“Desirous to Take Upon Them the Name of Christ”

Brant Gardner

This stress on essential unity of belief underscores that each separate congregation learned the same religion, a unity assured by Alma’s position as leader for all of the churches.

Scripture: This verse gives a formulaic definition of what was taught—not “the gospel,” or “the commandments of God,” or “the law of Moses,” but rather: “there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God.”

Certainly the churches taught much about obedience to Yahweh’s will and could not have been limited to sermons about repentance and faith any more than the modern Church could. What is important is the introduction of the phrase with the negative (there was nothing preached… except… ) and the formulaic use of “repentance and faith.”

Repentance and faith are keywords that form the basic understanding of the Atoning Messiah. First is the individualized, rather than communal, nature of the religion of the Atoning Messiah; and second is the emphasis on the quartet of doctrines (faith, repentance, atonement, and forgiveness) that form the basis of Christian worship. In contrast is the communal atonement of the law of Moses.

The Old Testament religion is a communal religion. Loyalty to community, king, and God were all one and the same. Christian communities experienced loyalties divided between God and political leaders. Social responsibilities for those who belonged to the Christian community were different for those who belonged to the pagan community. The tacit recognition of at least two religions among the Zarahemlaites (Nephite and anything else, usually Nehorite) provides this same social condition where personal faith is more important than communal loyalty to Yahweh.

These clues suggest that these churches preached the Atoning Messiah, a doctrinal emphasis that would naturally have been consistent with what Alma learned from Abinadi and taught to his first congregation. Thus, the statement deals with the type of gospel being taught—that expounded by Abinadi and other Nephite prophets concerning the Atoning Messiah.

Translation: This verse inserts the denominational meaning of church into the description of Alma’s church, which is precisely the definition I have argued against. What is it doing here? I suggest it stems from Mormon’s abridgment, made at a much later period when religious divisions have played out very differently from those Alma envisioned when he established the churches/congregations. In other words, this description is Mormon’s conclusion based upon his later understanding of the conception, rather than a textually accurate depiction of Alma’s churches.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3