Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Seven: The Book Of Mormon And Baptism As A Covenant

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Seven:   
The Book of Mormon And Baptism As A Covenant© 

Today’s evidence brings together separate items from ancient scripture and modern scholarship to yield another insight reinforcing my contention that Joseph Smith was God’s prophet.  Stephen Ricks, professor of Hebrew and cognate languages at BYU recently published an extension of his work first appearing in print in1996-97, about ancient religious cleansing practices among Jews, Essenes (Qumran community), and Christians.*  The Jews at the time of Christ and before immersed people in font-like basins called miqveh or miqvaot. The people of Qumran did something similar. The purposes of these immersions was generally for ritual cleansing or purification of the physical body which had become polluted in some way. Christians of course, practiced baptism, which was to cleanse the soul from sin, with the added purposes of it being an initiatory ritual and according to Paul for the complete transformation of the individual.  

According to professor Ricks, the Book of Mormon is unique in two respects regarding baptism. First, it is a record which “provides a continuity of the rite over a thousand-year period.” (p. 166.)  Most importantly, the Book of Mormon is apparently the only ancient Israelite, Essene, or Christian document that characterizes baptism as a covenant between God and man. (See pp. 165, 166.)  Mosiah 18:10,13 which come from about a century and a half before Christ reads:
10) Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? 
13) And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body.... 
To modern Mormons this only makes good sense; it is something we have grown up with. But it is especially important to realize that the available records of the ancient Israelites, the Qumran covenanters who were probably the Essenes, and the earliest Christian scriptures do not portray baptism as a covenant.

Why is this important?  It just so happens that this information dovetails nicely with two other passages in the Book of Mormon.  Four hundred and fifty years earlier than Alma at the Waters of Mormon, Nephi was taught by an angel about the future of his people.  He saw a book would come among them which “contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel” (1 Ne. 13:23), but it would pass through the hands of a great and abominable church.  One of the things that made that “church”  worthy of that characterization was that “they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.   (1 Ne. 13:26)

Even more remarkably, many centuries before all of this, Joseph who was sold into Egypt was permitted to see down through the history of his people.  He saw a “choice seer” come among them.  We know today he was speaking of Joseph Smith.  The ancient Joseph spoke of the modern Joseph’s mission.  In part he said:
Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins.  And unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren, which shall be of great worth unto them, even to the bringing them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers.  (2 Ne. 3:7, emphasis added.)
This turned out to be one of Joseph's most important contributions to our religion. He did indeed bring us knowledge of the covenants of the Lord.  It started with the translation of the Book of Mormon and the fact that baptism was a divinely given covenant.  This is consistent with the book’s title page which states that one of its purposes is that the House of Israel “may know the covenants of the Lord....”  Thus, the missions of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith become as one on the matter of restoring a knowledge  of the covenants of the Lord.

The seemingly minor detail unearthed by brother Ricks that the Book of Mormon is apparently the only ancient text that characterizes baptism as a covenant takes on great significance in light of these additional facts.  But, it was only the beginning of the knowledge Joseph would bring to the world about God’s sacred covenants, of which we will have occasion to speak more in the future.

I frequently shake my head at the marvelous way in which these disparate facts coalesce together to provide luminating insight.  My wife calls such “coincidences” “celestial mechanics.”  You gotta love celestial mechanics like this!

Thank God for Joseph Smith.  Lets think together again, soon.

*Stephen D. Ricks, “The Doctrine of Baptism: Immersions at Qumran and the Baptisms of John, the Earliest Christians, and Book of Mormon Peoples.”  In By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in Scripture, History, and Practice, edited by Daniel L. Belnap, 153-172.  Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2013.


  1. Like you always used to say..."Joseph Smith gets it right every time." I really enjoy your posts!