Sunday, May 22, 2016

3 Nephi 12: The Sermon on the Rubble

Jesus is still Jesusing in the ancient fictionalized American realm.

The Magic Number
The very first verse in this chapter interrupts itself to specify that the number of men Jesus called to minister unto the spiritual needs of the people was...wait for it...twelve.

Not fifteen.

Mormonism likes to pretend that it has the same organization that existed in the primitive church.  But how many apostles did Jesus have? Twelve.  And how many people did he appoint to preside over his church in the new world following his ascension? Twelve.

Again, not fifteen.  

Both times Jesus personally organized a church, he organized it without a single reigning figure of supreme power.  No president.  No first presidency.  Just twelve.

If we are to believe Ted Callister's specious claim that the LDS church is God's legitimate church because of its organizational structure, we must also consider that the Jedi Order is arguably more legitimate.

The Be-edit-udes
Then Jesus transitions into the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5.  There are a couple of things I'd like to point out.

Verse 6 promises that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness "shall be filled with the Holy Ghost," as opposed to simply "filled" (Matthew 5:6).  The Book of Mormon's specificity doesn't seem to add anything to the thought, much like in its many slight alterations to Isaiah.

Verse 10 blesses those who are persecuted for "my name's sake" as opposed to for "righteousness' sake" (Matthew 5:10).  This implies more dedication to Jesus than to trying to do the right thing.  The Bible's version is better.

Although not part of the Beatitudes (so much for my clever section title), verse 32 has a perfect opportunity to clarify something that could be interpreted as kind of troubling.  Here's the original verse in Matthew 5:
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
This could have been one of those plain and precious truths that had been perverted by conspiring men during the many uninspired translations of the Bible, right?  Or not.  The only thing the Book of Mormon changes here is throwing a "verily, verily" into the opening clause.  Rather than smoothing over a bizarre teaching about divorce, fornication, and adultery, the 19th century Word of God merely parrots the 17th century Word of God, making the god in question seem like a deity of double standards and all-around madness.   

Getting the Details Hammered Out
This chapter makes a few efforts to tailor Jesus's remarks for his American audience.  For example, he omits his reference to "scribes and Pharisees" and changes the reference to a farthing to a senine.  All so this different culture will be able to understand and identify with his teachings.  Right?


He doesn't adapt the Aramaic-originating word "Raca" to any Nephite insult.  And even more interestingly (in my opinion, anyway) he uses the idiomatic "take up your cross." This is a reference to crucifixion, a form of execution which has been mentioned in only eight verses of the Book of Mormon (the most chronologically recent being close to 200 years before this sermon).  As best as I can determine, the practice originated in the 6th century BC, after (albeit possibly very very shortly after) Lehi left Jerusalem.  It therefore seems unlikely that the Nephites would be familiar with the concept of crucifixion—and extremely unlikely that they'd be familiar with figurative expressions derived from the practice. If Jesus could change something simple like the monetary unit he mentions, why would he not change something more crucial like his poetic call to bear whatever burdens necessary for righteousness' sake?

Meekness as Weakness
Starting in verse 39, we have another potentially dangerous teaching preserved from the original sermon:
But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; 
And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also; 
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
The basic concept is a good one:  turn the other cheek.  Don't escalate situations by retaliating.  Be the bigger person.

The problem is that this philosophy shouldn't be applied universally.  It doesn't always work, especially when coupled with the advice to "not resist evil."  Of course we should resist evil!  I'm all for being forgiving and being slow to wrath and all of that jazz, but turning the other cheek is not the best or even the moral choice in every situation.

If you take this to the extreme, you wind up at appeasement.  You wind up at the frame of mind that helped World War II get going.  Turning the other cheek is a good thing to do up until the point when it convinces the person who smote you that he can get away with smiting other people too.

Perhaps verse 44 is the better advice here:
But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you;
That's something I can get behind.  You can love someone who is doing bad things.  That's how you can be the bigger person, but it doesn't necessarily entail letting that person walk all over you and allowing him to harm others.


  1. "Turning the other cheek is a good thing to do up until the point when it convinces the person who smote you that he can get away with smiting other people too."

    In our neighborhood, a young girl was molested by a boy in the ward. Nothing happened to him, and the girl's mother decided she needed to forgive him. The church essentially did nothing as well. So, the boy continued and escalated his actions over the next 3 years molesting several boys and girls and culminating with an object rape on a 4 year old girl who spoke up and got him locked away in a juvenile facility for 18 months.

    Yes, we can forgive, but people have to be held accountable for their actions. Plus, how does letting him off the hook, help the boy who started this behavior when he was young, at most 11 years old. I do not believe that offering forgiveness requires releasing the perpetrators from the consequences of their actions.

    1. Wow, that's a really sad story. I couldn't agree with you more.

      Not only could future rapes have been avoided, but maybe that boy could have gotten the help he needed before things escalated.