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Abinadi was a courageous prophet (150 B.C.), and the best known martyr in the Book of Mormon. His ministry and execution recounted at the heart of the Book of Mosiah sharpen the contrast between righteous King Benjamin and wicked King Noah. Alma1, a converted eyewitness, recorded Abinadi’s main words shortly after they were spoken (Mosiah 17:4).
Abinadi belonged to a small group of reactionary Nephites who had returned from Zarahemla a generation earlier to repossess from the Lamanites the city of Nephi, the traditional Nephite capital, and its temple. When the excesses of the apostate Nephite king and priests grew intolerable, Abinadi was commanded of the Lord to denounce publicly their abominations; he prophesied their coming captivity and affliction. Abinadi was condemned to death by Noah for this, but escaped.
Where he lived in exile is unknown. Similarities between his and Benjamin’s words (cf. Mosiah 16:1; 3:20; 16:5; 2:38; 16:10—11; 3:24—25) could mean that he spent some time in Zarahemla with King Benjamin and his people (W of M 1:16—17), or received similar revelation during this period.
After two years, having been commanded again by the Lord to prophesy, Abinadi reentered the city of Nephi in disguise. Before a crowd, he pronounced a curse in the name of the Lord upon the unrepentant people, their land, and their grain, with forthright predictions of destruction and humiliating bondage, reminiscent of Israel’s suffering in Egypt. In a potent curse, like those used in the ancient Near East to condemn covenant breakers, he testified that Noah’s life would “be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace” (Mosiah 12:3).
Abinadi was apprehended by the people, bound, delivered to Noah, and accused of lying about the king and prophesying falsely. Both accusations were violations under their law, the Law of Moses (Mosiah 13:23; Ex. 20:16; Deut. 18:20—22). The dual nature of the charges appears to have complicated the ensuing trial, the king typically having jurisdiction over political charges and the priests over religious matters.
The trial first focused on the charge of false prophecy. The priests challenged Abinadi to interpret Isaiah 52:7—10. They presumably thought this text showed that God had spoken “comfort” to their own people, who had seen the land “redeemed.” They contended that whereas Isaiah extolled those who brought “good tidings,” Abinadi spoke ill. Under such interpretation, Abinadi’s curses conflicted with Isaiah and were held by the priests to be false and unlawful (Mosiah 12:20—24).
Abinadi rebutted the priests in several ways. He accused them of misunderstanding and disobeying the law. He extracted from them an admission that salvation requires obedience to the law and then rehearsed to them the Ten Commandments, the basic law of the covenant that they had not kept. He miraculously withstood the king’s attempt to silence him, “and his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses’ did while in the mount of Sinai” (Mosiah 13:5). He then quoted Isaiah 53 and explained its relation to the coming Messiah.
Abinadi’s prophetic words are among the most powerful in the Book of Mormon. He explained the “form” and coming of God mentioned in Isaiah 52:14 and 53:2 (Mosiah 13:34; 14:2) as the coming of a son in the flesh, thus “being the Father and the Son” (Mosiah 15:1—5). He also taught that God would suffer as the “sheep before her shearers” (Isa. 53:7; Mosiah 14:7). Abinadi was then in a position to answer the priests’ question about Isaiah 52:7—10. He proclaimed that those “who shall declare his generation” (cf. Mosiah 15:10) and “[publish] peace” (Mosiah 15:14) are God’s prophets and that they and all who hearken unto their words are his “seed” (Mosiah 15:11, 13). They are the ones who truly bring “good tidings” of salvation, redemption, comfort through Christ, and the reign of God at the Judgment Day.
Using Isaiah’s text, Abinadi showed that God could not redeem Noah’s people who had willfully rebelled against deity, and that true redemption comes only through repentance and acceptance of Christ. He also showed that his prophecies did not contradict the Isaiah text quoted by the priests.
Noah desired that Abinadi should be put to death, evidently on the charge of bearing false witness against him as the king. A young priest named Alma valiantly attested to the truthfulness of Abinadi’s testimony, whereupon he was expelled and the trial recessed for three days while Abinadi was held in prison.
When the trial reconvened, Abinadi was presumably accused of blasphemy (Mosiah 17:8), another capital offense under the Law of Moses (Lev. 24:10—16). Noah gave him the opportunity to recant, but Abinadi refused to change God’s message, even on threats of death.
Noah was intimidated and desired to release Abinadi. The priests, however, accused Abinadi of a fourth crime, that of reviling against the king (Mosiah 17:12; Ex. 22:28). On this ground Noah condemned Abinadi, and his priestly accusers scourged and burned him. It was normal under Mosaic law for the accusers to inflict the punishment, but burning was an extraordinary form of execution. It mirrored Abinadi’s alleged crime: he was burned just as he had said Noah’s life would be valued as a garment in a furnace. As Abinadi died, he prophesied that the same fate would befall his accusers. This prophecy was soon fulfilled (Mosiah 17:15—18; 19:20; Alma 25:7—12).
Abinadi was remembered by the Nephites in at least three roles:
- To Alma, his main convert, Abinadi was a prophet of Christ. Alma taught Abinadi’s words concerning the death and resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the redemption of God’s people (Mosiah 18:1—2), and the mighty change of heart through their conversion (Alma 5:12). Through Alma’s descendants, Abinadi influenced the Nephites for centuries.
- To Ammon, who beheld the martyrdom of 1,005 of his own converts (Alma 24:22), Abinadi was recalled as the prime martyr “because of his belief in God” (Alma 25:11; cf. Mosiah 17:20; see also Mosiah 7:26—28). This was recognized as the real reason for Abinadi’s death, since the priests’ charge of reviling proved to be a false pretext.
- To Mormon, who witnessed the decadence and destruction of the Nephites 500 years later, Abinadi was remembered for prophesying that because of wickedness evil would come upon the land and that the wicked would be utterly destroyed (Morm. 1:19; cf. Mosiah 12:7—8).
Welch, John W. “Judicial Process in the Trial of Abinadi.” Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1981.
Matthews, Robert J. “Abinadi: Prophet and Martyr.” Ensign, April 1992, 25—30.
Lew W. Cramer