3 Ne 11:31-41

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Third Nephi > Chapter 11 > Verses 31-41
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Relationship to Chapter 11. The relationship of Verses 31-41 to the rest of Chapter 11 is discussed at Chapter 11.


Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 31-41 include:


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  • 3 Ne 11:31. Christ states quite bluntly that He is about to delare His "doctrine." The phrase, "my doctrine," might well be connected with 2 Ne 31:2, where Nephi states that he is about to declare "the doctrine of Christ." In both cases (2 Nephi 31 and 3 Nephi 11), the doctrine in question seems to be the interrelation of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (see especially 2 Ne 31:21). The term "doctrine" is interesting. Though the term is used in a number of different circumstances in the Book of Mormon as translated, it might be significant that one of these is a quotation of Isaiah (specifically of Isa 29:24, also found in 2 Ne 27:35). The context here seems similar to that in Isaiah in that the true doctrine of Christ is given after an errant version has been mentioned. In particular, the spirit of contention described in verses 28-30 will now be contrasted with the unified relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Also, if Isaiah's text might be understood as a point of departure for understanding the Nephite use of the term, the Hebrew word lqh comes into play (this is the word in the Hebrew text of Isaiah 29). The word is translated "learning" elsewhere in the KJV, but it means quite literally a "take" on things, a way of "taking" things up. If there had been disputations to this point on Christ's doctrine, He here offers His take on things, His way of taking them. While it might be said that this makes "doctrine" a rather subjective thing, it might well be responded that Christ invites one to come to Him, not to some objective reality He discusses. That Christ explicitly states here that this is "my doctrine" makes the point clear: one is to trust Him here, one is to follow Him, whether or not what He says conforms to some scientific or otherwise objective view of the world.
  • 3 Ne 11:32. With this verse, the "doctrine of Christ" begins to unfold. It begins with a move that at once more radically subjectivizes the doctrine than the last verse and yet objectivizes it just as much. The "doctrine" is Christ's and the Father's. In fact, it is a doctrine given to the Son by the Father. More radically subjective: subjective enough that the Son could only receive it from another person (as it were), not from objective criteria. Yet objective: the doctrine is held by at least two now, a real take offered through the Son to all. This double way of understanding the role of the "doctrine" here offers a sort of criticism of the categories of subjectivity and objectivity: the "doctrine of Christ" outstrips these categories entirely. The doctrine is beyond questions of subjectivity and objectivity.
All of this opens onto the question of the interrelation of the Father and the Son, as well as the role of the Holy Ghost. And here, the doctrine of the trinity begins to unfold. Proceeding on, then, to the "doctrine" itself, a major difficulty arises out of the series of "and’s" that make up the passage comprising this "doctrine." Since every single phrase begins with an "and," it seems impossible at first to see where the actual discussion of the "doctrine" begins and where it ends. It in fact appears at first as if there is no discussion of the "doctrine" whatsoever, because, every phrase starting with an "and," there is the grammatical suggestion that every phrase is a continuation or extension of the sentence introducing the "doctrine." In other words, since every phrase is grammatically subordinate to the introductory phrase, the introductory phrase ultimately introduces nothing, and it appears as if there is no explanation of the "doctrine" in the passage. However, verse 35 makes it clear that, somewhere between that verse and verse 31, there must be read an explanation of the doctrine, since verse 35 essentially repeats the introduction of verse 31 and the beginning of verse 32, but in a confirmatory way. The difficulty is as to where to read it, and how to read it.
There is a hint, however, in verses 37-39, and perhaps a hint that clinches the matter. There, Jesus repeats in paraphrase the content of verses 33-34 twice and then says, quite explicitly, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my doctrine...." The lack of the "and" before that conclusive phrase (in verse 39) is telling: the baptismal commandment is the key to the doctrine, is the doctrine. With that clear, the contents of the discourse on the subject might be approached. Before approaching it, perhaps a word concerning the trinity is in order: the comments above have hinted repeatedly that the "doctrine of Christ" is a question of the trinity, whereas here it has been apparent that the "doctrine of Christ" is a question of baptism. A reply to this point is rather simple: how is it that one feels to draw so careful a distinction between the two, between the trinity and baptism (see the comments at verse 25)? The question of baptism is the question of baptism, that much is clear.
In light of this last clarification, the remainder of this verse becomes rather interesting: the "and’s" that hold this verse together, paralleling the "and’s" at the opening of this verse and the "and’s" at the openings of the following two verses, mean at once to tie the remaining phrases to the introductory "this is my doctrine" and to the actual "doctrine" as it is laid out in verses 33-34. The remainder of this verse, in short, is provided as a clarification at once of the "doctrine" and of the introduction of the "doctrine." What this accomplishes interpretively for the verse must be seen next.
First, there is a threefold record-bearing: the Son of the Father, the Father of the Son, and the Holy Ghost of the Father and the Son. Perhaps at the core of these phrases is the very phrase "to bear record." The phrase in English is fascinating enough; that is represents universally in the KJV the Greek martyreo only doubles the fascination: anyone can see in the Greek term here the English derivative, "martyr." While it is often pointed out that the English "martyr" (or, indeed, the eventual Greek just as well) extends the original meaning of the word (only coming to include the concept of death or persecution in the tradition after the New Testament), it should certainly be noted that the richer concept of the "martyr" is implicit in the original Greek word, as used before the Christian era. The best way to think this question is to look at the English translation, where the KJV translators recognized that some form of the word "martyr" would be perhaps to add too much meaning to the original Greek: they translated the verb as "to bear record."
To bear: to hold up, to carry, even to support a burden (the etymological tie between "bear" and "burden" is rather obvious). The word also, of course, is used for labor: to bear is to give birth (again, the etymological tie is rather obvious). To hold up, to carry, to support, even to give birth to: a record. A record: a seconding (re-) of the heart (-cord) of the matter, a doubling of what is witnessed, a setting out in a physical object (perhaps even plates of gold) what would otherwise disappear with the passing of the event. The word "record" usually translates, in the Old Testament, the word zykrwn, a remembrance, a re-enactment, even a memorial: the record re-calls into the present what otherwise would pass away, re-presents what otherwise would slip into the past. To bear record: to hold up, carry, even give birth to what otherwise would disappear into the past. To bear record: to hold in the present what is liable to slip away into the past, to present it or even re-present it. Martyreo: to present physically (even in one’s physical body—and here the question of martyrdom is already implicit) the event that otherwise would slip into oblivion, the irretrievable past. In short, to bear record is to offer oneself as a physical re-presentation of an event (or, at times, of another person).
All this said, what does it mean to say, for example, that the Son bears record of the Father? The implication is that if it were not for the physical reality of the Son, the knowledge of the Father would pass away, that the Son’s person presents (makes present) the otherwise unknowable reality of the Father. But, then, what of the Father bearing record of the Son? It seems that this would mean that without the confirming witness of the Father—the voice from the heavens, for example—the divine reality of the Son would fade, and He would go unrecognized, would be thought other than what He is, would cease to be Himself as He is. This reciprocal record, the re-presentation of the Father by the Son and the presentation of the Son by the Father, is finally said to be presented or re-presented by the further record of the Holy Ghost. This last record is perhaps the most difficult one to handle, precisely because the record—unquestionably "borne"-—is always to be physical, not merely spiritual. But no sooner is this point made than the difficulty passes away: the dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual is Greek, not scriptural, and the witness of the Spirit is, in the end, more physical perhaps than the vision of the Father or of the Son. In its physical witness, the Spirit presents and re-presents the double relation of the Father and the Son.
But perhaps all of this sounds too "Trinitarian." Even so, it all seems to be what Jesus is talking about quite clearly. None of this yet breaches the implied relationship that underlies the double record-bearing work of the Father and the Son, and none of this yet explores how it is that the Holy Ghost is to be understood as playing into that relationship: the doctrine might well become far more "Trinitarian" than it already is. At any rate, there is certainly a good deal at work here.
Drawing from the abstract (if it can indeed be called abstract) question of record-bearing, Jesus mentions a rather concrete point of relation between Himself and the Father: the Son bears record of the Father’s commandment concerning the Son. The point opens right onto baptism.
  • 3 Ne 11:32-33. From the comments above, it appears that one can excerpt verses 33-34 from the rest of the passage as the "doctrine" of Christ. However, the obvious connection between the end of verse 32 and the beginning of verse 33 destroys that possibility: even though verses 33-34 seem in some sense to be more explicitly the "doctrine," it only opens up through the commandment that issues from the trinity ("the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me [the Son]"). That the "doctrine" of verse 33 is specifically connected to the theme of the trinity is also important because it works towards interpreting the content of the "doctrine": inheritance, as mentioned in verse 33, is inevitably to be understood in terms of father and son, or of Father and Son. In other words, the trinitarian context in which verse 33 appears decides in advance that inheritance is not figurative, but trinitarian. But before exploring what this implies, it might be best to draw quite explicitly the connection between verses 32 and 33.
The commandment that closes verse 32 is of the utmost importance: after drawing out the intertwining record-bearing relations of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Jesus explains what those relations amount to, namely, a record borne by the Son of the Father's record-bearing commandment concerning the Son. The Father's universal commandment (to "all men") is only made manifest in the Son (this is the theme of much of Paul as well, and--if read carefully--"Second" Isaiah). This is as much as to say that the trinity is a necessary step on the way to the possibility of a universal invitation to the Abrahamic covenant. Outside of the trinitarian interrelationship of the Godhead, there is a sort of closure of the commandment (to Israel, it would appear). The Son, bearing record of the Father's otherwise hidden commandment, opens the possibility for "all men, everywhere, to repent and believe...." That the belief to be had is specifically "in me [the Son]" is vastly important: the belief commanded by the Father, as revealed in the Son, is a commandment to become involved in the trinity itself, to believe in the Son. When in verse 33 Jesus goes on to say that those who so believe (believing in the Son) become heirs, He seems essentially to be saying that these who believe in the Son gain a particular relationship to the Father (as sons in the Son). The trinity is, across the space between verses 32 and 33, made the locus of a universal plan of salvation. But what all of this means can only be explored through careful attention to the details of verses 33-34.
  • 3 Ne 11:33-34. These two verses can only, in the end, be read together. That they form a parallel structure is plain enough; the parallelism they form, in fact, sets off the question of inheritance as a sort of aside. The parallelism sets up the powerful opposition of being, on the one hand, saved and, on the other hand, damned. The terms are common enough in religious discourse, but perhaps their meaning is not often brought into clarity. In the New Testament ("damned" does not show up in the Old Testament in the KJV), the word "damned" translated the Greek katakrithesetai, a word that means roughly "sentenced" or, more literally, "judged against." The English "damn" had a similar courtroom connotation in 1828, coming from the Latin damno, -are, to find guilty. If one traces the word back to its Indo-European root dap-, one finds the implication of liability, of a debt or a duty that must be fulfilled. In short, to be damned does not mean so much--as it is often said--to be stopped in progression as it means to be judged officially and found guilty, to be sentenced to some task that fulfills the unpaid debt or duty. It is over against this damnation that salvation must be understood: to be saved means, when set parallel to being damned, to come through the trial without an incriminating sentence. It is not, however, to come through it innocently: salvo, -are in Latin, just as sozo in Greek (the word translated "be saved" in the New Testament), means to heal, implying that something was amiss. In other words, to be saved means, just as a most literal reading of the English "save" would suggest, to be taken from justice, to be not innocent but delivered from the sentence that would otherwise take effect. Salvation does not imply that no debt was involved in the situation, but that the debt was somehow canceled.
Here in verses 33-34, what makes all the difference between being saved and being damned is "believ[ing] in me [the Son]" and being "baptized." That baptism here is also a question of the Son is clear from verse 27: "after this manner shall ye baptize in my name." In other words, what makes all the difference between salvation and damnation is a double relation to the Son. The aside of verse 33, "and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God," then becomes absolutely vital: if inheritance is a question of Father and Son, then the double relation to the Son is what will or will not bring one into relation with the Father. The real thrust of all of this is that it is in being reconciled to the Son that one first takes up a relation with the Father, that one becomes a son to the Father in the Son. This highlights the phrase of verse 27, to be baptized "in my [Christ's] name," since it is in the name of the Son--even as the Son--that one approaches the Father (just as we pray to the Father in the name of the Son). The process of becoming heir here is quite simple: one is to repent and believe in the Son, thereafter being baptized in His name, taking upon oneself His name as Son, and just so able at last to approach the Father as the Son. As the Son, one becomes heir to the Father, and is prepared to inherit the kingdom of God (as, hence, a king: Father/Son, King/Prince).
Perhaps what is most peculiar of all about this sequence is that the incredible possibility of becoming heir to the kingdom itself, as the Prince/Son to/of the King/Father, is bordered (textually) on each side by the harsh reality of the scene of judgment. In other words, the transfer marked in these verses is a transfer from being the guilty party--and found to be thus--in court to being the next heir to the throne of God! It is precisely as if the Son walks into court and asks the guilty party to take His place as Son so that He might take the guilty party's place as guilty. The transfer is accomplished in baptism (death and rebirth under a new name, the name of the Son). (The connections with ordination to the Melchizedek priesthood should probably be sensed here: one becomes of the order of the Son in baptism.)
  • 3 Ne 11:35. Jesus wraps up the specifics of the doctrine (verses 33-34) by returning to the theme of bearing record (chiastically setting off verses 33-34 by connecting verse 35 with verse 32), though the discussion in verse 35 differs in at least one important respect from the earlier discussion. What might appear to be a first departure is that here Jesus says that He bears record, not exactly of the Father, but of the doctrine ("it") from the Father. With some work, however, this turns out to be no departure at all. The phrase is admittedly awkward: "it from the Father." The difficulty is perhaps that "from the Father" might be read in two ways: on the one hand, it might qualify "it," the doctrine; on the other hand, it might be read to be qualifying the act of bearing record. Either reading is, to some degree, awkward. In the end, it appears that the former reading is better, since it is not clear what it would mean to "bear record from the Father," though there is some sense to bearing record of "it [the doctrine] from the Father." The phrase seems, then, to mean that Jesus, as Son, bears record of the doctrine as the doctrine from the Father. This seems to be a doubling of the last phrase of verse 32: "I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me." In other words, just as verse 32 closing by presenting a second record that Jesus bears (in addition to a record of the Father, Jesus bears record of the commandment of the Father), so verse 35 opens with a similar "second" record borne by Jesus. The Son bears record, not only of the Father, but of the Father's record of the Son (the "doctrine").
Beyond that first return to verse 32, verse 35 offers a few others: the Father is said again to bear record of the Son, and the next verse will go on to confirm again that the Holy Ghost bears record of the Father and the Son. However, since verse 35 fixes itself on the question of the Father bearing record of the Son, it would be well to consider how it fleshes out that particular experience; and it does add quite a bit to verse 32 in this respect. Perhaps the subtlest difference, but one that opens up the remainder of the differences, is the shift in tense between verse 32 and verse 35. In verse 32, Jesus says quite plainly that "the Father beareth record of me," whereas the same (?) point is grammatically shifted to the future in verse 35: "unto him will the Father bear record of me." The movement from the present tense to the future tense is rather interesting, since it reflects (in English, at least--there is no distinction between the future and present tenses in Hebrew) a sort of conditionalizing or even un-securing. Whereas verse 32 seems to suggest that the Father universally--in all times and in all relevant places--bears record of the Son (as if that were the essence of the Father), here it appears that such a witness is a rare and particular happening. It would be, it turns out, conditional in a few different ways. Those conditions, spelled out, are the remainder of the differences between verses 32 and 35, and only now can they be considered carefully.
The particularization is also at work in another word of the phrase already considered: "and unto him will the Father bear record of me." That "him" ties this phrase intimately to the preceding phrase, "whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also." The first condition is clear: the record the Father bears of the Son will be manifest only to those who believe in the Son and therefore also in the Father. That double belief is necessary for the witness of the Father. The implication seems to be that the belief in the Father is necessary for the Father's witness of the Son to come, which then strengthens the belief one has in the Son. In other words: one believes in the Son, which implies a belief in the Father, which second belief opens the possibility of a witness offered by the Father of the Son, which returns the believer to the first belief, but now in a solidly confirmed manner. The pattern is vaguely chiastic: one believes in the Son, who bears record of the Father, and so one believes in the Father, who therefore bears record of the Son, and so one believes in the Son, now, perhaps, doubly.
Of some difficulty is deciding how to link this process of believing and bearing record up with the Father's commandment for all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in the Son. The commandment is not, it seems clear from the last phrase of this verse, the witness that comes from the Father of the Son. The commandment is something more universal than the witness the Father offers. In other words, there is more to the process still: the Father commands all to repent and believe, and those who believe in the One who bears record of the Father will believe in the Father also (and apparently so be baptized to become an heir), which will result in the witness of the Father concerning the Son, which will return one to the belief with which one began. There is, interestingly, a sort of return--in the end--to faith in the Son: regardless of one's meanwhile belief in the Father, one is to return in faith to the Son, to center one's work there. It is the last phrase of this verse, and the content of the next verse, that seems to confirm this--though in a somewhat surprising and clarifying manner. Perhaps it is best to delay any real discussion of this last phrase until commentary proceeds in the following verse. For now, all that must be said is that the Father bears His record of the Son by visiting the believer "with fire and with the Holy Ghost."
  • 3 Ne 11:36. The word "thus," so early in this verse, points back to the last phrase of verse 35: "with fire and with the Holy Ghost." This is, apparently, the manner in which the Father bears record of the Son, following one's double faith in the Father and the Son. Though the rest of this verse goes on to describe how it is that the Holy Ghost is a record of the Son, the question of fire is passed over in just a word. Perhaps more than a word might here be devoted to it. The reference seems to be 2 Ne 31:13, where Nephi promises those who receive the Holy Ghost consequent to baptism that they will receive the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. There, the baptism of fire seems to be tied in some manner to the gift of speaking with the tongue of angels. Some connection with the Pentecostal experience of Acts 2 seems implied as well. Whatever "fire" is supposed to mean here, it appears that it would best be explored in other scriptural contexts.
Similar to verse 32, this verse describes the Holy Ghost as bearing record of both the Father and the Son. The implication seems again to be that the Holy Ghost bears in itself--in its very witness--some reference to the relation of Father to Son. But, based on what has been said between verse 32 and the present verse, the phrase has a somewhat more nuanced meaning. The end of verse 32, combined with the first phrase of verse 35, suggests that part of the Father's witness of the Son involves a commandment to all men to believe in the Son, and that part of the Son's witness of the Father is a record borne about that very commandment (or "doctrine"). In short, the record-bearing relation that holds between the Father and the Son is a sort of universal direction of all attentions to the Son by the Father, and a subsequent attribution of the Son to the Father concerning that very direction. The Father's witness of the Son is in the form of a commandment, and the Son's witness of the Father is in the way of attribution. If the Holy Ghost is now said to bear record of the Father and the Son, and these, apparently, in their interrelation, then the Holy Ghost puts on display for those to whom it is sent by the Father this double relation of commandment and attribution. In other words, the primary message of the Holy Ghost seems to be a confirmation or even a presentation of the Father's profferment of the Son (this profferment embracing both the commandment and the subsequent attribution).
All of this suggests, then, that when Jesus concludes this first trinitarian discussion with the rather enigmatic "for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one," He is first and foremost describing their unified witness of the Father's profferment of the Son, of His offering the Son as the point of all belief and as the meaning of baptism. There are two implications or consequences of all of this that are perhaps the most important to be drawn. First, it is clear that the doctrine of the trinity ultimately focuses all attention on the Christ Himself (the Holy Ghost points to the relation between the Father and the Son, and that relation amounts to the Father's setting forth the Son). But second, it is clear that the Son is the focus of the trinitarian doctrine as--and only as--set forth by the Father and doubly witnessed by the Holy Ghost. The Son is not experienced as the Son without the Father (where was there a son without a father?), and the two together cannot appear without the double record of the Holy Ghost. In other words, the trinitarian doctrine here does not offer itself only to cancel itself in a profferment of the Son, but it is a sort of interpretive necessity that proffers the Son as Son, as related to (with constant reference to) the Father, and always witnessed as such by the Holy Ghost.
In the end, then, it seems that Jesus offers the trinitarian unity ("are one") as a clarification of the broader role of the whole doctrine: the point is hardly metaphysical; it is rather a question of the mode of appearance of the Son, of the possibility of the Son appearing as the Son. The suggestion is that the Son, proffered in the Holy Ghost's witness as the Son, opens the possibility of sonship for all those who might be united to Him in atonement, that the Son, as Son, presents for the first time the meaning of sonship, and that the relation one has to God--the "invisible God" of Col 1:15--is offered for the first time. The trinitarian doctrine is meant, it seems in the end, as a contextualization of the believer's relationship to God, more than it is a question of the interrelationship of the several Gods (or, for that matter, of the several aspects of God).--Kurt Elieson (talk) 23:33, 17 October 2015 (EDT)

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  • 3 Ne 11:35ff: In verse 35 and following verses, what does it mean to "bear record" and what is its significance?


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