Light or Dark, Freedom or Bondage: Enhancing Book of Mormon Themes through Contrasts

By Blair G. Van Dyke

Blair G. Van Dyke, "Light or Dark, Freedom or Bondage: Enhancing Book of Mormon themes through Contrasts" Religious Educator 6, no. 3 (2005): 99–116.

Light or Dark, Freedom or Bondage: Enhancing Book of Mormon Themes through Contrasts

Blair G. Van Dyke

Blair G. Van Dyke was a principal in the Church Educational System and a part-time instructor of ancient scripture at BYU when this was written.

President Ezra Taft Benson taught:

“There is a power in the [Book of Mormon] which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. . . . You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called ‘the words of life’ (see D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance. These promises—increased love and harmony in the home, greater respect between parent and child, increased spirituality and righteousness—these are not idle promises, but exactly what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he said the Book of Mormon will help us draw nearer to God.”[1]

“A serious study” of the Book of Mormon will require more than a cursory reading of the text. Indeed, in most cases, a serious study of the Book of Mormon involves analyzing the characters, sermons, doctrines, and stories in search of significant themes that the authors and editors intentionally included in the book. Once significant themes are identified, serious students of the Book of Mormon will carefully consider, weigh, and ponder these themes until principles of righteous living emerge, the application of which leads to the more abundant life that President Benson promised. In this light, a theme is like a golden thread laced through a strand of pearls, allowing each pearl to be displayed collectively in a way that enhances its beauty.

With this in mind, our ability as religious educators and the ability of our students to identify and consider themes in the Book of Mormon is critical. Themes are developed and expressed in literature through character development, stories, conflict, appeasement, and, among other things, literary devices.[2] This paper will show how a literary device known as a foil is used to enhance our understanding of major themes in the Book of Mormon, thereby enabling us to identify, analyze, apply, and present guiding principles couched in the scriptures.

Literally, a foil is “a ‘leaf’ or sheet of bright metal placed under a piece of jewelry to increase its brilliance.”[3] In literature, a foil is the placing of one character or scenario next to another in such a way that differences are accentuated and easily identified in order to teach an important principle. Simply put, foils are literary devices that enhance contrast. They are employed throughout the scriptures. One example from the New Testament is John’s placement of Nicodemus’s nighttime conversation with Jesus in direct contrast with the Samaritan woman’s midday discussion with the Master at Jacob’s well. Her acceptance of Jesus brings her into the light while Nicodemus’s refusal to follow Jesus leaves him in darkness (see John 3­–4). Other examples of foils in the Old Testament include: Abel and Cain (Moses 5), Abraham and Lot (Genesis 18–19), and Judah and Joseph (Genesis 38–39). Foils, however, are not limited to character pairs. It is not uncommon to find in one character’s life all the elements of a foil that are found in the aforementioned examples. The comparison and contrast is found in a “before-and-after” format. For instance, Saul as a rebel against Jesus Christ and His followers prior to his experience on the road to Damascus may be profitably compared to Saul after the Lord appeared to him and his subsequent repentance and life service (see Acts 8–9). This foil accentuates the power of the Atonement to change lives that are deeply riddled with sin. Furthermore, foils can even compare entire groups of people, such as the fear-stricken armies of Israel before David slew Goliath and the courage of those same warriors after David’s triumph over the giant (see 1Samuel 17). The contrasts evidenced in each of these examples are explicit enough to serve as a charge to the reader to pursue goodness and faith and eschew evil and fear. The greater the contrast, the clearer the choice between right and wrong, light and darkness, virtue and vice, faith and fear.[4]

Foils are employed throughout the text of the Book of Mormon. In most cases, it is not possible to determine whether a specific author employed the use of a foil in the text or if Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, or Moroni did so during the compiling and editing process. Even so, we would be ill advised to conclude, as some may be prone to do, that this literary device was unknown to Book of Mormon authors and that their appearance in the text is the product of clever literary analysis conducted by modern scholars. Given the use of foils by Old Testament authors (such as Moses) who influenced Book of Mormon authors in their style and presentation, it would be erroneous to conclude that the use of foils in the Book of Mormon “just happened” unbeknownst to the authors and editors.[5]

The purpose of this article is to identify four major themes in the Book of Mormon and explore how foils are used to accentuate these themes. Specifically, we will consider: (1) deep-seated discipleship, (2) the nature of true conversion through repentance, (3) the significance of standing as a witness of God by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and (4) the value of establishing internal and external peace among God’s people. These four themes are threaded through the entire Book of Mormon and our understanding of each is heightened through the use of foils. Religious educators who foster their abilities to identify and work with foils in the Book of Mormon will be able to uncover themes and principles that, when applied, enrich our lives and naturally lend themselves to varied approaches of student participation, discovery, and application in the classroom.

Deep-seated Discipleship: Laman, Lemuel, and Nephi

Deep-seated discipleship is a theme that runs throughout the Book of Mormon wherein we learn that, spiritually speaking, we stand or fall based upon our willingness to submit to the will of God. For example, the account of Lehi’s initial theophany is instructive. Lehi beheld the Father sitting upon His throne and Jesus Christ descending out of heaven in a cloud of light that exceeded the brightness of the sun. He was accompanied by twelve apostolic witnesses whose luster was beyond the brightness of the stars (see 1Nephi 1:9–10). Jesus approached Lehi with a book and bade him to read. He read about many great and marvelous things, was filled with the Spirit, and was faithful and obedient to a commission to preach against the wickedness of the people of Jerusalem even at the peril of his own life (see 1Nephi 1:11–19; 2:1–3). His feelings were deep, poignant, and moved him to righteous acts. Such is the case with every character in the Book of Mormon of spiritual consequence. Jacob, Enos, Benjamin, Alma, Mormon, Moroni, and many others all had personal spiritual experiences that led them to become deeply devoted disciples. In order to provide contrast for comparison, the compilers of the Book of Mormon also chronicled the antitheses of deep-seated discipleship. This was the case with Laman and Lemuel. They serve as a foil to Nephi, which is particularly helpful for those seeking to increase the depth of their discipleship.

It will be remembered that following their escape from Jerusalem, Lehi’s family traveled in the wilderness to the borders of the Red Sea. After three additional days of travel,[6] Lehi pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water, built an altar, offered sacrifices to the Lord, and taught his family. Laman and Lemuel received specific instruction from their father who challenged Laman to be like the river near their camp, “continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!” (1Nephi 2:9). Similarly, Lemuel was admonished to be like the mighty canyon in which they had pitched their tents, “firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!” (1Nephi 2:10).

Nephi informs the reader that these admonitions were essential because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel (see 1Nephi 2:11). He then provides at least eight characteristics or actions of his older brothers in order to illustrate their pathway to spiritual dissension.[7] According to Nephi, Laman and Lemuel murmured exceedingly, denied the revelations of God, placed their hearts upon their inheritance in Jerusalem, lacked faith, knew not the dealings of God, rejected the words of the prophets, were murderous, and stood confounded before the Lord (see 1Nephi 2:11–14).

While Laman and Lemuel’s specific responses to Lehi’s exhortations are not recorded in the Book of Mormon, we are left to understand that they countered their father by rising up and uttering words against him. Despite their defiance, Lehi was so full of the Spirit that his words caused Laman and Lemuel’s “frames [to] shake before him. And he did confound them, that they durst not utter against him; wherefore, they did as he commanded them” (1Nephi 2:14).

Here, Nephi provides the reader with a fuller character sketch of himself. This is curious given the fact that he easily could have provided this introduction on the heels of the opening lines of the Book of Mormon wherein he explained that he was born of goodly parents, had seen many afflictions in his days, and was highly favored of the Lord (see 1Nephi 1:1). The fact that he places his character sketch immediately after that of Laman and Lemuel strongly suggests an intention on Nephi’s part to compare and contrast the two portrayals. This foil provides a description of deep-seated discipleship that is likely intended to offset the faithless and uncommitted dispositions of Laman and Lemuel.

For example, while Laman and Lemuel “did murmur in many things” (1Nephi 2:11), Nephi had “great desires to know of the mysteries of God” (1Nephi 2:16). Likewise, while Laman and Lemuel found the prophesies and visions of their father to be distasteful and useless (1Nephi 2:11), Nephi yearned for revelations from God causing him to “cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me” (1Nephi 2:16). While his brothers lusted after worldly inheritances, Nephi possessed a soft heart (likely a reward for turning from worldliness). In contrast to his brothers, Nephi was not rebellious, testified of the Lord’s manifestations, sought the Lord diligently, was humble (see 1Nephi 2:16–17, 19), and was trusted to be a spiritual leader and teacher over his brethren (see 1Nephi 2:22).

The nature and importance of discipleship is a significant theme in the Book of Mormon. Nephi’s description of Laman and Lemuel’s unwillingness to strive to become deeply committed disciples is most helpful. They serve as a foil to Nephi. We learn from Laman and Lemuel that murmuring, materialism, rebellion, and faithlessness lead to eventual misery. We easily determine the fruits of their decisions and therefore firmly resolve not to follow their course. The character of Nephi, on the other hand, illustrates the fundamental elements of deep-seated discipleship, such as greater desires to know the mysteries of God; the importance of fervent prayer and the receipt of personal revelation; the essentiality of a soft, pliable, and teachable heart that is open to follow the will of God; and a refusal to rebel against the Almighty. The following chart provides a concise view of Nephi’s use of a foil. From this chart we see the importance of deep-seated discipleship. Nephi serves as a model of ideal discipleship in 600 b.c. as well as today. Simply, the foil beckons us to follow his example of dedication to the Lord.

1 Nephi 2

Laman and Le​muel​

Nephi​​

1. Murmured about many things (11)

1. Had great desires to know mysteries of God(16)

2. Revelations from God were foolish (11)

2. Cried unto the Lord and was answered (16)

3. Worldly inheritance was paramount (11)

3. Possessed a soft heart (16)

4. Faithless (11)

4. Was not rebellious (16)

5. Knew not the dealings of God (12)

5. Testified of the Lord’s manifestations (17)

6. Rejected the words of prophets (13)

6. Sought the Lord diligently (19)

7. Possessed murderous dispositions (13)

7. Was humble (19)

8. Confounded before the Lord (14)

8. Was trusted to be a spiritual leader/teacher (22)

The Nature of True Conversion: Alma prior to Repentance—Alma after Repentance

A second major theme in the Book of Mormon is true conversion through repentance and trust in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For example, Enos, hungered after the cleansing power of the Atonement and through fervent prayer, came to know that he had been forgiven and cleansed (see Enos 1:1–5). The people of Ammon were so intent on coming to Christ that they buried their weapons of rebellion and covenanted to trust Christ and never fight again, which led Mormon to describe them as firm in the faith willing to “suffer even unto death rather than commit sin” (Alma 24:19). At the age of fifteen, Mormon “was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus” (Mormon 1:15). He possessed the spiritual stamina to remain staunchly loyal to the Almighty while all around him masses of Nephites “willfully rebelled against their God” (Mormon 1:16).

In addition to the above examples of this prominent Book of Mormon theme, the conversion of Alma the Younger provides a template for determining whether or not true conversion has transpired in the heart of an individual. His life prior to conversion compared to his life after his repentance comprises a foil that enhances the reader’s understanding of the importance of conversion through a mighty change of heart (see Alma 5:14).

We have no record of Alma’s childhood. There are hints that he may have been born in Helam, the colony established by his father following their flight from the Waters of Mormon (see Alma 5:5). In Helam, they were put into bondage by Amulon, one of the wicked priests of King Noah (see Mosiah 23:1–20, 32–39). Following their miraculous escape they traveled through the wilderness to Zarahemla where the elder Alma eventually became the high priest of the Church, which was organized under the authorization of King Mosiah (see Mosiah 24:16–25;25).[8]

At some point, Alma the Younger turned from the teachings of his father and embraced idolatry, materialism, and a lust for power. Given his unique childhood, which likely included the privations of bondage, witnessing miracles attendant to their release from Helam, and his father’s call to the highest office in the Church, his rebellion is even more acute. He pursued, with the four royal sons of Mosiah, a scheme to destroy the Church of God. To counter the efforts of Alma the Younger, God sent an angel to the prodigal youth. The angel’s power was so singular that his voice shook the earth and his message moved Alma to choose a path of repentance. The ministry of Alma that followed was so great that one Latter-day Apostle referred to him as “the American Paul.”[9]

In short, the dramatic epiphany associated with Alma’s conversion is so rare and exceptional that President Ezra Taft Benson warned:

“Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were: Alma the Younger, [and] Paul on the road to Damascus. . . . Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.

“But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every [Alma] . . . there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said ‘were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not’ (3Nephi 9:20; italics added).”[10]

With this caution in mind, we may plumb the text of Mosiah 27 in search of principles related to conversion that stand independent of the dramatic angelic visitation to Alma. Upon closer examination, the foil that emerges from the text allows us to consider what happened in Alma’s heart (the fruits of conversion) as opposed to how that change was initiated (an angelic visitation). Indeed, even after the thunderous visit of the angel we learn that Alma was only brought to Christ through repentance (see Mosiah 27:24). Additionally, Alma’s repentance and deep conversion came only after fasting and praying for many days to know that his redemption was sure (see Alma 5:33–46). The angel was able to declare Christ to Alma, but only his “repenting nigh unto death” (Mosiah 27:28) resulted in redemption (see Mosiah 27:29). So it is with us. The experience, or more likely, the experiences that bring us to the knowledge of our need for Jesus are not the saving factor—coming to Christ through repentance is. Therefore, Christ, not the angel, is the foundation upon which all lasting change rests (see Helaman 5:12; Moses 7:53). At this level of analysis, Alma’s spiritual rebirth becomes a standard that may be applied by all who seek a change of heart.

This foil provides at least eight clear points of comparison and contrast between Alma’s character before his mighty change of heart and his disposition after he embraced the gospel of Christ. Before his conversion, Alma was an unbeliever who bitterly rejected Jesus as the Savior (see Mosiah 27:8–9); he embraced wickedness and darkness (see Mosiah 27:8, 29); as a gifted orator, he used flattery to deceive; he led many people to do iniquity; he hindered the prosperity of the Church; he stole the hearts (or manipulated the desires) of the people; he camouflaged wickedness in secrecy; and the intent of his rebellion was to destroy the Church of God (see Mosiah 27:8–11). Mormon describes the sons of Mosiah as “the very vilest of sinners” (Mosiah 28:4) and the way Alma is depicted in this foil gives us every reason to believe that he was, in every way, their peer in wickedness.

After recounting Alma’s repentance, Mormon lists at least eight contrasting characteristics or actions that are indicative of one who has experienced the cleansing power of Christ’s Atonement. For example, because of his repentance, Alma was redeemed of the Lord (see Mosiah 27:24). Instead of continuing to embrace wickedness and darkness, Alma was born of the Spirit and brought to the light (see Mosiah 27:25, 29). In the place of flattery intended to deceive, Alma used the power of language to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Mosiah 27:32). Instead of leading people to do iniquity, he imparted consolation to all and confirmed the faith in the hearts and minds of all that would hear him (see Mosiah 27:33). Furthermore, he traveled extensively to build up the Church, strove zealously to repair the spiritual injuries he had caused, avoided secrecy by publishing all the things he had seen, and finally, he became an instrument in the hands of God for the rest of his life (see Mosiah 27:35–36).

The nature of true conversion through repentance and trust in the Atonement of Jesus Christ constitutes a major theme in the Book of Mormon. The foil in this case allows the reader to more clearly understand that true conversion has not so much to do with the events surrounding conversion but our reaction to those events. Again, the angel is not the focal point of Alma’s conversion, Christ is. In this regard, Alma serves as a pattern for all truth seekers. He came to Christ through repentance, was born of the Spirit, consecrated his talents and energies to building the Church of God, openly and publicly stood as a witness of Christ, and chose to be an instrument in the hands of God. The following chart provides an overview of this foil, accentuating the theme that true conversion does not usually necessitate fantastic visions or remarkable visitations. Rather, the foil enhances our understanding of the principle that coming to Christ with a willing heart and a determination to trust Him matters most.

Mosiah 27​​

Alma prior to Repentance

Alma ​after Repentance

1. Rejected Jesus in unbelief (8, 30)

1. Redeemed of the Lord through repentance (24)

2. Embraced wickedness and darkness (8, 29)

2. Born of the Spirit and brought to the light (25,29)

3. Used language skills to flatter (8)

3. Used language skills to teach the gospel (32)

4. Led many people to iniquity (8)

4. Imparted consolation/confirmed others’ faith (33)

5. Hindered prosperity of the Church (9)

5. Traveled extensively building up the Church (35)

6. Stole the hearts of the people (9)

6. Strove zealously to repair spiritual injuries (35)

7. Performed evil works in secrecy (10)

7. Published all the things he had seen (35)

8. Intended to destroy the Church (10–11)

8. Was an instrument in the hands of God (36)

Shiblon and Corianton: Standing as a Witness of God by Preaching the Gospel of Christ

A third major theme in the Book of Mormon is the importance of standing as a witness of God to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This theme is introduced in the earliest scenes of the Book of Mormon as Lehi was commissioned to call the inhabitants of Jerusalem to repentance (see 1Nephi 1:18–20). Indeed, Lehi’s son Jacob proclaimed that failing to magnify one’s calling as a teacher could result in the transference of sins from those who should have been taught, to the errant teacher himself (see Jacob 1:19). Like Jacob, the four sons of Mosiah stand as sentinels of the power and influence that preaching the gospel may yield (see Alma 17–26). Indeed, Alma testified that “the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else . . .” (Alma 31:5). The prophet Ether preached until he and Coriantumr stood alone as witnesses of the complete destruction of the once noble Jaredite nation (see Ether 15). Similarly, in the closing chapters of Nephite history, Mormon taught his people that if they would repent and turn to their God they would be spared. Tragically, the Nephites ignored Mormon’s call to repentance and were visited with great destruction (see Mormon 3:2; 6:22). As these examples indicate, the importance of preaching the word of God is laced through the Book of Mormon from beginning to end.

Given the importance of this theme we may examine with interest a foil found in Alma 38–39. In Alma 38, Shiblon, a son of Alma, is identified as an excellent missionary who is striving to develop at least seven characteristics or actions of one possessing great desires to preach the gospel. In Alma 39 we learn that Corianton, another of Alma’s sons, has abandoned his missionary calling to entertain the lusts of the flesh. In his character, at least seven traits or actions may be found that constitute the antithesis of effective missionary work.

Taken together these chapters constitute a snapshot in the lives of Shiblon and Corianton, wherein they were called to preach among the Zoramites. From these chapters we should not conclude that Shiblon is infallible or that Corianton is terminally corrupt.[11] However, the fact that these two sons are placed side by side in the text is not accidental, leading the careful reader to search within the foil to glean insights into what the Lord expects from His missionaries in Alma’s day and our own. Indeed, Alma seems to beckon latter-day readers to compare the two sons when he proclaimed to Corianton: “Have ye not observed the steadiness of thy brother, his faithfulness, and his diligence in keeping the commandments of God? Behold, has he not set a good example for thee?” (Alma 39:1).

Both Shiblon and Corianton are young men, and Alma’s individual discussions with them are intended to spur them on to righteousness throughout the rest of their lives (see Alma 38:2; 39:10). While not perfect, Shiblon was steady, faithful, and diligent (see Alma 38:2–3), and in the face of opposition to his labors, he was patient, long-suffering, and worthy of the Lord’s companionship (see Alma 38:3–4). Shiblon had established himself as a missionary who took every opportunity to teach the word of God (see Alma 38:10). Shiblon was cautioned by his father to strive to be temperate (or moderate) in all things—to be bold but not overbearing—and to seek greater humility before the Lord, always guarding against propensities to be prideful (see Alma 38:10–12, 14). Alma further encouraged Shiblon to bridle all his passions, enabling him to focus all of his energies on others and become a man who was filled with love (Alma 38:12).[12] Even with this instruction, however, Alma makes it clear that Shiblon was convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel and was willing to suffer imprisonment and stoning for the word’s sake (Alma 38:3–4).

In stark contrast to Shiblon, Alma provides at least seven character traits or actions of Corianton that serve as a guide for determining pitfalls that every missionary should avoid. For example, instead of undying diligence, Corianton deserted his missionary labors, traveled to the borders of the lands of the Lamanites, and pursued the harlot Isabel with whom he committed immoral acts (see Alma 39:3–5). Also, while Shiblon exhibited the traits of steadiness, faithfulness, and diligence, Corianton failed to give heed to Alma’s instruction and warnings and ignored the good example of his brother (see Alma 39:1–2). While Shiblon was patient, long-suffering, and enjoyed the companionship of the Lord (see Alma 38), Corianton boastfully relied on his own strength and wisdom without putting his trust in the Lord (see Alma 39:2). Additionally, Corianton not only forsook the ministry but also led people to do wickedly (see Alma 39:3, 13), he indulged in abominations (see Alma 39:3–5), sought to hide his sins from God (see Alma 39:8), and was wanton and materialistic (see Alma 39:9, 14). Corianton’s most glaring deficiency as a missionary may have been his insecure and unsteady understanding of the Atonement of Christ and its significance in his personal life and in the lives of those he taught (see Alma 39:15–16). In fact, Alma 40–42 present Alma’s pointed efforts to clarify and magnify Christ’s Atonement in the mind of his errant son.

Given the prominence of missionary work as a theme in the Book of Mormon, Alma’s interviews with Shiblon and Corianton are particularly instructive. Herein, Corianton serves as a foil to Shiblon. While we do not delight in Corianton’s failures, they do serve to enhance our understanding of the fruits of one who chooses to trust in the arm of flesh (see 2Nephi 28:31). Shiblon’s character, on the other hand, brings the pressing need for missionaries to genuinely strive to possess steadiness, patience, a lively testimony, temperance, humility, self-control, and love. While neither son is perfect, the following chart illustrates the accentuation that the foil places upon the goodness of Shiblon at the time he served among the Zoramites. He stands as a model of what characteristics missionaries anciently and today should possess or should be striving to obtain.

Alma 38–39​

Shiblon (Alma 38)

Corianton (Alm​a 39)

1. Steady, faithful, diligent (2–3)

1. Failed to heed Alma’s words (2)

2. Patient, long-suffering, the Lord was with him (3–4)

2. Boasted in his own strength and wisdom (2)

3. Teacher of the word of God (10)

3. Forsook the ministry and led people to do wickedly (3, 11–13)

4. Strove to be temperate (10)

4. Indulged in abominations (3–5)

5. Sought humility before the Lord (11)

5. Sought to hide his sins from God (8)

6. Strove to bridle passions (12)

6. Wanton and materialistic (9, 14)

7. Sought to be full of love (12)

7. Unsure of the Atonement of Christ (15–16)

4 Nephi: The Establishment and Collapse of Peace

The fourth major theme of the Book of Mormon that we will explore is the importance of establishing peace within our own hearts (what will be referred to as internal peace) and within the general society in which we work, worship, and live (referred to as external peace). Nephi explained that giving way to temptations from the adversary destroyed his peace (see 2Nephi 4:27). Also, for some time prior to Korihor’s ministry as an antichrist, the people of Zarahemla had established continual peace through their humility, fasting, prayer, and obedience to the commandments (see Alma 30:2–3). Without question, Korihor was the tool in Satan’s hands to disrupt this peace. Furthermore, the so-called “war chapters” of the Book of Mormon report one instance after another of the establishment or collapse of peace. Mormon reports that all of Captain Moroni’s efforts were designed to foster peace in the nation, Church, home, and heart. Such conditions, he explained, made it possible to “live unto the Lord” (Alma 48:10). On the other hand, Amalickiah was bent on stirring up contention and strife to the point of hardening hearts and blinding minds in order to fulfill his fraudulent plans to destroy the peace of the Nephites and place them in bondage (see Alma 48:1–7).

Possibly, the best illustration of this theme in the Book of Mormon is found in 4Nephi. Following the personal ministry of the Savior in the Americas, peace was established in the nation, in the Church, and in the hearts of the people. Interestingly, perhaps the best case study of the demise of internal and external peace is also found in 4Nephi, a decline that transpired after 200 years of peace, unity, and consecration.

The establishment and collapse of peace in 4Nephi is accentuated through the use of a foil. A deliberate examination of the 49 verses that comprise 4Nephi reveals at least 10 clear points of comparison and contrast between the actions of the people of Nephi who established and maintained peace, and the people of the fourth generation who turned away from God and caused the collapse of continual peace. The first third of the book describes the people of Nephi who become converted to the Lord (see 4Nephi 1:2) and experience no contentions among themselves (see 4Nephi 1:2, 13, 15, 18). Also, they have sufficient for their needs because there are no rich or poor in their midst. Furthermore, the gifts of the Spirit are abundantly manifest in their lives (see 4Nephi 1:3–5). During this time there are no whoredoms committed, honesty prevails in all circumstances, and all cherish and have a deep respect for life. Finally, the people of Nephi enjoy singular happiness (see 4Nephi 1:16), the result of which is a spiritual understanding that they have been redeemed by Christ and are joint heirs with Him in the kingdom of the Father (see 4Nephi 1:17).

Today we take great hope in the fact that Nephi’s people persisted in harmony for some 200 years. We are, however, sobered by the fact that this idyllic society collapsed in a very short period of time. Mormon’s documentation of its end is found primarily in the last two-thirds of 4Nephi. Unfortunately, the ruin of this community began when a small part of the people rebelled, broke away, and disassociated themselves from the people of God. Where there was once unity and all were converted, there now appeared groups of dissidents who took upon themselves the names of Laman, Jacob, Joseph, and Zoram, becoming all manner of “ites” (see 4Nephi 1:20, 35–36). Where once pride was virtually nonexistent, it became apparent by the wearing of costly apparel, jewels, and the “fine things of the world” (see 4Nephi 1:24). At the height of their peace, all things were held in common among the people of God, which nullified the possibility of poverty. However, by the end of 4Nephi, a group of people refused to live the law of consecration and, in its place, established a class structure wherein one’s status was determined by one’s personal wealth. The downward spiral continued as many people denied the legitimacy of the true Church (see 4Nephi 1:25–26) and persecuted those who chose to remain faithful (see 4Nephi 1:34). Where once the people were righteous and would not allow whoredoms in their midst, they dwindled in unbelief, became hard-hearted, established many churches that were led by false prophets, and were swept away in iniquitous acts (see 4Nephi 1:34). Significantly, Mormon explains that their rebellions were willfully carried out with a clear understanding of their consequences (see 4Nephi 1:38). Furthermore, the ancestors of these people had maintained a deep respect for life, but the children of the rebels were taught to hate the people of God. Secret combinations were established and encouraged, allowing the robbers of Gadianton to spread throughout the land (see 4Nephi 1:39–40, 42, 46). In the end, the more wicked part of the people increased in strength and became exceedingly more numerous than the believers in Christ (see 4Nephi 1:40). Indeed, conditions became so desperate that the prophet Ammaron was constrained by the Holy Ghost to bury the sacred records in the hill Shim (see 4Nephi 1:48; Mormon 1:3).

Mormon’s economy with words in the book of 4Nephi is remarkable. He uses nineteen verses to describe a righteous community of Saints that persisted in peace for two centuries. Without question, this was the golden age of all Book of Mormon peoples. While we cannot be certain, it seems reasonable to conclude that in a coming day we will possess a fuller record of this significant era of Book of Mormon history. In the meantime, it seems apparent that Mormon is very interested that his latter-day readers come to an understanding of what qualities and characteristics serve to constitute conditions of peace internally and externally and what vices bring an end to such peace. The following chart reconstructs the foil that Mormon embedded in the text of 4Nephi. Here we see that conversion, kindness, consecration, gifts of the Spirit, love, virtue, honesty, respect, joy, and a perfect brightness of hope in Christ’s redemption are salient elements of a peaceful society. At the same time we learn that pride, class structure based on temporal possessions, unbelief, rebellion, hatred, secrecy, and corruption are elements that bring the smooth-running wheels of a peaceful society to a grinding halt. Because Mormon utilizes a foil in 4Nephi that provides clear contrast, our understanding of the significance, goodness, and desirability of internal and external peace in our lives is enhanced. In this regard 4Nephi serves as another compelling example of the effectiveness of a foil that accentuates the importance of a major theme in the Book of Mormon.

4 ​Nephi 1

Establishing Internal/External Peace​

The Collapse of Internal/​External Peace

1. All converted to the Lord (2)

1. Small part of people revolt (20, 35–36)

2. No contentions among them (2)

2. Some lifted up in pride (24)

3. No rich or poor: consecration (3)

3. Consecration ends, class structure set up (25–26)

4. Gifts of the Spirit in abundance (3–5)

4. They deny the true Church (26)

5. Love of God in hearts of people (15)

5. They persecute the true Church of Christ (29)

6. No whoredoms among the people (16)

6. They dwindle in unbelief and become wicked (34)

7. Honest dealings prevail (16)

7. They willfully rebel (38)

8. Deep respect for life (16)

8. Children taught to hate the people of God (39)

9. A happier people was never created by God (16)

9. Secret oaths and combinations established firmly among the people (40, 42)

10. Children of Christ, heirs of the kingdom of God (17)

10. The robbers of Gadianton spread over the land leaving no righteous among them (46)

Conclusion

It is evident from the text that the authors of the Book of Mormon employed foils as a literary medium through which to teach and highlight important principles of the gospel. In this article we have examined four major themes of the Book of Mormon in which foils were used to enhance our understanding and appreciation of the principles and doctrines found therein. From these we have come to a clearer understanding of the true nature of discipleship, the essential role that repentance and trust in the Atonement play in our coming to Christ, the foundational characteristics of an effective missionary, and the qualities resident in the heart of one who seeks to enjoy internal and external peace in this life. Each of these foils could be easily overlooked given a superficial reading of the text. In this light, it is hoped that this examination of these foils may result in a more careful study of the Book of Mormon and improved abilities to identify, analyze, apply, and present gospel principles that are couched in the scriptures.

Notes



[1] The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (1988), 54; emphasis added).

[2] See C. Hugh Holman and William Harmon, A Handbook to Literature, 5th ed. (1986), 502.

[3] Handbook, 205.

[4] The use of foils in the Old and New Testaments is the subject of many articles and chapters published over the past several decades. A small sampling of titles is included here for additional readings: Leland Ryken, How To Read The Bible as Literature (1984), 54–55; see also Judah Goldin, “The Youngest Son Or Where Does Genesis 38 Belong,” Journal of Biblical Literature 96, no. 1 (1977), 27–44; James A. Diamond, “Jacob vs. The Married Harlot: Intertextual Foils in the Guide of the Perplexed,” The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 10.1 (Oct. 2000), 1–25; NormanJ. Cohen, “The Two That Are One—Sibling Rivalry in Genesis,” Judaism 32 (summer 1983), 331–42; Mark F. Whitters, “Discipleship in John: Four Profiles,” Word and World 18, no. 4 (1998), 422–27; Tom Thatcher, “Jesus, Judas, And Peter: Character By Contrast In the fourth Gospel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (Oct.–Dec. 1996), 435–48.

[5] Concerning the care taken by Book of Mormon authors and editors, President Ezra Taft Benson explained: “Mormon wrote near the end of the Nephite civilization. Under the inspiration of God, who sees all things from the beginning, he abridged centuries of records, choosing the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us. . . . If they saw our day, and chose those things which would be of greatest worth to us, is not that how we should study the Book of Mormon? We should constantly ask ourselves, ‘Why did the Lord inspire Mormon (or Moroni or Alma) to include that in his record? What lesson can I learn from that to help me live in this day and age?’” (“The Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Jan. 1992, 5).

See also Gerald N. Lund, “An Anti-Christ in the Book of Mormon—The Face May Be Strange, but the Voice Is Familiar,” The Book of Mormon: Alma, the Testimony of the Word: Papers From the Sixth Annual Book of Mormon Symposium, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate (1992), 105–28. For additional examples of how Old Testament authors influenced Book of Mormon authors and editors see S. Kent Brown, “The Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” in From Jerusalem to Zarahemla (1998), 75–98; John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 10, no. 1 (autumn 1969), 69–84; James T. Duke, “Word Pairs and Distinctive Combinations in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 2 (2003), 32–41; David Bokovoy, “From Distance to Proximity: A Poetic Function of Enallage in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000), 60–63; Steven David Ricks and John A. Tvedtnes, “Colophons,” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (2003), 210.

[6] See Kelly Ogden, “Answering the Lord’s Call,” in Studies in Scripture, Book of Mormon, ed. Kent P. Jackson (1988), 23, 26.

[7] While I suggest 8 points of comparison this is by no means comprehensive. Indeed, a different reading may yield 6 or 10 points of comparison between Nephi, Laman, and Lemuel. Furthermore, I am not striving to attain an exact “side-by-side” comparison of each point. One may identify 8characteristics of Laman and Lemuel’s faithlessness and 10 characteristics of Nephi’s discipleship. Simply put, this is a somewhat subjective undertaking. Ultimately, the fact that the text of the Book of Mormon beckons the reader to examine the comparison is the most important point. There are many ways this foil could be “charted” and the reader is at liberty to employ a great deal of variety in the endeavor. This is the case with the other three themes that are illustrated through foils in this article. My charting the foils is intended to aid the reader but is not intended to suggest comprehensiveness.

[8] See S. Kent Brown, “Alma²,” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (2003), 36–37.

[9] Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (1978), 268.

[10] “A Mighty Change of Heart,” Ensign, Oct. 1989, 5.

[11] Indeed, it is apparent from the text that Shiblon remains faithful throughout his life and that Corianton repents, returns to his ministry, and endures to the end in righteousness (see Alma 43:1–2; 49:30; 63:1, 10–11).

[12] See Richard O. Cowan, “Shiblon,” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (2003), 721. The author also credits Jared M. Halverson for providing valuable insights regarding the character and personality of Shiblon.