3 Nephi 17:1-3 — LeGrand Baker — Mormon as historian and author, and as our mentor


3 Nephi 17:1-3

1 Behold, now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked round about again on the multitude, and he said unto them: Behold, my time is at hand.
2 I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.
3 Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.

In the book of Alma, Mormon quotes extensively from what appears to be Alma’s journal. Mormon is following that same pattern here. It was Mormon who gave this portion the title of “Third Nephi,” and he identifies its author as the legitimate heir to the Nephite throne:

The book of Nephi the son of Nephi, who was the son of Helaman. And Helaman was the son of Helaman, who was the son of Alma, who was the son of Alma, being a descendant of Nephi who was the son of Lehi, who came out of Jerusalem in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, the king of Judah.{1}

Mormon gives Nephi the appropriate credit for his writing:

9 But behold there are records which do contain all the proceedings of this people; and a shorter but true account was given by Nephi.
10 Therefore I have made my record of these things according to the record of Nephi, which was engraven on the plates which were called the plates of Nephi (3 Nephi 5:9-11).

But all of 3 Nephi was not written by Nephi. Mormon carefully leaves his own editorial signature on some very important passages. For example:

18 And I know the record which I make to be a just and a true record; nevertheless there are many things which, according to our language, we are not able to write.
19 And now I make an end of my saying, which is of myself, and proceed to give my account of the things which have been before me.
20 I am Mormon, and a pure descendant of Lehi. I have reason to bless my God and my Savior Jesus Christ, that he brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem, (and no one knew it save it were himself and those whom he brought out of that land) and that he hath given me and my people so much knowledge unto the salvation of our souls (3 Nephi 5:18-20).

Mormon is a truly great historian and editor. He does not pretend to be “unbiased” as many modern historians do by presenting “both sides” of the story—but with one just a bit more positive than the other. Mormon has a purpose and he states it clearly and honestly: His intent is to report Nephite history, and to do it in such a way that he teaches the gospel and illuminates the ancient Nephite temple rites.{2} But his primary purpose is to testify that Jesus is the Christ the Eternal God. He tells us:

6 And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people;
7 But behold the plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people.
8 And these things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which he taught the people; and I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken.
9 And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.
10 And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation.
11 Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: I will try the faith of my people.
12 Therefore I, Mormon, do write the things which have been commanded me of the Lord. And now I, Mormon, make an end of my sayings, and proceed to write the things which have been commanded me (3 Nephi 26:6-12).

Mormon continually reminds us that his role is to be our teacher and mentor. (It is indicative of Mormon’s foresight that he taught his son Moroni to both keep the record and to continue the role of our teacher and mentor.) Mormon’s style was to combine the doctrinal sermons he quoted with stories that supported those same principles. Sometimes he makes very sure we know what he is doing by adding, “and thus we see” to the story and then reiterating his point.

He does something very like that at the beginning of 3 Nephi 17 by quoting the Savior’s instructions to the congregation about preparing for the nest day’s events. By our following the other examples of the way Mormon writes, we can see that he quotes these instructions both to tell us what the Savior said and also to warn us that we must prepare ourselves to appreciate what many believe to be the most endearing story in the entire Book of Mormon. Significantly, the beauty of this story is in what it suggests rather than what it actually says. That is why we must read it properly. Because, as Mormon tells us, the words of human language can never carry the real meaning of what he is about to describe:

15 And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him.
16 And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;
17 And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father (3 Nephi 17: 15-17).

So it is, with great care, that Mormon bids us to “prepare our minds” so that we may feel—even if we cannot fully understand—the glory of the experience he is about to describe.

1 Behold, now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked round about again on the multitude, and he said unto them: Behold, my time is at hand.
2 I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.
3 Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again (3 Nephi 17:1-3).

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FOOTNOTES

{1} There are two apparent breaks in the Nephite royal line. The first is Alma, but Mormon clarifies that by writing “…Alma, he also being a descendant of Nephi. And he was a young man.(Mosiah 17:2)” Later Alma is given the rule of the Nephites as though it were his by right—as it probably was.

The second apparent break was Mormon himself. But again he clarifies that by tracing his genealogy to the first Nephite king: “I am Mormon, and a pure descendant of Lehi (3 Nephi 5:20).” “I am the son of Mormon, and my father was a descendant of Nephi (Mormon 8:13).” “And I, Mormon, being a descendant of Nephi, (and my father’s name was Mormon)(Mormon 1:5)”

Given the importance of the patriarchal system to the ancients, those statements are sufficient to convince me that Mormon was both prophet and king by right of birth.

{2} The second half of Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord carefully illustrates that the Nephites practiced the same temple rites as were practiced in Solomon’s Temple, and that the subtext of the Book of Mormon is a temple text.

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