2 Nephi 31:1-8 — LeGrand Baker — Jesus’s baptism

2 Nephi 31:1-8 — LeGrand Baker — Jesus’s baptism

2 Nephi 31:1-8
1   And now I, Nephi, make an end of my prophesying unto you, my beloved brethren. And I cannot write but a few things, which I know must surely come to pass; neither can I write but a few of the words of my brother Jacob.
2   Wherefore, the things which I have written sufficeth me, save it be a few words which I must speak concerning the doctrine of Christ; wherefore, I shall speak unto you plainly, according to the plainness of my prophesying.
3   For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.
4   Wherefore, I would that ye should remember that I have spoken unto you concerning that prophet which the Lord showed unto me, that should baptize the Lamb of God, which should take away the sins of the world.
5   And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!
6   And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?
7   Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.
8   Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove.

When Nephi writes “For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding,” he seems to be saying the Lord only tells us what we are willing and capable of understanding—and not more than that until we can understand more. So I suppose if we read what he is “obviously” saying, we are probably not getting the whole message. Nephi’s speaking “plainly” presupposes that his readers know how to read Isaiah whom he loves to quote. Consequently, his discussion of “the doctrine of Christ” begins with a reference to Isaiah 40, where we have an account of John the Baptist’s receiving his assignment at the Council in Heaven. The first three verses read:

1    Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2    Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3    The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:1-3)

“Comfort,” in verse one, is defined in Isaiah 61:3 as: to be made a part of Zion through washing (removing the ashes), anointing, clothing, giving a new name which is “Trees of Righteousness….”

“Ye” is plural, so God is speaking to a congregation. God is Elohim. So that places this chapter of Isaiah (and of our present reading of Nephi) in the same time frame as the latter part of Abraham 3 (“these I will make my rulers) which immediately precedes the account of the creation.

In verse 2, Isaiah’s evidence that Jerusalem has been pardoned is that she hath received of the Lord’s hand double in exchange for all her sins. Again we look in Isaiah 61, where the code word “double” is used twice — once to describe the blessings given to the dead and the other to describe the similar blessings given to the living who perform the vicarious work for the dead. One may assume that “at the Lord’s hand” means “at the Lord’s hand” and that it is the appropriate conclusion of the “comforting” sequence just mentioned. It’s like when Joseph received a double blessing when he received the birthright blessings of his fathers: He received the priesthood birthright and got two tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh) rather than just one as each of his brothers did. One can conclude that receiving “of the LORD’s hand double” refers to the to the birthright blessings of Abraham which one receives “of the Lord’s hand.” And that the instructions given to the members of the Council had to do with making sure that happened. The very next verse, 3, is the prophecy of the mission of John the Baptist, or, in this Council context, it appears to be an account of the assignment John received at the Council. (As Amos points out, prophecies and a recounting of the decisions of the Council are essentially the same thing.)

What follows after that is the same pattern one would expect. That is, Isaiah 40 goes on to rehearse the decisions of the Council relative to the relationship of Israel to its King, Jehovah — which is, of course, a prophecy about the this-world work of the Saviour. From there Isaiah 40 moves into a series of questions which have to do with both covenants made and also the creation of the world. From there, the rest of Isaiah follows the pattern one would expect.

This is the context in which Nephi places what he calls “the doctrine of Christ.” What he will do next is give the rationale, presumably understood in the Council, but certainly valid in this world, about why the Saviour must be baptized.

His rationale is that the Saviour will “fulfil all righteousness.” Last week I wrote about “righteousness” and there is no reason to repeat it here, except to observe that it is “zedek-ness.” That is, “righteousness” has to do with temple things and, in this case, the propriety of the sequence of the ordinances and covenants of the temple.

Baptism, (which, for the dead, may only be performed in a temple) is not distinct from the other ordinances except that it is the first one – a cleansing ordinance which is a necessary prerequisite from all others. What Nephi is saying, so far as I can tell, is that in order to “fulfil all righteousness” (correctness in priesthood and temple things), Jesus had to go through all of the coronation ordinances just as everyone else. The fact that he was perfectly clean, and that the cleansing ordinance would not make him any cleaner, did not preclude the necessity of going through each of the steps in their proper order.

5   And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!

If one considers the accounts of Jesus’s baptism in light of Psalm 2, Acts 10, and the stories of the Mt. of Transfiguration, including 2 Peter 1, then what Nephi is saying is much more complex than it appears at first reading.

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