3 Nephi 11:8, 19:25-26 — LeGrand Baker — The Savior’s ‘white robe’ and ‘white garments’

3 Nephi 11:8, 19:25-26 — LeGrand Baker — The Savior’s ‘white robe’ and ‘white garments’

On each of the two days the Savior appeared to the Nephites, he was dressed differently:

8 And it came to pass, as they understood they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them; and the eyes of the whole multitude were turned upon him, and they durst not open their mouths, even one to another, and wist not what it meant, for they thought it was an angel that had appeared unto them (3 Nephi 11:8).

25 And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof (3 Nephi 19:25-26).

The first day the Savior came wearing “a white robe” (singular) (3 Nephi 11:8). Then, in the course of that day, he performed the coronation rites of the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama.{1}

The second day the Savior came as Priest and King. He was dressed differently, probably in royal robes. Mormon describes Jesus’s “garments” (plural) as white: “there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof (3 Nephi 19:25).”

The garments that represented priesthood and kingship were an essential part of the ancient Israelite temple drama coronation rites.

Exodus 28 and 29 give a detailed description of the sacred clothing worn by the Jewish High Priest.{2} But the High Priest’s wearing them may have been a change introduced when the books of Moses were edited by post-Exilic priests. Some modern-day scholars believe that the clothing described there was originally the coronation garments worn by the king. Then, after the Babylonian captivity, when the Jews had lost their king, their Melchizedek priesthood, and their temple, the Aaronic priesthood High Priest assumed what was originally the king’s religious prerogatives as well as his royal clothing and regalia.{3}

Still, no matter who wore it, our information about how it looked is probably correct. Paul tells us that similar sacred garments were worn by the early Christians. He calls them the “whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18; D&C 27:15-18).

The coronation clothing is almost always described as two separate garments. The sacred clothing attributed to the Aaronic priesthood High Priests consisted of white linen undergarments and outer royal robes. They are frequently mentioned in the scriptures, but usually they are referred to in terms of what they represent rather than how they are worn or what they look like. There are always two. The inner one represented the garment of skins (Genesis 3:21) that God gave Adam and Eve to replace their garments of light. It was a symbol of priesthood. The outer garment was a symbol of kingship.{4}

In the scriptures, there is no consistency in what this combination of clothing is called, but there are always two. They are called “glory and honour”; “power and authority”; “honour and majesty”; “honour and glory. Usually, but not always, the one representing priesthood is mentioned first, followed by the one representing kingship. That is expectable because a person can be a priest without being a king, but cannot be a king without already being a priest.

It is significant that these sacred royal garments were patterned after those worn by Jehovah himself, as is shown in two of the psalms. One is Psalm 93, which reads:

1 The Lord reigneth, he is clothed with majesty;
the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.
2 Thy throne is established of old: thou art from everlasting (Psalm 93:1-2).

The other is Psalm 104. It reads:

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain (Psalm 104:1-2).

In Psalm 104, Jehovah’s royal clothing is described as honor and majesty, but he also covers himself “with light as with a garment.”

Facsimile No. 2 in the Book of Abraham describes the light differently. There, his clothing is “power and authority” and the light is represented as “a crown of eternal light upon his head.” The interpretation of Figure 3 reads:

Fig. 3. Is made to represent God, sitting upon his throne, clothed with power and authority; with a crown of eternal light upon his head; representing also the grand Key-words of the Holy Priesthood, as revealed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and all to whom the Priesthood was revealed.

The crown shown in the figure appears to be a sun disk. It is drawn according to the way Egyptians used perspective, being more concerned with the representation than a depiction as the eye would see it. If it were laid flat, it would easily represent a round mitre (a mitre is flat hat like we wear at school graduations). It was worn on the head of the king (or High Priest) in conjunction with his royal garments. Even the golden color of the sun disk may be significant, for with the mitre the king wore “a plate of pure gold,” with the words “Holiness to the Lord” engraved upon it (Exodus 28:36). {5}

One of the psalms represents the foreordinations of both the king and the queen at the Council in Heaven. {6} The first lines of Elohim’s blessing to the king acknowledges the validity and importance of the clothing he is wearing for this occasion. Elohim says:

3 Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.
4 And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible [awesome] things (Psalms 45:3-5).

There is a psalm that reads very much like the account in Genesis 1:26-28. It fits with the themes of the early Genesis chapters; and sounds as though it were sung by a chorus of the Council in Heaven as they watched Adam and Eve descend to their new home in the Garden of Eden. It is sung as an exuberant celebration of the glory of human life, and of their own anticipated experiences in linear time. Psalm 8 exclaims:

3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, {7} that thou visitest him?
5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the gods, {8} and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the work of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: (Psalm 8:3-6) {9}

In the Garden, according to ancient Jewish tradition, Adam and Eve were clothed with garments of light until they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Then they lost their garments of light and became naked. But God made coats of skins that represented and temporarily replaced their garments of light. {10}

Nibley suggests the garment of light is the Shechinah, {11} which is the light that radiates from the presence of God, “Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed (D&C88:12-13).” When it is seen in vision, it is the “cloud of brightness and glory that marked the presence of the Lord.” {12} The shechinah is the veil which defines sacred space and now separates man from God. The garment of skins that was given to Adam by God represented that veil and distinguished its wearers from the rest of the world. When Adam was dressed in this new garment, he was sacred space, and therefore was, by definition, a temple.

When Adam left the Garden of Eden he came as the world’s first priest and king, and became the prototype of all legitimate priesthood and kingship that followed. {13}

In the book of Job (which is probably the most complete review of the ancient Israelite temple drama in the Old Testament), Job stands before the veil and God asks, “Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?” Then God instructs Job, “Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty … Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee” (Job 40:9-10, 14).

There is a fragment of an ancient text of the Book of Job that suggests the clothing is a replacement for something else that he must first “remove” (as in the Hymn of the Pearl). It reads:

Or have you an arm like God?
Or with voice like his can you thunder?
Remove now pride and haughty spirit
And with splendor, glory, and honor be clothed. {14}

This passage in Job is unique because it is the only place where two sets of clothing are mentioned (“majesty and excellency” and “glory and beauty”). Since the first set seems more masculine and the second more feminine, one wonders if it does not suggest that there was a woman present. There is no other evidence that it is so, but it is worth a wonder.

To me, the most sublime of all these references to sacred coronation clothing is Peter’s recalling his experience with the Savior on the Mount of Transfiguration. He wrote:

16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount (2 Peter 1:16-18).

FOOTNOTES (for full citations see the Bibliography in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord)

{1} For a discussion of the Savior’s coronation in 3 Nephi, see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, the chapters called “The Savior’s Coronation in America” and “The Savior’s Coronation Sermon, “ first edition pages 909-925; second edition pages 635-647.

{2} For an in-depth discussion of the temple clothing of ancient Israel see Tvedtnes, “Priestly Clothing,” 649-704.
For excellent illustrations, see Moshe Levine, The Tabernacle, Its Structure and Utensils (Tel Aviv, Israel: Melechet Hamishkan, 1989), 127-33.

{3} Geo Widengren, Ascension of the Apostle, 25. See Ricks, “Garment of Adam,” 705-39; Borsch, Son of Man, 185, 194; Engnell, Studies in Divine Kingship, 62-63; Widengren, “King and Covenant,” 21; Ricks and Sroka, “King, Coronation, and Temple,” 254-57.

{4} Stephen Ricks, “The Garment of Adam in Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Tradition.” In Temples of the Ancient World, edited by Donald W. Parry. 705-39.

{5} It is unclear in the descriptions whether the mitre, or the engraved plat, or both were called the crown. See Exodus 28:36-39, 29:6, 39:28-31; Leviticus 8:9, 16:3-4; Zechariah 3:1-10.

{6} The premortal blessings given to the king and queen are discussed at length in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord. First edition 255-304; second edition 181-215. In verse 4, the Tanakh, uses the word “awesome” rather than “terrible.”

{7} In addition to the Savior, Enoch, Ezekiel, and others have had the title, “son of man.” For a discussion of the title “son of man,” see Emerton, “The Origin of the Son of Man Imagery,” 225-42.

{8} The King James Version reads “a little lower than the angels.” However, the Hebrew word translated “angels” is elohim, the plural word for “gods,” designating the Council of the gods. Thus, “a little lower than the gods.”

{9} For a brief discussion of the possible relationship between Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, see John van Seters, “The Creation of Man and the Creation of the King,” Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 101 (1989): 333-42.

{10} For discussions of the garment of light, see: “The heavens were fashioned from the light of God’s garment.” (Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 1:8).
“And my likeness was covered with the light of my garment.” (The Paraphrase of Shem (VII, 1), The Nag Hammadi Library in English [San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1988], 346, 11-12).
For a discussion of Adam’s garment of light and its significance, see Ricks, “Garment of Adam,” 705-39. For discussions of sacred clothing, see Draper and Parry, “Seven Promises,” 134-36; Hamblin, “Temple Motifs,” 453-54; Nibley, “Sacred Vestments,” 91-138; Parry, “Garden of Eden,” 145; Ricks and Sroka, “King, Coronation, and Temple,” 254-56; John A. Tvedtnes, “Priestly Clothing in Bible Times,” Temples of the Ancient World, 649-704. For a discussion of Egyptian Christian clothing. see C. Wilford Griggs, et al., “Evidences of Christian Population in the Egyptian Fayum and Genetic and Textile Studies of the Akhmim Noble Mummies,” BYU Studies 33, 2 (1993): 215-43.

{11} Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 373.)

{12} LDS Bible dictionary under “shechinah.”

{13} Borsch, Son of Man, 185-194.

{14} Marvin H. Pope, The Anchor Bible, Job (Garden City, New York: 1965), 319-20.

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