3 Nephi 14:13-23 — LeGrand Baker — ‘You never knew me’ & ‘I never knew you’

The Savior, having taught the congregation how to teach the gospel, next turns to the question, “From whom should we learn?”

3 Nephi 14:13-23

13 Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat;
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

This is not a redundancy. In the New Testament, the Greek word translated as “strait”means “narrow” (Strong # 2428). However, “narrow” as it is used in the scripture means something altogether different. The Greek word is means to put under pressure. It is the word one would use to mean to press grapes. In this context it means “a compressed way, narrow straitened contracted” (Strong # 5147). In my unsophisticated language the word that is translated “narrow” means rally, really narrow, or perhaps, becoming increasingly narrower until there is no wiggle room left at all.

Matthew 7 reads like 3 Nephi, but Luke says it differently:

24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able (Luke 13:24).

To Luke’s version the Prophet Joseph adds:

24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for I say unto you Many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able; for the Lord shall not always strive with man (JST Luke 13:24 ).

What the Savior says next in his instructions to the Nephites is about how to avoid getting off that very carefully defined path. He says:

15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven (3 Nephi 14:15-23) .

I believe the Savior did not intend to invent a new metaphor here, and that the fruit he refers to is the same fruit that is described in many places. Alma issued the same warning:

40 And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life (Alma 32:40).

If that is the fruit the Savior was talking about, then the way to identify false prophets is that they cannot produce, nor do they have access to the fruit of the tree of life. To his audiences, the Savior was probably referring to false or self appointed religious leaders. In our day that original definition of “false prophets” still works, but we have other kinds as well. When issuing that same warning to us on the last page of the Book of Mormon, Moroni wrote:

30 And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing (Moroni 10:30).

It seems to me that if one is righteous enough to get through the gate (baptism) and gets on the path (temple ordinances {1}), and he feels the joy of the fruits of that journey, then it is likely that of his own volition he would stay on the path. Like the rules of inertia: moving things continue to move in the same direction unless they encounter some external force to change their direction. In the case of a righteous person the diversion is often the decision that “this time won’t matter,” or “the rule doesn’t apply to this situation,” or “I know better than the Brethren.” In each case, the cause of his detouring—thinking that he can get to the tree of life another way—is that he listens to those false prophets—whoever they are, whatever they are teaching, whatever they are selling, or however enticing their advertisements. Lehi and Nephi describe them as being in a mist of darkness or in a great and spacious building.

27 And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit (1 Nephi 8:27).

In our day, something as seemingly innocent as just spending an evening watching the sitcoms will introduce us to many who wish to teach us how to enter the enticements of that spacious building.

As is the pattern elsewhere in the scriptures, in his great sermon the Savior issued his most severe warning to those who flaunt the truth as they wear it on their outsides, but ignore it within. In the New Testament he was very blunt.

25-26 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess….. for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness (Matthew 23:25-26).

In the Doctrine and Covenants the Savior brings that same condemnation to people who use their priesthood authority to control, intimidate, or abuse others:

34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man (D&C 121:34-37).

The version in Luke sounds more like Nephi’s vision:

23 Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able (Luke 13:22-24).

The Prophet Joseph clarified that:

24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for I say unto you Many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able; for the Lord shall not always strive with man (JST Luke 13:24).

In his sermon to the Nephites, the Savior taught the same thing, only he established it as the criterion for eternal life:

22 Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity (3 Nephi 14:22-23).

Matthew 7:22-23 has the same wording, but the Prophet’s Inspired Version adds an insight that brings the whole discussion into sharp focus: .

32 And many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name; and in thy name cast out devils; and in thy name done many wonderful works?
33 And then will I say, Ye never knew me; depart from me ye that work iniquity (JST Matthew 7:32-33).

The word “knew” does not connote a casual acquaintance, rather it explicitly denotes an intimate relationship—to know and also to become known—to understand (Strong # 1097). At first thought the statements in 3 Nephi and Matthew seem to be strange. Because the Savior does know us and he does understand. The Inspired Version clarifies that by saying “Ye never knew me.” To know in this context is to have an intimate, mutual appreciation and understanding. If the Savior does not “know” someone then the reason must be that the someone is unwilling to “know” the Savior. Such a person chooses not to reciprocate the Savior’s love, and asserts an unwillingness to accept that love. Like the wayward sheep who will not recognize the shepherd’s voice (John 10:11-15).

Ultimately, such a person denies himself the blessings of eternal life. For one of the characteristics of those in the Celestial Kingdom is a kind of transparency where noone has anything to hide, where being known and knowing is the cohesive power that binds the society. As the Prophet wrote in Doctrine and Covenants 76:

92 And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things—where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever;
93 Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever.
94 They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace;
95 And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion.
96 And the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one (D&C 76:92-96).

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FOOTNOTE

{1} As “mountain” is sometimes code for temple, so path, way, walk, and run are code words that represent the ordinances and covenants that take us to the top of that mountain. See Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, pages 380-85, 529-30.

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