“After All We Can Do” (2 Nephi 25:23)
Commandments, Doctrine, Faith, Grace, Isaiah (Prophet), Jesus Christ, Law of Moses, Nephi (Son of Lehi), Salvation
A Book of Mormon verse that has led to immense discussion and scrutiny is 2 Nephi 25:23: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” It is particularly the last part of the verse, “after all we can do,” that has garnered the most attention since it seems to qualify the statement on grace and leads interpreters to define what grace means in LDS belief and consequently what role our efforts or works play in relation to grace. A significant article dealing with this verse, and to which this article is responding and nuancing, was written by Joseph Spencer in 2014. Spencer’s excellent analysis of this verse reinforces the importance of focusing on the context of this verse, particularly the grammatical subjects within the verse, in order to pull the meaning out of the last phrase. Yet unlike Spencer’s article, which is a theological reading of the scripture, this piece will try to focus more on Nephi’s historical situation in an effort to better understand what Nephi’s words meant in their initial context (something Spencer cursorily alludes to in a later section of his paper). Too often the last half of the verse is touted as an overarching statement of LDS doctrine on grace without paying careful attention to its meaning within its original literary context. Nephi’s original context, especially the verses that follow verse 23, emphasizes salvation only coming through Christ, yet it also encourages continued observance of the law of Moses in order to be reconciled to God, for that is all they could do until Christ fulfilled the law through his Atonement. Spencer raises five excellent questions from the reading of 2 Nephi 25:23 that highlight the verse’s ambiguities and, consequently, its difficulty for interpretation. The simple reading and traditional interpretation of verse 23, that grace comes chronologically after we have expended our best efforts, is the least likely correct interpretation even though it is often provided as a proof text on the role of grace in LDS theology (and thus is frequently used as fodder by critics of the Church who feel that Latter-day Saints maintain a theology of “earning” salvation). Thus I agree with Spencer’s conclusion that “the obvious reading of 2 Nephi 25:23 is anything but obvious.” In order to set the stage for a discussion of a possible meaning of this verse, a brief discussion with Spencer’s five questions will follow.
Original Publication Citation
“‘After All We Can Do’ (2 Nephi 25:23),” Religious Educator 18/1 (2017): 33-47.
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Ludlow, Jared W., "“After All We Can Do” (2 Nephi 25:23)" (2017). Faculty Publications. 3645.
Religious Studies Center