3 Ne 15:6-10

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Third Nephi > Chapters 12-15a > Verses 15:6-10
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Relationship to Chapters 12-15. The relationship of Verses 15:6-10 to the rest of Chapters 12-15 is discussed at Chapters 12-15a.


Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 15:6-10 include:


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  • 3 Ne 15:6. The present verse must be read in light of the preceding five. In them, Jesus offers what is perhaps a unique understanding of the "fulfillment of the Law of Moses," focused primarily on the implicit connection between the author-ity implied in giving the Law in the first place and the duty--perhaps the debt--of the author therefore to fulfill the same. Given the long-standing tradition of a spiritual Law among the Nephites (of a Law that pointed towards the Messiah's actual advent), Jesus' comments concerning the Law's fulfillment seem ultimately to be a divine articulation of what the Nephites already understood. Indeed, Jesus appears only to have spoken the content of those verses in order to explain how an Old World parsing of the Christic event matches up with the already-centuries-old New World tradition. If over the course of verses 1-5 Jesus has essentially covered the basics of the Nephite/Lamanite understanding of the Law, He now turns to deal with the Prophets.
If the weight of Jesus' explanation of the Law's fulfillment is to be felt in the distance between the Old World and New World understandings of the Christic event (a distance implicit in the repeated Sermon on the Mount), the same distance grounds the discussion of the role of the Prophets in verses 6-10 as well. That Jesus touches on the "fulfillment" of "the Prophets" immediately after His discussion of the Law's fulfillment is suggestive textually: it becomes quite clear that here, as well as in the preceding verses, He is basing His discussion of fulfillment on the "saying" (from the Sermon on the Mount as it appears in both the Old and New Worlds) recorded at 3 Ne 12:17 (and Matt 5:17). This point clarifies what is at work in verses 2-5: Jesus, in an attempt to clarify the "saying" found at 3 Ne 12:47, reinterprets it through the "saying" found at 3 Ne 12:17. In a broader sense, one might call this a clarification of Paul through Matthew (see the commentary at 3 Ne 15:2), but the implications here are somewhat narrower: the uniquely New World "saying" of the Sermon on the Mount (3 Ne 12:47, which appears only in 3 Nephi, not in Matthew) is best read through the unchanged Old World "saying" of the same Sermon (3 Ne 12:17 or Matt 5:17). In other words, the confusion experienced by the Nephites and Lamanites is dispelled by an appeal to the Matthean text of the Sermon on the Mount.
But here it is important to note a sort of tension between the tenor of the present verse (verse 6) and the Sermon's "saying" as it appears in Matthew. Whether or not one believes that Matthew 5-7 records the precise words spoken by Jesus at a certain place and at a certain time, it is clear that the text of the Sermon on the Mount intertwines itself with the broader textual concerns of the Book of Matthew. (There might be, by the way, two different interpretations of this fact: on the one hand, one might assume that Matthew doctored or even created the Sermon's content so that it worked well with his broader textual scheme; on the other hand, one might assume that Matthew worked out the textual themes of his entire book according to the unquestioned text of the Sermon on the Mount, that the Sermon itself--as it now reads--provided him with the basic theology that defines his gospel.) However this might be read, it seems important to recognize that the concept of "the law" and "the prophets" (taken together or side-by-side) should be read through the broader Matthean use of the terms. If Matthew offers an understanding of the Law's fulfillment that is akin to the explanation Jesus offers in the five verses that open the present chapter, he also seems to have understood the Prophets to have been fulfilled the same way and at the same time: twelve times in the Gospel of Matthew (stretching from Matt 1:22 to Matt 27:35) one finds an announcement of the fulfillment of the prophets ("thus were the prophets fulfilled"). In short, in Matt 5:17 (and hence in 3 Ne 12:17?) one can only understand the Law and the Prophets to be a unified thing, and thus to be fulfilled completely together in the Christic event. Hence the tension: if 3 Ne 12:17, which seems to form the basis for Jesus' discussion in the present chapter thus far, suggests that the Prophets were completely fulfilled along with the Law in the Christic event, then how can Jesus here state that there is at least something in "the prophets" that has "not been fulfilled in me"?
It seems clear enough that there is only one way to read verse 6: the prophets have been partially fulfilled, but have not been completely fulfilled ("as many as have not been fulfilled in me") because they are yet to be fulfilled ("shall all be fulfilled"). If Matthew's text works on the undeniable assumption that Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection fulfill (completely) the Prophets just as they fulfill the Law, then one must ask how to read the present verse, where Jesus states explicitly that though He has fulfilled (completely) the Law, there remains over something in the Prophets to be fulfilled. In the end, the key to making sense of this tension is to read quite carefully the word "prophets."
It is quite clear from the historical record that "the prophets" had an almost technical meaning in the Old World during the time of Jesus's mortal ministry (and it is only on this ground that the phrase can be capitalized throughout the above discussion: the Prophets). This is especially clear in Matthew. The Jews very early on divided up the books of the Old Testament into three categories or sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (sometimes called the Histories). Even today, the Jewish Bible is called the tnk: t for torah, the Law; n for nebiyim, the Prophets; and k for ketuvim, the Writings (or Histories). What this means for the Matthean Sermon on the Mount is that when Jesus said that He had come to fulfill "the law and the prophets" (in Matt 5:17), the audience would doubtless have understood His phrasing to be technical: He had come to fulfill the scriptures, that is, what is now called the Old Testament. Since Matthew seems to have understood "fulfill" in roughly the same way Jesus discusses it in verses 2-5 here, Jesus' "saying" in the Old World Sermon on the Mount can only have been understood to suggest that Jesus had come to take up and make good the promise implied in the original giving of scripture (again, author-ity implies obligation). In short, what any Jewish listener would have heard who was present at the original Sermon on the Mount was that Jesus had not come to do away with the scriptures, but to make them good, to fulfill the promise that their very written-ness implied.
It is not at all clear that the Nephites had the same sort of technical usage of the pair "the law and the prophets." For Jesus to have told them that He came to fulfill "the law and the prophets" might not have been understood at all to mean that he came to fulfill "the whole of the scriptures thus far." That six hundred years of history separated the Nephites from the Jews by this point (and that scholars are increasingly convinced that little of the Old Testament as it was known by Jesus' time was written or compiled by 600 B.C.) seems to suggest that the Nephites would have had a very different understanding of the phrase. However, a complete divorce between the Nephite and Jewish understandings of the scriptures would probably be going too far. When Nephi retrieved the plates of brass, he summarized them in a manner strikingly similar to the three-fold division the Jews had imposed on the Old Testament by the time of Jesus: he mentions "the five books of Moses" (the Law), "a record of the Jews from the beginning" (the Writings/Histories), and "the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning" (the Prophets). While the Nephites would not likely have understood "the law and the prophets" to mean the whole of the "Old Testament canon," their own plates of brass certainly were divided up according to similar categories, and it does require too much a stretch of the imagination to think that the Nephites would have understood the "saying" to suggest that the writings of the prophets were themselves fulfilled in the very way that the Law was fulfilled.
In short, while the Jews would certainly have understood the fulfillment of "the law and the prophets" to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament generally speaking, the Nephites apparently understood the phrase to point to two separate fulfillments, but parallel and equal fulfillments nonetheless. The tension between the present verse and 3 Ne 12:17 remains, ultimately, intact: how is it that the fulfillment of the prophets can be only partially accomplished in Jesus when the Law is completed in full? This question opens onto a careful consideration of the following four verses.
  • 3 Ne 15:7. After so much intervening explanation, Jesus returns at last to the question raised in verse 2: what of this "saying" that old things are passed away, and all things are become new? But Jesus' treatment in this verse seems, in the end, to be rather simple: that "saying" does not in any way undo in the present what in the past was said about the future. The temporality implicit here must, as it was in the last verse, be brought out because it differs, in an important manner, from the temporality of the Law's fulfillment, or from the temporality of the Law plain and simple. If the Law, author-ed by Christ, points inexorably (as a promise) to its own fulfillment, thus opening a sort of parenthetical history of the Law, the words of the prophets have done something similar: the prophets' words point, again, inexorably, to their own fulfillment. However, the prophets' words have two intended fulfillments, at the very least. That is, as the last verse makes quite clear, some of the words of the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, while others are apparently not so fulfilled. The promise implicit, then, in the words of the prophets is to be fulfilled in at least two events (two comings?). In effect, this alternate temporality implicit in the prophets revises the temporality of the Law's fulfillment: if the Law opens its history between two poles (promise and fulfillment), the prophets open a prophetic history shared among three poles, the second of which is the second pole of the Law. In effect, this sets up a sort of history according to the Law and the prophets that stretches over four poles: (1) the giving of the Law, (2) the announcement of the prophets, (3) the Christic event, and (4) the final fulfillment of the prophets. (Might this fourfold pattern be related to a similar fourfold pattern that appears here and there throughout the Book of Mormon: creation, fall, atonement, veil? If the gift of the Law functions as a sort of opening or creation of the covenantal history, then the prophets come as a marker of the fall of that covenant, but they hail the coming of the Christic event that returns to the Law and opens the possibility of the eventual fulfillment of all words. There may be reason to follow out this parallel.)
This fourfold pattern is rich in implications. In the end, it appears to tell a sort of covenantal history, one that has some important nuances that may not be obvious at first. As is implied in verse 5, the Law opens a sort of history because it comes as a gift (with a built-in deferral that might be called quite simply a "promise") that points to the Christic event. This rather simple history is characterized by the tension of its being stretched between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. But, for whatever reason, at some point along the way of that history, the nature and integrity of the Law is questioned--by the voice of the prophets (it should probably be noted that this is a rather common understanding among scholars of the role of the prophets: they come almost, as it were, against the Law in order to summon Israel back to the covenant itself; Isaiah, the Book of Mormon favorite, is perhaps the prophet most commonly interpreted in this manner). When this third pole is introduced into the legal history, it disrupts the tension violently. If the prophets came announcing quite simply the fulfillment of the Law, they would have been understood as supporters of the legal history, as a speaking confirmation of the eventual fulfillment of the promise. However, the prophets came--as Jesus Himself here suggests--to announce at once that the Law would be fulfilled, but that it would not be enough for the Law to be fulfilled. In other words, the announcement of the prophets amounted to the claim that the Law's fulfillment would not issue in the perfect justice that Israel expected from it. The prophets thereby pointed to a fourth event, a sort of second Christic event, those Jesus here says have not yet occurred. This setting up of a pole beyond the simpler tension between Law and fulfillment disrupts that tension by the introduction of another tension (a tension stretched between the prophets and the eventual fulfillment of all their words). The two tensions, overlapping, set up a rather complex fourfold tension that complicates the entire picture. But as if all of this were not complex enough, the following verse makes things still more difficult.
  • 3 Ne 15:8. If the preceding two verses introduce a complex fourfold tension between the Law, the prophets, the Christic event, and the eventual fulfillment of all promises, this verse adds a fifth element, something tied to the prophets and the eventual fulfillment: "the covenant." However this might be read, it seems quite clear that Jesus understands the prophets to be dealing with something other than the Law, namely the covenant (which is, most likely, the Abrahamic Covenant). If the prophetic announcement amounts to a disruption of the legal history, the disruption is apparently accomplished in the name of the earlier and more fundamental covenant. In other words, the role of the prophet appears here precisely to be that of tethering the Law over and over again to the covenant that founds the Law. In a sense, the role of the prophets is to relativize the Law, to cancel its absolution by pointing to its grounding in the actual covenant with Abraham. It is this covenant that is not "all fulfilled" in the Christic event, and the prophets announce the further fulfillment precisely in that they announce the fulfillment of the covenant. Put more succinctly, the prophets discuss the fulfillment of the Law, but precisely because through that fulfillment is opened up the possibility of the fulfillment of the covenant: the Law's role is a major theme of the prophets, but they discuss its fulfillment as a moment in a still larger history of the covenant.
In the end, all of this is stated more clearly in this verse than anywhere else in this whole ten-verse passage: "the covenant... is not all fulfilled" on the one hand, "but the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me" on the other hand. In short, the covenant outstrips the Law. It is curious, in this regard, that as Jesus goes on for chapters and chapters to discuss the fulfillment of the covenant, He constantly attributes the fulfillment of the covenant to the Father. If there are two things to be fulfilled here, the Law and the covenant, it seems quite clear that it is the work of the Son to fulfill the former and the work of the Father to fulfill the latter. However all of this is to be interpreted, a kind of outline of the covenantal history begins to emerge here, at least preliminarily. First, the covenant opens the history with an implicit promise (whatever it is, it will only be fulfilled by the very last event). At some point along the way, the simple covenantal history is interrupted by the gift of the Law, for whatever reason. This gift of the Law opens up a history, as it were, within a history, because the Law itself points to the Christic event, but not to the very last event to which the covenant points. The relation between the Law and the covenant seems to have been somewhat confused, and so the third moment of the covenantal history occurs: the prophets come. Their shocking announcement essentially relativizes the Law by rooting it in the covenant: they sort out--and in the name of God--the relation between the Law and the covenant. According to their words and according to the promise of the Law, Christ comes and fulfills the Law. Eventually, again according to the prophets but now according to the promise of the covenant, the winding up scene occurs and the covenant itself is fulfilled.
Perhaps what is most surprising about this picture is the implicit "trinitarian" themes that run through it. If the covenant has something to do with the fathers and apparently something to do with the Father, it is vital that the Law is introduced by the Son and points the way to the Christic event in which all can become sons. That is, the whole covenantal history, disrupted by the history within the history--that is, the history of the Law--articulates or perhaps even embodies the relation between the Father and the Son. How one is to begin to think about these questions is not at all clear yet, but there is obviously good reason to begin thinking about them.
  • 3 Ne 15:9. While to this point in the discourse Jesus has announced Himself as the giver of the Law, now He announces Himself rather as the Law itself! Whatever this means, it is clear that it revises or remolds everything that has been said in this chapter to this point. How are these two apparently irreconcilable statements to be made sense of (and in such close proximity)? Or perhaps the difficulty might be read as one-sided, rather than as a question of two irreconcilables in conflict. That is, scriptural statements like "I am the law" (Jesus elsewhere says "I am the way," "I am the truth," "I am the light," "I am the life," etc.) are ultimately logically frustrating: such statements appear either to work according to some kind of paradoxical logic, or they appear to undo logical thinking entirely. The difficulty might be summed up: when Jesus equates Himself to the Law (to the way, the truth, the light, the life, etc.), He seems to cancel--rather than to utilize or even to enrich--the possibility of meaning. That is, if meaning is a function of a relation between two separable terms (meaning obtains in the space between two "things" as they are engaged), the collapse of two terms into one seems to cancel the very possibility of meaning: what on earth is the Law, if Jesus is it, and what on earth is Jesus if He can be reduced to the Law?
It seems to be in this collapse of meaning that the tension between "in me is the law fulfilled" and "I am the law" obtains: when Jesus announces Himself the Giver/Fulfiller of the Law, it is clear that there is a space or a distance between Jesus and the Law, and one can begin to think about the meanings of the Law and of Jesus Himself in the relation that obtains between them; while when Jesus announces Himself rather to be the Law, the relation is cancelled and the possibility of thinking about the Law in relation to Jesus or about Jesus in relation to the Law is frustrated. However, in the end, this way of understanding the tension between the two statements is overly simplistic in at least two ways. On the one hand, the verb to be in the statement "I am the law" need not be read as a statement of equation, but of relation; that is, the Law remains the Law, and Jesus, of course, remains Jesus, but being offers a way of thinking about the relation between these two "terms." And on the other hand, regardless of how one reads the relation or non-relation between the Law and Jesus, there is obviously a tension--and hence the very possibility of the richest meaning--between the two statements Jesus here offers: that, on the one hand, He is the Giver of the Law, and that, on the other hand, He is the Law. In short, the relation between Jesus and the Law that is named "being" in the present verse ("I am the law") is one to be thought over and against the earlier named relation of giving: this verse, taken over against verse 5, opens the possibility of thinking about the relation between being and giving.
Perhaps, then, all of the above difficulty might be read another way: the apparent tension between verse 5 and the present verse is a tension between what in verse 5 appears to be something dynamic (the giving of a gift, in fact, of a promise, which implies at least two parties, an actual gift, and the deferred fulfillment of the promise) and what in this verse appears to be something static (simple being, which implies only the one party--Jesus--and in which it is ultimately rather difficult to read anything like a promise or a deferral). Another way to put the same tension: in verse 5, the deferral of fulfillment implies a sort of temporality, the opening of a history, while in verse 9, the absolute statement of Jesus' being implies no such temporality or history, but rather makes an appeal to something like non-historicality, non-temporality. If verses 5 and 9 together open the possibility of thinking about the relation between being and giving, they open the possibility also of thinking about the relation between time and eternity, or between the dynamic and the static, between the conditional and the absolute. And it is in light of this relation--and Jesus will go on in a moment to call Himself the light as well--that the whole of this ten-verse passage must be thought.
If the two statements in tension--that Jesus is the Giver of the Law on the one hand and that He is the Law itself on the other--are taken together, one might well read them as suggesting that Jesus, as Giver of the Law and as Law, essentially gives Himself in the gift of the Law. In other words: if verse 5 presents Jesus as giving the Law and verse 9 presents Jesus as the Law itself, then verses 5 and 9 together present Jesus as giving Himself as the Law, or giving the Law as Himself (it is not yet clear whether these two ways of putting it amount to the same thing). The gift, then: Jesus as the Law, or the Law as Jesus. If this--perhaps odd--reading is taken in terms of the paragraphs above: Jesus opens a history by giving a non-historical gift (Himself as the Law, or the Law as Himself). Perhaps the point can be related to the explicit argument that underlies the Book of Hebrews: in offering Himself (as a gift, as the Gift) in an infinite or eternal (and precisely therefore non-historical) atonement, Jesus opens the possibility of the historical or the temporal as such by making an end (of the Law) and--therefore--a beginning (ultimately, the importance of the Law is only truly underscored in its fulfillment, as Hebrews argues). The point, it appears in the end, of the statement "I am the law" is this: the historical as such (and therefore the possibility of the history of the covenant) is grounded precisely in the non-historical rupture of the historical (the "end" of--the particular--history). Put another way: the typical only becomes the typical through the antitype. In the end, then, the combination of verses 5 and 9 ground a call to rethink the nature of typology, and along peculiarly Nephite (and perhaps Lamanite) lines: in its very fulfillment of anticipatory types, the antitype at once gives the types and gives itself in those types. Put another way, one might say that the antitype--as the non-historical or as the spiritual and hence non-temporal, the end--grounds the very possibility of a historical beginning, the beginning of a typical history: the rhythm of the history of the Law (or of any type in which an antitype gives itself) is the very rhythm of the non-historical or non-temporal antitype gathering up so many historical or temporal typical moments into itself. In short, the history of the Law is the history of facing the non-historical, is the history of facing the face that outstrips every temporality in the most spiritual relation of the face-to-face encounter: the history of the Law is the series of moments that are gathered together in the face of the Giver of the Law.
It is probably in light of all this that one should read Jesus' subsequent self-naming as "the light." The light is, at least as it functions in the sky, the non-temporal that temporalizes, the non-historical that historicizes: the sun, precisely in that its course is always completely unchanging, precisely in that it continues simply one eternal round, sets up the very structure (day and night, the years) of human temporality, of human history. The light opens the possibility of engagement ("under the sun"), the possibility of history. The remainder of the verse, then, makes a peculiar point: the Nephites are to look to the Law, to the Light, directly. In looking to the non-historical, history proceeds, and it is possible for them to "endure to the end" (of history). This ground the curious final phrase of the verse: "for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life." A life that is non-temporal, that outstrips the historical, is given only to those who can regard the non-historical in such a way that the historical continues to its very end (and the end, of course, has already been declared to be Christ, in Christ). Eternity opens beyond time, and according to the non-historical antitype that is Christ: the Giver and the Gift.
  • 3 Ne 15:10. The vast complexities of the preceding verse make this this verse rather simple to deal with. If the intertwining of history and non-history amounts to a sort of history of worshipping the non-historical Christ, then the practical answer to the question the Nephites have in verse 2 is quite simple: they have "the commandments; therefore keep my commandments." If the Law has an end, it has delivered those bound under the Law, at last, to a face-to-face encounter with the Law in body, and that grounds the whole of the "future." The first part of this verse, then, should be understood to be bound up specifically with the appearance of the End of the Law, as a person (better: as a God). This is perhaps more obvious still if one recognizes an allusion in Christ's words here to 2 Ne 32:6: "And when he [Christ] shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do." If the Law aims at binding those under the Law to the Giver/Gift of the Law, then it is accomplished in the moment of direct encounter (in the moment of direct command). The verse ends, perhaps, just as simply, then: this very point "is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me." The Law, as well as the prophets, together pointed specifically to this moment of direct encounter and direct command. If all of this is taken in terms of the commentary on verse 8: the Law pointed inevitably to this moment of its fulfillment, which amounts to the direct Christic encounter, and the prophets pointed to the same moment, but precisely because they saw in this moment a historical moment in the broader history of the covenant. If the history of Law comes to its end in the direct encounter with the unveiled Christ, then the history of the covenant reopens in the moment of that direct encounter, from which it proceeds to its own eventual end: another direct encounter, but now with unveiled Father Himself. In the end, while "the law and the prophets" both "truly testified" of Christ, they did so in different ways: the Law pointed to its end in Christ, while the prophets pointed to the end of the Law in Christ as the reopening of the beginning that leads to the covenant's end in the Father.

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