2 Nephi 31:8-14 — LeGrand Baker — the Holy Ghost
A personal note to my friends: I believe that when you read what I write for our Book of Mormon Project, you often smile and say, Well, that’s LeGrand’s opinion. I certainly hope you do. Because just now it occurs to me, that while you may think that often enough, I don’t say it often enough. So let me say it clearly now: What follows is only my opinion. It is not even that, it is my opinion in the making. It is only my current thinking about a subject which to me is most sacred.
8 Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove (2 Nephi 31:8).
In the verses immediately preceding this, Nephi testified that Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. His testimony continues here with an account, like the ones in each of the four gospels, of Jesus’ receiving the Holy Ghost. However, this is more than just a recounting of the gospel narratives, or even more than a testimony that they are true. Nephi follows this verse with an explanation of the significance to each of us individually, of Christ’s baptism and reception of the Holy Ghost. That explanation is, to say the least, quite extraordinary.
Before we look closely at Nephi’s explanation, let’s review what is found in the gospels and other standard works about the Saviour’s reception of the Holy Ghost.
16 … he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him (Matthew 3:16).
10 …he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him ( Mark 1:10).
22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him ( Luke 3:22).
32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God (John 1:32-34).
Latter-day Saint scripture contain three additional testimonies of the event:
27 …and after he was baptized, I beheld the heavens open, and the Holy Ghost come down out of heaven and abide upon him in the form of a dove. (1 Nephi 11:27)
8 Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove. (2 Nephi 31:8)
15 And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him,… (D&C: 93:15)
At a meeting in the Nauvoo Temple, in January, 1843, the Prophet Joseph respond to a question:
The question arose from the saying of Jesus, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” [Luke 7:28.] How is it that John was considered one of the greatest prophets? His miracles could not have constituted his greatness.
First. He was entrusted with a divine mission of preparing the way before the face of the Lord. Whoever had such a trust committed to him before or since? No man.
Secondly. He was entrusted with the important mission, and it was required at his hands, to baptize the Son of Man. Whoever had the honor of doing that? Whoever had so great a privilege and glory? Whoever led the Son of God into the waters of baptism, and had the privilege of beholding the Holy Ghost descend in the form of a dove, or rather in the sign of the dove, in witness of that administration? The sign of the dove was instituted before the creation of the world, a witness for the Holy Ghost, and the devil cannot come in the sign of a dove. The Holy Ghost is a personage, and is in the form of a personage. It does not confine itself to the form of the dove, but in . The Holy Ghost cannot be transformed into a dove; but the sign of a dove was given to John to signify the truth of the deed, as the dove is an emblem or token of truth and innocence.
Thirdly. John, at that time, was the only legal administrator in the affairs of the kingdom there was then on the earth, and holding the keys of power. The Jews had to obey his instructions or be damned, by their own law; and Christ Himself fulfilled all righteousness in becoming obedient to the law which he had given to Moses on the mount, and thereby magnified it and made it honorable, instead of destroying it …. These three reasons constitute him the greatest prophet born of a woman. (Joseph Fielding Smith, comp. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976], 275-76).
To return to the accounts of Jesus’s baptism.
An important part of the account in each of the gospels is the Father’s statement, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Relative to that declaration, Albright and Mann observe,
My Son, the Beloved One. According to Mark’s account of this incident, the voice is addressed directly to Jesus (Mark Ill); in Matthew, the proclamation is public. the Beloved One is not an attributive adjective of my Son, but is a separate title, in apposition. Isaac is so described in Gen xxii 2, and the Servant of Isa xliii is the Beloved. The first part of the proclamation of sonship appears to be reminiscent of PS il 7, speaking of the Messiah. Israel ill the Old Testament is described as God’s son (cf. Exod iv 22; Hos xi 1). We shall not wholly grasp the full meaning of Matthew’s material unless we bear in mind that Jesus in this tradition is at once the chosen, the anointed personal Messiah, and at the same time represents the people of the Old Covenant. …. Paul uses other figures to the same end, variously describing Jesus as the new man and the second Adam (cf. Rom v 14; I Cor xv 45, etc.).” (W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, The Anchor Bible, Matthew, New York, Doubleday, 1964, p. 30-31, n. 17. )
Other scholars see this declaration as being like the one in Psalm 2:6-7. There the Lord says, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” And then, apparently the king responds with, “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.”
That psalm was probably sung during the coronation ceremonies of the New Year’s festival in ancient Israel, perhaps at the time the king was anointed king. In these ceremonies, it seems, the anointing of the king was a duel ordinance: of adoption and of coronation. Thus the declaration: Thou art my Son is both an statement of adoption, and also the giving of a new king name – a separate title, as Albright and Mann suggested above.
Their further observation that Jesus is the anointed personal Messiah, pulls our attention to Peter’s statement that Jesus’s reception of the Holy Ghost was an anointing ordinance. Peter said,
37 That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;
38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil (Acts 10:37-38).
If my observations are correct and relevant, then we have in the account of Jesus’ baptism, all of the major necessary elements of a royal coronation. He was baptized (ceremonially washed), anointed with the Holy Ghost, given a king name, and declared to be the legitimate heir.
The bringing together of those elements may shed some light on a statement found in the Pearl of Great Price, where we find,
Fig. 3. Represents God sitting upon his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove. (P of GP: Facsimile 2:7)
Now, I have nothing left to say. If the observations I have made above are even partly true, then Nephi’s explanation about the personal relevance, to each of us, of Christ’s baptism and reception of the Holy Ghost, are more sacred, and more significant than I wish to comment further.