Some Unique Contributions of the Book of Abraham
The Book of Abraham, given by the gift and power of God through the prophet Joseph Smith, is a priceless treasure. The Abrahamic materials in the Bible (Genesis 11-25) are far more extensive than are found in the Book of Abraham. The Bible relates the story of Abraham from his early life in Ur of the Chaldees to his death. The period of Abraham's life related by the Book of Abraham is confined to his early life-from his dwelling in Ur of the Chaldees to the point of his entering Egypt with Sarah his wife (Genesis 11:27 through 12:13). Yet, the Book of Abraham makes some unique and precious contributions to our understanding of the doctrine.
This article will briefly summarize those unique contributions of the Book of Abraham found in no other scripture.
1. The Book of Abraham provides us with new insight into the nature of the Abrahamic covenant, that two-way promise between God and Abraham and his descendants (Abraham 2:9-11; Abraham 2:19). The Abrahamic covenant is in reality the gospel covenant. The Lord's part of the covenant agreement-that which Jehovah promised to Abraham-is largely recounted in chapter 2 of Abraham. There are promises of property (Abraham 2:6), posterity (Abraham 2:9; Abraham 3:14), priesthood (Abraham 1:18; Abraham 2:11), salvation (Abraham 2:10), and preservation of records (Abraham 1:31).
2. We learn of Abraham's active seeking for the priesthood (Abraham 1:2).
3. We learn also of Abraham's remarkable faithfulness in the face of apostasy around him, even as evil priests tried to take his life upon a pagan altar (Abraham 1:5-15). He was eventually rescued by an angel of the Lord. Through this episode, we gain a better understanding of the significance of the later episode in which Abraham was commanded by the Lord to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:1-19). We can better understand what Abraham must have been thinking and feeling when he went up to sacrifice Isaac. Both great Abrahamic tests threatened innocent life, both were contradictory in the extreme, both involved a dramatic rescue by the premortal Jesus Christ or his angelic agent, and both teach something about the doctrine of mercy. Surely these two tests conveyed to Abraham what few others could understand so well: the meaning of the atoning sacrifice of the Savior and what it took for God the Father to give his Only Begotten Son as an offering. How grateful we ought to be for Abraham 1 alone, a chapter that helps us appreciate the nature of Abrahamic tests and teaches us that while the righteous will face many contradictions and trials, each of these brings its own special instructions, rewards, and blessings.
The Book of Mormon declares that Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac was "a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son" (Jacob 4:5). The experience with Isaac undoubtedly helped Abraham to see the crucifixion from the Father's perspective. (Perhaps that is why Hebrews 11:17 refers to Isaac as Abraham's "only begotten son" even though Abraham had already fathered Ishmael.)
4. As part of the right of priesthood, Abraham was also given special patriarchal records to preserve. These records contained "a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the starts, as they were made known unto the fathers" (Abraham 1:31). We learn of the greatest of the governing spheres of the endless universe, Kolob by name (see Abraham 3:3-4). It was revealed to the patriarch Abraham-a unique contribution in all of scripture. As fascinating as this knowledge of astronomy is, the far more important issue here may be why the information was given. The revelation helped teach Abraham (and thus all who would read his record) the greatness of Jesus Christ-the awesome and premier position of the Only Begotten Son relative to all other beings and objects in the Father's vast kingdom. By explaining to Abraham the truly divine grandeur of something that might engage the mind of any mortal on a clear night-the stars of creation-God could go on to teach the even greater significance of something that one pondering the heavens might consider-the role of the Lord of creation.
Abraham learned that just as one planet or star is greater than another until one comes to Kolob-the great governing one (Abraham 3:9)-so, too, one spirit is greater than another until one comes to Jesus Christ-the great governing one (Abraham 3:19; Abraham 3:24). A careful comparison of the characteristics of Kolob with the characteristics of Jesus Christ demonstrates that Kolob was, and is, a profound symbol of the Savior. We offer a few examples. Just as Kolob is "the great one" (Abraham 3:3), so Jesus Christ is "the Great I AM" (D&C 29:1). Just as Kolob is "the first creation" (Facsimile 2, figure 1), so Jesus Christ is the first creation-"the firstborn" (D&C 93:21) of our Father's most important creations, his children. Just as Kolob is the source of light for other stars and planets (see Facsimile 2, figure 1), so Jesus Christ is source of light for the immensity of space, including the sun, moon, stars, and earth (D&C 88:5-13). Truly, the Book of Abraham is a remarkable text, preserving a unique testimony of Jesus Christ written in the design of the physical universe and emphasizing again that all things do indeed testify of the Savior (see Moses 6:63).
5. We learn of our premortal existence and of the role of the Savior in that phase of our existence. We learn that the Savior was, indeed, "a God before he was born into this world." Abraham wrote of the leadership role that the Lord Jesus Christ took in the Creation: "And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell" (Abraham 3:24). In a very real sense, the book of Abraham is "Another Testament of Jesus Christ."
6. Abraham was shown the eternal nature of the plan of salvation and was taught that the earth was purposely created as a schooling and testing ground in "all things" (Abraham 3:25). He learned that rich and everlasting rewards ("glory added upon their heads forever and ever") are reserved for those who remain faithful to the plan of the Father (Abraham 3:26). It is on this point that Abraham's record makes another singular contribution to our understanding of premortality, clarifying what otherwise would be an obscure phrase found elsewhere in one verse of the New Testament. Only Abraham and Jude speak of our premortal condition as the "first estate" (Jude 1:6; Abraham 3:26). In that one verse, Jude speaks of certain angels not keeping their "first estate" and thus leaving "their own habitation." But only from Abraham do we learn that these angels were in fact spirit children in the presence of God, that the habitation they left was God's presence, that they departed because they chose to follow Satan rather than God and Jesus Christ, and that in this "first estate" God's children lived as independent identities, exercising moral agency in the Father's presence. Were it not for the book of Abraham, much of our basic understanding of the structure, sociality, and history of our premortal existence would be missing. Only Abraham's remarkable record speaks of mortality's probationary period as the "second estate," given as an endowment to all those who kept their first estate (Abraham 3:26).
7. The keystone of the Father's plan of salvation is the atonement, and the keystone of the atonement was the selection of the Son in premortality to be the executor, the one who put into operation all of the terms and conditions of the plan-the one who would be our Savior. According to the Book of Abraham, the selection of the Savior was the first major event in bringing to pass the Father's plan: "And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first" (Abraham 3:27). The prophet Joseph Smith taught that "at the first organization in heaven we were all present, and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it." Abraham's record is the earliest scriptural account we possess of this essential truth.
8. In the Book of Abraham we have clear expression of the creative efforts of the Gods in organizing and forming the earth and heavens (see Abraham 4:1). Such language assumes the existence of material before the creation of this earth began, and it corroborates the earlier statement in Abraham 3:24: "We will take of these materials, and we will make an earth." The doctrine of creation thus taught in Abraham opposes the notion of a creation ex nihilo (literally "out of nothing"). It also fits perfectly with the original Hebrew verb bara', used in the Hebrew Bible account of the creation. This Hebrew term and its Semitic cognates literally mean to form, to shape out, to fashion by cutting already existing material. In this connection the prophet Joseph taught:
You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, "Doesn't the Bible say he created the world?" And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the [Hebrew] word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship (HC, 6:308-9).
9. The Book of Abraham makes another unique contribution to our understanding by explaining the physical location of the earth in the universe at the time this sphere was created, before the actions of Adam and Eve brought on the fall. Note the references to time in the following verse: "But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the time that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die. Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord's time, which was after the time of Kolob; for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning" (Abraham 5:13). President Joseph Fielding Smith stated that in this verse the Lord "revealed to Abraham that Adam was subject to Kolob's time before his transgression." According to President Brigham Young, Abraham 5:13 also means that before the fall of Adam, the earth was near the very throne of God. But when the fall occurred, the earth literally fell or moved from the physical presence of God to its present position in our solar system. When all the effects of the fall of Adam are finally overcome, the earth will literally move back into the presence of God. Here are President Young's words:
When the earth was framed and brought into existence and man was placed upon it, it was near the throne of our Father in heaven. . . . But when man fell, the earth fell into space, and took up its abode in this planetary system. . . . This is the glory the earth came from, and when it is glorified it will return again unto the presence of the Father, and it will dwell there, and these intelligent beings that I am looking at, if they live worthy of it, will dwell upon this earth (JD, 17:143).
The power by which the effects of Adam's fall are overcome for all created things, including the earth, is the atonement of Jesus Christ (see D&C 76:40-43; Moses 7:48-62).
10. There are other contributions to our understanding made by the book of Abraham including a treatment of the premortal existence with the councils in heaven in which we all participated, and wherein Christ was chosen to be our Savior; an affirmation of the eternal nature of man's intelligence; an account of the founding of Egypt by Ham's daughter Egyptus; and a remarkable account of the Creation.