Author and Finisher

Tucked away near the end of the BoM is a description of Christ as “the author and finisher of their faith” (Mor 6:4). A very similar appellation is also applied to Christ in Heb 12:1-2a as it is found in the KJV, although the details of the immediate context are very different. This looks to be a standard way of employing such Christological “nuggets:” much of the “punch” of the NT use remains while the NT co-text is dropped in favor of a more straightforward presentation.

In context, the BoM description of Christ as the “author and finisher” is within a chapter that seems composed almost entirely of biblical allusions strung together to create what we might call the LDS lifestyle narrative: faith, repentance, baptism, membership, the Lord’s Supper, church discipline and church meetings. (It’s a bit of a fusion of Luke and Paul, I think.) Anyway, describing how new converts must continue in the path they have chosen, Moroni writes (Mor 6:4):

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.

Now let’s have a look at how the author of Hebrews uses it in Heb 12:1-2a:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…

If readers can penetrate the imagery, the import of the co-text in Hebrews is similar to that of Moroni. The picture is that of a footrace in a Greco-Roman stadium and the racer is a Christian convert. The “great cloud of witnesses” gathered to watch the race is the faithful of Hebrews 11 such as Abel, Enoch, Noah Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joseph, etc. For 1st century converts who might have experienced some sort of persecution, the invitation was to see themselves not as victims of the powerful, but as the focus of the encouraging attention of godly men and women of Israel’s mythic past.

 

 

The phrase “looking unto Jesus” requires a bit more knowledge about a stadium. Ordinary stadiums didn’t have seats, instead the onlookers stood. However, about midway down the track there might be a platform and on it would sit whoever was the honored guest. In this case, converts might be invited to picture Jesus as that guest and to imagine themselves running past him, in a race that they could all win if they simply kept running. And after the race? Ha! These folks knew all about the post-competition festivities and how winners were treated by their fans!

The honor due Jesus is expressed in the phrase “the author and finisher of our faith.” The Greek word behind “author” doesn’t come into English all that easily. It indicates someone who is a “first” at something, who will be followed by others, and who did it so well that no one else will ever exceed his or her accomplishment. So…in English you get words such as author, founder, pioneer, etc., although no single English word really captures the impact of the Greek. And the Greek word behind “finisher” indicates someone who brings an effort to its rightful culmination, not just someone who closes out a project. So the English really doesn’t quite do justice to the Greek, I think.

However lacking the English, that’s what we have. How, then, is Jesus the “author and finisher” of faith? The author of Hebrews probably regarded the story of Jesus as a source of power in itself. That is, simply hearing the story could evoke faith as a response. And continuing to hear the story, and to make it one’s own by telling and re-telling it, would sustain that faith for the duration of the effort. Thus, a runner could gain the strength to finish the race by keeping his mind’s eye fixed on the story of Jesus.

Moroni’s message is much the same, although the focus shifts from the Jesus story itself to the effects of the Christ-event. Converts must continue in the faith; they do so by relying on the “merits of Christ,” who is further identified as the animating power behind their faith. Readers of the BoM can appreciate this point without having to de-code and otherwise contend with the footrace-stadium imagery of Hebrews 12.


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