One of the beauties of the information age is access to materials that help us move away from the incorrect traditions of our fathers and towards the pure doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This new flow of new information, understandably, is difficult for some. It can cause discomfort, sadness, confusion or even anger. It’s a very unpleasant place to be. I know because I’ve been there.
Accepting new Truth, however, is paramount to our salvation. Without a knowledge of the Truth and acting accordingly, we’re sprinting towards an indeterminate finish line. When His disciples asked our Lord they way to the many mansions of His Father’s house, He replied, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man come to the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). Christ is Truth. By accepting Truth, we accept Him. If we desire a place in His Kingdom, we must accept Truth–and act–regardless of it source.
“The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: he received a fullness of truth, yeah, even of all truth. And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments. He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.” (D&C 93:26-28)
Receiving Truth is a process. It doesn’t come all at once. It comes line upon line as we accept a Truth that preceded the current Truth, even until we receive a fullness of Truth. The Book of Mormon is full of stories about people who accepted Truth, abandoned the traditions of their fathers, and experienced a new spiritual awakening with its attendant blessings. It’s one of the book’s central themes. This is true repentance – turning your heart and mind to Christ and His Truth. There’s perhaps no greater example than that of King Lamoni and his people. It’s a case study of what can happen when people wholly embrace Truth. (I would put Alma right there at the top, too.)
After Ammon had preserved the kings flocks, the King was convinced that Ammon was the Great Spirit. Lamoni was dumbstruck by Ammon’s power. I imagine up to that point of his life, Lamoni was content to live as he had always had. I imagine he was comfortable in his beliefs, just as many of us are, and probably never had occasion to question them. That is, of course, until he was presented with something that dramatically altered his worldview. It was the classic paradigm shift. In that moment everything changed. He had witnessed the power of God. Instead of dismissing the miraculous and inexplicable, his heart yearned for understanding. He had new information and he had to act. Curious by what power Ammon fought off the attackers, King Lamoni asked Ammon be brought before him:
Now Ammon being wise yet harmless,
He saith unto Lamoni:
Will thou hearken unto my words
if I tell thee by what power I do things?
and this is the thing I desire of thee
and the king answered him and said:
yea, I will believe all thy words.
and thus he was caught with guile.
Before continuing, I’ll note here that Ammon is a type of Christ. These allusions to the Savior are throughout the Book of Mormon. Ammon protected the flocks of an earthly king and was brought before the ruler to explain his power and authority. The entire exchange between Ammon and Lamoni is a similitude of Jesus and the Pharisees, with very opposite results.
And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness and said unto him:
Believest thou that there is a God?
And he answered unto him:
I do no know what that meaneth.
And Ammon saith:
Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?
And he saith: Yea.
And Ammon saith:
This is God.
And Ammon saith unto him again:
Believest thou that this Great Spirit, which is God,
Created all things which in in heaven and in the earth?
And he saith:
Yea, I believe that he created all things which is in the earth.
But I do not know the heavens.
And Ammon saith unto him:
The heavens is the place where God dwells and all his holy angels.
And King Lamoni saith:
Is it above the earth?
And Ammon saith:
Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men;
And he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart,
for by his hand were they all created from the beginning.
And King Lamoni saith:
I believe all these things which thou hast spoken.
Are thou sent from God?
Ammon saith unto him:
I am a man
—and man in the beginning was created after the image of God—
and I am called by his Holy Spirit to teach these things unto this people,
that they may be brought to knowledge of that which is just and true.
and a portion of the Spirit dwelleth in me,
which giveth me power
according to my faith and desires which is in God.
Now when Ammon had said these words,
he began to the creation of the world,
and also the creation of Adam,
and told him all things concerning the fall of man
and rehearsed and laid before him
the records and the holy scriptures of the people,
which had been spoken by the prophets
even down to the time that their father Lehi left Jerusalem.
And he rehearsed unto them
concerning the rebellions of Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishamael;
yea, all their rebellions did he relate to them.
and he expounded unto them all the records and the scriptures
from the time Lehi left Jerusalem down to the present time.
but this is not all,
for he expounded unto them the plan of redemption,
which was prepared from the foundation of the world.
And he also made known unto them concerning the coming of Christ.
And all the works of the Lord did he make known unto them.
And it came to pass that
after he had said all things and expounded them to the king
that the king believed all his words.
and he began to cry unto the Lord, saying:
O Lord, have mercy!
According to thy abundant mercy
which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi,
have upon me and my people!
and now when he had said this,
he fell to the earth as if he were dead. (Alma 18: 22-42, Skousen Earliest Text)
As Ammon began to teach the king the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he started with God, the Creator of all things. Ammon started with the most basic of principles to see if Lamoni truly would belief his words. This was probably a way of judging Lamoni’s sincerity. I believe God works with us in the same way. Will we believe Truth He gives us when we ask for it, even if it contradicts our current beliefs? He will test us with little things at first. If we exercise faith and believe, He’ll grant us more. On the other hand, if we choose not to accept Truth, we close that door and hinder or damn our spiritual progression.
Lamoni, true to his word, was a sincere believer. He accepted that the Great Spirit he knew was God the Father who created the Heavens, the Earth and all things therein–“I believe all the things thou hast spoken.” Its a simple, powerful statement revealing Lamoni’s humility and willingness to learn.
Ammon continues with the creation of Adam and the fall; he rehearsed the scriptures, told of all the events from the time Lehi left Jersusalem; taught the redemption; and most importantly, told him of Jesus Christ. I suspect Lamoni could have only absorbed this much information through the assistance of the Holy Spirit. As Nephi wrote, “For when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost, the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.” (2nd Nephi 33:1) The same Holy Spirit that dwelt in Ammon to preach the word according his faith dwelt in Lamoni to receive and believe the word, also according to faith.
Now this is what Ammon desired,
for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God.
He knew that the dark veil of unbelief being cast away from his mind,
and the light which did light up his mind,
which was the light and glory of God,
which was marvelous light of his goodness
—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul,
the cloud of darkness having been dispelled,
and the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul—
yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame
and he was carried away in God.
And it came to pass that [Lamoni] arose according to the words of Ammon.
And as he rose, he stretched forth his hand to the woman and said:
Blessed be the name of God!
And blessed art thou!
For as sure as thou livest,
Behold, I have seen my Redeemer,
And he shall come forth and be born of a woman,
And he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name. (Alma 19:6,12-13, Earliest Text)
This miraculous change in Lamoni was the direct result of his willingness to accept new Truth. After Lamoni, the queen and Ammon were “overpowered by joy…and sunk to the earth” (Alma 19:14), a woman who had previously converted to the Lord (Alma 19:16) ran from house to house to inform the people what happened. The people, upon arriving at the scene, assumed Ammon had killed the king and queen. Tempers flared and the people accused Ammon of being a monster and the Great Spirit sent by the Nephites to torment them. That same woman who ran from house to house saw the contention and was “exceeding sorrowful, even unto tears” (Alma 19:29). She took the queen by the hand and raised her up. Ammon, too, eventually arose. The king, finding his people in a state of contention, “went forth and began to rebuke them and to teach them the words which he heard from the mouth of Ammon.” (Alma 19:31)
But as many as heard [Lamoni’s] words believed and were converted to the Lord.
But there were man y among them who would not hear his words;
Therefore they went their way.
And it came to pass that when Ammon arose,
He also administered unto them,
And also did all the servants of Lamoni.
And they did declare unto the people the selfsame thing,
And their hearts were changed,
that they had no more desire to do evil.
And behold, many did declare unto the people
that they had seen angels and conversed with them.
And thus they had told them things of God and of his righteousness.
And it came to pass that there was many that did believe in their words.
And as many as did believe were baptized,
and they became a righteous people;
And they did establish a church among them.
And thus the work of the Lord did commence among the Lamanites.
Thus the Lord did begin to pour out his Spirit upon them.
And we see that his arm is extended to all people
Who will repent and believe on his name. (Alma 19:32-36, Earliest Text)
Thousands upon thousands of people in many Lamanite cities were converted to the Lord. Peace was established in many parts of the land. Nephites and Lamanites walked freely in each others lands. Yet, this was only the beginning of the miracle that the Lord worked through Ammon and his brethren. The people of Lamoni, anxious to disassociate themselves from the Lamanites and desirous to embrace their new identity as followers of Christ, took on a new name, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis (Alma 23:17), and eventually became known as the People of Ammon, or Ammonites. As a sign of their conversion and righteousness, they forever renounced war (Alma 23:7,13) and buried their weapons deep in the ground (Alma 24:16). (It’s interesting to note that the phrase “bury the hatchet” originates with the Indians of the Iroquois Confederacy found in Western New York. It’s anecdotal and may mean nothing, but interesting to say the least). As converts to the Lord, they were one of the few outside groups ever allowed to dwell in Nephite lands (Alma 28:1). And it was the 2,000 sons of the People of Ammon who volunteered to fight under Helaman’s command (Alma 53:16), eventually saving the Nephite people.
All of this happened because one man was open to new Truth.
THE ANGEL NEPHI
What does this have to do with the Angel Nephi? A lot, actually. We all know the story of the angel appearing to Joseph to inform his of the work he was to do. At lds.org, we read the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph as “glorified, resurrected being.” We read in Joseph Smith History:
“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.” Joseph Smith History, 1:33.
This has been the official story for as long as anyone can remember. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the correct story. Yes, an angel did appear to Joseph that night of September 21, 1823, and many times after. That angel, however, wasn’t Moroni.
It was Nephi.
In all instances Joseph wrote the account of the angel’s appearance, he referred to him as “Nephi.” You can find them here, here, here, (page 753) and here (page 53) (thank you to Adrian Larsen for linking to the exact pages). You’ll see in Joseph’s own hand he wrote the angel’s name as “Nephi,” with another, unknown hand later writing in Moroni.
It makes perfect sense and we should be grateful for the information. Nephi was the head of the 1,000 year Nephite dispensation. His peer group includes Adam, Noah, Moses, and Abraham. Nephi holds a very high place in the Kingdom of God. As I mentioned in my last post, Nephi was given a vision of entirety of human history (1 Nephi 11-14). That’s rare company. He was intimately familiar with the mysteries and designs of the Lord (1 Nephi 1:1). He was also aware of Joseph Smith. When Father Lehi offered his son Joseph a patriarchal blessing, he relayed the promises the Lord made to Joseph of Egypt (2 Nephi 3:7-16) that through his line the Lord would raise up a seer, Joseph Smith. Nephi was likely present at the blessing and recorded what his father said and prophesied.
As dispensation head, it would be Nephi’s right to present his people to Joseph Smith, as well as inform him of the record Joseph was to translate on behalf of the remnant of House of Jacob. As a descendant of Joseph of Egypt (1 Nephi 5:14) through Manasseh (Alma 10:3), it was also his familial right.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this visitation is that the fact that the angel appeared to Joseph as a resurrected, glorified being. We learn from Abinidi that all the holy prophets and believers were resurrected at the time Christ was resurrected:
And there cometh a resurrection,
even a first resurrection,
yea, even a resurrection of those
that have been and which are and which shall be,
even until the resurrection of Christ,
for so shall he be called.
And now the resurrection of all the prophets
and all those that have believed in their words
—or all those that have kept the commandments of God—
these shall come forth in the first resurrection;
therefore, they are the first resurrection.
They are raised to dwell with God, who hath redeemed them.
Thus they have eternal life through Christ,
Who hath broken the bands of death.
And there are those who have part in the first resurrection,
and these are they that have died before Christ came,
in their ignorance,
not having salvation declared unto them.
And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration to these,
and they have part in the first resurrection or hath eternal life,
being redeemed by the Lord.And little children also hath eternal life (Mosiah 15: 21-25, Skousen Earliest Text)
Nephi, having died before Christ and being a just and holy man, was part of the first resurrection. So was Adam, Eve, Seth, Noah, John the Baptist, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph of Egypt, Daniel, Lehi, Jacob, Sam, Joseph, Alma, etc., and all those who likewise followed the commandments of God. Moroni, having lived after Christ, was not part of the first resurrection. Whether or not he’s been resurrected, we don’t know. What we do know is that he anticipated it:
And now bid unto all farewell.
I soon go to my rest in the paradise of God
until my spirit and body shall again reunite
and I am brought forth triumphant through the air
to meet you before the pleading bar of the great Jehovah,
the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead.
Amen. (Moroni 10:34)
In light of this new information, some have suggested that the Angel Moroni that sits atop our temples should be renamed “Nephi.” I disagree. If the name were to be changed at all (which it shouldn’t), it should be changed to Mormon, the man responsible for compiling and editing the various records under the direction of the Holy Spirit. But it was Moroni who sealed up the record to the Lord, both physically and spiritually, and hid it away. The Lord also declared that the Book of Mormon was Moroni’s responsibility:
“Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim.” (D&C 27:5. See also Ezekiel 37:16-19)
So, we have a quandary: having established the Angel was Nephi by Joseph’s own pen, how does the Church account for this discrepancy? Do we make an announcement to inform the members that we’ll have to rewrite some manuals and change the official story? What about the missionaries who work at the Joseph Smith farmhouse and Sacred Grove? That seems like the the correct thing to do and I don’t think it’d be that big of a deal.
Instead, the Church Historian’s office added a footnote:
“A later redaction in an unidentified hand changed ‘Nephi’ to ‘Moroni’ and noted that the original attribution was to a ‘clerical error.'” (Joseph Smith Papers Histories Vol. 1, p. 223, footnote 56.)
That’s it. Just a mistake. No biggie. Joseph was wrong. The institution is unlikely to ever address the issue and that’s fine. It has no bearing on my or your salvation. Salvation is and always will be a personal endeavor. No institution has power over our end fate. That is Christ’s prerogative and His alone. Were it not so there would be no need to stand before Him to be judged. We can pursue Truth and light and knowledge whenever we decide to and I think the Lord not only expects it of us, but requires it.
But we do have a few things to be concerned about. I believe we’re now at a point our history where we need to ask ourselves whether or not we believe our founder and the Gospel revealed through him. Do we believe that he wrote and meant Nephi? Or do we believe the alteration of an unknown hand?
Do we believe Joseph? It’s not a rhetorical question. Do we really believe him? Not just on the question of visiting angels, but other doctrines that have long been cast aside. He said many things we now as a church dispute. He taught many things some people in high places of authority now categorically reject. He didn’t do many things we claim he did. He repeatedly declared himself innocent of polygamy charges (I’m currently working on a post about this subject). Do we believe him? Do we accept the truth no matter what?
Christ is Truth. When we accept Truth we accept Him. Without it and without Him, we are left to wander aimlessly in the dreary wilderness. But we don’t have to wander. The path is laid out before us. As Nephi simply stated:
I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell. (2nd Nephi 33:1
Once we’ve decided to enter they way, to follow Christ and Truth, Nephi offers additional instruction:
And now, behold, my beloved brethren,
I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts
concerning that which ye should do
after ye have entered in by the way.
But behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?
Do ye not remember that I said unto you
that after ye had received the Holy Ghost,
ye could speak with the tongue of angels?
And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels
save it were by the Holy Ghost?
Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost;
wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.
Wherefore I said unto you:
feast upon the words of Christ;
for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.
Wherefore now after I have spoken these words,
if ye cannot understand them,
it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock.
Wherefore ye are not brought into the light
but must perish in the dark.
For behold, again I say unto you
that if ye will enter in by the way and receive the Holy Ghost,
it will show unto you all things what ye should do.
Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ.
And there will be no more doctrine given
until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh.
And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh,
the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do.
And now I, Nephi, cannot say more.
The Spirit stoppeth mine utterance,
and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief and the wickedness
and the ignorance and the stiffneckedness of men.
For they will not search knowledge
nor understand great knowledge when it is given unto them in plainness,
even as plain as word can be.
And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts.
And it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing.
For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray,
ye would know that ye must pray;
for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray,
but teacheth him that he must not pray.
But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint,
that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord
save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ
that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul. (2nd Nephi 32)
Will be Lamoni or the Pharisees? Will we accept the Truth the Lord gives when we ask, or will we reject it?