King Benjamin’s Sermon as a Type of Temple Endowment

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Abstract: To more permanently unify the Mulekites and the Nephites as a reunited kingdom of Israel, King Benjamin gathered his people at the temple, and in his role as a king and priest after the order of Melchizedek, imparted teachings that bear resemblance to the Latter-day Saint temple endowment ceremony first introduced in Nauvoo. Several of these similarities are explored in depth. Since the book of Mosiah is one of the earliest extant texts of Joseph Smith’s prophetic ministry, this finding adds to a growing body of literature that suggests that temple themes are apparent in the unfolding Restoration earlier than has been commonly recognized. King Benjamin’s sermon also provides a model for how the latter-day covenant people of the Lord can establish a modern “kingdom of priests” in preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ.

On May 3, 1842, Joseph Smith, with the help of Lucius Scovil and others, prepared the upper room of his Red Brick Store in Nauvoo, Illinois, to represent “the interior of a temple as much as the circumstances would permit.”1 The next day, Joseph Smith invited a small number of faithful men to meet with him at the store.

On the wall was a newly painted mural. Small trees and plants stood nearby, suggesting a garden setting. Another part of the room was sectioned off with a rug hung up like a curtain. . . .

For the rest of the afternoon, the prophet introduced an ordinance to the men. . . .

The new ordinance . . . drew upon scriptural accounts of [Page 2]the Creation and the Garden of Eden . . . to guide the men step-by-step through the plan of salvation. . . .

They received knowledge that would enable them to return to the presence of God. Along the way, the men made covenants to live righteous, chaste lives and dedicate themselves to serving the Lord.

Joseph called the ordinance the endowment and trusted the men not to reveal the special knowledge they learned that day. . . . As soon as the temple was finished, both men and women would be able to receive the ordinance.2

Notably, certain elements of the endowment ceremony3 bore close resemblances to symbols and language found in Masonic rituals, a connection that was observed by participants at the time. For example, one of the first men to receive the endowment, Master Mason Heber C. Kimball,

wrote of this experience to fellow Apostle Parley P. Pratt, who was on a mission in England. “We have received some precious things through the Prophet on the priesthood,” Kimball wrote of the endowment, noting that “there is a similarity of priesthood in masonry.” He told Pratt that Joseph believed Masonry was “taken from priesthood but has become degenerated.”4

Joseph Smith’s initiation into the Masonic lodge in March 1842 has led critics to dismiss the endowment ceremony as being derivative of Masonic ritual.5 According to this perspective, the endowment ceremony would not have existed as such, had it not been for Joseph Smith’s participation in the Masonic fraternity. Conversely, an increasing number of Latter-day Saint researchers have presented evidence that temple themes, normally associated with the Nauvoo era of the Church, actually appear in the earliest texts Joseph Smith brought forth, including the Book of Mormon that was published in March 1830.

Don Bradley has argued that even Joseph Smith’s First Vision was a type of endowment.6 He describes this discovery as the pivotal point in his personal return to belief in Joseph Smith’s prophetic call and to Church membership. He also has contended that temple themes and symbols familiar to modern Latter-day Saints appeared in the 116 lost pages of the Book of Mormon text.7

According to George Mitton, many of Joseph Smith’s early actions, including the manner in which he received and translated the plates [Page 3]of the Book of Mormon, prefigured temple practices like the endowment ceremony.8 For instance, Mitton sees the hanging curtain used to separate Joseph Smith from his scribe as “an intentional pattern to shield the sacred from unauthorized view” in the same manner that the veil of the temple separated God’s presence from the profane.9

In a significant study published in 1990, John Welch identified forty-eight distinct elements in Christ’s sermon to the Nephites that could be placed in a temple context.10 More recently, Valiant Jones has undertaken an analysis showing that the five covenants of the endowment are exemplified by the prophetic authors of the small plates of the Book of Mormon.11

“The brother of Jared received his endowment on the top of mount Shelem,” according to M. Catherine Thomas.12 In her analysis of the brother of Jared’s theophany in Ether 3, many elements of the endowment, as conferred by Joseph Smith upon a handful of men in the upper room of his Red Brick Store, become apparent. Elsewhere, Thomas analyzed King Benjamin’s sermon in the context of “the nature of priesthood and its relationship to the mystery of spiritual rebirth.”13 Her analysis hypothesized that Benjamin’s people “may have received something of a temple endowment,” since his sermon contained “temple themes pertaining to the creation, fall, atonement, consecration, and covenant making.”14

Nephi’s vision on “an exceedingly high mount” (1 Nephi 11:1), according to David Bokovoy, follows an ancient temple motif wherein Nephi interacted with members of the divine council in a sacred space.15 Bokovoy has also presented evidence for temple imagery in Jacob’s sermons.16 Another scholar, Kimberly Matheson Berkey, sees temple imagery in the pillar of fire, smoke, divine voice, prayer, and angelic ministrations of Helaman 5:24–43.17

Jeffrey Bradshaw demonstrates that the Book of Moses, like the endowment ceremony, contains a two-part structure narrative wherein the participants go “down-road” from God’s presence, encounter and defeat Satan on Earth, and subsequently return “up-road” through the veil to God’s holy presence.18 He has uncovered concepts in the Book of Moses that correspond to the covenants of the temple endowment both in kind and sequence—namely, obedience, sacrifice, the gospel, chastity, and consecration.19 Similarly, Barry Bickmore has argued that the Book of Moses was an “esoteric document . . . written in exactly the style of an ascent apocalypse” and that it contains temple themes.20

[Page 4]In a recently published article, Val Larsen and Newell Wright have shown how theosis, together with allusions to the Divine Family of the Father, Mother and Son, and Holy Ghost, appears throughout the Book of Mormon.21 This finding is significant in the context of temple themes, because “theosis, the transformation of a human being into a divine being . . . was at the heart of temple tradition.”22 Such a transformation is the fundamental objective of temple ordinances (Doctrine and Covenants 132:19–20).

Scholars viewing early Latter-day Saint scripture through the lens of temple worship is a rapidly expanding area of research, and examples of such analyses could be multiplied.23 Margaret Barker, an independent scholar and former president of the Society for Old Testament Studies, has undertaken biblical studies in much the same way.24 Her research, including—perhaps especially—on the temple, has received the attention and appreciation of some Latter-day Saint scholars.25

Hugh Nibley once stated,

It has often been claimed that the Book of Mormon . . . does not have temple ordinances. As a matter of fact, they are everywhere in the book if we know where to look for them. . . . The Book of Mormon [is] replete with temple imagery.26

D. John Butler agrees:

The Book of Mormon is a temple book . . . written by temple worshippers for temple worshippers, in the imagery of the temple, and teaching temple doctrines. Without seeing the temple in it, we can’t fully understand the Book of Mormon.27

I follow a similar approach as I undertake an analysis of King Benjamin’s sermon given at the temple. I suggest that this sermon, one of the earliest surviving texts brought forth by Joseph Smith, has several themes that overlap the Latter-day Saint temple endowment ceremony first introduced in Nauvoo. This serves as additional evidence that Nauvoo-era temple ordinances were not merely a late development in response to Joseph Smith’s initiation as a Freemason.

I examine Mosiah 1–6 and highlight several temple themes as they emerge. I then explore the implications of these findings for Joseph Smith’s prophetic call. I conclude by commenting on how Benjamin’s temple sermon provides a template for how modern Latter-day Saints can lay the foundation for a worldwide, spiritual kingdom of Israel in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

[Page 5]The Setting of King Benjamin’s Sermon

The book of Omni recounts how Mosiah1 was “warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi, and as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him” (Omni 1:12). In obedience to this divine warning, “as many [of the Nephites] as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord” fled from their homeland and were “led by the power of [God’s] arm, through the wilderness” (Omni 1:13). Eventually, these exiled Nephites found and united with the Mulekites28 in the land of Zarahemla ca. 220 BC (Omni 1:13–18).

The united Nephites and Mulekites “appointed [Mosiah1] to be their king” (Omni 1:19). There is considerable evidence that the unification of the Nephites and Mulekites was tenuous at times. Lyle Hamblin has argued that Mulekites of royal descent, as evidenced by their M-L-K based names, were the primary source of the dissensions and wars that plagued Nephite society.29 Additionally, the unification of the Nephites, who descended from the ancient northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Mulekites, who descended from the royal Davidic line of the southern Kingdom of Judah, may be partly understood as a kind of reversal of the Assyrian exile centuries earlier. An exploration of these issues can be found in the Appendix.30

When King Benjamin, the son and successor of Mosiah1, “waxed old, and . . . saw that he must very soon go the way of all the earth . . . he thought it expedient that he should confer the kingdom upon” his son Mosiah2 (Mosiah 1:9). This expediency might have stemmed from the potential for renewed conflict in the absence of a designated successor. This was a concern that was later shared by Mosiah2 (Mosiah 29:1–10). Mosiah2 ultimately led his people to abandon the monarchy in favor of a governmental system that resembled “the time of the judges in Israelite history that preceded the establishment of the throne of David.”31

King Benjamin gave two objectives for this gathering: (1) proclaim his son Mosiah2 as “a king and a ruler over this people” and (2) “give the people a name, that thereby they may be distinguished” from everyone else (Mosiah 1:10–11; see also Deuteronomy 7:6). An unstated third objective was likely to minimize any ongoing Nephite-Mulekite divisions that might cause conflict in their recently united kingdom.

Benjamin informed his son Mosiah2 of his plans and ordered him to send a royal proclamation to their people commanding them to “go up to the temple to hear the words which his father should speak [Page 6]unto them” (Mosiah 1:18). Then, in an act symbolic of the transfer of royal authority, King Benjamin conferred upon Mosiah2 the brass plates, the plates of Nephi, the sword of Laban, and the Liahona (v. 16). These sacred relics “were customary symbols of kingship among the Nephites, and they relate to the orb, scepter, and book of the law used as royal symbols in many civilizations.”32

In response to Mosiah2’s proclamation, “the people gathered . . . to the temple to hear the words which king Benjamin should speak” (Mosiah 2:1).33 The gathered assembly had come prepared to obey the law of sacrifice as prescribed by the Law of Moses, bringing with them “the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings” (v. 3).

This text makes clear that King Benjamin intended to address his people “within the walls of the temple,” but “the multitude” was “so great” that the sacred space was inadequate (Mosiah 2:7).34 Consequently, the people “pitched their tents . . . round about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple” (vv. 5–6), temporarily extending the sacred precincts to accommodate the large company. To ensure that he could be seen and understood, the king “caused a tower to be erected” from which to speak, and “he caused that the words which he spake should be written and sent forth among those that were not under the sound of his voice” (vv. 7–8).

Temple Themes in King Benjamin’s Sermon

There are many themes in King Benjamin’s sermon that correspond to modern Latter-day Saint temple worship. Several of these will be explored below, including the prerequisite of worthiness, injunctions to be alert and attentive, allusions to the divine council, the Creation and Garden themes, angelic teaching, unison prayer, covenant-making, the giving of new names, and so forth.

Worthiness as prerequisite

Mormon commented that, shortly before Benjamin delivered his sermon, “there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin” (Mosiah 1:1). These peaceful circumstances, unusual in the narrative of the Book of Mormon, were a reflection of the goodness of King Benjamin’s people whom he called a “highly favored people of the Lord” (v. 13).

Before gathering them to the temple, Benjamin told his son that he intended to “give this people a name,” explaining, “This I do because [Page 7]they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord” (v. 11). This suggests that King Benjamin had perceived their worthiness to take upon themselves “the name of Christ” at the temple (Mosiah 5:8–11; also see Mosiah 1:11–12), although how he made this determination is not stated in the text. Regardless of how Benjamin determined their worthiness, his “righteousness,” as well as that of his people, was acknowledged by the Lord when the angel said, “The Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy” (Mosiah 3:4).

Invitation to be alert and attentive

After his people had gathered around the temple, Benjamin ascended to the top of the tower he had erected and sternly warned the people to not “trifle with the words which I shall speak” (Mosiah 2:9). Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary defined “trifle with” as “to mock.”35 Since the King’s message was divinely revealed, including in some instances the actual words of the Lord as quoted by an angel (Mosiah 3:23), to trifle with his words would be akin to mocking God.

Rather than risk such serious sin, King Benjamin implored them, “Hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear” (Mosiah 2:9). His invitation was for the people to be reverently alert and attentive. He returned to this theme two more times in his sermon (Mosiah 3:1, 4:4).

Unfolding the mysteries

This reverent attention was required because Benjamin told his audience that he wished to have “the mysteries of God . . . unfolded to your view” (Mosiah 2:9). In common usage, the English word mysteries generally denotes things that remain unknown or impossible to explain. However, its origin lies in the ancient Greek word mysteria, which was used to denote esoteric teachings and secret rites not meant for public disclosure.36 There is considerable evidence that both the Qumran community37 and early Christians38 had such mysteria.

Likewise, the Book of Mormon seems to use mysteries in this ancient sense when Alma said, “It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart” (Alma 12:9). Alma was not pointing to something actually unknowable or ineffable; otherwise, there would be no necessity for the “strict command” to “not impart.” Alma understood [Page 8]that “the mysteries of God” referred to undisclosed things, not undisclosable things (1 Corinthians 2:6–7, 3:1–2; Doctrine and Covenants 107:18–19). This understanding of mysteries suggests that there may have been certain aspects of King Benjamin’s teachings at the temple, like the “special symbols associated with the covenants we receive in sacred temple ceremonies,” that would not have been “disclose[d] or describe[d]” in the text of the Book of Mormon.39

In another usage of mystery in the Book of Mormon, the temple priest Jacob introduced Zenos’s allegory by expressing his desire to “unfold this mystery unto you” (Jacob 4:18). Matthew Bowen has argued that Jacob’s use of mystery should be understood to refer to esoteric teachings, such as those of the modern temple endowment, by which initiates are given privileged access to the secrets (sôd)40 of the divine council.41 Elsewhere, Bowen has stated that King Benjamin’s reference to “the mysteries of God” in Mosiah 2:9 “has at least partial reference to the esoterica of the temple and its rites (cf. Greek mysteria) that enabled one to . . . participate in the divine council—the sôd.”42 The sôd can refer to both the divine council and their counsel or plans. When used to refer to the plans of the divine council, the Hebrew sôd is more or less synonymous with the Greek mysteria.43

In biblical writings, the divine council is often visualized as a royal, heavenly court with God as king “sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left,” as he passes judgment (1 Kings 22:19; see also Psalm 82). Prophets, including those of the Book of Mormon,44 are often depicted as gaining access to the secrets of divine council through heavenly ascent.45 For example, Isaiah was commissioned as a prophet after seeing the Lord seated on a throne in the holy of holies of the heavenly temple deliberating with his divine council (Isaiah 6:1–8). Likewise, “In 1 Enoch 14,” an ancient ascent text, “the dominant understanding is of heaven as a temple, and it is in the heavenly temple that the divine council meets.”46

In this context, it is curious to note that like King Benjamin (Mosiah 2:9), other Book of Mormon prophets used the verb unfold in connection with “mysteries” (1 Nephi 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3). In 1828, unfold could mean “to open any thing covered,”47 in the same sense as unveil. In fact, unfold is used precisely in this way in Doctrine and Covenants 88:95: “The curtain of heaven [shall] be unfolded . . . and the face of the Lord shall be unveiled.” Thus, King Benjamin’s wish for his people to “open [their] minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to [their] view” (Mosiah 2:9) may be understood as [Page 9]an invitation to part the veil of the heavenly temple and observe the secret plans—the sôd or mysteria—of the divine council.

Benjamin as Melchizedek Priest

The Melchizedek or “greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries, even the key of the knowledge of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:19; see also 107:18–19). Book of Mormon scholars have long noted that the Nephite religious leaders likely exercised the Melchizedek priesthood.48 For example, Grant Hardy commented, “Alma’s description of a priesthood that is both higher and older than that of the Levites is similar to . . . how Jesus, though not a descendant of Aaron, could be ‘made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec’ (Heb 6.20; cf. Ps 110.4).” He continued, “The Nephite church claims that its authority comes from this type of priesthood, which it calls ‘the holy order of God.’”49

As he prepared to unveil the mysteries of the divine council for the gathered assembly (Mosiah 2:9), King Benjamin had to first affirm his credentials as a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Doctrine and Covenants 84:19). To do so, he recounted his record of selfless service as a king (Mosiah 2:12–19). Grant Hardy has noted:

In the OT, the word service appears over one hundred times, almost always with reference to priestly duties performed by Levites at the Temple. Here, in a temple setting, Benjamin depicts his kingship as a parallel form of service, apart from his own self-interest; cf. v 17. There may have been descendants of the Levites among the Mulekites with legitimate claims to religious authority that could rival that of the Nephite kings and priests, though their livelihood would have come from the people’s tithes and offerings.50

If Hardy’s analysis is correct, one of King Benjamin’s purposes in describing his voluntary service may have been to subtly highlight a distinction between the spiritual nature of the kingly Melchizedek priesthood he exercised and the vocational or temporal character of the Levitical priesthood. By doing so, Benjamin was tacitly asserting that his priesthood office or authority was greater than that of the Levites. The Levites may have held “the keys . . . to administer in outward ordinances” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:20), but he held “the key of the mysteries” to unlock “the power of godliness” and unveil “the face of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:19–27).

[Page 10]Creation, Garden, and Fall themes

As he developed his sermon, Benjamin masterfully wove in many allusions to the drama of the Creation, the Garden of Eden, and the Fall of Adam. Some of these allusions are noted in Table 1.

Table 1. King Benjamin’s sermon compared with the Creation narrative. Verses in the left column are from Mosiah, verses in the right are from Genesis unless otherwise noted.

King Benjamin’s Sermon Creation Narrative
“from the beginning” (2:21) “in the beginning” (1:1)
“that God who has created you” (2:20)
“who has created you” (2:21)
“he hath created you” (2:23)
“ye were created” (2:25)
“him who created you” (2:25)
“so God created man in his own image” (1:27)
“this day” (2:9, 14, 15, 30)
“day to day” (2:21)
“days” (2:12, 16, 19)
“the first day . . . the second day . . .” and so forth (1:5–2:3).
“whole soul” (2:20)
“granted that ye should live” (2:20)
“lending you breath” (2:21)
“your whole souls” (2:21)
“immortal spirit” (2:28)
“granted unto you your lives” (2:23)
“his own soul” (2:33)
“his immortal soul” (2:38)
“And the LORD God . . . breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (2:7)
“ye were created of the dust of the earth” (2:25)
“I am also of the dust. . . . I am . . . about to yield up this mortal frame to its mother earth” (2:26)
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground” (2:7)
“For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (3:19)
“keep his commandments” (2:22)
“do as he hath commanded you” (2:24)
“the commandments of God” (2:31)
“that which was commanded them of the Lord” (2:35)
“keep the commandments of God” (2:41)
“And God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply” (1:28)
“And the Lord God commanded the man” (2:16)
“obey the evil spirit” (2:32, 37)
“obey that spirit” (2:33)
“Satan rebelled against me . . . I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will. . . . And Satan . . . sought also to beguile Eve” (Moses 4:3–6; 2 Nephi 2:17–18)
[Page 11]“live and move” (2:21) “every living creature that moveth” (1:21, 28)
“do according to your own will” (2:21) “thou mayest choose for thyself” (Moses 3:17)
“transgressed the law of God” (2:33)
“transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken” (2:36)
“those that have fallen into transgression” (2:40)
“she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (3:6)
“walking . . . before God” (2:27) “they were walking in the garden” in “the presence of the Lord God” (Moses 4:14)
“dieth in his sins” (2:33) “but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Moses 3:17)
“hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, if so thou shouldst surely die?” (Moses 4:17)
“his own knowledge” (2:33)
“there are not any . . . but what knoweth” (2:34)
“ye have known” (2:36)
“and the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew” (3:7)
“Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (3:22)
“ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord” (2:36)
“the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord” (2:38)
“And Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden” (3:8)
“garments” (2:28) “coats of skins” (3:21)

King Benjamin not only alluded to these primordial themes, but he symbolically placed his people into the garden by telling them, “God . . . has created you,” “ye were created of the dust of the earth,” God is “lending you breath,” “ye . . . do according to your will,” “ye have known,” “ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord,” and so forth. Doing so would naturally invite his people to consider themselves as if they were Adam and Eve—living souls created by God from the dust who, because of their agency and transgression, were hiding in guilt from the presence of God and were in need of redemption.

Later in his sermon, King Benjamin returned again to the theme of comparing his hearers to Adam and Eve in various ways. For example, [Page 12]he reminded them of their “worthless and fallen state” (Mosiah 4:5), emphasized their created nature by calling them “unworthy creatures” (v. 11), recognized their “knowledge” (vv. 5, 6, 11–12), and repeated the Creation and Garden themes of “day to day” (v. 24, 26) and their “walk . . . before God” (v. 26).51 Interestingly, Benjamin even explicitly addressed the multitude as “O man” (ʿādām), warning them that if they did not “remember” to “observe the commandments of God,” they, like Adam, “must perish” (vv. 18, 30; also see Moses 3:17).

References to the Creation drama were especially fitting in the context of ancient temple ritual.52 In fact, the original readers of the Creation account in Genesis would have recognized it as a temple text.53 The biblical story of Creation and the Garden of Eden contains “a number of powerful symbols that are related to and represent archetypal depictions of subsequent Israelite temple systems.”54 Interestingly, “accounts of creation” are “prominent among the secrets,” the mysteria or sôd, “revealed to the visionaries . . . after they have taken their place among the angels.”55

In addition to seeing the temple in the Creation and Garden accounts, “scholars have long recognized Eden symbolism in the temple.”56 There are clear literary links between the biblical accounts of the Tabernacle’s construction and the Creation account in Genesis.57 The temple was designed and “built . . . to represent on earth the garden of God,” and, like Eden, “the temple was the centre of the created order and the key to its wellbeing.”58 In summary, “When the Paradise theme occurs in the Old Testament, it must not be separated from the temple with which it was synonymous.”59

Read as temple text, the Creation account makes Adam a priest who was charged “to dress (ʿābad) . . . and to keep (šāmar)” the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15) in the same way the temple priests were charged “to do the service (ʿăbōdâ) . . . and . . . keep (šāmar) all the instruments of the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:7–8; also see Numbers 8:25–26, 18:5–6; 1 Chronicles 23:32; Ezekiel 44:14).60 Thus, “Adam was to be the first priest to serve in and guard God’s temple,”61 and Eve, as Adam’s full partner and companion, was to be a priestess.62 As priests and royal “vice regent[s]”63 created in God’s image, they were to “have dominion” (Genesis 1:26–28) and “represent God to the rest of creation”64 by serving (ʿābad) and keeping (šāmar) it (Genesis 2:15). Adam and Eve were king and queen, priest and priestess.

As he taught, Benjamin extended an invitation to his hearers to serve God by selflessly serving others in the same manner he had served [Page 13]them as king (Mosiah 2:11–18). Recounting his service tied Benjamin to Adam and Eve and the temple priests who came before him. By inviting his people to emulate his service, Benjamin was inviting them to become, like Adam, Eve, and himself, kings and queens and priests and priestesses set apart for God’s service. Thus, Benjamin’s people would become a “kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6; see also 1 Peter 2:9) that was “distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem” (Mosiah 1:11).

Even if Benjamin was inviting all of his people to priestly service, he only ordained some of them as actual “priests to teach the people” (Mosiah 6:3). We need to be careful to not assume that King Benjamin’s allusions in his sermon to priestly service meant he intended to ordain all of his people to actual ecclesiastical, priesthood offices. The kind of priestly service he alluded to was different from priesthood offices with their various ecclesiastical authorities and responsibilities. Rather, he may have had in mind something similar to what Jonathan Stapley has called the “cosmological priesthood,” which he defined as “priestly authority, derived from participation in . . . Temple liturgy.”65

Furthermore, Benjamin clearly did not consecrate all of his people as kings and queens in the same sense that he “consecrated his son Mosiah to be a ruler and a king over his people” (Mosiah 6:3). Benjamin’s invitation to service, like Moses’s invitation to the Israelites to become a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), should be understood as an invitation to receive and exercise the kind of royal or cosmological priesthood bestowed upon Adam and Eve in the Garden. The main responsibility of this kind of priesthood, discussed earlier, was “representing God to the rest of creation”66 through service. For, “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings,” like the service of Adam and Eve, the temple priests, and Benjamin himself, “ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).

Messenger of life and salvation

Next, King Benjamin announced that the night before, “an angel from God” had awoken him from his deep sleep with a message of “glad tidings of great joy” (Mosiah 3:1–4). The divine messenger’s purpose was to reveal the linchpin of God’s plan or sôd—namely, the “glad tidings”67 or the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The angel announced the future incarnation of “the Lord God Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:4) and described the many “mighty miracles” he would perform during his mortal ministry (vv. 5–6). He explained [Page 14]how he would suffer “more than man can suffer” because of “the wickedness and abominations of his people” (v. 7)

With unusual specificity, the angel revealed the names of the incarnate Lord and of his mother: “He shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary” (Mosiah 3:8).68 In a curious parallel centuries earlier, Jacob gave a sermon at the first Nephite temple in which he said that an angel had revealed to him the name of Christ the night before (2 Nephi 10:3).69 Likewise, in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, an angel revealed the name Jesus Christ to Nephi (1 Nephi 12:18; 2 Nephi 25:19) in the temple-like70 setting of “an exceedingly high mountain” (1 Nephi 11:1).71 It is apparent that Christ, as used by Nephi, Jacob, and Benjamin, had an angel-revealed temple context for the early Nephites. Similarly, long before the Nephites, the name Jesus Christ was revealed to the brother of Jared in the temple-like setting of Mount Shelem. However, instead of being revealed by an angel, the Lord himself revealed the divine name (Ether 3:1–14).72

The name Christ is of Greek origin and is equivalent to Messiah. The title Messiah appears 31 times in the 1830 text of the Book of Mormon, many of which occur long before the revelation of the name Christ to Nephi, Jacob, or Benjamin.73 Consequently, the word translated as Christ in these passages must have been distinct from Messiah, else the angelic revelations are seemingly redundant and incoherent. Clearly, there is something else going on here.74 Perhaps the underlying word rendered as Christ in the English text was an esoteric word that was outside the Nephites’ native lexicon.75

After revealing the sacred name and titles of the coming Messiah, the messenger described the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that would make possible “a righteous judgment . . . upon the children of men” (Mosiah 3:9–10). The angel then laid forth how salvation could come to those who ignorantly sin, to children, and even to those who knowingly rebel against God (vv. 11–12, 16). He also explained that the common purpose of prophets and the law of Moses was to point souls to Christ (vv. 13–15).

The central theme of the angel’s message was to teach the way to life and salvation (Mosiah 3:17). The angel repeatedly proclaimed the Atonement of Christ as the answer to the personal and universal effects of the Fall of Adam (vv. 11, 16, 19, 26). He explained how the fallen, “natural man” could be transformed into “a saint,” meaning a [Page 15]holy one, “through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (v. 19). By becoming saints, Benjamin’s people would be like the members of the divine council (sôd) who were often called “Holy Ones.”76 In other words, the angel was revealing how, through Christ, they could leave behind their fallen natures and become holy ones, members of the divine council, by passing “through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Hebrews 10:20).77

Unison prayer

Overpowered by the angel’s teachings, “the multitude . . . had fallen to the earth” as a result of their fear and a recognition of their own Adamic falls (Mosiah 4:1).78 Understanding that, much like Adam, through transgression they had become “less than the dust of the earth” and were in a “carnal state,”79 they “cried aloud with one voice” in prayer for “mercy,” “forgiveness,” and purification (v. 2). This prayer, if truly spoken in unison as the text implies, may have been spoken by King Benjamin and then repeated aloud by the people.80

While praying, they replicated almost word-for-word the name of the coming Messiah as revealed by the angel (Mosiah 3:8–9, 4:2). This apparent formulaic invocation of the divine name, in combination with their “exceeding faith” and unity, resulted in an unrestrained outpouring of “the Spirit of the Lord . . ., joy, . . . a remission of their sins, and . . . peace of conscience” (Mosiah 4:3). This spiritual outpouring was so intense that their prayer was cut short due to inability to speak (v. 20).

Discipleship and the law of the gospel

King Benjamin’s response to their profound experience anticipated the unspoken question of what they should do next. These individuals, now forgiven, needed guidance on their future steps, including how to maintain a remission of their sins. Having been purified and transformed into saints or holy ones, they yearned to know how to lead holy lives as disciples of Christ.

After reviewing “the conditions” of salvation for “all mankind . . . since the fall of Adam” (Mosiah 4:4–10), Benjamin taught his people pragmatic principles on how they could “always rejoice . . . and always retain a remission of your sins” (v. 12). These included remembering their humble status before God, offering daily prayer, continuing in the faith (v. 11), living in peace with others and practicing fairness (v. 13), caring for and teaching their children (vv. 14–15), and giving to those in need (vv. 16–27). He concluded with a warning against relapsing into sin (vv. 28–30).

[Page 16]The majority of his instruction focused on the principle of caring for those in need with a stern warning against condemning others (vv. 16–27). As disciples of Jesus Christ, Benjamin’s people would be required to live the law of the gospel, which includes the requirement to care for those in need. As the Lord has revealed in our day, “If any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment” (Doctrine and Covenants 104:18).

One of the primary purposes of the law of the gospel is to create equity and unity among the Lord’s people (Acts 4:32; Galatians 3:28; Philippians 2:1–4; Doctrine and Covenants 70:14, 78:5–6, 49:20). Of course, this was one of the three motivations discussed earlier for King Benjamin gathering his people at the temple that day—to create enduring unity between the Nephites and Mulekites.

Covenant of obedience

After King Benjamin had spoken to his people, he next “sent among them, desiring to know . . . if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them” (Mosiah 5:1). The text does not indicate how he “sent among them” to find out if they believed his words, but this must have taken some time. This was necessary because they were about to enter into a covenant and could only do so if they were willing to proceed forward and take upon themselves the covenantal obligations of their own free will and choice. In response to his query, “They all cried with one voice,” and said,

Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts. . . .

And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God. (vv. 2, 5)

King Benjamin’s sermon yielded a profound transformation within the hearts of his audience, culminating in a solemn covenant with God “to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things” [Page 17](v. 5). True to ancient patterns,81 the covenant was accompanied by a severe penalty for its violation—namely, “never-ending torment” and drinking “out of the cup of the wrath of God” (v. 5).

An initial reading of the text might give the impression that this lengthy, unified response from the gathered assembly was delivered spontaneously and extemporaneously. However, as others have noted,82 it appears that these words may have been formulated in advance and repeated by the assembly. If so, King Benjamin probably prepared the wording of the covenant and distributed it when he “sent among” his people to find out “if they believed his words” (v. 1), since he affirmed, “ye have spoken the words that I desired” (v. 6).

New name and royal identity

King Benjamin promised his people that, “because of the covenant which you have made,” they would “be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters . . . for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you” (Mosiah 5:7). This statement “constitutes an unmistakable citation of the royal rebirth formula”83 wherein a new king was told, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Psalm 2:7). Thus, “the enthronement of the king was linked to new birth.”84 By declaring his people to be spiritually begotten as sons and daughters of Christ on the day of Mosiah2’s enthronement, Benjamin was emphasizing the potential for all of his people to become spiritual kings and queens, or what Peter called “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9; see also Exodus 19:5– 6; Deuteronomy 14:2).

After they had been “born of him” (Mosiah 5:7), King Benjamin fulfilled the promise he made to “give this people a name, that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people” (Mosiah 1:11). They were to be named after their new spiritual Father—“I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ” (Mosiah 5:8). By giving them this divine name, Benjamin was fulfilling the role of the priests who were commanded to “put [the Lord’s] name upon the children of Israel” (Numbers 6:27). As the priests pronounced the name of “the Lord” over the Israelites three times to put his “name upon the children of Israel” (Numbers 6:24–27), so King Benjamin pronounced “the name of Christ” over his people three times as he urged them to take his name upon themselves (see Mosiah 5:8–10).

Christ was one of the sacred names revealed by the angel to King Benjamin (Mosiah 3:8) and that was ritually invoked by the people in their unison prayer (Mosiah 4:2). Like their Israelite ancestors who [Page 18]made a covenant at Mount Sinai to “take,” meaning to bear or carry,85 “the name of the Lord” (Exodus 20:7) that had been revealed to Moses by “the angel of the Lord” (Exodus 3:2, 13–15), King Benjamin’s people were to “take upon [them] the name of Christ” (Mosiah 5:8) that had been revealed to him by the “angel from God” (Mosiah 3:2, 8). This is in line with ancient heavenly ascent literature wherein “a key concept of the celestial mystery is the revelation of the most secret and sacred names of God” and their subsequent “ritual use.”86

This new name was received at the temple because, as taught by a modern prophet, Dallin H. Oaks, individuals can fully take upon themselves the name or the “authority of Jesus Christ only in the sacred ordinances of the temple.”87 Like the divine name “worn by the high priest on his turban . . . when he performed the atonement rituals” at the temple,88 Benjamin’s people “should take upon [themselves] the name of Christ” at the temple (Mosiah 5:8), making them “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6).

By giving his people a new name, Benjamin was following an ancient tradition of renaming that appears in the Bible. Examples include Abram to Abraham (Genesis 17:4–5), Sarai to Sarah (v. 15), Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:28), Joseph to Zaphnath-paaneah (Genesis 41:44–45), Mattaniah to Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17), and Simon to Cephas/Peter (John 1:42). Renaming is in the Book of Mormon as well, most notably in the case of the Lamanite converts of the sons of Mosiah as the “Anti-Nephi-Lehies” (Alma 23:16–17) and later as “the people of Ammon” (Alma 27:26). In each of these instances of renaming, the new names were given to signify a new, special, often covenantal, relationship with God or others and marked the beginning of a new identity.

Similarly, in token of new royal powers, covenantal responsibilities, and identity, an ascending monarch would be given a throne name at the time of coronation.89 However, in a radical departure from this precedent, King Benjamin gave a new name to every covenant-making individual assembled for the coronation ceremony of his son Mosiah2. “In giving his people a ‘name’” instead of Mosiah2 alone, “King Benjamin gave his people an endowment to ‘become’ kings and queens as sons and daughters of Christ.”90 With this name the Nephites and Mulekites were taking upon themselves a new, unified identity that was greater than their ethnic and tribal heritages that had divided them. Additionally, by giving all of his people a throne name, King Benjamin was subtly undercutting possible future Mulekite claims to an exclusive royal identity.

[Page 19]In the ancient Near East, naming was understood to be a creative act because it endowed that which was named with a distinguishing identity and purpose.91 Adam, by giving each of the animals a distinguishing name, participated in the Creation (Genesis 2:19). In addition to creating reality, the name would express the essence of the thing named.92 Likewise, as King Benjamin gave his people the name of Christ to “distinguish” them from other people (Mosiah 1:11), he was creating a new people and revealing their potential to be transformed, or recreated, from those who “have borne the image of” Adam, “the man of dust,” into new creatures that would “bear the image of” Christ, “the man of heaven” (ESV 1 Corinthians 15:49; also see Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18, 5:17; 2 Peter 1:4).

Benjamin instructed his people to hold their new name sacred (Mosiah 5:11) and told them, “Ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts” (v. 12). Benjamin explained that at a future time, this name would function as an identifier for the people in token of the covenant they had made (v. 12). However, whoever “know[s] not the name” (v. 14) or has it “blotted out . . . through transgression” (v. 11) will be unrecognized by God who will “drive him away, and cast him out” like “an ass” (v. 14).

In biblical texts, “knowing persons by name” was more than having “a fairly superficial acquaintance”; it meant knowing who they “really” were and having “a personal knowledge of [their] character.”93 King Benjamin’s invitation to “know . . . the name by which he shall call you” (Mosiah 5:12) was a plea to know Christ as he really is and to be like him (1 John 3:1–2).

This kind of intimate knowledge can be acquired only by disciples who, like apprentices emulating their Master, are engaged in God’s service by being “in the service of [their] fellow beings” (Mosiah 2:17; Acts 10:38). “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart” (Mosiah 5:13)?

Those who through service come to know Christ truly and receive his name (Mosiah 5:12–13) “shall be found on the right hand of God” (v. 9; see also Mosiah 26:24). The right hand, as a symbol of fidelity, has been associated with covenant making in ancient and modern settings.94 Perhaps, similar to the officiator raising his right arm to the square in baptism95 or to members partaking of the sacrament with their right hands,96 Benjamin and his people employed the right arm or hand in a symbolic act as they entered into their covenant with God.

[Page 20]The Lord told Isaiah that those who “take hold of my covenant . . . will I give in mine house and within my walls97 a place [yâd: hand]98 and a name . . . an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:4–5). As discussed earlier, Benjamin’s people would have met “within the walls of the temple,” instead of “round about the temple,” had space allowed (Mosiah 2:6–7). They made a covenant with the Lord there, and he in turn gave them a name that “never should be blotted out” (Mosiah 5:5– 11). Did they also receive a hand (yâd) from the Lord as they “[took] hold of [his] covenant” (Isaiah 56:4–5)? If so, such a sacred symbol would have been among “the mysteries of God”—the undisclosed things (Alma 12:9)—that Benjamin had intended to show his people (Mosiah 2:9).

Benjamin’s promise that his faithful people “shall be found on the right hand of God” (Mosiah 5:9) also has royal overtones. In the biblical tradition, “The Lord direct[s] the king to sit at his right hand” at the time of coronation (Psalm 110:1).99 Benjamin’s statement was, therefore, suggestive that his people, who were gathered for an earthly coronation ceremony, had the potential to become heavenly kings and queens enthroned at God’s right hand. This possibility was contingent upon their faithfulness in keeping their covenant to be “obedient unto the end of [their] lives” (Mosiah 5:8; see also v. 5).

In assuring them a place “on the right hand of God,” the king was using a wordplay on his own name, since Benjamin can be interpreted to mean “son of the right hand.”100 That is to say, in promising his faithful people a place “on the right hand of God,” the king was christening them as Benjamins (“son[s or daughters] of the right hand”101), which is also a fitting name-title for Christ for whom they were named (Matthew 26:64; Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55–56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Doctrine and Covenants 76:20).

At judgment, Benjamin’s faithful people would be called by the name of Christ (Mosiah 5:12, 26:18), which is tantamount to being identified with him and made “equal in power, and in might, and in dominion” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:95). Those exalted individuals would be seated on God’s right hand and be given royal and priestly power (Mosiah 5:9, 26:23–24; Matthew 25:34; Revelation 1:6, 2:26–27, 3:11, 21; Doctrine and Covenants 29:27, 76:56, 63). In stark contrast, any individual who was unwilling or unworthy to receive the name of Christ would be found “on the left hand of God,” who would “drive him away, [Page 21]and cast him out” (Mosiah 5:10, 12, 14; also see Matthew 25:41; Doctrine and Covenants 19:3, 29:27–28).

Benjamin’s statement that his people were “spiritually begotten” as Christ’s “sons, and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7) would have had additional meaning for the gathered assembly. In the Hebrew Bible and elsewhere, the term “sons of God” often referred to members of the divine council (sôd).102 Spiritual rebirth is the process whereby one gains power to become a son of God in this “ultimate sense.”103 Having been born again and royally named, King Benjamin’s people were prepared to be enthroned among those who “are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory. . . . Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:56, 58).

Sealed, brought into heaven, eternal life

King Benjamin concluded his sermon with a benediction “that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his” (Mosiah 5:15). This is the only instance in the Book of Mormon where the term seal104 is used in the context of salvation. Like the modern sealing ordinances, the purpose of this future sealing was that individuals “be brought to heaven” and “have everlasting salvation and eternal life” (v. 15).105

“Hebrew seals from before the Babylonian exile . . . contain a formulaic inscription reading ‘belonging to,’ followed by the owner’s name.”106 This same Hebrew terminology was used for the ancient High Priest who, at the temple on the Day of Atonement, wore a gold plate on his forehead that had “engrave[d] on it as on a seal: HOLY TO THE LORD” (Exodus 28:36–38 NIV). Margaret Barker wrote that “the Hebrew of Exodus 28:36 probably meant that the seal was holy, and so it should be translated ‘engrave on it like the engravings of a holy seal, ‘The Lord.’”107 That is to say, the High Priest wore a seal with the divine name on his forehead to denote that he belonged to the Lord.108

Benjamin’s desire was that his people, like the ancient High Priest, would be willing to “take upon [themselves] the name of Christ” (Mosiah 5:8), so “that Christ, the Lord Omnipotent may seal [them] his” (Mosiah 5:15). Because they were “created of the dust of the earth” (Mosiah 2:25), like the ancient seals made from “a blob of clay,”109 the people could be stamped with “the name of Christ” (Mosiah 5:8) to “seal [them] his” (v. 15).110

Similarly, in John’s Revelation, those who are “sealed . . . in their foreheads” (Revelation 7:3) with “the seal of the living God” (v. 2) are [Page 22]holy ones, or saints, who have “washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14; see also Mosiah 3:19). These saints, sealed with the divine name in their foreheads, are “high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 77:11; see also Exodus 28:36–38). As priests, they serve (ʿābad) God in the throne room, or the holy of holies, of the heavenly temple (Revelation 7:15)—the setting of the divine council (sôd).111 Each of them will have a royal “crown” and a permanent place “in the [heavenly] temple of . . . God” (Revelation 3:11–12). As on a seal, Christ said, “I will write upon him the name of my God, and . . . my new name” (Revelation 3:12). They have actually been “made . . . kings and priests unto God and his Father” (Revelation 1:6).

Like other Book of Mormon prophets, as Benjamin concluded his sermon, he emphasized “the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy” of God, made evident in his plan and made operative through the Atonement of Jesus Christ (Mosiah 5:15; see also 2 Nephi 2:12; Mosiah 15:8– 9; Alma 12:15, 34:15–17). In this stunningly beautiful benediction, he returned to the theme of the Creation as he echoed the words of the angel, invoking the name “of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth” (Mosiah 5:15; see also 3:8). This Creator, who is the center of temple worship,112 is “Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent” (v.  15), whose name Benjamin’s people were to remember and faithfully bear (vv. 8–11; see also Mosiah 26:18).

Parallels to the Temple Endowment

King Benjamin sought to unite the Nephites and Mulekites more permanently as a reunited kingdom of Israel in a New World promised land. In his role as a Melchizedek king and priest, Benjamin delivered a sermon to his people that contained many themes comparable to the temple endowment administered by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo.

For instance, Benjamin’s sermon was by invitation for his people who had proven themselves worthy (Mosiah 1:11; see also 3:4); was given at the temple (2:7); gave participants a new, royal name that they were told to remember and not allow to be “blotted out” (5:7–14); contained a warning against trifling and invitations to be attentive (2:9; 3:1; 4:4); alluded to the Creation, Garden of Eden, and the Fall of Adam (2:20–41); invited participants to symbolically personify Adam and Eve who served as king/queen and priest/priestess in the Garden of Eden (2:20–42; 4:5– 6, 11–12, 24, 26); invited his hearers to participate in priestly service (2:16–17); invoked the rebirth formula used [Page 23]at coronation of kings and the imagery of a king seated on the right hand of God (5:7, 9); included instructions from a divine messenger who revealed sacred names (3:3–27); put participants under a covenant of obedience with a severe penalty for violation (5:2–5, 6:1); included the law of sacrifice (2:3); taught about the law of the gospel (3:3, 4:16–27); included a unison prayer accompanied by a symbolic posture (4:1–3); and concluded on the themes of entering into God’s presence, being sealed, and inheriting salvation and eternal life (5:15). Table 2 details possible parallels between Benjamin’s sermon and the temple endowment.

Table 2. Comparison of King Benjamin’s sermon and the temple endowment.

King Benjamin’s Sermon Temple Endowment
“They [had] been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord” (Mosiah 1:11)
Judged righteous by the Lord (Mosiah 3:4)
Must be worthy to hold a temple recommend
At the temple In the temple
New name New name
“Hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view” (Mosiah 2:9) Initiatory ordinances that bless mind, ears, eyes, breast, etc.
Invitation to be alert and attentive
Injunction against trifling/mocking Warning against mockery
Creation, Garden, and Fall themes Creation, Garden, and Fall themes
Participants personify Adam and Eve Participants personify Adam and Eve
Enabled participants to become kings/queens by (1) giving them a new name at a coronation ceremony, (2) invoking the royal rebirth formula, and (3) placing them on the Lord’s right hand
Enabled participants to become priests/priestesses by inviting them (1) to serve God, (2) to personify Adam and Eve who were priest/priestess in the Garden, and (3) to take upon themselves the divine name like the ancient high priests
Enables participants to become kings/queens and priests/priestesses
Angelic messenger teaches the way of salvation and reveals sacred names Angelic messengers teach the way of salvation and reveal sacred names
[Page 24]Participants— Participants make covenants to—
Make covenant of obedience Live the law of obedience
Obey the law of sacrifice Obey the law of sacrifice
Receive “glad tidings,” meaning, the gospel Obey the law of gospel
[not present] Keep the law of chastity
[not present] Keep the law of consecration
Unison, vocal prayer Unison, vocal prayer
“You may be brought to heaven” Symbolically enter the celestial kingdom
“Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his” Sealing ordinances
“Ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life” Promise of eternal life and exaltation

It is important to note that references to the covenants of chastity and consecration, as found in the modern endowment, are not explicitly stated in the text of King Benjamin’s sermon, although he does offer some allusion or possible reference to both principles. Benjamin may have had chastity in mind when he sternly warned his people, “Watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds” (Mosiah 4:30). Val Larsen has argued that the physical setting of the sermon included potent symbolism that provides “a framework within which we can perceive the sacred character and true purposes of human sexuality.”113

As it pertains to consecration, Benjamin reminded his hearers, “Ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father to render to him all that you have and are” (Mosiah 2:34). This passage echoes the Savior’s teachings in Matthew 22:17–22 with the famous rejoinder to “render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” On this, James E. Talmage insightfully commented, “Every human soul is stamped with the image and superscription of God . . . and as unto Caesar should be rendered the coins upon which his effigy appeared, so unto God should be given the souls that bear his image.” Therefore, “Give unto God and His service, yourselves—the divine mintage of His eternal realm.”114

Although there are some possible allusions to chastity and consecration, King Benjamin does not refer directly to either term nor are the people placed under corresponding covenants. A possible explanation for this may be related to the limitations of the Mosaic Dispensation. Although it is generally believed that the Melchizedek [Page 25]priesthood was held by the kings and religious leaders of the Nephites before the coming of Christ, the people were under the dispensation of the law of Moses and were thereby generally limited to “the preparatory gospel,” meaning the blessings and covenants associated with the Aaronic priesthood (Doctrine and Covenants 84:19–27). The idea of an Aaronic priesthood endowment, restricted to its associated covenants and blessings, may seem unusual to modern Latter-day Saints, but this theoretical possibility was discussed by early Church leaders.115 Perhaps this could explain why there is less emphasis on the principles and covenants related to the Melchizedek priesthood in King Benjamin’s temple sermon.

If Benjamin was giving an Aaronic priesthood endowment, this may also account for the presence of children (Mosiah 2:5), which is in contrast to the modern temple endowment that is reserved for adults. Regardless, any children who entered into the covenant at the temple must have been sufficiently mature to understand because, as Mormon notes, “little children” were excluded from entering the covenant and taking upon them the name of Christ (Mosiah 6:2).

Of course, although there are many corresponding themes and shared purposes, we need not expect King Benjamin’s temple sermon and the modern temple endowment to be precisely the same. Like Catherine Thomas, I am suggesting that Benjamin’s sermon was arguably “something of a temple endowment”116 but not exactly what we would recognize as a temple endowment today. In fact, even in our dispensation the presentation of the endowment has changed, and sometimes in dramatic ways.117 Regardless, many temple themes are apparent in King Benjamin’s sermon.

Implications for Modern Readers of Benjamin’s Sermon

The presence of temple themes in King Benjamin’s sermon raises interesting implications for modern readers to consider about Joseph Smith’s prophetic abilities, the authenticity and antiquity of Latter-day Saint temple ordinances, and the role of temple worship and covenants in establishing a unified kingdom of God.

Witness of Joseph Smith

The earliest surviving written revelation of Joseph Smith (Doctrine and Covenants 3) was given in July 1828 in response to the loss of the 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon. The current majority view is that after the loss of the 116 pages, Joseph Smith began translating [Page 26]the Book of Mormon at the beginning of the book of Mosiah.118 Since “a few . . . pages” (Doctrine and Covenants 5:30) were translated before Oliver Cowdery’s arrival in Harmony, Pennsylvania, on April 5, 1829, King Benjamin’s sermon may have been translated as early as March 1829.119 Regardless of the exact timing, Benjamin’s sermon, situated in the initial chapters of the book of Mosiah, would have been among the earliest surviving texts produced by Joseph Smith with only sections 3–5 of the Doctrine and Covenants predating it.120

However, in a recent analysis, Clifford Jones has suggested that the Words of Mormon and a portion of the surviving book of Mosiah were translated before the loss of the 116 manuscript pages in June 1828.121 If this analysis is correct, King Benjamin’s sermon may have been translated by June 1828, making it the earliest extant, significant, theological text produced by Joseph Smith.

Whether translated by June 1828 or as late as April 1829, the book of Mosiah is one of the earliest extant texts produced by Joseph Smith, predating the Nauvoo endowment ceremony by at least thirteen years. Given the striking parallels between King Benjamin’s sermon and the endowment ceremony introduced by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, it becomes evident that the latter was not merely an innovative practice drawn solely from the wells of Masonic ritual. Instead, as Jeff Lindsay has aptly noted, Benjamin’s sermon contains many ancient patterns whose “significance and . . . relationship to each other was not appreciated in Joseph Smith’s day.”122

Joseph Smith’s involvement in Freemasonry, though likely influencing some of the symbols and language of the endowment, is an inadequate explanation for the origin and complexities of the endowment ceremony. The incorporation of elements of Masonic ritual into the endowment ceremony should not raise alarms for Latter-day Saints any more than the integration of language from the Bible, including anachronistic New Testament passages,123 into the Book of Mormon. In both instances, the prophet, guided by inspiration, drew upon available resources that corresponded to and enhanced the underlying ancient sources he was revealing.

The parallels to the modern endowment in King Benjamin’s sermon attest that temple themes are truly ancient in origin. Imagining Joseph Smith or anyone else crafting a discourse resembling King Benjamin’s sermon, complete with skillfully intertwined allusions and unmistakable parallels to a complex, esoteric temple ritual that he would not administer for at least another decade, strains credulity. As demonstrated by [Page 27]Brian Hales, the evidence does not support the theory that Joseph Smith possessed the skills or education necessary to compose the text of the Book of Mormon.124 King Benjamin’s temple sermon stands as a very early, profound, and eloquent witness of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling.

Covenants bring unity

One of Benjamin’s underlying reasons for gathering his people at the temple seems to have been to more fully and permanently unite the Mulekites and the Nephites (see Appendix). Ultimately, King Benjamin’s success in uniting his people under a single name (“Christ”) and common identity (“the children of Christ”) was successful but transient. Unfortunately, “many of the rising generation . . . being little children at the time [King Benjamin] spake . . . did not believe” and became “a separate people . . . ever after” (Mosiah 26:1–4). It would only be after the coming of the resurrected Christ that all the people finally became “in one, the children of Christ, and heirs of the kingdom of God” with no “manner of -ites” among them (4 Nephi 1:17).

Like the Nephites and Mulekites, today individuals of widely diverse backgrounds can be united, sealed by God and to each other, through receiving and honoring covenants made in the holy temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As they do so, they become “child[ren] of the covenant” and “disciple[s] of Jesus Christ”125 by taking upon themselves the name and the authority of Christ.126

Like the exiled Nephites among the Mulekites, the modern people of the Lord may be “few” in “numbers” (1 Nephi 14:12) and “strangers and pilgrims on earth” (Hebrews 11:13), yet they still can be “armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory” (1 Nephi 14:14). As taught by President Russell M. Nelson,

Every woman and every man who makes covenants with God and keeps those covenants, and who participates worthily in priesthood ordinances, has direct access to the power of God. Those who are endowed in the house of the Lord receive a gift of God’s priesthood power.127

This divine power will enable them to build up a worldwide “kingdom of priests, an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6) in preparation for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the true “King of Israel” (John 1:49) and “Priest . . . after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 5:6).

As men and women of all nationalities and cultures worthily make [Page 28]and faithfully keep temple covenants, they become “in one, the children of Christ,” “his sons, and his daughters,” and “heirs of the kingdom of God” (4 Nephi 1:17; Mosiah 5:7). As “heirs of the kingdom,” they are preparing to “become kings [and queens] and priests [and priestesses] unto the most high God” to “rule and reign with him forever.”128 In that day, Benjamin’s vision of a unified kingdom that “shall stand forever” will finally be fully realized (Daniel 2:44; see also Doctrine and Covenants 65), and “that evil spirit” (Mosiah 2:37, 4:14), “who is the father of contention” (3 Nephi 11:29), will have “no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth” (1 Nephi 22:26) as the “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16).

Appendix: The Nephite-Mulekite Merger

When the Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians ca. 721 BC, many of the inhabitants fled south to Jerusalem, the capital city of the Kingdom of Judah.129 Despite far outnumbering the native citizens of Jerusalem,130 the Israelite refugees submitted to the Judahite establishment including the Levitical priesthood. It has been hypothesized that, as a means of integrating these new exiles, scribes revised their scriptures to include elements from the religious texts and traditions of the northern kingdom.131

Over time, the Israelite refugees of the Assyrian exile were subsumed into the dominant Jewish culture at Jerusalem, and many lost memory of their ancestral heritage. This was certainly the case for Lehi, who, “having dwelt at Jerusalem all his days” (1 Nephi 1:4), came to “[know] that he was a descendant of Joseph” (1 Nephi 5:14) and of the tribe of Manassah (Alma 10:3) only after searching the brass plates.

About five centuries after the Assyrian exile, as led by their prophet Mosiah1, whose name may have meant “the Lord delivers/saves,”132 a portion of Lehi’s Nephite descendants were “warned of the Lord” to leave their promised land of Nephi (Omni 1:12). As indicated by Mosiah’s name, the Lord delivered the Nephites as they took sanctuary among Jews, the Mulekites, who descended from the royal Davidic line (vv. 13–14; Helaman 8:21). A brief comparison of these Nephite refugees and their Assyrian-exiled Israelite ancestors reveals intriguing reversals.

In contrast to their ancestors’ flight southward to Judah, these New World Israelites fled northward to a New World Judah in the land of [Page 29]Mulek (Helaman 6:10). Moreover, the displaced Nephites were a much smaller group than those who took them in (Mosiah 25:2). Like their exiled Israelite ancestors, the immigrating Nephites brought their scriptures with them, but they incorporated the oral traditions of their Mulekite hosts into their records (Omni 1:17–18). In a particularly surprising reversal, the migrant Nephites did not submit to the existing Mulekite authority; instead, by making Mosiah1 their king, the Mulekites ceded all governing authority to them (v. 19).

Richley Crapo argues that the Mushite priesthood, equivalent to what Latter-day Saints would call the Melchizedek priesthood, had been operative in the Kingdom of Israel before the Assyrian exile. He suggests that the Nephite priesthood, religious practices, and scriptural texts may have been more reflective of this older religious tradition from the pre-exilic Kingdom of Israel than those of the Kingdom of Judah at the time of Lehi’s departure.133 This would mean that Mosiah1 represented this older religious tradition and higher priesthood. Therefore, the union of the Nephites and Mulekites under his rule would have been a shift to Melchizedek priesthood governance and religious practices for the Mulekites in another reversal from when the refugee Israelites submitted to the Levitical priesthood and religious practices of Jerusalem.

In one final reversal, the Mulekite identity was ultimately subsumed into the identity of the Nephites (Mosiah 25:13). The reverse symmetry of these two exile accounts is inescapable (see Table 3).

Table 3. Assyrian exile compared to Nephite exile.

Assyrian Exile Nephite Exile
Israelites fled southward to Jewish Jerusalem Nephites fled northward to Mulekite/Jewish Zarahemla
Refugees outnumbered natives Natives outnumbered refugees
Refugees’ scriptures and traditions were integrated into natives’ records Natives’ traditions were integrated into refugees’ records
Refugees submitted to natives’ royalty Natives ceded royal powers to refugees
Refugees embraced natives’ Levitical priesthood and religious practices Natives embraced refugees’ Melchizedek priesthood and religious practices
Refugees’ identity subsumed by natives Natives’ identity subsumed by refugees

These reversals suggest that the Nephite exile was an antitype of [Page 30]the Assyrian exile when Israel was scattered. Thus, the Nephites and Mulekites may have seen their unification as a partial gathering and restoration of the kingdom of Israel in a new promised land. As Grant Hardy noted,

Their union in the New World under a single king, Mosiah1, could have been depicted as a partial fulfillment of the prophecies and hopes of the biblical generations riven by conquest and exile. For example, desires for a reunification of the peoples of Judah and Israel (led by the Ephraimite branch of Joseph) can be seen in Hosea 1:10–11, Isaiah 11:12–13, Jeremiah 50:4–5, and Ezekiel 37:15–28.134

Since the manuscript pages that contained the original two chapters of the book of Mosiah were lost,135 a more detailed account of the merger of the Nephites and Mulekites was likely lost with them. Why the Mulekites, who boasted the royal Davidic line through Zedekiah, would willingly relinquish their rights of kingship in favor of the minority immigrant Nephites may never be entirely clear.136 However, there are a few textual clues. For instance, the Mulekites, who “had had many wars and serious contentions” (Omni 1:17) before the Nephites’ arrival, may have welcomed Mosiah1’s leadership as a messianic figure who could “deliver” or “save”137 them from their enemies. Val Larsen has proposed the possibility of marital union between Mosiah1 (or his son Benjamin) and the daughter of a Mulekite king as a contributing factor to the unification of the two groups.138

Additionally, Mosiah1’s possession of the brass plates and his ability to read their common sacred history likely contributed to their union (Omni 1:14; Mosiah 1:1–7).139 Possessing these records would have been a powerful symbol of his royal and priestly authority. Likewise, his ability to teach language (Omni 1:18; Mosiah 1:2) and translate ancient records as a seer (Omni 1:20)—which seership was the greatest divine authority available to humans on earth (Mosiah 8:13–19)—would have been impressive manifestations of divine power. A recognition of Mosiah1’s spiritual authority and priesthood, which was greater than that of the Levites, may have been a factor in their decision to “unite together” and name him “to be their king” (Omni 1:19).

Although the text suggests this was a welcome arrangement, John Sorenson proposed that the continuing “‘contentions’ and ‘dissensions’ in Nephite society were in part led by unhappy descendants of Zarahemla who considered that they were not given their due [Page 31]when Mosiah became king.”140 This theory is supported by linguistic evidence that the Mulekites were the principal agitators in Nephites’ ongoing struggles “to retain a free government against groups that sought to re-establish a monarchy.”141

These troubles were evident well into the reign of their second king, Benjamin,142 who had to grapple with significant opposition, including the rise of “false Christs” or messiahs and “much contention and many dissensions away unto the Lamanites” (Words of Mormon 1:15–16). Hardy observes,

Given the recent union of Nephites and Mulekites, there may have been people from the latter group claiming the rights of kingship, since the title messiah was often used in the OT to refer to human kings, particularly in the line of David.143

Part of King Benjamin’s strategy for dealing with such dissensions was to draw a distinction between his kingship and the Davidic kings of Judah. It was the heavy taxes levied by King Solomon and his son King Rehoboam that led to the secession of Israel from Judah (1 Kings 12:1– 16). In contrast, Benjamin, who may have had ties to both Mulekite and Nephite royalty through intermarriage, insisted that his people “should not be laden with taxes” (Mosiah 2:14).144 Perhaps he sought to strengthen the ties of the Israelite-Nephites and the Jewish-Mulekites under his rule by intentionally recognizing and reversing the injustices that caused the original rupture between their two ancestral lines.

Regardless of the causes and strategies involved in the Nephite-Mulekite merger, there had been ongoing wars and dissensions among King Benjamin’s people. It was only “by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul” that there was “once more . . . peace in the land” (Words of Mormon 1:18). This was the state of affairs when King Benjamin ascended his tower to announce that his son would be king and to give his people a new name and royal identity.

[Author’s Note: I wish to thank Don Bradley, without whose encouragement this article would never have been written. Thanks, also, to my friends Scot Talbert and Pablo Zubeldia for discussing these ideas with me in the Church foyer and spurring me on. I am indebted to several friends and anonymous reviewers who offered insights and suggestions that greatly enhanced this article. I especially acknowledge the skillful guidance of Godfrey Ellis, Associate Editor of Interpreter, whose consecrated professionalism is unsurpassed.]

[Page 32]1. Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera, eds., Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842–1845: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005), 2.
2. Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, vol. 1, The Standard of Truth: 1815–1846 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2018), 453–54.
3. Out of profound respect for temple ordinances and covenants, this article does not “disclose or describe the special symbols associated with the covenants we receive in sacred temple ceremonies. Neither [does it] discuss the holy information that we specifically promise in the temple not to reveal.” David A. Bednar, “Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing,” Ensign, May 2019, 103,
4. “Masonry,” Church History Topics, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
5. For a thorough overview of this perspective and counterarguments, see Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Freemasonry and the Origins of Latter-day Saint Temple Ordinances (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation, 2022), which is an expanded version of Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “Freemasonry and the Origins of Modern Temple Ordinances,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 15 (2015): 159–237,
6. Don Bradley, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision as Endowment and Epitome of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (or Why I Came Back to the Church),” (paper presented at the 2019 FairMormon Conference, Provo, Utah, August 7, 2019),
7. Don Bradley, “Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages,” (paper presented at the 2012 FairMormon Conference, Sandy, Utah, August 3, 2012), [Page 33]; Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2019), 193–240.
8. George L. Mitton, “Joseph Smith at the Veil: Significant Ritual, Symbolism, and Temple Influence at Latter-day Saint Beginnings,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 58 (2023): 51–106,
9. Ibid., 87.
10. John W. Welch, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount: A Latter-day Saint Approach (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 34–83.
11. Valiant K. Jones, The Covenant Path: Finding the Temple in the Book of Mormon (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2020).
12. M. Catherine Thomas, “The Brother of Jared at the Veil,” in Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism, ed. Donald W. Parry (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: FARMS, 1994), 397.
13. M. Catherine Thomas, “Benjamin and the Mysteries of God,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom,” ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 277.
14. Ibid., 292.
15. David E. Bokovoy, “‘Thou Knowest That I Believe’: Invoking The Spirit of the Lord as Council Witness in 1 Nephi 11,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 1 (2012): 1–23,
16. David E. Bokovoy, “Ancient Temple Imagery in the Sermons of Jacob,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 46 (2021): 31–46,
17. Kimberly Matheson Berkey, Helaman: A Brief Theological Introduction (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2020), 42.
18. Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “The Book of Moses as a Temple Text,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 49 (2021): 63–112,
19. For a concise summary, see Figure 6 in Ibid., 75.
20. Barry R. Bickmore, “‘Show Them unto No Man,’ Part 2: The Book of Moses and the Early Jewish Christian Esoteric Tradition,” BYU Studies 62 (2023), 131,
21. Val Larsen and Newell D. Wright, “Theosis in the Book of Mormon: The Work and Glory of the Father, Mother and Son, and Holy Ghost,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 56 (2023): 275–326,
22. Margaret Barker, Temple Theology: An Introduction (London: SPCK, 2004), 23.
23. John W. Welch, “The Temple in the Book of Mormon: The Temples at the Cities of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Bountiful,” in Temples of the Ancient World, 297–387; LeGrand L. Baker and Stephen D. Ricks, Who Shall Ascend Into the Hill of the Lord?: The Psalms in Israel’s Temple Worship in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Eborn Books, 2010); Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Temple Themes in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Eborn Books, 2014); Joseph M. Spencer, The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016), 167–78; Matthew L. Bowen, “‘I Have Done According to My Will’: Reading Jacob 5 as a Temple Text,” in The Temple Ancient and Restored: Proceedings of the Second Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference “The Temple on Mount Zion,” 25 October 2014, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and Donald W. Perry (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation; Salt Lake City: Eborn Books, 2016), 235–72; Jeffrey M Bradshaw, “What Did Joseph Smith Know about Modern Temple Ordinances by 1836?,” in Temple Ancient and Restored, 1–122; Bruce C. Hafen and Marie K. Hafen, “Adam, Eve, the Book of Moses, and the Temple: The Story of Receiving Christ’s Atonement,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 46 (2021): 157–200,; Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, The First Days and The Last Days: A Verse-by-Verse Commentary on the Book of Moses and JS-Matthew in Light of the Temple (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation; Salt Lake City: Eborn Books, 2021); Matthew L. Bowen, “‘Encircled About Eternally in the Arms of His Love’: The Divine Embrace as a Thematic Symbol of Jesus Christ and His Atonement in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 59 (2023): 109–34,; and Skyler R. Smith, “Heavenly Ascent in Jacob’s Writings in Second Nephi: Addressing the Question of What the Plan of Salvation is in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 60 (2024): 137–82,
24. Margaret Barker, The Older Testament: The Survival of Themes from Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and Early Christianity (London: SPCK, 1987); On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Temple Symbolism in the New Testament (London: T&T Clark, 1995); The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London: T&T Clark, 2003); Temple Theology; The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God (London: SPCK, 2007); Temple Themes in Christian Worship (London: T&T Clark, 2007); The Gate of Heaven: The History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2008); Temple Mysticism: An Introduction (London: SPCK, 2011); King of the Jews: Temple Theology in John’s Gospel (London: SPCK, 2014).
25. For a thorough overview of Margaret Barker’s work as it relates to Latter-day Saint scholarship, see Kevin Christensen, “Twenty Years After ‘Paradigms Regained,’ Part 1: The Ongoing, Plain, and Precious Significance of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship for Latter-day Saint Studies,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 54 (2022): 1–64,; and Kevin Christensen, “Twenty Years After ‘Paradigms Regained,’ Part 2: Responding to Margaret Barker’s Critics and Why Her Work Should Matter to Latter-day Saints,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 55 (2023): 31–106,
26. Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: FARMS, 1989), 567. Thanks to Godfrey Ellis for bringing this quote to my attention.
27. D. John Butler, The Goodness and the Mysteries: On the Path of the Book of Mormon’s Visionary Men (self-pub., 2012), 1.
28. The word Mulekite does not appear in the Book of Mormon text but has been traditionally used for “the people of Zarahemla” who were descendants of Mulek.
29. Lyle Hamblin, “Proper Names and Political Claims: Semitic Echoes as Foundations for Claims to the Nephite Throne,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 60 (2024): 409–44,
30. The complexities of the Nephite-Mulekite merger and their history of divisions and conflicts likely contributed to the purposes and rhetoric of King Benjamin’s temple sermon. However, as these issues are somewhat tangential to the main discussion, the discussion has been placed in the appendix.
31. Hamblin, “Proper Names and Political Claims,” 420.
32. John W. Welch, “Benjamin, the Man: His Place in Nephite History,” in King Benjamin’s Speech, 35.
33. This gathering may have coincided with the Feast of Tabernacles or some other important Israelite festival. John A. Tvedtnes, “King Benjamin and the Feast of Tabernacles,” in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 2:197–237; Terrence L. Szink andJohn W. Welch, “King Benjamin’s Speech in the Context of Ancient Israelite Festivals,” in King Benjamin’s Speech, 147–223; and Shon D. Hopkin, “Representing the Divine Ascent: The Day of Atonement in Christian and Nephite Scripture and Practice,” in Temple Ancient and Restored, 337–60.
34. Sorenson postulates that the gathering may have exceeded 20,000 people. John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: FARMS, 1985), 156–57.
35. Noah Webster, ed., An American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828 facsimile ed. (San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, 2010), s.v. “trifle.”
36. The word mystery is “from Latin mysterium ‘secret rite, secret worship; a sacrament, a secret thing.’ This is from Greek mystērion (usually in plural mysteria) ‘secret rite or doctrine (known and practiced by certain initiated persons only) . . . from mystēs ‘one who has been initiated,’ from myein ‘to close, shut’ . . . perhaps referring to the lips (in secrecy) or to the eyes (only initiates were allowed to see the sacred rites).” Etymonline Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “mystery,”
37. Samuel I. Thomas, The “Mysteries” of Qumran: Mystery, Secrecy, and Esotericism in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009).
38. Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), 44, 80; and Andrew I. Miller, “‘Able to Know Heavenly Things:’ The Ante-Nicene Mysteries and their New Testament Sources,” FairMormon Papers and Reviews 2 (2015): 1–13,
39. Bednar, “Prepared to Obtain.”
40. For an excellent discussion of the meaning of sôd and how it may relate to the temple endowment, see William J. Hamblin, “The Sôd of YHWH and the Endowment,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 38 (2020): 39–46,
41. Bowen, “I Have Done,” 233–72, esp. 238–40.
42. Matthew L. Bowen, “Becoming Men and Women of Understanding: Wordplay on Benjamin—An Addendum,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 36 (2020), 249,
43. Raymond E. Brown, “The Semitic Background of the New Testament Mysterion (I)” Biblica 39, no. 4 (1958): 426–48, esp. 429,; and Stephen O. Smoot, “The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 161,
44. Larsen and Wright, “Theosis,” 289–304; Smith, “Heavenly Ascent in Jacob’s Writings in Second Nephi.”
45. William J. Hamblin, “Temple Motifs in Jewish Mysticism,” in Temples of the Ancient World, 440–76. See also Smith, “Heavenly Ascent in Jacob’s Writings in Second Nephi.”
46. Martha Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven in Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (New York: Oxford, 1993), 14.
47. Webster, American Dictionary, s.v. “unfold.”
48. Daniel C. Peterson, “Priesthood in Mosiah,” in The Book of Mormon: Mosiah, Salvation Only Through Christ, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr. (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1991), 187–210; Robert L. Millet, “Holy Order of God,” in The Book of Mormon: Alma, the Testimony of the Word, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 1992), 61–88; and Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 599. For an alternative view, see Avram R. Shannon, “After Whose Order? Kingship and Priesthood in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly 60, no. 4 (2021): 75–91.
49. Grant Hardy, The Annotated Book of Mormon (New York: Oxford, 2023), 348.
50. Ibid, 233.
51. Their “walk before God” may be suggestive of temple worship. Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and David J. Larsen, In God’s Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel (Salt Lake City: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2014), 64.
52. Stephen D. Ricks, “Liturgy and Cosmogony: The Ritual Use of Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East,” in Temples of the Ancient World, 118–25.
53. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 71.
54. Donald W. Parry, “Garden of Eden: Prototype Sanctuary,” in Temples of the Ancient World, 126.
55. Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven, 4.
56. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 117.
57. Naftali S. Cohn, “The Tabernacle, the Creation, and the Ideal of an Orderly World,” (website),
58. Barker, Gate of Heaven, 57.
59. Ibid., 68.
60. Shara Drimalla, “Were Adam and Eve Priests in Eden?: Humanity as Priests in God’s Cosmic Temple,” BibleProject (website), April 9, 2021,; William J. Hamblin and David Rolf Seely, Solomon’s Temple: Myth and History (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2007), 13–14.
61. G. K. Beale, “Adam as the First Priest in Eden as the Garden Temple,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 22, no. 2 (2018), 10–11.
62. Walton, Adam and Eve, 104–15.
63. Walton, Genesis One, 67.
64. Ibid., 68.
65. Jonathan A. Stapley, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (New York: Oxford, 2018), 85.
66. Walton, Genesis One, 68.
67. Gospel and glad tidings are interchangeable since both mean “good news.” Webster, American Dictionary, s.v. “tidings.”
68. The name Christ is used by the angel seven times, which may denote the completeness or perfection of the name and whom it identifies (Mosiah 3:8, 12, 13, 16–19).
69. The fact the name Christ had already been revealed centuries earlier raises the question of why an angel would need to reveal it again to Benjamin. Val Larsen argues that King Benjamin’s sermon was a restoration or renewal of the gospel among the Nephites. Val Larsen, “Josiah to Zoram to Sherem to Jarom and the Big Little Book of Omni,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 44 (2021): 246–47,
70. Richard J. Clifford, “The Temple and the Holy Mountain,” in The Temple in Antiquity: Ancient Records and Modern Perspectives, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984), 107–24.
71. This reference was later edited to read Messiah by Joseph Smith in the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon. Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part One: 1 Nephi 1—2 Nephi 10 (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004), 258–59; See also 2 Nephi 25:19.
72. In our technical society, most scholars are quick to point out that Jesus is a name and Christ is a title. The ancients didn’t necessarily see it that way and references can be found to Jesus Christ as a name (Ether 3:14; Moroni 3:3, 4:3) and even to Christ as a name (2 Nephi 10:3). In this paper I’ve often referred to Christ as a name, following the scriptural precedent. This is a choice on my part, and I recognize that it can be correct to use “name” and “title” interchangably when referring to the word Christ.
73. Messiah is used in 1 Nephi 1:19; 10:4–5, 7, 9–11, 14, 17; 15:13; 2 Nephi 1:10; 2 Nephi 2:6, 8, 26; 3:5; 6:13–14; 25:14, 16, 18–19; 26:3; Jarom 1:11; Mosiah 13:33; Helaman 8:13.
74. For a discussion on this topic, see Edward J. Brandt, “The Name Jesus Christ Revealed to the Nephites,” in The Book of Mormon: Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 201–6.
75. The use of a non-standard or esoteric word for the name of Deity, Ahman, occurs in modern revelation (D&C 78:20; 95:17). For a discussion on this name and the place name Adam-ondi-Ahman, see Alexander L. Baugh, “The History and Doctrine of the Adam-ondi-Ahman Revelation (D&C 116),” in Foundations of the Restoration: Fulfillment of the Covenant Purposes, ed. Craig James Ostler, Michael Hubbard MacKay, and Barbara Morgan Gardner (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2016), 157–87.
76. Hamblin, “Sôd of YHWH,” 147.
77. Barker, On Earth, 70–71.
78. Val Larsen sees this as a symbolic act of being birthed out of the womb, symbolized by tents, and thus being born again (“spiritually begotten”) as children of Christ (Mosiah 5:7). Val Larsen, “Prophet or Loss: Mosiah1/Zeniff, Benjamin/Noah, Mosiah2/Limhi and the Emergence of the Almas,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 60 (2024): 367–408,
79. Carnal, carnal state, and carnal nature are used to refer to the results of the Fall in Mosiah 16:3–5; 27:25; and Alma 22:13; 42:5–10. See also 2 Nephi 9:39; Mosiah 26:4; Alma 30:53; and Alma 41:11, 13.
80. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks, “Appendix: Complete Text of Benjamin’s Speech with Notes and Comments,” in King Benjamin’s Speech, 571.
81. Mark J. Morrise, “Simile Curses in the Ancient Near East, Old Testament, and Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2, no. 1 (1993): 124–38; Stephen D. Ricks, “Oaths and Oath Taking in the Old Testament,” in The Temple in Time and Eternity, ed. Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 43–53; and Jared T. Parker, “Cutting Covenants,” in The Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament, ed. D. Kelley Ogden, Jared W. Ludlow, and Kerry Muhlestein (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 109–28.
82. Szink and Welch, “Ancient Israelite Festivals,” 188.
83. Matthew L. Bowen, “Onomastic Wordplay on Joseph and Benjamin and Gezera Shawa in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 18 (2016), 265, See also Matthew L. Bowen, “Becoming Sons and Daughters at God’s Right Hand: King Benjamin’s Rhetorical Wordplay on His Own Name,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 21, no. 2 (2012): 6–7,
84. Dinah Dye, The Temple Revealed in the Garden: Priests and Kings (self-pub., 2017), 114.
85. Carmen Joy Imes, Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 49; and Barker, Temple Theology, 59.
86. Hamblin, “Temple Motifs,” 454–55.
87. Dallin H. Oaks, “Taking upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, May 1985,
88. Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), 98.
89. Stephen D. Ricks, “Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1–6,” in King Benjamin’s Speech, 252–53.
90. Bowen, “Men and Women of Understanding,” 269.
91. Walton, Adam and Eve, 33, 41–42.
92. Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God: The Meaning and Message of the Everlasting Names (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2005), 6–8.
93. Ibid., 8.
94. Brent J. Schmidt, Relational Faith: The Transformation and Restoration of Pistis as Knowledge, Trust, Confidence, and Covenantal Faithfulness (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2022), 93–94; and Russell M. Nelson, “Is It Necessary to Take the Sacrament with One’s Right Hand? Does it Really Make Any Difference Which Hand Is Used?,” Ensign, March 1983,
95. The priest or Melchizedek priesthood holder “raises his right arm to the square” while performing the baptism. General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (2023), 18.7.7,
96. “Members partake [of the sacrament] with their right hand when possible.” General Handbook, 18.9.4,
97. This is the only instance of the phrase “within the/my walls” in the Bible. The phrase only occurs twice in the Book of Mormon in the context of the temple: (1) in Mosiah 2:7 as noted above, and (2) in a passage describing the “fine work” wicked King Noah had done “within the walls of the temple” (Mosiah 11:10).
98. “The word hand is from the Hebrew yad; the KJV place is an incorrect translation.” Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry, and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1998), 496. See also Terry B. Ball, “Isaiah and the Latter-day Temple,” in An Eye of Faith: Essays in Honor of Richard O. Cowan, ed. Kenneth L. Alford and Richard E. Bennett (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2015), 31–45.
99. David J. Larsen, “Ascending into the Hill of the Lord: What the Psalms Can Tell Us About the Rituals of the First Temple,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 38 (2020): 27,
100. Bowen, “Onomastic Wordplay,” 257–59.
101. Ibid., 269.
102. William Foxwel Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan: A Historical Analysis of Two Contrasting Faiths (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968), 191–93; E. Theodore Mullen, Jr., The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1980); S. B. Parker, “Sons of (The) God(s),” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 794–800; Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council,” (self-pub., undated),; Smoot, “Divine Council,” 162; and Blake Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought, vol. 3, Of God and Gods (Salt Lake City: Kofford Books, 2008), 44–123.
103. Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and Matthew L. Bowen, “‘By the Blood Ye Are Sanctified’: The Symbolic, Salvific, Interrelated, Additive, Retrospective, and Anticipatory Nature of the Ordinances of Spiritual Rebirth in John 3 and Moses 6,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 24 (2017): 129,
104. Other Book of Mormon usages of seal include sealing records (Title Page; 1 Nephi 14:26; 2 Nephi 26:17; 27:7–8, 10–11, 15, 17, 21–22; 30:3, 17; 33:15; 3 Nephi 3:5; Ether 3:22–23, 27–28; 4:5; 5:1; Moroni 10:2), sealing testimony (2 Nephi 18:16; Mosiah 17:20), sealing power over the elements (Helaman 10:7), or, as an antitype, the devil sealing individuals as his (Alma 34:35).
105. D&C 132:19 that says that husbands and wives who are “sealed” will have power to “come forth in the first resurrection” and “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths . . . and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things.”
106. John Gee, “Book of Mormon Word Usage: ‘Seal You His,’” Insights: The Newsletter of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship 22, no. 1 (2002): 4.
107. Barker, Temple Theology, 59.
108. Imes, Bearing God’s Name, 50–51.
109. Ibid., 50.
110. For an interesting discussion of the word seal in Mosiah 5:15, see Bowen, “Becoming Sons and Daughters,” 8–10.
111. Barker, Temple Theology, 26.
112. “Draw Nearer to Christ,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
113. Val Larsen, “Prophet or Loss,” 381.
114. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 507.
115. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 10:309; Jerreld L. Newquist, ed., Gospel Truths, vol. 1, Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974), 227–28; Devery S. Anderson, ed., Salt Lake School of the Prophets 1867–1883 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2018), 469–70, 477–80.
116. Thomas, “Mysteries of God,” 292, emphasis added.
117. “Adjustments to Temple Work,” Church History Topics, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,; Jennifer Ann Mackley, Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine (self-pub., 2014); Devery S. Anderson, ed., The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846–2000: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011); and Danel W. Bachman and Kenneth W. Godfrey, “The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger,” BYU Studies Quarterly 36, no. 2 (1996): 245–49,
118. Brent Lee Metcalfe, “The Priority of Mosiah: A Prelude to Book of Mormon Exegesis,” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, ed. Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 396–407; Royal Skousen, “Critical Methodology and the Text of the Book of Mormon,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6 (1994): 135–39.
119. For a timeline, see John W. Welch, Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820–1844 (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 83–117.
120. Michael Hubbard MacKay et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, vol. 1, July 1828–June 1831 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2013), 4–22.
121. Clifford P. Jones, “That Which You Have Translated, Which You Have Retained,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 43 (2021): 1–64,
122. Jeff Lindsay, “King Benjamin’s Speech: Forget Solomon Spaulding, Ethan Smith, and Shakespeare,” Arise from the Dust (blog), October 29, 2005, See also Jeff Lindsay, “King Benjamin’s Speech and Parallels to Ancient Farewell Addresses,” Arise from the Dust (blog), September 22, 2005,
123. Nicholas J. Frederick, “The Language of Paul in the Book of Mormon,” in They Shall Grow Together: The Bible in the Book of Mormon, ed. Charles Swift and Nicholas J. Frederick (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2022), 205–34; Nicholas J. Frederick, “The Book of Mormon and Its Redaction of the King James New Testament: A Further Evaluation of the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 27, no. 1 (2018): 44–87.
124. Brian C. Hales, “Joseph Smith’s Education and Intellect as Described in Documentary Sources,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 59 (2023): 1–32,
125. Russell M. Nelson, “Choices for Eternity,” (worldwide devotional broadcast, May 15, 2022),
126. Oaks, “Name of Jesus Christ.”
127. Russell M. Nelson, “Spiritual Treasures,” Ensign, November 2019, 77,
128. LeGrand Richards, “Heaven Doesn’t Matter,” (BYU devotional, October 16, 1973),
129. “At the end of the 8th century, the city mushroomed. . . . This growth was probably the result of the arrival in Jerusalem of Israelite refugees who fled south after the fall of the northern kingdom to the Assyrians in 721 B.C.” Magen Broshi, “Estimating the Population of Ancient Jerusalem,” Biblical Archaeology Review 2 (June 1978): 10–15,
130. “This influx of northern refugees (and likely some refugees from western Judea) caused the city of Jerusalem to swell to about 25,000 [from 2,000–5,000]. These refugees and their descendants made up more than 80 percent of the total population of the walled city.” Richley Crapo, “Lehi, Joseph, and the Kingdom of Israel,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 294,
131. Richard Elliott Friedman, The Bible with Sources Revealed: A New View into the Five Books of Moses (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 4.
132. Book of Mormon Onomasticon, s.v. “Mosiah,” last edited October 7, 2023,
133. Crapo, “Kingdom of Israel,” 289–304.
134. Hardy, Annotated Book of Mormon, 226.
135. Jack M. Lyon and Kent R. Minson, “When Pages Collide: Dissecting the Words of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 4 (2012): 124–26,
136. For a recent analysis of this merger, see Hamblin, “Proper Names and Political Claims.”
137. Book of Mormon Onomasticon, s.v. “Mosiah.”
138. Larsen, “Prophet or Loss,” 392; and Val Larsen, “In His Footsteps: Ammon1 and Ammon2,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 3 (2013): 100,
139. Val Larsen argues, “Mosiah1 probably became the combined people’s king because . . . he had a documented key possession, the Brass Plates, and the ability to read from them the two peoples’ shared history.” Larsen, “Prophet or Loss,” 392.
140. John L. Sorenson, “The ‘Mulekites,’” Brigham Young University Studies 30, no. 3 (1990): 17.
141. Hamblin, “Proper Names and Political Claims,” 7.
142. John W. Welch proposed that the name Benjamin may have had an intentional conciliatory meaning for the two recently consolidated groups. Welch, “Benjamin, the Man,” 25–26.
143. Hardy, Annotated Book of Mormon, 216.
144. Although King Benjamin did not know about King Noah in the land of Nephi (Mosiah 7:1), it is likely that Mormon, as the editor of the Book of Mormon, was drawing a contrast between the righteous King Benjamin and the wicked King Noah (Larsen, “Prophet or Loss,” 376–90). In other words, King Benjamin may have been contrasting his reign to kings of the Old Testament, but Mormon, as the editor and crafter of the text, was likely contrasting Benjamin’s reign to King Noah’s.
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About Andrew Miller

Andrew I. Miller was born and raised outside of St. Louis, Missouri. He earned a BA in Spanish from SVU, a MA in Spanish from BYU, and an Ed.S. in K-12 Leadership from Northwest Missouri State University. Since 1997, he has actively engaged in online dialogues with critics of the restored gospel, and he has volunteered with FAIR since 2012. Andrew served a mission in Córdoba Argentina, has served as a bishop, and currently serves as the stake Young Men’s president. His most significant accomplishments are Jamie, Joseph, Grace, Seth, and Eliza.

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