1 Nephi 1 - Lehi in Jerusalem
[I, Nephi, have seen many afflictions in my life, but I know of the goodness and mysteries of God and have good parents. My father Lehi taught me the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. With my own hand I make a true record of the events of my life.]
My father Lehi lived at Jerusalem. In the first year of Zedekiah king of Judah's reign, many prophets warned the people to repent or the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed. So Lehi prayed to the Lord on behalf of his people. As he prayed, a pillar of fire appeared before him on a rock. He quaked and trembled because of what he saw and heard.
Lehi returned to his house. Overcome with the spirit, he was carried away in a vision. He thought he saw the Heavens open, with God sitting on his throne, surrounded by numberless concourses angels singing and praising God. He beheld one whose luster was greater than the sun at noon-day descend from Heaven. Following him were twelve others, brighter than the stars in the firmament, who went forth upon the face of the earth.
The one descending from Heaven came and stood before my father, gave him a Book, and told him to read. As he read, he was filled with the spirit of the Lord, and said:
Wo, wo unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations.He read that Jerusalem would be destroyed and that many of its inhabitants would perish by the sword or be carried away captive into Babylon. After my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he exclaimed:
Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the Heavens and thy power and goodness and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth. Thou art merciful, and will not suffer those who come to thee to perish.Thus did my father praise God, for his soul rejoiced and his heart was filled because of what the Lord had shown him.
[I, Nephi, do not give a full account of what my father Lehi wrote about his visions and dreams and prophecies. I will abridge the record of my father, then I will give an account of my own life.]
Know that after my father had seen such marvelous things, he went forth among the people and began to prophesy. He declared to them what he had seen and heard concerning their wickedness and abominations, and the destruction of Jerusalem. He testified of what he had read in the Book, which spoke plainly of the coming of a Messiah and the redemption of the world. The Jews were angry and mocked him, and sought to take away his life, even as they had stoned and slain the prophets of old. But the tender mercies of the Lord are over those whom he has chosen; he will deliver them because of their faith.
Terms: Heavens, Heaven, Book, spirit of the Lord, Lord God Almighty, Jews, Messiah.
Commentary: The Book of Mormon displays a certain degree of atemporality. In Chapter 1, Lehi reads from "the Book," evidently representing the Bible. In Chapter 13, "the Book" appears again in the narrative as the Book that proceeded out of the mouth of a Jew (Jesus) and was carried across many waters (the ocean) by the Gentiles (European colonists and settlers), who obtained the land of their inheritance (America). So "the Book" is essentially the King James Bible familiar to Joseph Smith. Lehi and Joseph read from the same Book. Note also how the text reflects the Christian view of the Old Testament as speaking plainly of the coming of a Messiah and the redemption of the world (as well as containing prophecies of the prophets and covenants of the Lord made with the house of Israel) — although Chapter 13 states that plainness was taken away from the Old Testament by the great and abominable church. As a result, these ideas (Messiah, prophecies, covenants) are actually not plain at all in the KJV Bible brought to America by the Europeans, the one that JS actually read, although the text states they were plain in "the Book" read by Lehi in vision and later read (in part) by Lehi on the brass plates (essentially the pre-exilic ur-text of what became the Old Testament) retrieved from Jerusalem by Nephi and his brothers.
Bridge: In Chapters 2 through 5, ...
1 Nephi 5:10-22 - the plates of brass
After Lehi and Sariah thanked the God of Israel, Lehi searched the plates of brass from the beginning. They contained the five Books of Moses, recounting the creation of the world and of Adam and Eve, our first parents; a record of the Jews down to the reign of Zedekiah; and prophecies of the Holy prophets down to the reign of Zedekiah, including some of the prophecies of spoken by Jeremiah.
Lehi also found a genealogy of his fathers. He learned that he was a descendant of Joseph the son of Jacob, sold into Egypt but preserved by the hand of the Lord so he could save Jacob and all his household from famine. (Also, they were led out of captivity in Egypt by the God that had preserved them.) Thus did Lehi discover the genealogy of his fathers. (Laban kept the records because he, too, was a descendant of Joseph.)
Upon learning these things, my father was filled with the spirit and began to prophesy that the plates of brass would go to all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed, and that the plates of brass would never perish nor be dimmed by time.
[Thus far I and my father had kept the commandments the Lord had given us. We had obtained the plates of brass and searched them. They were of great worth to us, enabling us to preserve the commandments of the Lord for our children. It was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us as we journeyed in the wilderness toward the land of promise.]
Terms: God of Israel, five Books of Moses, Adam and Eve, Holy prophets.
Commentary: It seems anachronistic for Lehi to conclude that the plates of brass contained the "five Books of Moses." First, at that time they were scrolls, not books. Development of the book or codex came centuries later. Second, it was known as the torah; the "torah of Moses" was a post-exilic term. Third, the description that the plates of brass contained an account of creation and of Adam and Eve is just the first three chapters of Genesis. Lehi the Jew should have been more interested in the torah or law, not creation and Adam and Eve in the garden, although later Christians were much more interested in those early chapters of Genesis. Question: So where are the brass plates today, destined to be preserved and never dimmed by time? This record of the Jews returns in Nephi's discussion of "the Book" in Chapter 13, where the claim is made the Bible is like the plates of brass but with the plain and precious passages removed.
Bridge: In Chapters 6 through 9, ...
1 Nephi 10 - Lehi foresees events in the life of Jesus
[Now I, Nephi, give an account on these plates of my reign and ministry, starting with things of my father and my brothers.]
After my father had related the words of his dream and finished encouraging my brothers to diligence, he spoke to them about the Jews. After the great city of Jerusalem was destroyed and many Jews were carried away captive to Babylon, they would return out of captivity to possess again the land of their inheritance, according to the due time of the Lord.
Six hundred years after Lehi left Jerusalem, God would raise up a Prophet among the Jews, even a Messiah (in other words, a Savior of the world). Many prophets had testified concerning this Messiah, this Redeemer of the world. All mankind was in a lost and fallen state, and ever would be unless they relied on this Redeemer.
A prophet would come before the Messiah to prepare the way of the Lord. He would go forth and cry in the wilderness:
Prepare ye the way of the Lord and make his paths straight, for there standeth one among you whom ye know not. He is mightier than I, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.Lehi said this prophet would baptize with water in Bethabara, beyond Jordan. After baptizing the Messiah with water, he would bear record that he had baptized the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.
Next my father spoke to my brothers about the Gospel which would be preached among the Jews and the dwindling of the Jews in unbelief. After they had slain the Messiah who would come, he would rise from the dead and show himself (by the Holy Ghost) to the Gentiles.
Concerning the House of Israel, my father said they were like an olive tree whose branches would be broken off and scattered across the face of the earth. Thus it was that we should be led to the land of promise, to fulfill the word of the Lord in scattering the House of Israel. After the Gentiles had received the fulness of the Gospel, the remnants of the House of Israel, the natural branches of the olive tree, would be grafted in (that is, come to a knowledge of the true Messiah, their Lord and Redeemer).
[My father said many more things to my brothers which I do not write, some of which I wrote in my other book. All these things were done as my father dwelt in a tent in the valley of Lemuel.]
After hearing my father's vision and all the words he spoke to my brothers by the power of the Holy Ghost (which power he received by faith on the Son of God, the Messiah who would come):
I, Nephi, desired to see and hear and know of these things by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he would manifest himself unto the children of men. For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and the way is prepared from before the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him. For he that diligently seeketh shall find, and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them by the power of the Holy Ghost, in these times as in times of old and in times to come. Thus the course of the Lord is one eternal round.
Therefore, remember O man, for all thy doings thou shalt be brought into judgment: if ye have sought to do wickedly in the days of your probation, then ye are found unclean before the judgment seat of God, and no unclean thing can dwell with God, so ye must be cast off forever. The Holy Ghost gives authority that I should speak these things and deny them not.
Terms: Messiah, Savior of the world, Redeemer of the world, baptize with water, Lamb of God, take away the sins of the world, Gospel, Messiah to rise from the dead, Holy Ghost, Gentiles, fulness of the Gospel, Son of God.
Bridge: In Chapters 11 and 12, ...
1 Nephi 13 - Bible, Apostasy, and Restoration
The angel said, "Look!" I looked, and saw many nations and kingdoms. The angel said, "These are the nations and kingdoms of the Gentiles." And I saw the foundation of a great church among the nations of the Gentiles. The angel said,
Behold the foundation of a church, which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the Saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.
I saw that the devil was the founder of this great and abominable church. I saw gold and silver, silks and scarlets, fine-twined linen and precious clothing, and harlots. And the angel said,
These things are the desires of this great and abominable church. They destroy the Saints of God and bring them down into captivity for the praise of the world.
I looked and saw many waters dividing the Gentiles from the descendants of my brothers. The angel said, "Behold the wrath of God is upon the seed of thy brethren!" I saw the spirit of God descend upon a man of the Gentiles, who journeyed on the ocean and came to the descendants of my brothers who were in the promised land. And I saw the spirit of God descend upon other Gentiles, who also journeyed on the ocean out of captivity. I saw multitudes of the Gentiles on the land of promise. The wrath of God was upon my brothers' descendants, who were scattered and smitten by the Gentiles. But the spirit of the Lord was upon the Gentiles, who did prosper and obtain the land of their inheritance. They were white, exceedingly fair and beautiful, like my people before they were slain. The power of the Lord was with these Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity and humbled themselves before the Lord.
I saw their mother Gentiles gathered together to battle against them, upon the ocean and the land, but the power of God was with them. They were delivered out of the hands of all other nations, and they prospered in the land.
I saw a Book carried by the Gentiles. And the angel said,
Behold, it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. The Book which thou beholdest is a record of the Jews. It contains the covenants which the Lord hath made unto the House of Israel, as well as many of the prophecies of the Holy Prophets. It is a record like unto the engravings on the plates of brass, save there are not so many. Nevertheless, it is of great worth to the Gentiles as it contains the covenants the Lord hath made unto the House of Israel.
The angel continued,
The Book contained the plainness of the Gospel of the Lord when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew. [The twelve apostles bear record of the Lord according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God.] These things went forth from the Jews to the Gentiles in purity, by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. After this, you saw the foundation of a great and abominable church, most abominable above all other churches because it took away many Covenants of the Lord and many plain and precious parts from the Gospel of the Lamb. It has done these things to pervert the right ways of the Lord, to blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. Thus you see that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the Book of the Lamb of God after the Book went through the hands of the great and abominable church.
After these plain and precious things were taken away from the Book, it went forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, then across the ocean with the Gentiles. Many of them stumble (insomuch that Satan hath great power over them) because many plain and precious things (which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God) which were taken out of the Book, taken away out of the Gospel of the Lamb. Nevertheless, you saw the Gentiles who went forth out of captivity lifted up by the power of God above all other nations on the land. This is the land, choice above all other lands, that God promised to give to the descendants of your father as the land of their inheritance. Thus God will not allow the Gentiles to utterly destroy the descendants of you and your brothers. Nor will God allow the Gentiles to remain in their state of awful woundedness because of the plain and precious parts of the Gospel of the Lamb removed by that abominable church. Saith the Lamb of God, "I will be merciful unto the Gentiles, and visit the remnant of the House of Israel in great judgment."
The angel continued, saying, "Thus saith the Lamb of God":
Behold, I will visit in judgment the descendants of your father, the remnant of the House of Israel, and smite them by the hand of the Gentiles. The Gentiles will stumble exceedingly because of the plain and precious parts of the Gospel of the Lamb removed by that abominable church, the mother of all harlots. But I will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day: I will bring forth to them (in my own power) much of my Gospel. For I will show myself to your descendants, and they will write many plain and precious things which I shall minister to them. After the descendants of you and your brothers are destroyed and dwindle in unbelief, these writings shall be hid up, to come forth to the Gentiles by the gift and power of God. These writings will contain my Gospel, my rock and my salvation. Blessed are they who will seek to bring forth Zion at that day: they shall have the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. If they endure to the end, they shall be lifted up at the last day and saved in the Everlasting Kingdom of the Lamb. How beautiful upon the mountains will be those who publish peace and tidings of great joy.
I saw that the book of the Lamb of God (which had proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew) came from the Gentiles to the remnant of my brothers' descendants. And I saw other Books (which came forth by the power of the Lamb) come from the Gentiles to them, to convince the Gentiles and my brothers' descendants and the Jews scattered upon the face of the earth that the records of the prophets and the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true.
And the angel said,
These last records which you have seen among the Gentiles shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. These last records shall make known the plain and precious things taken away from the first, and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world and that all men must come unto Him or they cannot be saved. They must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb. The words of the Lamb will be made known in the records of your descendants, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. They shall be established in one, for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth. The time cometh when he shall show himself to all nations, both the Jews and the Gentiles. Then he shall show himself to the Gentiles and the Jews, and the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.
Terms: Gentiles, land of their inheritance, great and abominable church, Saints of God, the devil, mother Gentiles, the Book, Covenants of the Lord, Gospel of the Lamb, plain and precious things, Satan, Everlasting Kingdom of the Lamb,
Commentary: Chapter 13 may be the conceptually thickest chapter in 1 Nephi. Several terribly interesting features of this chapter. First, historical commentary on God's hand in the discovery and peopling of America and the subjugation of Native Americans (the descendants of Lehi) by European Gentiles. Second, extended discussion of what Mormons call "the Great Apostasy." In the text, this consisted of the removal of "plain and precious" teachings from the Bible ("the Book") by that great and abominable church (evidently the imperial, then medieval, Catholic Church, although modern LDS interpretation has tolerantly downplayed this obvious identification). Third, discussion of what Mormons call the Restoration. In the text, this Restoration consisted of bringing forth, translating, and publishing the very Nephite writings we are reading (the Book of Mormon itself, as it was titled upon publication by Joseph Smith). Note how this parallels the account earlier in the chapter. The Great Apostasy was the loss of key teachings from the Bible; the Restoration was the return of those key teachings in the Book of Mormon. The modern LDS Church describes the Great Apostasy primarily in terms of the loss of priesthood authority; the Book of Mormon describes the Great Apostasy primarily in terms of lost text, of lost teachings.
A purely textual feature of the chapter is the extent to which the text is presented as direct speech of the angel guiding Nephi through his vision. Remarkably, the block of text from verses 34 to 37 (one paragraph in the 1830 edition) is presented as the angel quoting direct speech of "the Lamb of God." Even more remarkably, that block of text speaks directly to Nephi, as if Jesus is speaking directly to Nephi. In addition, the speaker in this block of text uses both the first-person indexical "I" to refer to himself as well as the third-person phrase "saith the Lamb," which is thrown in six times to remind the reader who the speaker is. Reading the passage as a whole, the identity of the speaker seems muddled, flipping repeatedly between the angel and Jesus, both addressing Nephi directly.
Consider how direct dialogue presented in the text is buried under layers of hearsay. The words of the text were actually recited by Joseph Smith to a scribe (generally Oliver Cowdery), who wrote down the words. So for the direct speech reported in verse 33, "I will be merciful unto the Gentiles," we have the following hearsay chain: Joseph said that Nephi said that the angel said that the Lamb of God said, "I will be merciful unto the Gentiles." That's quite a chain.
Finally, note the doctrinal shift in verse 40. The 1830 edition reads, "the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world." That was amended in later editions. The current 1981 edition reads, "the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world." Compare Mosiah 13:34, where Abinidi says, "Have they [all the prophets] not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth?" Even more detail of this modalist view of God is provided at Mosiah 15:1-4 (1830 ed.): "And now Abinadi saith unto them, I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people; and because he dwelleth in flesh, he shall be called the Son of God: and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son; the Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and the Son: and they are one God, the very Eternal Father of Heaven and Earth; ..."
Bridge: In Chapters 14, ...