There are 26 thoughts on “Nephi’s Obsession, Or, How to Talk with Nephi about God”.

  1. Ad hominem, begone!
    I doubt any of us know Joseph Spencer’s heart. (There is a difference between critique [Hancock – good!] and criticism [some comments here – bad!].
    The introduction in the series referred to here (published in each volume) states that the author is not declaring official doctrine, but only stating fervent impressions AND personal opinions/theological musings.
    If others have different impressions and/or opinions, then pay the requisite price and publish them (as Spencer, Hancock, and the other series authors have done: get baccalaureate, masters and doctoral degrees; contribute often to peer-reviewed professional books and journals; teach, test and grade bright and challenging students – Seminary, Institute, and BYU. Or put in the same significant effort at secular graduate and/or divinity schools.
    After 11-years post-BYU, and then 48 years practicing a medical specialty, I know a little of Spencer’s significant effort and preparation. Yet I cannot know the intent of his heart, or judge the eternal value of this (impressive – IMO) contribution to the Kingdom.

    • There is a tendency among some professors to become impressed with their intellect and thus want to impress people with their expertise. I observed this tendency while I was getting my B.A. and M.A. in English and philosophy at BYU. I also observed this tendency when I had attended George Washington University and George Mason University (to become a certified teacher in English and in Mathematics). I observed this tendency when I attended American University’s classes in graduate film. I also observed this tendency about several historians when I have studied 6 major founding fathers (Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton).

      On the other side of the coin, I also have observed professors who were genuinely interested in students’ learning rather than in showing that they (the professors) were experts. The really good professors – although confident – did not seem interested in appearing as experts. One such Jewish professor asked me if I would read his draft of a new novel he was writing about 2 Jewish boys escaping from the Nazis.

      You don’t have to have a degree to act as an expert. I have known Latter-day Saints who wanted to appear as “experts” in the Gospel. One such Latter-day Saint actually referred to himself as “an expert” while professing that our godhead was the Trinity as in Catholicism. This same “expert” would read the Book of Mormon while at singles dances; thus he ignored women who went home upset and depressed because NO ONE had asked them to dance. There are times to read the Book of Mormon, and there are other times not to read the Book of Mormon but to OBEY the Book of Mormon. This so-called expert didn’t know the difference.

      If you are going to write about Nephi, 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi make it very clear that Nephi was one of the good guys, and that Laman and Lemuel were 2 of the bad guys. There’s absolutely NO doubt about this. When a Latter-day Saint “scholar” wants to criticize a prophet, the “scholar” should study Eli in the Old Testament who let his sons do wicked things; the prophet Samuel also had at least one son who did wicked things, but like Lehi and unlike Eli, Samuel diligently strived to stop his son’s wicked ways.

      Spending a lot of time preparing an article – as Spencer obviously did – should result in an accurate assessment of any person, especially a prophet. When that assessment is very inaccurate, that inaccuracy is a huge red flag, indicating a failure to listen to the Spirit. Such a failure at least suggests that the “scholar” has pride – too much pride – in his scholarship rather than a desire to enlighten.

    • Oh my!
      The issue isn’t what may or may not be in Spencer’s heart. The point is the unorthodoxy of his theology that is contrary to what prophets have taught.

      Secondly, thankfully we are not required to be professors with doctorates to understand or teach or write about doctrine in this church. On the contrary, such degrees can do more harm than good. We do not seek divinity degrees.

      Does God require us all to be Egyptologists or astronomers in order to read, understand, and love the Book of Abraham?

      Does God require us all to be Hebrew scholars to read and understand the Old Testament, or Greek and Aramaic experts to read and understand and rejoice in the New Testament?

      Must we all be horticulturists to understand Jacob 5?

      The final and best and highest quality explanations of scripture (theology) do not come from BYU professors of whatever, they come from the prophets and apostles, regardless of degrees or teaching experience.

      These NAMI books reach only a very small audience (thank goodness), whereas the vast majority of scripture teaching in this church is done by hundreds of thousands of regular members in their wards. And thank goodness the vast majority of them don’t look for weakness in Nephi or call him self-righteous, etc.

      Being a good guy or having a good sincere heart doesn’t excuse unorthodox or false teachings/writings.

      Throwing a disclaimer in your preface, stating that your book series is not official doctrine does not excuse formulation of new wrong doctrine.

      It seems to me that the sharp people (Lanny, Tamara, Sam) who have been commenting on here negatively about what they see from this review are exactly right; let us not meddle with the sound interpretations of scripture from our prophets–else why have them when we have NAMI instead?

      • Great comments Lanny & Dennis! Undermining the plain meaning of scripture is not an appropriate manifestation of gospel commentary in my opinion. There’s plenty of room and then some within faithful boundaries to expound upon and express varying opinions about the contents of the scriptures. Venturing outside those boundaries usually leads to a spiritually lethal mixture of worldly philosophies and gospel truth.

        • I am concerned that there is the idea that there is a “plain meaning” of scripture that is so readily available. William Dever noted:

          We must therefore beware of “modernizing” the Bible. Believers who read only modern English translations of the Biblical text, often unaware of the long transmission process, speak of the “plain meaning” of Scripture. If there were any such thing, we would have none of the violent controversies that have always surrounded the interpretation of the Bible–beginning already in antiquity and continuuing through every popular and scholarly school, both Jewish and Christian, to this very moment.

          William G. Dever. Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research, 190, 8.

          • Brandt,
            We are talking about the Book of Mormon here, specifically First Nephi, not the Bible. Book of Mormon interpretation is not beholden to Biblical scholarship; its the other way around. One of the Book of Mormon’s main purposes is to straighten out bad Biblical interpretation.

            And I don’t have the quote in front of me, but when Brother Joseph was asked how to interpret scripture, he replied something to the effect of- just how it is written, the plain reading. That doesn’t always work but it does most of the time. One thing the gift of discernment helps readers do is figure out what is literal and what is figurative. Of course, once the prophet of the Lord provide an inspired interpretation of a passage of scripture, that is the final word.

            (On a side note I often see progressives try to paint Brother Joseph Fielding Smith as a “scriptural literalist,” which is a gross error. He knew when to decipher figurative scriptural passages as well as when to see other passages literal meanings.)

            • Of course we are talking about the Book of Mormon. There is only one translation away from the original, but there is a lot of disagreement about what that single translation has done to the original. Certainly, we have the essentials, but translations always lose something. Also, we have Nephi himself telling us that the plain reading isn’t necessarily the one to be concerned with. We are supposed to liken scriptures to ourselves, and that necessarily means different tings to different peoples, cultures, and times.

              Unfortunately, most often the idea of “plain reading” is code for one’s own reading which is simply assumed to be obvious. I find that there are multiple readings of the text that deal with instructions on how to live correctly, but those meanings don’t always line up with what I see as the context for the original writers. I don’t think either of those ways of reading the text is wrong. Both are valuable–to different peoples and at different times.

  2. Thank you; this was very good. I’ve been concerned about and disappointed with the perspective of certain current LDS commentators on scripture/doctrine/theology, who seem to take the term ‘apologetics’ literally, and think they need to apologise for things in the Church, or scriptures, or doctrine, squaring them with contemporary ‘enlightened’ views.
    I’m inspired by Nephi – he’s always been a hero of mine. Every time I read through his record, I’m impressed by his faithfulness, obedience, intelligence, thoughtfulness, charity, forgiveness, foresight, leadership, and faith. He didn’t choose to be a prophet or become his family and people’s leader – God chose him; and not only because he was so excellently qualified for it, but because his older brothers didn’t step up. They constantly whined about their rights, without doing anything to deserve them. Nephi didn’t set out to become their instructor; he just wanted to believe and understand what his father had shared, so he prayed deeply and sincerely for that. And he got his own vision. Joseph Smith didn’t set out to be a prophet or leader, either – he wanted to understand God’s will and know the truth, so he prayed, deeply and sincerely – and got his own vision.
    Nephi didn’t set himself against Laman and Lemuel – they set themselves against him, at every point. He wasn’t being competitive or proud or annoying. He was being a prophet; someone who is constrained to say what the Spirit speaks in him – ‘like a fire shut up in [his] bones’ (Jeremiah).
    So thank you, for defending him against such calumny – not because I want to see Nephi as untarnished and perfectly heroic because that makes me feel nicer and not give up my fairytales. Nephi is someone we can aspire to be like, who gives us hope and encouragement, who helps me feel not alone in my desires to live the Gospel, despite those who speak against it or tell me I’m being self-righteous when I stand up for the truth. He has helped me to believe, and to seek; I have also wanted to know and believe what I’ve heard, and have done what he did – without visions as the result! I feel both a kinship with Nephi for these reasons, and an awe and love for his goodness, sincerity, fortitude in the face of extreme difficulty, and ability to see the good in that extremity. I’m glad to have such a hero.
    This is how I see the Nephi/ Laman-Lemuel conflict:

      • Thanks, Lanny. I felt a little fired up! Also frustrated with the same things the author shares here. I found a similar sort of perspective in Deirdre Green(?)’s commentary on Jacob (or was it Enos?) – from the podcast episode done with her about it. Seeing racism in the attitudes of the Nephites towards the Lamanites, etc.
        It’s as though we have to tear down our heroes and historical figures and bring them down to our ‘reality’. The tall poppy syndrome gone wild.

        • I agree! It’s become quite the fad to exaggerate the weakness’ of prophets past while attributing to them certain negative intentions not to be found in the scriptural record, but instead are additions by the scholar seeking the praise of the world by indulging in a form of virtue signaling.

          • Yes. Definitely a form of virtue signalling, and also maybe something that helps those people feel better themselves – if these genuinely good people were really just ordinary like them – or worse than them – then it’s okay. Like all the people ever pulling down others. It’s important not to idolise leaders, because everyone is fallible, but there’s a healthy recognition of that, and then taking it too far.
            I wrote something else about just that, too! (Really not just trying to self-promote here – I think it’s an important point to be made, and discussed). About Moroni’s insights about charity, when he wondered what to do about the weakness he perceived in his writing, and God told him not to worry – that people needed to have charity, and it was a test for them, how they responded to those weaknesses.

    • Tamara, I agree with you. Oh, how I agree with you. Nephi is also one of my heroes. One of my pet peeves is so-called experts in their pride wanting to be different and unique rather than truthful. And in their pride the so-called experts find fault where there is none. I have seen these so-called experts criticize scriptural heroes, modern day church leaders, and founding fathers (another group of persons I love to read about: George Washington, Jefferson, John Adams, etc). Your comments about Nephi, Laman, and Lemuel are right on.

  3. I agree with Sam and Lanny.
    I just finished another reading of 1 Nephi myself, and I remember Nephi stating over and over that the Spirit constrained him to speak to his older brothers the way he did. That is not self-righteousness, but following the promptings and urgings of the Spirit. Lehi himself reinforced that fact to his oldest sons.
    Then I read various general conference addresses explaining Lehi’s dream/Nephi’s vision, and every apostle teaches that the setting these prophets see represents the world, with none of them teaching it represents Laman and Lemuel’s posterity (except as they are a part of the world). I therefore disbelieve Spencer.
    I can’t find any church leaders teaching the doctrines that Hancock quotes or describes Spencer teaching.
    I guess one could say that a person can be skillful in teaching unorthodox and incorrect doctrine, but that is an odd way to say it. To me, skillful BofM teachings are foremost truthful teachings.
    Further, I personally don’t want my scriptural exegesis melded with modern feminist or equality theories. Neither Jehovah nor Lehi or Nephi taught them or mixed them with their scriptures, so why should Spencer do that today?
    Tithing funds underwrite NAMI publications. I wonder if they do in reality have a right to depart from the settled doctrines of the Church even under guise of “Mormon Studies.”

    • I agree completely, especially with your point about NAMI using Tithing funds to pump out unorthodox and, in some cases, potentially faith-subversive research. Calling it “Mormon Studies” doesn’t make it okay in my opinion.

    • Mr. Horne, again, Have you read Spencer’s book? if not your opinion is worthless about it. Don’t pay tithing if you don’t like where it’s going. Do you believe in modern revelation Mr. Horne? heaven forbid someone has a new idea. I was talking to someone was a past executive director of the Temple Dept. last month and I asked him abut prophecies about temple locations. He said that in the entire time he was the director only twice did prophecy come up but both times they were dismissed. Once involved a temple that Pres. Kimball said something and another one was in Utah but he said we believe in modern revelation and don’t do things simply because Wilford Woodruff or Erastus Snow said something well over one hundred years ago. You say, “Further, I personally don’t want my scriptural exegesis melded with modern feminist or equality theories. Neither Jehovah nor Lehi or Nephi taught them or mixed them with their scriptures, so why should Spencer do that today?” First of all again you are reading your own nonsense into what Hancock said that Spencer wrote, it really helps to have read the book. He never said anything about “Modern Feminist theory”. That’s all you. Consider the following
      At the 2012 FAIR Conference Neylan McBaine said,
      “there was a woman involved in almost every one of the Savior Jesus Christ’s mortal milestones. From his very first miracle facilitated by his mother, to revealing Himself as the “living water,” to being the subject of numerous parables, to being anointed by a woman hours before his death, to being the first witness of the resurrection… women were not just bystanders but engaged contributors to his ministry. They were symbols of the extent to which the Savior was willing to challenge the conventions of his culture and usher in a new social ideal. Compared to the way women were treated in the Savior’s own time and place, His treatment of them was radical. By involving not just his mother and female friends in his ministry, but by embracing the fallen woman, the daughter of a Gentile, the sick woman, the Samaritan woman, Jesus, through his example, challenged us as His followers to engage all women, trust them, lead with them, and lean on their spiritual power. Let us meet that challenge.”
      President Russell M. Nelson said in 2015 My dear sisters, we need you! We “need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices.”
      If it bothers you that a scholar and the President of the Church want more women’s voices and perspective and Dr. Spencer is pointing them out in the scriptures then deal with it. Start following the prophet and put aside your misogyny.

  4. I disagree with Spencer on his interpretation of Nephi’s behavior and intent, for even a simple reading of the BOM will inform the reader that the record is not condemning or criticizing Nephi for preaching boldly unto his murderous brethren but is only sharing Nephi’s struggle with his own humanity (in 2 Nephi 4) lest the reader think Nephi more than human. It seems to me that Spencer is reading his unorthodox theology into the text; but, as the author of the book under review, that’s entirely his right to do 😉

  5. Thank you for this review. When I read Spencer’s work, I found it thought-provoking and I came away with new things to ponder. At the same time, however, I was uncomfortable with his efforts to judge/label/categorize Nephi in the certain ways he did, not because we revere Nephi as a prophet (I do), but because the record is far too sparse and incomplete to draw conclusions of any worth of any person, let alone someone who lived so long ago, in a different culture, place, time, and setting. Diagnosing people from afar is not a matter of theology; it is speculative musings, at best. I wish Spencer had not gone there.

  6. Spencer has overthought Nephi 1. Sometimes our extensive knowledge of a topic can make us proud and thus lead us to appear as “experts” on the topic by developing theories about the topic – theories that are frankly often stupid. For example, Spencer is the 2nd one I’ve heard to imply that 2 Nephi 4 shows Nephi’s serious flaws. The first one was also a BYU professor at BYU Education Week. Even though I got my B.A. and M.A. at BYU, and love BYU, I totally disagree with Spencer and the other BYU professor. Is there a person on the planet who would not be upset with anyone – but especially with a family member – who had tried to murder him and who did abuse his parents? In Nephi 2: 4 Nephi is concerned about being OVERLY – OVERLY – angry about Laman and Lemuel trying to murder him and their abusing his (and their) parents. I believe that the Lord and the prophets would be delighted if the worst sin of members of our church or of mankind was being too angry with anyone – but especially with a family member – who had tried to murder him and who did abuse his parents. 2 Nephi 4 is evidence of what Brigham Young taught: the more righteous we become, our less sinful acts become more significant, become our focus. In 2 Nephi 4, Nephi is disappointed in himself because he has not yet achieved a perfect Christlike nature. If being OVERLY – OVERLY – angry about Laman and Lemuel trying to murder him and their abusing his (and their) parents, was Nephi’s worst sin, he was well on way to becoming Christlike, especially since in 2 Nephi 4, he expressed a wonderful faith in Christ and His atonement to enable him to overcome this minor flaw. Spencer just intellectualizes and theorizes too much about simple truths.

    Also Jacob in praising the Lamanites to the adulterous Nephites, is NOT praising the Lamanites as a righteous people. What Jacob is saying is similar to what we might say to a friend or to our children if they were doing something wrong that was not being done by an unrighteous neighbor: e.g. IF YOU THINK MR. JONES IS BAD, AT LEAST MR. JONES IS NOT COMMITTING ADULTERY AS YOU ARE. SO YOU WITH THE GOSPEL ARE WORSE THAN MR. JONES. Jacob’s statement about the Nephites gives only faint praise to the Lamanites, and condemns the Nephites’ adulterous behavior.

    Another example is what I have observed about how bishops treat wives of adulterous husbands. Sometimes such wives have trouble forgiving their adulterous husbands. Must they forgive? Absolutely YES, such wives must forgive. But bishops I have known have been uncommonly patient with the wives’ bitterness because it takes time to overcome the betrayal.

  7. Ralph is fresh air fare, faithful flame. I always trust his thrust. He puts light on secularist gist, patterns in their patter. I would love to say more, but with Brant I can’t.

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