3 Ne 15:1-5

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Third Nephi > Chapters 12-15a > Verses 15:1-5
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Relationship to Chapters 12-15. The relationship of Verses 15:1-5 to the rest of Chapters 12-15 is discussed at Chapters 12-15a.


Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 15:1-5 include:


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  • 3 Ne 15:2-3. According to Webster's 1828 dictionary, one meaning of marvel is "that which arrests the attention and causes a person to stand or gaze, or to pause". This meaning seems to fit the context better than the connotation of admire or to be amazed.
The Sermon on the Mount, repeated in the New World, does not seem to have made sense in itself to the gathered Nephites and Lamanites. Though Jesus never mentions the name Moses in the course of the sermon, His references to the fulfilled Law could only have been understood as references to the Law of Moses, because of the announcement of 3 Ne 9:17, where Jesus' voice announces in the destructive darkness, even before His visit: "for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled." The commandment to cease blood sacrifice in 3 Ne 9:18 was hardly a conclusive word on how the Nephites were to treat the Mosaic Law (which goes far beyond mere blood sacrifice). As the text grounds their questions concerning praxis (the day-to-day handling of the Law) in their not quite understanding a particular saying by Jesus, it is that saying specifically that must be understood most clearly: "old things had passed away, and... all things had become new."
The saying, of course, comes from 3 Ne 12:47, immediately before the famous injunction to "be perfect" and immediately following the string of reinterpretations of the Law: "Old things are done away, and all things have become new." Interestingly, while this phrase appears in the New World version of the Sermon on the Mount, it is not in the Matthean text. In fact, the only new-old discussion in the gospels generally is the discussion of wine bottles and patched garments. If any New Testament text should be cited, it would be 2 Cor 5:17: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." If one might point out the difference between Paul's "passed" and Jesus' "done," the present verse appears to cancel the difference: "old things had passed away." In the end, Paul's saying here might well be milked for an understanding of what is meant by "old" and "new."
A key word in Paul's saying is "creature": in the process of becoming "new," one does not cease to be a creature, though one becomes an entirely new or different creature. In other words, becoming "new" seems to be a re-creation, a creating a-new: one is worked up (created) into something entirely different, though remains, at the same time, the same being (implied by the continuity between "any man" and "he"). Becoming "new": a rearrangement of one's being, apparently accomplished by God. This same curious logic carries from the first part of 2 Cor 5:17 to the second: old things pass away, and yet these things remain, because all things are become new. That is, things at once cease to be and yet continue: things remain and yet are changed by the divine influence, a kind of re-creation or creating all over again what was already before created. The theme is prevalent throughout the writings of Paul: the whole of "time" can be divided into two great stretches, the old creation and the new creation, the latter beginning with the resurrection of Christ. The old creation in itself tended to corruption (to passing away), but the new creation overcomes all corruption (it is raised in incorruption), essentially undoes the old creation (or "laws of nature") by introducing a new order (perhaps even new laws).
In the end, it is not entirely clear that this is what Jesus has in mind. He speaks these words to the Nephites long before Paul has even been converted to Christianity. But the closeness of the language suggests some connection. If Paul's old/new creation theology is taken as the backdrop to Jesus' saying, then it might play a fruitful role in enriching what Jesus is telling the Nephites and Lamanites in the next two verses.
  • 3 Ne 15:4. Against the backdrop of the (presumably) Pauline theology, Jesus offers His own explanation of the saying. What is profoundly beautiful about Jesus' way of explaining things, however, is that what is in Paul inevitably a two-fold theology (the "old" versus the "new") is for Jesus a single event: "the law... fulfilled." The confusion experienced by the gathered Nephites and Lamanites might well be a direct consequence, in fact, of the two-fold manner in which Jesus announces the law's fulfillment 3 Ne 12:47: the Nephites had, from the earliest times, understood the Law and the Atonement to be inextricably intertwined (Lehi taught the point to Jacob as early as 2 Ne 2:7-12, and it is emphasized at a number of different points in Nephite history). When Jesus describes the fulfillment of the Law as a two-fold theology of the old/new creations, He seems to have called on categories that were foreign to Nephite and Lamanite thinking. In order to bring them to understand this two-fold theology better, He returns to what was, for them, a far more familiar way of discussing the same point: the fulfillment of the Law.
To make the best sense possible of the fulfillment of the Law, however, it would be well to pay very careful attention to the word "fulfill." The word means, ostensibly, "to accomplish," "to perform." One can only read the fulfillment of the Law here as its abrogation if one remains within the two-fold theological categories of verses 2-3, where the old disappears in the creation of the new. But because Jesus essentially abandons this two-fold theology to explain the event of the Law's fulfillment, it seems best to read His words not as an announcement of the disruption of the Law of Moses, but as its accomplishment, its performance. The implications of this latter term are rich: the drama has been staged before the whole world. Just as the Nephites had for centuries been performing the Law of Moses as a sort of dramatic representation of the Christic events, now He comes and announces that He has at last answered the anticipations in the antitypical Atonement. Antitypical: Jesus had, in His birth, life, death, and resurrection, full-filled--filled to the full--every type, every shadow, every hint and allegation with the overflowing abundance of the Atonement Event.
In short, it seems best not to read "fulfilled" to suggest the cancellation of the Law, but rather to suggest the reorientation of the Law, the re-creation of the Law, the saturation of the Law (which must to some degree amount to a disruption of the Law, but not to accomplish its destruction so much as its resurrection). In other words, just as Lehi explained to Jacob, the Atonement answers the ends of the Law, while the Law answers the ends of the Atonement: the Law functions as a sort of body for the Atonement, while the Atonement animates (gives breath and spirit to) the Law. And here it becomes clear that Paul's two-fold theology is perhaps best read, in the end, not as a two-fold theology at all, but as an exploration of the intertwining roles of the Law and the Atonement: old things pass away precisely in that they stick around as things become new. This is the single event of the Atonement, bodied forth in the Law. In the end, it is probably in light of all of this that one ought to read Jesus' "Marvel not" in verse 3. He is trying to explain to the Nephites and Lamanites that His two-fold theological language is not two-fold at all, but rather the singular incarnational Law/Atonement teaching that they have known all along.
  • 3 Ne 15:5. The present verse is most commonly read as an announcement of the authority of Christ, but perhaps in an unfortunately limiting manner. That is, the verse is usually read as announcing Jesus' authoritative ability to change or repeal laws or practices (it is customary to move quickly from such a summary treatment of the verse to a list of changes of Church administrative practices over the past two centuries, or to a discussion of continuing revelation). However, the wording and structure of the verse itself, while undeniably tied to an announcement of authority, does not suggest that Jesus is citing this authority as justification in any way for the "end" of the Law of Moses. Something rather different from this ultimately appears to be in question here, and the manner in which it re-approaches the question of fulfillment makes it a vital passage to understanding the place of Jesus Christ in the broader history of Israel.
If "I am he that gave the law" underlines Jesus' authority, this underlining is only doubled by the emphatic, if not halting "Behold" that precedes it. But what, in the end, does "authority" amount to here? The word itself is instructive: author-ity. Jesus essentially announces Himself as the author--as the writer--of the Law (as He certainly was: He wrote the Law with His own finger). What is so curious about His writing of the Law, in this verse, is that (by virtue of the "therefore" at the verse's center) it seems to have inscribed Him within a sort of debt: He was (or chose to be) bound to the task of fulfillment, purposefully indebted to the written Law by the very act of writing it in the first place. In the end, such a reading is perhaps inescapable: Jesus' author-ity, rather than making Him transcendent to the Law, inscribed Him within it.
In a sense, this makes the Law sound like a sort of promise that Jesus authors: He gives the Law as a promise, and He comes to fulfill--to make good, to confirm--that Law/promise. This way of putting things implies a sort of temporal logic: like the giving of a promise opens a sort of history--or the possibility of a history--of the promise, which ends with the fulfillment of the promise, so the gift of the Law opens a sort of history--or the possibility of a history--of the Law, which ends with the Law's fulfillment. If the Law is subsumed under the figure of the gift ("I am he that gave the law"), it is nonetheless a gift that defers its own giving or its own fulfillment. The gift of the Law: a gift that is no gift, or at least not yet. The gift of the Law: the semblance of a gift because this gift (which is no gift) gives only the possibility of the gift, only a shadow of the gift, only a sign of the gift. But what all of this amounts to is this: the Law itself is a type, a hint, a shadow of what was to come--which is, of course, exactly how the Nephites understood the Law, as a type and a shadow. And hence the gift of the Law: a promise that introduces the very possibility of atonement (under the figure of the Law's Day of Atonement, etc.), without which the Nephites, the Lamanites, the Israelites, would be without hope (without promise). (In the end, every law is precisely a promise of a gift: the promise of order, of peace, of justice. The Law of Moses is no exception.)
But to return more directly to the thrust of the present passage, the point seems not to be so much that Jesus, as God, had authority to revise or to repeal the Law. Rather, the point seems to be that He has made good the promise, has come at last as the antitype, as the Antitype, and not only (any longer) to give mere (mere, though necessary) shadows, hints, promises, or types. The "end" at the close of the verse announces, far more than it announces the cessation of particular ritual practices, the end of history, the end of the Law's history, in fact the leap from time into eternity with the infinitude of the atonement of Christ. This leaves at least two more points to be made. First, one notices that the temporality of the Law (as a gift) is very close to what is usually thought to be the temporality of the Prophets. That is, the Prophets of the Old Testament are usually understood to announce the possibility of justice (contrary, perhaps, to the Law), and to promise that it will come through the universal power, as much as through the universal grace/love, of the Lord. The point here is not so much to deny such a role to the Prophets, but to suggest that their message is temporally structured very like the promise of the Law of Moses itself, promising the same eventual justice. Second, and this ultimately confirms the first point, Jesus couples His making a gift of the Law with His making a covenant with Israel. That is, the Law itself is bound up, it would appear, with the covenant: ostensibly a coupling of the Lord with the people under the Law, but also a promise with a temporal structure (namely, the opening of the history of the covenant, the opening of the history of Israel). But if the covenant is coupled with the Law, and if the Law implies a temporal structure very much like that of the Prophets, the following five verses will probe these couplings and implications deeply enough to call them into question, to call, that is, for a sort of revision of them.

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