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2 Nephi 31
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2 Nephi 31
2 Nephi 31:1–3
1 And now I, Nephi, make an end of my prophesying unto you, my beloved brethren. And I cannot write but a few things, which I know must surely come to pass; neither can I write but a few of the words of my brother Jacob.
2 Wherefore, the things which I have written sufficeth me, save it be a few words which I must speak concerning the doctrine of Christ; wherefore, I shall speak unto you plainly, according to the plainness of my prophesying.
3 For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.
This chapter remains the same as it did in the 1830 edition. After finishing with the history of his people up to 40 years after the departure from Jerusalem, Nephi had added one of Jacob’s sermons, multiple chapters from Isaiah, and then his expansion on both Isaiah and his earlier vision showing the future. He now declares that he can only write a few more words. He chooses to write them about the coming atoning Messiah, which he calls the doctrine of Christ.
Nephi declares that he will speak plainly. Perhaps this emphasis on plainness is a reaction to the high poetry of Isaiah. Nephi understands that poetic form, and appreciates it, but chooses to speak in forms that are less complex and more universally understandable.
The important declaration is that the Lord “speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.” When the Lord intends his children to have his word and will, it comes in the ways that will make sense to them. One is, certainly, in their language. The Old Testament came in the Hebrew of the day, and according to the language of the particular prophet. Isaiah and Jeremiah were both prophets but handled language differently, with Isaiah being high poetry and Jeremiah employing a much less sophisticated language.
In our day, we will receive God’s will according to our own language, not just in the words that we can understand, but in the cultural and social contexts that make God’s will relevant to us. Although Nephi does not say it here, he has previously taught that when we read God’s will given to other peoples in other languages and other contexts, that we should liken that to our own language and context. Even when scripture is given in a different language, its meaning can be relevant for different peoples and different times.
The Need for Baptism
2 Nephi 31:4–5
4 Wherefore, I would that ye should remember that I have spoken unto you concerning that prophet which the Lord showed unto me, that should baptize the Lamb of God, which should take away the sins of the world.
5 And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!
As Nephi begins to discuss the doctrine of the Messiah, he begins with Jesus’s baptism. The wording is only slightly confusing. It might be read that baptism takes away the sins of the world, but the meaning is that they are taken away because of the Messiah, because of the Lamb of God. Nephi’s message for his people is that they should expect a Messiah who will atone. After that atonement, Nephi explains the concept of baptism as it fits into that atonement. As a Jew, Nephi understood immersion as a means of removing uncleanness, but the shift to baptism moves from uncleanness to removal of sin.
The idea that baptism is associated with the washing away of sin complicates the idea that the Messiah himself would be baptized. If the rite is for the removal of sin, and the Messiah had not sin, then why should the Messiah be baptized?
2 Nephi 31:6–9
6 And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?
7 Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.
8 Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove.
9 And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.
After noting the question of why one without sin should need a baptism that enacted the removal of sin, Nephi answers that it was to “fulfil all righteousness.” What he means is that while the atoning Messiah accomplished the atonement, he accomplished more than that. There is a doctrine of Christ that shows the way to enact the atonement in our lives, and then to use the atonement to walk the path that leads to eternal life.
The path is there for us to follow, and Christ walked that path—even if there were parts of the process that did not apply to him. In Nephi’s words, He showed “unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.” Christ did not simply tell us the way. He showed us the way.
2 Nephi 31:10–12
10 And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?
11 And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.
12 And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
Nephi declared that Jesus had shown us the path, and that his example demonstrated that path. Now he asks how we can follow if we do not keep the commandments. This is an important point for Nephite society because Nephi has taught that some of what the Messiah will show will alter the way in which the law of Moses will apply to the children of men. That, however, is in the future. Nephi reiterates here that looking to the future still requires that they live according to the law of the present.
One of the important aspects of living the law is repentance. For Nephi’s people, as well as modern readers, repentance is the means by which we remove the impediments that keep us from walking the narrow path. Repentance is the first cry of the prophets because it is the first requirement of progress.
Nephi had declared previously that when the atoning Messiah will be baptized, he saw that the Holy Spirit will descend upon him. Nephi declares that the Holy Spirit accompanies baptism. It is a beginning to be cleansed, and the Spirit moves us to live the commandments that allow us to walk the way.
The Doctrine of Christ
2 Nephi 31:13–14
13 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.
14 But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me.
Nephi enjoins all to follow the atoning Messiah, the Son of God, along the narrow path. Nephi promises that, should we do so, without hypocrisy and with real intent, that the Holy Spirit will guide us, and we will become more like the Savior. That is witnessed by speaking with the tongue of angels. Speaking with the tongue of angels places us on a parallel with those heavenly beings. They, and we, will shout praises to the Holy One of Israel because we are becoming more like Him as we follow his path.
There is a caution. Nephi also declares that the more we know, the more we are responsible to our understanding. If we progress to the point where we can speak with the tongue of angels, and then turn against God, “it would have been better for you that ye had not known me.” This is the definition of the sin against the Holy Ghost and consists of denying what one has learned to be undeniably true.
2 Nephi 31:15–16
15 And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.
16 And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.
The phrase “endure to the end” echoes Mathew 10:22 but is certainly included in the Old Testament concept of faithfulness to God. It embodies the idea that we are to continue walking the narrow path until we reach the end. That end was not defined as clearly in the Book of Mormon as it has been in modern times, but the end result is that we are to become as he is.
The English translation of the New Testament Greek can leave some misperceptions of the nature of the command to endure to the end. The word translated as endure means more to persist than to suffer. There is no supposition that we are to painfully walk the path, but that we are to consistently walk it. Second, the word translated as end is not only something distant but implies something completed. It is the same word that, in the phrase “be ye therefore perfect,” is translated as perfect in Matthew 5:48.
Understanding that perfect means completed makes more sense of the nature of our journey. We persist until we have completed the purpose for which the earth was created, that we can become more like our Savior, and thus more like our God.
Baptism is the Gate
2 Nephi 31:17–18
17 Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
18 And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
The purpose of Christ’s example is not to show us a way to believe, but a way to be. Nephi makes it clear that we are to “do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do.” Nephi had earlier explained that we are saved by grace, after all we can do (2 Nephi 25:23). Grace enables, but doing exalts.
The basic doctrine of Christ is defined in verse 18. We have before us a “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.” We enter in by the gate of baptism, but must still do the will, and the commandments of the Father. We receive the Holy Ghost to assist in that process and which witnesses to the truth of the path we are to walk, and the commandments that refine us as we walk. Doing so fulfills the promise, which is eternal life.
The Way to Eternal Life
2 Nephi 31:19–21
19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.
Verse 20 has an interesting parallelism. The phrases “steadfastness in Christ” and “endure to the end” are the same concept. They are intentional synonyms and highlight that each clause beginning with “wherefore” is part of the same idea. The first “wherefore” clause contains the command: “ye must press forward.” The second “wherefore” clause contains the conditional promise: “if ye shall press forward.”
The key is that we understand that it is a process. Beginning the process by simply entering the path is insufficient. If we enter and stop progressing, we do not achieve the end. For that reason, “ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.” That pressing forward with steadfastness is a parallel to enduring to the end.
Nephi concludes this discourse of the import of the atoning Messiah’s mission by noting that “there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.” Modern Latter-day Saints understand that more is meant by being saved in the kingdom of God than simply having a remission of sins. The goal is eternal life. Nephi taught the doctrine of Christ and taught that it is the only way to achieve that ultimate goal of eternal life.
Nephi closes by leaving his testimony with the declarative Amen.
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