Review of Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture

Skinner, Andrew C. and Gaye Strathearn, eds. Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture. Salt Lake City; Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute; Deseret Book, 2012.

This volume represents the published proceedings of a conference by the same title sponsored by the Maxwell Institute’s Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, held September 26-27, 2008.  The essays included “address issues in 3 Nephi from textual, literary, and theological perspectives” and are organized by topic as these subjects arise in the book of 3 Nephi itself.  There are fifteen papers presented, including the keynote address by John W. Welch, as well as a transcript of the panel discussion that was held at the end of the conference.  These studies emphasize the importance of the book of 3 Nephi to the Book of Mormon as a whole and to our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The range of topics covered includes: identification of temple themes, exegesis of particular passages, intertextual studies, ritual studies, theological treatises, use of biblical passages, and a study on musical form in 3 Nephi.  There are a number of pieces that are of particular value to those interested in temple studies.
John Welch’s paper, entitled “Seeing 3 Nephi as the Holy of Holies of the Book of Mormon” is of particular interest. Welch analyses 3 Nephi as the metaphorical “most sacred inner chamber of the Nephite record.” He points out that the author of the book, Nephi, was a high priest descended from a line of high priests, and that the content and concerns of the record reflect this fact. He asserts that, as a result, temple themes are to be found throughout the book and is able to identify many such themes in, for example, the chaos that reigned when the temple was abandoned before Christ’s coming, the temple context of the appearance of Christ, and the temple content of his subsequent teachings (including 3 Nephi’s version of the Sermon on the Mount) that he presented to the Book of Mormon peoples.  In his conclusion, Welch states: “Today, the temple helps readers to understand what is going on in 3 Nephi, and at the same time, 3 Nephi can help worshippers to understand the temple.”
Ron Bartholemew’s article, “Manifestations of the Powers of Godliness and the Establishment of Zion,” also explores some temple themes in 3 Nephi. Bartholemew outlines what he understands to be the “powers of Godliness” (D&C 84:20) and demonstrates how these powers are manifest in priesthood ordinances performed by the Savior and his disciples in both the Jewish and Nephite communities.  The manifestation of these powers led to the establishment of Zionlike societies in both cases. He argues that among the ordinances performed were temple rites, although these are generally not described overtly. He infers that the descent of angels from heaven to encircle Jesus and the gathered children (3 Ne 17:23-24) should be seen as associated with temple ordinances.
Also of likely interest to temple enthusiasts:
  • Daniel Belnap, “‘There Arose a Mist of Darkness’: The Narrative of Lehi’s Dream in Christ’s Theophany” — demonstrates how the appearance of Christ fits with the narrative of Lehi’s dream, including a comparison between the encounter of the people with Christ and the partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life
  • Matthew L. Bowen, “‘They Came Forth and Fell Down and Partook of the Fruit of the Tree’: Proskynesis in 3 Nephi 11:12-19 and 17:9-10 and Its Significance” — similar in some ways to the previous essay, Bowen asserts that the act of “falling down” to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8:30) in Lehi’s dream should be seen as an act of worship and compares this with the record of people falling down at the feet of Jesus in 3 Nephi
  • Aaron P. Schade and David R. Seely, “Writings of Malachi in 3 Nephi” — towards the end of the essay, the authors discuss the use of Malachi in 3 Nephi in reference to the ordinances of the “fulness of the priesthood,” the binding of the generations and the establishment of a Zion community
  • The Panel Discussion included at the end of the volume also makes some mention of the temple and of covenants
Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture is a valuable book that preserves the proceedings of an important conference on what has been called the “pinnacle” and the “holy of holies” of the Book of Mormon. Those interested in Book of Mormon studies will have a veritable feast in the various essays presented and temple themes are naturally found in many of them.
–David J. Larsen

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