The Gospel as Taught by Nephite Prophets
The Gospel as Taught by Nephite Prophets
3 Nephi 11:35 “Verily, verily,
I say unto you, that this is my doctrine.”
The Book of Mormon uses the terms gospel
and doctrine to refer to the way by which individuals come to Christ. Three
Book of Mormon passages in particular—2 Nephi 31:2-32:6; 3 Nephi 11:23-39;
3 Nephi 27:13-21—define the gospel of Jesus Christ, each in a distinctive
six-point formula. This formula states that if people will (1) believe in
Christ, (2) repent of their sins, and (3) submit to baptism in water as a
witness of their willingness to take his name upon themselves and keep his
commandments, he will (4) pour out his Spirit upon them and cleanse them of
their sins. All who receive this baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost and
(5) endure to the end in faith, hope, and charity will be found guiltless
at the last day and (6) enter God’s kingdom.
Recent research has detected the remarkable
clarity and consistency of numerous Book of Mormon passages that operate with
this same definition in mind, indicating that it was both a norm and a paradigm
for Book of Mormon writers. This gospel formula, taught by the Book of Mormon,
provides a standard language for teaching the message of salvation and the
means by which people can come to Christ.
The first comprehensive Book of Mormon
statement about the gospel occurs in 2 Nephi 31:2-32:6. It appears to be an
amplification of the vision first reported in 1 Nephi 10:4-6 and 11:27-33,
in which Lehi and Nephi saw Christ’s baptism and heard his voice saying, “Follow
thou me” and “Do the things which ye have seen me do” (2 Nephi
Wherefore . . . I must speak concerning
the doctrine of Christ. . . . I know that if ye shall  follow the Son,
with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God,
but with real intent,  repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father
that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ  by baptism . .
. then shall ye receive  the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of
fire and of the Holy Ghost. . . . And I heard a voice from the Father saying:
. . . He that  endureth to the end, the same  shall be saved (2 Nephi
Second, in the report of Christ’s visit
to the Nephites, especially in 3 Nephi 11:23-39, there are also multiple repetitions
of the six points of his doctrine. This is the most authoritative definition,
because Christ himself delivers it publicly.
During his visit to the disciples a few
days later, Christ gave a third defining presentation of the gospel, recorded
in 3 Nephi 27:13-21, in which the six basic elements are again elaborated.
The Savior indicates that, just as individuals are to take upon themselves
Christ’s name, the church will be his if it is called in his name and “if
it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Nephi 27:5-13). The one
significant difference in this presentation is that it begins by invoking
the larger context of the plan of salvation (see 3 Nephi 27:14-16).
These three passages provide the basic
definition of the “doctrine” or “gospel” of Jesus Christ
as the Nephites understood it. However, they represent only a small portion
of the total Book of Mormon statements of the gospel. The same pattern of
points of doctrine appears throughout the entire Book of Mormon, informing
major sermons and providing an implicit interpretive framework for reports
of historical events and discussions or ordinances (e.g., 2 Nephi 9; Mosiah
27; Moroni 3, 7, 8).
Many Book of Mormon statements defining
the concept of “gospel” are elliptical, taking the form of merismus,1
a classical rhetorical device in which an entire topic or statement is represented
by some of its parts.2 The gospel formula composed of ordered elements lends
itself well to this rhetorical device. A typical Book of Mormon merism, mentioning
only two of the parts, states that believing in Jesus and enduring to the
end is life eternal (see 2 Nephi 33:4).
The other LDS scriptures contain similar
statements of the gospel of Jesus Christ, many of which also include merisms
(see D&C 10:63-70; 11:9-24; 19:29-32; 20:37; 33:10-13; 39:6; 68:25; Moses
5:14-15, 58; 6:50-53). Drawing on this perspective, Latter-day Saints can
see the same definition behind more succinct New Testament passages (see Matthew
3:11; 24:13-14; Acts 2:38; 19:4-6; Romans 1:16; Ephesians 2:8).
Based on research by Noel B. Reynolds,
September 1991. For an extended treatment of this topic, see Noel B. Reynolds,
“The Gospel of Jesus Christ as Taught by the Nephite Prophets,”
BYU Studies 31 (1991): 31-50.
1. See pages 80-82 in this book. Paul
Y. Hoskisson first drew attention to this phenomenon and its possible significance
for this study.
2. See H. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English
Lexicon, s.v. “meris” (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1968); Alexander
M. Honeyman, “Merismus in Biblical Hebrew,” Journal of Biblical Hebrew
71 (1952): 15.