The Top Five ABUSED Nephi Quotes
By Bro. Even Thomas Ess
Let’s get this straight from the get-go: I like Nephi. He’s the guy who was proactive in getting the Book of Mormon started, who gave us in vision the perspective of a Christian Israelite from before “the Messiah” had even shown up among the Jews and who had an appreciation for the poetry of Isaiah, channeling him often. I would love to sit in a room with Nephi and hear about his adventures in traveling through the wilderness, finding a curious steampunk compass, building a ship, discovering a new and strange land, dealing with his dysfunctional family, and on and on. He no doubt would make my life appear boring by comparison. I admire him and am appreciative of his efforts of starting something which has bettered the world.
Any gripes I might have with what he wrote are probably more about our culture and how we tend to turn any “religious” story into a devotional, creed or dogma. While Nephi does, in my opinion, quite often cross the line between common sense and zealotry, he can surely be pardoned given the environment in which he was raised. As Nephi himself admits: “I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. . .” but “I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations.”
If the Jews dealt in darkness and “doings of abominations,” it is conceivable that Nephi, just like Joseph Smith’s succumbing to Campbellite/Protestant influences, was a product of his time and culture, and would therefore reflect, at least to an extent, some of the “learning” that he had acquired. Not that Nephi worked in darkness or did abominable things, but as with any individual, God speaks unto men “according to their language and understanding.” Then again, Nephi called himself “wretched,” so perhaps it’s okay to believe him just a little in that regard. For the most part, however, my frustration comes from what we Gentiles have done with Nephi’s words. If he were to read this ‘talk,’ I suspect (or at least hope) that he would be saying, “I know, right?” to many of my points.
Finally, I am not necessarily disagreeing with the quotes presented. Rather, I am pointing out how we have possibly misinterpreted or taken them out of context, to our own detriment. So let the countdown begin:
- “Liken all things unto us”
You know that a scriptural expression has become a catechism when it gets its own theme song (link to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jymz9nAsiYU) Who can forget the campy seminary hit from waaaay back in 1975, Like Unto Us? For a refresher, here are the lyrics:
Like unto us, so the Savior said
And learn from days gone by.
Like unto us, it’s the surest way
To reach your home on high.
Every day we face new challenges
Hills that seem too steep to climb,
But other men have walked the same experience
And passed the test of time.
More torturous lyrics
Like unto us, now’s the time my friend
To heed their words of truth
Safe to know deep within your heart
Safe to love and work and prune
(okay, I’m not quite sure about that last word. Could be prune, or prove, but probably groove).
Looking at Nephi’s words more carefully, we learn that he was teaching his brethren from the Plates of Brass, (which were arguably much less tainted than anything we have today), and specifically talking about “the books of Moses.” Remember that in the Brass Plates, the five books of Moses “gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents.” Nephi was reading this to his brethren so that he “might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer.” Nephi also specifically cites Isaiah at this point:
Hear ye the words of the prophet, ye who are a remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off; hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves, that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have been broken off; for after this manner has the prophet written.
One might ask, “What’s wrong here? Isn’t gleaning from those before us the way to go? Can’t we learn from those who have ‘walked the same experience?’” The problem is that we AREN’T LEARNING from what the Book of Mormon teaches us, we are merely aping their actions or assuming their words apply to us when they might not. Case in point:
- Nephi is saying what HE did, not telling the reader (especially a Gentile reader) to do what he did.
- Isaiah addresses the “House of Israel, a branch who have been broken off.” Nephi is very clear that he thinks his people are that branch, so why would Gentiles liken those words to themselves if they were meant for another group?
- Nephi speaks of likening the “scriptures” to his brethren, but we have very little idea of what was contained in the Brass Plates (his “scriptures”). They had FIVE WHOLE BOOKS dedicated to the creation of the world (the thing he was likening to his brethren), while our understanding of the creation is a couple of short chapters in Genesis as well as a little further revelation from Joseph Smith.
- Six hundred years after Nephi made his statement, the Lord came to Lehi’s children and said, “Old things are done away, and all things have become new.” If we are likening what Nephi says to ourselves, it’s like putting on a pair of smelly, used socks and calling our wardrobe “restored.” Or maybe putting new wine into old bottles? Why would we apply the things which have been done away in a world where the rules have changed?
- Nephi (Isaiah) offers “hope” through this likening, to not only his immediate brethren, but to the tree from which the branch has been broken off (the House of Israel). That might speak more about the condition of that people and the reason why the “prophet” wrote “after this manner.” The purpose of likening here isn’t for us to “get what they got” (are we sure we want what they have?) or to follow some pattern which would take Likeners back to the presence of God. It is to offer hope to those who are presumably lacking or enduring a period of captivity.
We use Nephi’s words to push an agenda, one mostly of obedience and sacrifice (to the Church, that is). On this blog there has been made mention of cargo cults, (link to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmlYe2KS0-Y) which were born out of native islanders witnessing never-before-seen airplanes during World War 2 landing, moving their cargo, taking off and doing all the magical things they do. They must have said amongst themselves, “If we liken the airports to us, then surely we will receive such bounteous riches that the white man now possesses. Let us build an altar with wings and a landing strip so that the gods can bring their abundance here!”
If you believe that we are the Gentiles spoken of by Nephi, the Lord, Mormon, Moroni and the others, then why don’t we liken the prophecies about us to ourselves? Furthermore, why can’t we look at the results of some of Nephi’s actions (like using Laban’s sword to fashion other swords and teach his people how to resolve conflicts with their brethren)? Nephi may not have connected the dots between a stolen saber and witnessing the destruction of his people in vision, but we surely can. In fact, Moroni, who had seen the beginning of his culture to the end, says, “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.” If ever there was some instruction for us to receive, I think this should flash pretty brightly on our radars.
The concept we Gentiles use of “likening unto us” is not new. We likened the hell out of the Book of Mormon, “Another TESTAMENT of Jesus Christ,” to the Bible (New TESTAMENT and Old), complete with chapter/verse formatting, assumed understanding of the names and places mentioned in both books, and hierarchal organization with the Big P (Pope/Prophet) at the top. This all makes for good “slogans for everyone” fodder, as well as merchandisable products like music, trademarks, vinyl lettering and inspirational paintings to faithfully be hung in each Mormon home. Of course there needs to be middle management which can distribute and control the voice and persona of these things, so the Church eagerly steps in to market it via an institution. Viola, there you have it—a whole economy set up based on “likening unto us.”
While I believe we can learn from someone’s boneheaded mistakes (and we have plenty of examples in our own history), perhaps we should be wary of likening another person’s situation (even a prophet’s!) unto ourselves if it has no relevancy to our own. After all, Nephi did it to persuade his annoying brothers to believe in the Lord their Redeemer. I already consider myself a believer, so it may be that Nephi’s words at that moment have no application in my life, other than to hear his story from a first-person perspective. I’m good with that, and in that vein I am free to go explore and create something new and exciting, rather than likening myself to something dead. After all, if I liken myself to it, then I will eventually become it, and then perhaps Isaiah will have to do his thing to give me “hope” in my darkened state too.
Rather than some unrelated story to liken to ourselves, perhaps we should look at the words of Christ, which by His own mouth are a template for us to follow. But these things involve a change of our hearts and a willingness to let go of all the impotent traditions we have likened to ourselves over the generations, something Nephi seems to have not factored in when he admonished (or some might say threatened) with the rod of iron. I don’t see any programs or checklist of performances in this Gospel. Rather, it is just BE-ing as Jesus is: patient, forgiving, merciful, and willing to walk a mile with anyone who has the desire for your company. Yes, it even involves creativity. Apparently at some point kings will shut their mouths at the thought of this wondrously imaginative work and consider something new which they had not heard before. That sounds a whole lot more fun than checking off some list of do’s and don’ts and forever grinding the Grain of Futility on the Likening Mill. Let us toss out the stencils and see what happens when we pour our own hearts into painting on the clean canvas.
To be continued…..
Seminary Mormon Music – Like unto us – Original song version 1975