'I Will Give Unto You My Law': Section 42 as a Legal Text and the Paradoxes of Divine Law
Nathan B. Oman
William & Mary Law School
April 15, 2011
EMBRACING THE LAW: ESSAYS ON DOCTRINE & COVENANTS SECTION, Jeremiah John, ed., p. 42, Salt Press, Forthcoming
The idea of divine law occupies an uneasy place in the modern world. In most modern legal systems, divine law is relegated to liminal spaces unoccupied by the authority of secular law. Hence, divine law is generally seen as legitimately speaking only to private, moral, or religious issues. For believers, however, this truncating of divine law's authority presents the problem of how to reconcile the primacy of God's authority with the practical dominance of secular over sacred law. This paper explores how Mormonism has responded to this problem by providing a close reading of section 42 of the Doctrine & Covenants, a passage of Mormon scripture written in the 1830s. It argues that ultimately Mormonism presents a paradoxical conception of divine law that both insists on its own ultimate authority while simultaneously sacralizing its own retreat before secular power. The resulting conception has proven spiritually unsatisfying for some, but has allowed Mormonism to successfully negotiate the tensions created by the idea of divine law in the modern world.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 18
Keywords: divine law, Mormonism, religion, jurisprudence, decalogue, law of consecration, law and religion, legal history
Date posted: April 17, 2011
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