Friday, October 13, 2023

Nephi and the Spirit of the Lord

Nephi's remarkable vision of the ministry of Christ, his future posterity and the apostasy and Restoration of the Gospel in the Latter-days is one of the most significant visions recorded in Scripture (1 Nephi 11-14). Nephi is introduced to this experience by an individual who he describes as the Spirit of the Lord. This has led some readers to wonder whether this heavenly personage was the pre-existent Jesus or the personage of the Holy Ghost. Several factors lead me to conclude that the individual who conducted Nephi's Vision Recommend was the personage of the Holy Ghost.

It is certainly true that a “spirit” even a good spirit need not be the Holy Ghost and may be just a messenger. My question is this: How does Nephi use the term “Spirit of the Lord”?

 Nephi introduces his vision by saying that because of his faith in the Son of God, his father Lehi spake “by the power of the Holy Ghost” and says that he, Nephi, “was desirous also that I might see, and hear and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him.” He also explains, “For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Then he says, “And the Holy Ghost giveth authority that I shall speak these things, and deny them not” (1 Nephi 10:17-22). It is interesting that Nephi introduces his vision by mentioning the Holy Ghost not once, but four times and the last time in verse 22 is noteworthy in that he cites “the Holy Ghost” as his authority for what is is about to reveal and not just “the power of Holy Ghost.”

Now in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon there is no chapter separation between 1 Nephi 10:22 and 1 Nephi 11:1, so the beginning of chapter 11 follows immediately upon Nephi’s citation of the Holy Ghost as his source of authority for what he is about to reveal. So the word “For” in 1 Nephi 11:1 is a continuation of his previous words where he has just mentioned the Holy Ghost 4 times.

“For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain” (1 Nephi 11:1).

 So the “Spirit of the Lord” of which Nephi speaks is the Spirit by which Nephi is “caught away.” And then the Spirit converses with him after Nephi affirms his righteous desire for knowledge and his faith (remember 10:17 on what the Holy Ghost does).

“And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, though shalt behold the things which thou hast desired” (11:6). Nephi passes the interview because of his faith in the words of his father and his righteous desires. So the Spirit, the same “Spirit of the Lord” by whom Nephi was “caught away” conducts Nephi’s vision recommend interview. On the face of it, his language of praise suggests that the “Spirit of the Lord” is not the "most high God" or the "Son of the most high God" (he doesn't say Blessed art thou because thou believest in me") and he is definitely not the angel who appears when the Spirit leaves in verse 14. So who is the “Spirit of the Lord”?

In verse 7 the Spirit of the Lord tells Nephi that he is going to see something in the vision. “Thou shalt behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that he is the Son of God” (11:7). So the Spirit of the Lord tells Nephi that he is going to see a man descending out heaven (future tense), which is fulfilled in 12:6, and that he will be required to bear testimony to that. This again suggests that the Spirit of the Lord is not that individual who he will shortly see and of whom he will then bear testimony. So, if the Spirit of the Lord is not the Son of God, who is he?

The conversation continues and in verse 11. Nephi reports, “for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another” (11:11). Remember, this “Spirit of the Lord” is the same individual by whom Nephi was “caught away in 11:1 which immediately follows upon Nephi’s attribution of authority for his knowledge of the mysteries he learns. Then the Spirit of the Lord goes from Nephi’s presence (footnote to D&C 130:22-23) and an angel takes over the divine presentation (11:14). Also consider that Nephi’s father Lehi “spake by the power of the Holy Ghost” (11:17). Following his vision, Nephi speaks of “the Spirit of the Lord which was in our father” (15:12).

All of the above strongly suggests to me that the “Spirit of the Lord” by whom Nephi is “caught away” and who interrogates Nephi before he is shown the vision, reveals mysteries to the one who desired to see and know through faith, and who praises the most high God the Father and the Son of God is the individual known as the Holy Ghost and Nephi’s source of authority.