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Great and Abominable Churchby Dennis Wright
The phrase "great and abominable church," which appears in an apocalyptic vision received by the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi1 in the sixth century B.C. (1 Ne. 13:6), refers to the church of the devil and is understood by Latter-day Saints to be equivalent to the "great whore that sitteth upon many waters" described in Revelation 17:1. This "whore of all the earth" is identified by Nephi's brother Jacob as all those who are against God and who fight against Zion, in all periods of time (2 Ne. 10:16). Nephi did not write a detailed account of everything he saw in the vision, as this responsibility was reserved for John the apostle, who was to receive the same vision; however, Nephi repeatedly refers to its content and teachings, using various images and phrases (1 Ne. 13:4-9, 26-27, 34; 14:1-4, 9-17).
Like John, Nephi and Jacob describe persecutions that evil people will inflict on God's people, particularly in the last days. The angel who explained the vision to Nephi emphasized that this great and abominable church would take away from the Bible and "the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord" (1 Ne. 13:26), causing men to "stumble" and giving Satan "great power" over them (1 Ne. 13:29; D&C 86:3; Robinson, "Early Christianity," p. 188). Though many Protestants, following the lead of Martin Luther, have linked this evil force described in Revelation 17 with the Roman Catholic church, the particular focus of these LDS and New Testament scriptures seems rather to be on earlier agents of apostasy in the Jewish and Christian traditions (see A. Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 6, pp. 1036-38, Nashville, Tenn., 1977).
In a 1906 Conference address, Elder B.H. Roberts remarked that he had previously been asked if the Book of Mormon’s “church of the devil” referred to the Catholic Church. “Well,” said I, in answer, “I would not like to take that position, because it would leave me with a lot of churches on my hands that I might not then be able to classify.” Bruce R. McConkie provides additional clarification in Mormon Doctrine:
When Nephi speaks typologically rather than historically, he identifies all the enemies of the Saints with the church of the devil (1 Ne. 14:9-10; 2 Ne. 10:16). They are those from all nations and all time periods who desire "to get gain, and power over the flesh, and to become popular in the eyes of the world, who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity" (1 Ne. 22:23). Other scriptural terms related to the great and abominable church include "Babylon" and the "great harlot" (Rev. 17:5; 1 Ne. 22:13; D&C 1:16). Images of pride, greed, and covenant abandonment are associated with these terms, in sharp contrast to the church of God. The scriptures are consistent in warning people to flee from the church of evil and find refuge in the church of God (Jer. 51:6; Rev. 18:4; 1 Ne. 20:20; D&C 133:14; see also P. Minear, "Babylon," in Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 1:338, Nashville, Tenn., 1962). The Book of Mormon image of a great and abominable church complements the biblical images of Babylon and the harlot.
The fate of the great and abominable church is described in both ancient and modern scriptures (Jer. 51:37; Rev. 18:21; 1 Ne. 14:15-16; 22:14; D&C 1:16): Though the nations of the earth will gather together against them, "the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth" are promised redemption even if it requires power sent down from heaven, as if by fire (1 Ne. 14:14; 22:17). When Jesus Christ returns, he will claim his own and reject those who have opposed him (Mal. 4:1-3; 2 Thes. 2:6-10; 1 Ne. 22:23-26; see Jesus Christ: Second Coming of Jesus Christ). As the Savior institutes his millennial reign, great will be the fall of Babylon, the harlot, and the great and abominable church (Rev. 18; 2 Ne. 28:18), for every knee will bow and every tongue confess, with thankfulness, that Jesus is the Christ (Isa. 45:23; Mosiah 27:31).
Nibley, Hugh W. "The Passing of the Primitive Church: Forty Variations on an Unpopular Theme." In CWHN 4:168-208.
Nibley, Hugh W. "Prophecy in the Book of Mormon: The Three Periods." In CWHN 7:410-35.
Robinson, Stephen E. "Warring Against the Saints of God." Ensign 18 (Jan. 1988):34-39.
Robinson, Stephen E. "Early Christianity and 1 Nephi 13-14." In The Book of Mormon: First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. M. Nyman and C. Tate, pp. 177-91. Provo, Utah, 1988.
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