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Why Does Nephi Include So Much Isaiah (2 Nephi 11)

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon Lesson 8:
“We Rejoice in Christ” (2 Nephi 11-25)

 

 

Transcript

In 2 Nephi 11, Nephi discusses his motivation for including the Isaiah chapters. A nontrivial number of readers have wondered and continue to wonder why he did such a thing, but this mystery is actually at least somewhat solvable because he told us. Beginning at verse 1,

1 And now, Jacob spake many more things to my people at that time; nevertheless only these things have I caused to be written, for the things which I have written sufficeth me.
2 And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him. 3 And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word. Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words.
4 Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.

Nephi delights in Isaiah’s words—he likes them—in part, because they are applicable. Isaiah prophesies concerning all of the house of Israel and Nephi and his people are of the House of Israel and so there is much in Isaiah’s prophesy that applies. There is the much larger issue, however, that Nephi wants to bear testimony to his people of the coming Redeemer, whom Isaiah has seen. This actually ties directly to the Isaiah chapters that Nephi includes. In 2 Nephi 16, Nephi transcribes Isaiah 6, which includes Isaiah’s vision of the Lord. Nephi and Jacob have both also seen the Lord in vision and Nephi’s inclusion of the three testimonies together fulfills the Law of Witnesses. The latter part of 2 Corinthians 13:1 states this principle succinctly as, “…In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” Deuteronomy 19:15 states the principle in its legal context, “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.” Numbers 35:30 does likewise, but gives a more specific legal requirement for capital murder cases, “Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.” The gist of all this is that before a fact can be established upon which any person shall be judged for there life, the fact must be attested to by two or three witnesses. Nephi wants his people to know, as an established fact, the truth of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the way to do this is by presenting witnesses to the matter. Many readers of the Book of Mormon will also note that the translation of the work as a whole is also attested by three witnesses, which completes a critical part of the book’s provenance chain so that its witness is binding upon latter-day hearers as well. Apart from Isaiah’s vision of the Lord, he also gives some of the great banner prophecies of the Messiah’s mortal and millennial work in the chapters which Nephi includes.

Continuing with verse 5

5 And also my soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers; yea, my soul delighteth in his grace, and in his justice, and power, and mercy in the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death.

Among the covenants Nephi reflects on in 2 Nephi 25 at the end of the Isaiah excerpts he has included is the promise of the gathering of the House of Israel which Isaiah makes clear in his writings. Because Nephi’s people are of the House of Israel, they are part of that great saga and Nephi points them forward to its anticipated fulfillment.

6 And my soul delighteth in proving unto my people that save Christ should come all men must perish.
7 For if there be no Christ there be no God; and if there be no God we are not, for there could have been no creation. But there is a God, and he is Christ, and he cometh in the fulness of his own time.

Nephi’s argument here made better sense to him than it does to many modern readers. Brandt Gardner’s excellent “Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon” has this to say about that passage: “Nephi’s equation of God and Christ reflects his understanding that Yahweh, Israel’s creator and God, will become the Atoning Messiah. Latter-day Saints accept this concept easily, since they identify Jehovah (Yahweh) as Jesus’s premortal name and role.” Thus the lynch pin in Nephi’s argument is that he recognizes Jesus’s premortal role in creation.

8 And now I write some of the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men. Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men.

Thus Nephi introduces the Isaiah excerpt he is about to include because of its witness of the Messiah, the gathering, and the encouragement his writings can, properly understood, bring to all people through the hope which they put forth for a better world.

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