3 Nephi 12:1 – LeGrand Baker – Beatitudes, an Introduction


3 Nephi 12:1 – LeGrand Baker – Beatitudes, an Introduction

There are few passages in the Bible that can be applied to more diverse human experiences than the Beatitudes, and consequently there are few scriptures more universally appreciated, or more often quoted. Everyone loves the Beatitudes because every one can interpret them in their own way, and can find solace in that interpretation. Strangely enough, one of the reasons that is true is because the biblical Beatitudes have been edited at some point in their history to make their meanings more ambiguous than they were when Christ originally spoke them. We can say that with certainty because a more accurate version is found in the Book of Mormon.

On first reading, the Beatitudes in Third Nephi seem to be substantially the same as those in the Bible. But on closer examination, one finds nuances of meaning which the Matthew version does not give. Even though the Book of Mormon adds considerably to the original meaning of the Beatitudes, the multi-faceted truths they contain also remain, and their beauty as individual statements of consolation is not diminished.

It is occasionally true that seemingly casual remarks by Mormon are not only very important to understand what is happening – providing a context in which one can place the teachings of the prophets – and of subtext of the Book of Mormon. Mormon’s introduction to the Beatitudes is one of those.

And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve), and he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: (3 Nephi 12:1)

It is very significant that Jesus had been speaking to the Twelve about their relationships with himself and his Father, but now he speaks to the entire “multitude.” In only those few words, Mormon has given us the same message that the blessings of sacral kingship and priesthood are not reserved exclusively to the leaders, but are available to all the Saints.

The point here is that even though Jesus had been giving specific instructions to the Twelve, when he reviewed the entire enthronement/endowment coronation ceremonies, he now addressed the entire multitude.

As Stephen Ricks and I discussed in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, the Beatitudes are a complete summary of the covenants and ordinances connected with the ancient Israelite temple drama and coronation rites. Because I believe the Beatitudes in the Book of Mormon focus of the powers and responsibilities of kingship, sonship, and priesthood. The following explanation of the nature of kingship in pre-exilic Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon is a necessary introduction to understanding the Beatitudes in that way.

It is significant in light of Mormon’s introduction in Third Nephi, that some Old Testament scholars have observed that the king’s coronation ceremony was probably much more than just the enthronement of the king. Some scholars believe that while the people were watching the ceremonies in which the king participated, symbolically each of them was participating in those same ceremonies as well. So the covenants between Jehovah and the king were also covenants between Jehovah and his people.

What is more, it is clear from the outset that the king is both dependent upon and responsible to Yahweh for the right exercise of his power; for his subjects, whatever their status in society, are one and all Yahweh’s people. {Aubrey R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1967, p. 8.}

Several scholars who have written most extensively about the nature of Israelite kingship, have suggested that the coronation of the earthly king was both real and symbolic. It was real in that the king really was enthroned. It was symbolic because all the people who watched the drama were also initiated into the mysteries of kingship and priesthood, and, vicariously as they watched, where also made sons and daughters of God. The implications stemming from the notion that ordinary men and women who watched the ceremonies were also participating in the ordinances and covenants, goes far beyond the notion of a vague universal royalty, for the king of Israel was the adopted son and heir of Jehovah. So if the people were being engaged in participatory rites, in which they also were made sacral kings and queens – then they also were also made covenant sons and daughters – children and heirs – of God.

The Book of Mormon substantiates their findings about the nature of the pre-exilic Israelite religion – not only in the stories of King Benjamin and of Abinadi, who expressly addresses the question of how one may become a child of God – but throughout the entire book, especially in the teachings of the Saviour in Third Nephi.

The distinguished biblical scholar Sigmund Mowinckel was the first to point out that the king’s anointing was an “endowment of the Spirit.” His use of the word “endowment” was appropriate. An endowment is a gift which grows in value with time. For example, when BYU receives an endowment of money, it invests the principle and spends only the accrued interest. Thus the original gift remains permanently intact while the interest provides a perpetual source of income to support university programs or scholarships. Mowinckel is using the word “endowment” in that same way – a perpetual and ever increasing gift. He wrote:

[The king’s] anointing was related to his endowment with the spirit. The later tradition says explicitly that when David was anointed, ‘the spirit of Yahweh leaped upon him’.
In virtue of his endowment with the divine spirit, the king is filled with superhuman power. He receives ‘a new heart’; he is changed into a new man (1 Sam. x, 6, 9)….He receives a new disposition expressed, according to oriental custom, in giving to him a new name which indicates his new, intimate relationship with the god who has chosen him, and whom he represents.
Through his anointing and endowment with the divine spirit, the king also receives superhuman wisdom. {Sigmund Mowinckel, He that Cometh (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), 66. For a related discussion on the power of new covenant names see, Hermann Gunkel, (Michael D. Rutter, trans.) The Folktale in the Old Testament (Sheffield, England, Almond Press, 1987), 87.}

Other scholars have gone further, and have recognized this Old Testament concept that during the kingship endowment/coronation rites, the men and women in the audience may well have made the same covenants and symbolically performed all the ordinances as the king, queen, and others who participated on the stage or in the throne-room in the ceremonies. Again, there is actually more concrete evidence of that in the Book of Mormon than there is in the Old Testament, but even so, several biblical scholars have affirmed that this was the Israelite practice during the period when Solomon’s Temple was in use. The most obvious expression of that principle is the underlying theme of the entire Old Testament – not just the king, but the entire nation of Israel were “chosen,” and the choosing was an was by covenant. The power of the covenant was ultimately made visible in both the royal authority of the king and the covenant relationship between the king, the people, and Jehovah.

Even though there is little remaining evidence of this egalitarianism of the kingship, priesthood, and salvation rites remaining in the Old Testament, one may have a glimpse at what appears to be part of those ceremonies in pre-exilic times in the 23rd chapter of Second Kings. The people had come to the temple where king Josiah read from what was purported to be a newly discovered manuscript of the Law. At the conclusion of his reading:

3 And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant (2 Kings 23:3).

This is not evidence that the people also made all of the other covenants that the king may have made during the ceremonies, but it is evidence that on that occasion they made at least one – that evidence not only precludes the argument that they made none, but it also opens the likelihood that they made others as well.

It is apparent to some scholars that the ancient Israelites temple drama and coronation rites of the king were enacted because it was important that the people be able to participate. They were an indispensable part of the ceremonies. And their covenants were as important as the king’s because the covenant between the king and Jehovah was sustained by a similar covenant between the people, the king and Jehovah. The kingship represented as much a blessing as a power, for the people of Israel were an “elect” and “chosen” people. Mowinckel explains:

But election is bound up with the making of the covenant, which is maybe the most important innovation on the basis of the historical orientation of Yahwesm [worship of Jehovah]. The idea in itself is not new….To Israel after the time of Moses, ‘covenant’ means the historical covenant which Yahweh in his goodness ‘granted’ to his elected people. {Sigmund Mowinckel, translated by A.P. Thomas, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 2 Vols.(Nashville, Abingdon, 1962), vol. 1: 155.}

The King’s authority was not only political and ecclesiastical, it was apparently a legitimate priesthood power as well. Mowinckel and others have suggested that the king’s Melchizedek priesthood came through the religious leaders of the Jebusites in Jerusalem after David took that city from them and made it his own. Writing of David and Solomon as the nation’s religious leaders, Mowinckel observed,

This transition becomes still more easily comprehensible if, as certain things indicate, David’s new priest in Jerusalem, Zadok, was descended from the ancient race of priest kings, of whom Melchizedek was a representative. David and his successors were professedly ‘priests’ after the order of Melchizedek (‘for the sake of Melchizedek’), as we hear in Ps. 110. {Sigmund Mowinckel, translated by A.P. Thomas, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 2 Vols.(Nashville, Abingdon, 1962), vol. 1:133.}

Thus the coronation rites re-affirmed the king as the personification and upholder of the Law, the epitome of justice and mercy, and the ultimate earthly priesthood authority. In one or all of those roles, throughout the coronation ceremonies, the king was the focal point of all of the temple activities. That does not imply that he was exclusively the focal point, but rather that his person represented the connecting place between the events on earth and the events in heaven, as Gordon C. Thomasson, observes:

Every people required connection with the divine, and that connection was embodied in the king….It was in his presence or on his person that the most sacred rituals and the highest mysteries had to be performed, and the divine king became the gnostic par excellence, holding the knowledge, power, and authority upon which the welfare and salvation of his subjects depended.” {Gordon C. Thomasson, “Togetherness Is Sharing an Umbrella: Divine Kingship, the Gnosis, and Religious Syncretism,” in John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also By Faith, 2 vols. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1990, vol. 1. p. 533-534.}


Not long after Lehi’s colony arrived in America, the Nephites built a temple which was as nearly like Solomon’s as they could make it. Nephi, Jacob had seen God, and that requires one’s having the Melchizedek priesthood. Therefore, we cannot doubt that they had the necessary Melchizedek priesthood authority to conduct proper temple services, and there is no reason to suppose that the rites and ordinances they conducted were different from those of the Temple in Jerusalem (see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord for a discussion of those kingship rites). The Israelite temple rites centered around the person of the king. So the Nephites needed a king as much for religious as for temporal purposes. Therefore, it was necessary that at about the same time the Nephites built their temple they also insisted that Nephi become their king.

In 3 Nephi, the Savior establishes a new government with himself as King. We have described his coronation in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord. As a part of the coronation ceremony he gage a lecture. (3 Nephi 12-14) The beginning of that sermon (the Beatitudes) is a temple text that summarizes the steps to exaltation. The remainder of the sermon is also a temple text. It addresses many of the same principles as the Beatitudes, except it gives practical instruction about how to do what the Beatitudes say must be done.


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