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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?