015: Book of Mormon Lesson 38: 3 Nephi 12-15

September 22, 2012

Engaging Gospel Doctrine

These chapters give a literal chance to “feast upon the words of Christ” since they consist almost exclusively of Jesus’ teachings. Chapters 12-14 parallel the Sermon on the Mount and focus on issues of the happy life (Beatitudes), discipleship, the relationship of Jesus to the Law of Moses, and proper prayer and fasting. Other points we will focus on include:

  • The commandment to “be perfect” (the answer is more encouraging that you might expect!)
  • The relationship between the King James Bible and Book of Mormon

Listen to an engaging discussion with Jennifer, Ali, Carl and KC and then join the conversation by posting comments here on the blog!

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You can access my Lesson Notes here.

A link to the comparison between Matthew 5-7 and 3 Nephi 12-14 (also in the Lesson Notes)

 

Many ancient versions of the Golden Rule.

Much thanks to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for his hard work in postproduction.

6 Responses to “015: Book of Mormon Lesson 38: 3 Nephi 12-15”

  1. SteveS Says:

    1) The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-49) are likely compilations of sayings of Jesus that outline a Christian view of ethics. Many scholars believe these teachings were in the Q source used by both the author of Matthew and the author of Luke, and that they were likely never taught in a single occasion, whether on a mount or a plain. And yet, we get Jesus teaching the whole thing almost exactly like the Matthew account of the “sermon” in 3 Ne. 12-14. How can this be, given that the Q source and later the gospel of Matthew would not have even been written for another 30-70 years? Is the only viable conclusion that the Mattheian Sermon on the Mount *was* actually given as-is? Is this sermon Jesus’ “stump speech”, the one he gave over and over again throughout his ministry?

    2) Please explain why the BoM version of the Sermon on the Mount differs from the Joseph Smith Translation of the KJV of the same text. Both make subtle but sometimes significant changes to the original. But why would the JST go even further?

    3) Right off the bat, 3 Ne. 12:3 takes the first saying of the sermon on the mount and recontextualizes it into a theological proposition about “coming to Jesus”, whereas the Mattheian version contains no such clause. Is this further clarification, is it implied in the first one, or does it go further than the historical Jesus would have likely gone with the statement about the poor receiving the kingdom? Isn’t the statement about the poor in Matt. 5:3 more about radical economic justice than escatological reward for belief in Jesus’ atonement?

    4) 3 Ne. 12:27-30: These verses have long been looked toward in creating and perpetuating “puritanical” perspectives on human sexuality. It’s similar passage in Matt 5:27-30 is even more graphic in its condemnation of lustful thoughts, recommending that one pluck out one’s offending eye or cut off an offending hand in order to save the body. Taken to extremes, Levi Peterson’s “The Backslider” depicts Frank Windham’s brother, Jeremy, as doing just that to overcome his shameful attraction to women: he cuts off his own penis and loses his mind. Sadly, this is not without parallel in real life mormonism. Can these verses be softened through more careful exegesis, or is this what God and Jesus intended to communicate about human sexuality? I see parallels here also with the infamous quote from Kimball’s “The Miracle of Forgiveness” in regard to rape victims, in that it would be preferable that they die rather than submit to the perpetrator’s advances. Help please!

    5) 3 Ne. 12:48: Herein Jesus adds his name to the list of perfect people that wasn’t part of Matt 5:48. Is this post-resurrection Jesus who is now perfected and glorified, whereas he wasn’t yet when he delivered the Sermon on the Mount in Galilee? by it’s “omission” in Matthew, are we to understand that Jesus was somehow not yet perfect? Personally, I feel like the historical Jesus would have never included himself in the list of perfect beings, God being the only one who is “holy”. The addition in 3 Ne. makes mormon Jesus all the more distant from humanity, but somehow later Joseph’s theology of eternal progression might reconcile this utter chasm between us and Jesus by promising a gradual trajectory toward perfection. But other LDS and Christian theologians have reinterpreted the word “perfect” in the Greek to mean “complete” or “whole”, which would subvert the need for humans to be “perfect” or “perfected”. Thoughts?

    6) 3 Ne. 13:13: why does Jesus include the doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, a late addition to Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (not present in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel? How does the doxology change the meaning and intent of the prayer in its focus on earthly vs. heavenly reward? How does it’s inclusion possibly reinterpret the prayer as more individual and less collective?

    7) 3 Ne. 13:25-34: Herein is recontextualized the passage about taking no thought about the morrow to only apply to Jesus’ chosen servants (the twelve Disciples) and not everyone. This makes sense when Jesus’ second coming is not imminent (how could all of Jesus’ followers enact these injunctions in the long term?); but the Matthew 6 version doesn’t limit this counsel to the twelve. How are we missing Jesus’ point in this passage of scripture if we claim that they only apply to full-time missionaries and apostles? How do we violate Jesus’ counsel with our missionaries and general authorities, who take careful “thought for the morrow” in just about everything they do?

    8) 3 Ne. 15:5 Jesus claims to be the God of the Old Testament. He was the lawgiver. Somehow this alone makes him have authority to fulfill or rescind the laws that were once given. But it also creates a huge theological problem, necessitating some of the most convoluted and inscrutable doctrines of the Person of Christ, including trinitarianism, docetism, marcionism, and uniquely Mormon claims about Jesus being Jehovah (Yahweh; YHWH) and separate from Elohim. Why couldn’t the One Sent from God have authority to remove parts of the Law? Isn’t the resurrection evidence enough of God’s “yes” to Jesus and his teachings and authority without requiring he be retroactively interpreted as the same God of the Old Testament who gave the Law? And why would it have been hard for the Nephites and Lamanites to give up the law, seeing as they had already been living a Christian version of the Law for close to 600 years, and at least two times previous had asked the theological question about continuing to obey the Law even though they knew Jesus was coming?

    9) 3 Ne. 15:21-24: Jesus is explaining something about other sheep that would mean very little to the people who heard it. It’s one thing to feel special by being considered part of Jesus’ fold, the house of Israel, the family of God, etc. It is a whole other thing to be told that Jesus said this to the people in Jerusalem, then explain that those people didn’t understand his words, then tell them that when he said the words about other sheep he really meant the Nephites and other members of the House of Israel scattered throughout the earth. This may be JS’ doctrinal explanation for Jesus’ visit to the Nephites, but it throws the Gentiles under the bus. Whereas it seems the original statement about sheep not of this fold (John 10:16) seems to predict a Gentile outreach and a radical inclusion of non-Israelites into the fold of God’s covenant, 3 Ne. 15:21-24 seems to rescind that and limit God’s care once again to the House of Israel only. Thoughts?

    Reply

  2. Chris Says:

    I vote to make SteveS a member of the panel discussion. He always posts fantastic questions. Would like to hear his questions addressed more.

    It always bothered me that Jesus would visit the Nephites but didn’t really say anything more than what we already have in a few chapters of Matthew. What an opportunity to get the unfiltered words of our Lord but he doesn’t tell us anything new just repeats with almost the same language what Matthew would record 50 years later.

    These chapters of the book of mormon must cause anyone to wonder how the translation processed worked. It doesn’t seem possible that Jesus would speak the same words in the same order to the Nephites that Matthew would write 50 years after Jesus said them. I dont think these teaching in Matthew 5-7 occurred sequentially as they are written, but rather were teaching Jesus gave over his ministry and Matthew just put them together in this sequence. So why would Jesus teach the Nephites in the same manner as Matthew is relating his stories of Jesus. Matthew 5-7 could not have been what was written on the gold plates, and if not, why wouldn’t Joseph translate exactly what Jesus said rather than use the familiar Matt 5-7?

    I think these KJV chapters in the book of mormon must cause any member to consider that Joseph Smith could not have simply translated what was on the plates because there is no way the KJV of Matt 5-7 could have been on the plates but rather he inserted into the text what was familiar to him. Why would he have done this, what could be more treasured than relating exactly what Jesus said to the Nephites?

    Reply

  3. Mark A Says:

    I am new to textual criticism, so please be gentle.

    I started jotting down potential KJV-specific textual issues as I read III Nephi this time and listened to the podcast. Here is what I came up with form this section, with associated questions for Jared. 🙂 I know some of these were mentioned in the lesson.

    III Nephi 12:22 use of Raca – Jared mentions this is an Aramaic word. Wikipedia (haha, I know) says Aramaic was in use in the Second Temple period (539 BCE – 70 CE). How likely is it that Lehi and family would have understood any Aramaic of Jesus’ day?

    III Nephi 13:24 Mammon – similar to the above, would any Lehite have understood this?

    III Nephi 12:15 Candle and Candlesticks – I remember Jared mentioning in his long New Testament overview podcast that this is an anachronism. The Greek actually refers to lamps?

    III Nephi 12:40-41 going and extra mile when you are compelled to go one. Jared mentioned this comes in a context of Roman imperialism. Can you expound on this idea?

    Would a good study bible give me more context and explain some of these issues?

    I agree with Chris’s comment – “why would Jesus teach the Nephites in the same manner as Matthew is relating his stories of Jesus. Matthew 5-7 could not have been what was written on the gold plates, and if not, why wouldn’t Joseph translate exactly what Jesus said rather than use the familiar Matt 5-7? ”

    I have to admit realizing there are so many textual problems in just this section of the Book of Mormon is extremely challenging to my diminishing faith. These sections seem copied directly out of the KJV, text-specific issues and all. If so, why?

    Thanks for any help.

    Reply

    • Jared Says:

      Mark,

      Thanks for commenting. Technically this isn’t “textual criticism” since that involves variant readings among different manuscripts of a work. 🙂 This would be textual analysis or a (historical)-critical approach.

      Raca and Mammon I don’t see as a problem at all, since they would not have been on the gold plates any more than English was. But since the solution that Joseph used the KJV causes its own problems I will come back to this.

      Yes, the Greek says “lamp” and “lamp stand” as modern translations illuminate. The Greek straight up says “a stand for a lamp” “Candle” and “candle stick” reflects the KJV translators rendering the terms within their own cultural context, similar to “farthing”.

      “Go the extra mile” refers to conscription, similar to how police are able to commandeer vehicles. Roman soldiers could compel citizens to carry their baggage, accompany them for safety, etc. Perhaps Jesus’ rationale was that if you go two miles, you are sparing someone else the need.

      Yes. 🙂

      Ok, your final question cuts directly to the heart of the matter and makes all the other questions extraneous though interesting. As I tried to demonstrate with my textual analysis, it is undeniable that Joseph copied from the KJV for these chapters. The word for word similarities and types of changes scarcely allow for any other interpretation (except that Joseph had a photographic memory and that just means he was copying from the text in his head rather than on the table which doesn’t change the theological issue).

      Given the priceless opportunity to have more of Jesus’ words, given that the Book of Mormon is an additional witness of Christ, given that we have more scripture, why do these chapters simply copy from Matthew? Perhaps part of the reason is that we accept what is familiar? Perhaps part of our human nature is that we on some level want more of the same? The Biblical parallels that make us squirm with their implications would have been and have been a testimony to many. Part of my take away is that we can privilege personal revelation above scripture. I think the Mormon scriptures support the idea that the scriptures are a stepping stone for a personal relationship with God where we can learn directly from them. So this repetition is disappointing, but understandable.

      Reply

      • Mark A Says:

        Jared, thanks for that reply, especially your discussion of my final question. I also forgot to thank you for the work you did in putting together the document comparing Matt. 5-7 and III Nephi 12-14 – I am going to sit down and look at it closely before my ward does this lesson on Sunday.

        I like the idea of scripture more as a stepping stone for a personal relationship with God, and less as a perfect literal record of what happened centuries ago. I think many of Mormonism’s doctrinal claims based on certain literal readings of scripture start to break down under that paradigm, and that tension causes my early stage four still-literalistic brain stress.

        I wish my literalistic, strict Mormon upbringing let me privilege personal revelation above scripture (and off-the-cuff remarks of current authorities) more easily. It’s a painful transition. My long-term goals: become more self-directed, and see what a real relationship with God looks like without others standing over me telling me what to think and feel.

        Thanks again, Jared.

        Reply

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