Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why Didn't Jesus Teach the Nephites Anything?



I remember several times reading the story of Christ's appearance to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon and thinking, “Wow. Nice entrance, but is that all there is? Surely he could have taught them more than he did."


Well, he actually did.

When I read the following from chapter 7 of Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, I initially thought that I had found someone who agreed with me.  Hardy writes:

It seems obvious that the climax of the Book of Mormon is Christ's three day visit to the Nephites. Jesus is the central figure of the book’s theology... His dramatic appearance in the Americas presents a stark contrast to his rather quiet birth in Bethlehem, which, according to the Gospels, was noted mainly by a few shepherds and foreign priests. In the Book of Mormon [by contrast], Christ appears as a resurrected God descending from heaven very publicly at the temple in Bountiful shortly after widespread destruction.

With such a build up it is easy for readers to be disappointed in what follows.

The initial disappointment for me was that Jesus didn't teach very much new stuff to those Nephites who had survived the cataclysms that had killed many of the wicked just a few days or weeks prior to Christ’s appearance in the Americas. Jesus did quote from previous prophets such as Isaiah (that the Nephites would have known about) and prophets like Malachi (someone they wouldn't have known about because they left the area of Jerusalem around 600 BC, some decades before Malachi was born) But quotes from prophets seems to be the bulk of what he teaches them.  

But Hardy didn't agree with me. He just empathized with me. But then he goes on to give us a good reason why Christ’s visit might seem a bit anticlimactic. We find that answer in chapter 26 of 3rd Nephi, where the prophet-historian named Mormon (the curator of the record that we now call the Book of Mormon) says:

(Verse 8) These things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which Christ taught the people;   

(Vs 11) Behold, I was about to write them, all of which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it saying I will try the faith of my people (verse 11)

(vs 12) Therefore I, Mormon, do write the things which have been commanded me of the Lord. And now I Mormon, make an end of my sayings and proceeded to write the things which have been commanded me.

So that’s why it doesn’t seem that Jesus teaches much to the Nephites--because a gigantic part of what he did teach was not included in the set of gold plates that came to us in what is now the Book of Mormon.  It wasn’t included, because Christ, the editor-in-chief of Mormon’s book, told him not to include it.
Wow!  Bummer!  (Interestingly, Mormon seems almost as discouraged by this turn of events as I was.) But it's not really a bummer after all, and I’ll tell you why in a later post...

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