1 Nephi, Chapter 20 “out of the waters of baptism”


 1 Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.

I have understood for some time that Joseph clearly and unworrisomely added the words “or out of the waters of baptism.” The early documents are all there and clear that it was added in 1840. That doesn’t bother me at all that he did that — he was a prophet too! — but the question is: Why?

The original sense of the verse seems to me to be to narrow House of Jacob, name of Israel, to those specifically of Judah. But why “waters”? I did a little research and it’s possible to read this as “loins.” So the idea would be those literally descended from Judah. But since through Nephi’s eyes, Isaiah has a lot to say to the remnant of Joseph as an important redeemer of the whole house of Israel.

So that makes me rethink this idea of water and baptism. At baptism you receive a new name. In our case, we take on ourselves the name of Christ. I am wondering if it is possible to think that by the time that Isaiah is writing these words, anyone who has been baptized (not that I know even a smiggin of what that meant in the Biblical world) was then considered part of Judah. By the time that the Northern Kingdom had been scattered, was anyone still associated with the covenant, the prophets, the temple, and so forth, considered Judah? Something like those in the Book of Mormon being grouped into “Nephites” and “Lamanites” even though they weren’t all literally Nephi’s or Laman’s descendants. Whether or not Isaiah meant that, it seems to me to be the sense of what Joseph Smith is saying. There is something that has caused them to be called Judah when they weren’t all originally Judah. The entire House of Israel has been reduced to Judah, but not because that is all that remains; those that remain have been renamed, or baptized, as part of Judah. Thus we get the idea that there are only “Jews and Gentiles” and the word “Jews” remains today as the only real group the world associates with the Old Testament. The rest of Israel has been either “lost” or simply “dissolved” into Judah.

I think Nephi would have understood this verse in this sort of way, even if he didn’t need to think of it in terms of baptism. And whether or not baptism has anything to do with it, Joseph’s addition made me rethink this verse in terms of names, titles, rituals, etc. rather than literal descent.

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