3 Ne 16:4-20

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Third Nephi > Chapter 15b-16 > Verses 16:4-20
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Relationship to Chapter 15b-16. The relationship of Verses 16:4-20 to the rest of Chapter 15b-16 is discussed at Chapter 15b-16.


Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 16:4-20 include:


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  • 3 Ne 16:4-5. The classification worked out in the last five verses is now taken up into a rather complicated commandment, one explained at length and in a number of different ways in verse 4, and one that opens onto an entire discourse (beginning in the verse 5) about the history of the covenant. The commandment, perhaps, is simple: the Nephites/Lamanites are to "write these sayings after I [Christ] am gone." The commandment, perhaps, is not so simple: not only should one explore the meaning and reference of "sayings," it is not entirely clear what all might be implied by the act of writing (as opposed to understanding, etc.) that is commanded. Moreover, besides the (relatively simple) complexity of the commandment, the remainder of verse 4 offers a number of purposes for the commandment, the tenor of which does quite a bit to guide interpretation of the two points already mentioned. Clearly, these two verses need to be worked out at length.
Whatever "sayings" Jesus has reference to, and whatever is fundamentally implied by their being committed to writing, the purposes for the commandment are clear, but need to be explored. While the "that," which followed "after I am gone," marks the following phrases as explaining the purpose of the commandment, the "if" that follows the "that" makes things somewhat more difficult: the purpose itself of the commandment is subject to a conditional situation. The conditional situation, then: "my people at Jerusalem," clarified quite explicitly as the disciples ("they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry"), do not seek a knowledge of the Nephites/Lamanites and other Israelite tribes. The conditional is quite specific, and apparently rather arcane: just in case the Old World disciples ask nothing of the lost tribes of Israel. On the one hand, such a situation does not seem at all likely: why wouldn't the disciples seek out an understanding of the long since dispersed seed of Abraham? On the other hand, perhaps the situation is entirely likely: so focused on survival in times of persecution, so expressly concerned with the proclamation of the Gospel to the Gentiles, and so completely taken up with the fundamentally radical Christian exegesis of the Old Testament, the disciples might never even raise the issue. Historically speaking, the latter seems to have been the case. This importance of this conditional situation is borne out by the following, explicitly stated purpose of the command.
But before turning to that purpose, there is a curiosity at play in the conditional that might open things up some more. Christ draws into this question of seeking knowledge of Israel the theme of the Trinity (understood quite loosely). The knowledge of the lost tribes of Israel is to be sought by "ask[ing] the Father," explicitly "in my [the Son's] name," so as to receive such knowledge "by the Holy Ghost." Why Christ would couch the conditional situation in trinitarian language is not at first clear. And the remainder of verse 4 offers little help, though perhaps a hint from verse 5 opens the possibility of a solution: "the covenant" given to "all the people of the house of Israel" was given specifically by "the Father," while its actual fulfillment appears to be the work of the Son. In other words, verse 5 seems to suggest that the business of the Abrahamic covenant and the doctrine of the Trinity are closely connected, that the Father-Son-Holy Ghost complex is a question, first, of the work of the covenant. How that would be--and what that would mean--remains to be discussed. Perhaps it can only be worked out through careful consideration of the following chapters.
The purpose, then, of the commandment: to preserve a written text that might be brought to the Gentiles (note: as opposed to the Jews/Christians), precisely so that the Gentiles might bring the remnant of the Jews (/Christians?) "to a knowledge of... their Redeemer." Looking at this express purpose of the commandment, one sees more clearly the importance of the conditional nature of it, as mentioned above: if the Jews/Christians do not seek a knowledge of scattered Israel, then the Gentiles will first know of these covenant people, and it will be their (the Gentiles') work to bring that knowledge to the Jews (/Christians?), so that they might be gathered again, and know of Jesus Christ. In other words, there seems to have been, at the time, two ways things might have unfolded: on the one hand, the Jews/Christians (the disciples, early Church--mostly Jews) might seek an understanding of Israel, and the covenant would be returned to them, etc.; or, on the other hand, the Lord might bring the records of Israel to the knowledge of the Gentiles, who would thereby bring the understanding of the covenant to the (consequently) scattered Jews (/Christians?). In short, the Jews were to receive an understanding of scattered Israel, but how that would happen remained to be decided (whether it would be direct or indirect).
But though the two possibilities are laid out here, it becomes clear (and rather quickly) that one of these is already bound to happen, that one of these two possibilities is already dawning (as verse 5 itself makes clear): the Jews/Christians will not seek a knowledge of Israel. The consequence: the commandment is not really a hedge, not really conditional, not really a preparation for a possible situation that would undo God's plan; it is, in fact, the very establishment of God's plan (it was never really in the program to leave the Gentiles out of the story entirely). In other words, though it sounds here as if history might have gone either way, the appearance, in light of all the following discussion (hinted at in verse 5, but confirmed by the remaining chapters of instruction by Christ), is somewhat misleading. The Gentiles were a part of the plan already (in the end, Christ must appeal to Isaiah to make this point absolutely clear--but that is just the point: if Isaiah was already speaking of these things eight centuries earlier, then the Gentiles' role was not a conditional, and certainly not a new, thing).
Rereading these verses, then, it is clear that the commandment to commit the Christic sayings to writing is a commandment to prepare for a grand unfolding of the history of the Abrahamic covenant. With that broad interpretive key, this verse might be found to hold a great deal of insight into the history of the covenant. However, though it is packed with compacted insight, it is really just a hint of what is to be expounded at length over the course of the remainder of 3 Nephi. Two keys to the interpretation of all the discourses of Christ on the Abrahamic covenant to come: first, one must understand that the covenant is bound up with Christ's doctrine of the Trinity (a doctrine that begins to be unfolded as early as 3 Nephi 11); second, one must understand that the Gentiles' role in the covenant is central, if surprising, and that detail is not arbitrarily decided upon in a late attempt to salvage the covenant, but is rather bound up within the very nature of the covenant itself (as is clear from the very beginning: all the nations of the earth are to be blessed in Abraham).
  • 3 Ne 16:6. As the theme of the Gentiles really opens up in this verse (see the preceding two verses), the context in which this theme opens must be stated. And the context is rather clear: the Gentiles, marked here by their "belief..., in and of the Holy Ghost," are clearly--though perhaps only in the first place--those preached to and converted in the earliest Christian era. If verses 4-5 set up the possibility of exploring the role of the Gentiles in the history of the Abrahamic covenant, this verse begins to undertake that exploration from the very earliest moment of the Gentile involvement in that history.
As before, the Gentiles are only to experience God through the manifestation of the Holy Ghost, but now the nature of that visitation is implicitly different. Whereas before it appeared that the limited visitation of the Gentiles was due simply to their being outside the original boundaries of the covenant, it now appears that there is a sort of test or trial at work in the visitation: the Gentiles are "blessed" because they are filled with "belief," though it is only "in and of the Holy Ghost." Since the verse goes on quite explicitly to state that that same Holy Ghost has witnessed to the Gentiles of both the Son and the Father, it seems clear that the Gentiles are blessed for overcoming a sort of distancing performed by God Himself. In other words, though they are ministered to from afar at first, they respond faithfully and move quickly toward the center, for which responsiveness they are blessed.
Key to this faithful movement is the Trinitarian theme that again arises here (as [[3 Ne 16:4|before). The Gentile conversion is marked by their full involvement with the Trinity, with the three members of the Godhead at work. If verse 5 establishes the role of the Father in this Trinitarian, covenantal history as the One who covenants specifically with Israel, then this verse's admission that the Gentiles, through the Holy Ghost, have some access to--or, at the very least, witness of--the Father is rather significant: there is already a hint of a Gentile adoption at work in these verses. The blessing spoken by the Christ upon the Gentiles must be read in that light.
  • 3 Ne 16:7. The belief of the Gentiles, initially explored in verse 6, is now set against the unbelief of Israel. If the Gentiles in question seem to be those of the earliest Christian era, then the Israelites in question seem also to be of the same time. The unbelief of Israel, then, seems to be the broad rejection of the Christian proclamation in the first few centuries of the common era. The paucity of good historical documentation from the era in question makes any detailed historical study of the subject rather difficult, but what Christ Himself says here seems rather clear: at the moment of first proclamation, the Gentiles receive the Holy Ghost, while Israel rejects the very presence of the Son. In other words, while the Gentiles receive only the most distant experience of God (the Holy Ghost), they receive it happily and so receive the witness of the Son and Father through the Holy Ghost; at the same time, the House of Israel (and the Nephites/Lamanites present on the occasion, along with the "other sheep" to be visited soon, seem to be the ones implied here), receiving more directly the undeniable visitation of the Son, will go on to leave off Son, Father, and ultimately the Holy Ghost.
This broad scheme is interesting for a number of reasons. Perhaps most obvious is the complete lack of reference to the Jews in this comparison: this is not at all a question of the Gentiles and Jews, of the Jews who rejected Jesus versus the Gentiles who humbled themselves before the word of Saint Paul. Rather, the role of Jews is entirely left off until later, while the Gentiles and the lost (but not yet scattered?) tribes of Israel are compared as to their reception of the Christian dispensation. While Israel, as the covenant promised them, receive the presence of the Son in person, the Gentiles receive only the distant manifestation of the Holy Ghost; but the believing Gentiles maintain what they can of their visitation, while Israel broadly rejects theirs.
The result of this discrepancy is a sort of reversal of the covenant (though with the aim, in the end, of fulfilling perfectly the covenant; see verse 11). Because Israel rejects and the Gentiles receive, the last day will be marked by a revelation to the Gentiles, and "the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them." The Gentiles are privileged, still believing, over the Israelites, who will have long since fallen away. The reversal, then: Israel, promised to be gathered together in the covenant, are only to receive their part in the covenant knowledge derivatively, second-hand. The ramifications of this reversal of sorts are the real subject matter of all of the following.
  • 3 Ne 16:8-10. Suddenly, however, the spirit of this entire discourse changes with a turn of events introduced across three verses (though in the end the spirit of the discourse will have remained precisely the same). The subject shifts from the believing Gentiles to the unbelieving Gentiles, and a negative tone arises. But this shift from a happier theme to a more depressing one dissociate the present three verses from the preceding two: the last phrase of verse 10 ("I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them") can only be read as tied to the last phrase of verse 7 ("the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them"). Some sort of continuity between the believing and unbelieving Gentiles is implied: the continuity is undeniably not a question of two opposing groups of Gentiles, one believing and one unbelieving, but it is rather a question of just one Gentile group passing through two phases, a time of belief and a time of unbelief. In other words, verses 8-10 follow verses 6-7 not to draw a distinction between those (one group of Gentiles) who believe and those (another group of Gentiles) who do not, but between the Gentiles at the first (believing) and the same Gentiles later (unbelieving): the continuity is meant to explain the rejection of a later grace offered in the name of an earlier Gentile belief.
This shift from belief (in the Holy Ghost) to unbelief (qualified in a number of ways) is traced over the course of these three verses. In verse 8, the Gentiles function as the Lord's tool to scatter the Nephite/Lamanite remnant on the American continent, even to cast the remnant out of their midst, and to trod the same under their feet. This functioning is introduced with the word "notwithstanding," implying that the scattering performed is a work of great grace for the Gentiles, a manifestation of divine favor on their behalf. The same disposition on the Lord's part opens verse 9, where the "mercies" for the Gentiles are opposed to the "judgments" upon the house of Israel. In verse 9, much the same functioning is described again, though in stronger words: "smitten," "afflicted," even "slain," then "cast out," "hated," and becoming "a hiss and a byword among them." But this disposition of grace suddenly falls away in verse 10, where the wickedness of the Gentiles is put on display: they "sin against my gospel," "reject the fulness of my gospel," are "lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations," are "filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations...." Key in the list seems to be that the Gentiles are "lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth." The passage may have reference to Isaiah 10 (where Assyria is one of the Gentile nations already), where Assyria is subject to much the same transfer: there, in verses 5 and 6, Assyria is explicitly named an instrument in the hand of the Lord to punish His people, but Assyria goes on to exalt himself above all nations in verses 12-13, for which he is punished--perhaps more harshly than the Gentiles here.
In fact, it must be admitted, in the end, that the punishment of the Gentiles is rather mild here: though it is no small thing to lose "the fulness of my gospel," it is something less than the absolute destruction one would expect from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However, the verses still to come will bring in questions of thorough destruction. Preparatory to that destruction--or really, grounding that destruction--is this loss of the gospel (a prevalent theme in the Book of Mormon: a people first loses the truth, and then the same people is destroyed).
  • 3 Ne 16:11. The reversal of the Gentiles' belief (see the commentary for verses 8-10) reverses the reversal of the covenant (mentioned in the commentary for verse 7). The earlier Gentile belief in the manifestation (from a distance) of God, opposed to the earlier Israelite unbelief in the manifestation (much more direct) of God, had resulted in a reversal of the Abrahamic covenant: the fulness of the gospel, when brought again on the earth, was brought to those without the covenant, was brought to the once-believing regardless of the covenant. Verse 7 reads, in fact, as if the covenant itself were being abrogated. But with this verse, it becomes quite clear that the Gentile intermission was a step along the way to the Israelite reception of the fulness of the gospel. Here it is clear that the Lord's remembrance of "my covenant" is equivalent to "bring[ing] my gospel unto them."

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  • 3 Ne 16:6: What does "in and of" the Holy Ghost mean?
  • 3 Ne 16:10: "Fulness" is mentioned three times in this verse. Is it a possible interpretation that the Gentiles accept "some" of the Gospel and that "some" will be left for them and only the "fulness" will be taken from them?


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