“On Jesus’s Prophecy to the Disciples at Bountiful as Recorded in 3 Nephi 15-16 of The Book of Mormon”
[Not the actual speaker, but his tie does make his words believable, I suppose.]
In 3 Nephi chapter 16, Jesus speaks, as part of a communication started in chapter 15, to the twelve he had chosen, of other sheep he must visit. He instructs them to write down the things he said to them after he leaves, against a day when, perhaps, those who knew him at Jerusalem would be too unconcerned to inquire of the Father about others whom they didn’t even know existed–others also visited by him. The disciples were obedient to this request, having written all that transpired of Jesus’ visit onto the Plates of Nephi (referred to as “these sayings” in verse 4), which would one day–a latter day–be made known to the Gentiles. A partial account of Jesus’ visit, taken from the Plates of Nephi and identified as the lesser part, was written into the gold plates by Mormon, which we now read (in translation) as part of The Book of Mormon today (see 3 Nephi 26). In this, Mormon’s glimpse, we read of that day, when the greater things (to use Mormon’s phrase) will be made manifest to the Gentiles, contingent on their belief, when events spoken of in 3 Nephi 16 will subsequently take place–fulness of the Gentiles, a metonym for Gentile reception of greater things; subsequent rejection, savorless salts, previous covenants remembered and fulfilled, etc.
This establishes the who and the when. What wickedness, then, to echo an oft expressed question? Gentile pride, lyings, deceits, mischiefs, hypocrisy, murders, priestcrafts, whoredoms, secret abominations, all in the face of this greater revealed text (and others, I suspect) shown them; in spite of what they will surely know about it and what it says about this Jesus. This rejection, among those to whom these greater things will come, will mark a new chapter when God will reverse the tables, so to speak, and will again remember his people, Israel, and will establish his gospel among them, and among the remnant of those who knew him in Jerusalem, bringing along any Gentiles as are willing and able to shed their polluting ways.
I include the subject text for convenience, taken from 3 Nephi chapters 15 and 16 of The Book of Mormon, reformatted below from its current two-column chapter and verse format to aid in reading, and which include my comments in [square brackets]:
[Mormon’s “abridgement” of the Plates of Nephi written to the gold plates (3 Nephi 15:11)]
And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he said unto those twelve whom he had chosen:
[Jesus’s words, copied as direct quote from the Plates of Nephi by Mormon onto the gold plates]
Ye are my disciples; and ye are a light unto this people, who are a remnant of the house of Joseph. And behold, this is the land of your inheritance; and the Father hath given it unto you. And not at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell it unto your brethren at Jerusalem. Neither at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell unto them concerning the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land. This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them, that, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” And now, because of stiffneckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them. But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you. And verily, I say unto you again that the other tribes hath the Father separated from them; and it is because of their iniquity that they know not of them. And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
And they understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles; for they understood not that the Gentiles should be converted through their preaching. And they understood me not that I said they shall hear my voice; and they understood me not that the Gentiles should not at any time hear my voice—that I should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost. But behold, ye have both heard my voice, and seen me; and ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me. And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister. For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice; neither have I at any time manifested myself unto them. But I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them.
And I command you that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone, that if it so be that my people at Jerusalem, they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry, do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of, that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles, that through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of their seed, who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer. And then will I gather them in from the four quarters of the earth; and then will I fulfil the covenant which the Father hath made unto all the people of the house of Israel. And blessed are the Gentiles, because of their belief in me, in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father. “Behold, because of their belief in me,” saith the Father, “and because of the unbelief of you, O house of Israel, in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles, that the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them. But wo,” saith the Father, “unto the unbelieving of the Gentiles.”
For notwithstanding they have come forth upon the face of this land, and have scattered my people who are of the house of Israel; and my people who are of the house of Israel have been cast out from among them, and have been trodden under feet by them; and because of the mercies of the Father unto the Gentiles, and also the judgments of the Father upon my people who are of the house of Israel, verily, verily, I say unto you, that after all this, and I have caused my people who are of the house of Israel to be smitten, and to be afflicted, and to be slain, and to be cast out from among them, and to become hated by them, and to become a hiss and a byword among them—and thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: at that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, “Behold,” saith the Father, “I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.”
And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them. And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel. “But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me,” saith the Father, “behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel. And I will not suffer my people, who are of the house of Israel, to go through among them, and tread them down,” saith the Father, “but if they will not turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, I will suffer them, yea, I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down, and they shall be as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people, O house of Israel.” Verily, verily, I say unto you, thus hath the Father commanded me—that I should give unto this people this land for their inheritance. And then the words of the prophet Isaiah shall be fulfilled, which say:
[Jesus quoting Isaiah, presumably from the Brass Plates] Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing, for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.
The extended quote ends here. Jesus first speaks of various peoples, then lays out the relative timing of events contingent on the manifestation of the record of things he has said, and is saying, to his audience. The following groups are identified, described here in no particular order:
- His disciples, which are the twelve Jesus had chosen prior to this passage, as recorded in 3 Nephi 11. They are to be a light unto the people, and have been given the land of Bountiful as an inheritance by the Father.
- The people gathered at Bountiful, identified as a remnant of the house of Joseph, and the “other sheep” spoken of by Jesus to their brethren at Jerusalem, who are utterly unaware of them. Among those given to Jesus by the Father (his people), they were separated from their brethren at Jerusalem because of (their brethren’s) iniquity, and were also promised the land of Bountiful as an inheritance, although they will be scattered by Gentiles who will come into the land.
- Their brethren at Jerusalem, those who saw Jesus and were with him in Jerusalem, had no knowledge of the people Jesus visits at Bountiful or elsewhere. Jesus calls them his people and describes them as stiff necked and unbelieving, and because of this are never directly told of those separated from them. They misunderstood Jesus when he spoke to them of “other sheep,” supposing it referred to Gentiles. The remnant of their descendants to be scattered over the earth, they have a future promise of re-gathering and the return to a knowledge of Jesus, through the fullness of the Gentiles.
- The Gentiles were identified by Jesus as those to be converted through the preaching of those at Jerusalem, never to receive a witness of him in flesh, but only through the workings of the Holy Ghost. They are to be blessed for their belief in Jesus, and cursed for unbelief. The mercies of the Father will be unto them, and they will come forth into the land of Bountiful, will scatter the house of Israel, hate them, cast them out from among them, trample them underfoot, and otherwise treat them poorly. The full account of Jesus’s visit to Bountiful, as contained in the Plates of Nephi, will be made manifest to them, which event is called the fullness of the Gentiles. The rejection of this text, alongside a laundry list of sins committed by the Gentiles will mark the beginning of the restoration of knowledge to the house of Israel, when the fullness will pass to them, with any repentant Gentiles being counted among Jesus’s people. Unrepentant Gentiles are described as savorless salt, to be trampled underfoot by the house of Israel, in a future tragic turning of the tables.
- Other “other sheep” (that is, distinct from the “other sheep” identified as the people at Bountiful) are mentioned by Jesus in these passages. They were not from Bountiful, nor Jerusalem, nor from anywhere Jesus had already been, and therefore had not as yet heard nor seen Jesus in the flesh, but would be visited by him, and numbered along with the people at Jerusalem and Bountiful as his sheep. Jesus mentions that other tribes had been separated from those at Jerusalem, like those at Bountiful, for similar reasons, and with similar consequences. I am inclined to think these other “other sheep” include these other tribes, but it is not entirely clear to me from the text that this is the case.
- The house of Israel is introduced as Jesus speaks of the restoration of knowledge to the scattered remnant of the descendants of those at Jerusalem, through the fullness of the Gentiles. The phrase acts as title for those given promise to be remembered ultimately, and shown mercy–Jesus’s people, the combination of all scattered parties: those at Bountiful, remnant of descendants of those at Jerusalem, others separated, as well as Gentiles repentant of their rejection of the fullness of the gospel.
- The prophet Isaiah (mentioned at the end of the passage), whose prophetic words describing the restoration of Jerusalem are said to be fulfilled by the events being described by Jesus.
- Redeemer, a title used by Jesus to describe himself as one who remembers the promises made to his sheep, and as one who returns (restores) knowledge, in spite of previous unbelief, as contrasted to the way the title is commonly used to refer to one whose life was given in ransom, or as payment of some kind.
A loose timeline of events can also be constructed from this passage. I list the events here in relative order:
- Various peoples (tribes) “separated” from the unbelievers at Jerusalem.
- Jesus’s ministry among the confused at Jerusalem (and his mention of other sheep at Bountiful)
- Jesus visits the people at Bountiful
- Jesus visits yet other sheep
- Account of Jesus’s visit to Bountiful recorded onto Plates of Nephi by the disciples (“these sayings”)
- Mormon’s abridgement onto gold plates (which includes, according to Mormon, the “lesser part,” a partial account of Jesus’s visit to the people of Bountiful taken from the Plates of Nephi)
- Gentiles to come forth on the face of the land, blessed for belief, ongoing scattering house of Israel and remnant of seed of those at Jerusalem and Bountiful, smitten, afflicted, etc.
- Joseph Smith’s translation of gold plates published as The Book of Mormon (which contains the translated “lesser part” found in 3 Nephi)
- [You are here]
- Fulness of Gentiles: the account of Jesus’s visit at Bountiful as recorded on the Plates of Nephi by his disciples to be manifested to the Gentiles
- Fulness rejected by Gentiles, pride, lyings, deceits, etc., etc.
- Fulness taken from Gentiles, given to house of Israel
- Covenant remembered
- Tables turned (Gentiles trodden under feet of house of Israel)
- Scattered peoples brought to knowledge of Jesus, all gathered in, repentant Gentiles numbered among them, Isaiah’s words as recorded on Brass Plates considered fulfilled
The way it reads, the future events described by Jesus pivot around the manifestation of a certain (preserved) text to the Gentiles, and it is the presence of this text that marks them as Gentile. What text? The Book of Mormon? Hardly. Based on what? Well, Jesus’s words which seem to indicate otherwise, and for another reason. I include another passage, written by Mormon, in 3 Nephi chapter 26:
And now there cannot be written in this book [gold plates] even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people; but behold the Plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people. And these things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which he taught the people; and I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken. And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them. And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation. Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the Plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying, “I will try the faith of my people.”
“The people,” “this people,” “my people,” I’ll be honest and say I’m not quite sure who is being referred to by all these phrases–”the people” probably refers to the group at Bountiful several hundred years prior to Mormon. The “this” is the singular form of what I understand to be referring to some group contemporary to Mormon, with emphasis on the group, and not its individuals (else I would have expected something like “these people”). “My people” had reference to a particular gathering of folks at one time by Jesus, as described above, but is that the case here? However, one thing seems clear, and that is that the account of Jesus’s visit was initially being copied wholesale from the Plates of Nephi by Mormon onto his plates. So why was Mormon doing this? Mormon claims that his copy was to go to “this people” via the Gentiles, according to Jesus’s words (where did Jesus say this?). The account of Jesus’s visit as recorded onto the Plates of Nephi would also be preserved and manifested to the Gentiles, but, and this is the distinguishing thing, in order to go to the remnant of the seed of those at Jerusalem. So Mormon was making a copy of the story of Jesus’s visit knowing the version he held in his hands as part of the Plates of Nephi was ultimately destined for some other group. This means to me that The Book of Mormon is most certainly not the text prophesied by Jesus to mark the beginning of the fulness of the Gentiles.
Of course, I’m often told differently in Mormon circles–the prophesied text is often interpreted as The Book of Mormon, and its rejection by those to whom it has come as indicating the “fullness of the Gentiles,” with Gentiles variously interpreted as non-Mormons, or wealthy Mormons, or the Corporation of the President and its financial dealings, or whatever, depending on the day or what flavor of Mormonism (true-blue, fundamental, neo-, ex-) one happens to align themselves with. Regardless, the book is something prophetic. A prophecy of what? Of things yet to come; things to look forward to, or to be believed in. Something to catch attention and to develop faith, in other words. A preparatory text, guide, map, or plan that tells what to expect, and what promises were made, analogous to a musical overture, intended as introduction to a more extensive work.
Things never mentioned in this prophecy? No restoration of church or religion, or priesthood-as-magic-power, or its keys; no mention here of engagement in world wide missionary programs as part of gathering of first the living, then the dead, then of food before a frightful apocalyptic end of what appears to be an evil, evil world prior to the triumphal second coming of Jesus; nor of The Book of Mormon going to Lamanites-as-obvious-group. None of the people or places mentioned can be positively identified by anyone lacking firsthand knowledge today, which means nothing it says can possibly be used to validate anything tradition tells us about old or new worlds, or testaments, or Indians, Jews, Gentiles, tribes, the law or the prophets…think what we will. We might like to believe that as readers of The Book of Mormon we are able to develop histories, reconstruct cultures, and point to someone’s descendants even, but no such thing is possible given what we currently possess. Much is still sealed, and the right text(s) would be a great help. The gospel is, according to Jesus, a story; his story, and one which is still not completely known to us.