Flaming Sword and God’s Justice

The Flaming Sword and the Justice of God

After Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, God “drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24). What could this “flaming sword” represent? The Book of Mormon has the key.

Lehi saw a vision of the tree of life (See 1 Nephi 8). He related this vision to his family. Nephi was moved by the dream and “was desirous also that [he] might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (1 Nephi 10:17).

“For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot. And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou? And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw” (1 Nephi 11:1-3).

Nephi then sees, among many other things, the tree of life and its interpretation. He sees a great gulf that separates the wicked from the righteous (Compare Luke 16:26). He also sees a large and spacious building filled with wicked people. He is then told, “And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the sword* of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever” (1 Nephi 12:18. *word is corrected to read sword in accordance with the original manuscript).

This gulf that separates the wicked and the righteous is here referred to as “the sword of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God.” This sword could very well be the same sword spoken of in Genesis 3:24. The sword is “the sword of the justice of the Eternal God” and therefore represents God’s justice. Adam and Eve, being symbols for all mankind, transgressed the law of God and were therefore prohibited by justice from returning to God’s presence and partaking of the tree of life.

Further this sword of justice is equated directly to “a terrible gulf” (see 1 Nephi 12:18). Interestingly, Nephi later equates the gulf God’s justice again and uses more imagery from Genesis 3:24—the imagery of flaming fire. “And I said unto them that it was an awful gulf, which separated the wicked from the tree of life, and also from the saints of God….And I said unto them that our father also saw that the justice of God did also divide the wicked from the righteous; and the brightness thereof was like unto the brightness of a flaming fire, which ascendeth up unto God forever and ever, and hath no end” (1 Nephi 15:28, 30).

Now that man has been cast out of God’s presence and justice separates man from God’s presence, what is to be done? How can we cross this “gulf” that separates us from God and the tree of life? The Book of Mormon answers that question authoritatively.

Lehi said to his wicked sons: “O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe” (2 Nephi 1:13).

The once wicked but now saved Ammon exclaimed: “Behold, we went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church. Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair? Oh, my soul, almost as it were, fleeth at the thought. Behold, he did not exercise his justice upon us, but in his great mercy hath brought us over that everlasting gulf of death and misery, even to the salvation of our souls” (Alma 26:18-20).

“Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name. Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked— And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out” (Helaman 3:27-30).

“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Helaman 5:12).

As we can see in each of these verses, mercy is juxtaposed to justice. It is by the mercy of Jesus Christ that those who believe on his name and build on his foundation can cross that “everlasting gulf of misery” and be spared from “the sword of the justice of God.” It is only after we “wake up” and realize the seriousness of the justice of God that we can be freed from the oppressive powers of Satan and hell.

Further Book of Mormon scriptures on the topic:

“And he said unto them: Behold, I, Samuel, a Lamanite, do speak the words of the Lord which he doth put into my heart; and behold he hath put it into my heart to say unto this people that the sword of justice hangeth over this people; and four hundred years pass not away save the sword of justice falleth upon this people” (Helaman 13:5).

“Behold, I would tell you somewhat concerning the justice of God, and the sword of his almighty wrath, which doth hang over you except ye repent and withdraw your armies into your own lands, or the land of your possessions, which is the land of Nephi” (Alma 54:6).

“And it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that the sword of my justice shall hang over them at that day; and except they repent it shall fall upon them, saith the Father, yea, even upon all the nations of the Gentiles” (3 Nephi 20:20).

“And when ye shall see these sayings coming forth among you, then ye need not any longer spurn at the doings of the Lord, for the sword of his justice is in his right hand; and behold, at that day, if ye shall spurn at his doings he will cause that it shall soon overtake you” (3 Nephi 29:4).

“Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you; and the time soon cometh that he avengeth the blood of the saints upon you, for he will not suffer their cries any longer” (Mormon 8:41).

“Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be” (Ether 8:23).


The Merits of Jesus

The Book of Mormon also teaches that it is by Christ’s merits alone, and not our own, that we are saved.

“Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise” (2 Nephi 2:8).

“And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19).

“And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory; and Aaron did expound all these things unto the king” (Alma 22:14).

“And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son” (Alma 24:10).

“And if ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits” (Helaman 14:13).

“And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith” (Moroni 6:4).

These scriptures teach us that it is the merits of Christ that save us, not our own. Fallen man cannot “merit anything of himself.” Even after baptism we are to rely “alone upon the merits of Christ” and not our own merits for our salvation. Truly, it is Christ and his merits that save.

Proof Texts for Trinity Refuted

Latter-day Saints have long been criticized for our rejection of the post-Biblical concepts of the Trinity. One such post-Biblical concept is the idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are ontologically one Being who is three persons. In contrast, LDS believe that the the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three persons and three distinct beings. While mainstream/traditional Christians maintain that the three persons of the Trinity are in reality only one Being and one God, LDS Christians affirm that there are in fact three Beings who are one in glory, power, might, dominion, mind, will, knowledge, attributes, etc. In LDS thought the three persons of the Trinity are one in every conceivable way except their identity or being.

Over the years some of my non-LDS Christian friends have listed a few different New Testament passages in support of their concept of the Trinity. I will here quote them and then comment on why they do not reflect post-Biblical Trinitarian notions and show how they often are more congruous with the LDS concept of the Godhead.

John 10:30

“I and my Father are one.”

This verse does not say that they are “same being.” This text does not say how they are one at all. Fortunately for us, John later records Jesus’ teaching on how He and his Father are one. “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as (kathos) we are…Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as (kathos) thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as (kathos) we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:11, 20-23).

Jesus here makes clear that his disciples can be one even as (kathos) He and his Father are one. The Greek kathos means just as or how (See Strong’s). In other words, Jesus prayed that they may be one just as He and his Father are one. If Jesus and his Father are one being manifest in two persons, for Jesus’ prayer to be fulfilled his disciples must loose their identity and become absorbed into the Trinity! Assuming that a Billion or more will be saved (just for fun)–what will that make? A “Billinity”?

So how are Jesus and his Father one, according to Jesus? The key is in verse 22: “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that(hina) they may be one, even as we are one.” The Greek word hina translated “that” literally means in order that (See Strong’s). Jesus and his Father share the same glory and are thus one. Jesus prayed that his disciples may receive Their glory in order that they may be one with Them.

There is no other passage of scripture in the Bible that defines how Jesus and his Father are one. The later post-Biblical doctrine that define the Trinity as one being in three persons is not derived from the Bible but is added to it.

John 14:10-11
“Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.”

As seen above, Jesus prayed that his disciples “all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee,” but one need not go to a different sermon of Jesus to find this. He refers to this very concept in the same sermon. In verse 20 he said, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). If Jesus meant for us to interpret “the Father […] dwelleth in me” and “I am in the Father, and the Father in me” as “My Father and I are the same Being,” did He also intend for us to interpret “I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” that we, He, and His Father are all one ontological being? This, of course, is absurd.

To complicate the issue further, Jesus concludes his sermon by saying “my Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Such talk is nonsense if He and His Father are the same being.

Colossians 2:9
“For in [Christ] dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”

Some have interpreted this scripture as meaning that all of the Trinity somehow dwelt in the person of Jesus in an ontological union of being as defined in the post-Biblical creeds. We’ll now investigate that.

First, one must understand that “Godhead” in 16th century English means “deity” or “godhood.” The Greek word is theotes which means “divinity.” This passage would better be rendered for our modern readers as “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (ESV). The scripture, therefore, is not stating that all of the members of the Trinity dwelt in Christ, but that Christ was fully and completely divine.

Something else the critics overlook is the following verse. “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.” The word translated as “complete” is the adjective form of the noun translated as “fullness” in the previous verse. For this reason, it is better translated “And you have a fullness in him…” This verse, understood this way, teaches that the fullness of divinity that was in Jesus can also be in us. This fullness was not reserved for Jesus only, but for all. Therefore, this scripture cannot be rightly interpreted to support the idea that God is three persons yet one being.

The doctrine of the saints receiving a fullness of God is reflected in another scripture authored by Paul. “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

1 John 5:7
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”

This one is the most fascinating. Why? Because it is almost universally recognized as being an interpolation (addition) to scripture that wasn’t actually written by the original author (See Metzger, Bruce. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 647-649).

Even if the text were authentic, which it probably is not, it does not define how the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost are one. For such a definition one must turn to John 17 which clearly shows they are not ontologically one being, but one in glory.

Any other proof texts for the Trinity or comments are welcome. Thanks!

Men and God–One Species

Paul tells us in Acts 17:22-29 basic nature of God and our relationship to him. Please read carefully.

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.

Now, may I ask, Paul, why shouldn’t we think of God as gold, silver, or stone, etc? What is the logic in your statement?

I think Paul would say “We are God’s offspring. We are, therefore, what he is. He is what we are. Therefore, we shouldn’t think of him as anything else like gold, silver, or something created by man.” That’s what this scripture seems to say to me in very plain terms.

Now, if we’re the offspring of God, he cannot be anything but what we are! His logic is as clear as can be. To interpret any other way is to destroy the meaning of his logic.

Further, God is not “unknown” or unknowable like the Athens thought. Many today also teach that he is unknowable, or inconceivable by nature. Does this imply that the mainstream Christian idea of God as being inconceivable or unknowable is derived from the Greek world of thought?

Lastly, Paul argues that we are God’s offspring (Greek: genos!) and therefore we ought not think he is like silver, or gold. What should we think of him as then? The implication is perfectly clear. If we are his genos (Latin genus, English, “species”) then we ought to think that he is basically like us in his nature. We are of the same species.

The Geneva Bible translates it “generation.” Generation is a word derived from “genus.” Genus has to do with origin usually in the sense of a child has his origin in his parent.

For fun, here are some other languages:

genus ergo cum simus Dei non debemus aestimare auro aut argento aut lapidi sculpturae artis et cogitationis hominis divinum esse simile (Latin)

Siendo pues linaje de Dios, no hemos de estimar la Divinidad ser semejante a oro, o a plata, o a piedra, escultura de artificio o de imaginación de hombres. (Reina Valera, Spanish)

Sendo nós, pois, geração de Deus, não devemos pensar que a divindade seja semelhante ao ouro, ou à prata, ou à pedra esculpida pela arte e imaginação do homem. (PJFA)

Essendo dunque progenie di Dio, non dobbiam credere che la Divinità sia simile ad oro, ad argento, o a pietra scolpiti dall’arte e dall’immaginazione umana. (Italian, IRL)

γενος ουν υπαρχοντες του θεου ουκ οφειλομεν νομιζειν χρυσω η αργυρω η λιθω χαραγματι τεχνης και ενθυμησεως ανθρωπου το θειον ειναι ομοιον (Greek)

Since this appears to be the plain and obvious meaning of the verse, could we say that Paul believed that men are gods by nature? Do you accept Paul’s teaching, or do you prefer the Greek understanding of God as being “unknown” and totally other?

I’ve always been impressed by this scripture and see it as one of the greatest Biblical evidences for the basic tenet of Mormonism, namely the nature of God and man.

After All We Can Do

One common criticism of the Book of Mormon is that it (supposedly) teaches that we are saved by grace only after we do all we can do for our own salvation. This criticism is based on this scripture:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23).

While it is true that some LDS have interpreted this scripture to mean we must first do all we can if we expect grace to operate in our behalf, critics have noted that no one really does all he can in order to qualify for grace. On this, I agree with the critics with one qualification: I don’t think that’s what the passage means.

One possible interpretation put forth by Stephen E. Robinson, Robert Millet and others is that this scripture means that we are “saved by grace” even after all we can do or apart from what we can do. The preposition “after” here should not be used in its temporal sense alone (referring to time order) but in the sense of “notwithstanding” such as in this sentence: “even after the policeman’s warning he continued to speed” or “after all [id est, notwithstanding everything] he continues to speed.”

Understood this way, the verse means we are saved by grace notwithstanding our best efforts. No matter how close to perfection my personal efforts may be, it is still only through grace that I can be saved since I will always be tainted by sin.

Another possible interpretation is that “all we can do” has reference to some specific thing we can do, namely repent and be forgiven. I like this interpretation best. Believing that all scripture is inspired by God, I believe one important way to interpret scripture is to look for common phrases or terminology throughout all scripture. This is one where doing so seems to bring out new meaning to this verse.

In the Book of Mormon, a few miraculously converted Nephites go and preach the gospel to some Lamanites who are also miraculously converted. These Lamanites gave up their past blood thirsty traditions and covenanted with God to no longer shed man’s blood. Their leader, Anti-Nephi-Lehi, gave a rousing speech before they buried their weapons of war which is recorded in Alma 24.

8 And behold, I thank my great God that he has given us a portion of his Spirit to soften our hearts, that we have opened a correspondence with these brethren, the Nephites.
9 And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed.
10 And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.
11 And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—
12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.
13 Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.
14 And the great God has had mercy on us, and made these things known unto us that we might not perish; yea, and he has made these things known unto us beforehand, because he loveth our souls as well as he loveth our children; therefore, in his mercy he doth visit us by his angels, that the plan of salvation might be made known unto us as well as unto future generations.
15 Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.

Ultimately, all we can do as mortals is “to repent of all our sins…and to get God to taken them away from our hearts” “through the merits of his Son.”

If we were to return to 2 Nephi 25:23 and insert this meaning it would read:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after [we repent of all our sins and get God to take them away from our hearts through the merits of his Son].

To insist, as some critics have, that the Book of Mormon teaches salvation by works apart from grace is based [at best] in a misunderstanding of the Book of Mormon or [at worst] is based in purposeful deception.

“Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved. Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine. Amen” (2 Nephi 10:23-25).

“[T]here is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8).

Unscriptural Calvinism

I think this scriptural list shows the inconsistency of the Calvinist doctrines of total depravity, unlimited election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. LDS reject all of these concepts.


Total Depravity (Original Sin)

Sin inherited from parents: Deut. 1:34-39; Ezek. 18:19-20; Isa 7:15-16; Jer 19:2-6; Matt. 18:1-3; 19:13-14
Non-saved incapable choosing or doing good: Deut.11:26-28; 30:15-20; Josh. 24:15; Acts 10:1-4, 22 (cf 11:14); Rom. 2:14-16

Unconditional Election (Predestination of Individuals)
Acts 10:34; Rom 2:11-12; 1 Pet. 1:17; Tit 2:11; 1 Ti 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9

Limited Atonement (Jesus died only for the elect)

Luke 19:10; John 1:29; 3:16; Romans 1:16; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:1-2

Irresistible Grace (No choice in one’s salvation)
Matt. 11:28; Acts 6:10; 7:51-55; Revelation 22:17; John 12:32 (cf. John 6:44 & 2 Nephi. 26:24-28, 33)

Perseverance of the Saints (Once saved always saved)
Ezek 3:20; 18:24-26; Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 8:13; 9:62; 12:41-48; John 15:1-7; 1 Cor. 8:11; Gal. 5:1-4, 13; Col. 1:21-23; 1 Ti 1:18-20; 4:1; 5:8; Heb. 3:12; 4:1-2,11; 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 10:38-39; James 5:19-20; 1 Pet. 5:8-10; 2 Pet. 2:1,15,20-22; 3:17; Rev 2:4-5; 3:5,16-17

I invite you to take a look at these scriptures if you’re interested in the topic. It shouldn’t take more than about 45 minutes.