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Fluidity of Scripture

There’s something interesting in 3 Nephi where Jesus starts quoting Isaiah (for three verses) and then stops because the people aren’t getting it. He then heals them, institutes the sacrament, calls apostles and then says that he’s returning to Isaiah but quotes several verses from Micah first. After all of this he picks up again where he left off on those three verses but he quotes them differently.

I’ll break this down, let’s start in chapter 16 of 3 Nephi.

3 Nephi 16:18-20

Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing, for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.

Then the following events occur:​

  • 3 Nephi 17: Healing, ministering of angels
  • 3 Nephi 18: sacrament, authority
  • 3 Nephi 19: baptism, gift of the Holy Ghost
  • 3 Nephi 20: sacrament again

3 Nephi 20:32-35

Then shall their watchmen lift up their voice, and with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye. Then will the Father gather them together again, and give unto them Jerusalem for the land of their inheritance. Then shall they break forth into joy—Sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Father hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Father hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of the Father; and the Father and I are one.

Interesting how Jesus quotes the scriptures differently to the people after certain things happen and certain teachings occur. This potentially illustrates how fluid scripture is in the hands of the Lord; it is adapted to the situation at hand. The fact that we observe this happening with Jesus causes one to consider some implications.

Like Jesus, Nephi seems to modify or paraphrase scripture and so does Joseph Smith (such as in his “inspired translation” of the Bible). What was really happening there? It seems that scripture can be more malleable in the hands of one connected to the source. Is this distortion, clarification, likening or something else?

  • Richard J. Nobbe III

    I think of Section 76 and the quote by Joseph Smith that often goes with it: “I could explain a hundredfold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.” Perhaps some of the Saints did receive more as they prepared themselves for it, particularly those who were closest to the Prophet during the months that preceded his martyrdom, and were present with the prophet when he handed over the keys of the kingdom to the Twelve.

    Then you have Isaiah in the Old Testament and Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. There are important differences, and I think sometimes it goes beyond the actual translation. Who is speaking the words of Isaiah? To whom is he speaking? When is he speaking?

    You have the multiple stories of creation. You have the multiple Gospels of Jesus Christ. I’m reminded of a quote from the movie “Rudy” as a Catholic Priest is teaching a class on theology, “For us, divine inspiration does not mean that God possesses a man and simply dictates the inspired text to him. Rather, God implants into a man’s mind the general concept, and when He does that, He allows the man to write that in his historical context. So a man may have historical inaccuracies, but God allows those misunderstandings because what is important and inherent is the theological concept that God is getting across to mankind.”

    You ask, “Is this distortion, clarification, likening or something else?” I answer, “yes.” It is important to remember that in the end, our written scriptures are what Neal A. Maxwell used to call, “Mankind’s spiritual memory.”

  • There is a bit of context missing, I think. 16:10 is not unlike Isaiah 28:9-13.

    Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

    For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing:

    yet they would not hear.

    But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.

    There’s more going on here than a simple and static monologue, that is certain. The Word, in all of its beauty, is also a curse to those that would use the Father as a lever. If it can’t be plainly spoken and understood, if things of this world are so mysterious, it isn’t much of a leap to say that there’s not much use asking for any higher education. Rules aren’t always dictated by sadists, but quite the opposite rather.

    More so than anything, if we love someone, we do anything reasonable within in our power to hold onto them. If it fit your fancy and you could live it up on a beach all the time, sipping a Mai Tai, with no ill-effect, with everyone you love eventually doing exactly what they want to do, at your pleasure–making the effort to have what that requires available to them is worth anything in your power.

    When dividing an inheritance, sometimes a trust must be established. It isn’t simply the motives of the recipient that is put into question. It’s also that of the benefactor’s. At first, such proceedings might seem rather dry, but its purpose is basic survival, and then the more enjoyable meritocratic incentive. The process of building our trust in God, cleansing, committing, affirming, repeating is greatly symbolic, yet how they were taught is greatly semantic.

    Knowing what to say and when, in consideration of the Spirit, is sometimes simply avoiding monotony. A vainly repetitious prayer, for example, is something that is once held in high esteem only to be diminished by nearly immediately becoming screened through a colored lens. Teaching semantically requires a great deal of forethought, as topics aren’t easily learned through force. I guess most plainly said, the Word is the same as it was, but the perspective of others is the same as a plant: it can’t be forced to grow by flooding it with miracle gro. The Word is fluid by its encirclement of opposition, yet it’s unwavering, even when thought to be up against a wall.