3 Nephi 15

 

Covenant Obedience Brings Peace -

 3 Nephi 11 -- Mormon 7      Disobedience Brings Destruction


 

3 Nephi 15, 16 (The Law and the Covenant Discourse):

 

     According to Victor Ludlow, chapters 15 and 16 of 3 Nephi introduce a second sermon or discourse that the Savior gives, sometimes called the Law and the Covenant Discourse. It's basically chapters 15 and 16 of 3 Nephi. We don't find this in it's entirety in the New Testament. Bits and pieces of it are scattered around, like in John 10 and elsewhere. This isn't a developed sermon that we find recorded in any of the New Testament accounts of the Savior's ministry.

     Part of the context of this Law and Covenant Discourse is that among the Nephites and Lamanites in the New World, signs were given and recorded of Christ's birth. There were some that thought, "Now that the sign of the Savior's birth is being given, He's now here upon the earth and so we don't need to be living these old Mosaic laws anymore." But Nephi, their prophet, told them properly, "No, we still need to be living the Mosaic law until we're told otherwise" (see 3 Nephi 1:24-25). Well, here comes the Savior to them now as a resurrected being a little over 30 years later. He's going to teach them about some old things and some new things--old things like the Mosaic law, some new things of His own laws and covenants. He discusses some of these old things like the law of Moses that had passed away . . . but he says that the covenant is not yet all fulfilled. There were yet other promises to be fulfilled, some in conjunction with his Second Coming, or his coming in power and glory, the promise to redeem the Earth and its inhabitants from its Telestial environment. [Victor L. Ludlow, "The Covenant Teachings of the Book of Mormon," F.A.R.M.S., pp. 6-8]

 

3 Nephi 15:5 I Am He That Gave the Law:

 

     According to Robert Matthews, that portion of the Savior's instruction that parallels the Sermon on the Mount seems to have a natural ending at the close of 3 Nephi 14, concluding with the parable of the houses built on sand and on rock. However, readers of the New Testament will remember that Matthew 7:28-29 adds a comment that Jesus' hearers in Palestine were "astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." The JST records this as: "He taught them as one having authority form God, and not as having authority from the Scribes." (JST Matthew 7:37.) At first glance it appears that this item concerning Jesus' authority is missing in the 3 Nephi account. Its parallel however, is in fact found in the subsequent chapter, in 3 Nephi 15:1-10. The two-verse, one-sentence observation of 28 words in Matthew is contrasted in 3 Nephi with a ten-verse, thirteen-sentence, 364-word declaration by Jesus. The 3 Nephi expression includes several concepts dealing with Jesus' authority. First Jesus affirmed that the instruction he had just given them contained "the things which I taught [in the Holy Land] before I ascended to my Father" (v. 1). He then explained: "I am he who gave the law" to Moses, and "the law in me is fulfilled" (vv. 3-8). He further established his identity, and thus his authority, by saying that he, Jesus, was the God who covenanted with Israel (v. 5). Earlier, at the beginning of this visit, he had declared to the multitude that he was "the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth," and had "been slain for the sins of the world" (3 Nephi 11:14).

     Jesus further attested to his authority by saying, "I am the law, and the light. Look unto me . . . and ye shall live," and he promised that unto those who obey him to the end, he would "give eternal life." (3 Nephi 15:9) The authority theme is continued with Jesus saying: "I have given unto you the commandments: therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me" (v. 10, emphasis added).

     It would be difficult to miss the point that Jesus in these verses was giving an unqualified statement of his authority and primal position (under the Father) both on earth and in heaven. As noted, this is a much stronger statement than the brief comment by Matthew at the close of the sermon on the Mount, yet it is parallel to it in its placement at the end of the Sermon. [Robert J. Matthews, "Christ's Authority, His Other sheep, and the Redemption of Israel," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 2, pp. 161-162]

 

3 Nephi 15:16-17 This Much Did the Father Command Me, That I Should Tell unto them: That Other Sheep I have Which Are Not of This Fold:

 

     In 3 Nephi 15:16-18, Jesus revealed to the Nephites in the Americas something about what he had said to the Jews in the Old World:

            This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them: That other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. And now, because of the stiffneckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them.

 

     According to John Fowles, not only did the Jews at the time of Jesus fail to comprehend the verse in John 10:16 concerning the "other sheep," but todays scholars see Jesus' sermon of visiting other sheep as reference only to the Gentiles and not to the rest of the house of Israel. Moreover, no one except Latter-day Saints connect this prophecy with Ezekiel 37 as it applies to the writings of the "lost sheep" of the tribe of Joseph (the "stick" of Joseph"--the Book of Mormon) being brought together with the writings of Judah (the "stick" of Judah--the Bible). Rather, these non-LDS scholars would say Ezekiel's prophecy is simply a symbolic representation of the reunification of Israel. However, Fowles notes some studies by Aileen Guilding that give verification to what is found in the Book of Mormon.

     According to Guilding, during New Testament times the law of Moses was read in the synagogues (Acts 15:21). To accomplish the goal of reading all of the law of Moses on consecutive Sabbaths, the first five books of the Bible were divided up into approximately 150 sections called sedarim. It took three years for completing the reading of the Law. To go along with the reading of these sedarim sections of the Law, the Jews had also developed a parallel set of readings from the Prophets. These thematic readings were called haphtorahs. During the synagogue service the scheduled section of the Law would be read first, and then the reading of the parallel thematic passage from the Prophets would follow.

     Guilding has also shown that John's gospel was written to show Jewish readers that Jesus fulfilled prophecy, particularly as it related to each successive feast. In this gospel, Jesus' comments dealt not only with the very scriptures that were being studied at the particular feast that was going on at the time, but also the customs and practices associated with them.

     Given this background for the gospel of John and the scheduled readings of the Law and the Prophets in the synagogues, it is very intriguing that Jesus' announcement of visiting other sheep (John 10:16) came while Jesus was in Jerusalem during the time of the Feast of Dedication. According to Guilding's reconstruction of the cycle of the sedarim, the scheduled scriptures to be read would have come from Genesis 46:28---47:31. These verses spoke of the reuniting of Joseph and Judah. Even more intriguing, the accompanying thematic reading from the Prophets (or haphtorah) would have been Ezekiel 37:15-28 regarding the reuniting of Judah and Joseph, including their records. This gives impressive support to the idea that Christ's promise to the Jews to visit his "other sheep" was at the same time themes of shepherding, gathering, and Ezekiel's prediction of the records of Joseph ("stick of Joseph") being joined with the records of Judah (the "stick of Judah") were being studied and read in the synagogue. As we learn in 3 Nephi 15:18, the Jews didn't comprehend what Jesus was saying to them and the Father forbid him to say any more to them because of their unbelief. [John L. Fowles, "The Jewish Lectionary and Book of Mormon Prophecy," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 3, Num. 2, F.A.R.M.S., (Fall 1994), pp. 118-122] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 3:12]

 

3 Nephi 15:17 Other Sheep I Have Which Are Not of This Fold:

 

     According to Robert Matthews, fourteen verses in 3 Nephi 15 deal chiefly with a detailed explanation that the Nephites and the Lamanites were the "other sheep" once spoken of by Jesus to the Jews in Palestine, as recorded in John 10:16. Most readers of the Book of Mormon are aware that Jesus visited these "other sheep" in America. However, the Savior was so definitive on this point that it deserves particular attention. The passage in John 10:16 was cited by Jesus in 3 Nephi 15:16-17 as follows: "This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them: That other sheep I have which are not of this fold, them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."

     Jesus said that the Father had commanded him to teach the Jews about the "other sheep," but when he did so (as explained in this verse), the Jews failed to understand the meaning. It appears that it was not only the multitude of the Jews but even the brethren in the Jewish Church who missed the meaning. This failure came from "stiffneckedness and unbelief." Therefore Jesus was "commanded to say no more of the Father" to the Jews about the subject. (3 Nephi 15:18)

     The Jews thought that the "other sheep" were the Gentiles. (3 Nephi 15:22) This is suggested also in John 7:35, when the unbelieving Jews said, "Will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?" This misconception has been a popular interpretation by modern biblical scholars also.13

     It is at this point in Jesus' explanation that the doctrine becomes extremely valuable to our understanding of Jesus' worldwide mission, and also as an aid to the interpretation of scripture. The crux of the statement that Jesus makes in 3 Nephi 15:21-24 is that he will not at any time manifest himself personally nor by his audible voice to a Gentile nation. Such an event is declared to be a blessing reserved for those who are of the house of Israel. The Gentiles are to be converted through the preaching of those who are of Israel, and Jesus will manifest himself to the believing Gentiles through the Holy Ghost. This same concept is referred to in 1 Nephi 10:11, wherein Lehi said that Jesus would "make himself manifest, by the Holy Ghost, unto the Gentiles." This procedure is a provision of, and is in harmony with, the covenant to Abraham, as stated in Abraham 2:9-10, that Abraham's descendants have the responsibility of the ministry and will carry the priesthood and the gospel unto all nations. [Robert J. Matthews, "Christ's Authority, His Other sheep, and the Redemption of Israel," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 2, pp. 162-164]

 

3 Nephi 15:17 Other sheep I have . . . and they shall hear my voice (Illustration): The Trail of the Prophet. A graphic illustration of the many sites in the Americas from which emanate legends of the White God. [L. Taylor Hanson, He Walked the Americas, pp. 196-197]

 

3 Nephi 15:21 Ye Are They of Whom I Said: Other Sheep I Have Which Are Not of This Fold:

 

     According to Bruce Warren, although we may not know the identities of all the "other sheep" to which Christ makes reference to in 3 Nephi 15:21, we do know that there was a great intelligent population of Nephites in the Americas. Moreover, there is ample evidence that at least certain Palestinian individuals had an understanding of these Mesoamerican peoples. Religious scholar and philosopher Hugh Nibley has written about the very "interesting hint" dropped by Origen:

           Clement, the disciple of the Apostles, recalls those whom the Greeks designate as antichthonians [dwellers on the other side of the earth], and other parts of the earth's sphere [or circuit] which cannot be reached by anyone from our regions, and from which none of the inhabitants dwelling there is able to get to us; he calls these areas "worlds" when he says: "The Ocean is not to be crossed by men, but those worlds which lie on the other side of it are governed by the same ordinances [lit. dispositions] of a guiding and directing God as these."

 

Nibley continues:

           Here is a clear statement that the earliest Christians taught that there were people living on the other side of the world who enjoyed the guidance of God in complete isolation from the rest of the world. Origen knows of mysterious knowledge that was had among the leaders of the Primitive Church but was neither divulged by them to the general public nor passed on to the general membership, and this includes the assurance that there were people living on the other side of the world who enjoyed the same divine guidance as themselves in a state of complete isolation (Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 1988, 326).

 

[Bruce W. Warren, Blaine M. Yorgason, Harold Brown, New Evidences of Christ in Mesoamerica, Unpublished Manuscript]

 

3 Nephi 15:21 Other Sheep I Have Which Are Not of This Fold; Them Also I Must Bring:

 

     Richardson, Richardson and Bentley write that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that Ezekiel's prophecy on the stick of Joseph (Ezekiel 37:15-22), and Jesus' prophecy of the "other sheep" (John 10:16; 3 Nephi 15:21) both apply to the people of the Book of Mormon.

     According to non-Mormon scholar Aileen Guilding, Ezekiel's prophecy of the stick of Joseph was the background of Jesus' prophecy concerning his "other sheep." This evidence strengthens the claim of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the other sheep were not gentiles, but remnants of the House of Israel living in the New World. (cited in John Fowles, "The Jewish Lectionary and the Book of Mormon Prophecy," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Fall 1994, p. 119.)14

     Guilding reached her conclusions by finding that John recorded the time of year of Jesus' prophecy. According to the Gospel of John, it was during the Feast of Dedication and it was winter (John 10:22). This annual Jewish festival sometimes called Hanukkah, was commenced in the month of Kislev, which correlates with December. Another name for this feast is the Dedication of the Altar, which is closely related to Solomon's consecration of the temple and the Feast of the Tabernacles mentioned in the apocryphal book 2 Maccabees 1:9, 18.

     The significance of the time of year for the feast, is that the Jews of the New Testament followed an ancient schedule of reading specific passages of the law on the specified Sabbaths throughout the year. (see Acts 15:21) According to Guilding's reconstruction of the reading schedule, the section of the Pentateuch that was read during the Feast of Dedication was Genesis 46:28 through 47:31, which prophesied of the reuniting of Judah and Joseph. Along with this was read Ezekiel 37:15-28, which symbolically deals with the reunification of the divided house of Israel by bringing forth the records of each kingdom and uniting them together. [Allen H. Richardson, David E. Richardson and Anthony E. Bentley, 1000 Evidences for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Part Two-A Voice from the Dust: 500 Evidences in Support of the Book of Mormon, pp. 88-898] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 3:12]

 

3 Nephi 15:24 Ye Have Both Heard My Voice, and Seen Me; and Ye Are My Sheep:

 

     In many ways the resurrected Christ made an indelible impression on the hearts and minds of the Nephites whom he visited on the American continent. In 3 Nephi 15:24 we find Christ verifying to them that "ye have both heard my voice, and seen me; and ye are my sheep."

     T.J. O'Brien poses the question, "Of all the American heroes, who was the greatest?" Was it George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, perhaps Albert Einstein? How about Martin Luther King, Simon Bolivar, Benito Juarez, Eleanor Roosevelt or Eva Peron? Every nation on the North and South American Continents can list men and women of strong impact. Many of these individuals were great only within their own countries, while others transcended borders and still inspire us today.

     But of the many noteworthy individuals produced by the Americas, only one had a power so pervasive that it has touched every corner of the continents and the life of every inhabitant. One figure alone has given rise to accounts of accomplishments so great that they eclipse the deeds of all the other heroes of the Americas combined.

     Indian legends, from the Bering Straits in Alaska to Cape Horn in South America, tell of an amazing white, bearded "foreigner" whose contributions in distant past were so remarkable that they eventually penetrated every culture of the Americas then, and still endure today. So revered was this person that huge monuments were erected to his honor. His symbol, the feathered serpent, is still found today in ceremonies, paintings, carvings, and architecture throughout all the lands of the Western Hemisphere. . . . Who is this figure? He has been called by various tribes and cultures "Quetzalcoatl," "Kulculcan," "Viracocha," "Ioskeha," and a host of other names. . . . Fascinating clues, which today are rapidly increasing, will entice the reader to join the search for a solution to the oldest and most baffling mystery of the Americas: the identity of the fair, bearded visitor from across the sea, and the feathered serpents by which he or they were everywhere identified. [T.J. O'Brien, Fair Gods and Feathered Serpents, pp. 13-14]

 

3 Nephi 15:24 Ye have both heard my voice, and seen me, and ye are my sheep (Illustration): Locations Visited by the Bearded, White Mystery Man. [T.J. O'Brien, Fair Gods and Feathered Serpents, p. 30]

     

3 Nephi 15:24 Ye have both heard my voice, and seen me, and ye are my sheep (Illustration): Representations of the Bearded White God in Mesoamerica. [Glenn A. Scott, Voices from the Dust, p. 196]