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Cover image: “Woman With an Issue of Blood” by Howard Lyon.
“Repentance isn’t His backup plan in the event we might fail. Repentance is His plan, knowing that we will.”[i] But, “Things that don’t change remain the same… When we are through changing—we’re through.”[ii] From years of social-science research comes the revelation that change requires two important categories: motivation and skill.[iii] “I get frustrated with all the pressure to attend the temple. It is so repetitive…I feel closer to God in nature than I do in the temple,” exclaimed Jamie one Sunday after church. It is certainly reasonable that if one doesn’t know how, then messages designed to motivate, just frustrate instead. Nephi noted that coming to Christ is as much of a skill as a motivation:
“They shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved.”[iv]
Two things enable the skills necessary to know how to come to Christ for salvation: 1) knowledge of our Redeemer[v] and 2) knowledge of the very points of his doctrine.
What could Nephi mean by the phrase “the very points” of Christ’s doctrine? He purposely focused only on the things pleasing to those “not of the world.” In so saying, he made clear that his intent in making a record was motivational — to persuade. [vi] He then included many important doctrines, finally finishing with “The doctrine of Christ,” [vii] so that we might “know how.” Since, during Christ’s later visit to the Nephites, the same “points” were taught, and called “my doctrine,”[viii] we are safe to assume this is what Nephi meant. Needing to understand the “very points” of this doctrine drives us to read more analytically, that we might know how to come to Him!
First, the organization of chapter 31 finds Nephi beginning and ending with the same imperative, to declare the five elements mentioned as “The doctrine of Christ.”
2 “Wherefore, the things which I have written sufficeth me, save it be a few words which I must speak concerning the doctrine of Christ;”
21 “And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.”[ix]
Since Nephi spent the first of his record writing to persuade and motivate using stories, histories, prophetic quotes, and personal witnesses of Christ,[x] this concluding “how-to” section will find that the relationship between each of the five elements is also vital in teaching us the “know-how” with which Nephi felt driven to end his record.
Since faith comes to all of us by hearing[xi], he begins the chapter with what we would begin — hearing a story[xii] that logically, if believed, would lead us to trust in Christ and then exercise faith sufficient to act as He instructs. As universal as faith is[xiii], Nephi qualifies it as faith in Christ, sufficient to cause repentance or change, and then again, sufficient to covenant by baptism and confirmation. We know that baptism without receiving the Holy Ghost is meaningless[xiv] and can see that faith without repentance is likewise non-salvational. We also might notice that the first two, faith and repentance, are principles while baptism and confirmation are ordinances. The matching number leads to a conjecture that principles need ordinances in the “how to” of coming to Christ to be saved. Please see an earlier article[xv] exploring how ordinances are vital to the process of progression and our covenant relationship to our Savior.
But, before we conclude that these first four principles and ordinances, as they are called in our fourth article of faith, complete the “Doctrine of Christ,” we should note that the voice of the Father adds a fifth vital principle to the doctrine; “endure to the end.”[xvi] “Very-point-Analysis” again bids us wonder, “if ordinances are a vital means to living covenant principles, then where is the ordinance that enables or provides the capacity to “endure to the end?” In finishing my seventh decade, I come to understand better how vital and sometimes overwhelming enduring is becoming.
Nephi has called the first four principles, “the gate” onto the path.[xvii] In Lehi’s dream the path was one of many, but the only one that led to the tree of life through a mist of darkness which blinded all those attempting to attain to the fruit on the tree. Only those willing to “continually hold” to a rod anchored along the path, until they were sufficiently humbled to “bow down” in order to partake of the fruit, were happy and successful. Interestingly, Nephi had shared the interpretation of all the symbols, except the path. So, here at the end of his life, Nephi is sharing its interpretation and how to “endure to the end” of it.
As noted, the gate is the first four principles and ordinances. But the path is cryptically referred to only as “the strait path.” We might be left to guess, were it not for clues left for those with eyes to see. President Benson once identified five capacitating laws inherent in our temple worship.[xviii] Nephi refers to these laws as the means by which we endure to the end of the path — eternal life.[xix] Struggling to live these laws yoke[xx] us to Christ by whose merits[xxi] we then become all that we were born to become.
Upon entering the gate to the tabernacle, an ancient Israelite stepped onto the “strait path,” the ordinance path. It isn’t just coincidence that the Hebrew word for “temple” (heykal) originates from the word yakol, meaning to “endure.” So, the fifth principle of enduring to the end is made possible through temple ordinances and the covenant laws and the subsequent personal revelatory relationship that capacitate our becoming. As if to verify this, over 500 years later Alma noted:
“And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.”[xxii]
It was the manner of ordaining priests that taught the people so that they would know how to look to the Son for redemption. The “how to” was modeled by the ordination procedures within the tabernacle–the pattern used in ordaining priests. We don’t have all of the small details, but several studies over the years can be added together to get enough of an idea to see the analog of today. Let’s walk with a priest candidate through the process as well as we can[xxiii] knowing that in a latter-day, through The Atonement of Jesus Christ and the restoration of His church, all of us could be “the priests.”[xxiv]
Levi had anticipated this moment ever since his priest-father had helped him understand why he went every day to serve in the tabernacle. He loved the tabernacle and knew it as the “abode of Jehovah.” His father had pointed out that it sat in the center of the camp of Israel with three tribes arranged on each of the four cardinal directions. His tribe was separated out from the twelve tribes, with the tribe of his friend Simon having been divided into two, Ephraim and Manasseh. He felt some deep responsibility knowing that his tribe represented all the tribes in officiating in the “house of the Lord.” He wondered if the day would ever come when people from all the tribes could officiate. His day had finally come; he was to be ordained to officiate along with others of grandfather Aaron’s family, assisted by their Levite cousins.
Approaching the east gate of the tabernacle courtyard[xxv], Levi was overwhelmed once again with the magnificent blue and white colors of the gate. Could heaven be any more elegant? He busied himself with the sacred preparatory process of cleansing both himself and Eli, his little lamb. He loved this pure white little friend that had followed him, until he bent to lovingly carry it in his arms. During the cleansing, he was given new priestly linen breeches and a Kuttoneth[xxvi] or coat to wear. Once through the gate, he placed the lamb into the arms of the priest who held it while Levi placed his hands on its head and conferred his own sins onto Eli. The feelings brought shivers for reasons Levi would have to prayerfully ponder once home and alone.
The priest then gave him the knife. This was the part of the sin offering Levi could hardly bare. He looked one more time into the soft brown, trusting eyes of Eli and then with his left hand, he held a small bowl to its neck while with the right hand holding the knife, he swept the razor-sharp blade across that little fleecy throat. The blood ran hot and quickly into the bowl as Eli, without a sound, slowly closed his eyes. The priest then made two more cuts on the little limp body and placed most of it onto the fire, and then taking the bowl in his left hand and dipping his right fore-finger into the blood, he dabbed the horns of the altar. Levi felt the awe of the moment without understanding its source. The priest then carefully poured the small bowl of blood at the base of the altar.[xxvii] Levi watched without really understanding. He knew that blood represented life[xxviii]… his life, Eli’s, or someone else’s? The ancients taught something about a similitude of the Messiah,[xxix] but that was something he decided needed more study…similitudes confused him.[xxx]
As he sat just west of the altar listening to the voice of a Levite read the sacred story of the creation, the high priest anointed his head with oil, laid hands upon his head, ordained him and then clothed him in the robe of a priest with a bonnet, ephod, sash, and slippers[xxxi]… Is oil another similitude, and the creation story, these robes and bonnet? He wondered, praying for a reminder to study and ponder on those things? Rising, as bidden, he turned to gaze upon the small brass basin they called the molten sea, a large cup of sorts, and was instructed to wash his hands and feet in preparation to enter the Holy Place. Ceremonially cleansed and anointed, he was now God’s priest, authorized to minister to the people the gospel of Jehovah.[xxxii]
He, like all in the other tribes, had never entered the tent, the sacred dwelling place. His anticipation crescendoed as he stepped to the heavy covering which was then opened, so he could enter. He could immediately tell that he would be in total darkness were it not for a light that filled the chamber. He saw before him a veil covered with embroidered angels, but the light pulled his attention to his left where he could see and study the golden menorah with its seven branches covered, tree-like, with gold leaves and fruit, each ending in a cup filled with the sacred olive oil. Surely this was another similitude that needed to be studied and prayerfully pondered. Was Jehovah teaching him something? Was the Menorah the tree of life? Was he in a garden of Eden? He was glad that he would be back each day, so that he could receive and understand it all. Surely Jehovah would be patient with him, there was so much! He already knew that seven was a sacred number of completion or perfection. He knew that the sacred oil when fresh was the color of blood. But he recognized that it also burned with fire[xxxiii] that was never allowed to be extinguished …perhaps a future priestly duty?
As he gazed upon the seven burning cups of oil, he wondered if the idea of a cup must be another similitude: a cupped hand holding blood, a large cup or basin holding cleansing water, and now a cup holding oil that burned with fire that could both cleanse and enlighten, and… was there more? He let his gaze drift to the right where to his surprise, he saw more cups: cups of wine… twelve of them, with twelve loaves of the “bread of presence.” He knew that it was unleavened like that of the Passover. This was a similitude he could grasp as his father had taught him that the leaven allowed the bread to mold like sin corrupts our lives. This bread, then was “sinless”…but twelve? Were they the tribes of Israel set before Jehovah to be cleansed by the wine-blood of the cups, one for each loaf?
He was invited to sit with the other priests and feast on the wine and bread. The thought of such a feast there, enlightened by the sacred fire before the angels of the veil that separated them from the Holy of Holies, almost took his breath. This was to be a weekly experience during the course of his service. Though the bread was unleavened and dry, the sweetness of the wine and the context made eating and drinking an almost cleansing experience for him…he felt…well almost sanctified, consecrated. There was the idea of the cup again; “consecrated”- “male yad” or “filled cupped hand,” he marveled!!
Just then he watched the high priest take the spoon on the altar, fill it with the smoking incense, then lifting it; he moved it up and down over his head before the veil.[xxxiv] In so doing, Levi was enthralled to see that the spoon was carved in the shape of a cupped hand![xxxv] This would require so much more study and pondering.
What would Jehovah teach him about coming into His presence, or living by the light in dark places, or giving his life for others in this priestly duty…? He wondered if the questions would ever end. Was this place meant to be a school, an advanced learning opportunity for those willing to be taught while serving? Since he wasn’t the high priest, he might never know what could be taught by passing through the veil into the Holy of Holies, where sat the mercy seat, but he was committed to learn all that Jehovah saw fit to teach him!![xxxvi] Surely this must all teach him how to become, to endure, to reach heaven!
The more one knows about what is used as a symbol, whether object or process, (what it denotes) and then ponders scriptural and logical analogs for each detail (what they connote), the more the Spirit can teach and reveal (how they apply)!
“But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter; Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves”[xxxvii]
[i] Elder Lynn Robbins, April Conference 2018, “Until Seventy Times Seven”
Then see Moses 6:55 “Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.”
[ii] Boyd K. Packer, Kingsland Georgia Stake conference, Aug. 1997; As quoted by Elder Lynn Robbins, April Conference 2018;
[iii] “Change Anything; The New Science of Personal Success”; Grenny, Patterson, Maxfield, McMillan, Switzer
[iv] 1 Nephi 15:14
[v] Mosiah 5:13 or how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?
[vi] 1 Nephi 6:4-5 For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved. Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.
[vii] 2 Nephi 31-32 e.g. 31:2 “I must speak concerning the doctrine of Christ”
[viii] 3 Nephi 11:31, 32, 35 , 39-40
[ix] 2 Nephi 31:21 (the last verse in this chapter)
[x] 2 Nephi 11:2-3 And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him. And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true.
[xi] Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
[xii] 1 Nephi 31:5-12 The puzzling historical story of Christ being baptized when logically He shouldn’t need baptism but then using it to make himself followable by walking the walk rather than just talking the talk.
[xiii] “If men were duly to consider themselves and turn their thoughts and reflections to the operations of their own minds, they would readily discover that it is faith, and faith only, which is the moving cause of all action, in them; that without it, both mind and body would be in a state of inactivity, and all their exertions would cease, both physical and mental.” Joseph Smith Lectures on Faith, 1:10
[xiv] Joseph Smith, “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” History of the Church, 5:499; July 9, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards
[xvi] “And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” 2 Nephi 31:15
[xvii] 2 Nephi 31:17-18 For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate…
[xviii] “Celestial laws, embodied in certain ordinances belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ, are complied with by voluntary covenants. The laws are spiritual. Thus, our Father in Heaven has ordained certain holy sanctuaries, called temples, in which these laws may be fully explained, the laws include the law of obedience and sacrifice, the law of the gospel, the law of chastity, and the law of consecration.” Ezra Taft Benson, Vision; BYU Devotional April 12, 1977
Jeffery M. Bradshaw includes this footnote in his excellent article “Five Celestial Laws” https://www.templethemes.net/publications/Meridian/100422-The%20Five%20Celestial%20Laws.pdf
“Though endowed Latter-day Saints agree to keep certain things they learn in the temple confidential, the temple covenants themselves are not among those things…. Besides the statements by President Benson cited in this article, other summaries of the temple covenants by General Authorities can be found in J. E. Faust, Who Shall Ascend, p. 4; G. B. Hinckley, Teachings 1997, 10 April 1996, p. 147; B. R. McConkie, Obedience; B. K. Packer, Holy Temple, p. 163; J. E. Talmage, House of the Lord, p. 55.”
“In discussing temple matters, I have always tried to follow the model of Hugh W. Nibley, who was, according to his biographer Boyd Jay Petersen, “respectful of the covenants of secrecy safeguarding specific portions of the LDS endowment, usually describing parallels from other cultures without talking specifically about the Mormon ceremony. This approach earned him a great deal of trust from both General Authorities and from Church members” (B. J. Petersen, Nibley, p. 354). Petersen cites a letter of gratitude sent from Elder Dallin H. Oaks to Nibley for his approach to temple scholarship. Along with the letter was a copy of a talk Elder Oaks had given “in which he addressed the manner and extent to which temple ordinances should be discussed outside the temple. Oaks assured Hugh that ‘nothing in this talk is intended to be a criticism of a discouragement of efforts as sensitive as yours. The talk has some targets, but you aren’t one of them’” (B. J. Petersen, Nibley, p. 356). For examples of Nibley’s discussions of the temple covenants, see, e.g., H. W. Nibley, But What Kind; H. W. Nibley, Sacred; H. W. Nibley, Drama, pp. 41-42; H. W. Nibley, Consecration, pp. 424-425, 441-442. For Nibley’s views on confidentiality as it relates to temple ordinances, see, e.g., H. W. Nibley, Sacred, pp. 553-554, 569-572.
[xix] 2 Nephi 31:20 “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
|TEMPLE||DOCTRINE OF CHRIST – 2 NEPHI 31|
|1.Obedience||2 Nephi 31:17 – Do that which Christ did|
|2.Sacrifice||2 Nephi 31:17 – repentance and baptism -Also (3 Nephi 9:19-20; Psalms 51:17)|
|3.Gospel||2 Nephi 31:20 – Love of all men|
|4.Chastity||is included in the law of the Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount[xix]|
|5.Consecration||2 Nephi 31:20 – Love of God|
[xx] Matthew 11:28-30 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The yoke binds us to Christ in such a way that only equal pull strength will yield the synergy inherent in a yoke. Hence Christ matches our strength so as to enable our efforts, thus yielding through the resultant synergy results that surpass our best efforts. His grace accompanies “all that we can do” thus multiplying our joint labor. The yoke here is defined as “easy” or “chrestos” in Greek, which translates to “useful, pleasant, and about people.”
[xxi] 2 Nephi 31:19 “And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.”
[xxii] Alma 13:2 It is interesting that in the next verse Alma then says, “And this is the manner…” but then places a hyphen as if to add a comment before telling us of the manner. This parenthesis ends with a matching hyphen in verse 5 but then the hyphen is repeated at the end of verses 6 and 7. He then repeats, “Now they were ordained after this manner…” in verse 8 but follows those words with a hyphen again which then bookends at the end of the verse. He then concludes and closes with amen. He writes more about the priest and their qualifications and faithfulness before using Melchizedek as an example. Has he decided not to tell us the manner of ordination? The people living then knew that order but today it is difficult to piece together a brief sketch of that “manner of ordination.”
[xxiii] I will use Edershiem’s “The Temple” and other online resources from several sites I won’t detail. There have been many years of research in ancient documents by “Jewish groups” preparing for the day when the temple will be rebuilt on temple mount in Jerusalem. Some conclusions they have reached fit “the analog” and so will be used. Some will be fictionalized for the story-line, so timing and exact sequence may deviate from ancient practice, of which detail has been lost to time.
See also Matthew Brown’s “The Gate of Heaven”
[xxiv] 1 Peter 2:5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
[xxv] The tabernacle and later the temple consisted of three spaces as instructed by Jehovah to Moses while on the mount as a model of heaven. (Hebrews 8:5) Using Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 15:40-41 1) The courtyard within the confines of the gate and walls, a telestial space-stars. 2) The Holy Place- a terrestrial space-moon and 3) The Holy of Holies – a Celestial space-sun or abode of God.
[xxvi] Hebrew meaning to cover as in Genesis 3:21 and Exodus 39:27 “coat of skins” and “coat of linen” or covering of skins.
[xxvii] Revelation 5:9,11 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held… And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
[xxviii] Deuteronomy 12:23 “for the blood is the life”
[xxix] Adam learned it as noted in Moses 5:6-7 And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.
[xxx] “Every word, and nearly every act in life serves two purposes; every name denotes something, but it also connotes other things. For example, when I say George Washington, the name designates or denotes a man of certain stature, rather stockily built, large, open, frank features. You have seen his picture and the name George Washington recalls to your mind that particular individual. But what else did you think of when I named George Washington? Why, the Revolutionary War; perhaps his attendance at the Constitutional Convention; some of you probably saw Valley Forge; others of you might have thought of his crossing the Delaware in winter. All of these things, though, are connoted. “George Washington” does not denote Valley Forge, nor the crossing of the Delaware.
Now let us apply this thought to the Temple ordinances. Each act presented today will denote certain
things; there will be performances, little acts and ceremonies which you may critically center your thoughts, but each one also connotes something glorious. Let us consider these as realities and also as symbols.” An address on the Temple ceremony by President David O. McKay given Thursday, 25 September 1941, at 8:30am, Salt Lake Temple Annex (Manuscript in BYU Library Collections.)
[xxxi] 1 Sam 2:18; 22:18; Exodus 39:27-29; Lev 6:10; 8:13; See also “Gate of Heaven”p79-86
[xxxii] Alma 13:1 “I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.”
[xxxiii] 2 Nephi 31:17 …then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
DC 45:56-7 And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins. For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived…
[xxxiv] Revelation 5: 8 … golden vials (cups) full of incense, which are the prayers of saints.
[xxxv] Numbers 7:84-86
[xxxvi] Alma 12:9-10 It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless, they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him. And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
DC 84:19-20 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.