Thursday, August 25, 2016

3 Nephi 19: In Which Jesus is Terrible at his Job

Jesus's second coming among the Nephites is imminent and the people are getting excited.

Nonchalant Miracle
We're about to list the apostles whom Jesus appointed for the American church.  Let's begin (verse 4):
...Nephi and his brother whom he had raised from the dead, whose name was Timothy, and also...
Whoa, hold up there.  You can't just drop some earth-shattering miracle into the middle of a sentence like it's no big thing and then steamroll on through a list of names that we'll never need to remember.

I mean, sure, if Nephi raised his brother from the dead, that's awesome.  It bears mentioning.  In fact, that kind of faith-promoting story should have its own chapter.  Maybe they could have made space for it on the gold plates by skipping an Isaiah chapter or two.

This feels like the amateurish stories I used to write as a small child.  My heroes were so wonderful and so perfect that I was prone to mentioning previous heroic exploits in passing without any explanation or exposition whatsoever.  It was like there was too much one-dimensional greatness to be contained in one character, and it would leak out all over the page.

We get it, Joseph.  Nephi was really righteous and his priesthood power was mighty.  Stop trying too hard to prove it to us.

Nothing Varying
The disciples split the crowd into twelve groups and begin teaching them (verse 8):
And when they had ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken—nothing varying from those words which Jesus had spoken—behold, they knelt again and prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus.
Interesting.  They recited the precise words that Jesus had used.  After all, why change what came straight from the horse's mouth, right?  In that case, why bother with continuing revelation?  Couldn't God have given Joseph Smith all the essential doctrines to publish at the same time?  Then, in an era where books are abundantly mass-produced, we could have everything we need to know, word for word.  And it would be much easier to remember if nothing varied from God's exact phraseology.

But instead we have countless General Conference addresses taking slightly different approaches to the same tired concepts ad nauseum.  If the gospel is so simple, as many Mormons have suggested, wouldn't one book of scripture with no convoluted variations or apostolic interpretations be the best way to disseminate it?

Nephi Pulls an Alma
Everybody decides they want the Holy Ghost, and then this happens (verse 11):
And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.
That's a very suspicious use of the passive voice.  Who baptized him?  It really sounds like no one baptized him.  But Jesus isn't here yet and Nephi's the first one in the bunch to get baptized, so he must have, somehow, magically gotten the authority to baptize and used it on himself.

Which is basically what Alma did, much to my annoyance (see A Broken Line of Authority). 

What's the point of having ordinances, anyway?  If you don't need official priesthood authority to perform them, why can't everyone baptize themselves?  And if the Holy Ghost "did fall upon" the multitude after their baptisms, why do we need the official laying-on-of-hands confirmation for modern members?  How is any of this doctrinally consistent?

Dude, Where's My God?
So then we have angels show up and minister unto the people.  Then Jesus pops in for another visit and ministers to the people.  At some point, these people are going to become overministered.  Next, Jesus orders the crowd to kneel and pray, so this is what happens (verse 18):
And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.
Whoa...let's roll things back a couple of pages to 3 Nephi 18:19.
Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
When did Jesus ever tell them to pray to him?  When has any modern prophet extolled the benefits of praying to the Son instead of the Father?  And why are we giving further ambiguity to the godhead's identity and division of labor?  Jesus is their Lord and their God?  Isn't that what the Father is?  But Jesus is about to go pray to the Father, so they have to be different people, except they're both Lords and Gods, capital L, capital G?  What is going on here?

Reusing a Cop-Out
Does verse 34 sound familiar?
Nevertheless, so great and marvelous were the words which [Jesus] prayed that they cannot be written, neither can they be uttered by man.
Was God going to strike one of the Nephites dead if he attempted to transcribe Jesus's prayer?  If it was really that great and marvelous, shouldn't it be exactly the kind of thing we should be taught about?  Or are we still sticking with the bizarre implication that no language can properly capture what Jesus used a language to communicate?

Jesus Doesn't Understand Faith
After wandering off to pray to his Father in Heaven a few times, Jesus confers with his disciples (verse 35):
And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying he came again to the disciples, and said unto them: So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief.
This is such a bizarre thing to say. If Jesus had destroyed most of the Jewish civilization with a series of unprecedented natural disasters, beset that part of the world with three days of impenetrable darkness, been introduced by the booming voice of God before publicly descending in a beam of celestial light, let huge crowds touch the wounds from his crucifixion, healed every sick person within the sound of his voice, and brought down hosts of angels to minister unto them in the midst of heavenly fire, the Jews probably would have been just as enthralled by him.

This is not faith.  This is merely a totally reasonable belief in marvelous miracles that these people have witnessed personally.  You'd think the guy who demands faith from us would know when it's legitimate and when he's manufactured it himself.


  1. Congratulations on winning the Brodie award for this post in the "Best Scripture Study Piece" category. You're becoming a real star. You're doing a fantastic job with this Book of Mormon Commentary. Keep up the good work! Here's the award link. Doesn't this now make 3 Brodie's for you?

    1. Thank you! I had no idea, so I'm glad you said something. I voted in a few categories a week or two ago but my schedule has been pretty wild lately and I hadn't kept up on things.

  2. You're welcome! You're doing great work, and I'm glad that you're getting recognized for it. Keep it up!