BMGD #42: 3 Nephi 27-30 and 4 Nephi

November 5, 2012 | no comments
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CHAPTER 27

1 And it came to pass that as the disciples of Jesus were journeying and were preaching the things which they had both heard and seen, and were baptizing in the name of Jesus, it came to pass that the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting.

Why mention the journeying as a separate thing?

What work does “heard and seen” do here?

Notice the verbs:  journeying, preaching, baptizing.  We have these ongoing actions interrupted by gathering and being united.

Why the word “mighty” in this verse?

What does this verse suggest to you about their understanding of the role of fasting?

Something about this verse–sounds like a much different narrative and tone than that the previous chapter.  I wonder if this was originally written by a different writer, or has a different level of redaction, or what.

What is the relationship between prayer and fasting?

 2 And Jesus again showed himself unto them, for they were praying unto the Father in his name; and Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and said unto them: What will ye that I shall give unto you?

Notice the “for”:  does this verse imply that Jesus was able to show himself to them because they were praying (or because they were praying in his name)?

What work is “and stood in the midst of them” doing in this verse?  (Since it is not technically necessary, I suspect that there is something ritualistic about “in the midst,” especially since we have seen that language before.

Why do you think Jesus asked them this particular question?

As this story unfolds, consider why they had an actual visitation from Jesus here and not an angel or a still small voice or a burning bush.

I think this verse subtly suggests the enormous power that exists when we pray in the name of Jesus:  he might actually show up in person to answer our prayers!

 3 And they said unto him: Lord, we will that thou wouldst tell us the name whereby we shall call this church; for there are disputations among the people concerning this matter.

This verse paints a fairly negative picture of the state of affairs, but v1 painted a fairly positive picture.  How do you explain the disconnect?

All of three verses ago, we read this (this is the last verse of chapter 26):  “And they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ.”  So, um, how is it that people were disputing about the name of the church?  And if they were disputing, why didn’t we hear anything about it then?

Thinking again about v1, do you think that the dispute over the name of the church was why they were gathered specifically, or was their gathering and prayer more general?

We’ll see in 4 Nephi that the people go decades with no disputations or contentions.  What was different here?

Wouldn’t you think that the disciples would have told people what name to call the church and that would have been the end of it?  Why would there be disputations among the people?  (Notice that Jesus asks this question in the next verse!) Or, did the disciples have disputations among themselves (which would explain the disputations among the people, but wouldn’t do a good job explaining the gathering and unity a few verses ago, I don’t think).

If this were anyone but Jesus, we’d say he dropped the ball by not telling them what to call the church before letting them go out and baptize people.  So what do you think is going on here:  Why wouldn’t he have told them beforehand?

I’m sorry, but if Jesus showed up and asked me what I wanted, solving a semantic dispute would be about #523,097,235 on my list, far below a lifetime supply of dark chocolate and more patience.

 4 And the Lord said unto them: Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing?

In v2, the narrator called him “Jesus” but in this verse, picks up the usage of “Lord” from the disciples in the previous verse.  Is this significant?  (Maybe not, but in a narrative about what to call things, I can’t help but wonder.)

This seems like an odd use of “verily, verily, I say unto you” where it is followed by a question . . .

Why does Jesus ask this question?  Do you think he knew the answer to it before he asked it?

Notice that the disciples said nothing about murmuring; why do you think Jesus added that in?

I can totally see myself standing up for the disputing people here:  “Well, they need to know what to put on the signs out front of the church, and no one told them, and Brother Lamoni thought that “Jesus’ Church” was nice and friendly, but Sister Sariah thought “The Church of Jesus” was more dignified.  And things kind of went downhill from there . . .”

 5 Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;

Note that Jesus is suggesting that the answer to a problem can and should be found in the scriptures.  His answer implies that people should be reading and applying.

Does this verse assume universal Nephite literacy and scripture access, or do you read it less literally?

What does it really mean to take Christ’s name upon you?

What work is “which is my name” doing in this verse?

What are the implications of being called by Christ’s name at the last day?  What does that imply?

Is it or is it not fair to say that Jesus is a little unhappy about their question?  (Or maybe the situation of the dispute?)

 6 And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.

Note the two requirements for salvation given here.

For this scripture to apply to this situation, we have to assume that the personal issue of taking on Christ’s name also applies to the community of the church.  What does that tell us about individuals and communities?  What does it tell us about interpreting the scriptures?

Brant Gardner:

Just as contextually Jesus was “called” in prayer, and he came, so shall we respond to this name when it is called. It will be the key to our entry into the kingdom. The essential issue isn’t just the naming of the church, but the naming of the person. Citation

 7 Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake.

The cynic says:  it isn’t at all obvious that the practice of personally taking Christ’s name on you would automatically translate to naming the church (as a collective institution) after Christ, and it also doesn’t entirely settle the matter, as our dispute between Brother Lamoni and Sister Sariah showed.  So in what way was this an adequate response to the problem?

Note the intertwining here of (1) the individual doing things in the name of Jesus, (2) the church being called by the name of Jesus, (3) the people collectively (probably) calling on the Father in the name of Jesus, and (4) the Father blessing the church “for Jesus’ sake.”  What do you make of the parallelism between those four ideas?  (My thought is that the verse is making the point that the name of a church is a big deal.)

The flip side of doing things “in the name of Jesus” is that it highlights the reason why using his name blasphemously is such a problem.

 8 And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.

Notice how Jesus is taking a position that, in other circumstances might look self-aggrandizing (“Name it after ME! ME! ME!”) and explaining why that isn’t the case.

Is the reference to Moses just random here, or is there some significance to bringing Moses into the discussion?  (Were some Nephites thinking that it should be called Moses’ Church, perhaps to make the link between the old prophecies and their fulfillment in Jesus?)

I’m thinking about the “I’m a Mormon” campaign and the Church’s commitment to being called by the full name of the Church.  Does this passage have any bearing on that issue?

 9 Verily I say unto you, that ye are built upon my gospel; therefore ye shall call whatsoever things ye do call, in my name; therefore if ye call upon the Father, for the church, if it be in my name the Father will hear you;

Notice that Jesus does not imply that the naming issue is superficial (“I don’t care what you call it–just do my work!”) but rather that the choice of name is tied to the power that the church can claim.

Does the “built upon” language relate to the built upon rock/sand parable from earlier in Jesus’ teachings?

Notice the powerful promise in this verse.

What does “gospel” mean in this verse?

 10 And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.

Would you say that today there is only one or more than one church built upon the gospel?

11 But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return.

Notice the assumption in this verse:  those who do the works of men or of the devil will have joy for awhile.  This is important.

The Bible Dictionary points out that “by and by” means immediately; I think in modern English, to the extent that that phrase is used, we think of it as meaning “eventually.”

Does “from whence there is no return” say something about the destruction of spirits, or do you not read it that literally?  (See also v17 on this.)

General thoughts on this section:  They ask Jesus what to call the church.  And Jesus doesn’t say “call it X.”  He first asks why they would dispute.  Then he sets out some theological principles about the role of and power of his name.  Then he poses some questions about alternatives and their implications.  Then he makes some promises.  And he never actually gives them the specific name by which to call the church.  (Was it supposed to be The Church of Christ?  The Nephite Church of Christ?  Jesus’ Church?  The Church of Jesus Christ of Middle-day Saints?  The Church of Jesus?  etc.)  What do you learn from this answer?  Are there situations in which you would want to model Jesus’ approach in settling disputes?

 12 For their works do follow them, for it is because of their works that they are hewn down; therefore remember the things that I have told you.

What does it mean to say that their works follow them?  Is that a metaphor?  If so, for what?  Or is it a personification of works?

Why the emphasis on works in this verse?  What happened to faith?

Note the “therefore.”  How does it link the first and second parts of the verse?

Does “the things” refer to the issue of what to name the church, or is it more broad?

Why did Jesus pivot from telling them what to name the church to a discussion about the judgment of the wicked?

General thought:  Why doesn’t Jesus make a bigger deal about the issue of their dispute?  (Sometimes when my kids fight, I feel like my main goal is to address the fighting behavior and not the issue they were fighting over, know what I mean?)

 13 Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

Why do you think Jesus felt the need here to explain what “the gospel” is?

Note how Jesus described his entire mortal experience in terms of fulfilling a mission that he was given.

 14 And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—

This first phrase is fairly amazing; it is hard to really “hear” because we are so familiar with it.  But imagine this anew:  a divine being saying “my father sent me here so I could be tortured and die.”  That’s . . . a big deal.  That really calls into question many standard beliefs about divinity, parental relationships, will, etc.

Does this verse imply that Jesus’ experience on the cross would “draw” people to him?  If so, how?  (Does this next verse’s reference to “the power of the Father” help answer this question?)

At the beginning of the verse “lifted up” seems to refer literally to Jesus’ experience on the cross, but by the time we get to the idea of men being “lifted up” by the Father, it seems to have taken on a more metaphorical meaning.  What is Jesus doing with the language here?  Or were the initial uses of “lifted up” never literal to begin with?  What does it mean for men to be lifted up by the Father?

Does this verse imply that Jesus will do the judging?  (See also v16 on this.)

Is standing before him and being judged two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

Are we only judged by our works?  (What about beliefs?)

Does the end of this verse imply a strictly binary division of works into good or evil?  If so, is this true?

 15 And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.

Note that the implication is that Jesus’ death makes judgment possible.

Notice the repetition from the previous verse; what function does this serve?

What role does the power of the Father play in the atonement?  (Wouldn’t it be the Son’s power to perform the atonement?)

In what ways does the atonement allow Jesus to draw men unto him?  What does it mean for someone to be drawn to him?  (Are we drawn to Jesus?  Would we not be without the atonement?)

Will we be judged “according to [our] works”?  What happened to mercy?

 16 And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.

What does being filled mean here?  And why isn’t it specified?

What does enduring to the end mean?

If Jesus is judging the world (which, I think, this verse implies), then what does “before my Father” (which, I think, puts the Father in the role of judge) mean?

Does this verse imply that Jesus judges the world, or the Father does, or both, or what?

 17 And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.

Is there no role for mercy in this verse?  (Note the reference to justice at the end of the verse.)

What kinds of things would constitute not enduring to the end?

How literally do you read being hewn down and cast into the fire?  If it is symbolic, what does it suggest about judgment?

Is this the refiner’s fire or something different?

What does it really mean to endure to the end?  This is a really good talk on that question.

What does “of the Father” tell you about justice?  (Is the Son not just?  Does the Father originate or require or promote justice?  Or what?)

 18 And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.

This verse almost sounds as if our narrator or redactor is speaking; is that the case?  (And then Jesus would pick up again in v19.)  Or is this verse Jesus still speaking?  Who is the “he” in this verse:  Jesus or the Father or someone else?

What is the cause for which the words are fulfilled?  (I don’t think the verse really explains it.)

Does this verse suggest that the only options are lying or fulfilling?  (I can remember when my brother was about three and if my mom said, for example, that we were going to go to the park later, but then it rained, he would accuse her of lying because he didn’t get the distinction between a lie and a change of plans.)

What does “word” mean in this verse?

Why “children of men” in this verse?

 19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

What does the word “rest” imply to you about the kingdom of God?

Why is washing garments in Jesus’ blood a good metaphor (because you have to admit that it is a deeply weird and somewhat icky metaphor) for becoming clean?

Why would you need to faith to symbolically wash your garments in Jesus’ blood?

Why do you think that we finally get a reference to faith here when most of this chapter has been about works?

Is “faith” and “faithfulness unto the end” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing in this verse?

Why can’t unclean things enter into God’s kingdom?

Is the shift from “kingdom” to “rest” significant?  Are these synonyms?

 20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.

Compare v19 and v20:  why is the commandment here to repent instead of to have faith?  (Given that faith is mentioned twice in the last verse and repentance only once.)  Is that you can’t command someone to have faith?

Why the reference to the ends of the earth here?

What does “come unto me” mean here?

How does the Holy Ghost sanctify us?  (I think this is a neglected role; we usually focus on the Spirit’s role in communicating, not sanctifying.)

Is it _the presence_ of the Holy Ghost that sanctifies us or _the reception_ of the Holy Ghost that sanctifies us?

How does v20 relate to v19?

Note that v20 picks up the idea of repenting from v19, but doesn’t repeat the idea of faith but instead talks about baptism and the Holy Ghost.  What accounts for this transition?

 21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;

Remember that v13 said “this is the gospel,” so we have bookends here.  I think this section merits close study as an explanation of what “the gospel” is.  Also, why does Jesus explain what “the gospel” is as a follow-up to the question about what to call the church?  Or . . . am I misreading this:  could “this” in this verse mean something other than v13-21?  Maybe just v20?

What work is “in my church” doing in this verse?

What does this verse suggest to you about how you should study the records of Jesus’ life?

What works did Jesus do that we should also do?

Note the repetition in this verse.

 22 Therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

Note how doing the things that Jesus did results in (1) being blessed and (2) the same fate (“being lifted up”) as Jesus. But is he promising them martyrdom, or using the same words to mean something else?  If the latter, that’s a pretty interesting rhetorical move; why might he have done that?

Note that this verse ended the chapter in the 1830 edition.  Stopping here really changes the message of this chapter for me:  it turns it into a big build-up ending with “do what I did so you can return to God.”  It also changes v23 to more of a summary statement for ch27 than just another thing to do.

23 Write the things which ye have seen and heard, save it be those which are forbidden.

Why is the BoM Jesus so concerned about the record when the NT Jesus was not?

Why, again (remember the beginning of the chapter) the emphasis on seeing?

Why were some things forbidden to write?  (We know some were forbidden to Mormon to test the reader’s faith.)

 24 Write the works of this people, which shall be, even as hath been written, of that which hath been.

What the heck does “which shall be, even as hath been written, of what which hath been” mean?  I think I get the first phrase (“which shall be” = things in the future) and the second phrase (“even as hath been written” = you know what will happen because it has been prophesied) but the third phrase (“of that which hath been”)–I have no idea.

 25 For behold, out of the books which have been written, and which shall be written, shall this people be judged, for by them shall their works be known unto men.

What does it mean to be judged out of books?  Is this the book of life, with the names of the righteous in it?  Or does it mean that our lives will be compared to the written commandments (insert obligatory distaste for the unwritten order of things here) and judged accordingly?  Or does it mean that their deeds will be written down, and they will be judged by that written record (I think the final clause may suggest this)?

What does this verse suggest to you about writing in general and written records in particular?  Record-keeping?

Does this verse imply that we are only judged by our works (and not our faith, or through mercy)?

What’s up with works being known unto men?  What does that have to do with judgement?

What work is “behold” doing at the beginning of this verse?

 26 And behold, all things are written by the Father; therefore out of the books which shall be written shall the world be judged.

What does it mean to say that all things are written by the Father?  How does this relate to the command that they were just given to write things?  What does the Father write?  Does he use a scroll or a touch screen?  Why would an omniscient being write things down?

Are the people going to be judged by what the Father writes or what the disciples write?

What is the link between what the Father writes and what the disciples write?

Do we have anything written “by the Father” now?

27 And know ye that ye shall be judges of this people, according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just. Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.

Thinking about this verse and the verses before it:  notice that both the Father and the disciples are given writing and judging roles.  How does this work exactly?  Do the disciples judge, or Jesus, or the Father, or some combination?

How is it possible that imperfect disciples could judge people?  (Or is the implication that they will not judge people until after they are perfected?)

If they are judging “according to the judgement which I shall give unto you,” in what sense are the disciples doing the judging (as opposed to just being messengers)?

Why did Jesus choose to modify the first sentence with “which shall be just”?  (Was that really in doubt?)

Why does Jesus tell them that his judging will be just (as opposed to being merciful)?

How does the question of what manner of men they should be relate to the issue of judging people?  In other words, how does the “therefore” in this verse work?

To what extent should women be the same manner of men that Jesus is?  (I’m sort of being flippant, but this is also a huge deal.  To the extent that the Church teaches that there are different roles for men and women, I don’t know how we can avoid the conclusion that there are some things in which women should not be following Jesus in doing/being.)

Do today’s apostles have a role in judging?

Is the judging envisioned in this verse the kind where a bishop decides who gets a temple recommend or the kind where St. Peter decides who gets to go into heaven?  (In other words, earthly or post-mortal?)

 28 And now I go unto the Father. And verily I say unto you, whatsoever things ye shall ask the Father in my name shall be given unto you.

How does this verse relate to the verse before it?

Are the two sentences in this verse related?  That is, does Jesus’ going to the Father relate to their ability to ask the Father for things?

Notice the promise here:  Are there any conditions on it, or will they literally get anything they ask for?  If there are conditions, why aren’t those mentioned?

 29 Therefore, ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for he that asketh, receiveth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened.

It would be easy to read this as poetry and/or to see the parallelism in this verse:

A Therefore, ask,

B and ye shall receive;

A knock,

B and it shall be opened unto you;

A’ for he that asketh,

B’ receiveth;

A’ and unto him that knocketh,

B’ it shall be opened.

What does the image of knocking and the open door suggest to you about prayer?

Richard G. Scott:

 His invitation, “Ask, and ye shall receive” (3 Ne. 27:29) does not assure that you will get what you want. It does guarantee that, if worthy, you will get what you need, as judged by a Father that loves you perfectly, who wants your eternal happiness even more than do you. Oct 95 GC

 30 And now, behold, my joy is great, even unto fulness, because of you, and also this generation; yea, and even the Father rejoiceth, and also all the holy angels, because of you and this generation; for none of them are lost.

Once again, I note the emphasis that the BoM gives to people’s emotional states.

Why is his joy full at this moment?  (Remember that at the beginning of the chapter he was exasperated [OK, that’s how he sounded to me] about their disputes.)

Does “yea, and even the Father rejoiceth” open some room for the idea that the Father and Son would not always be sharing emotional states?

Why does Jesus mention the angels?   Why does he modify them as “holy”?

Was literally no one of this generation lost or is that hyperbole?  (And even if that were the case, isn’t that a bit of a cheat, since all of the wicked were just destroyed?)

Does this verse imply that these people had had their calling and election made sure?  (Maybe just the disciples?  I think the “and this generation” suggests otherwise, though.  See v31 for more on this.)  This is sort of interesting because they are apparently really good people . . . who couldn’t figure out on their own how to end a dispute about naming the church and needed divine intervention (of the most literal kind) to solve the problem.  In other words, they can be good and they can be saved without being either perfect or brilliant or self-sufficient.  If we read this verse as applying to the entire generation, it is interesting that people who were just disputing about what to call the church could be promised that they were all saved.

 31 Behold, I would that ye should understand; for I mean them who are now alive of this generation; and none of them are lost; and in them I have fulness of joy.

What opportunity for misunderstanding was Jesus cutting off here?  (In other words, what wrong thing did he think they might think?)

Does this mean that it would not have been possible for any of these people to sin in the future?

These people were not perfect–pretty much all we know about them is that they were disputing about what to call the church.   How does Jesus then know that none of them will be lost?

 32 But behold, it sorroweth me because of the fourth generation from this generation, for they are led away captive by him even as was the son of perdition; for they will sell me for silver and for gold, and for that which moth doth corrupt and which thieves can break through and steal. And in that day will I visit them, even in turning their works upon their own heads.

We could raise the usual questions about foreknowledge versus agency here.  I also wonder:  What would it have been like to have been part of that third or fourth generation and to know that Jesus said you (or your children) were toast?

Note Jesus’ emotions of joy and sorrow and their causes.  (And the fact that he can feel sorrow even though he just said that his joy is full.)  What might we learn from this?

Note that Jesus doesn’t mention the emotions of the Father or the holy angels here–does that imply that they weren’t sorrowing?  Or what?

What does the image of being led away as a captive (presumably:  a slave taken after a losing battle?) suggest to you?

Does this verse imply that the son of perdition was taken away captive?

Who is the son of perdition here?  How do you know?

What will the fourth generation do that will constitute selling Jesus (who will be safely in heaven at that point) for silver and gold?  How might we be tempted to do the same kinds of things today?

Note that a big point here is not just that they will sell Jesus, but that they will sell him for something that is temporary and not ultimately worth more.

I realize this is a bit of mixing metaphors, but what does it mean to suggest that Jesus will visit them when they sell him?

Why is having their works turned on them (which means what, exactly?) the appropriate consequence for selling Jesus?

 33 And it came to pass that when Jesus had ended these sayings he said unto his disciples: Enter ye in at the strait gate; for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it; but wide is the gate, and broad the way which leads to death, and many there be that travel therein, until the night cometh, wherein no man can work.

Saying “when Jesus had ended these sayings, he said” is really weird.  (Had he ended, or hadn’t he?)  Is this just a little sloppy or is something going on here?  It seems that this phrase works to isolate the teachings beginning with “enter ye in . . .” from the rest of his teachings; why might Jesus have wanted to do that?

Why is a entering a gate a good metaphor?

Why would a loving God give us a tiny gate that so few people could find?

I’m having a hard time figuring out how the night/no work part fits into the traveling/finding gates part.  Is the implication that the journey is work?

There was originally no chapter break here.

General thought:  this chapter begins with the disciples’ question re naming the church, but then the discourse turns to judgment and “the gospel” and then prophecies about everyone’s fates. (How) are these topics related?  Why did Jesus choose to address these issues when the disciples had not asked about any but the first?

CHAPTER 28

1 And it came to pass when Jesus had said these words, he spake unto his disciples, one by one, saying unto them: What is it that ye desire of me, after that I am gone to the Father?

Remember that the last chapter also began with Jesus asking a very similar question (“What will ye that I shall give unto you?”) of the disciples.  I think that suggests we might benefit from comparing the chapters.

Note that Jesus is asking them “one by one.”  Does this mean privately?

Note again the outsized role that desire plays in the BoM.

2 And they all spake, save it were three, saying: We desire that after we have lived unto the age of man, that our ministry, wherein thou hast called us, may have an end, that we may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom.

What are they really asking for here:  a long life?  Speedy entrance to the kingdom? The end of their ministry?  The end of their ministry at the appropriate time?  That they not live longer than they are useful?  Entrance into the kingdom?  (Does Jesus’ answer in the next verse help you decide among these options?) I guess I am not clear as to what they are asking that would have been different from what they might have expected to happen anyway.

If Jesus asked you, “What do you want?” do you think you would give an answer anything like this?  (My thought:  no.   This is a really weird answer to give.)

3 And he said unto them: Blessed are ye because ye desired this thing of me; therefore, after that ye are seventy and two years old ye shall come unto me in my kingdom; and with me ye shall find rest.

Is there something significant about 72?

Would it be weird to know how old you would be when you died?

I’m not an expert in Nephite demographics (who is?), but I suspect 72 was pretty long in the tooth for them, even though it sounds a little skimpy to us.

Why were they blessed for this desire?  (Are there other desires that they could have expressed that they would not have been blessed for having?)

Is the use of “my kingdom” by Jesus (not God the Father) significant here?

What does “rest” mean in this verse?

Brant Gardner:

That the Savior should mark their time on the earth as “seventy and two years” is curious. The number appears this way in counts of the tribes carried into Babylonian captivity, but only for two of the tribes (see Ezra 7:3-4; Nehemiah 7:8-9), but this does not appear to have any particular meaning that influences the number we see in this text. It is possible that the number is an extrapolation of three days (72 hours) into a figure of a “perfect” time related to the number 3 as a representation of the Godhead. This would be a number that would be significant to a Christian community after understanding the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, which was apparently part of the information communicated or understood as part of the visits of the Savior to the New World.  Citation

4 And when he had spoken unto them, he turned himself unto the three, and said unto them: What will ye that I should do unto you, when I am gone unto the Father?

This verse reads as if the three had created some physical distance between themselves and their brethren (that’s why Jesus had to turn to address them).

Is it significant that this verse does not mention desire (compare v1)?

5 And they sorrowed in their hearts, for they durst not speak unto him the thing which they desired.

Remember that the last chapter ended with a reference to Jesus’ sorrow over the 4th generation, who would fall into apostasy.  Is that relevant to this note of sorrow?

I think the sorrow is the result of their inability to say what they want, but we aren’t told *why* they are unable to say what they want.  So:  Why weren’t they able to say what they wanted?  And, why does this verse highlight the result of their inability to say what they wanted (the result being the sorrow) and leave us to figure out why they couldn’t say it?

How does this verse relate to that idea about only praying for that which is right?  Is the issue here that they think it is wrong to pray for this?  (And:  are they right about that?)

Why did they desire this?  (And note that, as we are reading this, we don’t yet know what it is that they desire.)  Isn’t it kind of like saying “I don’t think God knows best about the time to end my life” or “I want something no human gets”?

I’m curious about the element of comparison:  is either their inability to speak and/or their sorrow related to the difference between what they desired and what the nine desired?  More generally, I’m curious about the comparative element in this story of the different desire that the nine versus the three had:  it would have been very easy to tell this story and leave out the nine completely, but I think it is fair to read their inclusion as suggesting that it is OK to want different things, and people can be blessed for the different things that they want.  (But see v7:  the three are “more blessed,” which does kind of deflate this reading.)

6 And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.

Does Jesus always know people’s thoughts, or just in this case?

If Jesus knew their thoughts, why did he ask?  (Or:  did he not know until they started sorrowing?)

Did these disciples know anything about John before this verse?

General question:  How much did these disciples know about the details of Jesus’ NT ministry?

Why does Jesus tell them that John wanted the same thing?  Is this supposed to be a way of saying “hey, your desire is normal and righteous” or something else?

Here’s what John 21:20-24 says:

Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.  Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die:  yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.

Most scholars see that as an explanation for the origin for the (false) belief that John would live forever.  To the extent that the BoM Jesus is telling a different story, we see either a problem in the NT record or a problem in the BoM record.  (Or a problem with the interpretation of one or both.) Also note that this verse says that John desired that thing, not that John was given that thing.  (Although I admit that that is slicing the bologna pretty thin.)  D & C 7:1-8 has more on this story:

And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you. And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee. And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people. And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring souls unto me, but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom. I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done. Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth. And I will make thee to minister for him and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come. Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired.

I find it immensely difficult to think about the Three Nephites as separate thing from the folklore about the Three Nephites.  I kind of wish that, as long as he was seeing our day and everything, Mormon would have had the decency to say something along the lines of “Yea, and ye are commanded that ye shouldest not tell stories about the three.”

7 Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.

Why is “taste” a good word for describing the experience (or:  a little bit of the experience?) of death?

Do we assume that they are “more blessed” relative to the other disciples, or to some other group? Is there supposed to be a lesson here–maybe comparable to Mary and Martha–about this being a better choice than the other disciples made?

I think it is interesting that in our NT passage about living forever, Jesus’ point is that the disciples shouldn’t be comparing themselves to each other, but here, the “more blessed” kind of demands that comparison.

Note how their life is described:  beholding all the doings of the Father.  Why did Jesus describe it that way?  Does it imply a front-row seat to the most interesting parts of salvation history?  (I’m thinking of Forrest Gump, of course.)

I think if you wanted to be difficult, you could point out that the story never actually tells us what they wanted–for all we know they could have been desiring any number of things.  This verse tells us about a blessing that they will get but does not tell us that this is the thing that they had desired in the first place.    In fact, I think v9 could point you in this direction:  they desired to bring souls to God, and they get that in spades!  This would explain why they are more blessed than the other disciples:  they wanted to die on time, but these three had the priority of doing missionary work, so they are granted that ability beyond anything they could have imagined.

8 And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.

Do all people endure pain at death?  Is this literal?  Something else?

What does twinkling of an eye mean–is it just a reference to speed?

What does the final line about being blessed mean?

Note that, despite the fact that they don’t die, they are not immortal–they are only later changed from mortal to immortal.  What might we learn from this about what it means to be im/mortal?

What does this verse teach you about death, for those who experience it?

Don’t we kind of think of death as a necessary part of the Fall?  I’m really curious about what this story can suggest to us about the Fall.  There’s a sense in which the Three have a different plan of salvation, if you will.

How does this verse relate to 1 Cor 15:52 (“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”)?  Note that that verse is describing normal death.  Assuming that this BoM verse is influenced by (at least) the language of 1 Cor, then what should we conclude from the fact that death _and_ what the three will experience are described in such similar terms?

I’m still trying to get my mind around someone telling Jesus that they want to live forever.  Isn’t it a way of telling God that you think _you_ should be the person who decides how long your life is?  Isn’t it arrogant that you don’t assume that God hasn’t already planned the correct length for your life, or that you are somehow so different from other humans that your life should be 20x (and counting, or whatever) as long as theirs?

In the OT, some very long lifespans are recorded.  Are those stories relevant here?

We usually focus, in our Mormon folklore, on the impact that the three have on the people whose tires they change on deserted southern Utah highways, but I don’t think that we think much about the impact the experience is having on the three themselves.  So . . . when we all sit down in the celestial kingdom and they give firesides, what do you think they will tell us about their experiences?

9 And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand.

Why does Jesus emphasize the pain thing–note especially the “and again” at the beginning of this verse?

Why are they spared pain in the flesh?

Note that they are not spared sorrow for sins–this makes them like God.

Why are they spared pain in the flesh but not sorrow for sins?

Would it be reasonable to read “to bring the souls of men to [Jesus]” as the original thing they desired?  (And the not-dying thing as Jesus’ idea, a blessing or reward or way for them to fulfill their desire?)  But if that were the case, why were they unable to ask for this?

What work is “while the world shall stand” doing in this verse?

I think I just figured out why the folklore ticks me off so much:  it reduces the three to a celestial towing service–focused solely on easing the physical burdens of righteous saints.  But that isn’t what they asked for, is it?  I would think that the number one requirement for a Three Nephite story would be that it involved  bringing souls to Christ.  (I’ve never heard a story like that, but I try to avoid Three Nephite stories in general.  Are those stories out there?)

10 And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one;

Is this a prophecy of a fulness of joy?  Or a commandment?  Or what?

When will they have this joy–after they become immortal?  (Interesting that, if you read it strictly, they will sorrow [for sins] while alive and only joy after they become immortal.  One wonders if they knew that before they asked . . .)

General:  I’m wondering if we can make a useful comparison between the two groups of disciples and Adam and Eve’s choices in the Fall.  On the one hand, the three disciples seem like Adam in choosing the no-dying-on-my-watch option.  On the other hand, the three have chosen (I think?) the more courageous, riskier, path that will bring them sorrow and joy (as Eve says re her choice).

Does this verse imply that these three have already been promised that they will be judged worthy, that they can no longer choose to sin?

In what ways will these three be like Jesus?

What does Jesus mean in this verse when he says that he and the Father are one?

Thinking about v9 and v10, what is the message about sorrow and joy and how might that be relevant to our own lives?

11 And the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and the Father giveth the Holy Ghost unto the children of men, because of me.

Why does Jesus interrupt what he is saying about the fates of the nine and twelve disciples in order to deliver this little sermon on the roles of the Godhead?

What work is “because of me” doing here?

Why “children of men” here?

12 And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he touched every one of them with his finger save it were the three who were to tarry, and then he departed.

Obviously, the touching does something to them–but what does it do?  (One would have thought that if anyone needed a divine touch, it would be three who would not die, no?)  It almost seems as if this touch permits them to die (at the right time).  Crazy speculation alert:  is it possible that something was done to all of the disciples (not recorded because of its sacredness) that meant that they would live forever and that we should be reading this story as the nine wanting to die at a normal time but the three wanting to maintain the status quo?  That sounds pretty crazy to me, but I am not sure why he is touching the nine and not the three here. . .

General:  I have a sense that the traditional LDS interpretation of this story is missing something, that we aren’t reading this story quite right, but I’m not sure what we’re missing.

13 And behold, the heavens were opened, and they were caught up into heaven, and saw and heard unspeakable things.

Does this happen to all 12 or just the 9 or the 3? This verse isn’t clear, but I think v36 makes clear that only the 3 had this experience.

How does this verse relate to v12?  By which I mean:  did the touch make the journey to heaven impossible or something?

Why didn’t the nine have this experience?

Thinking about NT parallels:  in the NT, Peter, James, and John form a leadership circle and do things differently than the others of the 12 do from time to time.  Do we see the same thing here?

Why aren’t the three disciples named in this story?  (We get an explanation that is not an explanation in v25.)

14 And it was forbidden them that they should utter; neither was it given unto them power that they could utter the things which they saw and heard;

I think that because of the “neither” in this verse, it is saying that there were two separate measures enacted to be sure that they didn’t blab about this experience:  one, they were forbidden to do so and, two, they were physically prevented from doing so.  Hmm.  Why both?  Is the implication that the commandment wouldn’t have been enough to stop them?  But if they are physically prevented, then what is the point of the commandment?

15 And whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell; for it did seem unto them like a transfiguration of them, that they were changed from this body of flesh into an immortal state, that they could behold the things of God.

What does “in” or “out” of the body mean in this context?

What does it tell you about (1) bodies and (2) visionary experiences if these three had an experience where they did not know if they were in or out of their bodies?

What is a transfiguration?

I think the text has to be saying that “they thought it was a transfiguration, but they were wrong” or “they knew it couldn’t be a transfiguration, but it kind of seemed like one anyway” because we just learned a few verses ago that they learned that even the three who tarry wouldn’t be changed to an immortal state until the second coming.  Or can one be temporarily made immortal?  More on this in v36.

Does this verse imply that a “body of flesh” is incompatible with an immortal state?

Do you have to be in an immortal state to behold the things of God?

What is the point of this experience for the three?  Does it prepare them for their special mission or what?  If the only real difference between the three and the nine is that the three do what the nine do but for a much longer time, then why would the three have needed this experience?

Interesting parallels to 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 here.

16 But it came to pass that they did again minister upon the face of the earth; nevertheless they did not minister of the things which they had heard and seen, because of the commandment which was given them in heaven.

Why does this verse begin with “but”?  In other words, what is the contrast of this verse with the one before it?

What does “minister” mean the second time it is used in this verse?  Is it just a synonym for “teach”?  Does the word mean the same thing both times it is used here?

I find it interesting that, in this record, the emphasis on their heavenly visit is “don’t blab.”

Why does this verse say “because of the commandment . . .” when we also know that it was because it was prohibited?

17 And now, whether they were mortal or immortal, from the day of their transfiguration, I know not;

It’s always a little weird when the writer/editor jumps out from behind a verse to speak directly to the reader.  Why does that happen here?

It also is interesting/weird that for Mormon, the issue worth discussing is whether they were mortal and not (fill in the blank with all sorts of different things:  what they saw, what they learned, what their lives were like after this experience, how they ministered to people, how they related to their families after this, etc.)

Didn’t Mormon read v8?  Because I thought it was pretty clear that no one would become immortal until the second coming.

Is Mormon saying in this verse that it was a transfiguration, or is he just calling it that for lack of other good options?

More on this in v36.

18 But this much I know, according to the record which hath been given—they did go forth upon the face of the land, and did minister unto all the people, uniting as many to the church as would believe in their preaching; baptizing them, and as many as were baptized did receive the Holy Ghost.

I like how in v17 and v18 Mormon lays out the things that he does know and the things that he doesn’t. (He’s not making up zoo stories here and not spouting more knowledge than he has.)

Does “according to the record” mean that Mormon is trying to create a little distance–saying that he doesn’t personally have first hand knowledge of this?  Or does “according to the record” mean something else?

This verse is eerily similar to the beginning of this chapter–is the point that they, after this incredible experience, went back to doing exactly what they had been doing?

19 And they were cast into prison by them who did not belong to the church. And the prisons could not hold them, for they were rent in twain.

Wait a minute–I thought everyone was righteous?  Was that just the immediate audience?  How does 4 Nephi happen if there are people throwing the 3 in jail?  (I think v23 explains this.  What is interesting about that is that it positions the righteousness of 4 Nephi -not- as the result of Jesus’ mortal ministry but rather as the result of the preaching of the 12, aided by miracles that protected them).  (Brant Gardner thinks that this is a summary statement of their ministry that is chronologically out of order.)

The “divine rescue from prison” motif happens in the OT, NT, and BoM.  Is there something archetypal about this?

What work is “by them who did not belong to the church” doing in this sentence?  Wouldn’t we have just assumed that?

20 And they were cast down into the earth; but they did smite the earth with the word of God, insomuch that by his power they were delivered out of the depths of the earth; and therefore they could not dig pits sufficient to hold them.

Seems kinda unfair to smite the earth–it wasn’t the earth’s fault, was it?  :)

Why do they have to smite the earth but they apparently didn’t have to rend the prisons (that appears to have been done for them in the last verse)?

Can we learn anything from comparing this story to that of Joseph in the OT, who is put in a pit by his brothers?

Who is the “his” in “his power”?  The obvious antecedent is God, but we usually talk about Jesus’ power, no?

21 And thrice they were cast into a furnace and received no harm.

Can we profitably compare this to the Rack, Shack, and Benny story?

22 And twice were they cast into a den of wild beasts; and behold they did play with the beasts as a child with a suckling lamb, and received no harm.

Can we profitably compare this to Daniel?

The litany of divinely-aided escapes (jail, earth, furnace, beasts) is so over-the-top compared to other scriptures–why?  And how is it possible that the people trying to kill them didn’t get the message that God was on their side?  (In other words, shouldn’t there have been mass conversions every time they escaped? Perhaps the point of v23 is that there were.)

Is the three times in the previous verse and the two times in this verse significant?

The playing with the beasts seems like an unnecessary detail–why was it included?

Seems like the three spend most of their time escaping from peril, at least as Mormon tells it.  Do you have any sense as to what Mormon hoped to accomplish by cataloging their miraculous rescues as opposed to, say, the ministering that they did?   (Although he does touch on their ministry in the next verse, that topic gets much less airtime than their peril.)

23 And it came to pass that thus they did go forth among all the people of Nephi, and did preach the gospel of Christ unto all people upon the face of the land; and they were converted unto the Lord, and were united unto the church of Christ, and thus the people of that generation were blessed, according to the word of Jesus.

Is the official name of the church “the church of Christ”?

How literally or hyperbolically do you read the “all” here?

Does this verse imply that being converted and uniting with the church are two separate things?

Brant Gardner:

There have been four generations between the initiation of the story of the three Nephites and Mormon’s text. To which generation is Mormon referring when he says that “the people of that generation were blessed?” Mormon does not tell us, nor does he give any indicators of time at all. Since the difficulties appear to have happened after 200 years have passed away, it is possible that Mormon is referring to the third or fourth “generation.” Perhaps he is referring generically to events in both. Citation

24 And now I, Mormon, make an end of speaking concerning these things for a time.

Why does he identify himself here and not earlier?

What purpose does this verse serve?  Why was it included?

25 Behold, I was about to write the names of those who were never to taste of death, but the Lord forbade; therefore I write them not, for they are hid from the world.

Why don’t we get their names (especially when we get John’s name)?

Note that we’ve seen this pattern before:  Mormon was going to right more after Jesus’ last appearance, but was told not to to try the faith of the people.  How do these incidents compare?

Remember that we just had this big to-do over the correct name of the church.  (How) does that relate to the issue here about not knowing the names of the Three Nephites?

26 But behold, I have seen them, and they have ministered unto me.

What does ministered mean in this verse?

27 And behold they will be among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles shall know them not.

How does Mormon know this?  Did the three tell him?

Why won’t the Gentiles know them?

I think you could read this verse and the next as implying that every Three Nephite story you have ever heard is folklore, because the ground rule for the Three Nephites’ ministry is that the recipients of their ministry do not know who they (=the Three Nephites) are.

28 They will also be among the Jews, and the Jews shall know them not.

Notice the parity for Jews and Gentiles.  That’s significant itself.  But also:  why mention the Gentile and the Jews as separate groups, if they have the same experience?  Is it significant that the Gentiles are mentioned first?

29 And it shall come to pass, when the Lord seeth fit in his wisdom that they shall minister unto all the scattered tribes of Israel, and unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, and shall bring out of them unto Jesus many souls, that their desire may be fulfilled, and also because of the convincing power of God which is in them.

Once again, I think we see evidence that their desire was not to live forever but their desire was to bring people to God.

What is “the convincing power of God”?  Does it mean the power to convince?  (If so, how does this mesh with our ideas about agency?)  Or does it mean something else?

So . . . what do you think the Three Nephites are doing today?  Are they just blending in with the regular missionaries somewhere?

Note the role of desire in this verse.  (I think it refers to the three, but perhaps it is of the souls who are converted by them.)  Interesting that the story has gone full circle:  we started with concern for the desire of the three and we end with it.  In the middle, they’ve done to heaven and back (and jail, and pits, etc.)

30 And they are as the angels of God, and if they shall pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus they can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good.

In what ways are they like angels?  (Can angels show themselves to anyone they choose if they pray first?)

Does this verse imply that they are not normally visible?  Or does it imply that they need permission to teach/minister to people?  Or does “show” mean “show that they are 100s of years old”?

Interesting contrast between “seemeth them good,” which sounds to me like God is giving them a lot of leeway with this mission, and Jesus’ mission to the Nephites, where he repeatedly said he was doing what he had been commanded to do.

31 Therefore, great and marvelous works shall be wrought by them, before the great and coming day when all people must surely stand before the judgment-seat of Christ;

Note the sort-of parallelism between “great and marvelous” and “great and coming.”  What might we learn from that?

32 Yea even among the Gentiles shall there be a great and marvelous work wrought by them, before that judgment day.

Why is he sounding sort of surprised by this, when he just told us that this would happen?

Notice how “before the judgment-seat” in the last verse and “before the judgment day” in this verse form sort of a refrain but they aren’t precisely identical.  What’s going on here?

33 And if ye had all the scriptures which give an account of all the marvelous works of Christ, ye would, according to the words of Christ, know that these things must surely come.

Remember that “ye” is really rare in the scriptures; why does it happen here?

This is kind of reminding me of when he said that he wanted to tell us more but God wouldn’t let him because we needed to have our faith tried.  In fact, if you read this in the right tone of voice, it almost sounds like he is complaining that God wouldn’t let him do it!

Note “marvelous”:  that word makes a link between the 3 and Christ.  In fact, you could probably make the case that the 3 wanted to be sort of mini-Christs (that is:  wanted to bring as many people as possible back to the Father), and so they were given abilities to do that, like Christ.  The next verse continues the idea of lumping the 3 in with Jesus by pronouncing a wo on those who don’t listen to either.

34 And wo be unto him that will not hearken unto the words of Jesus, and also to them whom he hath chosen and sent among them; for whoso receiveth not the words of Jesus and the words of those whom he hath sent receiveth not him; and therefore he will not receive them at the last day;

This “wo” kind of feels like it is coming out of left field–what’s going on here?  Why did Mormon hit this topic here?

Notice the “natural consequences” element here:  if you don’t receive Jesus (and those he sent), then he won’t receive you (at the last day).

35 And it would be better for them if they had not been born. For do ye suppose that ye can get rid of the justice of an offended God, who hath been trampled under feet of men, that thereby salvation might come?

Does this verse imply that it would have been better for them to have followed Satan in the pre-earth life?  Or what?

What does “offended” mean in this verse?

What effect does the question in this verse have on the reader?

What does the image of trampling God under your feet suggest to you?  (Trampling makes me think of a mob escaping in fear and panic and so someone gets trampled.  What other situations involve trampling?)

What’s ironic about this verse is that one answer to the question is, “Yes, actually, you _can_ get rid of the justice of God by relying on the atonement of Jesus Christ.”

36 And now behold, as I spake concerning those whom the Lord hath chosen, yea, even three who were caught up into the heavens, that I knew not whether they were cleansed from mortality to immortality—

Does this verse mean that everything from v17 (which was the last time he mentioned the immortality issue) was a big ol tangent, or does it mean that there was a break in writing between what he had written before and what he writes now?  I think v37 might suggest the latter and it is interesting to see evidence of some scriptures specifically written under more mature reflection.

What does it suggest to you to say that mortality is something that we need to be “cleansed” from?  (As opposed to the more usual, I think, “changed” from.) Haha, I just looked it up and Skousen has “changed”  here.  Guess my spidey sense was working.

37 But behold, since I wrote, I have inquired of the Lord, and he hath made it manifest unto me that there must needs be a change wrought upon their bodies, or else it needs be that they must taste of death;

Interesting to see Mormon increasing in knowledge right before our eyes here . . .

Why do you think he prayed about this?  I mean, was it really a big deal?  It seems like a how-many-angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin question to me, but maybe I am missing something?

What are the implications of believing that you will die unless something changes in your body?

Brant Gardner:

Of even more interest than the question and answer is the process. Here is an apostle who has personally met the three Nephites, but has a question about them to which there is no answer in the texts before him. He receives his answer in the same way that we must receive our answers to important questions. He took the question to the Lord, and the Lord gave him the answer. There are times when all of the records of the Nephites did not provide the needed information. There are times for us when all the libraries of man will not hold the specific information we need. There was for Mormon another recourse, and that same recourse is available to us. Citation

38 Therefore, that they might not taste of death there was a change wrought upon their bodies, that they might not suffer pain nor sorrow save it were for the sins of the world.

So–why were the 9, not the 3, touched by Jesus, if the three were the ones that needed a change?

Does this verse link death and suffering pain?  It seems to, but I find that somewhat hard to understand.

What exactly is this change?  Does it “undo” the Fall?  If it is possible to “undo” the effects of the Fall this way, then why doesn’t this happen to everyone?  (Or:  Why did it happen to them?)

39 Now this change was not equal to that which shall take place at the last day; but there was a change wrought upon them, insomuch that Satan could have no power over them, that he could not tempt them; and they were sanctified in the flesh, that they were holy, and that the powers of the earth could not hold them.

Does this verse imply that no one would die if Satan did not have power over them?

What is the relation between temptation and death?  Does this verse imply that they are linked?

What are “the powers of the earth”?  Is that the same thing as Satan or something else?

This verse has a “deep doctrine” or “mystery” feel to it.  Why did Mormon get this revealed to him and why was it included in the record?

Note that Mormon appears to have deliberately structured the text so that we get these details in the context of his revelation and not just in the context of the story of the 3.  Why might that be and what effect does it have on the reader?

So the change (sorry, every time I read this, I think about the Three Nephites going through menopause) made it possible for them to live forever BUT it is not the same as the change at the last day.  Which leads to the question:  what else happens at the change at the last day, if there is more to it than just not dying?  (Note that the next verse calls it a greater change.)

Does this verse imply that the change at the last day will also mean that Satan won’t have power over us?

Why was temptation removed from the Three Nephites?  (It seems that they could have been allowed to continue living but still have experienced temptation.)  So here’s an idea:  if you think you have encountered the Three Nephites, you should try to tempt them to sin and see what happens.

What does it mean to be sanctified in the flesh?

40 And in this state they were to remain until the judgment day of Christ; and at that day they were to receive a greater change, and to be received into the kingdom of the Father to go no more out, but to dwell with God eternally in the heavens.

General question:  we learn here that there is a sort of intermediate state between mortal and immortal.  (Is that a fair way to put it?)  What are the implications of the existence of that state?  (Maybe especially for our understanding of the Fall.)

Note that there was originally no chapter break here.

CHAPTER 29

1 And now behold, I say unto you that when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled.

What does “these sayings” refer to?  The entire BoM?  Info about the Three Nephites?  The last few verses about judgment?  Something else?

Does this verse imply that events do not happen on a pre-determined time table, but “when the Lord shall see fit”?

What work is “according to his word” doing in this verse?  Is it or is it not the same thing as “when the Lord shall see fit”?

Does the restoration refer to the Old World, the New World, or something else?  How literally do you take it?

2 And ye may know that the words of the Lord, which have been spoken by the holy prophets, shall all be fulfilled; and ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel.

Note how we are expected to extrapolate from the fulfilling of one prophecy to the fulfilling of all prophecies.

Does Mormon think we were going to say that the Lord was delaying?  If not, why phrase it that way?

Is “delaying” really a problem for people, or is it that they don’t believe that the prophecies will ever be fulfilled because they weren’t genuine in the first place?  I think the latter is more likely, which makes it hard for me to understand what Mormon is trying to do in this verse.  (Maybe he’s addressing the former objection here and the latter objection in the next verse.  If that is right, it is interesting that he’s presenting a rather logical, exploring-and-then-debunking all possible reasons to doubt.)

Brant Gardner:

He also picks up on the apparent reason that the saints in Bountiful were concerned for the timing of the last days. Mormon states: “ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel.” That was the import of their implied question about their reunification with the rest of the House of Israel. It had already been six hundred years, and they were wondering why the delay occurred. Ironically, that delay continued for another 1800 years before the “beginning of the end” began. It has now been another nearly 200 years. While that is certainly some delay, it does not yet compare with the combined 2400 years delay from the time Lehi left Jerusalem to the time when the Book of Mormon was revealed. Clearly we are dealing with the Lord’s definition of time, not ours. Citation

3 And ye need not imagine in your hearts that the words which have been spoken are vain, for behold, the Lord will remember his covenant which he hath made unto his people of the house of Israel.

I find the repeated “ye need not” phrasing very interesting.  (Note that it is also in the next verse.) Sort of accusatory, but also sort of conversational.  Why do you think Mormon phrased it this way?

4 And when ye shall see these sayings coming forth among you, then ye need not any longer spurn at the doings of the Lord, for the sword of his justice is in his right hand; and behold, at that day, if ye shall spurn at his doings he will cause that it shall soon overtake you.

What does “spurn” mean here?  (Webster 1828:  “To reject with disdain; to scorn to receive or accept.”)

Is the right hand symbolic here?

Why is a sword a good symbol for justice?

What effect does “behold” have on the reader?

What is the “it” that will overtake you?  (I’m thinking the sword of justice seems like a logical antecedent, but I’m not sure about the idea of a sword “overtaking”  you.)

5 Wo unto him that spurneth at the doings of the Lord; yea, wo unto him that shall deny the Christ and his works!

Notice the parallelism:  are these two things or two ways of saying the same thing?

What does it mean to deny Christ?  (To deny that he existed?  To deny the truthfulness of his teachings?  Something else?)  Does the next verse explain this more?

6 Yea, wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost!

I think “no longer” implies a person who thinks the Lord did work by these things.

The cynic says:  the gift of tongues is not extant in the church, and don’t give me that bit about missionaries learning languages quickly, because that’s not what that originally meant.  Is the church then under condemnation in regards to this verse?

7 Yea, and wo unto him that shall say at that day, to get gain, that there can be no miracle wrought by Jesus Christ; for he that doeth this shall become like unto the son of perdition, for whom there was no mercy, according to the word of Christ!

Does this verse imply that if you say these things, but not to get gain, then you do not merit a “wo” pronounced on you?

I’m wondering if “to get gain” could have an other-than-financial meaning (fame, status, self-regard, etc.).

In what ways would someone gain by saying that miracles can no longer be performed?

On the one hand, this verse compares the person who denies miracles to a son of perdition, who can’t have mercy, but on the other hand, the verse doesn’t quite go that far because it says “like unto.”  So . . . is there mercy for someone who denies that Jesus can perform miracles?

The issue of whether Jesus can perform miracles seems like a somewhat tangential issue to me (it isn’t in the same ballpark as denying the existence of God, for example), so I am wondering why it is the focus of this verse.  Perhaps if we include the atonement under the umbrella of miracles it would make sense.

I’m surprised by the exclamation point at the end of this verse.

Why can’t there be mercy for the sons of perdition?

8 Yea, and ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor any of the remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them, and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn.

What is the relationship of this verse to the one before it?  Is it just a link on the word “spurn” or is there another link between denying Jesus’ miracles and mistreating the Jews?)

Note that we just got two uses of the word “spurn” before this verse, both referring to spurning the doings of the Lord.  Here, the issue is spurning the Jews.  What is the link between spurning the doings of the Lord and spurning the Jews?

Does the “for” in the middle of this verse imply that the only reason  you shouldn’t mistreat the Jews is because the Lord will remember them?  (Because I wish it were a more basic reason than that.)

9 Therefore ye need not suppose that ye can turn the right hand of the Lord unto the left, that he may not execute judgment unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the house of Israel.

What does turning the right hand of the Lord to the left symbolize?  Does this image have anything to do with the image of the sword in the Lord’s right hand above?

Does this verse assume a situation where someone might not want the Lord to fulfill the covenant with the house of Israel?  If that is the case, what might be their motivation?

CHAPTER 30

1 Hearken, O ye Gentiles, and hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, which he hath commanded me that I should speak concerning you, for, behold he commandeth me that I should write, saying:

Why the direct address to the Gentiles?

Why the title “Son of the living God” here?

Does this verse imply that other scriptures were not necessarily written at the express commandment of Jesus Christ?

Notice “command that I should speak” but also “command that I should write.”  Is that significant?

2 Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel.

Notice the parallelism:  is “turn from your wicked ways” and “repent of your evil doings” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?  (Same with “lying” and “deceivings”?)

I find it interesting that there is so much in 3 Nephi about the relationship between the Gentiles and the house of Israel but every once in awhile the balloon gets punctured when we find out that Gentiles who convert are part of the house of Israel.

It does seem that the overarching theme of Jesus’ visit to the New World (at least in the record of it that we have) is the relationship and historical roles of the house of Israel and the Gentiles.  How is this important to us today?

Note how the first half of the verse is full of bad stuff (lying, etc.) and the second good stuff (being baptized, etc.).  Is there a pattern or relationship between the material?

Er, why is this its own chapter?

Brant Gardner:

Our current chapter 30 replicates the chapter from the 1830 text. This is a chapter that consists of a single complex sentence, broken into two verses. The first verse is Mormon’s introduction to the second verse. He tells us that the second verse should be considered as a quotation from the Savior himself.  Citation

4 NEPHI

1 AND it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth, and behold the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about. And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost.

We’re back to using year markers as the primary organizing method for the text.  Is this purely a logistical thing or is there some significance here?

Is it significant that the disciples (and not Jesus) are forming this church, or is that only because it is “in the lands round about”?

Why aren’t the lands where the church is established named here?

Note the three things necessary in this verse for receiving the Holy Ghost.

Is it significant that the people are coming to the disciples and not to Jesus?

What does it mean to “come unto” the disciples?

Why was “truly” included in this verse?  In other words, is there a warning here about fake or half-hearted repentance?

Note that we aren’t told anything about their government in this chapter.  (We have no idea how it was organized.)  Or their teachings:  where are the sermons?  It seems that we get only the barest of summaries; why?

Brant Gardner:

Perhaps more than any other evidence, the contrast between 4 Nephi and the entire text Mormon wrote prior to that time suggests that we can learn of Mormon’s intent by noting this distinction, and that all of Mormon’s editorial effort was calculated to lead his readers up to the climactic appearance of the Messiah. Mormon was an apostle of the Lord, a witness of him, and his record was created to lead us to the Savior. To meet this goal he describes the movement of a people toward the coming of their Savior. He does this not only to show the history, but to lay down a pattern. This process of coming to their Savior’s arrival will be mirrored in events prior to the second coming of the Messiah. Once Mormon displays the pattern, he need not repeat it in detail, because that gross pattern will happen again. The details of the second occurrence are simply echoes of the first.  Citation

2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.

Do you read the two “all”s in this verse literally or hyperbolically?  (Most scholars take the “all” Judea that goes out to John to be baptized as hyperbole.

Why did our author mention “Nephites” and “Lamanites” when the groups are doing precisely the same thing?

Are “contentions” and “disputations” the same thing?

How literally do you read the “no contention” thing?  (This makes me think of the little old couples who claim to have never had a fight and all I can think is:  that’s the senility talking.)

Does this verse imply that the way to avoid contention/disputation is to “deal justly”?

What does it mean to deal justly?  (And I would have thought that they’d have been dealing with mercy, not justice, you know?)

I think the usual Mormon reading is “Jesus came and set up a church and it was perfect for 400 years,” but that isn’t quite what the text says.  The end of 3 Nephi shows some contention in the church.  This perfect part comes after that, and inasmuch as it has any cause, it seems to be the ministry of the Three Nephites, although that isn’t really a point that is highlighted.

3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.

Are we really supposed to believe that they were living what we would call the law of consecration and didn’t have any contention?  Because that’s pretty history-defying.  If you read this literally, then how/why do you think that they were able to pull this off when the early Christian church and the 19th century saints were not able to?  If you aren’t reading quite so literally, then what do you think is going on here?

How do you think they avoided the tragedy of the commons?

Some have read the “bond and free” phrase as referring to the idea that there was no debt, which meant no bondage.  (Either in the metaphorical sense of debt being bondage or in the more literal sense of unpaid debts leading to actual physical bondage.)

Given that we’ve talked before about how the Nephites did not have slavery, how are you reading “bond” in this verse?

Note the parallelism between “bond and free” and “rich and poor.”  Then note that for “bond and free,” all members of this community joined the second group (the free).  Does that imply that all members of the community joined the second group (the poor) in the other pairing?

What is the heavenly gift?  Is it something you only get if you have all things in common?

Does this verse imply that you have to have all things in common in order to be free?

4 And it came to pass that the thirty and seventh year passed away also, and there still continued to be peace in the land.

Why was this verse included in our record?

5 And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.

In the NT, miracles (by Jesus and his disciples) are almost always told in stories about individuals and in great detail (well, in great detail for the scriptures).  In the BoM, miracle stories are almost always told as very brief summary accounts, with no mention of individuals.  What might we learn from this?  What does it suggest about the role of the miracle stories in each book?

Why “children of men”?

Note that this verse emphasizes that the miracles were done in Jesus’ name.  Why?

6 And thus did the thirty and eighth year pass away, and also the thirty and ninth, and forty and first, and the forty and second, yea, even until forty and nine years had passed away, and also the fifty and first, and the fifty and second; yea, and even until fifty and nine years had passed away.

It seriously offends my sense of symmetry to mention some years but not others.  What the heck happened to the 40th year?

7 And the Lord did prosper them exceedingly in the land; yea, insomuch that they did build cities again where there had been cities burned.

What does “prosper” mean in this verse?  Does it have something to do with the ability to build cities?

Are the cities in the BoM symbolic in any way?  (In most of the OT, cities are A Bad Thing.)

8 Yea, even that great city Zarahemla did they cause to be built again.

9 But there were many cities which had been sunk, and waters came up in the stead thereof; therefore these cities could not be renewed.

Is this just factual (and, if so, why include it in the record?) or are we supposed to be learning something from this?

10 And now, behold, it came to pass that the people of Nephi did wax strong, and did multiply exceedingly fast, and became an exceedingly fair and delightsome people.

Are we supposed to read this verse as containing the “natural consequences” of prosperity, or as types of blessings, or what?  (Same thing for v11.)

What does “fair” mean in this verse?

What does this verse suggest to you about delight?

11 And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them.

Traditionally, we’d think of men marrying but women being given in marriage.  Is that what this verse is suggesting?  If not, then why mention the marriage partners as two different groups?  If so, then what are the implications of this verse?  (On the one hand, it would be one of the rare BoM references to women but on the other hand it would reinforce the view of women as passive in marriage choices.)

Brant Gardner:

The statement that they were “married, and given in marriage” highlights the generic nature of the “events” placed in this time set. Nephites had been marrying since the beginning of their society. There was nothing unusual. In fact, the statement is here precisely because it is usual. The emphasis is on the continuation of normal life during these pseudo-millenialistic years. Citation

12 And they did not walk any more after the performances and ordinances of the law of Moses; but they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God, continuing in fasting and prayer, and in meeting together oft both to pray and to hear the word of the Lord.

Note that this verse puts the law of Moses in opposition (albeit gently) to God’s commandments.

What does “walk” in this verse suggest to you about following the commandments?

Does this verse imply that they had literally received all of these commandments from the Lord, or is it collapsing the distance between receiving a commandment from the Lord and from one of his disciples?

Does the fasting/prayer/meeting stuff constitute examples of (or:  the totality of) the commandments they had received, or is that another topic entirely?

Note that we have “fasting and prayer” and then “to pray and to hear the word.”  Does this parallelism suggest some relationship between fasting and hearing?

Were they literally hearing the word of the Lord in their meetings, or are we once again collapsing the distance between the Lord and his disciples?

Notice the description of their meetings:  to pray and hear the word of the Lord.  If you took that as the baseline for our church meetings today, what might we do differently?

13 And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land; but there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus.

Again:  literally no contention?

Notice the “but”:  what is this verse suggesting about the relationship between contention and miracles?

Do only the twelve perform miracles, or do all of the disciples (=members)?

14 And it came to pass that the *seventy and first year passed away, and also the seventy and second year, yea, and in fine, till the seventy and ninth year had passed away; yea, even an hundred years had passed away, and the disciples of Jesus, whom he had chosen, had all gone to the paradise of God, save it were the three who should tarry; and there were other disciples ordained in their stead; and also many of that generation had passed away.

What work is “whom he had chosen” doing in this verse?

Why was “paradise” (as opposed to heaven or kingdom or whatever) used in this verse?

In “their stead,” does “their” modify the three, the nine, or the twelve?

Just so you know:  I think Three Nephite stories always a bad idea.  It seems to me that any Three Nephite story must fit into one of two categories:  (1) it really happened, which means it is sacred and you aren’t supposed to be blabbing about it or repeating what other people have blabbed or (2) it didn’t really happen, which means you are spreading folk doctriny stuff.  (Or maybe a mixture of the two.)  Also, there is something about the “slam dunk — this proves the BoM is true!” aspect to these stories that I find really inappropriate.  (Remember when Mormon wanted to include some of those slam dunks but the Lord told him not to because he needed to try the faith of the people?  Yeah.)

Why are we told that many of that generation had died, when the dates alone would have led us to assume this?  (Is there meant to be a contrast between the mention of their deaths and the lack-of-deaths [if you will] of the Three Nephites?)

Does this verse imply that the nine all died in the same year?  (That would imply that they were all born in the same year, since Jesus told them they’d live for 72 years.)  If not, then does it suggest that you should be reading some of this less literally?

15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.

Notice that “there was no contention” has become something of a chorus.  Why was this idea repeated so often in this text?  Is it maybe functioning to organize the text much as the year markers do?  If not, then why repeat it?

Does this verse imply that the love of God can prevent contention?

What is the love of God?  Does it mean loving God?  Love that comes from God?  Love that is the same kind of love that God has?  Something else?  (“Of” is a truly beastly word, with its multiples meanings.)

16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.

How does this verse relate to the one before it?  That is, does the lack of contention also prevent these things?  Or is contention as well as the laundry list in this verse the results of having the love of God?  Or is there some other way to understand what is going on here?

Are we really supposed to believe that there was literally no type of lasciviousness in this large group of people over many years?  If so, how did they manage to pull that off?  If not, how do you understand what is going on in this verse?

Were they happier than the city of Enoch?  (Again, how literally are you taking the many ideas that could be read as  hyperbole?)

Is the mention of God’s role as creator significant here?

17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

Wait–we just had a reference to the Lamanites a few verses ago.  Was that anachronistic, or what?

I love “nor any manner of -ites.”

Does the lack of “-ites” mean that the church didn’t identify itself as a tribe, or that every single person was a part of it, or what?

Is “in one” different from “one”?

What does “children of Christ” (as opposed to children of God) mean?  Is it related to the mention of God’s role as creator at the end of the last verse?

What does “heirs” suggest to you?

In what ways is “kingdom” a good metaphor?  Where does the metaphor break down?

18 And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an *hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land.

As a general rule, I do not think exclamation points should be used in the scriptures.

Do “blessed” and “prospered” mean the same thing in this verse?

Does this verse imply that in the BoM, a “generation” is 80 years?

Notice that refrain about the lack of contention again.  What effect does this repetition have on the reader?  Why do you think the emphasis was placed on lack of contention and not, say, miracles or lack of adultery or whatever?

19 And it came to pass that Nephi, he that kept this last record, (and he kept it upon the plates of Nephi) died, and his son Amos kept it in his stead; and he kept it upon the plates of Nephi also.

Why did Mormon want us to know (notice the repetition) that this record was kept on the plates of Nephi?

It is fairly shocking when you think of how little we know this Nephi as a person compared to how much of a sense we get of the Nephi from 1 Nephi.  I think we can tell what Mormon left on the cutting room floor!

20 And he kept it eighty and four years, and there was still peace in the land, save it were a small part of the people who had revolted from the church and taken upon them the name of Lamanites; therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land.

Even if Amos was wee when he got the record, he still lived a reeeeaaallly long time.

This verse is equal parts fascinating and frustrating:  I think we all want to know–would beg to know–what it was that triggered that very first bit of revolt that led to their downfall.  It is a big deal to understand how sin starts, and we have a legitimate interest in wanting to prevent it in our own lives.  But Mormon is mum.  On the other hand, he’s using a lot of ink (or whatever) in chronicling for us who kept the record and when–items that are surely of less use to us.  Why, Mormon, why?

Why “revolt” and not another word here?  This is the only BoM use of “revolt.”

What would have motivated them to take the name Lamanites?  Does this give us any clue to what they were thinking and why they revolted?  (My thinking is that “revolt” plus “Lamanite” hints at a division that is more political than religious, but I admit the evidence is slender.)

21 And it came to pass that Amos died also, (and it was an hundred and ninety and four years from the coming of Christ) and his son Amos kept the record in his stead; and he also kept it upon the plates of Nephi; and it was also written in the book of Nephi, which is this book.

Knowing that Nephi died in 110 and that Amos had the record for 84 years, we could have done the math and figured out for ourselves that Amos died in 194.  So why does Mormon mention it here?  (I suspect something is going on, but I don’t know what.)

22 And it came to pass that *two hundred years had passed away; and the second generation had all passed away save it were a few.

Why was this verse included in the record?

23 And now I, Mormon, would that ye should know that the people had multiplied, insomuch that they were spread upon all the face of the land, and that they had become exceedingly rich, because of their prosperity in Christ.

It always feels huge when Mormon pops into the text and speaks directly to us.  Do you notice any pattern to when he does this?  Why does he do it here?  I have noticed that he usually (always?) mentions the audience whenever he mentions himself.

Do you interpret “would that ye should know” as being Mormon’s Cliffs Notes for this section?  Or personal testimony?  Or something else?  If you read it as a summary and/or highlight, then why did Mormon choose to emphasize the multiplying and riches and not, say, the miracles (or any other topic)?  (Is it because of the direction that the next verse goes in?)

24 And now, in this *two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.

The cynic says:  The God of the BoM is as bad as the wealthy parent who gives the kid unlimited funds and then kvetches that the child is lazy.  Why does God prosper the people when they always end up abusing it?  In what ways is prosperity a blessing if it is such a double-edged sword?

What is the text suggesting about the cause of the pride?  Our knee-jerk is to say riches, but they’ve been rich for awhile (I think) with no problem.  The pride here comes hard on the heels of the separation–is that the issue:  it is not riches but separation that leads to pride?  Or is something else going on here?

Most of this verse is giving us examples (“such as . . .”) of pride.  What do you learn from these examples?  Would we expect prideful people to do precisely the same thing today, or is this culturally specific?

Who decides what apparel is “costly”?  Under what conditions (if any) is it OK to wear pearls?

How much weight and what meaning do you give to “of the world” in this verse?

25 And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.

Wait–do you mean they had everything in common up to this point?  What about the people who left to become Lamanites?  And how did people living with everything in common end up with pearls?

Are “goods” and “substance” the same thing in this verse?

Looking closely at v24-25, what precisely led to the end of their ability to live with everything in common?  What should we learn from this?  What does that suggest about what steps we could be taking today to prepare to live the law of consecration?

Sometimes when I’m bored I try to imagine a letter from SLC saying “It’s united order time, folks!” and how that would work on the ground.  As in:  what precisely would my bishop do to implement that, and how would it actually work out?  Would each family be given a living allowance and then choose from there how to spend it?  (This would preserve the most freedom for each family unit, but it would mean that the law of consecration would mean nothing more than adding up all of the income in the ward and then dividing by the number of families or individuals.  I also wonder if people would work a little less, knowing that they were only going to be keeping 1/100 of the increase.  Also, would people be more or less likely to be active in the church, and would it depend on their financial position relative to the rest of the ward?)  Or, would the bishop (or maybe a council?) have a more micro-managing approach, giving each family a housing budget, car budget, etc?    Would you need permission to buy a car or go on vacation?  Or, would the bishop pay every single bill for every family (and then maybe give a small amount of discretionary spending to each person)?  Or what?  It is a pretty silly exercise I suppose, except that it makes me think about the challenges that would come up and I think from that we might learn something about what the Lord would have us learn/be/do from living this way.  How might our attitudes towards the poor, the wealthy, work, leisure, decision making, personal autonomy, etc., etc., be affected?

I don’t think it is accurate to call it “The Proclamation on the Economy,” but scroll down to that title here and read the statement.  And here is Orson Scott Card discussing some background on that document.

26 And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ.

What do these verses suggest to us about the formation of classes?

Is this verse suggesting that class differences are a useful analytic tool?

Who divided them into classes?

Notice that church formation is the result of class division here.

Note that unrighteous people are forming churches here.  (Kind of obvious, but I think sometimes we assume all churchiness is good.)

What does it mean to build up a church unto yourself?  (Did Jesus do this?)

How would building up a church lead to getting gain?

What does “true” mean in this verse?

27 And it came to pass that when *two hundred and ten years had passed away there were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness.

Notice that even the “not true” churches profess to follow Christ.

Does the final line refer to the sacrament (the only specific thing we have reference to in the BoM itself that would fit the context)?  If so, then why not just come out and say it?  If not, then what else might it be referring to?

What would motive someone to give the sacred to the unworthy?

Is the creation of multiple churches evidence of pride/class separation or an entirely different issue.

Note that this verse says “many churches” but the next says “this church.”  What accounts for that shift?  (Maybe v29 refers to yet another church; that’s interesting because it would be giving us different flavors of apostasy.)

28 And this church did multiply exceedingly because of iniquity, and because of the power of Satan who did get hold upon their hearts.

Interesting that we just heard that the righteous multiplied exceedingly because of their righteousness, but here the wicked multiply exceedingly as well.  I suspect that the righteous were literally multiplying (that is, blessed with children) but here the wicked are multiplying in terms of people joining their ranks, but it is intriguing that the same words (“multiply exceedingly”) are used for both situations.  I think we could read it as suggesting that this is a pale imitation of true multiplying.

Where was Satan for the last 27 verses?

The last reference to hearts was to the love of God.  So is this verse implying that the power of Satan can displace the love of God if we let it?  (And we could ask the same questions about “of” here:  is this power given from Satan, or the power Satan himself uses, or power of the same kind that Satan uses, or what?)

“Which did get hold” could be read to imply that the people were passive victims, but that doesn’t sound quite right.  What’s going on here?

Public service announcement:  affiliation with a church is not evidence of righteousness.  (And I hasten to add that I think that applies to Mormons.)

29 And again, there was another church which denied the Christ; and they did persecute the true church of Christ, because of their humility and their belief in Christ; and they did despise them because of the many miracles which were wrought among them.

Does “another” imply that they had different beliefs than the previous group that we’ve been talking about?  If so, is there any indication as to what is motivating these people?

In what situations might you be tempted to persecute someone because of their humility?  Because of their belief?

In what situations might you be tempted to despise someone because of the miracles among them?

30 Therefore they did exercise power and authority over the disciples of Jesus who did tarry with them, and they did cast them into prison; but by the power of the word of God, which was in them, the prisons were rent in twain, and they went forth doing mighty miracles among them.

Do “power” and “authority” mean the same thing in this verse?

How did they get this power and authority?  (Speculation:  their wealth.)

Does “who did tarry” mean that we are talking specifically about the three Nephites here, or is this disciples in general?

Is it significant that we have “power of Satan” but then “power of _the word of_ God” here?

In the NT, Jesus says that he is unable to do some miracles because the wickedness of the people.  Why doesn’t that seem to be the case here?

31 Nevertheless, and notwithstanding all these miracles, the people did harden their hearts, and did seek to kill them, even as the Jews at Jerusalem sought to kill Jesus, according to his word.

Are we really surprised at this point that miracles don’t produce faith?

Why mention Jesus’ experience in Jrsm here?

What work is “according to his word” doing?  (Crazy speculation alert:  I wonder if this is code for “I’m not an eyewitness–just going on his word.”  It would be interesting to look at other uses of this phrase in the BoM and see if that is true.)

32 And they did cast them into furnaces of fire, and they came forth receiving no harm.

Is there supposed to be a parallel to Rack, Shack, and Benny here?

33 And they also cast them into dens of wild beasts, and they did play with the wild beasts even as a child with a lamb; and they did come forth from among them, receiving no harm.

Is there supposed to be a parallel to Daniel in the lion’s den here?

Now go back and read v31:  why compare these people to Jesus when they were spared his fate?

Note how repetitive this section is:  we already learned about the prisons, pits, furnaces, and wild beasts in 3 Nephi.  So why do we hear about them again here, especially in the context of 4 Nephi being such a highly abbreviated record?

34 Nevertheless, the people did harden their hearts, for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches, and to do all manner of iniquity. And they did smite upon the people of Jesus; but the people of Jesus did not smite again. And thus they did dwindle in unbelief and wickedness, from year to year, even until two hundred and thirty years had passed away.

How could they possibly have hardened their hearts when they saw these miraculous escapes?  What does that teach us about human nature?

How does the fact that the people of Jesus chose nonviolent resistance here relate to, you know, all of those war chapters in the BoM?  (Is this verse criticizing them for not fighting back?  I think that is one way to read the “and thus they did dwindle.”)

Is it significant that there is no modifier before “priests” the way that there is “false” before “prophets”?

35 And now it came to pass in this year, yea, in the *two hundred and thirty and first year, there was a great division among the people.

36 And it came to pass that in this year there arose a people who were called the Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ; and among them there were those who were called by the Lamanites—Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites;

Why did the Nephites resurrect these very old identities?

Are these names used for the literal descendants of these groups, or is it more of an association-by-choice thing?

37 Therefore the true believers in Christ, and the true worshipers of Christ, (among whom were the three disciples of Jesus who should tarry) were called Nephites, and Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites.

What does this verse suggest about the relationship between belief and worship?

Why are there subgroups of Nephites?

We were told that not having “-ites” was a good thing, so does this verse indicate some unrighteousness among the Nephites, or what?

38 And it came to pass that they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites; and they did not dwindle in unbelief, but they did wilfully rebel against the gospel of Christ; and they did teach their children that they should not believe, even as their fathers, from the beginning, did dwindle.

Note that this verse makes a distinction between “dwindling in unbelief” and “wilfully rebelling.”  Is this a distinction that we should be making today?

I would have assumed that “they did teach their children . . .” refers to those who were rebelling, but then how do we make sense of comparing that group to those who did dwindle?  What’s going on here?

I suspect that these guys had no actual knowledge of descent from Laman, Lemuel, or Ishmael but instead chose the names for symbolic/thematic reasons.

39 And it was because of the wickedness and abomination of their fathers, even as it was in the beginning. And they were taught to hate the children of God, even as the Lamanites were taught to hate the children of Nephi from the beginning.

What is the antecedent of the first “it” in this verse?  (In other words, what happened because of their fathers’ wickedness?)

Is it OK to blame anyone’s decisions on their parents’ wickedness?

Do “wickedness” and “abomination” mean the same thing in this verse?

Note the repetition of the phrase “the beginning” from the previous verse.  Does this refer to the war in heaven, or the Fall, or the beginning of the Nephite/Lamanite separation, or what?  (Does “even as the Lamanites . . .” answer this question, or is it just another example of what had happened since “the beginning”?)

In what situations today might we be guilty of (beginning to) teach our children to hate other children of God?

40 And it came to pass that *two hundred and forty and four years had passed away, and thus were the affairs of the people. And the more wicked part of the people did wax strong, and became exceedingly more numerous than were the people of God.

What work is “and thus were the affairs of the people” doing in this verse?  Is it just boilerplate or something else?

What does this verse suggest to you about the moral dimensions of church growth statistics?

41 And they did still continue to build up churches unto themselves, and adorn them with all manner of precious things. And thus did two hundred and fifty years pass away, and also two hundred and sixty years.

Is this verse implying that it is wrong to adorn a church?

42 And it came to pass that the wicked part of the people began again to build up the secret oaths and combinations of Gadianton.

How did they get access to these things?

How do you “build up” secret oaths?

Why do oaths play such a central role in the wickedness of the BoM (at least the latter part)?  Is there anything similar today?

43 And also the people who were called the people of Nephi began to be proud in their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, and become vain like unto their brethren, the Lamanites.

Skousen reads “became” instead of “become” here.

Wah!  Why does the same thing happen to the Nephites?  (The cynic says:  it is unavoidable.)

44 And from this time the disciples began to sorrow for the sins of the world.

Note that “the disciples” are existing as a separate entity from “the people of Nephi” in the previous verse.

What work is “of the world” doing in this verse?

Don’t you think the disciples would have been sorrowing long before this point?

Does this verse just refer to the three, or to the replacement disciples?

Why do the disciples come back into the story here?  Why don’t we hear anything about their efforts to encourage the people to repent?

45 And it came to pass that when three hundred years had passed away, both the people of Nephi and the Lamanites had become exceedingly wicked one like unto another.

What do you learn about the rise and fall of society and about righteousness in general from the last 300 years of BoM history?

Today, we focus mostly on the (un)righteousness of individuals, not groups, but the BoM record does just the opposite.  Why?  Should the righteousness of groups be a salient theme today?

There’s something . . . I don’t know . . . about how the Nephites end up in exactly the same position as the Lamanites, an idea that I think this verse emphasizes.  What are we supposed to learn from this?

The cynic says:  the pattern of the BoM is that no matter what you do, your society will end up falling into wickedness.  God hasn’t ever quite set it up so that a society could actually prosper, except for that one-off the city of Enoch.

46 And it came to pass that the robbers of Gadianton did spread over all the face of the land; and there were none that were righteous save it were the disciples of Jesus. And gold and silver did they lay up in store in abundance, and did traffic in all manner of traffic.

In what sense are they “robbers”?  Is this strictly literal?  Regardless, why is it their primary description?

Do you think it is fair or unfair to conclude that the disciples failed?  (In what ways is this the same as or different from someone with a 0% home teaching record today?)

Does this verse condemn storing (hoarding?) gold?  Traffic?  (Which I assume means commerce.)

How do the Gadianton robbers manage to re-appear when everyone had been righteous for so long?  What’s the analogy here:  were they just in remission?  Waiting in the wings?  Something else?

47 And it came to pass that after *three hundred and five years had passed away, (and the people did still remain in wickedness) Amos died; and his brother, Ammaron, did keep the record in his stead.

Brant Gardner:

In verse 21 we find that his father passed away in the year one hundred and ninety four. This gives us a minimum lifetime for Amos the son at one hundred and six. To complicate this chronology, the record is then given to his brother. The most logical assumption, absent this incredibly long lifespan, would be that Ammaron was a younger brother. However, if that were true, then it would be Ammaron who would be a minimum of a hundred and six years old, and his brother even older than that. There is no current method of reconciling this chronology. Citation

 

48 And it came to pass that when *three hundred and twenty years had passed away, Ammaron, being constrained by the Holy Ghost, did hide up the records which were sacred—yea, even all the sacred records which had been handed down from generation to generation, which were sacred—even until the three hundred and twentieth year from the coming of Christ.

What does “constrained” mean in this verse?

Webster 1828 constrain:  “To compel or force; to urge with irresistible power, or with a power sufficient to produce the effect.”

Why would the Holy Ghost tell him to hide the record at this point?  Is there any analogy (or better: inversion) to the stored gold in v46?

49 And he did hide them up unto the Lord, that they might come again unto the remnant of the house of Jacob, according to the prophecies and the promises of the Lord. And thus is the end of the record of Ammaron.

What does “unto the Lord” mean in this verse?

General thoughts:

(1) I am always disappointed in 4 Nephi, because I want way, way, way more detail about righteous living.  Seriously:  we are always talking about how parents and leaders should model good behavior, but the BoM gives us 500+ pages of “here is what you should not do–let this be a lesson to you!” and two pages of “here’s the pattern for what to do.”  Why might this allocation of space have been made?

(2) To what do you attribute the popularity of “Three Nephite” stories in Mormon culture?  (One weird thought I had:  every Three Nephite story I have ever heard has involved them rescuing people from physical distress.  But it would seem from the BoM that the whole point was the preach/save souls.  So what does that tell us?)  Article about Three Nephite stories here.

(3) Reflections on the socio-economic elements of Zion here.

(4) Reflections on contention here.

(5) Grant Hardy:  “The content of the Book of Mormon are grim.  While there is hope for individuals and groups who choose rightly, general social catastrophe seems inevitable.  This insistent focus on tragedy appears intentional; the single two-hundred year period of general peace and prosperity is related in just half a chapter (4 Nephi 1:1-23).  Narrators, having given up on their contemporaries, write a cautionary tale for future generations . . . ‘that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.’  It is somewhat surprising that Mormonism–generally regarded as an optimistic, forward-looking faith–has as its foundational scripture such an unrelenting record of human folly and ruin.”  Citation

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