By Eric Johnson
In the October 2022 Liahona–the official magazine for English-speaking adults of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–an article from President Russell M. Nelson was featured in the magazine. It is rare for Nelson to write any articles unless they are his talks given in the biannual general conferences (with Liahona print editions in May and November each year).
Titled “The Everlasting Covenant,” the article encompasses a total of 8 pages, extremely long for any piece in the magazine. The final sentence of the article reads: “This message was also delivered at a general conference leadership meeting on March 31, 2022.”
The message was introduced in the “Welcome to this Issue” introduction written by Seventy Michael T. Ringwood, who is an adviser to the church magazines. He referenced Nelson’s “landmark talk ‘Let God Prevail'” from the October 2020 general conference and said that Nelson “shared more from his studies in a meeting with the general leadership of the Church. He felt inspired to share the same message with all Church members in this month’s issue of the Liahona.” Ringwood went on to say that the article “teaches more of what he has learned about the covenant relationship God offers His children” (1).
Ringwood’s use of “inspired” is interesting. By whom? Obviously he must have meant inspired by God. In the past four years, Nelson has claimed to have been given “impressions” by God, but the word “inspired” seems to take it one step further. This is an 8-page article, so unless I want to turn this into a book, I can’t review everything. By referencing several articles from our “CrashCourseMormonism.com” site, let’s consider his main parts (offset and boldfaced) while provide an Evangelical Christian response.
In this world torn by wars and rumors of wars, the need for truth, light, and the pure love of Jesus Christ is greater than ever. The gospel of Christ is glorious, and we are blessed to study it and live according to its precepts. We rejoice in our opportunities to share it—to testify of its truths wherever we are.
I agree, “the need for truth, light, and the pure love of Jesus Christ is greater than ever.” Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints truly dispensing truth? I think this article proves that it is not.
I have spoken frequently about the importance of the Abrahamic covenant and the gathering of Israel. When we embrace the gospel and are baptized, we take upon ourselves the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the gate that leads to becoming joint heirs to all the promises given anciently by the Lord to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their posterity.
What is the “gathering of Israel”? Previous leaders have described several aspects of this phrase. described by previous leaders. For instance, thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson explained,
In the scriptures there are set forth three phases of the gathering of Israel. One, the gathering of Israel to the land of Zion which is America, this land. That is under way and has been under way since the Church was established and our missions abroad were inaugurated. Then two, the return of the lost tribes, the ten lost tribes, from the land of the north (see D&C 133). And the third phase is the reestablishment of the Jews in Palestine as one of the events to precede the second coming of the Master. Isaiah said they will be gathered together, the dispersed of Judah, from the four corners of the earth and they will be set in their own land, they will build the old wastes and repair the waste cities (see Isaiah 11:11-12) (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 91).
According to Benson, characteristics of this gathering are as follows:
- Began in the United States with the establishment of the LDS Church in 1830
- Return of the “ten lost tribes”
- Return of the nation of Israel in 1948
Fundamental to this “gathering,” Nelson had said earlier in 2006, is the Book of Mormon (“The Gathering of Scattered Israel,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2006, 80). A church manual states,
The physical gathering of Israel means that the covenant people will be “gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise” (2 Nephi 9:2). The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh will be gathered in the Americas. The tribe of Judah will return to the city of Jerusalem and the area surrounding it. The ten lost tribes will receive from the tribe of Ephraim their promised blessings (see D&C 133:26–34) (Gospel Principles, 2009, 248).
According to the Articles of Faith authored by Joseph Smith, this gathering culminates with Christ reigning on the earth from the United States:
We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory (Articles of Faith 1:10).
It was in Independence, MO where Smith laid a cornerstone known today as the “temple lot” as the place where a temple would supposed to be built in that generation. However, the temple was never built. The lot is owned by the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), which was originally founded by Granville Hedrick. Traditionally, Mormonism has taught that Jesus will return to Independence to set up the millennial kingdom.
In the October 2020 general conference, Nelson said that encouraging people who both dead and alive to keep the commandments of God plays a major role in this gathering:
This premillennial gathering is an individual saga of expanding faith and spiritual courage for millions of people. And as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or “latter-day covenant Israel,” we have been charged to assist the Lord with this pivotal work. When we speak of gathering Israel on both sides of the veil, we are referring, of course, to missionary, temple, and family history work. We are also referring to building faith and testimony in the hearts of those with whom we live, work, and serve. Anytime we do anything that helps anyone—on either side of the veil—to make and keep their covenants with God, we are helping to gather Israel. Source
Meanwhile, Nelson explains in the Liahona article that “baptism is the gate that leads to becoming joint heirs to all the promises given anciently by the Lord to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their posterity.” This in not a New Testament teaching. Rather, Romans 8:16-17 says that “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Believers become “children of God” and “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” through faith, not by baptism or any other work. This is a clear biblical teaching.
Consider Romans 5:1, for instance, which says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Verses 9-11 state,
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
While Mormons advocate for baptismal regeneration (i.e., baptism is required in order to be justified), the Bible does not teach this doctrine. For more on baptism taught by Mormonism and contrasted with biblical Christianity, visit Crash Course Mormonism: Water Baptism. Or see chapter 13 in our book Mormonism 101.
“The new and everlasting covenant” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:6) and the Abrahamic covenant are essentially the same—two ways of phrasing the covenant God made with mortal men and women at different times.
Yet are these really the same? A footnote to this section reads, “The new and everlasting covenant is the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” When D&C 132 was written, however, it specifically referred to celestial marriage, which is certainly plural marriage. Verse 19 says that a man and woman who marry in “the new and everlasting covenant” would be eligible for the Lamb’s Book of Life. Verse 20 adds, “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.”
Apostle Franklin Richards stated in October 1885,
It was difficult for men and women from all parts of the world, who had lived in the monogamic order all their lives to accept this doctrine of the eternity and plurality of marriage. It was “a new and everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned, saith the Lord.” This was the obligation that was laid upon the Prophet Joseph, and through him, upon the true believers of the Church, even all who were worthy to accept of these obligations. It was herein that the Elders and their wives extended their faith, enlarged their obedience, and accepted the terms of the new and everlasting covenant extending not through time only, but eternity also (Journal of Discourses 26:341).
BYU professor Charles Harrell also points out how the “new and everlasting covenant” originally meant plural marriage. He writes,
… the concept of eternal marriage isn’t found anywhere in the Book of Mormon or other Latter-day scripture prior to 1843. It was in Nauvoo, in the summer of 1843, that Joseph Smith formally introduced the ‘new and everlasting covenant of marriage’ (D&C 132), which initially entailed plural marriage (‘This is my Doctrine’: The Development of Mormon Theology, 318. Ellipsis mine).
In fact, this “new and everlasting covenant” became a “code word” for polygamy as used by Joseph Smith and those who were in on his secret ways:
The demand for secrecy coupled with the need to warn others of unauthorized practices such as [John C.] Bennett’s led Joseph and the Twelve to develop a system of evasion. By employing “code words” the practitioners of the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage,” as taught by Joseph, felt they could publicly deny one thing and privately live by another – and do it with a clear conscience (Linda Newell King, Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Smith, 1994, 112-113. Brackets mine).
It would make no sense in its historical context that D&C 132 is primarily talking about marriage between a man and a woman. If this is the case, the strict warnings given to Emma Smith make no sense since she was already married to Joseph. Listen to “God’s” warnings as detailed in this section of the LDS scripture:
54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.
55 But if she will not abide this commandment, then shall my servant Joseph do all things for her, even as he hath said; and I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundred-fold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds.
56 And again, verily I say, let mine handmaid forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses; and then shall she be forgiven her trespasses, wherein she has trespassed against me; and I, the Lord thy God, will bless her, and multiply her, and make her heart to rejoice.
If D&C 132 is talking about monogamous marriage, why would God have to threaten to “destroy” Emma if she did not abide a law she was already faithful in following? Because the church no longer publicly taught polygamy after 1890, a change to the meaning of the words “celestial marriage” needed to be made, as it is now made to mean a temple marriage for “time and eternity” between a husband and wife (singular). Marion G. Romney, a member of the First Presidency, said,
The new and everlasting covenant of celestial marriage is the gate to exaltation in the celestial kingdom” (“The Oath and Covenant Which Belongeth to the Priesthood,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1980, 43).
A church manual states,
To be exalted in the highest degree and continue eternally in family relationships, we must enter into “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” and be true to that covenant. In other words, temple marriage is a requirement for obtaining the highest degree of celestial glory (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, 93).
Nelson himself has taught that marriage between a man and a woman is required for exaltation, as he explained at a general conference:
Brethren, please remember: The highest degree of glory is available to you only through that order of the priesthood linked to the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (“Honoring the Priesthood,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1993, 40).
This is why he was able to reference D&C 132:6–originally talking about polygamy–to support “celestial marriage” between a man and a woman.
Over the past years, the meaning of the “new and everlasting covenant” has morphed from solely meaning marriage in a temple to including covenants also made at baptism and the sacrament. A church manual states,
The fulness of the gospel is called the new and everlasting covenant. It includes the covenants made at baptism, during the sacrament, in the temple, and at any other time. The Lord calls it everlasting because it is ordained by an everlasting God and because the covenant will never be changed (Gospel Principles, 2009, 85).
Tying in the covenants made at baptism, the sacrament, and the temple into one and the same as the “new and everlasting covenant” is exactly what Nelson has done in his article. However, there is no evidence in LDS scripture that “the new and everlasting covenant” and the “Abrahamic covenant are essentially the same.” These comments ignore LDS history and its scripture, as neither the Bible nor the unique standard works say such a thing.
For both Jews and Christians, the Abrahamic covenant involves God calling Abraham and his ancestors into communion with God. One commentator explains the Abrahamic covenant this way:
The Abrahamic Covenant is really the beginnings of the formal revelation of the covenant of grace, of God’s decision to reach into humanity and specifically save people for Himself. It comes in the form of a promise to Abraham. Abraham, who’s the son of an idolater, who did not know God. God takes the initiative with him, calls him into a relationship with Himself, and makes just unilaterally some promises to Abraham. He promises that Abraham is going to be a great nation, that he is going to be given a land, a place to live, and that through Him, all of the nations will be blessed. Source
The covenant with Abraham was made before Abraham had done anything good, as Romans 4 explains (the “it” referring to “justification” as described in the previous verses):
10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
The adjective everlasting denotes that this covenant existed even before the foundation of the world! The plan laid out in the Grand Council in Heaven included the sobering realization that we would all be cut off from God’s presence. However, God promised that He would provide a Savior who would overcome the consequences of the Fall. God told Adam after his baptism:
“Thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity.
“Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons” (Moses 6:67–68).
To agree with Nelson’s assessment, one must have the presupposition that there really was such a previous life known as the “preexistence.” Nelson uses the Pearl of Great Price for his scriptural support. However, the Book of Moses is not authentic Christian scripture. Joseph Smith did not even have a physical manuscript to “translate” from. This reference is hardly convincing to anyone outside of Mormonism.
In addition, neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon, for that matter, ever describe a “Grand Council.” Also referred to as “Council of the Gods” that took place in the preexistence, Joseph Smith said the “Grand Council” happened “in the beginning” when “the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 349). Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith provided more details:
In the grand council held in heaven, Jesus Christ voluntarily accepted the mission of Redeemer, to come in the due time of the Father and make the sacrifice that would bring to pass this restoration through the shedding of his blood… Adam was also chosen in this same council to fulfil his part as the progenitor of the human race. When he came to fulfil his part of the plan, all his former knowledge was taken from him. He had forgotten that he was Michael the archangel, holding great authority in the pre-existence (Answers to Gospel Questions 1:182).
In addition, neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon say that Adam was “baptized,” an ordinance that did not begin until John the Baptist came onto the scene in the days preceding the ministry of Jesus.
For more on the topic of preexistence, click Crash Course Mormonism.
Adam and Eve accepted the ordinance of baptism and began the process of being one with God. They had entered the covenant path.
Notice how there is not even one reference to anything written in the Bible to support this idea that Adam and Eve knew about or practiced baptism. In fact, the word “baptizo” is Greek and is not used in the Old Testament, including Genesis. While there may have been precursors to baptism in the ceremonial washings performed by the Jews in small pools of water called “mikveh,” there are more dissimilarities than similarities with this Jewish practice and baptism. For one, Jews were ceremonially cleansed over and over again whereas baptism takes place but once. Thus, it is an argument from silence to say that water baptism was a practice in the Old Testament, specifically Genesis.
When you and I also enter that path, we have a new way of life. We thereby create a relationship with God that allows Him to bless and change us. The covenant path leads us back to Him. If we let God prevail in our lives, that covenant will lead us closer and closer to Him. All covenants are intended to be binding. They create a relationship with everlasting ties.
The term “covenant path” has become a rallying cry with LDS leaders in the past few years since Russell M. Nelson became the top leader. Staying on Mormonism’s “covenant path” means a person actually fulfills all promises made to God called covenants. Sixteenth President Thomas S. Monson wrote in the July 2012 Ensign that
sacred covenants are to be revered by us, and faithfulness to them is a requirement for happiness. Yes, I speak of the covenant of baptism, the covenant of the priesthood, and the covenant of marriage as examples . . . A covenant is a two-way promise, the conditions of which are set by God. When we enter into a covenant with God, we promise to keep those conditions. He promises us certain blessings in return. When we receive these saving ordinances and keep the associated covenants, the Atonement of Jesus Christ becomes effective in our lives, and we can receive the greatest blessing God can give us–eternal life (see D&C 14:7) (“Understanding Our Covenants with God: An Overview of our Most Important Promises,” 22).
While Nelson claims that “all covenants are intended to be binding” and “they create a relationship with everlasting ties,” he doesn’t mention the fact that these “everlasting ties” come with strings attached, as he and other LDS leaders make very clear. In essence, full obedience on the part of each member through covenant-making is required.
For more on covenants, check out this article in Crash Course Mormonism.
A Special Love and Mercy
Once we make a covenant with God, we leave neutral ground forever. God will not abandon His relationship with those who have forged such a bond with Him.
The Bible teaches that God will never “abandon” a genuine child of God. According to Mormonism, however, if the person in the covenant does not keep his or her end of the bargain, then he or she will not qualify for the celestial kingdom. As one church manual says,
Latter-day Saints are Abraham’s seed of the latter days. Their
exaltation or eternal life depends on their obedience to the covenants they have made and kept with God (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis – 2 Samuel, 2003, 62).
Latter-day Saints are not only supposed to make covenants but keep them as well. Making them and not following through makes a person a “covenant breaker.”
For more on covenants, see Crash Course Mormonsim.
In fact, all those who have made a covenant with God have access to a special kind of love and mercy. In the Hebrew language, that covenantal love is called hesed (חֶסֶד). Hesed has no adequate English equivalent. Translators of the King James Version of the Bible must have struggled with how to render hesed in English. They often chose “lovingkindness.” This captures much but not all the meaning of hesed. Other translations were also rendered, such as “mercy” and “goodness.” Hesed is a unique term describing a covenant relationship in which both parties are bound to be loyal and faithful to each other.
He is correct in saying that hesed is a unique term difficult to translate. As far as the meaning of this special Hebrew word, one commentator writes,
Hesed, found some 250 times in the Old Testament, expresses an essential part of God’s character. When God appeared to Moses to give the Law a second time, He described Himself as “abounding in” or “filled with” hesed, which is translated “love and faithfulness,” “unfailing love,” “faithful love,” “steadfast love,” and “loyal love,” depending on the Bible version (Exodus 34:6–7). The core idea of this term communicates loyalty or faithfulness within a relationship. Thus, hesed is closely related to God’s covenant with His people, Israel. As it relates to the concept of love, hesed expresses God’s faithfulness to His people.
Hesed is provided with no “strings attached”:
God’s covenant relationship with His people results in His loyal love and faithfulness [hesed], even when His people are unfaithful to Him. Always at the heart of hesed lies God’s generous sense of compassion, grace, and mercy. Hesed surpasses ordinary kindness and friendship. It is the inclination of the heart to show “amazing grace” to the one who is loved. . . . The message of the gospel—God’s act of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus—is rooted in hesed. Hesed describes the disposition of God’s heart not only toward His people but to all humanity. The love of God extends far beyond duty or expectation. His forgiveness of sin fulfills a need that is basic to all other needs in the relationship between human beings and God—the restoration and continuation of fellowship with God in Jesus Christ. God’s hesed manifested in forgiveness makes a relationship with Him possible. That forgiveness comes to us freely as a gift from God based on the sacrificial act of Christ. Source
Israel was always going to be God’s people, even if they failed at their “end of the bargain,” as Nelson infers. We find this concept is true even in the New Testament for Gentiles as well. The concept of hesed is not based on a person’s success in keeping God’s covenants that makes a person a child of God. Instead, a relationship with God is found only through faith alone (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14-16).
When Nelson says “hesed is a unique term describing a covenant relationship in which both parties are bound to be loyal and faithful to each other,” he is not correct. We must remember that he is certainly no theologian. The Bible is replete with examples contradicting his position. Consider, for instance, the covenant made with Abraham in Genesis 15:12-18:
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” 17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land . . .”
It was the Spirit of God who went through the carcasses, not Abraham–a unilateral agreement initiated by God. As Pastor John Piper writes,
In Genesis 15:6 it says, “Abram believed the Lord, and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.” God justifies Abram because of his faith, and justification is an act of God full of promise. Ever since God had chosen this ungodly Aramean and promised to make him a great nation (Genesis 12:1–3), he had remained childless. The promise seemed hopeless (Genesis 15:2). But God, who delights in doing the humanly impossible, says to him in Genesis 15:4, 5: “Your own son shall be your heir . . . Look toward heaven and number the stars if you are able to number them . . . So shall your descendants be.” God is going to act for Abraham. Therefore, Abraham looks away from himself (in a grand reversal of Adam’s sin) and trusts God to keep his word. That act of faith so honors the glory of God’s trustworthiness and power and mercy that God responds with the incomparable gift of justification: he declares Abraham to stand righteous before him. Not that Abraham will never sin again. He will. But he has now been forgiven for all his sins, past and future, in the sense that God will not bring him into condemnation for them (cf. Romans 4:1–8).
But if there is now no condemnation for Abraham because of his free justification by faith, then we can see clearly that Genesis 15:6 is full of promise. “God reckoned his faith to him for righteousness” means that God is not against him, but for him for the rest of his life and to all eternity. The way God expresses this exhilarating truth to Abraham in Genesis 17:7 is by promising to be his God: “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you . . . to be God to you and to your descendants after you.” If God is your God, he works for you with all his power, and so Abraham’s justification by faith is a promise that God is for him, he will be God to him and work for him with great mercy and faithfulness. This is true both in this fallen age and in the age to come.
Nelson is a trained heart doctor–and from all appearance, he was admittedly a very good one. Yet he has never taken any college or post-graduate courses to help him understand how to properly interpret the Bible. As a layperson with no experience on how to properly interpret God’s Word, he unfortunately lets his presuppositions get in the way of his exegesis. This is common for those who have never been taught how to study the Bible and it’s the cause of many problems for those interpreting based mainly on their presuppositions.
A celestial marriage is such a covenant relationship. A husband and wife make a covenant with God and with each other to be loyal and faithful to each other.
Hesed is a special kind of love and mercy that God feels for and extends to those who have made a covenant with Him. And we reciprocate with hesed for Him.
But what are the ramifications if the Latter-day does not “reciprocate” by keeping his or her end of the “bargain”? In Mormonism it is crucial to keep all covenants, as another manual states:
Receiving ordinances and keeping covenants are essential to Heavenly Father’s plan. The scriptures often refer to His people as a “covenant people.” The Lord’s blessings exceed our mortal expectations. To live in the presence of our Heavenly Father, we must receive all of the necessary ordinances and keep all of the required covenants (The Gospel and the Productive Life Student Manual Religion 150, 2004, 98).
Because God has hesed for those who have covenanted with Him, He will love them.
As mentioned, hesed is a reference to how God provides His love and mercy to His chosen people, Israel. The Gentiles were later allowed into the fold. God never has abandoned His people nor will He ever do so. Consider what Paul wrote in Romans 11:1-2a:
I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.
The apsotle added in verses 5-7:
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
He will continue to work with them and offer them opportunities to change. He will forgive them when they repent. And should they stray, He will help them find their way back to Him.
What is repentance in Mormonism? D&C 58:43 says, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” For someone who sins the same sin again, these “forgiven” sins return (D&C 82:7). This must be a heavy burden for the Latter-day Saint who struggles with sin.
For more on repentance, visit Crash Course Mormonism.
Once you and I have made a covenant with God, our relationship with Him becomes much closer than before our covenant.
Where in the New Testament does it teach that believers covenant with God to keep His commandments? Jeremiah 31:31-34 teaches what the “new covenant” will be like:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it ton their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Citing these verses, the author of Hebrews teaches how Jesus has instituted a much better covenant:
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises (Hebrews 8:1-6).
What is that covenant based on? The next chapter of Hebrews explains how Jesus
12 entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
It is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus that is perfect, better than any animal could provide:
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established.
Like other LDS leaders, Nelson completely disregards this new covenant as well as its mediator. Nothing he speaks about refers to Jesus and the work He has accomplished on the cross, once for all, that is powerful enough to reconcile humans with the all-holy God.
Thereby, this everlasting covenant was restored as part of the great Restoration of the gospel in its fulness. Think of it! A marriage covenant made in the temple is tied directly to that Abrahamic covenant. In the temple a couple is introduced to all the blessings reserved for the faithful posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
From the very beginning of the church in Jerusalem after Christ was raised from the dead, Christians have never made temple worship a priority. This is because they have had no need of a temple since Jesus fulfilled what the temple was originally intended to be. In the Old Testament, people made their sacrifices to God as atonement for their sins. They were required to come with animals every year. Yet Hebrews 10 explains how the sacrifice made by Jesus was enough to satisfy the demands:
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Notice how no individual makes a covenant with God since Jesus appeased sin once for all time based on what He did on the cross. This idea of being on the “covenant path,” as stressed so often by LDS leaders, is certainly not a New Testament concept. And there is no mention made in the New Testament of how marriage was a “covenant” required to qualify for eternal life.
As did Adam, you and I personally entered the covenant path at baptism. Then we enter it more completely in the temple. The blessings of the Abrahamic covenant are conferred in holy temples. These blessings allow us, upon being resurrected, to “inherit thrones, kingdoms, powers, principalities, and dominions, to our ‘exaltation and glory in all things’ [Doctrine and Covenants 132:19].”
What New Testament evidence does Nelson offer to support His case? None. But I want to show you, the reader of this lengthy review, what a long shot that Moses 6 in the Pearl of Great Price is anything written in Old Testament times. In fact, I would be willing to bet that someone who is reading this passage from an objective point of view could believe this was said/written more than a millennium before the time of Jesus. Who could believe it?
Let me demonstrate by citing the verses I’m talking about:
51 And he called upon our father Adam by his own voice, saying: I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh.
52 And he also said unto him: If thou wilt turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men, ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask, it shall be given you.
Never once did Moses ever mention any of these doctrines in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible:
- Be baptized in water (never mentioned in the OT)
- In the name of mine Only Begotten Son (this concept is not from the OT)
- Full of grace and truth (not an OT saying but it comes from John 1:14)
- Jesus Christ
- Only name given under heaven where salvation shall come (not an OT phrase but it is found in Acts 4:12)
- Receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (a NT concept)
- Ask all things in my name, and whatever you ask, it shall be given (a concept found not in the OT but in John 14:13-14).
Let me say this again. Not a single one of these teachings are found in the Pentateuch or anywhere in the Old Testament. Each and every one is a New Testament concept. For Moses to have used these terms is unfathomable and makes no sense for Him to say any of this. If you are a Latter-day Saint, how can you reconcile this passage as having been written by Moses? If Moses could not have written this, then who did? And what other problems could there be in LDS scripture?
All who accept the gospel become part of the lineage of Abraham. In Galatians we read:
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
“… 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” (Galatians 3:27–29).
It’s true that Christians are Christ’s “heirs” who belong to “Abraham’s seed.” But where in the New Testament does it teach that a person needs to make a covenant with God (i.e., promise to keep God’s commandments) in order to be known as God’s people? If Nelson would keep reading the text, perhaps he could better understand what the author is saying. Here’s what the next part of that passage says:
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Notice how Paul says we are adopted as sons. Because we are “sons,” then, God sent His Spirit as we are now an heir of God. This is the new covenant, as described by Paul in Galatians 4:
21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. . . . 28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
What Nelson is proposing for his people is to continue working under the covenant of Hagar. Instead, he needs to explain how we are to live under Isaac and become the children of promise. Mormonism proposes a path of salvation that is certainly not biblical. Is this problematic? I certainly think so.
Thus, we can become heirs to the covenant either by birth or by adoption.
In Mormonism, “born in the covenant” refers to a child who is born to parents who were married for time and eternity in an LDS temple before his or her birth. Children of parents who were not married in the temple can participate in a temple ceremony to be sealed together for eternity. Of course, there is no biblical precedent for thinking that children born to parents married in a temple or who participate in a temple ceremony with their parents will be together as a family in the next life. This concept cannot be found in the Bible.
Isaac and Rebekah’s son Jacob was born in the covenant. In addition, he chose to enter of his own accord. As you know, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (see Genesis 32:28), meaning “let God prevail” or “one who prevails with God.”
As a descendant of Abraham, Isaac was “born in the [Abrahamic] covenant.” The meaning given in Mormonism for “born in the covenant” is not the same.
In Exodus we read that “God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exodus 2:24). God told the children of Israel, “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me” (Exodus 19:5).
Patriarchs from Old Testament times certainly belonged to the Abrahamic covenant. Today, as Gentiles, we also belong to this covenant. Notice, as well, that keeping the covenant was not a rule for being a covenant people, but rather it was the blessing attached to that covenant. In essence, the covenant described who you are (a child of God through faith alone) rather than what you do.
The book of Deuteronomy recounts the importance of the covenant. Apostles of the New Testament knew of this covenant. After Peter had healed a lame man on the temple steps, he taught onlookers about Jesus. Peter said, “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus” (Acts 3:13).
The covenant of keeping commandments as someone who is part of the Abrahamic covenant is never mentioned in Acts, although it is certainly a requirement in Mormonism.
Peter closed his message by telling his audience, “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed” (Acts 3:25). Peter made it clear to them that part of Christ’s mission was to fulfill God’s covenant.
These were Jews to whom he was talking. They certainly were under Abraham’s covenant. The Gentiles did not enter the fold, so to speak, until Acts chapter 10 and the pouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles (verses 38-42).
The Lord gave a similar sermon to the people of ancient America. There, the resurrected Christ told the people who they really were. He said:
“Ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
“The Father having raised me up unto you first, and sent me to bless you in turning away every one of you from [your] iniquities; and this because ye are the children of the covenant” (3 Nephi 20:25–26).
Only believers in Joseph Smith accept the Book of Mormon as scripture. But, like the passages above, this reference is talking to a (supposed) Jewish people. If the story were true, then of course they would be considered children of Abraham.
Do you see the significance of this? Those who keep their covenants with God will become a strain of sin-resistant souls! Those who keep their covenants will have the strength to resist the constant influence of the world.
While Mormonism continually stresses the keeping covenants in order to gain eternal life, Nelson has provided no evidence to show that those who “keep their covenants with God will become a strain of sin-resistant souls.” Simply ask your Latter-day Saint friend a) how often they covenant to keep God’s commandments (i.e., at baptism, at the temple, at the sacrament meeting each Sunday); b) how they are doing at keeping their promises. Instead of hearing success stores, most Latter-day Saint admit they constantly promise to keep the commandments but fall short every time. They usually end up making excuses, such as “I’m trying” or “I’m doing my best.” Yet the God of Mormonism has made it possible to keep the commandments (1 Nephi 3:7; Moses 6:57).
The Abrahamic covenant is all about faith and God’s favor on them based on nothing they accomplish. Here is another example of sloppy exegesis on the part of Nelson.
Missionary Work: Sharing the Covenant
The Lord has commanded that we spread the gospel and share the covenant. That is why we have missionaries. He wishes for every one of His children to have the opportunity to choose the Savior’s gospel and embark upon the covenant path. God wants to connect all people to the covenant He made anciently with Abraham.
Of course God wants people to be a part of the new covenant. It comes by faith and not by works. Romans 10:9-13 says that
if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
But there is even more—much more. There is a huge need to spread the gospel to people on the other side of the veil. God wants everyone, on both sides of the veil, to enjoy the blessings of His covenant. The covenant path is open to all. We plead with everyone to walk that path with us. No other work is so universally inclusive. For “the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name” (Helaman 3:27).
Mormonism teaches that it is possible to offer vicarious work in their temples on behalf of those who are already dead. The Book of Mormon disagrees, as Alma 34:34-41 contradicts such a concept. Somehow, the book of Helaman is cited to make it appear that the Book of Mormon agrees that it is possible to do efficacious work for the dead. In the context of this passage, this is talking about those people (tens of thousands, it says) of that day who believed and were being saved.
The next verse (Helaman 3:28) says, “Yea, thus we see that the agate of heaven is open unto ball, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.” There is no mention made about work for the dead! A very clever attempt by Nelson, though, it must be admitted.
For more on the temple, visit Crash Course Mormonism.
Because the Melchizedek Priesthood has been restored, covenant-keeping women and men have access to “all the spiritual blessings” of the gospel (Doctrine and Covenants 107:18; emphasis added).
Nelson assumes that the so-called “Melchizedek Priesthood” (which was never an official priesthood in the Old Testament nor did any sinful human ever have this in the New Testament) has been restored and includes a verse in his unique scripture as support. Yet if only Jesus had a priesthood in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:24), why do Mormons think that they can have it?
For more on the LDS priesthood, visit Crash Course Mormonism.
At the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in 1836, under the direction of the Lord, Elijah appeared. His purpose? “To turn … the children to the fathers” (Doctrine and Covenants 110:15). Elias also appeared. His purpose? To commit to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery “the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed” (Doctrine and Covenants 110:12). Thus, the Master conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery priesthood authority and the right to convey the unique blessings of the Abrahamic covenant to others.
Again, this is all unique LDS beliefs. We have to take Joseph Smith’s word that Elias appeared to Smith and that Jesus “conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery priesthood authority.”
While there are dates (May 15, 1829) for when Smith and Cowdery were supposedly baptized by each other while having hands laid upon them by John the Baptist (the Aaronic priesthood), there is no date for this supposed Melchizedek Priesthood. Has a Latter-day Saint ever wondered how this date (supposedly later in 1829) could have been lost to history? After all, it’s not every day that “Peter, James, and John” make an appearance to bestow such an authority on someone.
Making a covenant with God changes our relationship with Him forever. It blesses us with an extra measure of love and mercy. It affects who we are and how God will help us become what we can become. We are promised that we, also, can be a “peculiar treasure” unto Him (Psalm 135:4).
Making a covenant with God and promising to keep all of God’s commandments certainly will change your relationship with God. This is because now the onus is on your back and, if you fail, you fall short of qualifying for the celestial kingdom.
For instance, God supposedly said in D&C 25:15-16, “Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come. And verily, verily I say unto you, that this is my voice unto all. Amen.
Meanwhile, D&C 42:78 says, “And again, every person who belongeth to this church of Christ, shall observe to keep all the commandments and covenants of the church.” And D&C 130:21 reports, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
Sixteenth President Thomas S. Monson taught,
Essential to the plan [of salvation] is our Savior, Jesus Christ. Without His atoning sacrifice, all would be lost. It is not enough, however, merely to believe in Him and His mission. We need to work and learn, search and pray, repent and improve. We need to know God’s laws and live them. We need to receive His saving ordinances: Only by so doing will we obtain true, eternal happiness (Ensign, January 2018, 5).
In that same talk, he also said, “Should there be anything amiss in your life, there is open to you a way out. Cease any unrighteousness” (Ibid). Can anyone say easier said than done?
Promises and Privileges
Those who make sacred covenants and keep them are promised eternal life and exaltation, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7).
I don’t think the full impact of D&C 14:7 was made in Nelson’s partial citation. Let’s just cite the whole verse:
7 And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.
Nelson made this point at a general conference talk:
Eternal life, or celestial glory or exaltation, is a conditional gift. Conditions of this gift have been established by the Lord, who said, “If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” Those qualifying conditions include faith in the Lord, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and remaining faithful to the ordinances and covenants of the temple (“Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2008, 9).
It’s interesting that Nelson does not talk about this “conditional gift” in the October 2022 article. But can something really be a “gift” if there are requirements to earn it? Romans 4:3-5 seems to be an appropriate passage to consider here:
3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
That word “if” certainly seems to get in the way. “If” you keep my commandments and “if” you endure to the end are the requirements to receive this “gift.” When your boss gives you a paycheck for the work you did, go up to him and thank him for the generous gift. See what her reaction is. In the same way, Nelson’s “conditional gift” is nothing more than a wage.
Jesus Christ is the guarantor of those covenants (see Hebrews 7:22; 8:6). Covenant keepers who love God and allow Him to prevail over all other things in their lives make Him the most powerful influence in their lives.
Reader, if you are a Latter-day Saint, are you a “covenant keeper”? Or are you a “covenant breaker”? Spencer W. Kimball described what a covenant breaker is:
Akin to many of the other sins is that of the covenant-breaker. The person baptized promises to keep all the laws and commandments of God. He has partaken of the sacrament and re-pledged his allegiance and his fidelity, promising and covenanting that he will keep all God’s laws. Numerous folks have gone to the temples and have recovenanted that they would live all the commandments of God, keep their lives clean, devoted, worthy, and serviceable. Yet many there are who forget their covenants and break the commandments, sometimes deliberately tempting the faithful away with them (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 57).
If you are someone who “recovenants” (is that even a word?) each week at the sacrament meeting to live the commandments and then breaks them, you are a covenant breaker. When will you end this vicious cycle?
In our day we are privileged to receive patriarchal blessings and learn of our connection to the ancient patriarchs. Those blessings also provide a glimpse into what lies ahead.
Patriarchal blessings are not something done in the Old Testament after the times of the patriarchs (hence the term). We do not see such a blessing used in the New Testament. If Mormonism restores biblical concepts, why is this not the case?
Our calling as covenant Israel is to make sure every member of the Church realizes the joy and privileges associated with making covenants with God. It is a call to encourage every covenant-keeping man and woman, boy and girl, to share the gospel with those who come within their sphere of influence. It is also a call to support and encourage our missionaries, who are sent forth with instructions to baptize and help to gather Israel, so that together we may be God’s people and He will be our God (see Doctrine and Covenants 42:9).
For the Christian, we do not say “we may be God’s people,” but rather, “we are God’s people.” That’s a huge difference.
First Peter 2:9-10 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Of course, “hesed” is a Hebrew word, not Greek. But this word “mercy” used by Peter is certainly talking about the same type of word designated by its use in the Old Testament.
Every man and every woman who participates in priesthood ordinances and who makes and keeps covenants with God has direct access to the power of God.
As Ronald Reagan once said in a debate, “There you go again.” Those who both “make” and “keep” their covenants are the only ones who have “direct access to the power of God.” For the Latter-day Saint, I ask quite genuinely, how are you doing at that?
We take the Lord’s name upon ourselves as individuals. We also take His name upon us as a people. Being passionate about using the correct name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a vital way that we as a people take His name upon us. Truly, every benevolent act of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members is an expression of God’s hesed.
It is amazing that Nelson found it appropriate to remind everyone about his insistence (since 2018) that the words “Mormon,” “Mormonism,” and even “LDS” should no longer be used. It’s a silly hill to die on and something we have discussed before (click here or here).
Why was Israel scattered? Because the people broke the commandments and stoned the prophets. A loving but grieving Father responded by scattering Israel far and wide. However, He scattered them with a promise that one day Israel would be gathered again into His fold.
Of course, this is supposed to be a reference to the Book of Mormon and the Lamanite and Nephite people. John 10 is supposed to be biblical support for this teaching, but as LDS teachers do, this is taken out of context. For proof, click here.
A Path of Love
The covenant path is all about our relationship with God—our hesed relationship with Him. When we enter a covenant with God, we have made a covenant with Him who will always keep His word. He will do everything He can, without infringing on our agency, to help us keep ours.
In Mormonism, the doctrine of grace is all about “God’s enabling power” to keep the commandments of God. The word means something much different to biblical Christians. It is a day and night difference between our faiths.
The Book of Mormon begins and ends with reference to this everlasting covenant. From its title page to the closing testimonies of Mormon and Moroni, the Book of Mormon makes reference to the covenant (see Mormon 5:20; 9:37). “The coming forth of the Book of Mormon is a sign to the entire world that the Lord has commenced to gather Israel and fulfill the covenants He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Again, I will beg to differ. This is nothing less than Nelson’s presupposition. Yet there are so many problems with the Book of Mormon.
To see articles on the Book of Mormon, click here.
According to Seventy Michael T. Ringwood, 17th President Russell M. Nelson “felt inspired to share” the message he titled “Everlasting Covenant.” If this was supposed to infer that Nelson was somehow inspired by God, then this article is proof that God has not spoken to this man. There are so many problems with his teaching, some of which has been documented here, because it contradict the biblical instruction on covenants, including the Abrahamic covenant. If you are a Latter-day Saint, this article ought to be enough for you to abandon Mormon teaching and consider a personal relationship with Jesus. We’d be more than happy to talk to you more about that. Write us at contact at mrm.org.