Black and White

As I have casually wandered around the BoM this summer looking at how it uses the NT, I have noted instances in which it “clarifies” NT ideas, instances in which it “de-complicates” NT ideas, and instances in which it completely changes the meaning. In this post, I’d like to point out an instance in which an NT idea is “updated” so that it speaks more openly to modern issues.

Perhaps the most radically egalitarian statement in the NT is Paul’s affirmation to the Galatians that they have no need of the Law of Moses because of their faith in Christ. Christians are “baptized into Christ” and have “put on” Christ, and in light of this event all the old distinctions are rendered void (Gal 3:26-29):

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Most importantly, Christ was the seed promised to Abraham, so those who are Christ’s are heirs of Abraham’s promise, with no exceptions. But to drive home the point, Paul listed three major distinctions: Jews/Greeks, bond/free and male/female. These divisions were “live” in Paul’s day, of course, but with the exception of gender they are now more or less moribund.

So in 2 Nephi, Nephi makes a similar point with very similar language but notice how the divisions are changed:

For [the Lord] doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

The Jew/Greek distinction is missing because it is replaced by a racial distinction, the heathen get their own mention, and the Jews are paired off against the Gentiles. This last pair, in particular, highlights the promised eschatological unity of God’s covenant people in the Last Days.

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  • Tom D

    The Jew/Gentile division at the end of the verse seem to be the primary division. Black/white, bond/free, and male/female are really sub-divisions that both Jew and Gentile can be further subdivided into (isn’t “heathen” just a way of saying “gentile that hasn’t received the gospel”?)

    Are “black” and “white” really racial subdivisions in this passage? Perhaps they refer to individual inclination to be “wicked” or “righteous” instead. It seems unlikely that Nephi and his people would be as obsessed with skin color as our culture has been (though 2 Ne 5:21 may point the other way). At any rate another way of stating Nephi’s point here would be to say that *all* humans are children of God and He loves all of us.

  • mogget

    Agreed, Jew/Gentile is the most prominent distinction. Dunno for sure what heathen might have meant, but now it does means something like “those not yet converted.”

    I think black/white is probably race or similar because the rest of the divisions are that sort of distinction.