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The context of Mosiah 2 is that King Benjamin is handing over the kingship to his son Mosiah, so they gather together all the people for a big ceremony and a final exhortation from the former. In v3-4 we read:

3 And they also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses; 4 And also that they might give thanks to the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem, and who had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies…”

Those of us who are familiar with the Bible will recognize such language as “sacrifice” and “burnt offerings”, and most of us probably won’t see a problem with it, but there actually is:

According to the law of Moses the firstlings of their flocks were never offered as burnt offerings or sacrifices. All firstlings belonged to the Lord, de jure, and could not be counted as a man’s personal property—whereas, all burnt offerings, or sacrifices for sin of every kind, must be selected from the man’s own personal property, or be purchased with his own money for that purpose, while all firstlings of the flock, as the Lord’s property, came into the hands of the high priest, and by him could be offered up as a peace offering, not as a burnt offering or a sin offering, himself and family eating the flesh. (See Ex. 13:2,12 and 22:29,30; Numb. 3:13; 2d Sam. 24:24; Numb. 18:15–18 and other places.)

The golden bible; or, The Book of Mormon : is it from God? by M.T. Lamb, published in 1887

The Bible passages are given here, for ease of reference:

  • Exod. 13:2, “Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.
  • Exod. 13:12, “That thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the Lord’s.
  • Exod. 22:29-30, “Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me. Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.
  • Num. 3:13, “Because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the Lord.
  • 2 Sam 24:24, “And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.
  • Num. 18:15-18, “15 Every thing that openeth the matrix in all flesh, which they bring unto the Lord, whether it be of men or beasts, shall be thine: nevertheless the firstborn of man shalt thou surely redeem, and the firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem. 16 And those that are to be redeemed from a month old shalt thou redeem, according to thine estimation, for the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17 But the firstling of a cow, or the firstling of a sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they are holy: thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shalt burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savour unto the Lord.

Apparently this argument was revived by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, because the “Scriptural Mormonism” blog cites them and the book by Mr. Lamb in its attempted refutation. Unfortunately for this blog, they don’t refute anything but instead accidentally confirm it, by saying, “firstlings, as we currently understand their use in ancient Israel, were probably not offered as the olah or burnt offering in ancient Israel” but goes on to say that these animals would be given to the priests and as such, they could be sacrificed as peace offerings by the priests and eaten by the priestly families, then saying, “While apparently not used for the burnt offering, firstlings could and frequently were used along with other animals in the sacrificial peace offering.

Look again at the verse in Mosiah, which says that they also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings. A plain reading requires that they offered only some of the firstlings of their flocks, and that all of the animals offered as “sacrifices and burnt offerings” were the firstlings.

The SM blog continues and tries to claim that this verse doesn’t mean what it so clearly says. Instead, it cites Deut. 12:6 which states, “And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks“, and continues:

It is noteworthy that although this verse mentions several forms of sacrifice associated with temple worship (burnt offerings, heave offerings, freewill offerings, etc.), the only animals actually mentioned are the firstlings, even though the firstlings were, as far as we know, never offered as the burnt offering under Mosaic law. However, the mere mention of “burnt offerings” in this biblical passage clearly implies animals other than firstlings, even if no other animals are explicitly mentioned. Similarly, it is reasonable to interpret the Mosiah 2:3 reference to “sacrifice and burnt offerings” as an allusion to two distinct forms of sacrifice–the sacrifice of firstlings in the so-called peace offering and the burnt offering taken from other animals. Thus, the Nephites, in accordance with the legal prescriptions of Mosaic law, “took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice” and they also took other animals to offer as “burnt offerings according to the law of Moses” (Mosiah 2:3)

Note that the blogger again agrees that “firstlings were never offered as the burnt offering under Mosaic law“, which is exactly what Mr. Lamb had said and which this article supposedly is refuting. Then note that it says that “the only animals actually mentioned [in Deut. 12:6] are the firstlings”. I beg to differ. The only reason the article makes this claim is to find implied “other animals to offer as burnt offerings”. What is a more natural understanding of Deut. 12:6 is that when it says, “the people are to bring to the Tabernacle or Temple their burnt offerings and sacrifices, etc.”, that “they are to bring the animals they have chosen as their burnt offerings and sacrifices, etc.” I think that every mention of “burnt offering” in the Bible is in the context of an animal being killed; I don’t think plants are ever offered as burnt offerings, which means that to say “burnt offering” is to say “animal”. Instead, Deut. 12 is saying that the people are to bring their animals for burnt offerings, plus plants and animals for tithes, offerings, etc., and also are at that time to bring the firstlings of their flocks and herds to be given to the priests.

Mosiah 2:3 says that they offer sacrifices in accordance with the Law of Moses, but they don’t. Not only are there no Levitical priests, but even this blog post agrees that firstlings were not offered as burnt offerings, so must manufacture them from thin air. The verse specifically says that they took from the firstlings to offer burnt offerings, which can only mean that some firstlings were offered as burnt offerings, in contradiction to the Law of Moses. Case closed.

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