoting Nephi
- Evangelicals established a false dilemma in misquoting Paul and further appear to show Paul contradicting his own teachings – invalidating their own argument
- Evangelicals fail to understand what the Savior taught in relationship to himself, the law, and the fulfillment of the law
- Evangelicals fail to recognize that the Savior taught that those who followed him were to keep observing and obeying the Law until it was fulfilled through Him.
And there it is folks, the truth shows how misquoting a passage ends up showing how some Evangelical ministers and believers continue to bear false witness against the Gospel of Jesus Christ restored in these last days.
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