3 Ne 11:18-30
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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 11:25. Here Jesus provides the Nephites with the precise wording He would have them use in performing baptisms. The wording is significant, as it draws into baptism the question of the "trinity" (a term understood here in the broadest, non-creedal manner). The theme of the trinity does not arise as a theme in the Book of Mormon between 2 Nephi 31 and 3 Nephi 11: though the three are mentioned once in Alma 11:44 (in a reference that might contextually be understood as a threefold description of one God anyway), all other references to the Father and the Son between 2 Nephi and 3 Nephi are discussions of Jesus Christ as both the Father and the Son (as in Abinadi's rather difficult discourse on the subject). That here, as in Nephi's early discourse on the subject, the three are tied together in their several roles is significant. More significant still, they will be taken up in chapter 16, and then again in chapters 20-26, in terms of the Abrahamic covenant. The "return" of the trinity is of utmost significance.
- But what remains to be discussed here is the fact that the trinity returns as part of the theme of baptism: if Jesus goes on to explain the meaning of the trinity in the next few verses, it is because of the role of the trinity in the ordinance of baptism. Perhaps this is no surprise, since Nephi's discussion of the trinity back in 2 Nephi 31 was within the same context (and that discussion is perhaps the only place to begin to explore the trinitarian themes of the present chapter). If the trinity is later a question of the Abrahamic covenant, there seems to be at least the hint that the ordinance of baptism is tied to the covenant in some manner. (It is likely significant that only two people in scripture are recorded explicitly as having received the sign of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove: Jesus Christ, at His baptism, and Abraham when He received the fulness of the priesthood... in baptism?) At the very least, the implicit connection between baptism, trinity, and the Abrahamic covenant must guide all thought concerning the following chapters.
- Rather than simply listing the three members of the trinity/Godhead here in the traditional order—the Father first, then the Son, then the Holy Ghost—in the baptismal prayer, the authority of Jesus Christ is first invoked before reference to each member of the Godhead. The mention of the name Jesus coupled with the title Christ may be a significant reference to the role of mediator that Christ plays. That is, it is Christ's atonement that makes it possible for the person being baptized to enter into the relationship of oneness that the Godhead shares.
- 3 Ne 11:27. As Jesus states quite clearly that this is the prescribed manner of baptism, He reinterprets the mention of the "trinity" in a rather subtle manner: "after this manner shall ye baptize in my name." He effectively reduces the "trinity" to His very own name. On the surface, this verse looks like a sort of apologetic for a duplicit description of baptism (be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ; be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost): since "the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one," to be baptized in the name of all three amounts to the same as being baptized in just the name of Jesus Christ. This apologetic feel of the verse is not accidental. Jesus is trying to work out, as He makes quite clear in the next verse, a difficulty that has been the subject of some disputation among the Nephites. The disputations that must be laid to rest are apparently questions of the "trinity." That the doctrine will be explored at length beginning in verse 31 is certainly helpful, but perhaps a word or two might be offered even here concerning this problem.
- The explicit command that follows in verse 28 makes it very clear that there has been some disputation about whether one should be baptized in the single name of Jesus Christ or the threefold name of the "trinity." That Jesus sees fit to collapse the two into one here is ultimately His answer to the problem, but the problem itself might be clearer. The difficulty arises perhaps in light of 2 Nephi 31:11-12. There, Nephi hears a voice from the Father commanding baptism in the name of the Son, and then he hears a voice from the Son commanding baptism in His own name, thus doubling the command of the Father. It is interesting that the question of the "trinity" disappears between 2 Nephi 31 and the present discourse (see the comments at 3 Ne 11:25), and the suggestion is that Nephi's rather complex words caused a great deal of confusion over the many Nephite years. The difficulty seems to have been how one should understand the "trinity." To feel the difficulty quite profoundly, one need only turn to 2 Nephi 31 and read the whole discourse through: without some explanation, the words there are quite a chore to work through.
- But Christ offers here a rather simple explanation: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one. They should not be understood as being separate. But even this is subject to terrible misrepresentation and misunderstanding, and it is perhaps for this reason that Jesus goes on to describe the situation at some length in the following verses. Perhaps all that is necessary to recognize here is that the doctrine begins with unity, with oneness (the final point in Nephi's discussion), and only then can there be some discussion of separation. Perhaps another point must be made very clear: the disputations among the Nephites that are commanded to stop in the very next verse are ultimately all concerning one single question. The disputations concerning the manner of baptism seem to be a question of the name in which one is to be baptized, and the disputations concerning Christ's doctrine (which He goes on to declare starting with verse 31) are a question of the "trinity." In other words, baptismal disputations and doctrinal disputations center on the question of the "trinity." That the "trinity" as a theme disappears for so long is significant: the prophets were not quite ready to jump into such a serious question (having, perhaps, other more pressing matters at hand). (Another reading of the silence concerning the "trinity" is to read it as no silence at all: every word concerning the Father or the Son--though each is clearly a discussion of just Jesus Christ--shows the interim teachings concerning the "trinity," that the prophets understood as three members of the "trinity" to be Jesus Christ. Answers to the questions these difficulties raise can only be understood by exploring the actual discourse beginning with verse 31.)
- 3 Ne 11:28. The word "disputations" occurs only twice in the New Testament (KJV), but in nine verses in the Book of Mormon (the word "dispute" is much more commonly used in both books). A dictionary definition seems to indicate that a disputation is a more than a mere disagreement, and usually involves a more formal verbal contest with parties arguing for and against a stated position. As such, a disputation may be more like a public debate than an argument.
- 3 Ne 11:28. Jesus states quite explicitly here that, concerning the manner of baptism and concerning the points of Christ's doctrine, "there shall be no disputations among you." The word, "disputation," is used both positively and negatively in the New Testament, sometimes as a work of the messengers of God (e.g., Acts 9:29), and sometimes as a work of the enemies of the gospel (e.g., Acts 6:9). In the Book of Mormon, however, the word is universally used in a negative sense, often in parallel with "contentions," apparently, then, as a synonym for "contentions." The command in this verse, then, seems to be universal in some sense: "there shall be no disputations among you." Certainly, the commandment, read thus, would be entirely justified. The next verse seems to ground such a reading by making what is undeniably a universal commandment.
- On the other hand, it should be noted that Jesus only specifically commands--if the context is kept in mind--that disputations concerning the manner of baptism and the points of His doctrine (which He will go on to describe beginning with verse 31) cease. In other words, read carefully, the command is very specific and can only with some (minor) violence be read as a universal command. Since the verse is negative, the command cannot be read as a commendation of disputation in other circumstances either, but there does not seem to be any particular reason to see such disputations specifically condemned here.
- These comments should be understood to point towards what Christ has just taught and towards what Christ is about to teach. If Christ does not want the people to dispute about the manner of baptism, they have only to look to the verses immediately preceding the command, and if He does not want them to dispute about His doctrine, they have only to look to the verses immediately following the command. The commandment offered here is, in the end, quite localized: do not dispute about this manner of baptism, nor about this doctrine I now call "mine."
- 3 Ne 11:29. Jesus goes on to explain why He does not want his disciples to dispute about the manner of baptism or about other points of His doctrine. Whereas the specific command is not universal, the reasoning Jesus offers to ground it is universal: contention is apparently always "of the devil." What this means, and how it relates to the commandment concerning disputation, is perhaps somewhat more difficult. But at least this much is clear: behind the commandment not to dispute is a sort of question of loyalty. In other words, if one disputes in a spirit of contention, then one is "of the devil," has the devil for a "father," and so has left off the Christ entirely. When Jesus goes on to explore His doctrine, beginning with verse 31, He makes it a question also of coming from a father, in fact, from the Father. This contention/disputation business is at the very least, if reduced to the absolutely necessary, a question of whom one claims as a father.
- With this point made clear, it is perhaps more understandable why Jesus offers this deeper explanation of His commandment concerning disputations. Rather than providing just a rule to be followed (do not dispute these two things), Christ takes the opportunity to explain in depth the question of covenant relation, of being/becoming a son (in the Son) to the Father, and just so leaving of the father of contention. The question of contention is not so much a question of one's relation to others, but of one's relation to the Other of Others, to God or (unfortunately, it must be said) to Satan. The point is this: contention, or the lack of it, flows from one's relation to deity, or the lack of it. Whereas the commandment of verse 28 suggests a sort of regulation of one's affairs among men, the universal reasoning behind it, offered in verse 29, recasts the regulation as a question of one's devotion to God. This realignment of relation, this adjustment of one's directedness toward others so that it is a directedness toward God, sets the stage quite wonderfully for the explication of the "doctrine of Christ," which is, as Jesus teaches it, the doctrine of the "trinity." What all of this means can only be explained in considering those particular verses.
- The reason Christ gives is that the spirit of contention is not from him but rather, from the devil. It may be that the type of disputations that Christ is referring to in verse 28 are those where there is a spirit of contention. Under that interpretation there is nothing wrong with debating points of Christ's doctrine so long as we do it without the spirit of contention. Alternatively, we might interpret Christ as saying that we shouldn't dispute at all--even if we can do so without a spirit of contention--because it can lead to a spirit of contention. This wouldn't mean that Christ is asking us to agree with people who preach the wrong form of baptism or other points of his doctrine. That wouldn't make any sense. But under this interpretation Christ is telling us not to debate with others the points of his doctrine. In that case we would want to draw a line between explaining and testifying (both ok) and debating (not ok).
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- 3 Ne 11:21-28: After allowing the people to witness that he is Jesus Christ (vv 10-17), Jesus begins teaching Nephi and the other apostles he calls about baptism. Why is baptism the first thing he talks about here (vv 21-28)?
- 3 Ne 11:21: Why does Jesus give Nephi the power to baptize (v 21)? Didn't he already have this power?
- 3 Ne 11:28: What does Christ mean when he says there should be no disputations? Is every disagreement a dispute?
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