2 Nephi 32:1-9 — LeGrand Baker — to ponder is to listen
1 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?
2 Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?
A reasonable interpretation of that passage would be that those who have the Holy Ghost can speak under its inspiration. And those who hear by the Holy Ghost, hear the inspiration spoken. One of the reasons that explanation is so reasonable is because it is so consistent with a multiplicity of experiences every faithful member of the church can relate to.
However, that may not be what Nephi has in mind. Every other place I checked in the scriptures where the word “tongues” is used is talking about language. The gift of tongues is a language gift. Unless this passage is an exception to that rule, “the tongue of angels” is also about language. Nephi’s statement seems to be less about the Holy Ghost teaching one what to say, and more about the Holy Ghost teaching one about what to hear.
His initial question in verse one was: “I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do…” His answer in verse 3 is: “the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” The idea sandwiched between those, it seems to me, is that one must learn to understand the language of the angels in order to understand the language of the “words of Christ.” He says,
3 Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.
One cannot help but notice the similarity between Nephi’s teachings and Alma’s. Alma is talking about the fruit of the tree of life. He equates the fruit of that tree with the “word” just as Nephi does. He says one should taste the light, then feast upon the word. The next paragraph is a few lines lifted from one of Alma’s great sermons.
32 And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.
35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?
41 But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.
42 And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, [the fruit of the tree of life.(v.40)] which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst (Alma 32:33-42).
Nephi continues, almost as though he were commenting on Alma:
4 Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.
To be brought into the light may mean several things One of the things it means is to be brought within the brilliant beauty of the tree of life. That is clearly the light Alma was talking about, and that is the light which Lehi and Nephi “tasted” also. Lehi described the tree of life in
terms similar to those Alma used:
10 And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
11 And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
12 And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit (1 Nephi 8:10-12).
When Nephi also saw the tree, he echoed his father’s description: “And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow. (1 Nephi 11:8) When Nephi asked his angel guide what its interpretation was, the angel showed him a vision of the life of Christ. Thus, Nephi testified, “I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God. (1 Nephi 11:25)
Verse 4 is probably one of those many scriptures which give us a glimpse of what has been lost from our own Bible. One of the wonderful features of the Saviour’s Sermon on the Mount is that it brings into perspective many teachings of the ancient prophets. Many people have noted the temple-significance of his statement that one must seek, ask, and knock. Here, Nephi is probably referring to the same ancient (but now lost) prophet’s statement to which the Saviour was probably referring. Nephi wrote, “Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.” A difference is that Jesus said simply, “…and it shall be opened unto you.” Nephi gives us an idea of what “it” is. He says if one does not knock, one will not be “brought into the light.” (See: Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9; 3 Nephi 14:7; 3 Nephi 27:29; D&C 4:7, 6:5, 11:5, 12:5; 14:5, 49:26, 66:9. 75:27. In section 88:63 the Lord promises, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”)
Then Nephi adds,
5 For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way [code word], and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do (2 Nephi 32:5).
One should not overlook the comparison Nephi draws when he describes how one shall know what to do. In verse three he writes, “… the words of Christ will TELL you all things what ye should do.” In verse 5 he adds, “… the Holy Ghost, it will SHOW unto you all things what ye should do.” In verse 7 Nephi will be told he must write nothing more explicit than what he has written. Thus giving us to understand that the phrase “all things what ye should do” is also a code.
Nephi’s conclusion is this:
6 Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do (2 Nephi 32:6).
I believe Nephi wrote, and the Prophet Joseph translated, with a great deal of precision. If they were as careful about their choice of words as I suppose they were, then what we have read is not about the “gospel” of Christ, it is about the “doctrine” of Christ. Nephi makes that quite clear. In verse 2 he wrote, “I must speak concerning the doctrine of Christ…” In verse 21, “… this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.” Finally in 32:6 he concludes, “… this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh.”
If Nephi means by “doctrine of Christ,” the same thing the apostle John meant, then once again we discover a remarkable consistency between the words used by the Prophet Joseph in the translation of the Book of Mormon and the words used by the men who translated the King James version of the Bible. There John is quoted as writing: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9)
I suppose the difference between the “gospel of Christ” and the “doctrine of Christ” is quite simple. In 3 Nephi 27 the Saviour defines his gospel as: “that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me,” then explains what it was he did. It seems to me that the gospel of Christ is about what the Saviour did. It is the “good news”—the testimony of the atonement. On the other hand, the “doctrine of Christ” as Nephi explains it, is what each individual must do – the path he must follow, steps he must take – in order to take full advantage of the blessings of the gospel.
Nephi began by saying he was going to spell it out as simply and straightforwardly as words could speak it. But there was a limit to how much, and how clearly he could say. For, he laments,
7 And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.
8 And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.
9 But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul (2 Nephi 32:7-9).
Nephi understands that he can go no further and maintain the “plainness” that lets each understand according to his own understanding. So he brings his readers back to the first of the three great steps along the way: “ask, and it shall be given you.” After that, one may “seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”