Near the middle of the Book of Mormon is a fascinating story of a community known as the Zoramites. The Zoramites broke from the Nephites and formed their own city in a land known as Antionum. As part of their city they decided upon a new religious practice which had several key particulars:
- Law of Moses did not apply
- Weekly assertion of divine favor
- No need of Christ
We see the summary of their beliefs outlined in an oral recitation/prayer in Alma 31:
15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.
16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.
Earlier in verse 9 it states:
9 But they had fallen into great errors, for they would not observe to keep the commandments of God, and his statutes, according to the law of Moses.
At first I saw the parallels of this testimony to the ones I hear on Fast Sunday. Too often we hear assertions of divine favor, and a works centered salvation that denies the grace of Christ, as well as a belief in customs that are outside of Christianity, such as the temple ordinances.
However, what is more surprising is the discovery of a parallel during the 1820s. This parallel is a group known as the antinomians. Notice the similarity between the words antinomian and antionum.
What is significant about the antinomians?
Wikipedia provides a surprising summary on this religious belief:
- Not bound by the law of Moses
- Extreme focus on justification through faith
- Theologically opposite of legalism or works righteousness
The article continues to explain that several key reformers were adamantly opposed to antinomianism, one of whom was John Wesley. John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist sect which heavily influenced Joseph Smith.
In the late 18th century the protestant sect that was charged as being antinomiatic were the Calvinists:
From the latter part of the 18th century, critics of Calvinists accused them of antinomianism. Such charges were frequently raised by Arminian Methodists, who subscribed to a synergistic soteriology that contrasted with Calvinism’s monergistic doctrine of justification. The controversy between Arminian and Calvinistic Methodists produced the notable Arminian critique of Calvinism: Fletcher’s Five Checks to Antinomianism (1771–75).
This connection is well explained in Mormon Parallels by Rick Grunder:
In Joseph Smith’s world, such people would commonly have been called “Antinomians,” exactly as Rev. Eltinge suggests. That would have been too modern-sounding a term to employ consciously in the Book of Mormon text, of course, yet we must not be surprised to read in Alma 31:3 that these Zoramites
lived “in a land which they called Antionum.”
A “stand,” in Protestant revival culture, was a very simple elevated structure generally wide enough to accommodate several preachers at once. The “holy stand” of the proud and wealthy, elect Zoramites, on the other hand, corresponded perfectly to the elegant but very narrow, one-man elevated pulpits in finer New England churches of more traditional, Congregationalist/Presbyterian and Episcopal congregations – something the boy Joseph Smith must have regarded with some wonder when he visited Salem, Massachusetts
with his uncle Jesse Smith while recuperating from his leg operation. (Page 546)
The Book of Mormon is a fascinating religious text with clear parallels to the world view of Joseph Smith. So many of the key characters and stories are a combination of Biblical and local experience. How did I not see these parallels before?