Sunday School Lesson 11

March 8, 2004 | 16 comments
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Lesson 11: 2 Nephi 31-33

Chapter 31

Verse 2: What does the word “doctrine” mean? Why is what Nephi and Jacob have written sufficient? Sufficient for what? The phrase, “the doctrine of Christ” can be understood to mean “the doctrine that comes from Christ” or “the doctrine about Christ.” Which meaning do you think Nephi intends?

Verses 2-3: Nephi uses variations of the word “plain” three times, twice in the second half of verse 2 and once in the beginning of verse 3. Why does he delight in plainness? Does what he has said about the manner of prophesying of the Jews help us understand that? (See 2 Nephi 25:2-8.) A common meaning of “plain” is “unornamented.” However, Webster’s 1828 dictionary also gives “honesty”as one of its meanings. Is that meaning part of the extension of Nephi’s word? If you say yes, what makes you think so? When Nephi says he delights in plainness, “for after this manner doth the Lord God work,” what is he telling us? Given the highly figured language in works such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the importance of types in the Old Testament as well as the Book of Mormon, how can Nephi say that the Lord works plainly?

Verse 5: What does “to fulfil all righteousness” mean? To think about that, begin by asking what the word “righteousness” means? After you feel that you have a satisfactory definition, ask yourself why Nephi uses the qualifier “all” and what it means to fulfill righteousness. We usually say that baptism is for the remission of sin. Though that is true, apparently it isn’t the only reason for baptism, for if it were, Christ wouldn’t need to be baptized. What other purpose or purposes might baptism also serve?

Verses 6-8: Nephi’s rhetorical question in verse 6 suggests that these verses tell us what it means to fulfill all righteousness. How do they do so? Does this have something to do with other reasons for baptisms besides the remission of sin? Verse 8 begins with “wherefore”: because the events of verse 7 happened, the event of verse 8 happened. What does this teach us? Does it say anything about the Gift of the Holy Ghost?

Verse 9: Nephi gives another reason for Jesus’ baptism. What is it? Why is that an important lesson for us? How is it related to the teaching of verses 7-8?

Verses 10-12: These verses begin and end with admonitions to follow Christ. What do they teach in between, and what has that to do with following Christ? Compare what Nephi teaches here with 3 Nephi 18:24. How are these two teachings related? Usually when someone tells us to keep the commandments, that person mentions the law of chastity, the word of wisdom, tithing, or things them. Here, Nephi mentions only repentance and baptism. Why does he focus on those particular commandments?

Verse 13: Does Nephi give a list here: follow with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy, acting no deception before God, having real intent, repenting of sin, witnessing that you are willing to take the name of Christ, etc.? Or is he naming one thing, following with full purpose of heart and then explaining what that means in the last that follows? How is this teaching related to that of Moroni 7:6-11? What does it mean to speak with the tongue of angels? Is it significant that “tongue” is singular rather than plural? What is the connection between having the Holy Ghost and speaking with the tongue of angels? Why is the Holy Ghost necessary if we wish to shout praises to the Holy One of Israel? To whom does “the Holy One of Israel” refer? What is the significance of that name?

Verse 14: How does one deny Christ?

Verses 15-18: How do these verses define enduring to the end? What circumstances might have been the catalyst for Nephi’s emphasis on being baptized because Christ was?

Verses 19-20: What does “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is might to save” mean? (Compare Moroni 6:4.) What would it mean not to rely wholly on his merits? On what other merits might we suppose to rely? Does the first part of verse 20 tell us that if we are to rely wholly on the merits of the Savior, then we must press forward in perfect hope and love? What does it mean to have perfect hope? perfect love? Consider the context, then ask yourself what “feasting upon the word of Christ” means in that context. To what does “the word” refer here? That phrase is used in verse 19 and verse 20. Does one use help us understand the other? Is there a referent for the phrase in some of the earlier verses of the chapter?

Verse 21: Why does Nephi say this doctrine is “the only and true doctrine”? What do the words “only” and “true” each mean that helps us understand his point when they are put together?

Chapter 32

Verses 1-3: Notice the strangeness of these verses: Speaking to his extended family, Nephi notes that they may wonder what they should do after they have entered in by the way. Then he answers by reminding them that after they receive the Holy Ghost, they can speak with the tongue of angels. How does that answer the question of what one does after entering the way? What does verse 3 teach us about what it means to speak with the tongue of angels? What does it mean to speak the words of Christ? Nephi tells them that if they have the Holy Ghost they will speak with the tongue of angels. Then he tells them that the angels speak the words of Christ by the Holy Ghost. And he concludes by saying that the words of Christ will tell them everything they should do. Given that series, are they to speak the words of Christ or hear them? Is it significant that in 2 Nephi 31:20 Nephi told us to feast on the word (singular) of Christ but now he says we should feast on the words (plural)?

Verse 4: To what does “these words” refer?

Verse 6: To what does “this is the doctrine of Christ” refer? To what Nephi teaches in verse 6?

Verse 7: Is Nephi speaking of his own people here or of his family, including the group with Laman and Lemuel, or of humanity in general? If knowledge is given in plainness, what need is there to search it?

Verses 8-9: About what are Nephi’s listeners pondering? Why do you think they might be doing so? What kinds of things do we “perform to the Lord”? What is the significance of using “to” rather than “for”? What does it mean for a person to have her performance consecrated to her? What would it mean for that not to be the case?

Chapter 33

Verse 2: Is Nephi describing his own people here or warning them of what might happen to them by telling them what has happened to many people?

Verse 4: What might Nephi mean when he says that he has written these words in weakness? Notice that doing good and believing in Christ are parallel in this verse. The scriptures very often use parallel phrases or ideas to mean the same thing. Is that the case here?

Verse 6: What does it mean to glory in Jesus? Do we glory in Jesus? How?

Verse 8: Why does Nephi add the note about Jews at the end of this verse? How is his own background relevant to understanding this note?

Verse 9: Why does he add what he says about the Gentiles in this verse when there is nothing comparable in what he says about his people and the Jews?

Verse 10: Nephi says “if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words.” Does he mean that literally? After all, it follows logically from that sentence that if you don’t believe these words, then you don’t believe in Christ? One could use what Nephi says to argue that only Latter-day Saints are Christians. Does that make sense? How or why not?

Verse 12: Of whom is Nephi speaking in this verse? In other words, to whom does “many of us, if not all” refer?

Verse 14: To what does “words of the Jews” refer? How does one respect those words? Could an anti-Semite respect the words of the Jews? (Reread 2 Nephi 29:4-5.)

Verse 15: What has Nephi sealed on earth? How are we to understand that sealing power? Are there other times when we’ve seen it used?

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16 Responses to Sunday School Lesson 11

  1. Julie in Austin on March 8, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    Jim and any other GD teacher out there:

    It’s only Monday, and I’m already choking. I have *no idea* how to teach this lesson. Give me Isaiah, where I can provide a little background and we can wade through the symbolism together, give me Nephi chopping off a head so we can discuss ethics, give me a heckler asking about the skin of darkness, and I won’t flinch.

    But I have no idea how to generate an interesting discussion from chapters that are, to use Nephi’s own words, so very plain.

    If they don’t already get faith, baptism, and repentance (and they do, or they’d be in GE), I can’t help them.

    Seriously, I have no idea how to lead an interesting discussion about material that is so very basic.

    Help?

  2. Steve Evans on March 8, 2004 at 1:50 pm

    Julie,

    These are the major tenets of the gospel here but our “doctrine” in these chapters isn’t necessarily shared by other religions or even other Christian faiths. You could always take a comparative interfaith approach… it works in a pinch.

  3. Kaimi on March 8, 2004 at 1:53 pm

    Julie,

    One of the most interesting discussions I have had in Sunday School was comparing various “narrow is the gate” scriptures, many are called but few are chosen, etc, with Matthew 11:29-30 — Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light.

    If his yoke is easy and his burden light, why is it that so few people take it on? Why are people choosing to carry heavy burdens instead of light burdens (narrow gate, few who enter it)?

    The answers we came to included Satan’s deception; the marketing of sin; and perhaps the insidious balloon payment nature of sin (no money down, no payments until 2005, and then suddenly the entire bill comes due. Also, Satan doesn’t abide by truth-in-lending). Those were some ideas that came out. It’s really a fascinating subject, and one that we talked about for an entire class hour. Why is water choosing to flow uphill?

  4. Melissa on March 8, 2004 at 2:05 pm

    Julie,

    Nephi’s discussion in 31-33 is one of my favorites. Although I like to teach the hard material (like you) because almost anything I say is “new” to them or controversial and challenging, these chapters are intriguing to me.

    Nephi is having a conversation in these chapters with both the Father and the Son. From my reading it might even be a three-way conversation. Wow! This year I’ve asked my Sunday School class to think of the Book of Mormon (particularly 1 and 2 Nephi) as a handbook for revelation. Nephi gets revelation on land, on sea, on mountain tops, from angels, from the Liahona, from the Holy Ghost in the form of a man, and now directly from the Father and the Son. This raises questions about prayer for me. We pray to our Father in the name of Christ, but in my personal prayers it actually feels like I’m talking things out with Christ, not the Father. I don’t think that this is uncommon. As I’ve pondered the theological implications, I’ve realized that despite the difficulties, my *feelings* stem from the fact that Christ has become my father in some real way, that Christ has spiritually begotten me.

    In my lesson on Sunday I am going to talk about what it means to be spiritually reborn and what role baptism plays in that rebirth. I am also going to relate these chapters back to Nephi’s account of the Tree of Life because so many similar themes occur (straight and narrow path, pressing forward, etc). My class is used to my free-ranging style and inability to stick to the assigned text and discussion topic. In my ward those who find philosophical theology and biblical scholarship distasteful (or heretical) usually choose another class, but I realize that that is not always an option.

  5. Jim F. on March 8, 2004 at 4:59 pm

    Julie, I’ve not had a chance to think about what I’m going to do Sunday, though I will within the next day or two and I hope I will have something concrete to suggest then. In the mean time, however, it seems to me that these are the kinds of lessons in which attention to the details of the passages is important because it may help us to see old things in a new light.

    Or I may talk about the reasons that Nephi gives for Jesus’ baptism and what those mean to us or what it means to wholly rely on Christ’s merit. (The second of these is one that, in my experience, we can’t go over often enough.) And I’m also very interested in thinking with others about the business of having the Holy Ghost and speaking with the tongue of angels.

  6. Jim F. on March 8, 2004 at 5:02 pm

    Melissa, I especially like your idea of focusing on spiritual rebirth. I am in anything but a ward that would put up with philosophical theology or biblical scholarship, but I think the lesson you propose would go over well with them. (I also like the idea of using revelation as the theme, but I’m not sure what I would do with it.)

  7. Gary Cooper on March 8, 2004 at 5:24 pm

    Julie,

    In answer to your call for help, I find the reference by Nephi to “speaking with the tongue of angels” very interesting. I believe the Hebrew word often translated as “angel” in the Old Testament can actually mean “messenger”. So, to me, Nephi seams to be saying that after we are baptized and receive the Holy Ghost, we are then empowered to speak with “tongue of angels”, and commanded to do so. In other words, one of the primary reasons we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost is not just so WE can learn Truth, but so that we can be instruments for the Holy Ghost to use for teaching and bearing witness to OTHERS. This has all kinds of ramifications for not only preaching the Gospel, but also for family relationships. Literally, baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost makes us “angels”, and if we aren’t “angels” (messengers of Christ) to others, we are falling short in our duty. Nephi’s admonition to “feast on the words of Christ” is the means for obtaining and maintaining the “tongue of angels”, by teaching us God’s Truth so we can teach others, and helping us have the Spirit in more abundance. This seems a great source for elicitng class discussion, maybe it can help you in your class.

  8. Jim F. on March 8, 2004 at 5:31 pm

    Gary Cooper, your last comment reminded me of another topic I may pursue: what does “the word/words of Christ” mean in 2 Nephi 31:20 and 32:3? We often pass quickly over those phrases and assume that they refer to the scriptures, but that isn’t obvious. Perhaps trying to find meanings for them would help us understand better what Nephi is admonishing us to do.

  9. Brent on March 8, 2004 at 6:11 pm

    And following up on Jim’s and Gary’s comments, I think you could come up with quite a discussion comparing and contrasting 2 Nephi 32:3 with verse 5. The words of Christ will “tell [us] all things what [we] should do” while the Holy Ghost will “show unto [us] all things what [we] should do.” The answer to the meaning of these two scriptures, in my opinion, is a key to life. Finding and feasting upon the words of Christ, and living so as to have the Holy Ghost virtually assures that we will know and do “what [we] should do.” I really think these chapters cover some of the most important principles we can learn in this life. I imagine, as is often the case, once you get going you will have more than enough materials and it will likely be one of your better lessons. There is a lot of meat in these verses and people’s lives can change from gaining a better understanding and appreciation for Nephi’s final words.

    In fact, that reminds me of a seminary teaching class I took at BYU. One of the lessons was on “last discourses.” We studied some of the final teachings of various Book of Mormon prophets and talked about what we might write or teach if we knew our time was short. What principles would we discuss, what lessons would we teach. Of what would we bear witness. There are some striking similarities among the various “last discourses” in the Book of Mormon, and Lehi and Nephi start us off. You could use that sort of theme and them point out some of the things Nephi discusses.

  10. Melissa on March 8, 2004 at 9:43 pm

    Jim,

    I have framed all of my lessons this year around 1 Nephi 10:17 which says “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 . . .” Although this verse is talking about Nephi’s desire to see the vision Lehi saw, I think it teaches us a lot about Nephi’s way of approaching God and gaining revelation on a regular basis. My ongoing thesis is that the kind of revelation we receive has a lot to do with the kinds of questions we ask. In chapter 11 the Spirit of the Lord asks Nephi “what desirest thou?” I think that this is the same question that we are all asked (it appears in our rituals). The way/ways we answer this recurrent question is central to how much light and knowledge we are given. Nephi is bold and specific in his response to this question, “I desire to behold the things which my father saw.” When Nephi is asked again, he unapologetically requests “to know the interpretation thereof.”

    Such bold and specific requests for knowledge are one of Nephi’s hallmark traits. It is interesting to note, however, that what becomes “plain” to him in and through his revelations is rarely plain to his audience.

    Nephi’s soul delights in the words of Isaiah and so he decides to quote an extended passage of Isaiah from the plates of brass suggesting that his readers use what I call the “liken hermeneutic” that he is so fond of to interpret the text (2 Nephi 11:8; see also 1 Nephi 19:23, etc). After quoting 12 chapters of Isaiah, Nephi explains that even though Isaiah’s words are plain to “all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy,” they were not plain to his people for several reasons.

    This is not an isolated event. In this week’s readings Nephi tells us that he going to “speak unto you plainly, according to the plainness of my prophesying.” Still, after recording his dramatic dialogue with the Father and the Son, Nephi tells us that the people “ponder these things.” In other words they don’t comprehend these plain things. Nephi says “after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.” (2 Nephi 32:4)–which sounds similar to his indictment of his brothers (1 Nephi 15:8)

    In other words, it seems like Nephi is explaining that even “plain things” (perhaps especially plain things?) cannot be understood without asking in prayer and receiving the words of Christ via the Holy Ghost. Nephi tells us that we even when knowledge is given in plainness we must “search knowledge.” This whole discussion seems to come back to to 2 Nephi 31:3 “for the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men (and women) according to their language, unto their understanding.” This verse will likely serve as the major line (i.e. my central thesis) for my lesson.

  11. Jim F. on March 9, 2004 at 2:23 am

    Melissa, thanks a lot. I just saw (again) how something that I couldn’t see as a possible lesson could be, in fact, a very good one.

  12. Melissa on March 9, 2004 at 10:34 am

    Jim,

    You are more than welcome. Last week I suggested that blogging might be a waste of time/not productive for me. I should retract that statement now since talking about SS lessons and the scriptures is one of my favorite productive things to do. Thanks for your thoughtful lessons. I know how much time it takes.

  13. MDS on March 9, 2004 at 1:42 pm

    Regarding 2 Ne. 31: 5. Sometimes, this verse and the principals stemming therefrom are used to support the idea that the Savior had to be married.

    What I haven’t heard discussed, however, is the idea that Christ must have had to fulfill other commandments just like this one that generally assume an imperfect being striving to return to the Father. As an example, let’s take the other three first principals and ordinances of the gospel, since this set of verses directly addresses one of them, baptism.

    Did Christ have to exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to fulfill all righteousness? If so, how did he do this? When?

    Did Christ have to repent in order to fulfill all righteousness? If so, how did he do this? When?

    Did Christ have to receive the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost? If so, how did he do this? When?

  14. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 1:56 pm

    MDS,

    I think Nephi is making the point of the neccessity of ordinances, and then relating that to us as mortals. Joseph Smith made the point (or was it really Sidney Rigdon?) in the Lectures on Faith that even God the Father exercises faith, but that faith is centered in himself as a saved being. I would assume that Christ’s faith would be centered on His relationship to His Father, because Satan certainly attacked this (“IF thou art the Son of God, make these stones into bread, etc.”). Christ would not have had to repent, as He committed no sin (so this prompted John the Baptist, in the “baptismal imterview”, to declare that he needed to be baptized of Jesus, not the other way around. The strongest case you make is for Christ’s having hands laid on for the Gift of the Holy Ghost. But, who knows? Maybe His relationship to the members of the Godhead didn’t require this, but we all have to have this done to be confirmed members of the church…I guess I’m just thinking out loud here.

  15. MDS on March 9, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    The argument that Christ didn’t need to repent because he was sinless sounds very similar to the very argument Nephi refutes, that Christ didn’t need to be baptized because he was sinless. It doesn’t make sense to me to argue that he had need of baptism, being perfect, but no need of repentance.

    I would bet that the act of the Atonement served as Christ’s version of repentance. It certainly was absolutely neccesary for the fulfillment of all righteousness.

    Similarly, I think Christ exercised faith in himself in the Garden, when he took the leap of faith that was involved in saying “Not my will, but thine be done” and went through with all that the Atonement encompassed. Talk about stepping into the darkness, trusting in the Father. Christ had never atoned before, probably had no concept of what it would feel like, or what he was in for. I imagine every mortal part of him was filled with apprehension about the undertaking before him.

  16. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 2:33 pm

    MDS,

    Hmmm, I hadn’t considered that, and you make some good points. Still, the Scriptures say He was sinless, and baptism is not just for the remission of sins, but also is the ordinance for entrance into the Celestial Kingdom, as well as the church. I don’r believe he had to repent for His own sins, but it may be that, in context of the Atonement, he actually had to take upon Him our sins and say, “I did all these things, I take responsibility, I accept the punishment.” Wow! Imagine a man who has never sinned, and who has always had an intimate relationship with the Father and the Holy Ghost, voluntarily uttering those words, and voluntarily accepting the temporary loss of that relationship, out of love for His father, and for us!