An appendage carries with it a pejorative or negative connotation because it is anything of lesser importance that replaces something of greater importance. The Law of Moses is an appendage to the Law of the Gospel. In that sense, the Law of Moses carries a pejorative or negative connotation even if it is an improvement upon the incommensurate vengeance exercised by the gentiles after whom the Hebrews desired to model themselves.

“In the center is the level of justice, where retribution and offense are exactly proportionate (eye for eye, tooth for tooth). Considerably below this would be the incommensurate vengeance exercised by a Lamech (Genesis 4:24). Above the level of equal retribution are rising degrees of willingness to forgive, the goal being Jesus’ instructions to forgive seventy times seven, i.e., to forgo retribution completely regardless of the measure of the offense.” — John Howard Yoder


In a discussion I had, a therapist stressed the importance of violent retribution as part of the moral nature of things. Righteous retribution is needed for victims to obtain emotional health. It is for this reason, according to the therapist, that the Lord gave the Law of Moses as an appendage to the Law of the Gospel. While I agree that satisfaction is often thought to facilitate emotional well-being in victims, I am not so convinced that a person who is incapable of forgiving is at all well emotionally. Describing the Law of Moses as an appendage to the Gospel, however, left me thinking what exactly did “appendage” mean? The definition says, “in addition to” or “an addition to” something of greater importance.

“If nature is ‘things as they are,’ then we can very definitely establish at any place and time just what are the structures of nature; but they can then not serve as a critique or a moral imperative. If, on the other hand, the ‘nature of things’ is some sort of philosophical essence to be distinguished from things as they are, it can have the character of the moral imperative, but it cannot be ascertained empirically in nature.” — John Howard Yoder

The Law of the Gospel is of greater importance than the Law of Moses, but the Law of Moses is given in addition to or as an addition to the Law of the Gospel. This begs the question, “What does that mean?” This requires some historical context leading up to the Law of Moses. The Hebrews, once liberated from the autocracy of Egypt under Pharaoh, existed in the desert under the Law of the Gospel. From exodus to Mt. Sinai the Hebrews did not have carnal rules or carnal rulers, but were led by the Lord through a prophet. At Mt. Sinai, the Law of Moses was given, according to the Bible Dictionary, as “a replacement of” the Law of the Gospel. The Holy Priesthood, which Moses held, was replaced with the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood. The Law of Moses was laid upon the Law of the Gospel as an alternative course of action for those of a lower spirituality.

This seems to be consistent with D&C 98:30-31 and 1 Tim. 1:9. Romans 4:13 puts it this way, “For the promise, that [we, who are the seed of Abraham,] should be heirs of the world, was not to be…through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Lacking faith in the more excellent way of the gospel, the Hebrews wanted a nation like unto the gentiles. Hence, came the law which, through debilitating injuries and depravities, the blessings which could have been achieved through proclaiming the gospel of peace were now precluded. This meant war. As an “appendage,” the Law of Moses justified retribution and vengeance for victims depending on the offense and insofar as the punishment was proportionate to the offense. Punishment, not pardon, was sought and the Law was given that offenders might be extirpated from the community.

Much like divorce, this was not so in the beginning and it was not as the Lord desired or intended. In Deuteronomy 18:18-19, the Lord gives the Law as part of a probationary period and expects the Israelites to embrace the Law of the Gospel once the ministry of Christ is manifest among them. They would have no excuse after that time for a lack of faith despite any persistence in their desire to be justified by law. From the time of Mt. Sinai to the ministry of John the Baptist, the Israelites were rewarded according to their own thoughts and desires by the Lord and became subjects to the curse of the law. This did not mean, however, that the Israelites were precluded by law from repentance. At any time during their probationary period the Israelites could have embraced and lived the Law of the Gospel. It was not necessary, therefore, that they persist under the law until the time of Christ’s coming. In fact, Christ laments the Israelites killing of the prophets who had attempted to reconcile the Israelites to the law of the gospel.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets, and stone them which are sent unto you, how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not!”

Looking at the Book of Mormon kaleidoscopically, the Nephites demonstrate themselves to be more righteous than the Israelites. They vacillate between war and proclaiming the gospel and this is largely due to whether they see their enemies with carnal or spiritual eyes. There are those who participate in civil authority and those who participate in the church. Alma the Elder appears to be the first to attempt living the law of the gospel before the time of Christ by founding the church. The average Nephite and Israelite, on the other hand, seems to be waiting for the Lord to bring about His kingdom and its accompanying peace. They do not try to bring it about themselves, at least not after the manner in which the Lord prescribes. Theirs is a carnal and temporal kingdom, built through violence and legal justifications. Alma the Elder knows that he cannot wait for the Lord to do that which the Lord has always intended for his disciples to do. He refuses to wait to be commanded in all things. Alma the Elder walks a lonely road, but he can take heart in the words of Isaiah, telling him he’s the leader blazing the path that the rest will eventually follow:

“And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

After all, those who attend upon the Lord during his visit to the Americas, who evidently survive the preceding wars, tumults, and tribulation, are the same who had an easier time giving up the Law of Moses in order to live the Law of the Gospel (3 Ne. 15:1-5). Alma the Elder is not like Captain Moroni. Captain Moroni foreshadows John the Apostle when the latter wrote:

“He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and faith of the saints.”

While Captain Moroni and the Stripling Warriors are not killed by the sword, they nearly lose their lives, and are the cause of much mourning among many Nephite widows. To the contrary, Alma the Elder is a patient man. Instead of resisting the Lamanites according to his own desires and according to what he thought expedient to do, Alma relinquishes his temporal inheritance as one holding the priesthood (Deut. 18:1-2), attends to the church in pious worship of God, and, with faith, ministers unto the Lamanites.  The Lamanites take “compassion” upon Alma and the people of God.  Alma does what the Lord desires according to what the Lord has determined to be expedient (D&C 98:16 cf. 1 Cor. 6:12).  Alma’s hope is much greater than the average Israelite and Nephite. The idea of relinquishing our inheritance in this world for one the Father is preparing for us reminds me of the Prodigal Son whose only desire was to have his inheritance, now, in this world–his Father’s inheritance wasted unless he repent.


Back to the therapist. He explained that the Law was a “schoolmaster” and, through punishment, offenders would learn their lesson. But is the Law a schoolmaster for offenders, for victims, for both? The Law is a schoolmaster for those victims of lower spirituality whose offenders, without it, would become vile unto them (Deut. 25:3) and would increase the demands of vengeance incommensurately until their enemies were utterly destroyed or enslaved. The Law teaches proportionality in the punishment of offenders, impartiality in the law’s enforcement, and to be without fault or hypocrisy when punishing. It is also believed to be a schoolmaster to bystanders who learn to observe the law motivated by fear of the punishments accompanying the law. To act out of fear, duty, and obligation are considered lesser motives for doing what is right and insufficient for salvation. The right thing, done the right way, and by the right means, must also be done for the right reason. It is only when one’s heart and mind desire doing right that one’s good action becomes meaningful.

Nevertheless, while higher motives remain fleeting, I have heard it is not wrong at all to create incentives inspiring lesser motives if it will influence people to do the right thing in and of itself. Along with this argument, the theory that simply doing the right thing, regardless how much the individual resents and hates doing it, will eventually cause the higher motives to develop. After all, can a person long have begrudging feeling towards good actions even when coerced to perform on fear of physical injury or depravity? The proponent of behavior modification says, “No,” and insists that a person can act their way into a new way of thinking.

There are problems with this line of argumentation:

1) Positive and Negative feelings cannot co-exist for the same actions. If the incentives created to cause good action are doing so by creating negative feelings, then positive feelings, higher motives, cannot be achieved without changing the incentives.

2) Doctrine and Covenant Section 88 refutes the idea that it is impossible to long hold negative feelings, or lesser motives, towards good actions consistently performed. To the contrary, Section 88 suggests that having developed certain negative attitudes, feelings, dispositions, and thoughts about certain actions and lifestyles is exactly why some persons would be miserable living in the celestial kingdom if obligated to do so. This leads us back to #1 and the types of incentives we create to influence good behavior versus the incentives we create to influence higher motives.

3) Even if merely doing good could push out lesser for higher motives over time, this could only be achieved because the individual has the voluntary desire, not obligated fear, of bringing about this change in motives by performing the desired good acts.

The gospel is about inspiring the right motives and allowing good action to follow. It is not about coercing good action with the false hope that higher, instead of lesser, motives will collaterally develop. If your system is based on inspiring lesser motives to achieve good behavior, then you have created a system that precludes higher motives. In other words, “What makes you think higher motives will develop when the focus of your system is to inspire lesser motives as a cause for good behavior?”

But is the Law a schoolmaster to offenders? The therapist with whom I spoke gave me the following analogy:

“A child who burns his hand on the stove while attempting to obtain cookies not authorized by a parent learns that the cookie is not worth the pain associated with a burnt hand. He will not seek to obtain the cookie without permission again.”

The logic expressed in economic terms is, “Where the opportunity cost is greater than the marginal utility of a good or service, the good or service is foregone.” This is, of course, how war hawks think in terms of human psychology. If we make attacking us expensive in purse and men, then we will not be attacked. It assumes that we are animals prone to our conditioning. It assumes that we will not weather adversity to achieve a goal. It assumes there is only one way of getting what we want or need. Were this logic reasonable outside the context of closed systems, recidivism among criminals would not exist, black markets would not exist, and blowback would never occur. What this logic does lead to is a destruction of the whole (mutually assured destruction). As far as the Law of Moses is concerned, these war hawks admit that since proportionate vengeance cannot reform, we must “utterly destroy or enslave the enemy.” Let’s return to the analogy.

What do I learn as a child who burns his hand while trying to obtain a cookie not authorized by a parent? I learn that in order to obtain the cookie, I must seek an alternative way to do so without putting my hand on the stove. I learn that goals are achieved by overcoming adversity. And if my mother purposely burns me with a hot iron every time I take a cookie unauthorized, then I might learn that my mother is trying to cause me injury or that I have to burn her before she burns me. I might learn that the cookie is more important to my mother than causing me injury. I might learn that protecting her ego by obeying is more important to my mother than my physical welfare. I am, even as a child, an intelligent being with the capacity to reason (even if not effectively). I am not an animal prone to conditioning through physical stimuli. How might I, as a child, misconstrue physical injury and depravity because of my ability to reason? There is little guarantee I will see punishment as a schoolmaster, especially when the good I do to make up for the bad I did is used to secure my conviction and not my acquittal.

Unfortunately, because the punishments of the Law do little to restore offenders to good standing in society, it cannot really be said that the punishments are a schoolmaster to offenders. Those thus punished by the law are precluded in their repentance by debilitating injuries and depravities. Having no recourse to making a good name for oneself, those punished are too regardless of a bad one. Because the Law cannot reform offenders, Christ abrogated the carnal commandments and did away with the Law of Retaliation. Christ stated, “I came not to destroy sinners, but to save them.” Of course, He did this by offering himself a sacrifice to fulfill the requirements of the Law as demanded by those of a lower spirituality. In abrogating the Law and setting aside its punishments, he was not, thereby, acting unilaterally or destroying the law. In his atonement, He suffers with the victim, thereby, giving an example whereby the victim can be comforted knowing he is behaving in a Christ-like manner.

“Early Christians saw their task as one of patient suffering, not taking over themselves the work of the police. This negative attitude toward state functions had its roots not in moral absolutism and the search for complete abstention from any use of force and any relation to the state, but rather in consideration of the importance and urgency given to the affairs of the church, and (in an accessory way) in the state’s idolatry of making itself God.” — John Howard Yoder

Christ could easily have enforced the moral law through violence. Satan offered the Lord the kingdoms of this world, the Jews attempted to make Christ their king, and legions of angels were at his beckoning call. Instead, Jesus chose to enforce the moral law through persuasion. Ministry was Christ’s way of accepting and fulfilling his political responsibility in the Kingdom of God upon the earth. Ministry is the new schoolmaster for victims and for bystanders when dealing with offenders. The idea that punishment can be used to bring about repentance is, therefore, neither expedient nor moral. It is suggesting that coerced confession and forced restitution are the same as repentance and that evidence of repentance should condemn rather than pardon. How, then, does the Law do anything but lead into captivity? It makes certain that the offender, having been cut off from the land, is precluded from performing good works. This becomes a curse to the third and fourth generations of society. Instead of limiting retribution, the Saints learn to be vindictive. It is not long after that they seek “occasion one against another,” to “forgive not one another,” to appoint a “lawgiver lacking compassion” (D&C 64:8, 14), and to multiply the number of laws “breaking each other to pieces.” It is at that point that filial maturity and mutual trust has broken down.


Where does all this lead us? Well, I would like to share a 20th Century example from April 1968. A class was divided by law given by a lawgiver. The lawgiver was a teacher and the law given was that the blonde haired, blue eyed students were superior to the brown eyed, brown haired students. The former were the “chosen” students of the teacher. At recess, the “chosen” students treated the brown eyed, brown haired students with contempt. They felt this was ok because they were “chosen” and had the lawgiver on their side. The next day the roles were reversed. The brown haired, brown eyed students were “chosen.” They treated the blonde haired, blue eyed students in the manner they were treated. The students learned that the law and the lawgiver justified their lack of compassion. The students demonstrated a natural law: The Law of Retaliation. What this class did not learn was, “By subjecting others to law, they became subject to law” and “They would be treated by others as others were treated by them.” The goal of the experiment was to learn from experience and not to repeat it, but the natural man prevailed. The natural law needs no help securing its permanence by institutionalizing it, by precluding any “chosen” child from choosing to be compassionate, in thought and deed, towards an offender.

“The temptation for Christians to conceive of themselves as agents of God’s wrath is especially strong. This is to forget that the ‘agent of God’s wrath’ is not thereby doing a just deed. God in no way approved of the aggressive tyranny of Assyria (Isaiah 10). It cannot be argued that there exists a clearly defined and knowable system of natural law for states to justify their violence. The axioms for evaluating human affairs are deduced not positively from some vision of universal moral law, but negatively from a case-by-case awareness of specific abuses which call for correction by nonviolent means.” — John Howard Yoder

To go to law, to be its enforcer as a magistrate (prosecutor, judge, soldier, or police officer) is to choose a lesser priesthood by admitting a lower spiritual capacity. As the law’s enforcer, one who looks beyond the mark and kicks against the pricks of gospel law, one may yet have authority in the Holy Priesthood, but amen to the power thereof. The blessing of the Holy Priesthood (“everlasting dominion without compulsory means,” cf. D&C 121:46) is predicated upon observance of the Law of the Gospel (kindness, forbearance, patience, long-suffering, forgiveness, ministry, mercy, and reconciliation). Choosing to abide the Law of Moses as the law’s temporal enforcer precludes such blessings. Temporal security, justice, and liberty achieved through carnal means are not primary concerns for those who see with spiritual eyes nor is the resulting kingdom everlasting.

“The question, May a Christian be a policeman? is posed in legalistic terms. The answer is to pose the question on the Christian level: Is the Christian called to be a policeman? We know he is called to be an agent of reconciliation. Stating the question in this form makes it clear that if the Christian can by any stretch of the imagination find his calling in the exercise of state commanded violence, he must bring us the evidence that he has such a special calling. In truth, we must hold that the nonresistance position of the Primitive Church is the normal and normative position for every Christian. The Christian as an agent of God for reconciliation has other things to do than to be an agent of God’s wrath which is a calling reserved for the rebellious.” — John Howard Yoder

The Law of Moses and the Law of the Gospel are not compatible. We cannot have one and the other. We can only have one or the other. As an appendage, enforcement of the Moral Law through physical means is an alternative to enforcement of the Moral Law through spiritual means. But like the child who is burned with a hot iron for doing wrong, to teach or condition a child to do right out of fear (a lesser motive) cannot do anything more than save the child temporally (from those who would retaliate against him), if, indeed, it does not provoke the child to rebel. To save the child spiritually and temporally, a child must be taught to do right out of love for God and love of neighbor (a higher motive), “reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy” (D&C 121:43).

“Reproof” and “Chastisement” is referred to in these passages as the “rod of Christ.” The “rod of Christ” is not the same as physical injury or depravity. “Punishment” is referred to as the “rod of men” (2 Sam. 7:14). The “rod of Christ” is to call to repentance, to exhort from scripture. The “rod of Christ” is to condemn sin without condemning the sinner (See TG Reproof and Chastening). The “rod of men” is a chastening we cannot expect sinners to endure because it was not designed to save sinners, but to enslave or destroy them. The Law as “appendage” is, therefore, substituted action and not complementary action to the revelation of Jesus.

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L. Richard Nielsen

L. Richard Nielsen

L. Richard Nielsen

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