3 Nephi 15:11-18
11 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he said unto those twelve whom he had chosen:
12 Ye are my disciples; and ye are a light unto this people, who are a remnant of the house of Joseph.
13 And behold, this is the land of your inheritance; and the Father hath given it unto you.
14 And not at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell it unto your brethren at Jerusalem.
15 Neither at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell unto them concerning the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land.
16 This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them:
17 That other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
18 And now, because of stiffneckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them (3 Nephi 15:11-18).
This is a strange statement. Knowing what we do about the apostles of the New Testament, it is difficult to understand how they could be described with the words “stiffneckedness and unbelief.” I do not question the validity of the Savior’s statement, so that leaves me only to question the validity of how I interpret that statement. After carefully re-thinking that interpretation and this is what I came up with:
To suggest that the New Testament Apostle’s was a lack of faith (pistis = trust in and keeping the covenants) makes no sense to me, but to suggest that they did not know about, and therefore could not trust in the covenants the Lord made with other people is not only reasonable, but probably correct.
If the Apostles’ problem was not lack of belief, but a lack of information about the covenants, then there is no problem squaring what the Savior said and what we know about the Apostles in Jerusalem.
Intelligent questions must be based on prior understanding, otherwise even correct answers are unintelligible. If a child hears someone mention “neutron,” and asks “What is a neutron?” A careful explanation would not make any sense if the child does not know even basic science.
In the development of our thought patterns, knowing how to ask the right questions is almost the same as knowing how to get correct answers. The importance of intelligent questions is illustrated by the conversation between young Jesus and the doctors at the temple. The story makes more sense if we use both the King James Bible and the Prophet’s Inspired Version together.
44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.
46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
JST Luke 2:46 And … they were hearing him, and asking him questions.
47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? (Luke 2:44-49).
Both versions tell the same story, they just tell it from different perspectives. Luke writes that Jesus was “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.” The JST says “they were hearing him, and asking him questions.” That sounds to me like a very stimulating conversation. My point, though, is that he was seriously asking questions. “And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.”
When I was a student at BYU, Chauncey C. Riddle, my favorite teacher at that time and subsequently my dear friend, taught me that we must not only ask the right questions, but that we must ask them in the right order, or even the correct answers may make no sense. For example, there is no point in someone asking to be taught how to do long division if he does not know, and will not learn the times tables. “How do I do multiplication?” must come before “How do I do long division?”
Before that we have to learn to add and subtract. And all that doesn’t even begin to introduce us to calculus. Neither would it equip us to intelligently ask a question that could only be answered in terms of higher mathematics.
I think understanding the gospel is like understanding math. The more questions we ask the more we can know—but only if we ask them in the right sequence so we can understand the answers when we find them.
In a similar way, the people of Jerusalem could not even conceive of an intelligent question about the Nephites, never mind appreciated the correct answer.
It would never have occurred to the people in Jerusalem to ask about people in the Americas. They did not know the American continents even existed. For the Savior to have told them about the Nephites, he would have had to first change their entire mindset about the geography of the whole world.
Another thing that would have stood in their way of knowing is that they probably thought they already knew. The ten tribes are lost to us, but at least some were not lost to them. It had only been a few hundred years since the Assyrian and Babylonian wars had dispersed the tribes. James seems to know where they are. His letter begins:
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting (James 1:1).
Jesus says that they thought he was talking about the gentiles. If so, then perhaps they also thought that they could dismiss the question for now because it didn’t really matter.
The Jerusalem Saints clearly knew something about the location of some of the “lost” tribes. But it probably didn’t occur to them that they did not know about others that were scattered all over the world.
In short, the Christians at Jerusalem did not and could not know about the Nephites because they did not and could not know what questions to ask or even know that there were questions that could be asked. Therefore, they could not know about the covenants the Lord had made with those distant people.
There is a short scene in Hamlet that illustrates this beautifully. Hamlet is in his mother’s rooms when his father’s ghost enters. Hamlet and the ghost speak to each other and his mother asks, “To whom do you speak this?” Hamlet responds, “Do you see nothing there?” Then the queen makes the ultimate academic response, “Nothing at all; yet all that is I see” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4).
Like the queen, there is a tendency among all humans to assert that there is nothing there if they cannot see it and that there is no truth if they perspnally cannot comprehend it.
That is what prevented the Jerusalem apostles from knowing about the Nephites. The sinfulness that the Savior called “stiffneckedness and unbelief” was probably simply their not knowing and not wishing to know, even though they were given the opportunity. The Savior said,
14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father (John 10:14-18).
That might have been enough to stimulate their interest to cause them to ask “Who and were are those other sheep?” but they did not pursue the question. Consequently, the Savior let it drop and told them nothing more.
From this we have another example of a very basic principle: the Savior did not teach things his followers did not seek to know. Similarly, the Holy Ghost will not teach us things we do not diligently seek for. However, in some cases we must first ask for instructions so we will know what to ask. Then we must ask the right questions in the right order. If we assume we already have enough information to ask and understand complex questions, that causes us to ask the wrong questions or in the wrong order.
Then we, like the queen of Denmark, may comfort ourselves with: “I see nothing at all; yet all that is I see.”