Category Archives: 1 Nephi Project

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.

Isaiah & the Redeemer

I’ve noticed before in 1 Nephi, Chapter 19 that Nephi says that he reads Isaiah specifically to convince his family to believe in the Redeemer. Is he saying that they already believed in a God, in the God of Israel specifically, but not necessarily in His role as Messiah and Redeemer? Lehi preaches about a Messiah that will save the world, and he almost gets killed. A Messiah simply for Israel is good news, however. The different titles that God receives are accepted or rejected based on what that person thinks about God.

So Nephi wants his people to believe in God as a Redeemer. Well, what if they don’t understand that there is a need to redeem anyone or any people? Isaiah makes it clear that Israel has been divided and scattered and needs to be brought back together. Is this why he reads Isaiah?

I did a search this morning for “Redeemer” in the Old Testament. It turns out that of the 18 times that word shows up, 13 of them are in Isaiah! (Here is a link to the search results.) The others are one in Job, two in the Psalms, one in Proverbs, and one in Jeremiah. And the earliest it shows up in Isaiah is chapter 41.

Anyway, I find this interesting and productive to think about!

Another thought on 1 Nephi Chapter 18 (Looking for the Abrahamic Covenant)

It dawned on me this morning that if this were written in third person, it would probably be easier to see how it’s similar to Exodus. Or, vice versa, what if Moses’s story of wandering the wilderness with the children of Israel had been written in first person? (Presumably there was first-person account written originally…) but what if our account were written in first person? I see and understand the criticism that Nephi is glorifying his own righteousness over that of his brothers. But he does it so frankly and bluntly that it has a strange feel to it. It’s too matter-of-fact at points. So, I wonder, if what happens is that Nephi sees in their story a straightforward parallel to the children of Israel and Moses, and finds it almost crucial to point out those similarities so that his people can see themselves as covenant Israel — literally, really, covenant Israel — so he is willing to put into his very, very short narrative of their 8 years those moments that show their similarities such as rebellion and lack of faith, leadership calling to repentance, repentance and forgiveness, and then how God mercifully led them towards the promised land when they repented. If that’s Nephi’s goal, then he does a good job of it; but why does it sound awkward sometimes? I think it is because Moses’s story, as we have it, is third person. We read it and think, “Of course Moses is glorified in some ways by the story; he was Moses!” 🙂 It is easy to see the pettiness of the Israelites and we don’t assume Moses is embellishing the story. But with Nephi, we have an account written in first person, which means those moments were Nephi is the hero and his brothers are petty sound a bit suspicious. I don’t distrust Nephi myself, but I can see how the literary approach would lend itself to finding Nephi a bit self-serving. However, even there I think there is an awkwardness and frankness about the story that calls me to be suspicious about the suspicious reading. 🙂 He always shows when his brothers repent, he shows his father’s humbleness and prophetic power alongside his moment of murmuring, and he always attributes his power to God and not himself. Even the moment when he slays Laban, he shows how he was a weak person who didn’t want to listen. Imagine again all of this in third person — how would it sound? Very different.

Anyway, just a thought I hope was worth sharing/recording this morning. 🙂

A thought on 1 Nephi 18:9-10

 9 And after we had been driven forth before the wind for the space of many days, behold, my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and also their wives began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness, yea, even that they did forget by what power they had been brought thither; yea, they were lifted up unto exceeding rudeness.

10 And I, Nephi, began to fear exceedingly lest the Lord should be angry with us, and smite us because of our iniquity, that we should be swallowed up in the depths of the sea; wherefore, I, Nephi, began to speak to them with much soberness; but behold they were angry with me, saying: We will not that our younger brother shall be a ruler over us.

First off, verse 9 is horribly, horribly depicted in that “Book of Mormon Movie” from a decade ago. (Yikes!) It isn’t that their dancing itself is bad or their singing (or their clothes, if you believe the movie), those all come after the word “inasmuch.” So, what’s going on here? Well, they first “make themselves merry.” I wonder if we could read this in the more British sense of the word: they are getting drunk. They drank “insomuch” that they began to be silly, to dance, to sing, and so forth. And there inhibitions were down, and they began to speak with much rudeness, meaning, I think, with much honesty. Whatever control over themselves they had to exercise to go along with Lehi and Nephi’s plans was left off and they spoke with rude frank honesty, “even that they did forget by what power they had been brought thither.” I don’t think it just a mental “forgot” that Nephi’s guessing at, I think they were verbally saying things against God, or at the least attributing God’s miracles to something else (their own strength?). I think this is why Nephi is so fearful and intervenes, and why in the end Laman and Lemuel have to be shown so drastically that God really is in charge! I like that Nephi describes himself as speaking with “soberness.” 🙂

1 Nephi, Chapter 17 (Looking for the Abrahamic Covenant)

I’m a bit distracted today, but here are some pieces of thoughts anyway:

Right about verse 22, we start to see comparisons between the Nephites and the Israelites again. This time, however, it’s sparked by something that Laman and Lemuel say:

22 And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him. And after this manner of language did my brethren murmur and complain against us.

It’s an odd thing that his brothers claim, in some ways. This is a tangent into thinking about human nature — sorry to anyone who might actually be reading this — When a prophet comes to say a people needs to repent, he comes because God has told him the people need to repent. I don’t know at what point “the people” have gone astray. When a majority of people have turned their hearts? When the dominant discourse is no longer faithful? When the leaders have influenced so many people that if there isn’t a stop to it soon the next generation will be lost? I’ve never been quite sure on that point, anyway. So it made me think of that when Nephi’s brothers talk about the people in Jerusalem. Who do you think they were referring to? Is this, “Everyone I knew was keeping the law,” or “I think the majority did,” or what? They knew prophets had come besides Lehi. But of course, there was debate at the time about who was a true prophet and who was preaching dreams they had that weren’t from God. Hmm.

But back on track now — Joe has pointed out that this verse right here opens up an opportunity for Nephi to distinguish between the law and the covenant. (The details are in a chapter of a new book he’s working on; I wish they were in a blog post I could link to!) Nephi relates the history of the Israelites and their journey in the wilderness and all the help that God gave them. That’s really the focus, I guess: see how God guided them and helped them every step of the way, even when they hardened their hearts against Moses and so forth, he didn’t give up on them and eventually they were ready to go to the promised land. I don’t see the talk of the covenant as clearly as Joe does, so I’ll have to spend some more time talking to him about it and write another post, I think.

I do see the comparison here between the Israelites and the Lehites:

40 And he loveth those who will have him to be their God. Behold, he loved our fathers, and he covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he remembered the covenants which he had made; wherefore, he did bring them out of the land of Egypt.

This sounds like 1 Nephi 1:20:

I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

I also like how the conversation God has with Nephi nicely matches the conversation Nephi has with his brothers. In both cases, there is an emphasis on how God has led them and provided the way for them to leave one place and reach a promised land. There are specific details in each (for example, God making raw meat taste sweet, and God making manna rain from heaven).

I’m afraid I don’t have much to add this morning — mostly I’m distracted wondering exactly what Joe had in mind.

1 Nephi, Chapter 15 (Looking for the Abrahamic Covenant)

I find it pretty cool that not only does Nephi include his vision and the conversations he had with the angel, he also includes another chapter with the explanation he gives his brothers. I’m totally convinced now that every time he includes explanations of anything to his brothers, it’s just a handy way for him to teach his readers. 🙂 A two-in-one move; more narrative and documentation as well as solid doctrinal preaching for his readers’ sake. Perfect.

Nephi is rather frustrated and upset that his brothers won’t ask God to help them understand. Is that same reprimand being directed at us, too?

After reading everything Nephi saw, doesn’t he sound a bit impatient in verse 12 as he explains this to Laman and Lemuel: “and behold are we not broken off from the house of Israel, and are we not a branch of the house of Israel?” I want to add some extra ! and ? at the end of that sentence. 🙂

Verse 13 presupposes a lot of foreknowledge about the future. He knows their seed will dwindle in disbelief. Either Lehi talked about that before, and so Nephi is just putting two pieces of the puzzle together in front of them, or else, this is information only gathered after inquiring of God, as Nephi told them they should have done.

Aren’t 12-16 a great summary of his vision? More specifically, aren’t they a great summary of what the olive tree represents? I think Nephi did a pretty good job there answering his brothers’ question.

Verse 17 gets slightly more complicated, at least in the abbreviated form we have here. But verse 18 has a direct reference to Abraham, so I want to quote that certainly:

18 Wherefore, our father hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.

think that perhaps I shouldn’t pass by verse 17 so quickly afterall. I’m thinking a lot lately (as I’ve mentioned in others posts) about how the gospel has to go to the Gentiles before it goes back to the House of Israel. Is this so that the Gentiles have a chance to be included in the Abrahamic Covenant? Is this precisely what it means that “all the kindreds” of the earth can be blessed? A covenant is given to Israel, but then power is shown to the Gentiles specifically in giving them the records of Israelites which contain more detail about the covenant, and they can be adopted in and then they take it back to Israel… this back and forth, first last and last first thing really is starting to make me read this “all kindreds blessed” idea much more clearly than I ever had before!

I can see why Nephi begins to use Isaiah so much. (See verse 20) This really is all that Isaiah is talking about, isn’t it?

1 Nephi 13:25-29 (Looking for the Abrahamic Covenant)

25 Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God.

26 And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

27 And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.

28 Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.

29 And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles;

I wish I understood more of what was going on with the Great and Abominable Church. Who were they? Why did they do what they did? What was their M.O. in deciding what would be left out and what would stay in? There are several things I find odd or interesting about this description of what was taken away:

  • It’s extremely important to Nephi, I think, that the records were pure when the Jews gave them.
  • The transfer of the gospel from Jew to Gentile seems to done by the Apostles themselves, perhaps not intending to leave Jews out but in effect the Gentiles take over from that point
  • The G & A Church is formed simply “after” that transfer
  • verse 26 says that the G & A Church takes “away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.” Notice that Nephi says the G & A Church takes away from the gospel plain & precious things. Is this done through preaching and theological work? Did their preachers downplay certain parts of the gospel and create a complete image that replaced the fulness of the gospel? So those plain and precious parts became just unnecessary? Unimportant? Uninteresting?
  • Then verse 28 says that “after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book.” Two questions: 1) Is this the same move as verse 26, or are these two events happening at the same time? That is, are we to understand the removal of the plain and precious parts from the book as the removal of the plain and precious parts from the gospel? Or, did the G & A Church begin to remove the plain and precious parts from the gospel by how they preached, and then the plain and precious parts were removed from the book when they were no longer seen as relevant? Or perhaps removed to cover up for their dishonesty? 2) Who took things away from the book? I would assume the G & A Church, but it could also mean that people who received the gospel from the G & A Church decided to edit it to match what they had received. I can’t tell, myself.
  • Note that the plain and precious parts are removed from the gospel (and the book) before the book goes out to all the nations of the Gentiles. So regardless of whether or not there was a 2-step process of removing the plain and precious parts from the gospel and then the book, and also regardless of whether they were removed by the G & A Church or by Gentiles closely related to them, all of this took place before the general Gentile population received them. The Gentiles, as a general category, were innocent of this tampering,
  • I was really struck by the fact that verse 26 mentions covenants and verse 28 doesn’t. I can’t tell exactly what verse 26 means by “and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.” First, why covenant in the plural? Second, taken away from what – from the gospel? From their preaching? From their version of the gospel picture? That would be my initial idea. The references to the Abrahamic Covenant which are in the Bible get re-interpreted and metaphorized so that they no longer mean what they used to mean. So in that sense, the covenants are still in the book but they have been taken away from the gospel. Joe’s been reading up a bit on early Christian history and how it talked about the Old Testament and the covenant Jewish people. Fascinating stuff.
  • Looking at verse 23, I think it might be clear that the book does still contain the covenants. (It’s hard to tell. It could be that it contains many of them but the G & A Church took away others. I can’t tell. But it could be read that the covenants are still in the book, but the gospel picture has obscured them and their importance.) Here’s verse 23, and then I’m done for this morning:23 And he said: Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. And I, Nephi, beheld it; and he said unto me: The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles.


Here are some additional thoughts after talking with Joe:

  • What if “taken out” simply means “not included” in the canonization process? There was a point at which some books became scripture and some were left out. Could that be what Nephi learned about? At that point, was there a certain vision of the gospel that determined with books were included as scripture and which weren’t? (Secondarily, I’d wonder, they weren’t all scripture, were they? I mean, God tells Joseph Smith that the Apocrypha has truth if you have the Spirit… but is that true of other book already in the Bible? I have lots of questions I probably won’t be studying out any time soon!)
  • I’m also curious about describing the Bible as the book by the twelve apostles. For example, verse 41 talks about “the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” I don’t think about the New Testament in those terms. Should I? Is this a fair description of what we have? Or of what was there originally? Or is it just a handy way for the angel to explain which dispensation/which book he is talking about?