Words of Mormon

This was the next chapter on this list, but I actually went into this chapter with one particular segment in mind, since in a recent discussion via email I was asked to outline my thoughts on God’s relationship with time, and its implications for things like his omniscience, and a part of this chapter features. I’ll briefly touch on that in a bit.

Perhaps the first thing I found interesting on this occasion however is how strongly Mormon’s voice comes over at the very beginning:

And now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni, behold I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people, the Nephites.

And it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son; and it supposeth me that he will witness the entire destruction of my people. But may God grant that he may survive them, that he may write somewhat concerning them, and somewhat concerning Christ, that perhaps some day it may profit them.

(Words of Mormon 1-2)

If you think that sounds a bit depressing, welcome to Mormon. His is an interesting voice, because it contrasts so strongly with that of Nephi, who has been the voice most often heard in the chapters up till now. Yet it’s still different from Jacob, who also formed a contrast with Nephi. Nephi, while he does face his times of grief and disappointment (such as his reaction to a vision of the destruction of his descendants in 1 Nephi 15, or his own personal struggles in 2 Nephi 4), is fundamentally an optimistic, almost bombastic character. I’ve even joked with people, and to be honest I’m not really joking, that I don’t think I’d have liked him. That’s not a fault of Nephi, by the way, but perhaps simply a case of how different personalities respond to each other. Jacob, as I’ve written about before, seems to have faced struggles with feelings of personal inadequacy, and when he speaks, he speaks in a very different way from Nephi. Contrast their approach to the Final Judgment: Nephi speaks that he has faith ‘that I shall meet many souls spotless at [Christ’s] judgment-seat’ (2 Nephi 33:7), while Jacob – while righteous – mentally includes himself with the wicked by observing ‘we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness’ (2 Nephi 9:14, my emphasis).

Mormon takes a blunt, realistic approach:

And I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord;

Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall have everlasting damnation. And thus it is. Amen.

(Helaman 12:25-26)

Mormon is a lonely figure, fighting to preserve his people but knowing that they are doomed to lose and deserve to lose. For him, the story of the Book of Mormon is fundamentally a tragedy, hence here – the first time we really hear his voice – he opens up by stating that he has seen almost the entire annihilation of his people, and anticipates its completion soon. There is little room for optimism in his experience, much of which he actually hides from us (Mormon 2:18-19). He is not devoid of hope, although he is without hope for his people (Mormon 5:2). Rather much of his hope is very remote: that this book he is working on will do good, that some day it may help draw people to Christ, that day being fourteen centuries after he has written the work, with no one to even read it in the meantime. In some respect he had the opposite experience of Nephi. Nephi faced intense trials, but he and his people got to live ‘after the manner of happiness’ in his lifetime (2 Nephi 5:27), while part of what he felt grief over was a visionary experience about what would happen centuries later. Mormon had ‘been filled with sorrow … all my days’ (Mormon 2:19), while his hope was invested in the revelation of centuries later events.

So its particularly interesting that not only does Mormon’s voice come in at this stage, but its his voice that dominates the rest of the book and indeed the structure of the book as a whole. While he personally cannot be heard in the small plates, he chose to include them, and he now narrates the rest of the book until Mormon 7, something that often seems to be forgotten when people attribute an narrator’s statement to Alma or whoever, when it is Mormon speaking, and we really only hear the others in quotations Mormon has selected. Even Mormon 8 onwards, in which Moroni is the narrator, follows plans Mormon laid out (it is Mormon who states that the account of the Jaredites will be told, in Mosiah 28:19, even though it is Moroni who ultimately tells it). The Book of Mormon is a pessimist’s book. This is not to condemn optimism (I think President Hinckley, for instance, was a great advocate and example of the power of optimism, though he never let that become wishful thinking nor hinder him from speaking unpleasant truths), but it is interesting to think about.

Onto the other matter of time, God’s relationship to it, and omniscience. I’m not going to go into this in depth at this stage, since I plan to address it, and the crucial concept of ‘retrocausality’, in the future. I have already written about the concept of time and explicit examples of retrocausality within the Book of Mormon in The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, and quote this when talking about Enos here, for anyone looking for further discussion of this right now. Suffice to say, there is a strain of philosophical thought, one which some LDS scholars have shared, that believe that complete divine foreknowledge and human agency are incompatible. We cannot truly have the ability to choose, this thought runs, if God already knows what we’re going to pick.

If the possibility of retrocausal events (that is, where the effects precede the cause, such as Enos being forgiven through the Atonement before it happened, or Lehi explicitly quoting John the Baptist centuries before he is born) is admitted, then such philosophical difficulties disappear. Causality, however, is a very strong assumption, and amongst those assuming causality applies universally, some (I’m thinking Blake Ostler, but others have too) have proposed that God is omniscient in the sense of knowing all things that exist. They then argue that future events that are dependent upon chance or choice, that is “contingent”, do not exist yet, and so God does not know them.

While I’m sure many of the people making this argument are well-intentioned, I reject this conclusion. For one thing, what future events are not “contingent”, when we move beyond the bounds of astronomy and geology? This version of omniscience knows very little of the future, especially when we factor in how many choices are in turn dependent on the outcome of the choices before that, and before that. In its crassest form, this idea was put to me by an advocate as “God does not know what people are having for breakfast tomorrow”, and while some advocates may shy away from that description, I do think its an inevitable consequence. Now factor in that someone’s decision on what to have for breakfast may be influenced by what they decided to have the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and may in turn be influenced by parents who were influenced by a lifetime’s worth of breakfast decisions, and so on for countless generations. And this is a comparatively small decision (though perhaps with significant consequences, should someone fifteen generations back choke on a kipper)! What of the big ones? How could any long term view be remotely accurate?

This sits at odds with what we learn in this chapter. Firstly, Mormon outright states that ‘the Lord knoweth all things which are to come’ (v. 7). But beyond this explicit statement that God’s knowledge does include the future, there is the demonstration of it in this chapter, for Mormon makes this comment in reference to the inspiration he is receiving to include the small plates in with his record (as Nephi was similar inspired to begin writing it). Here it is particularly interesting, because it appears Mormon was actually inspired to break his record at this point to make this note, since he hadn’t written the rest of the record yet: note that verse 5 talks about how he ‘shall take’ the remainder of his record from the plates of Nephi (future tense) and in verse 9 states that ‘now I, Mormon, proceed to finish out my record’. Words of Mormon thus breaks the account at a specific point, namely the small plates being given to King Benjamin, and transitions smoothly into the establishing of peace in the land (see Words of Mormon 18 and Mosiah 1:1).

Why is this significant? Because the material prior to Mosiah was lost, part of the 116 missing pages. The small plates were the inspired solution to this issue. But with Words of Mormon, they cover precisely the right amount of material. If Joseph Smith and Martin Harris had stopped translating a week or so earlier, the transition would not be remotely as smooth. Had they been able to continue translating for another week or so, and so lost the first parts of our current book of Mosiah, then a great deal of sense would have been lost. In other words, the inspiration that prompted the writing and the inclusion of the small plates, and the writing of Words of Mormon to integrate them into the book, foresaw not only that a portion would be lost, but precisely at which point they would be lost fourteen hundred years before they were actually lost. Were 106 pages or 126 pages lost, things would read very differently.

Now factor in all the decisions that affect the precise circumstances of this episode: not only when Joseph Smith and Martin Harris began their work, and ended their work, but every single time they decided when to begin their working day and when they decided to end it. Also every decision that led to them meeting when and where they did. Every decision, in fact, that Joseph and Martin made that led up to that specific moment at that place in the manuscript at that time. And then beyond that, every decision of every single one of their ancestors that factored into where they lived, where they moved too, who they reproduced with, and so on, involving many thousands of people, over many many generations, for over a thousand years. The very mortal existences of this chain of ancestors is “contingent”, relying as it does on the decisions of people in each and every generation. God shows that he knows and takes into account all of this.

As said, I plan to address the concept of God’s relationship with time in a future post beyond what I have already done, and while there’s undoubtedly much we don’t know about in this area, and much we maybe aren’t in a position to understand, believe that we can learn enough to resolve any philosophical difficulties between God’s omniscience and our agency. However, as to the actuality of God’s foreknowledge, I believe this chapter both states and demonstrates that he truly ‘knoweth all things which are to come’.

The Complexity of the Book of Mormon

During the most recent General Conference, Elder Ted R. Callister (General Sunday School President) spoke about the Book of Mormon, and particularly about its complexity as evidence for its inspiration. All too often, however, I see assertions of the opposite, that almost anyone with some basic familiarity with the Bible or an open copy of the King James version could write it. I came across many such claims during the writing of my thesis, and just the other week found a similar statement in a “Concise Oxford Dictionary of Religions” I came across in a charity shop (namely that the book’s authenticity was doubted because of its “reminisces of the King James version”; I didn’t check at the time, but would be intrigued to know if the contributors had felt the need to make similar statements in regards to other faiths).

These statements typically take the form of sweeping generalizations, with little evidence because few of those making such comments seem to have taken the trouble to examine the book itself closely. In contrast, one very clear finding throughout my thesis was just how exceptionally complex the Book of Mormon’s use of biblical material actually was, far more complex than I’d suggest most actual readers pick up. Furthermore, again and again I found evidence that the authors of the Book of Mormon would have needed to be far more familiar with biblical material than the critics claimed. One example from Chapter 3:

Nephi then proceeds to place a condition upon the fulfilment of this covenant:

And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.

(1 Nephi 22:10)

At first glance this appears to be a simple assertion, a claim that this ‘marvelous work’ is to be accomplished by a display of divine power. However, what this misses is that the two halves of this verse are not connected simply by assertion, but by a chain of associated passages:

And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.

(1 Nephi 22:10)

Yea, and all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord, saith the prophet; every nation, kindred, tongue and people shall be blessed.

(1 Nephi 19:17)

The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

(Isaiah 52:10; bold, italicised, and underlined text marks linked passages.)

Thus the reference to the blessing of ‘all the kindreds of the earth’ not only refers to the just quoted covenant with Abraham, but also alludes to the second half of 1 Nephi 19:17, attributed as a quotation of the non-biblical prophet Zenos. In turn, the first clause of 1 Nephi 19:17, ‘and all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord’, corresponds to the second part of Isaiah 52:10 (not quoted here, but quoted four times – twice explicitly – elsewhere in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 12:24, Mosiah 15:31, 3 Nephi 16:20 and 20:35). Finally, returning to 1 Nephi 22:10, we find the first half of Isaiah 52:10 supplying the final phrase of the verse.[1] This is extremely unlikely to be coincidental; instead it appears that the various stages by which the author linked these phrases together in 1 Nephi 22:10 have been left out, leaving only the conclusion.

[1]     Grant Hardy appears to have noticed the same connection, see Hardy, Reader’s Edition, p. 58, footnotes f and g.

As I then point out a little further down:

As noted in chapter two, one particular suggestion has been offered to explain this connection: that Joseph Smith had access to a King James Bible in front of him to assist him. While such suggestions face difficulties from eyewitness statements to the dictation process, this idea has been advanced by both critics and believers in different forms.[1] Thus Wesley Walters, holding that Joseph Smith was the actual author, argues that Joseph Smith must have had ‘his KJV Bible open in front of him’, the only alternative being memorization.[2] Sidney Sperry, on the other hand, while regarding Joseph Smith as a translator, has also argued for the possibility that a Bible was used for help in translating when Joseph Smith came across passages that were recognisably from the Bible and when the KJV was considered adequate.[3]

Yet the above example, and others like it, of the Book of Mormon’s use of the Bible present such suggestions with substantial logical problems. While the idea of working directly from an ‘open’ Bible might suffice for explicit quotations, it is a less adequate explanation for the situation above in which phrases are interwoven into the text and associated by an unwritten chain in which the intervening steps are omitted.[4] Any author would need substantially more familiarity than Wesley Walters’ scenario appears to grant (that is ‘enough to scatter biblical phrases freely’).[5] Likewise any translator attempting to use the KJV as a mundane aid to fill the gaps of any translation would need extensive biblical awareness simply to find the chain of relevant texts. There are historical reasons such scriptural fluency on the part of Joseph Smith has not been assumed.[6] A range of historical and theological possibilities could be suggested that do not require Joseph Smith to have this biblical familiarity; the book itself claims to be interpreted ‘by the gift of God’ (title page). What is clear, however, is that an open Bible alone is insufficient to explain the evident familiarity with the biblical text and the close connection the Book of Mormon has with the KJV.

[1]     All eyewitness statements to the dictation process deny the presence of other texts. Welch, The Sermon at the Temple, p. 132; Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 70; Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, pp. 30–32.

[2]     Walters, The Use of the Old Testament, p. 36.

[3]     Welch, The Sermon at the Temple, p. 135; Sperry, ‘The text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon’, pp. 80–81.

[4]     Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, pp. 67–68.

[5]     Walters, The Use of the Old Testament, p. 13.

[6]     For instance, Emma Smith’s report that at one point during the dictation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith expressed concern as to whether Jerusalem had walls. John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone, ‘Book of Mormon Translation by Joseph Smith’, Encyclopedia of Mormonism: The History, Scripture, Doctrine, and Procedure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. by Daniel Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), p. 210; See also Barlow, Mormons and the Bible, p. 13.

Obviously, like Elder Callister, I’d attribute this complexity and familiarity with the biblical text not to Joseph Smith, or any other 19th century figure, but to far older figures and ultimately divine inspiration. However, what is clear are that repeated claims that the Book of Mormon simply copies the Bible, and that anyone with an open Bible could have written it, are simply not true.


More examples of this complexity, and much else, can be found in my book, The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, which is available as a free PDF from this site, or may be obtained in paperback or in kindle format (including from Amazon.com here and Amazon.co.uk here).

Link: “On Doubting Nephi’s Break Between 1 and 2 Nephi”

One significant thing I cover in my thesis (now submitted, and hopefully en route to my viva) is that quite a few scholars get the tone of the Book of Mormon work: there’s a tendency in some quarters to treat it as if it is engaging in some gentle academic discussion, which understates the ultimate authority it claims and the forcefulness with which it states its demands for its readers to change their lives and repent.

One facet of this is touched upon by this interesting article by Noel B. Reynolds, which has just been posted on The Interpreter. Reynolds is responding, amongst other things, to certain claims made by Joseph Spencer in his An Other Testament: On typology (a work, I confess, I’m not a fan of), particularly the division Spencer suggests in Nephi’s writings. One compelling point Reynolds raises in his article is proposed claims result in the characterisation of Nephi as an esoteric writer, something which fits uneasily with Nephi’s own explicit enthusiasm for ‘plainness’.

The article is available via On Doubting Nephi’s Break Between 1 and 2 Nephi: A Critique of Joseph Spencer’s An Other Testament: On typology | The Interpreter Foundation

2 Nephi 10-11

The first Monday omnibus edition!:

For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh; wherefore, as it has been shown unto me that many of our children shall perish in the flesh because of unbelief, nevertheless, God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer.

(2 Nephi 10:2)

For I will fulfil my promises which I have made unto the children of men, that I will do unto them while they are in the flesh—

(2 Nephi 10:17)

Jacob is obviously talking here of a rather specific set of promises (namely about the restoration of Israel in “the lands of their inheritance”), but I was impressed by these verses as I read them. While many of the promises we have been given apply to the eternities, God can and sometimes does give us promises that apply to this life. It is perhaps heartening to read – with those promises in mind – that God will fulfil such promises while we “are in the flesh”, even if we must be patient for the time being.

As for 2 Nephi 11:

And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him.

And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word. Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words.

(2 Nephi 11:2-3)

I’m not entirely sure why these verses have hung on me today. There’s lots that can be found in them, of course, such as this concept of Nephi, Isaiah and Jacob acting as three witnesses of Christ. Likewise in the concept that God will both send more witnesses and vindicate his words. But what I think most sticks out to me at this time is the power of scripture, to both convince and act as evidence for other of God’s words. It’s very easy when writing about scripture to hung up on one’s own words, but really it’s the scripture itself that has the most power.

2 Nephi 1

And ye have murmured because he hath been plain unto you. Ye say that he hath used sharpness; ye say that he hath been angry with you; but behold, his sharpness was the sharpness of the power of the word of God, which was in him; and that which ye call anger was the truth, according to that which is in God, which he could not restrain, manifesting boldly concerning your iniquities.

And it must needs be that the power of God must be with him, even unto his commanding you that ye must obey. But behold, it was not he, but it was the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, which opened his mouth to utterance that he could not shut it.

2 Nephi 1:26-27

It’s interesting that Laman and Lemuel had apparently been claiming that Nephi had been angry with them; for those keeping count, 1 Nephi records Laman and Lemuel getting angry with Nephi some 7 times (and doubtless there were more instances than recorded) and while Nephi later does allude to feeling some similar feelings in reverse (2 Nephi 4:27), he’s not the one making semi-regular murder attempts. Projection is a very real thing, in many areas (as a rather bizarre online conversation recently demonstrated to me).

We can, of course, be both Laman and Nephi. Sometimes we have to receive the word of God in sharpness and correction, to which we should respond not with anger but with a penitent heart. And then sometimes we’re called upon by the spirit to say something, in which case we’d better be sure we’re listening to the spirit and not any anger or pride of our own.

1 Nephi 17

And it came to pass that according to his word he did destroy them; and according to his word he did lead them; and according to his word he did do all things for them; and there was not any thing done save it were by his word.

1 Nephi 17:31

Nephi’s speaking here of the children of Israel in the wilderness, and how as they followed God or rebelled against him they were led or punished accordingly. But, particularly as I was reading it today, the line ‘there was not any thing done save it were by his word’ seemed to have broader import. Lots of stuff happens to us – some stuff happens to me – that we/I would rather not. Sometimes those things get in the way of our righteous efforts. Now on occasion it may indeed be the case that – like the children in Israel – we’re meeting the consequence of our misdeeds. But there are also plenty of scriptural examples of trials and difficulties hindering or afflicting the faithful. And God either permits these to happen, or in some cases ordains them for reasons that – at least at the time – we are unable to perceive.

Just thinking about this now, I’m reminded of the example of Joseph in Egypt. It would have been very understandable for him to be frustrated and even angry at what happened to him; indeed I’m sure there times he probably was. It would have been easy to feel that one was almost being punished for doing the right thing: check his brothers are well for his father, and get sold into slavery by his brothers; serve faithfully as a slave, get falsely accused and thrown into jail for years; correctly interpret the dream of Pharaoh’s chief butler, get forgotten about and left in jail for even more years. Every righteous effort appears rewarded with failure. It certainly be understandable if he held a grudge against his brothers.

Yet – and this is admittedly after the great turn around in his fortunes, although it’d also have been easy to let years of slavery and prison hold their mark – when he reveals himself to his brothers his perspective is quite different:

Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.

… And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

Genesis 45:5, 7

While Joseph’s  brothers did sell him into slavery, Joseph ultimately attributes this to God. But he does not blame God, rather his acknowledges divine foresight and providence, that all this misfortune he has experienced ultimately has placed him in a position to save his family and indeed and entire nation. God’s ways are indeed higher than ours, and Joseph sees divine providence even in the ills he experienced at the hands of others.

It’s quite possible we may not quite get that perspective in this life, and may only see how the various events and circumstances fit together at that point when all things are revealed. But I think it’s important to hope for that. I myself have been experiencing quite a bit of frustration in areas of my life where it feels like the Lord would have me progress, and yet it often feels like one step forward and two (or many) back; that my righteous efforts are being rewarded with failure. But it’s important to acknowledge in all these things that God has his own purpose in these events, and that nothing happens without his foreknowledge and without his permission, and in many cases because he expressly wills it. And God can turn misfortune and even evil events to good purposes.

All that matters on our part is that we too seek to do all that we do ‘by his word’.

1 Nephi 11

And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?

And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.

1 Nephi 11:2-3

And he said unto me: What desirest thou?

And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof—for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.

1 Nephi 11:10-11

The beginning of Nephi’s vision again has lots that could be said about it – including possibly a rather singular episode where the Holy Ghost personally turns up (the Book of Mormon usage of Spirit of the Lord – and Nephi’s reaction for that matter – suggest this may be the Holy Ghost as opposed to the pre-incarnate Christ as in Ether 3). Yet one striking question I feel is one asked by the Spirit twice of Nephi: ‘what desirest thou?’

It is Nephi’s answers to these questions that dictate the course of his vision. So much seems to hinge on what we really want, and how badly we want it. It seems to my mind a key component of receiving a testimony or revelation, which in my experience (personal and observed) does not appear to come in response to idle curiosity. We’re told that ultimately God gives us ‘according to [our] desire[s]’ (Alma 29:4), for good and for bad (‘unto salvation or unto destruction’). And so much of our course in life appears to be governed by our desires, and the extent to which we’ve been able to refine and purify them.

2020 Edit:

I could say this about virtually every chapter, but if one were seeking to pick out everything of significance, one might never actually finish. What we pick out on any given read through seems to depend almost as much on where we are rather than simply what the text says, even setting aside the way the Holy Ghost can use the text to communicate things beyond the text. Confining myself to just a couple of items, however:

Firstly, I think it significant that as part of his vision, Nephi is caught away “into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot” (v. 1). Putting aside the general association of mountains with visionary experiences & temple imagery (think Moses, the Mount of Transfiguration, the Brother of Jared etc), it’s that point about how this was a mountain that Nephi had never seen before and never set foot upon before that catches my eye. This vision, after all, seems to come as a new “peak” (pun half-intended?) to Nephi’s spiritual life, an experience which in it’s spiritual and emotional intensity dwarfs any he has had before, a spiritual “high” (I believe it’s no coincidence we use these sorts of phrases) that he hasn’t had before now.

Secondly, there’s the question posed by “the Spirit of the Lord”. It’s unclear who is meant precisely by this: if it were the Lord himself in his pre-incarnate state, as with the Brother of Jared, presumably he’d be referred to a bit differently than simply as “the Spirit”, as in vv. 2, 4, 6, 8 & 9, and it’d seem strange for “the Spirit” to voice verse 6 as his does. Which might suggest this is an exceptionally rare *visual* appearance by the Holy Ghost, which would be rather singular, although possible. I think most readers (including the likes of Talmage and George Q. Cannon) have gone with the second option, which I also lean towards, but there’s room for interpretation.

In any case, however, I find the question posed in verse 4 interesting: “Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?” It’s interesting on one hand that such questions, whether involving heavenly messengers or deity himself, often seem to involve such questions, even though presumably the answers are already known. There seems to be some power in openly confessing belief in such things. The second is that on many occasions, and especially here, that belief or faith serves as a gateway for greater knowledge. I think it’s customary for us to often think of faith and knowledge to be antithetical to some degree, but when one looks at this experience and ones like it, faith seems to serve more as the gateway to knowledge, one which must be tested or confessed to be unlocked.

Thirdly, during his vision of the ministry of the Saviour, Nephi notes in verse 32:

And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying (bold is my emphasis):

Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.

This tallies with a line in 2 Nephi 9:5, where Jacob teaches that (again my emphasis):

Yea, I know that ye know that in the body he shall show himself unto those at Jerusalem, from whence we came; for it is expedient that it should be among them; for it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him.

It seems here to suggest that there is an aspect to the atonement of Christ we have yet to fully grasp or appreciate, that one of the axes upon which it works is that Christ voluntarily submitted himself to human authority, “to become subject unto man in the flesh” and be “judged of the world”, and that was in order “that all men might become subject to him”. There seems to be a connection, that because Christ yielded to our authority, we become answerable to his, and because Christ submitted to the world’s judgement, we in turn become rightly subject to his.

1 Nephi 10

And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.

For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.

For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

Therefore remember, O man, for all thy doings thou shalt be brought into judgment.

1 Nephi 10:17-20

As my thoughts touch on these verses, I wonder if this is simultaneously one of the greatest blessings and greatest responsibilities of the gospel. God, the omnipotent creator of the universe, who gives life and light to all things, is willing to reveal himself to us. And while he may speak especially to chosen prophets and so on, he is willing to reveal himself by means of the Holy Ghost to “all those who diligently seek him”, no matter when or where they live. Each of us, however lowly, may be brought into supernatural communication with our creator.

At the same time, because that opportunity is available, we are accountable for whether we seek it or not. If we truly seek it ‘diligently’ (and from scripture and experience, I believe that must be a full-hearted and not a superficial effort – see James 1:6-7 and the conditions in Moroni 10:3-5), we will in time have that blessing. But if we choose not to seek it, or to seek it with sufficient diligence and faithfulness, we shall ‘be brought into judgment’.

2020 Edit:

I quote 1 Nephi 10:17-19 above, and that’s part of what always sticks out to me upon reading this chapter, because I think that’s an important part of the message of the Book of Mormon as a whole. Nephi also wants to see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost: and then we are reminded that this is the gift of God to all those who diligently seek him, both in the past as well as in the time that Christ shall appear. Nephi has confidence that if he seeks, he will find, which he does in 1 Nephi 11-14. This is really the turning point where this now becomes Nephi’s account, and not just that of his father, and so he states in verse 1 that ‘[a]nd now I, Nephi, proceed to give an account upon these plates of my proceedings, and my reign and ministry’ (my emphasis).

However, this is not just about Nephi. Just as Nephi had confidence that God could and would make things known to him by the power of the Holy Ghost, we are to have the same confidence on the same basis: that God had done so “as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come” (v. 17). We too can seek to learn and know things by the power of the Holy Ghost, and be confident that if we diligently seek him God will reveal himself to us. Many of the miracles in the Book of Mormon have counterparts in the Bible. This is particularly noticeable in 3 Nephi, where a number of events in Christ’s ministry there tie up with events in the Gospels, and are done in a way intended to draw attention to that fact. In part, this allows the Book of Mormon to act as a second witness – another testimony – of Jesus Christ, by testifying that the miracles he wrought were not confined to one narrow section of place and time, but took place elsewhere too. However, as I discuss in chapter 5 of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible (so this thing now stands out to me), the implied – and at times (like here) the explicit – message of the text is that such things are not just confined to the Book of Mormon either:

Mormon thus claims not only that he has witnessed them, but that these three Nephite disciples ‘will’ be among people in future times, and ‘can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good’. Mormon moves beyond speaking of the appearance and activities of these men as a past event to predicting that they will be a part of future events and can be a part of present experience. Here Given’s concept of iterability offers an important point, that ‘the proliferation of historical
iterations … collectively become[s] the ongoing substance rather than the shadow of God’s past dealings in the universe’ (By the Hand of Mormon, p. 50). Likewise Hardy suggests that the miracles described are intended to act as a ‘concrete demonstration’ that Christ could likewise be ‘present in the lives of believers’ (Understanding the Book of Mormon, p. 198). The repetition of miraculous events like those in the Gospels may therefore be offered not only as a confirmation of those Gospel events, but also as a suggestion that such events need not be limited to any particular time and place but are paradigmatic.

Thus at the end of Book of Mormon’s narrative in 3 Nephi, this account – which features a wide range of miraculous events similar to those seen in the Gospels –concludes not only by affirming that such events took place, but also by asserting that such miracles can and are meant to continue to occur. The ‘iterability’ of such events may be there to indicate that these miracles and manifestations of Christ are not confined to the pages of the Bible, nor the Book of Mormon either, but to suggest implicitly – and in the case of appearances of the three disciples, explicitly – that such occurrences can be a reality now, in the lives of its readers.

(The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, pp. 291-293)

What’s being offered here in this chapter is not just a story of how Nephi went on to have his vision, but a paradigm of how we can have such revelatory experiences too, and that is part of the point. Nephi could have them just as much as his father did and those before him, and we can experience them just as much as Nephi did and those before us.

Also worth noting is Lehi’s quoting from the future, by quoting the words of the yet unborn (by about six centuries) John the Baptist in 1 Nephi 10:8. I’ve written more about this (and the implications of this feat) elsewhere in this series, as well as in chapter four of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible.

I also find it interesting how Lehi speaks of the scattering (and future gathering) of Israel here. There’s heavy use of olive tree imagery (which presages the extensive allegory found in Jacob 5), but what I find interesting is the almost positive description of the scattering. That is usually depicted as a punishment due to wickedness (see, for instance, 1 Nephi 22:4-5). Yet here Nephi records Lehi as saying:

Wherefore, he said it must needs be that we should be led with one accord into the land of promise, unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord, that we should be scattered upon all the face of the earth.

(1 Nephi 10:13)

Here, the scattering not only has a pleasant destination (‘the land of promise’), but is done to fulfil the divine word. It seems that few of God’s acts have just one motivation, and crucial events in his plan appear to address multiple things at the same time. While punishment is part of the picture for the scattering, it is not the only thing, and while the future gathering fulfils God’s promises, the scattering was also a necessary part of the plan, one which provided for the word of God to go out to all the world, to (as Jacob 5 indicates) save more than one olive tree, and as Paul suggests in Romans 11 (also filled with olive tree imagery), a means by which ‘salvation is come unto the Gentiles’ (Romans 11:11).

 

 

1 Nephi 7

Several parts of this chapter caught my attention today, setting aside the amusing fact that Laman and Lemuel seemed to have far fewer problems with this trip back to Jerusalem, or more seriously the considerable faith Ishmael must have had to believe these ragamuffins from the desert and to take his entire family out into the wilderness with them.

Anyhoo, two bits in particular:

Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.

1 Nephi 7:12

I feel there’s so much in just this short verse – not just the Lord’s capacity to do anything for us (though ‘according to his will’), but the crucial connection that we somehow seem to miss despite the obvious connection of the words between having faith and being faithful. We show and exercise our faith in God by being loyal to him.

But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.

And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet, and I stood before my brethren, and I spake unto them again.

1 Nephi 7:17-18

Deliverance can be a funny thing. Sometimes we try to save ourselves by our own efforts, and that often fails. Sometimes God gives us the power to do things beyond our own capacity, and we then do them, much as Nephi prays for here when he asks for the strength to burst his bonds. But in this case, God didn’t actually give him what he asked for: he went one better and freed Nephi by loosing the bands himself. Sometimes God has a better deliverance for us, and sometimes He will simply deliver us by His own power.

2020 Edit:

It is amusing to think about how much less Laman and Lemuel objected to this trip compared to that to fetch the plates, so much so that the only trouble we hear off occurs on the way back. What I wonder about – and I do not have a comprehensive answer for – is why all these trips were necessary in the first place. If it were all down to a human being, one could perhaps attribute this to an element of humans suddenly realising what they needed for a long trip to establish a colony. But Lehi has operated under divine direction for each of the three trips: He & his family leaving Jerusalem initially; the brothers returning for the plates; and the brothers returning for Ishmael and his family. The Lord surely could have inspired Lehi to take the plates & Ishmael & family with them the first time. But he didn’t. There’s surely some reason for that, probably more than one. Certainly retrieving the plates proved to be both a test and an educational opportunity for Nephi. I wonder what else could be a factor?

I mentioned it in writing the original post, but Ishmael’s faith stood out to me again, although we hear little of it here except by implication, and never really hear much about him:

And it came to pass that we went up unto the house of Ishmael, and we did gain favor in the sight of Ishmael, insomuch that we did speak unto him the words of the Lord.

And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father.

(1 Nephi 7:4-5)

We know that leaving Jerusalem was tough for Lehi’s family: Laman and Lemuel are never reconciled to it (as can be seen in this very chapter), Sariah expressed concerns in 1 Nephi 5, while Nephi had to seek reassurance in prayer in 1 Nephi 2. Likewise we’ll find that much of Ishmael’s family will respond similarly. So again, it’s quite striking that Ishmael and his household respond and leave, even through all they can hear is what is relayed to them second-hand by the brothers, as opposed to Lehi (the one receiving “the words of the Lord”) directly. Of course, this encapsulates the principle contained in Doctrine & Covenants 1:38:

What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

We sometimes take that verse as referring to prophets and apostles as “my servants”, but reading Section 1 in full makes clear that it is more expansive than that: the Lord’s servants are all of those he’s commissioned to relay his words. For those hearing the gospel for the first time, for instance, the “voice of my servants” of this verse includes that of the missionaries teaching them. And Ishmael must have understood that it included the four brothers standing in front of him at that moment.

On the way back, of course, Laman and Lemuel and parts of Ishmael’s household decide that perhaps they don’t want to go anyway. Nephi tries to remonstrate with them, and so they decide to tie him up to leave him to die. What’s interesting here is that they had another option aside from the murder attempt or what they did do (abandon said attempt, repent, and continue on), that Nephi even points out to them in verse 15:

Now behold, I say unto you that if ye will return unto Jerusalem ye shall also perish with them. And now, if ye have choice, go up to the land, and remember the words which I speak unto you, that if ye go ye will also perish; for thus the Spirit of the Lord constraineth me that I should speak.

They reject Nephi’s words, but they could have just left then. If they’d simply left Nephi, Ishmael and the others to continue on, there’s little Nephi could have done to stop them, and they could have continue to live at Jerusalem (at least until the Babylonians flattened the place in 587-586 BC, but they didn’t believe Lehi about that). But instead they get so angry at Nephi that they switch to the murder attempt, and that seems to constrain their options down to two: 1) trying to kill him or 2) repenting of that and continuing on into the wilderness. Rejecting Nephi’s words would at first appear to leave them with more options, but instead the act of rejection and the anger involved appear to involve them with less, so that not only can’t they leave Nephi alone,  but they seem unable to take the simple option they claimed to want in the first place. So it is with us: rejecting prophetic counsel may appear to offer more freedom, at least until the Babylonian-like consequences show up. But in practice, I’ve seen people get so angry and obsessive in their apostasy that they then cannot mentally leave alone whatever they are angry at, and so they don’t end up with more agency, they end up with less.

1 Nephi 6

Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.

1 Nephi 6:5

I think it can be easy when writing anything to want people to read and to like your work, and very easy to think you are writing in vain if people don’t like it. While I am not sure one should aim to be disliked (that’s just another version of catering to the world’s tastes, after all), I think Nephi’s statement here points out that in writing – or in anything, particularly the use of our talents – it is the approval of God that we should most seek, and that is often at odds with worldly popularity and acclaim.

2020 Edit:

1 Nephi 6 is very short, and so I don’t have a huge amount to add this reading through. Much the same things leapt out at me, for while I’ve long finished what I was working on while writing the above (and er.. maybe it wasn’t particularly pleasing for some!), I’m still trying to work on several writing projects, some of which are more serious than others.

The two verses around verse 5 also stick out. First verse 4:

For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.

On one hand I think this speaks very much both to Nephi’s aims and the aims of the Book of Mormon as a whole: it’s not written to entertain or primarily inform, but to persuade us of a course of action that has eternal consequences. On the other, perhaps we should let this filter through in our own priorities too. Not that we shouldn’t do (or write) other things (I hope not, since one thing I’m working on is a piece of fiction, and entertainment is hopefully part of that!). But we should always give serious thought to what we focus on and prioritise the most, a theme that President Oaks has touched upon frequently. What, in the end, do we want the most?

Verse 6:

Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men.

Again touching upon the same topic. It’s something I recurrently give thought to over the years, particularly considering that we renew the covenant via the Sacrament “to always remember” the Saviour. What do I end up spending most of my time thinking about, worrying about and working on? If I was to measure my mental priorities by the time I spend thinking about various topics, do the most valuable and eternal things come out on top? Or is it filled principally with other matters, many of which may not be bad, but which are simply not of eternal worth or concern?