Musings on the Making of Mormon’s Book: 1 Nephi 14

1 Nephi 14:1-6

1 And it shall come to pass, that if the Gentiles shall hearken unto the Lamb of God in that day that he shall manifest himself unto them in word, and also in power, in very deed, unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks—

2 And harden not their hearts against the Lamb of God, they shall be numbered among the seed of thy father; yea, they shall be numbered among the house of Israel; and they shall be a blessed people upon the promised land forever; they shall be no more brought down into captivity; and the house of Israel shall no more be confounded.

3 And that great pit, which hath been digged for them by that great and abominable church, which was founded by the devil and his children, that he might lead away the souls of men down to hell—yea, that great pit which hath been digged for the destruction of men shall be filled by those who digged it, unto their utter destruction, saith the Lamb of God; not the destruction of the soul, save it be the casting of it into that hell which hath no end.

4 For behold, this is according to the captivity of the devil, and also according to the justice of God, upon all those who will work wickedness and abomination before him.

5 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me, Nephi, saying: Thou hast beheld that if the Gentiles repent it shall be well with them; and thou also knowest concerning the covenants of the Lord unto the house of Israel; and thou also hast heard that whoso repenteth not must perish.

6 Therefore, wo be unto the Gentiles if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God.

The 1879 chapter break is quite unfortunate at this point because it separates these verses from the context that informs them. To remind us of that context, here are the last two verses that should be read immediately before the first four verses of this chapter:

41 And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth.

42 And the time cometh that he shall manifest himself unto all nations, both unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles; and after he has manifested himself unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles, then he shall manifest himself unto the Gentiles and also unto the Jews, and the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. (1 Nephi 13:41–42)

The first four verses in chapter 14 are a continuation of the effect of the records of the word of the Lamb. The symbolic context is a binary division between the House of Israel and the Gentiles. There are only two possibilities. There is a Church of Christ and a Church of the Devil. There are only two possibilities. This vision and its explanation are not teaching nuances, but rather larger principles. That is the reason that when we see “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last” that we know that it refers to that binary division between the House of Israel and the Gentiles. The House of Israel gets the word of the Lamb first, and then it goes to the Gentiles.

At that point there is a further binary division among the Gentiles; those who accept the word and those who deny it. For those Gentiles who accept it, it becomes the salvation from the Church of the Devil and the acceptance into the Church of Christ (which is also the revelation of the Gospel which is the heritage of the Jews).

1 Nephi 14:7-9

7 For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken.

8 And it came to pass that when the angel had spoken these words, he said unto me: Rememberest thou the covenants of the Father unto the house of Israel? I said unto him, Yea.

9 And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look, and behold that great and abominable church, which is the mother of abominations, whose founder is the devil.

The binary set is reiterated. Because Israel is the chosen, it represents the Church of Christ and the great and abominable church represents the opposite.

It might seem unusual to assert that the House of Israel should be equated with the Church of Christ. That happens because Joseph translated using the Post New Testament term of Christ. We see Christians as the Gentile successors of the covenants with Israel. This vision will treat that, but we must remember that Nephi, who is explaining this vision, sees himself and his people firmly in the House of Israel and inheritor of its covenant blessings. He also seems himself and his people as followers of and believers in the coming Atoning Messiah. The fact that the person of the Atoning Messiah appears in the text as Christ leads to our confusion about something on which Nephi would have been quite clear. In the binary division between the Church of the Good and the Church of the Evil, Nephi is certainly part of the Church of the Good, the Church of the Messiah.

1 Nephi 14:10

10 And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.

The binary division is not only explicit, but emphasized. The two “churches” are diametrically opposed. Were this descriptive of a denomination rather than the symbolic division between good and evil, one would be required to note the presence of good people in any denomination. However, that isn’t the point. The point is that there are only two choices. In the early Christian church this was emphasized by an early document entitled “The Two Ways.” This vision is presenting the future of humanity in the overall symbolic war that began in heaven with only two choices: the way of Christ or the way of Satan. That is the reason that there is such a clean division between the two, the reason that “wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations.” There is no overlap. There is no gray area.

1 Nephi 4:11-13

11 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the whore of all the earth, and she sat upon many waters; and she had dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.

12 And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw.

13 And it came to pass that I beheld that the great mother of abominations did gather together multitudes upon the face of all the earth, among all the nations of the Gentiles, to fight against the Lamb of God.

The implicit division which began before this world and is known as the war in heaven now moves to the earth and becomes the definition of the great conflict between the two ways on earth. The power of the Church of the Devil is such that it has a much greater number than the Church of the Lamb. This world has more completely embraced the alternate way to that of the Lamb.

As a side note, this specific mention that the followers of the Lamb are significantly fewer, but will eventually triumph in spite of the relative numbers, might have had a secondary impact on Nephi whose New World peoples are always described as being far fewer that the enemy Lamanites.

1 Nephi 14:14-16

14 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.

15 And it came to pass that I beheld that the wrath of God was poured out upon that great and abominable church, insomuch that there were wars and rumors of wars among all the nations and kindreds of the earth.

16 And as there began to be wars and rumors of wars among all the nations which belonged to the mother of abominations, the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold, the wrath of God is upon the mother of harlots; and behold, thou seest all these things—

This conflict began with a war in heaven. The militaristic theme continues and the two opposing possibilities war on earth. That there have been many physical wars is simply the manifestation of this greater symbolic war.

1 Nephi 14:17-27

17 And when the day cometh that the wrath of God is poured out upon the mother of harlots, which is the great and abominable church of all the earth, whose founder is the devil, then, at that day, the work of the Father shall commence, in preparing the way for the fulfilling of his covenants, which he hath made to his people who are of the house of Israel.

18 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!

19 And I looked and beheld a man, and he was dressed in a white robe.

20 And the angel said unto me: Behold one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

21 Behold, he shall see and write the remainder of these things; yea, and also many things which have been.

22 And he shall also write concerning the end of the world.

23 Wherefore, the things which he shall write are just and true; and behold they are written in the book which thou beheld proceeding out of the mouth of the Jew; and at the time they proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew, or, at the time the book proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew, the things which were written were plain and pure, and most precious and easy to the understanding of all men.

24 And behold, the things which this apostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen; and behold, the remainder shalt thou see.

25 But the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write; for the Lord God hath ordained the apostle of the Lamb of God that he should write them.

26 And also others who have been, to them hath he shown all things, and they have written them; and they are sealed up to come forth in their purity, according to the truth which is in the Lamb, in the own due time of the Lord, unto the house of Israel.

27 And I, Nephi, heard and bear record, that the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John, according to the word of the angel.

Symbolic visions and explanations do not respect strict time lines. Therefore, we have a part of the explanation of the vision that clearly follows the availability of the New Testament, but now we return to one who wrote in it. A timeline is not the intent of the explanation. In this case, the discussion of the endgame of the war between good and evil is the theme, and as an expositor of that end, John’s revelation is described.

1 Nephi 14:20-30

28 And behold, I, Nephi, am forbidden that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw and heard; wherefore the things which I have written sufficeth me; and I have written but a small part of the things which I saw.

29 And I bear record that I saw the things which my father saw, and the angel of the Lord did make them known unto me.

30 And now I make an end of speaking concerning the things which I saw while I was carried away in the Spirit; and if all the things which I saw are not written, the things which I have written are true. And thus it is. Amen.

Although Nephi doesn’t write the information about the final victory, we understand that good will eventually prevail. Perhaps Nephi was forbidden to write because the Lord knew that the readers in the last day would have John’s record. That Nephi did not write it does not mean that he didn’t see it. The implication is that he did see what John did and was simply forbidden to write. That would have been important as Nephi certainly did not have access to what John would not write for some 600 years.

This Amen marks the end of the third chapter in the 1830 edition and is reflective of Nephi’s decision to create a chapter break. The reason for ending the chapter here is easily understood. It ends the discussion of the vision and the next chapter discusses the aftermath of the vision.

Nephi’s chapter begins with our 1 Nephi 10:1. At the beginning of the chapter, Nephi announces that he will “proceed to give an account upon these plates of my proceedings, and my reign and ministry; wherefore, to proceed with mine account, I must speak somewhat of the things of my father, and also of my brethren” (1 Nephi 10:1). To do that, Nephi introduces his father’s prophecy that the “Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews—even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world” (1 Nephi 10:4).

The structure of Nephi’s chapter is then to suggest that he will discuss his reign and ministry, and the first (and most important) aspect of that reign and ministry deals with the coming of the Savior of the World. Nephi connects his “ministry” of the Savior with his father’s testimony, but the rest of the chapter discusses how Nephi gains his own understanding. Thus Nephi sees the dream his father saw and sees and understands the ultimate meaning as part of the overall future “history” of the world. Nephi sees both the coming of the Savior and the way that mission of salvation plays out. Thus the chapter concludes when he concludes that vision of the mission of the Messiah which has been the point of this entire original chapter (comprising our chapters 1 Nephi 10-14).

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About Brant A. Gardner

Brant A. Gardner (M.A. State University of New York Albany) is the author of Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon and The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon, both published through Greg Kofford Books. He has contributed articles to Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl and Symbol and Meaning Beyond the Closed Community. He has presented papers at the FairMormon conference as well as at Sunstone.

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