What the scriptures actually tell us about the Light of Christ. Part 1

October 24, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 12:07 pm   Category: Scriptures

First of all, the light of Christ is not mentioned at all in the bible. It is a concept strictly found in modern scripture. Even there, there are only three times were the term is used, the earliest use being in Alma 28:14. As NCT author Jacob J has dedicated much time to this topic, I felt I should do an independent study of it, and return and report.

Alma 28:14 notes only that we have reason for “joy because of the light of Christ unto life.” This is contrasted with sorrow because of the “death and destruction” caused by a great war where tens and thousands were slain, making the author (either Mormon or Alma) to reflect on the state of the souls of those who had been slain. Poignantly he notes the inequality of man, due to our choices, due to our sins and transgressions, and due also to the influence of Satan upon the world, which is a deterministic force compelling us on to misery. Realizing the power of this opposition, the Author feels, is a great call to diligence for men to go forth and “labor in the vineyards of the lord.” This is the set up for the reference to the “light of Christ unto life.” We must “labor in the vineyard” to give the “light of Christ unto life” or at least a knowledge of how to utilize it or increase it to man, so that he or she may “dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness”.

The author continues on this theme of “the great call of diligence” by wishing he were an Angel, and that he could go forth in an all powerful fashion and force the people to pay attention to the message of God, in order to eradicate evil from the world. He knows this is wrong however, to want such a thing, as men are given “according to their wills” or “according to their desire” destruction or salvation, death or life. (Recall that it is the light of Christ which leads unto life). Everyone is (and I’d add must be) exposed to both good and evil in their lives. Those who can not distinguish good from evil are blameless, but for the rest of us, who are not blameless, we will reap what we sow, again according to our “desires”: “good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience”

As used here, the light of Christ can not be clearly elucidated, however, some ideas stick out. The light of Christ can either be given, increased, or better utilized through the diligent labor of man. This does not preclude Jacob J’s atonement theory, but It does ad nuance to it. Also, I don’t know if this is just me, but while going over this, I realized that thinking of “conscience” as the imp on my shoulder was impeding my understanding. Conscience, I believe, is merely information available to us regarding good and evil which informs our decisions. This also does not preclude Jacob J’s theory of the atonement. Lastly, I am not sure I can equate “light of Christ” exactly with conscience, but rather as a subset thereof, especially in light of the fact that someone can lack the ability to discern good from evil, and is thus blameless.

Was Alma 28-29 written by Mormon or Alma. In Alma 28, the tense changes from past tense to present tense around verse 11, is this where it would switch? Is there some reason we traditionally consider Alma 29 to be Alma’s speech, or do we just follow the chapter heading?

Unrelated to the text at hand, If conscience is information regarding what is good and evil, is it related to the tree of knowledge of good and evil?


  1. Nice job Matt, I’ll be interested to see your later editions.

    As to authorship here, I think one fairly definitive way to see that it is Alma talking is the one mentioned in the chapter heading of Alma 29 which is that the author goes on in Alma 29:14 to glory in the success of Ammon and his brethren in the land of Nephi (he doesn’t use the name Ammon but it seems clear enough that he is talking about them as he just relayed their story).

    The way I read it, Alma 28:8 is the end of the record of Ammon. Alma picks up in the present tense in 28:9-12. Mormon adds an editorial comment with his signature “and thus we see” in 28:13-14 (thus, it was Mormon who used the phrase “light of Christ”). Then, Alma 29 continues on with the remarks of Alma. I think you have correctly narrowed in on the phrases that lead Mormon to invoke the phrase “the light of Christ.”

    As you said, Alma goes on in chapter 29 to mention the exact ideas that Moroni later identifies with the light of Christ. Good and evil come before all men and they are judged according to their wills, whether they desire good or evil. Notice the parallel he sets up in 29:5 between good/life/joy and evil/death/remorse_of_conscience. Eternal life and eternal death are the ultimate consequences of good and evil, but while we are on earth, we are guided by good leading to joy and evil leading to remorse of conscience. This is the point that gets further clarified and expanded in Alma’s description of justice to his son Corianton in chapter 42.

    But, back to the point at hand, Alma says in 29:4-6 that God can judge people even if they don’t have the gospel preached to them based on their knowledge of good and evil and their response to that sense of morality. For Mormon, this idea of the knowledge of good and evil that coming before all men is called the light of Christ.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 24, 2007 @ 5:31 pm

  2. Matt,

    By the way, you said something in that italics part at the first of the post that I have to respond to:

    First of all, the light of Christ is not mentioned at all in the bible. It is a concept strictly found in modern scripture.

    If you do a search for “light of Christ” then yes, but the idea that Christ is the light and the life of the world is an important theme in the gospel of John.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 24, 2007 @ 5:45 pm

  3. I don’t think one can draw a hard distinction between the light of Christ and the influence of the Holy Ghost, or the Spirit. They appear to function in the same way and for the same purpose, with one possible exception – the D&C 88 passage.

    The latter is problematic because it assigns the light of Christ a meta-physical power akin to natural law. But Christ is a person with a body, and it is difficult to understand how one can originate the very principles that make one’s body operate in the first place.

    That is one of the major reasons why conventional theology denies that God has a body. They want to identify God with the ground of all being, but how can the ground of all being be derived from a being that has a ground?

    Two examples. D&C 88 implies that the light of Christ (which proceeds forth from his presence) is the “law by which all things are governed”. Now suppose that God turned his back on the universe for a moment. Would apples still fall from trees? Would electrons cease going around in their orbits?

    Second example. The scriptures say that “God is love”. The classical tradition takes this literally. If there were no God, there would be no love, or anything else, because God is the Absolute – the sum of all perfections. The conventional Christian God is identical with his attributes.

    But in LDS land, it seems rather unlikely that if God didn’t exist that the universe would cease to exist as well, nor does there seem to be any metaphysical bar on the existence of love. And certainly if there was ever a time before God was God, love cannot be a consequence of his divine status as such.

    If we really want God to both be the ground of all being and to believe that persons can be exalted, what one would really be doing would be replacing the mystery of the trinity with the mystery of the infinity. Natural law independent of God is much more straightforward.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 24, 2007 @ 6:27 pm

  4. Mark,

    D&C 88 implies that the light of Christ (which proceeds forth from his presence) is the “law by which all things are governed”. Now suppose that God turned his back on the universe for a moment. Would apples still fall from trees? Would electrons cease going around in their orbits?

    I’m not so sure this interpretation of the law is reasonable within the context of D&C 88. There is no hint whatsoever that the “law” refers to physics. Compare D&C 88:21-25 which talks about being “sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ” and not “transgressing” the law. This doesn’t sound like physics. Rather, it sounds like a moral law, which governs, not the orbits of electrons, but the differences between celestial/terrestrial/telestial kingdoms. It is worth noting that conscience has been referred to as “the moral law within.”

    Comment by Jacob J — October 24, 2007 @ 9:22 pm

  5. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions contrasts the Light of Christ with the Holy Ghost and suggests that Joel 2:28 refers to the Light of Christ (eventually resulting in prophesy, dreams and visions):

    One is a Personage of Spirit and the third member in the Godhead. The other is a spirit of light and truth which fills the immensity of space and gives light to the intelligence of men, whether they believe in Christ or not.

    Moroni has proclaimed that any honest seeker after truth who diligently asks of the Lord, will receive a manifestation of the truth through the Holy Ghost…then the person has no further claim for further manifestations, until he has complied with the law…we must conclude that the enlightenment that comes to men in the world…must be from some other source…the Lord said through Joel, that he would pour out his spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28.)…the Spirit of Christ (sometimes called the Light of Christ, and Spirit of truth, or Spirit of Jesus Christ) is a spirit that is given to EVERY MAN, no matter who he is or what is his belief.

    Comment by Howard — October 24, 2007 @ 9:43 pm

  6. Jacob J: #1- My question of the authorship becomes more aparant, I think, when one notes that the original had no Chapter brake between 28 and 29. The strongest case for Alma authoring it is the discussion of brethren, as you noted. However, could Mormon not also call these his brethren? It seems that the best indicator then is the tense: “my brethren…have been up to the Land of Nephi.” This sense of talking about the events as if they were present, as I said before, begins in vs 11 of chapter 28. It seems to me that it is difficult to discern where Mormon ends and Alma begins here. Perhaps it is unimportant, but I am holding on to the idea that both the final verses of chapter 28 and all of 29 were penned by the same Author. It seems to make more sense to me that way, But I am interested in this concept that “and thus we see” is an indicator that this is Mormon speaking. I’ll investigate that. From a quick glance, it is an interesting concept to say the least.

    As for the “Light of Christ” in the bible, I am limiting my scope to where the term “Light of Christ” is explicitly used at this time. I may expand to general usage of the term light later on, but I was trying to limit my scope to make this manageable and to make sure I am not going to be accused of sensus plenoir(sp?).

    To respond to a couple of other points you made: I think Alma/Mormon is setting up a synonymous nature between [eternal] life and [eternal] joy and [eternal] death and [eternal] remorse of conscience.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 25, 2007 @ 6:58 am

  7. Mark B.- I’ll get to D&C 88 in part 3, so I won’t address that part of your comment yet, but keep these thoughts handy for then.

    I would like to respond to this though:

    I don’t think one can draw a hard distinction between the light of Christ and the influence of the Holy Ghost, or the Spirit. They appear to function in the same way and for the same purpose,

    I’d say that from my analysis of Alma 28-29, the light of Christ, to me, seems more like Information we have available to us internally, like a map or an algorhythm or a rulebook or something, which we can use to process and parse information. Whether we reject or accept this information is up to us, as it is only information. In this sense, the influence of the Holy Ghost is also just information, so I would agree with you, if that is what you are getting at.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 25, 2007 @ 7:06 am

  8. Do think that psychopaths do not have the Light of Christ?

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 25, 2007 @ 7:34 am

  9. J. #8 I can’t yet give a perfect answer for that. My current opinion is that the light of Christ is a set of information we can use to inform our decisions and help us discern between good and evil. This information may however be rejected, unutilized, or misunderstood (though not eliminated, I think) Personally I think psychopaths or sociopaths may have the information, but may be unable to utilize it due to the physical constraints put upon them by their fallen bodies. Thus, they are blameless.

    This question may get more light as I do another post or 2.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 25, 2007 @ 7:44 am

  10. Howard (#5),

    More recent authorities have backed off JFS2’s assertion in favor of the distinction between feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. There is ample scriptural evidence for this. 1 Ne 13:15, Hel 5:45, and 3 Ne 9:20 are typical.

    Jacob J (#4),

    The natural law stuff is implied by verses 7-9 in particular:

    “Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made”

    Now it is certainly possible that there are lower level natural laws that are truly natural, and that light, gravitation, etc. are higher level phenomena that are a consequence of divine ordering (That is Stephen E. Robinson’s position as I understand it), but refusing to draw such a distinction borders on pantheism. Surely God is distinct from the primeval chaos.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 25, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

  11. Mark,

    I agree that some such distinction is necessary. Going back to your first comment, you said:

    I don’t think one can draw a hard distinction between the light of Christ and the influence of the Holy Ghost, or the Spirit. They appear to function in the same way and for the same purpose

    I think the distinction is not in how they function, but in the conditions upon which they are given. The light of Christ is given without condition to everyone whereas an increase in the spirit is conditioned upon our acting in accordance with the light we’ve been given. Same for the gift of the Holy Ghost, given on condition.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 25, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  12. Jacob,

    Nonetheless, that is purely a formal distinction. There is little or no evidence of a metaphysical difference between the two. Just two names for the same thing, distinguished only by convention.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 25, 2007 @ 10:28 pm

  13. Mark D. #10

    “More recent authorities have backed off JFS2’s assertion…”
    Are you referring to Joel 2:28? Or?

    Boyd K. Packer in 2005 quotes JFS2:

    “Every man can receive a manifestation of the Holy Ghost, even when he is out of the Church, if he is earnestly seeking for the light and for the truth. The Holy Ghost will come and give the man the testimony he is seeking, and then withdraw; and the man does not have a claim upon another visit or constant visits and manifestations from him. He may have the constant guidance of that other Spirit, the Spirit of Christ.”

    Comment by Howard — October 26, 2007 @ 12:37 am