The Visit of Christ in Third Nephi, 4 – To and With
Posted by joespencer on September 7, 2013
The first verse of 3 Nephi 11 contains two very similar formulas, almost side by side, whose slight difference may be of real importance. Those gathered at the Bountiful temple are described as “marveling and wondering one with another,” and they’re described as “showing one to another the great and marvelous change which had taken place.” Two sorts of relation—being-with and being-to(ward)—are on offer here in strikingly similar formulations. Is there any significance to their joint appearance? How might we decide on the nature (and significance) of their difference? Do they play any role in the larger text of Third Nephi? I think there are interesting answers to all these questions.
I might begin with a brief analysis of where these formulas show up in Third Nephi. It turns out that there seems to be something of a pattern, whether intentional or not. Both formulas appear with some frequency throughout scripture, though it should be noted that “one with another” is a good deal more common in the Book of Mormon than is “one to another” (the latter appears only six times in the Book of Mormon, while the former appears twenty-nine times in the Book of Mormon), and that “one with another” is a good deal less common in the Bible than is “one to another” (the latter appears forty-nine times in the Bible, while the former appears only nine times). (Both formulas appear in the Doctrine and Covenants, and with relatively similar frequency. The with-formula appears once in the Pearl of Great Price.) Given the frequency with which the with-formula appears in the Book of Mormon, it’s no surprise that it finds its way into Third Nephi: it appears there with about the frequency it appears elsewhere in Nephite scripture (it appears four times in the record of Christ’s visit). But given the infrequency of the to-formula in the Book of Mormon, it’s interesting that it appears in Third Nephi: four of its six instances in the Book of Mormon are to be found in the record of the visit of Christ!
Four instances of each formula appear in the story of Christ’s visit to the New World. The formulas appear side by side (within the same verse!) right at the outset of that record (in 3 Nephi 11:1), and they appear again side by side (again with the same verse!) right at the close of that record (in 3 Nephi 26:19). That’s quite striking. It’s as if the story of Christ’s three-day visit with Lehi’s children both opens and closes on a weave of being-with and being-to(ward). That the formulas appear in reverse order in the closing verse (the with-formula is followed by the to-formula in 3 Nephi 11:1, but then the to-formula is followed by the with-formula in 3 Nephi 26:19) is further suggestive, as if this is meant to accomplish something intentionally structural. I haven’t any idea, of course, whether any of this was intentional, but I’m inclined to read it that way to see where it might go.
Where and in what contexts, then, do the several instances of the two formulas appear?
Let me begin with the last ones, already mentions, that appear in 3 Nephi 26. The context there is the very end of Jesus’s visit to Israel in the New World. In verse 15, Jesus’s ascension is mentioned. The verses immediately following describe the aftermath. The people “gathered themselves together” (verse 16), primarily to be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost (verse 17), and a number of remarkable miracles take place: “babes did open their mouths and utter marvelous things” (verse 16) and many people “saw and heard unspeakable things” (verse 18). And this then led to the following, most beautiful thing: “they taught and did minister one to another, and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly one with another” (verse 19). The Lehites’ version of what we call the law of consecration seems to have begun to hold sway in the wake of Jesus’s visit, and the result is that we get a reiteration of the two formulas: “one to another” and “one with another.” Being-to(ward) here is a matter of teaching and ministering, and being-with here is a matter of just dealing. Binding the two together is the people’s having “all things common among them.”
How do these final instances of the formula differ from the first instances? In 3 Nephi 11:1, being-with is a matter of marveling and wondering, and being-to(ward) is a matter of showing. Justice has replaced or—better—doubled wonder (which puts me very much in mind of Plato’s Republic, but I won’t digress!), and teaching and ministering have augmented or—better—completed showing. Interpersonal relations, it seems, have deepened. And what’s happened in the meanwhile to make for this deepening? Well, a lot, of course, all of it having to do with Jesus’s teachings, His prayers, His administrations, His compassionate acts. There’s much to be recounted from the sixteen chapters that unfold between the first and last instances of the formulas. But there’s also a series of punctuations in those sixteen chapters, marked by the occasional employment of one of the two formulas. Let’s look at those. Interestingly, of the four instances of the formulas that appear between the two passages I’ve already considered, three of them are found already in 3 Nephi 11. The formulas seem to play a dominant role right at the beginning of the record of Christ’s visit. The fourth appears, on the other hand, quite late, in 3 Nephi 24. I’ll take all these in turn.
The with-formula appears first, and almost immediately after the two formulas are introduced in 3 Nephi 11:1. Here’s the passage—and note that Jesus hasn’t yet appeared, since this comes from the report of the Father’s voice that, though the people aren’t yet understanding it, is announcing the Christ’s appearance: “while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven” (3 Nephi 11:3). There’s an obvious reference here back to the with- and to-formulas of 3 Nephi 11:1, which are thereby effectively tied together into a single with-formula. Their marveling-and-wondering-with and their showing-to come together into a single act of conversing, “with” and “to” reducing to a certain being-with. But note further that this being-with is, rather precisely, interrupted, put on hold or suspended by the voice from heaven. The people’s being-with, unfolding so far as a kind of conversation, passes into a hiatus as a voice that hushes their talk—even as they can’t understand it—sounds from beyond. The beginning of a transformation of the people’s being-with—and being-to(ward)—is marked thereby, and the progression of sorts that’s to move eventually to the deepened or developed formulas of chapter 26 is already under way.
This is confirmed in a fascinating way a few verses later, when the being-to(ward) formula appears. At that point, the announced Christ has descended from heaven and come to stand in the midst of the people. And then we’re told this: “the eyes of the whole multitude was turned upon him, and they durst not open their mouths, even one to another, and wist not what it meant” (3 Nephi 11:8). Here the transformation of the other formula, the to-formula, begins to pass through its own transformation. Again it’s a question of interrupted conversation: “they durst not open their mouths, even one to another.” This time, though, it’s not because a still, small voice hushes their talk, but because they’re understandings are so overwhelmed that they can’t talk. Their conversation has now been stolen from them, replaced by an inability even to “open their mouths,” as they stand in awe and wonder. The original formulations of being-with and being-to(ward) have been full suspended at this point. They don’t have anything to show to each other at this point because a far realer monstration has appeared immediately before them. Their being-to(ward) has been entirely redirected, away from each other for a time and toward the embodied Christ. Here again, the process of transformation is clearly underway.
Of course, all this is followed with the beginning of Jesus’s chapters-and-chapters-long sermonizing. The other instances of the formulas mark the beginning and the end of that sermonizing. That is, while these first two further instances of the formulas (in 3 Nephi 11:3 and 8) mark the problematization of the status quo formulations (from 3 Nephi 11:1), the next two further instances of the formulas mark the boundaries of Jesus’s public discourse. The first appears in 3 Nephi 11:29, and the second appears in 3 Nephi 24:16. As Jesus fully hushes their bustling conversation and shows Himself to them in such a way as to direct their attention entirely to Himself, He begins what seems to be an intentional transformation of the formulas Himself.
First, then, comes Jesus’s use of the with-formula. He has just made clear that He wants all disputation over the mechanics of the baptism rite, as well as over the relationships among the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to come to an end. Then He explains: “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, which is the father of contention—and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29). The emphasis here is clear. The wonted form of being-with among the Nephites—and the history clearly attests!—is contention, the devil’s form of being-with. And that, then, has to change. What should it look like? Well, that’s perhaps what we find in the iteration of the to-formula in chapter 24. There Jesus is quoting from Malachi, right at the end of what Mormon records of His teachings to the gathered Lehites. Accusations have followed accusations, marking again the contentiousness of the people (“your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord,” we’re told in verse 13). But then Jesus quotes Malachi as referring to those who heard the Lord’s admonitions and responded appropriately: “then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him” (3 Nephi 24:16). Having heard all of the Lord’s teachings, the people of whom Malachi speaks direct themselves to each other in the right kind of way—conversation anew (“spake often one to another”), but now in such a way that their speaking results in a certain kind of writing, the production of a book of the law of the Lord. And the Lord confesses that “they shall be mind” (3 Nephi 24:17).
This last transformation, of course, sets the stage for the final iterations of the formulas, already described above, in chapter 26. It’s apparently as the people hearken and hear, fully grasping the Lord’s words directly to them, that their being-with and their being-to(ward) are fully transformed. The result is consecration, a kind of being-with in fully just dealing, and a kind of being-to(ward) that manifests itself in teaching and ministering—in doing what Jesus had done in their midst.
We can only hope to come out of a reading of Third Nephi with such a possibility on the horizon!
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