3 Nephi 26:13-16 — LeGrand Baker — the things which we must know, but which cannot be taught

3 Nephi 26:13-16

13 Therefore, I would that ye should behold that the Lord truly did teach the people, for the space of three days; and after that he did show himself unto them oft, and did break bread oft, and bless it, and give it unto them.
14 And it came to pass that he did teach and minister unto the children of the multitude of whom hath been spoken, and he did loose their tongues, and they did speak unto their fathers great and marvelous things, even greater than he had revealed unto the people; and he loosed their tongues that they could utter.
15 And it came to pass that after he had ascended into heaven—the second time that he showed himself unto them, and had gone unto the Father, after having healed all their sick, and their lame, and opened the eyes of their blind and unstopped the ears of the deaf, and even had done all manner of cures among them, and raised a man from the dead, and had shown forth his power unto them, and had ascended unto the Father—
16 Behold, it came to pass on the morrow that the multitude gathered themselves together, and they both saw and heard these children; yea, even babes did open their mouths and utter marvelous things; and the things which they did utter were forbidden that there should not any man write them.

The scriptures are replete with the idea that there are things we must know, but which they (the scriptures) will not tell us. Even though they assure us that those things are hidden, they also clearly teach that we are responsible to know those hidden things. Consequently, much of certain parts of the scriptures are written in double-speech. Their surface text is wonderful and true, their subtext is written in code and is about those hidden things. {1}

There is a wonderful story about J. Golden Kimball that may or may not be true— if it isn’t true it certainly should be. While he was speaking to a sleepy stake conference in southern Utah, he suddenly said, “Brothers and Sisters, The Lord has said he is going to give us the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. How many of you will read it?” Everyone in the congregation raised their hand, some out of habit, and others with enthusiasm. When the hands went down, he chided, “Then why the hell don’t you read the part you now have, so he can give us the rest?”

As usual, Elder J. Golden’s words were simple and profound. The truths of the gospel are to be taught in an intelligible sequence. (That is why the missionary lessons work so well.) If we try to jump ahead to learn the “mysteries” (using that word the way the world uses it) we will only be confused. Consequently, the Book of Mormon teaches us individually only what we each permit it to teach. {2}

The authors of the gospels in the New Testament were keenly aware that the most important things could not be written. But repeatedly say that we must know them. It is ironic that we sometimes credit Jesus with being a great teacher because he taught in parables that everyone could understand. But he told his Apostles that the reason he taught in parables was so the people would NOT understand. He explains that in several places, for example:

8 And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.
9 And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them (Mark 4:8-12). {3}

“Mystery” is the operative word in those verses. In the New Testament it is translated from the Greek word mysterion. There, it refers to the secrets disclosed during one’s initiation into sacred religious rites, {4} and usually refers to the early Christian temple rites. However in some places, like Ephesians 1, it is a reference to premortal temple rites. In the Book of Mormon it may mean either, or sometimes more probably means both, as in 1 Nephi and Alma 12.

In the course of First and Second Nephi it becomes clear that Nephi is very conversant with the ancient Israelite temple rites and that he has had a sode experience that gave him a full understanding of his own premortal world. In First Nephi, which he wrote when he was about 45 or 50, he introduces himself by saying that he has a “great knowledge of the … mysteries of God.” (1 Nephi 1:1)

Alma says that “the chains of hell” means one’s not knowing those mysteries:

9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell (Alma 12:9-11).

Paul understood this. His letter to the Ephesians is an excellent encoded example. He desired that those who had a right to know might understand, and described those people as “the fellowship of the mystery.” He wrote that it was his mission to bring people into that fellowship.

7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:7-10). {5}

The reason these things are not explicitly written in the scriptures is that are hidden from the world. They are hidden now; they have always been hidden, even from the foundation of the world; and they will always be hidden.

The reason they are hidden is because they can only be revealed to those who are “authorized to believe.” That is an intriguing phrase. It comes from a statement published in a Melchizedek Priesthood manual and is attributed to the Prophet Joseph:

George A. Smith, while serving in the First Presidency, re- ported: “Joseph Smith taught that every man and woman should seek the Lord for wisdom, that they might get knowledge from Him who is the fountain of knowledge; and the promises of the gospel, as revealed, were such as to authorize us to believe, that by taking this course we should gain the object of our pursuit.” {6}

In Doctrine and Covenants 124 the Lord explained the nature of these mysteries and how and why they are revealed:

38 For, for this cause I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle, that they should bear it with them in the wilderness, and to build a house in the land of promise, that those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was.
39 Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name.
40 And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people;
41 For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.
42 And I will show unto my servant Joseph all things pertaining to this house, and the priesthood thereof, and the place whereon it shall be built (D&C 124:38-42).

I am now told that much of the LDS endowment can be found on the internet. If one finds it there, he still cannot “know,” so it doesn’t matter. One can virtually memorize the words but unless their meaning is taught by the Holy Ghost, their truths remain hidden from the world in the same way they have always been hidden, and they always will hidden, except from those who are “authorized to believe.” For that reason, even though the words of the ancient and modern temple rites may be discoverable (as they are in the Psalms), knowing the words does not constitute knowing the mysteries.

Like the New Testament writers, the authors of the Book of Mormon also understood that the most beautiful principles of the gospel are the things that cannot be taught. An evidence of that is that the prophets really did want their readers to know. Nephi and Mormon each say that they wish to tell us more, but they can not. In the last chapter of 1 Nephi, he uses the phrase “shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel,” but he cannot explain what that means. He writs:

28 But, behold, all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel if it so be that they will repent.
29 And now I, Nephi, make an end; for I durst not speak further as yet concerning these things (1 Nephi 22:28-31).

Again, at the conclusion of 2 Nephi, in the context of an encoded message, he begins to explain what he wishes us to understand, but can only go so far then writes:

7 And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be (2 Nephi 32: 7). {7}

Mormon also wanted to spell it all out for us, but then quotes the Lord as saying that was not permitted:

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 26:11-13).

Even though there are strict restraints on what we can teach, there is also the command that we must teach those whom the Spirit instructs us to teach. (The Savior explained that in 3 Nephi 14:1-12.)

Ammon and his brethren are a splendid example of those who were permitted to tell—but only permitted to tell a specific group of people. Ammon understood both his responsibility and he rejoiced in his opportunity. He said to his brothers:

21 And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent.
22 Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance (Alma 26:21-22).

How much of the mysteries one can know in this life? I suppose it depends on three things: His need to know; his worthiness to know; and his opportunity to know. Some of the greatest men who have lived in this world lived in a time and place where this information was simply not available. Nevertheless, in the end, we are assured that everyone who is worthy to know will know. For example, these two statements from the Doctrine and Covenants:

26 The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth;
27 And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments.
28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things (D&C 93:26-28).

5 For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
6 Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
7 And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
8 Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations.
9 And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught (D&C 76:5-9).

That promise was reiterated again by the Prophet Joseph Smith. About the same time the Prophet was introducing the endowment to the Saints in Nauvoo he wrote and published a poem that follows the same pattern as D&C 76. (You can find the entire poem on this website under “Favorite Quotes.”) A portion of that poem reads:

A Vision
by The Prophet Joseph Smith

For thus saith the Lord, in the spirit of truth,
I am merciful, gracious, and good unto those
That fear me, and live for the life that’s to come:
My delight is to honour the Saints with repose,

That serve me in righteousness true to the end;
Eternal’s their glory and great their reward.
I’’ll surely reveal all my myst’ries to them —
The great hidden myst’ries in my kingdom stor’d;

From the council in Kolob, to time on the earth,
And for ages to come unto them I will show
My pleasure and will, what the kingdom will do
Eternity’s wonders they truly shall know {8}.



{1} In our book Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, Stephen and I have tried to point out the code words in the Psalms, but have carefully avoided saying what ought not to be said. I personally did a word search on the word “temple” to make sure that was so. Every sentence that uses “temple” says Israelite temple,” Solomon’s Temple,” Nephite temple,” or some other phrase to referent “ancient temples.” So no sentence can be taken out of context and be seen to be discussing LDS temples or their teachings.

{2} I had my own wake-up call when I was a student at BYU. I was taking a class from Truman G. Madsen. One day I went to his office and brazenly told him I had studied and understood the “mysteries” and I asked him to teach me the things he wouldn’t teach in class. He responded, “Explain the Atonement to me.” I gave a half-cocked Sunday School answer and then he said. “After you understand the Atonement, then come back and talk to me.”

{3} Other examples are Matthew 11:13-17, 13:7-17; Mark 7:15-18; Luke 8:7-11; and Revelation chapters 2and 3. John wrote those chapters of Revelation as a colophon to teach the initiated that he was a prophet, just as Nephi did in 1 Nephi chapter 1. If one reads the code in the first half of each of John’s letters he will teach the mysteries. If one reads uses that code to read the second half, he teaches what it means.

{4} Strong 3466: “the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites.” Raymond E. Brown, The Semitic Background of the Term “Mystery” in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 2-6).

{5} Other places where we are told the mysteries have been hidden “from the foundation of the world” are Ether 4:15; D&C 76:5-8, 128:18.

{6} Joseph Smith [Melchizedek Priesthood manual], (Salt Lake City, Utah, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 266.

{7} For Nephi, “great knowledge” is code. He uses it here the same way he does in 1 Nephi 1:1.

{8} In February 1843, at the request of W.W. Phelps, the Prophet re-wrote the vision which is like the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants in poetry form. It was published in the Times and Seasons, February 1, 1843, and republished in the Millennial Star, August, 1843.


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