2 Ne 31:1-21
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- 2 Ne 31:3: For he speaketh unto their understanding. This insightful passage sheds light on the nature of divine communication, and seems especially informative to any discussion of the translation of the Book of Mormon or the revelations received by Joseph Smith(or any other scripture, for that matter).
- 2 Ne 31:7: Meaning of Baptism for the Savior. Let us reflect on the meaning of baptism for us and for Christ. Baptism is a profound symbol of the two most important moments of any person's life, their birth and death. For any human being who understands its significance, baptism is an occasion for unadulterated joy because it cleanses one of sin and sets one on a path that leads to exaltation. To be sure, some must sacrifice sins to qualify for baptism, but the more sins they sacrifice, the greater will be their cleansing and the greater their joy in the new holier life baptism opens to them. That is the meaning of baptism for everyone who has ever lived or will ever live on earth, but one, the Savior. What would baptism have meant to him? As he looked back to his birth and forward to his death, what would he have seen? When he was baptized, Christ surely understood that he had been born into the world to take upon him the sins and suffering of all humanity. As he looked forward to his death, he would see Gethsemane and the Cross, the unimaginable burden of the atonement. Surely, baptism had a different meaning, a different emotional resonance for him than for all other human beings. Jesus was already on the path to exaltation. He had no sins that baptism could wash away. His baptism, on the contrary, was the one baptism that would make all other baptisms possible because it was a token of his commitment, a renewal of his commitment to take upon him all the sins of humanity. He emerged from the water not cleansed but burdened with sin and the pains of eternal damnation. Knowing these things, we should not be surprised to learn that Christ was reluctant to be baptized and thus renew his covenant with the Father and all of us to play his assigned role. In verse 7, we get a hint about what the Savior felt when he was baptized, about his natural and understandable reluctance to follow through on the commitment he had made to his Father and us: "he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient." Why did he have to humble himself? Because his baptism would send him as a lamb to the slaughter, a fate he would have avoided if able to follow his own rather than the Father's will (Mark 14:35-36; Luke 22:42; Matthew 26:39). Why was his baptism an act of obedience? Again, because he was following the Father's will rather than his own as he ritually took upon himself through baptism all the sins of the world. Verse 7 is the only place in scripture where we get a glimpse of what the Savior felt when he was being baptized. It helps us understand that, unlike us, the Savior could not experience unadulterated joy at his baptism because the ritual immersed him in the sins that it washes away from us. Properly understood, verse 7 should evoke in us a broken heart and contrite spirit, a measure of soul-transforming gratitude that the Savior, though reluctant, fully played his saving role both by being baptized and by then literally submitting himself to the painful death that was ritually enacted in his baptism.
- 2 Ne 31:13. The promise that concludes this verse has been generally considered rather odd and obscure. Though the phrase, "the tongue of angels," is only to be found in the writings of Nephi (here and in 2 Ne 32:3) and of Paul (1 Cor 13:1), what the phrase describes is not so foreign to the scriptures in general. The plainest meaning of the phrase would be "the language of angels," "what the angels speak," or, in other words, "what it is the angels do with their tongues." Taking the phrase in this very straightforward manner, one notices that a host of scriptures offer explanations of what Nephi is considering here. In Job 38:7, the angels are pictured as those who "sang together" and "shouted for joy" ("the sons of God" is a stock OT phrase meaning "angels"). In Isa 6:2-3, the angels are pictured as crying "one to another," saying "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory." When the heavens were opened to the shepherds, they saw "a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:13-14). John, in Revelation 4-5, records a number of different hymns sung by the angels who gather about the throne in heaven. King Benjamin mentions his desire to "join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God" (Mosiah 2:28). Alma even speaks of singing "the song of redeeming love" (Alma 5:26). All of these are, however, hints and allegations when compared with the most explicit explanation of what angels do, which is reported by Nephi himself: Lehi "saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God" (1 Ne 1:8). (Alma later describes a similar vision by quoting this very important verse: Alma 36:22.)
- This last example is vital to the present context: Nephi at the end of his record (in the present verse 13) makes reference to the very beginning of his record. In fact, the language is so parallel that it seems clear that Nephi is trying to draw a link between the two verses: the angels sing and shout praises in Lehi's vision; here Nephi promises his readers that if they follow the steps he describes they will "speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel." A major distinction between the two mentions of angelic praise is important, however: in Lehi's vision, the prophet only beholds the angelic chorus from a distance, while in the final promise Nephi extends to his readers, the reality of becoming an angel, of going into the heavens is in question. In other words, Nephi's record begins with a view of what man might become (namely, an angel) and ends with the promise of doing just that, becoming an angel. If these verses are understood as tied together, the difficulty of the present verse disappears.
- It might be objected that the slightest mention at the end of verse 13 here is not enough discussion to suggest that Nephi has angelification in mind as the goal of his whole two-volume record. However, the theme persists throughout chapters 31 and 32. In 2 Ne 31:17, baptism and the reception of the Holy Ghost are understood as a "gate," a sort of veil through which one must pass (as Isaiah passes through the veil before he is invited to join the heavenly chorus; see Isa 6:1-13). In 2 Ne 32:4, Nephi makes a more explicit mention of passing through a veil, being "brought into the light" as opposed to perishing without "in the dark." He suggests that as someone receives the Holy Ghost and begins to praise, one will see the Christ: "he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh" (2 Ne 32:6). Moreover, Nephi deals with the details of such an experience with a reverent silence: "now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance" (2 Ne 32:7). Besides reference to the mystery of the veil, Nephi re-explains the tongue of angels in 2 Ne 32:1-3. He states quite clearly that "angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost," therefore speaking "words of Christ." Always singing, always praising, it is apparently the privilege of the baptized to function as angels--messengers--of God on earth.
- Perhaps the best correlate to this vision in scripture is Isa 6:1-13, which should be read very carefully and in the context of the Day of Atonement.
- 2 Ne 31:19-20. It could well be suggested that these two verses are the foundation of all subsequent discussion of "faith, hope, and charity" throughout the Book of Mormon. In verse 19, Nephi mentions first the "faith" of those who are coming unto Christ. Then, in verse 20, he adds to that faith "hope" and--apparently--charity, what he calls "a love of God and of all men." That this very rough outlining of the three-fold theme of faith, hope, and charity is to be found at the very climax of Nephi's two-book record is suggestive of why it becomes such a consistently considered topic later in the Book of Mormon. However, there is a significant difference between Nephi's introduction of the theme here and the later considerations of the same.
- Nephi's language explicitly draws a sort of line between faith and hope. Perhaps better: a doorway or passageway marks the movement from faith to hope (cf. "door of hope" in Hosea 2:15), thereby drawing faith and hope into a curious relation of both connection and disconnection at once. The threshold itself is precisely what is in question in the whole passage: the "beloved brethren" being addressed are, according to verse 18, those who have come to a "gate" to be found on the "path which leads to eternal life." At that gate, Nephi describes the path traveled to this threshold as one paved by "unshaken faith" and the path to be traveled beyond this threshold as one paved by "hope, and a love of God and of all men." The gate itself marks a difference and yet a relation between faith and hope. Or better still: the gate marks the relation between faith and hope as a relation of distance, as a relation of difference.
- It is this relation of difference that seems to set this passage apart from later explorations of faith, hope, and charity. Alma (see Alma 32:21) and Mormon (see Moro 7:40-42) both consider a different relation between hope and faith. Alma, for example, characterizes faith itself as a kind of hope. Mormon claims at once that faith comes from hope and that hope comes from faith (see verses 40 and 42 especially). Only Moroni (see Ether 12:4) states explicitly that hope comes after (and only after) faith. This agreement with Nephi is, however, not too surprising: Moroni seems to have been the singlemost dedicated interpreter of the prophet Nephi in the history of the Nephites as it now exists. Though this should only be understood as preliminary statement, it might be said that it is only with a full millennium of thinking of these two verses that the Nephites come back to recognize what it says explicitly, and to recognize especially its full significance. (The question as to why there seems to be a relative lack of coherence with what Nephi is saying here for so long would be a fruitful one for further study. Does it have something to do with an ambiguity in the word "hope"?)
- At least this much might be said for now: faith is understood in these two verses as being a preparatory pathway to the more vital pathway of hope and charity. Other details from these two verses bear out the relation of difference implied. For example, the pathway to the gate is characterized in verse 19 as a question of "relying wholly upon the merits of him [Christ] who is mighty to save," whereas the pathway beyond the gate is characterized in verse 20 as a question of "press[ing] forward with a steadfastness in Christ. Whereas the relation of one to Christ in faith is one of reliance, the relation of one to Christ in hope and charity is one of identification (two become one).
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- 2 Ne 31:7: How is it that Christ should be obedient to the Father if the two are equal? (Philip 2:6)
- 2 Ne 31:13: Nephi promises the ability to speak with the tongue of angels? What does this mean?
- Verse 31:18: Path. See Jacob's post on path and way as used in scriptures at the New Cool Thang blog.
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- On becoming an angel and what it has to do with the priesthood, see Margaret Barker's article "The Angelic Priesthood" in The Great High Priest, 2003.
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