Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
by Dan Vogel
Jacob and Nephi, Disciples of Isaiah
As Joseph Smith neared the end of the dictation of the Book of Mormon and began to contemplate its publication, he may have approached printers in the Fayette area.1 In any case, he eventually traveled to Palmyra to negotiate with Egbert B. Grandin, publisher of the Wayne Sentinel. This occurred in the “forepart” of June 1829, according to Grandin’s typesetter, John H. Gilbert.2 Apparently, Grandin rejected Smith out of principle because he considered the book to be fraudulent and suspected that it would be a risky financial venture.
Smith appealed to Thurlow Weed, an anti-Masonic publisher in Rochester. According to Weed, Smith not only described the discovery of the gold plates but demonstrated how he translated them, placing his seer stone in his hat and reading what Weed believed was the first chapter of the book. “I listened until I became weary of what seemed to me an incomprehensible jargon,” he recalled in 1880. “I then told him I was only publishing a newspaper, and that he would have to go to a book publisher, suggesting a friend who was in that business.”3 Despite the rejection, Smith returned a few days later with Harris, who offered Weed his farm as security for the printing. Weed was not persuaded.
Leaving the printer’s office, Smith and Harris crossed the street and entered the establishment of Elihu F. Marshall, publisher of the Rochester Album and a Quaker who may have had ties to Harris. Marshall was also the author of a well-known spelling book. He agreed to print Smith’s book.4
Returning to Palmyra, Smith and Harris paid Grandin another visit. Knowing that a Rochester printer would be inconvenient and costly, they guessed that Grandin might be persuaded if he knew that they had another offer. They were right. Upon learning that the book would be published anyway, the Palmyra publisher overcame his religious compunction. Harris was willing to offer his farm as security, so Grandin stood to make a considerable sum of money on a risk-free venture.5 With the assistance of Gilbert, his chief compositor, Grandin estimated that the cost of printing 5,000 copies would be $3,000.6
A little later, on 26 June 1829, Grandin announced through the columns of the Wayne Sentinel his intent to print the Book of Mormon “as soon as the translation is completed.” He also printed the title page, which Smith subsequently claimed was “taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates.”7 There is nothing in the composition or in contemporary accounts to suggest that the title page came from the gold plates, so Smith’s 1842 comment may be an afterthought and not reflective of his original intent. Regardless, the title page states that a major purpose of the book is to convince “Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD.” As was apt to happen, Smith’s dictation following his return to Fayette focused on this very theme.
Having concluded his negotiations with Grandin, it is possible that Smith and his entourage from Fayette celebrated by lifting a glass of liquor cider they recently purchased.8 All that remained was to obtain the copyright for the book and obtain affidavits from three special witnesses, finish the last part of the dictation, and return to Grandin’s office at the end of the month with the manuscript. The copyright was secured on 11 June 1829 in Utica, New York, at the office of Richard R. Lansing, either by Smith or by an agent.9
Apparently, Oliver Cowdery stayed behind in Fayette when Joseph and others traveled to Palmyra/Manchester. A letter on 14 June from Oliver to Hyrum Smith, who remained in Manchester, captures the mood following Joseph’s return to the Whitmer farm. Oliver expresses the fact that he is “anxious” about Hyrum’s “steadfastness” in his calling (Doctrine and Covenants 11; hereafter D&C), which may be due in part to the role Hyrum would soon play as the liaison with the printer. In any case, Oliver exhorts Hyrum to “stir up the minds of our friends against the time we come unto you that thus they may be willing to take upon them the name of Christ. … If the Lord will I shall shortly come unto you.” Oliver asks Hyrum to thank Mrs. Rockwell for the pair of shoes she sent to him and to “give my love to all those who anxiously inquire after my prosperity &c.”10 Meanwhile, having secured the copyright and a printer, Joseph was hurrying to finish his dictation.
Where the story left off, Nephi’s older brothers are seeking his life, so he and his younger brothers depart with their families into the wilderness (2 Ne. 5:6). After a journey of “many days,” probably in a northern direction along the coast, Nephi’s company pitches their tents (v. 7). Here Nephi founds a city and builds a temple similar to king Solomon’s (vv. 8, 16).11 A temple requires priesthood, so Nephi consecrates Jacob and Joseph as “priests and teachers over the land of my people” (v. 26).12 It should be noted that the establishment of temple worship and a non-Levitical priesthood in the Book of Mormon elicited an immediate reaction from Smith’s contemporaries. Alexander Campbell complained in 1831:
Smith … makes God a liar. … With the Jews God made a covenant at Mount Sinai, and instituted a priesthood, and a high priesthood. The priesthood he gave to the tribe of Levi, and the high priesthood to Aaron and his sons for an everlasting priesthood. He separated Levi, and covenanted to give him this office irrevocably while ever the temple stood, or till the Messiah came. … This Joseph Smith overlooked in his impious fraud, and makes his hero Lehi spring from Joseph.13
Much later, B. H. Roberts would defend the Book of Mormon on the grounds that “the Lord, in making his covenant with the house of Aaron and the tribe of Levi concerning the priesthood, reserved to himself the right on occasion to appoint others to perform priestly functions. … The establishment of a temple in the New World was a necessity to this colony, but Mr. Campbell … seem[s] determined to so limit the power of God that [he] will not allow of him making provisions to meet such occasions.”14 There is more to the Nephite concept of priesthood than Roberts mentions. Jacob states that he was “called of God, and ordained after his holy order, and … consecrated by my brother Nephi” (6:2). Jacob’s calling from God alludes to Alma’s discussion of the foreordination of priests (Alma 13:1-3). Thus, the Book of Mormon does not concern itself with the Levitical priesthood, which was associated with the law of Moses. Instead, the Nephites hold a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, who was a priest after the order of the Son of God (Alma 13:14-19). In other words, Smith evaded the issue of tribes in much the same way the author of Hebrews did for Jesus, although in doing so, Smith transformed hyperbole into historical fact (Heb. 7).15
At Nephi’s request, Jacob delivers the first public address of the newly formed church (2 Ne. 6-10). He begins by stating that his authority to officiate comes from Nephi, to “whom ye look as a king or a protector and on whom ye depend for safety” (6:2). This was the situation for Smith and Cowdery, who previously were compared to Moses and Aaron (3:16-18). Cowdery may have become an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, but his authority to officiate as an elder in the church came through Smith. Likewise, Jacob was foreordained to the priesthood, but he was “consecrated” by Nephi and received his appointment in the church from him.
Jacob is a model for Cowdery in another way. Not only does Jacob act under Nephi’s direction, his role is limited to exhortation and explication of the scriptures (6:3). Likewise, Cowdery has been described as Smith’s “spokesman,” or one to expound and proclaim the words Smith dictates (2 Ne. 3:18). Jacob’s revelations confirm, rather than compete with, those of the previous prophets; nor do they pertain to church discipline. In September 1830, Cowdery will be explicitly instructed that while he may “be heard by the church in all things” and “teach them by the Comforter, … no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.” (D&C 28:1, 2).
Jacob’s sermon dwells largely on Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the scattering and gathering of Israel (6:4-5). Because his American audience is part of the Diaspora, he tells them that “there are many things which have been spoken by Isaiah which may be likened unto you, because ye are of the house of Israel” (v. 5). Confirming Isaiah’s prediction, Jacob has learned from an angel that Jerusalem has been destroyed and that the Jews have been carried away captive into Babylon (v. 8). He sees that the Jews will return, that Jesus will be scourged and crucified by them, and that consequently, the Jews will again be scattered, smitten, and hated (vv. 9-11). God will be merciful to them in the last days, Jacob says, and “when they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance” (v. 11).
Jacob picks up the theme of Nephi’s last exhortation about how the gentiles will aid Israel in gathering; like his older brother, Jacob quotes Isaiah 49:22-26 (6:6-7, 16-18; cf. 1 Ne. 21:22-26). The righteous gentiles who “repent and fight not against Zion, and do not unite themselves to that great and abominable church”—that is, those who follow Smith—“shall be saved” (v. 12). The gentiles who “fight against Zion and the covenant people of the Lord shall lick up the dust of their feet” (v. 13). In describing the gathering of Israel, Jacob paraphrases Isaiah 11:11: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people” (cf. 2 Ne. 6:14). However, in replacing “Lord” with “Messiah,” Jacob transforms the passage into a proof-text for the notion that the Messiah will come twice.16
He then quotes Isaiah 49:24-52:2 nearly verbatim (6:16-8:25), explaining to his Nephite audience why he does so, “that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with the house of Israel. … that they shall be restored to the true church and fold of God; when they shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise” (9:1, 2). This portion of Isaiah speaks of the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem, but Jacob assumes that it includes conversion to the “true church,” an interpretation that Nephi previously gave (cf. 1 Ne. 22:12). Jacob’s statement that the Jews would be gathered to “all their lands of promise” rather than to their homeland is an interpolation that is not consistent with Isaiah’s predictions and not compatible with the Jewish world view.
Jacob abruptly changes his subject to declare salvation through Christ, although in a distinctively anti-Universalist way. Without an “infinite atonement” performed by a merciful Creator, all humankind will remain eternally severed from the presence of the Lord, which Jacob calls “spiritual death” (9:6-7, 9, 12). While all humanity will be resurrected, restoration to God’s presence is conditional, depending on the righteousness of each person. Alluding to Revelation 20:13, which is a proof-text Universalists who believed in a temporary hell often cited, Jacob declares that “death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits” (v. 12),17 followed in typical anti-Universalist fashion by an allusion to the balance of the passage, that “they were judged every man according to their works.” Jacob stresses that after the resurrection, all humankind “must appear before the judgment-seat of the Holy One of Israel; and then cometh the judgment, and then must they be judged according to the holy judgment of God” (v. 15). Continuing to argue anachronistically from Revelation, Jacob declares:
And assuredly, as the Lord liveth, for the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still [Rev. 22:11]; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire; prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end [Rev. 14:10-11]. (9:16)
Anti-Universalists defended the idea of an eternal torment by referring to the fire-and-brimstone passages in Revelation (14:10-11; 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8). In his 1824 Sermon on Future Punishment, the Reverend Bradstreet quoted approvingly from Revelation (14:10-11) that the wicked “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone … and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast.”18 Jacob follows with: “O the greatness and the justice of God! For he executeth all his words, and they have gone forth out of his mouth, and his law must be fulfilled” (9:17). Whereas Universalists interpreted these passages symbolically, Mormons and other anti-Universalists insisted on their literal meaning.
Jacob declares that those who are saved from “endless torment” are the saints of God who “hearken unto his voice” and obey his commandments, which include repentance and baptism (9:21, 23-24). One might ask what the fate was for Joseph’s brother Alvin, who died before he could be baptized. Much like King Benjamin (Mosiah 3:11), Jacob argues: “Where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement. … For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them” (9:25-26; cf. Rom 4:15). Joseph Sr.’s reluctance to renounce Universalism was tied, at least in part, to his son Alvin’s fate. Again like Benjamin (Mos. 3:12), Jacob warns: “But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!” (9:27).
Jacob lists various sins and denounces them, beginning with pride in learning, which he says causes people to set aside the counsels of God (9:28-29). Universalists had a highly intellectualized approach to the Bible, and in Smith’s opinion, they were the ones who wrested the scriptures out of context to their own condemnation (Alma 13:20; 41:1).19 Jacob condemns the rich who forget the poor (v. 30). In Smith’s environs, Deacon Jessup was such a man, as was Isaac Hale. However, the rich Universalist whom Smith hoped to influence with regard to the poor, meaning Smith himself, was Martin Harris. As he begins to wind down, Jacob mentions “those who die in their sins,” the popular anti-Universalist proof-text from John 8:21,20 and who “shall return to God, and behold his face, and remain in their sins” (v. 38).
Having condemned his audience, Jacob takes off his garments and, as Paul did in Corinth (Acts 18:6), shakes them, declaring: “Ye shall know at the last day, when all men shall be judged of their works, that the God of Israel did witness that I shook your iniquities from my soul, and that I … am rid of your blood” (9:44; cf. Jacob 1:19; 2:2; Mosiah 2:28; Morm. 9:35). In similar fashion, the Book of Mormon represented for Smith an unburdening of responsibility assumed as a result of his father’s acquiescence, Alvin’s death, and Hyrum’s alliance with his mother.
Jacob concludes the sermon with a revival-like call to repentance and salvation: “Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price” (9:48; cf. Isa. 55:1).
The next day, Jacob resumes preaching by prophesying that in the last days the Indians will be “restored” and “come to … the true knowledge of their Redeemer” (10:2). In outlining Jesus’ ministry and death, Jacob parenthetically mentions that the Messiah’s name will be “Christ—for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name” (10:3). This is strange because the term “Christ” (from the Greek Christos), or at least its Hebrew equivalent “Messiah” (mashiah), has been used by Nephi (1 Ne. 1:19; 10:4, 17; 12:18), Lehi (2 Ne. 2:6; 3:5), and Jacob himself (2 Ne. 6:13, 14). Presumably, Smith did not know the etymology of the term, that “Messiah” and “Christ” both mean “anointed” and that in the Old Testament it was applied to Israelite kings (1 Sam. 2:10, 35; 16:6; 2 Sam. 1:14; Ps. 2:2; 18:50; Hab. 3:13), high priests (Lev. 4:3, 5, 16), the prophets (Ps. 105:15), and even to Cyrus, the king of Persia (Isa. 45:1). However, the term is not used in the Old Testament in conjunction with messianic expectations, so the Book of Mormon is unique in this regard. In the context of the New Testament, “Christ” was at first an adjectival epithet referring to Jesus (Matt. 2:4; Mark 8:29; Luke 2:26) or an appellative attached to his name (John 17:3; Acts 9:34; 1 Cor. 3:11), but soon became a proper name substituted for Jesus (Matt. 1:17; 11:2; Rom. 7:4; 9:5).21 The Book of Mormon reflects the later understanding of the term.
The anti-Semitism of the New Testament is reflected in the Book of Mormon when Jacob states that Christ will come among the Jews—“who are the more wicked part of the world … [for] there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God” (10:3; cf. Acts 3:12-18). It was to the advantage of early Christians to blame the Jews and not the Romans for Jesus’ crucifixion—a peculiarly Roman form of capital punishment—and in other ways to disassociate themselves from the Jewish nation. Nevertheless, Jacob declares that because of priestcraft and iniquity, the Jews will harden their hearts against Jesus and crucify him (v. 5). For this evil deed, Jerusalem will again be destroyed and the Jews scattered among all nations (v. 6).
Jacob then quotes a revelation he says he has received concerning the gathering of Israel and America’s future (10:7-19), which—unlike Cowdery’s revelation—amplifies but does not conflict with Nephi’s previous teachings.22 Where Nephi prophesied the fall of the “great and abominable church” (1 Ne. 22:14), Jacob’s revelation declares: “Wherefore, he that fighteth against Zion, … shall perish; for they are they who are the whore of all the earth; for they who are not for me are against me [Matt. 12:30], saith our God” (10:16). Jacob’s revelation gives an anti-Masonic spin on the theme when it states: “For he that raiseth up a king against me shall perish. … Wherefore, for this cause, that my covenants may be fulfilled [in restoring the Indians to their lands] … I must needs destroy the secret works of darkness, and of murders, and of abominations” (vv. 13-14, 15). In the context of the 1828 election rhetoric, Andrew Jackson was the ungodly, murdering, Masonic king.23
Through Jacob, God confirms that the American gentiles will “afflict” their Israelite brethren (Indians) for a time (10:18; cf. 1 Ne. 13:14), then soften their hearts toward them so “that they shall be like unto a father to them” (v. 18; cf. Isa. 49:23; 1 Ne. 22:8). The gentiles who convert the Indians will be blessed and will be “numbered among the house of Israel” (v. 18; cf. 1 Ne. 14:1-2). “Wherefore,” the Lord declares, “I will consecrate this land unto thy seed, and them who shall be numbered among thy seed, forever, for the land of their inheritance” (v. 19). Despite the optimism of this declaration, Smith and his followers will fail in their effort to realize God’s promise, despite their efforts to convert the Indians and claim an inheritance from Missouri gentiles.
In the closing portion of his sermon, Jacob exhorts his brethren to remember the mercies of God in leading them to America, a “better land” than Jerusalem (10:20). Exile to America is not a punishment but a blessing, for “great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea” (v. 21). Jacob argues that America is among the “isles of the sea” mentioned in prophecy either by Nephi, Isaiah, Zenos, or God: “The Lord has made the sea our path,” he declares, “and we are upon an isle of the sea” (v. 20). In Book of Mormon terms, the New World was surrounded by water (cf. Hel. 3:8) in dimensions much smaller than the eastern hemisphere. Similar to Jacob’s use of the term “island,” a letter written by the Muhhecannuk Nation (the Stockbridge Indians) to the New York Baptist Association, dated May 1797, reads: “We are glad to hear that you do believe with us, that it was the will of the Great Good Spirit, that your ancestors came over the great waters to this island, for a certain good purpose.”24
In revival fashion, Jacob adds a statement of Arminian free will: “Ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life” (10:23). Drawing on Paul’s language, he bids the Nephites to “reconcile” themselves “to the will of God” and be saved “through the grace of God” (v. 24).
In conformity with Smith’s increasing interest in Isaiah, Nephi will now quote twelve chapters from Isaiah’s writings almost verbatim (Isa. 2-14//2 Ne. 12-24). Previously, Smith’s use of Isaiah had been limited to the later chapters of his Old Testament book (Mosiah 14//Isa. 53; 3 Ne. 22//Isa. 54; 1 Ne. 20-21//Isa. 48-49; 2 Ne. 7-8//Isa. 50-51), but now Nephi begins with Isaiah 2. There is no reason why Nephi should quote such a lengthy extract from Isaiah, especially from the King James Version, so we need to look to Smith. One might suggest that his inspiration was running dry and that he used Isaiah for filler, taking up sixteen pages of print in the first edition. However, there is another possibility. Smith may have asked Cowdery to copy the text from Isaiah while Smith and his party traveled to Palmyra to negotiate with Grandin to print the Book of Mormon. In this way, the work of translation would continue in his absence. This would have freed Smith for approximately four days.25 In support of this supposition, compare the words of the title page, which was submitted at the time Smith obtained his copyright on 11 June 1829, with 2 Nephi 26:12-13, which follows the lengthy extract from Isaiah that comprises chapters 12-24 of 2 Nephi:
And as I spake concerning the convinc-
ing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very
Christ, it must needs be that the Gen-
tiles be convinced also that Jesus is the
Christ, the Eternal God; and that he
manifesteth himself unto all those who
believe in him, by the power of the
Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation,
kindred, tongue and people … (2 Ne.
And also to the convinc-
ing of the Jew and
that JESUS is the
CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD,
manifesting himself unto all
nations … (Title Page)
The similarities between these passages are unmistakable, especially when one considers that “Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God” appears only twice in the Book of Mormon: in 2 Nephi and on the title page. This also links the authorship of the title page to Smith rather than to Moroni.
Prefacing his extract of the Isaiah chapters, Nephi declares: “My soul delighteth in his [Isaiah’s] words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children” (11:2). Of course, the twelve chapters of Isaiah contain considerable information, but the portion this introduction alludes to is chapter 6, which had significance for Smith. Speaking of Isaiah, Nephi declares: “He verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him. And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him” (vv. 2-3). Nephi, it will be remembered, had seen the human-shaped spirit of the pre-mortal Jesus (1 Ne. 11:11). Nephi explains: “Wherefore, by the words of three [witnesses], God hath said, I will establish my word” (v. 3). While God’s instruction to Moses was concerning criminal cases, requiring that “at the mouth of two witnesses, or … three witnesses, shall the matter be established” (Deut. 19:15), there is no specific instance in the Old Testament where God promises to establish his word by three witnesses. The principle of proving accusations with two or three witnesses is carried over into the New Testament church (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19), but the concept that God would operate on the same principle is absent. However, this concept appears in Smith’s revelations concerning the three future Book of Mormon witnesses (D&C 5:11; Ether 5:4).
More directly, Smith and Cowdery, like Nephi and Jacob, stand as witnesses to Jesus. Cowdery had seen Jesus and the gold plates in vision. Shortly after meeting Smith in April 1829, he was designated through revelation to be a second witness to Smith’s mission (D&C 6:28).26
Smith was undoubtedly attracted to Isaiah’s theophany because it provided a much-needed apologetic for those who rejected Smith’s claims based on his human failings. He could cite Isaiah: “I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. … Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:1, 5//2 Ne. 16:1, 5).
If Isaiah and Nephi could confess to their personal weaknesses (cf. 2 Ne. 4:13-35) and still have visions of Jesus and receive revelations, so could Smith. This was an important point since he was in the process of transforming himself from translator of the Book of Mormon to prophet and anointed leader of a religious community. Would those familiar with his failings, such as David Whitmer, accept him in his new role? Despite Isaiah’s unworthiness, Isaiah is “purged” of sin and sent to warn the people of their destruction (Isa. 6:7-11//2 Ne. 16:7-11).
Following the lengthy extract from Isaiah, Nephi admits that the ancient prophet’s words are “hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews. … Nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy” (11:1, 4). Nephi offers no commentary to elucidate the lengthy excerpt. Instead, he “prophes[ies] according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father” (v. 4). Despite this claim to straightforwardness, portions of Nephi’s prophecies are indecipherable. He nevertheless believes that they “shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them” (v. 8).
He predicts that the Jews will return from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem (25:11); that “the Only Begotten of the Father, yea, even the Father of heaven and earth, shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh” (v. 12); that the Jews will reject and “crucify him” (v. 13); and that after lying three days in a sepulchre, he will be resurrected (v. 13). For their wickedness, “Jerusalem shall be destroyed again … [and] the Jews shall be scattered among all nations” (vv. 14, 15). In the latter days, after the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the Jews “shall be persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God, … and look not forward any more for another Messiah, then … the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state” (vv. 16, 17; cf. Isa. 11:11). Drawing from Isaiah 29:18, Nephi says that God “will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men” (v. 17). This, of course, refers to Smith and his mission, which Nephi states will help convince the Jews that Jesus is the true Messiah (v. 18).
Nephi makes one particularly striking statement about the coming of Christ: “According to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (25:19). Here Nephi alludes to his father’s 600-year prophecy (1 Ne. 10:4; 19:8) and Jacob’s vision of an angel who revealed the Messiah’s name as “Christ” (2 Ne. 10:3). However, he silently corrects Jacob’s “Christ” to “Jesus Christ,” the first occurrence of the word “Jesus” in the opening portion of the Book of Mormon. Then Nephi, like the apostle Peter, declares: “There is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved” (25:20; cf. Acts 4:10-12). Sounding very much like the apostle Paul, Nephi exhorts both the Lamanites and Nephites to be “reconciled to God” (25:23; cf. Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:20), for “it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do” (v. 23; emphasis added; cf. Eph. 2:5, 8). By strip quoting Paul’s statement to the Ephesians about salvation by grace, Smith added words that reversed the ancient apostle’s meaning, showing that the author is neither Calvinist nor Antinomian but an Arminian. The Nephites keep the law of Moses, Nephi explains, but they anticipate the time when Jesus will fulfil the law (v. 24; cf. Matt. 5:17). Nephi is moved to declare with Paul, “The law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith” (v. 25; cf. Gal. 2:19; Rom. 3:20-31). Thus, the Nephites are not only Christians, but Pauline Christians.
Nephi warns future peoples not to reject the prophets, predicting that great destruction will occur in America at the time of Jesus’ death in order to punish those who have persecuted the prophets and the saints (26:3). Nephi then paraphrases Malachi 4:1, a passage he previously connected to Jesus’ second coming: “Wherefore, all those who are proud, and that do wickedly, the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, for they shall be as stubble” (v. 4; cf. 1 Ne. 22:15, 23).27 Aside from the literary difficulties associated with Nephi’s use of a text that has not been written and interpreting it differently on two different occasions, the application of Malachi to the destruction of the Nephites is a clue to Smith’s purpose. He wishes readers to draw a parallel between the destruction in America preceding Jesus’ appearance to the Nephites and their own situation. If they reject Smith’s prophetic message, they will perish when Jesus comes. This is made even clearer when Nephi reiterates: “The righteous that hearken unto the words of the prophets, and destroy them not, but look forward unto Christ with steadfastness for the signs which are given, notwithstanding all persecution—behold, they are they which shall not perish” (v. 8), and predicts that three generations of Nephites, and many of the fourth, will pass away in righteousness, after which “speedy destruction cometh unto my people” (26:9-10).
Nephi engages in an extended commentary on how the Book of Mormon will come forth in the last days, drawing on Isaiah 29, which will become the primary proof-text for the Book of Mormon. Various passages in Isaiah 29 have been alluded to already (Isa. 29:4//2 Ne. 3:19-20; Isa. 29:6//1 Ne. 19:11; Isa. 29:14//1 Ne. 22:8; Isa. 29:18//1 Ne. 22:12), but here Nephi explicates nearly the entire chapter (2 Ne. 26:14-27:35).28
Without identifying the source of some of his words (Isa. 29:3-5), Nephi prophesies about the gentile subjugation of the Indians and the appearance of the Book of Mormon (Isaiah’s words in italics):
After my seed and the seed of my brethren shall have dwindled in unbelief, and shall have been smitten by the Gentiles; yea, after the Lord God shall have camped against them round about, and shall have laid siege against them with a mount, and raised forts against them [cf. Isa. 29:3]; and after they shall have been brought down low in the dust [cf. Isa. 29:4], even that they are not, yet the words of the righteous shall be written, and the prayers of the faithful shall be heard, and all those who have dwindled in unbelief [the Indians] shall not be forgotten. For those who shall be destroyed shall speak unto them out of the ground, and their speech shall be low out of the dust, and their voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit [cf. Isa. 29:4]; for the Lord God will give unto him power, that he may whisper concerning them, even as it were out of the ground; and their speech shall whisper out of the dust [cf. Isa. 29:4]. For thus saith the Lord God: They shall write the things which shall be done among them, and they shall be written and sealed up in a book, and those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not have them, for they seek to destroy the things of God. Wherefore, as those who have been destroyed have been destroyed speedily; and the multitude of their terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away—yea, thus saith the Lord God: It shall be at an instant, suddenly [cf. Isa. 29:5]—And it shall come to pass, that those who have dwindled in unbelief shall be smitten by the hand of the Gentiles. (26:15-19)
Smith has skipped the first two verses of Isaiah 29 which give clear indication that Isaiah refers to Jerusalem: “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! … Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be unto me as Ariel.” While the origin of the word “Ariel” is uncertain, it is used here as a play on a similar Hebrew word meaning “altar hearth.” In predicting that Jerusalem shall become “as Ariel” in verse 2, Isaiah is saying that the city itself will shortly become like an altar hearth or place of flame (v. 6), blood, and death (vv. 4-5). Verse 3 predicts the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C., not the destruction of the Nephites by the Lamanites in America about A.D. 385.29
In verse 4, Isaiah likens the besieged city to a man lying prostrate on the ground, crying for help in a faint whisper. In painting this image, Isaiah draws on the forbidden practice of necromancy (e.g., Deut. 18:11), wherein wizards or mediums, possessed with “familiar spirits,” sometimes heard the voices of the dead—not always distinctly, but whispering, peeping, chirping, or muttering—coming up from the ground (cf. 1 Sam. 28:8, 11, 13).30 Isaiah draws on the occult, which he has otherwise condemned (Isa. 8:19; 19:3), to create a negative image. Smith transforms Isaiah’s imagery into a literal event, with himself as the “one that hath a familiar spirit,” explaining: “For the Lord God will give unto him [Smith] power, that he may whisper concerning them [the Nephites].”
In Isaiah, the voices are of the near-dead, not the actual dead, and are barely but nevertheless audible. In Smith’s version, the Nephites are dead and are heard only figuratively through the Book of Mormon. In interpreting the voice from the ground in verse 4 as some kind of written record, Smith introduces an element that is disruptive to Isaiah’s purpose. To further complicate matters, Smith links this record with the “sealed” book of verses 11-12 (2 Ne. 26:17) which, as will be discussed below, is an image Isaiah created for an entirely different purpose.
In the last days all the world, both Jew and gentile, according to Nephi, “will be drunken with iniquity and all manner of abominations” (27:1). Alluding to Isaiah’s description (v. 9) of the spiritual blindness and moral confusion in Jerusalem prior to the Assyrian siege, Nephi writes: “They are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink” (cf. Isa. 6:9-10). He then quotes verses 6-10 (27:2-5), interpreting them as the state of apostasy that will exist at the time the Book of Mormon comes forth.
In verse 7, Isaiah turns from doom to deliverance: “And the multitude of the nations that fight against Ariel … shall be as a dream of a night vision.” Smith changes “Ariel” to “Zion,” which in the Book of Mormon usually refers to the church. Isaiah metaphorically describes the Assyrians in verse 8 as people who dream of a feast and awaken suddenly to thirst and starvation, meaning that the Assyrians will be disappointed and fail in attempting to destroy Jerusalem. Isaiah knows that his audience will not understand his message, for they are spiritually asleep and blind (v. 10), and he uses the metaphor of a “sealed” book which neither the learned nor the unlearned can read: “And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned” (Isa. 29:11-12).
In other words, Isaiah’s message is like a sealed book which neither the scribes (“the learned”) by their reliance on human “wisdom” nor the laity, because of their ignorance, can understand. The book—Isaiah’s message—is not literally “sealed,” although it may as well be, given the misunderstanding of his audience. The book is sealed as a figure of speech—a metaphor (a “vision” that has “become … as the words of a book that is sealed”) representing spiritual illiteracy. Smith transforms this into a prophecy about a literal book—the Book of Mormon—by having Nephi predict: “And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall bring forth unto you the words of a book, and they shall be the words of them which have slumbered” (27:6).
Reference to those who have slumbered comes from Isaiah 29:10, which states that God has “poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep.” The “you” in Isaiah is his audience, those in spiritual apostasy; hence, they are not the ones who write the book, as Smith suggests. They are the ones who cannot read the book. Moreover, Nephi interprets sleep as a metaphor for death, whereas Isaiah does not. Nephi adds: “And behold the book shall be sealed; and in the book shall be a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof” (27:7).
Note that Nephi describes the entire book as sealed, as in 26:17, and then alludes to the Jaredite record and the revelation to the brother of Jared (cf. vv. 10-11; Ether 3:25-26; 1 Ne. 14:26), which although it has not yet been discovered by Limhi’s people and therefore can be known to Nephi only by the Spirit, will be “sealed” in the sense that it will be written in a foreign language (cf. Ether 3:21-22). It is metaphorically sealed, and still unlike the imagery of Isaiah’s sealed book or scroll which is literally sealed (cf. Isa. 8:16; Jer. 32:10).31
With obvious reference to Martin Harris and Professor Charles Anthon, Nephi continues: “The book shall be delivered unto a man [Joseph Smith], and he shall deliver the words of the book, which are the words of those who have slumbered in the dust, and he shall deliver these words unto another [Martin Harris]” (27:8-9). Playing on the phrase, “the words of a book,” Smith explains that as with Harris and Anthon, it is the words of the book that are delivered to the learned, not the book itself. However, Smith’s interpretation renders Isaiah’s metaphor essentially meaningless. Also, Nephi’s reference to “those who have slumbered in the dust,” conflates verses 4 and 10 and disrupts Isaiah’s imagery. Nevertheless, Smith continues:
But the words which are sealed he [Smith] shall not deliver, neither shall he deliver the book. For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord. … Wherefore, … the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein. (27:10, 12)
Note again that the entire book is “sealed by the power of God” and that a portion of the plates—the brother of Jared’s revelation—will remain sealed. The plates are not physically sealed but are simply kept from the view of the world. Nevertheless, three special witnesses in addition to Smith will see the plates “by the power of God” or through a visionary experience. Given the excitement and charismatic abilities of some of his followers, Smith is confident about procuring witnesses; and even though he has yet to name the three witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and Mary Whitmer have already seen the plates in vision. Perhaps as a result of Mary Whitmer’s vision earlier in the month, Smith has Nephi add: “And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God” (27:13; emphasis added). Since additional witnesses contradicted several previous statements (D&C 5:11-14; Ether 5:2-4), Nephi argues that “in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!” (27:14).
Having explained the term “sealed,” Nephi rewrites Isaiah 29:11-12 so that it conforms more closely with Harris’s encounter with Anthon:
But behold, it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him [Smith] to whom he shall deliver the book: Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another [Harris], that he may show them unto the learned [Anthon], saying: Read this, I pray thee. And the learned shall say: Bring hither the book, and I will read them. And now, because of the glory of the world and to get gain will they say this, and not for the glory of God. And the man shall say: I cannot bring the book, for it is sealed. Then shall the learned say: I cannot read it. Wherefore it shall come to pass, that the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned; and the man that is not learned shall say: I am not learned. (27:15-19; emphasis added)
The alteration of Isaiah is notable in this passage in that the interpretation, as it relates to the Harris-Anthon exchange, seems particularly awkward. As Nephi has it, only the “words of the book” can be delivered to the learned. This is because Smith needs to interject two elements that are foreign to Isaiah’s meaning to be consistent with the 1828 episode. First, in Nephi’s version, Anthon requests Harris to bring the book to him, which does not happen in Isaiah’s metaphor for the simple reason that it is the sealed book itself, not a facsimile of characters, that is brought to the learned. Second, Nephi’s version explains that the reason the book is withheld from the learned is because the learned seek recognition and wealth. This addition may be applicable to the gold plates but not to a scroll, and it would be irrelevant to the context of Isaiah’s metaphor. Even so, if Anthon requested Harris to bring the plates to him, he likely did it, not because he believed in their existence and coveted their financial worth, but because he wished to expose the fraud.32
Finally, Nephi quotes the remainder of Isaiah 29 with little variance (27:25-35// Isa. 29:13-24). In this last portion, Isaiah denounces formalized religion and then describes a period of spiritual renewal:
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isa. 29:13-14//2 Ne. 27:25-26)
Smith previously used Isaiah’s reference to a “marvelous work” to describe his mission in bringing forth the Book of Mormon (D&C 4:1; 6:1; 11:1; 12:1; 14:1; 3 Ne. 21:9; 1 Ne. 14:7; 22:8; 2 Ne. 25:17-18). Of course, Isaiah’s prediction of the overthrow of conventional religion and its replacement by spirituality is a universal theme applicable to any time and place. Both Jesus and Paul used Isaiah’s words to describe their own missions (Matt. 15:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:17-19). In the context of Isaiah’s time, the marvelous work is the vanquishing of Israel’s enemies, particularly the Assyrians.
Needless to say, the revisions Smith made to Isaiah 29 in presenting it as a text that Lehi’s family brought with them from Jerusalem lack support in the ancient manuscripts. In fact, the oldest extant text of Isaiah found at Qumran, which dates to the second century B.C., prior to the supposed alteration of the Bible by the “great and abominable church” (1 Ne. 13-14), does not support Smith’s version.
This manipulation of the text led one writer to concede that the original of Isaiah 29 cannot be construed to foretell the Book of Mormon and that Nephi, therefore, must have “likened Isaiah 29 to his own circumstances, formulating an original prophecy that gave the old scripture new significance and saw fulfillment in the Book of Mormon.”33 However, Smith regarded his gift to read the mysterious characters on the gold plates as a literal fulfillment of Isaiah 29, not a fulfillment of Nephi’s redaction of Isaiah. Smith said, “I commenced translating the characters and thus the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled which is written in the 29 chapter concerning the [sealed] book.”34 Later, while working on his inspired revision of the Bible in 1833, Smith used 2 Nephi 26-27 to “restore” the true text of Isaiah 29.
Nephi draws inspiration from Isaiah to foretell what the conditions will be for the gentile churches in America prior to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. This serves as a further means for Smith to comment on the sectarianism of his day. “The Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes,” Nephi declares, but they have “stumbled” because of the altered condition of the Bible (26:20; cf. 1 Ne. 13:29, 34). Nephi sees that the gentiles have “built up many churches” that are not of God because they “put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor” (v. 20). Describing sectarian conflict similar to that witnessed by Smith in Palmyra, Nephi declares: “And there are many churches built up which cause envyings, and strifes, and malice” (v. 21).
Among the American gentiles, Nephi sees “secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the foundation of all these things; yea, the foundation of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever” (26:22; cf. Isa. 5:18//2 Ne. 15:18). Some researchers see in Nephi’s reference to a “flaxen cord” an allusion to a Masonic ritual known as the “Cable-Tow” whereby an initiate is blindfolded and led into the lodge by a rope around his neck.35 Not only did nineteenth-century anti-Masons make metaphorical use of the cable tow similar to the wording Nephi employs, but apparently early Mormons held an anti-Masonic interpretation of Nephi’s words as well. Reporting on the preaching of Oliver Cowdery and fellow missionaries in northern Ohio in December 1830, one paper said: “[The Book of Mormon] predicts, we understand, almost all events which have come to pass, such as the American Revolution, &c. and that there should be secret societies, and that men should be led on to destruction as by a rope of flax, said [by Cowdery?] to mean Cable tow.”36 Many of Smith’s contemporaries regarded Masonry as a substitute religion or a false church that displaced Christianity with man-made ceremonies, so Nephi’s treatment of “secret combinations” in the context of early American sectarianism is understandable.
Declaring that “the Lord God worketh not in darkness” (26:23), Nephi attacks religious elitism. Playing on the flaxen cord metaphor, he affirms that Jesus died so that he might “draw all men unto him,” and Jesus “commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation” (v. 24). Perhaps still smarting from his ejection by Methodists, Smith has Nephi proclaim: “Hath [God] commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. … But all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden” (vv. 26, 28).
Nephi decries what he calls “priestcrafts,” a term that referred to the professional clergy, described as those “men [who] preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world” (26:29). While Smith no doubt hoped to benefit from his followers’ charity—for “if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish” (v. 30)—he nevertheless harbored an extreme anti-clerical sentiment: “But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish” (v. 31).
Nephi sees that the Book of Mormon will appear in the midst of religious confusion and strife in a day when the “churches … shall contend one with another; and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance” (28:3, 4). Smith repeatedly condemns the sectarian strife that caused him so much pain as a youth (cf. 2 Ne. 26:32; 3 Ne. 11:28-30).
The gentile churches, Nephi continues, will “deny the power of God” and say that the day of miracles is passed (28:5-6). Most Protestant churches in Smith’s day did not deny the providential acts of God in the lives of their parishioners; some encouraged charismatic experience. What they denied was that God would employ miracles, angelic appearances, and new scripture to establish a new denomination, preferring to see the miraculous ministry of Jesus and his apostles as unsurpassable and unrepeatable. Even primitivist Alexander Campbell believed that the miracles served this purpose to confirm the new covenant and were intended only for a “limited time” which had “expired.”37 Smith construed the rejection of his own claims as a broader denial of God’s ability to work miracles.
Describing nineteenth-century Universalists, Nephi predicts that among the latter-day gentile churches, “many” will say, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us” (28:7; cf. 1 Kings 4:20; Eccles. 8:15; Isa. 22:13; Luke 12:19; 1 Cor. 15:32). “Many others” will say: “Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (28:8; cf. Luke 12:45). Beginning in 1811 and continuing through the 1820s, American Universalism was torn over whether people would endure limited punishment after death. Those who followed Elhanan Winchester’s proposition that sinners would undergo a temporary period of punishment before being saved were called Restorationists. Those who denied this were simply called Universalists or sometimes Ultra-Universalists.38
Nephi condemns these latter-day teachings as “false and vain and foolish doctrines” (28:9). It is because of their pride and hypocrisy that gentile churches will complete the corruption and apostasy of the visible church: “They have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ” (28:11-14). Smith undoubtedly included his parents among the “humble followers of Christ” who had been so “led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men” (v. 14). Using extremely strong language, Nephi warns that the false teachers “shall be thrust down to hell” and their churches destroyed with “that great and abominable church” (28:15, 18).
The devil will stir up anger among some people against what is good; others the devil will “pacify, and lull … away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion” (28:20-21). In other words, people will see no need for church reform, and some will deny that there is a devil (v. 22).39 Such is the way Satan works, and those who advance such precepts can be assumed to be under his influence. They will be judged “according to their works” and condemned to “a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment” (v. 23).
“Many of the Gentiles” who reject the Book of Mormon will say: “We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! … A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible” (28:30; 29:3). Nephi’s defense of the need for another bible is:
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little [Isa. 28:10, 13]. … Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea? … Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written. (28:30; 29:7, 10)
Nephi sees that there are “many” gentiles who will believe in the Book of Mormon and will preach it among the Indians (30:3-5). When the Indians are converted, “scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people” (v. 6).40 The Book of Mormon will aid in converting the Jews, as well, that they too will “begin to gather … and … shall also become a delightsome people” (v. 7).
Nephi sees that the “time speedily cometh that the Lord God shall cause a great division among the people, and the wicked will he destroy; and he will spare his people, yea, even if it so be that he must destroy the wicked by fire” (30:10; emphasis added). Nephi quotes Isaiah 11:5-9 (cf. 2 Ne. 21:5-9), which describes the peace and tranquility of the Millennial era when “Satan shall have power over the hearts of the children of men no more, for a long time” (30:18; cf. Rev. 20:2).
With his discussion of future events concluded, Nephi moves on to doctrine, promising to avoid ambiguous language. “I shall speak unto you plainly,” he writes; “for my soul delighteth in plainness” (31:2, 3). His first item concerns the necessity of baptism, arguing that repentance and baptism are essential for salvation. These are steps that Smith’s father, Martin Harris, and others had not yet taken into any church. Having labored with Samuel and Hyrum to convince them to be baptized a second time, Smith may have anticipated reluctance from his father when the time came to ask him to be baptized. Joseph Jr. may have broached the topic with him during his visit to Palmyra earlier in the month. Regardless, Nephi’s arguments are designed to appeal to unbaptized believers, those who were unconcerned about water baptism such as Seekers and Quakers, who emphasized spirit baptism.
Using Matthew 3:15 as a proof-text, Nephi asserts that Jesus set the example for all to follow: “And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!” (31:5; emphasis added). Alluding to Jesus’ words in the New Testament—“Follow me” (e.g., Matt. 16:24)—Nephi argues: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son” (vv. 10-11). The logic is sound, but the force of the argument is weakened by the fact that the Father’s command is not a proof-text from the Bible but a revelation to Nephi, as indicated by the next verse: “And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do” (v. 12; emphasis added). Nephi’s argument does not seem to be designed to convince unbelievers to be baptized; it is for those who are under Smith’s influence and anxious for a charismatic experience and spiritual purification but are unconcerned about water baptism.
Alluding again to Matthew 3:16, Nephi argues that Jesus set the example by first being baptized with water, after which “the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove” (31:8, 17; cf. 3 Ne. 11:35; 12:1-2). Nephi promises latter-day readers: “I know that if ye shall follow the Son … down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel” (v. 13). Thus, Nephi argues that spiritual baptism, as witnessed by the ability to speak and sing in tongues, would follow water baptism.
Some of the early Mormon converts expressed an expectation that the Spirit would accompany or immediately follow the administration of baptism. When missionaries began baptizing in Mentor, Ohio, in November 1830, John Murdock, a Campbellite minister with Seeker leanings, told himself that if their claims were true, “the Holy Ghost will attend their ministration of the ordinances. … For I did not believe that the spirit would attend their ministration if the Book of Mormon was not true, neither if they were not sent forth of God.” He questioned some of the converts and found that indeed, the “manifestation of the spirit attended the ministration of the ordinance of laying on hands.” After reading the Book of Mormon, Murdock said, “the spirit of the Lord rested on me, witnessing to me the truth of the work.” On 5 November 1830, Murdock was baptized by Parley P. Pratt in the Chagrin River: “And the spirit of the Lord sensibly attended the ministration, and I came out of the water rejoicing and singing praises to God and the Lamb. An impression sensibly rested on my mind that cannot by me be forgotten. … This was the third time that I had been immersed, but I never before felt the authority of the ordinance. But I felt it this time and felt as though my sins were forgiven.”41 Nephi’s call to go “down into the water,” with an emphasis on baptism by emersion, had meaning for those like Peter Whitmer Sr. and sons Christian, Jacob, and John, who had been baptized by sprinkling in the Reformed Church.
As a true charismatic, Nephi declares that repentance and baptism are only the “gate” through which one must pass, “then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost” (31:17). In this way, Smith distinguished his brand of restoration from that of Alexander Campbell, who emphasized that the remission of sins came directly through the water baptism. This difference became apparent in June 1831 when Smith passed through Cincinnati and spoke briefly to Walter Scott, one of the founders of the Campbellites. “Before the close of our interview,” Smith reported, “he [Scott] manifested one of the bitterest spirits against the doctrine of the New Testament (that ‘these signs shall follow them that believe,’ as recorded in Mark the 16th chapter,) that I ever witnessed among men.”42 At the funeral of King Follett on 7 April 1844, nearly thirteen years later, Smith would declare: “[One] must be born of water and spirit in order to get into the kingdom of God. … John [the Baptist] says I baptize you with water but when Jesus comes who has the power he shall administer the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. … Alexander Campbell—how are you going to save them with water—for John said his baptism was nothing without the baptism of Jesus Christ.”43
In words reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching on the same topic during his visit to America, Nephi closes this part of his discourse by declaring that “this is the doctrine, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end” (31:21; cf. 3 Ne. 11:32, 35, 39).
Near the end of his second book, Nephi—like Moroni—apologizes for not being “mighty in writing” (33:1; cf. Ether 12:22-28), but says that he nevertheless “esteem[s] it [his writing] as of great worth … especially unto my people” (v. 3). Concerning the latter-day Indians, he says: “I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them. … And I know that the Lord God will consecrate my prayers for the gain of my people” (vv. 3, 4).44 Conflating Hebrews 11:34 (“out of weakness were made strong”) and 1 Corinthians 1:27 (“foolish things … to confound the wise; and … weak things … to confound the … mighty”), he expresses hope that “the words which I have written in weakness will be made strong unto them” (v. 4). He paraphrases Moroni’s definition of what constitutes inspired scripture: “For [the Book of Mormon] persuadeth them to do good; it maketh known unto them of their fathers; and it speaketh of Jesus, and persuadeth them to believe in him, and to endure to the end, which is life eternal” (v. 4; cf. Ether 4:11-12; Moro. 7:16-17). Despite whatever questions persisted in Smith’s mind about his mission and the efficacy of his methods, he believed with Nephi: “I have charity for my people, and great faith in Christ that I shall meet many souls spotless at his judgment-seat” (v. 7).
Nephi’s parting words contain a veiled challenge to anyone who would reject Smith’s charity: “And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness” (33:11). Despite the deception regarding the plates, Smith believed that he had been commanded to dictate Christ’s words as inspired by the Spirit. Bidding his readers farewell, Nephi adds an “everlasting farewell” to those who reject the Book of Mormon, “for these words shall condemn you at the last day. For what I seal on earth, shall be brought against you at the judgment bar; for thus hath the Lord commanded me, and I must obey. Amen” (33:14-15). This concluded Nephi’s second book.
2. John H. Gilbert, “Memorandum, made by John H. Gilbert Esq, Sept[ember]. 8th, 1892[,] Palmyra, N.Y.,” 1, Palmyra King’s Daughters Free Library, Palmyra, New York (see Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003], 2:543; hereafter EMD).
3. Thurlow Weed to Ellen E. Dickinson, 12 Apr. 1880, in Ellen E. Dickinson, New Light on Mormonism … With Introduction by Thurlow Weed (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1885), 260 (EMD 3:330). See also [Thurlow Weed], “The Beginning of Mormonism,” Albany Evening Journal, 31 July 1854 (EMD 3:328); [Thurlow Weed], “Prospect of Peace with Utah,” Albany Evening Journal 29 (19 May 1858): 2 (EMD 3:329); Thurlow Weed, Autobiography of Thurlow Weed, ed. Harriet A. Weed (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1884), 358-59 (EMD 3:331).
4. Marshall was evidently associated with Peter Harris, Martin Harris’s brother-in-law (William F. Peck, Semi-Centennial History of the City of Rochester [Syracuse, NY: D. Mason and Co., 1884], 261). Smith and Harris may have been familiar with the 1829 edition of Marshall’s Spelling Book of the English Language; or, The Teacher’s Assistant, rev. ed. (Rochester, NY: Marshall, Dean & Co., 1829), which was advertised in the Wayne Sentinel, 15 May 1829.
5. See [Pomeroy Tucker], “Mormonism and Joe Smith. The Book of Mormon or Golden Bible,” Wayne Democratic Press (Lyons, NY) 3 (26 May 1858) (EMD 3:64-66); Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), 52 (EMD 3:113-14); and Gilbert, “Memorandum,” 1 (EMD 2:543).
8. Sometime between 4 and 17 June 1829, Lemuel Durfee recorded in his account book: “Smith [Sr.] & [Orin] Rockwell Dr. [debit] to the Liqure of two barrels of Cider $2.50” (Lemuel Durfee Account Book, 1 Sept. 1817-10 July 1829, 46, Palmyra King’s Daughters Free Library [EMD 3:459]).
9. The original copyright is found in the LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, UT (see EMD 3:461-63). A second nearly identical copy is found in the Library of Congress (Copyright Records, vol. 116 [Sept. 1826-May 1831], entry 107, Library of Congress, Washington, DC; photographically reproduced in the Ensign 13 [Dec. 1983]: 40).
17. Gospel Advocate, 6 Aug. 1824, 236-37. See my discussion in “Anti-Universalist Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon,” in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 36.
18. Stephen I. Bradstreet, A Sermon on Future Punishment (Cleveland, OH, 1824); also Samuel Hopkins, An Inquiry Concerning the Future State of those who die in their Sins (Newport, RI, 1783), 20, 46-47.
25. The manuscript evidence is fragmentary (only portions of 2 Nephi 23 and 24 survive), but Smith’s presence would not seem to have been required for these chapters. The few variant readings may have been transcription errors on Cowdery’s part or extralineal insertions by Smith, after his return from Fayette, of the kind he made in other Isaiah chapters (see Royal Skousen, “Textual Variants in the Isaiah Quotations in the Book of Mormon,” in Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch, eds., Isaiah in the Book of Mormon [Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998], esp. 372, 376, 378, 380-85).
28. For a similar treatment of Smith’s use of Isaiah 29, see David P. Wright, “Joseph Smith’s Interpretation of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 31 (Winter 1998): 196-204.
36. Auburn [New York] Free Press, as reprinted in the Philadelphia Album, 18 Dec. 1830. For a discussion of Nephi’s “flaxen cord,” see Dan Vogel, “Echoes of Anti-Masonry: A Rejoinder to Critics of the Anti-Masonic Thesis,” in Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds, American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 283-84.
37. Christian Baptist (rpt. Cincinnati, 1835), 89-91, 95, in Milton V. Backman Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 16, 395, n. 37.
38. See Russell E. Miller, The Larger Hope: The First Century of the Universalist Church in America, 1770-1870 (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1979), 111-26; Richard Eddy, Universalism in America: A History, 2 vols. (Boston: Universalist Publishing House, 1884-86), 2:132-37, 260-342; Kenneth M. Johnson, “The Doctrine of Universal Salvation and the Restorationist Controversy in Early Nineteenth Century New England,” Ph.D. diss., University of Ottawa, 1978. See my discussion in “Anti-Universalist Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon,” 25-30. While apologists initially resisted my anti-Universalist interpretation of Nephi’s prophecy (e.g., Martin S. Tanner, “Is There Anti-Universalist Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon?” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 : 424-26), Stephen Clarke took a closer look and agreed with my identification (Stephen Clarke, “‘Do Ye Suppose that Mercy Can Rob Justice?’: The Universalism Debate and Book of Mormon Soteriology,” Archive of Restoration Culture: Summer Fellows’ Papers, 1997-1999 [Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, 2000], 156-57).
39. On 25 August 1826, the Gospel Advocate, a Universalist newspaper published in Buffalo, New York, declared that “the devil is a nonentity, and an endless hell of brimstone a bug-bear.” On 3 March 1826, the same paper printed a letter complaining that Universalists “blasphemously assert that there is neither hell nor devil.”
40. While both the 1830 and 1837 editions of the Book of Mormon read “white and delightsome,” under Joseph Smith’s direction the 1840 edition was changed to “pure and delightsome.” However, the editions after 1840 reverted to “white” until the revisers of the 1981 edition reinstated “pure.” Commenting on the new reading, Robert J. Matthews states: “This correction does not negate the concept that future generations of Lamanites will become white, but it removes the concept that one has to be white to be delightsome to the Lord” (Robert J. Matthews, “The New Publications of the Standard Works—1979, 1981,” BYU Studies 22 [Fall 1982]: 399). If the passage originally intended Native Americans to become “pure” rather than “white,” why doesn’t the next verse about the conversion of the Jews include “pure” when promising that they “shall also become a delightsome people”? Clearly, becoming “white” was applicable only to Native Americans.