Common Scriptures in Review: Mosiah 3:19

Mosiah 3:19 was the subject of a post recently about how we view our children in the Church. I wanted to comment more extensively in that thread, but I realized it would have required a comment longer than the original post. Therefore, I decided to tackle it in this format instead.

The full wording of the verse is:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Here is the parsed version, phrase by phrase:

“For the natural

(“natural” is not defined here, but the term “natural man” is found in other passages in our canon [ironically, once and only once in each book of scripture in addition to Mosiah 3:19]. In each case [1 Corin. 2:14, Alma 2:21, D&C 67:12 and Moses 1:14], the term is used to reference those who are not in tune with the Spirit.
In that light, the best definitions from the dictionary are: “in a state of nature; uncultivated” and “having undergone little or no processing”. It appears that “natural” in this usage applies to those who have not been cultivated by the Spirit – who have not been involved in the repentance process. The other Book of Mormon verse is the most relevant, having been included my the same abridger, Mormon – and that verse clearly defines the “natural man” as that man who is unrepentant.)

man

(Due to the subsequent discussion of becoming like a child, it is clear that this “natural MAN” does NOT refer to children when they are born. Rather, it applies to those who have have reached adulthood without previously having been “cultivated” and “processed” by the Spirit – who are unrepentant once they are accountable and no longer exempted from condemnation as children are. Also, this obviously is a generic use of “man” to include all “mankind” or “humanity” – including women.)

“is an enemy to God,”

(“Enemies” are those who fight or oppose someone. God’s work and glory is to change us [cultivate and process/refine us], so the unrepentant stand in direct opposition to that work and glory. Thus, they are “enemies to God”.)

“and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever

(ALL unrepentant adults – no exceptions)

unless

(leads into examples of how not to be “natural”)

“he yields

(“gives up or surrenders” – This is the perfect word to describe what an enemy does to cease being an enemy.)

“to the enticings of the Holy Spirit,”

(Again, the Holy Spirit is the key, since it is the Spirit that drives repentance. “Enticings” is an interesting choice of words, since it means “things that attract by arousing hope or desire”. So, putting off the natural man means surrendering to the cultivation of the Spirit, because of an attraction to something that causes hope or desire. Alma’s statement that a simple desire to know is enough of a catalyst to exercise faith is reflective of accepting the enticings of the Holy Spirit. Read Alma 32:27-28 in this light; the similarity is striking, especially since there is NO shared vocabulary of consequence in the two verses.)

“and putteth off the natural man”

(“Putteth off” is a description of action, similar to the concept of laying one’s burden at the Lord’s feet (Psalms 55:22) or taking his yoke upon you (Matt. 11:28-30). Interestingly, “putting off” a garment can be termed “changing clothes” – and repentance at its most basic level simply means “to change”. Therefore, putting off the natural man is the direct result of yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and repenting.)

and becometh a saint

(“saint” means, at its most basic and common level, “a person of great holiness, virtue, or benevolence” – which all are listed in various places as manifestations of the Spirit and characteristics of godliness. Again, the qualifying factor is one’s willingness to quit fighting God and follow the Spirit.)

“through the atonement of Christ the Lord,”

(This occurs through the atonement of Christ, the Lord – and is reflective of Jesus’ statement that if He had not gone from the disciples, the Holy Ghost would not have come to dwell with them. [John 16:7])

“and becometh as a child,”

(Given the focus thus far on a connection to the Spirit being the cure for the natural man, this could be a bit confusing if not followed by an explicit explanation.)

“submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love,”

(Each of these characteristics is central to the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, and about every other description of godliness. More importantly, they ALL are characteristics associated with listening for and following instructions – of a malleability that children possess but that is lacking in many adults who have been “hardened” by mortality. [For more on this topic, see “Becoming: As a Little Child“.])

“willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him,

(“submit” means “give over or yield to the power or authority of another” – another perfect choice of words, given the use of “enemy” and “yield” earlier in the verse; “inflict” means “to impose as something that must be borne or suffered; to impose anything unwelcome”. This is fascinating, as it refers back to “the natural man” as not “welcoming” of anything that might be considered to be unfair or forced or demanding adherence simply due to another’s authority. It also is fascinating that the majority of definitions for “impose” are negative – showing how “natural” it is to not accept anything that is “inflicted” upon us.)

even as a child doth submit to his father.”

(What an amazing way to come full circle and highlight what happens when the Spirit changes the perception of a “natural [unrepentant and combative] man” who is an “enemy to God” into that of a “child” who submits to the authority of his “father”. The uncultivated, unprocessed man fights the cultivation and processing; the trusting child submits to that cultivation and processing.)

Summary:

This verse does NOT describe children being born in a sinful state – or a blank slate. Rather, it describes children as being willing to obey the parents they see as authority figures – to allow those parents to shape and cultivate them through a process of alteration. The challenge, it seems, is for adults to transfer that childlike willingness to submit to an authority figure they can see into FAITH in somewhat hidden heavenly parents through feelings and promptings of the Spirit that can be dismissed as nothing more than emotions.

In other words:

Children act in full view of their earthly parents. The challenge is for adults to let go of their “hardness” and “intelligence” and “certainty in their own understanding” and become “pliable” and “teachable” and more “uncertain of their own expertise” once more (like little children) – turning to the Holy Ghost to help them “see” their Heavenly Parents and submit to that authority as they once submitted to the authority of their earthly parents.

Comments

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2 comments for “Common Scriptures in Review: Mosiah 3:19

  1. Just for Quix
    September 10, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    The phrase “natural man” may seem a bit of a challenge to parse because of the sparseness of the term in the Bible, and the lack or original language from which to nuance Mosaih. However, if we use the New Testament in the examination, we have a some useful leading indicators: The Greek in 1 Cor for “natural man” is psuchikos anthropos.

    1) Psuchikos is often translated as “natural” or “sensual.” We find psuchikos used elsewhere in the New Testament. I have often heard it said it is best understood as a “fundamental living/existent state.” This site (http://www.askelm.com/news/n050427.htm) describes it as “soulish” since the word derives from the Greek word for soul. A great case is made about this being a word to describe a fundamental state of being, a nature but not quite just nature. It is fundamental, tangible, living existence.

    What is illuminating is that examination of other Bible scripture shows this base, fundamental, soul state is apart from our spirit or spiritual body — that which is quickened by the influence of God upon us, and that which this fundamental state resists. Therefore the soul state as a living, existent state “natural” is not a bad translation, but it nuances much more compatibly than the word “sensual.”

    “Sensual” connotes more loaded meanings that would state humankind as fundamentally evil, wicked, a bad kind of sexual state — something that psuchikos alone doesn’t really say in and of itself. Nevertheless, since goodness does not exist apart from God, and psuchikos appears in passages that strongly assert this separation, we must say we stand foundationally divided from God’s Spirit were we to depend on our effort, power and nature alone.

    2) anthropos, while sometimes used in a specific masculine sense, is often used in a gender-neutral or gender-inclusive sense. In the plural sense we would call this “mankind” or “humankind.” Still, the dominant thrust would be to see anthropos as “human”, not as an adult man or woman.

    ===

    The fundamental soul-state of a human according to 1 Cor 2:14 is to see things of God’s Spirit as foolish. This seems to be compatible with the Mosiah 3 verse, that any individual human is a fundamental enemy to God and has been that way since the Fall. I really have a hard time agreeing that an exegesis nuancing that humans uniformly _grow_ to be corrupted human adults and enemies of God is a reckless one. There may be merits in having child-like attributes, but even a child is foundationally separated from God’s Spirit were it not for Him. From the position of the New Testament gospel we are each and all fundamentally separated from God through our fallen state were it not for the gracious Atonement of our LORD God to bridge it.

  2. Ray
    September 10, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    JFQ, I don’t argue against what you are saying about the separateness, since that essentially is what I said, but I really like the concept of innocent children – for a number of reasons. Perhaps the biggest one is my discomfort with the original sin construct that vilifies the body, but there also is my inherent, Mormon aversion to anything that would justify constructs where unbaptized babies are consigned to Hell. There is more, of course, but . . . all of it boils down to just not liking the implications of “sinful at birth”. I’d FAR rather view it as “destined to sin because of birth” – but capable of being changed and accepted by “yield(ing) to the enticings of the Spirit”.

    The thing I like about how this verse is structured is the apparent focus on repentance as the factor that bridges the gap between us and God – and how it speaks so openly about how we can go from being enemies of God to intimately connected to Him. I really love the Father designation, so the exhortations to listen to and follow the Spirit and submit to hte Father resonate with me.

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