3 Nephi Chapter 12
3 Nephi 12-14 (compare Matthew 5-7) Jesus's sermon at the temple in Bountiful
3 Nephi 12:48 (Matthew 5:48) I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.
The Savior's Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 has been considered by many to be the most influential and important text in all of Christianity. Chapters 12 through 14 of 3 Nephi contain an account of essentially the same sermon, this time delivered to the righteous Nephites at the temple in Bountiful. We may thus refer to this sermon in the Book of Mormon as Jesus's Sermon at the Temple or the Sermon in Bountiful. We will later learn that less than one percent of all those things taught by Jesus could be recorded in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 26:6). The importance of his Sermon at the Temple is thus obvious since considerable space is here devoted by the abridger Mormon to this sermon. As a covenant-making people, we Latter-day Saints take upon ourselves the obligation to emulate the Savior in our personal lives and thus commit ourselves to become more like him. Here in this sermon we encounter much material that helps to define our divine model.
It would seem that Jesus delivered this same or a similar sermon on other occasions in the Old World. In addition to 3 Nephi 12-14 and Matthew 5-7 (and JST Matthew 5-7) a similar, but shorter, discourse is reported by Luke-Luke 6:17-49-and is commonly called the sermon on the plain.
Many who have studied Jesus's Sermon on the Mount in the Bible (Matthew 5-7) have noticed that it seems fragmented. Does the Sermon on the Mount have a single theme or logic, or is it indeed a haphazard collection of unrelated sayings? There have been several theories among secular scholars as to how one might tie the Savior's sermon into a single unified whole.
Some assume that the sermon is intentionally a potpourri of widely diverse topics from which anyone may pick and chose at his will. They may pull out this piece and that without any regard for the original context. A common teaching in the Christian world is that this sermon was not delivered by the Savior on a single occasion, rather it is "made up of aphorisms, maxims, and illustrations which were remembered and treasured out of many discourses" (Interpreters Bible, volume 1, 279). Further, it has been suggested by secular scholars that the Sermon on the Mount is the literary work of the gospel writer Matthew. It has been noted that Matthew cited many teachings that appear in very different settings in the other synoptic gospels. Perhaps, some scholars suggest, Matthew simply redacted, or edited and arranged, all these teachings and created a hypothetical single sermon delivered by Jesus. We know that this is not the case, since Jesus in 3 Nephi 12-14 delivers basically the same sermon as contained in Matthew 5-7. Also, Jesus will later observe that he had given a similar sermon in Palestine before he ascended to his Father (3 Nephi 15:1).
Why, then, does the sermon appear to be fragmented? There are some theories among LDS scholars as to how the sermon may be tied together. Those that seem to have significant merit include:
1. It is suggested that the fragmented nature of the sermon is due to the fact that different parts of the sermon were intended for different audiences. The first part (3 Nephi 12:1 through 13:24) was addressed to the multitude assembled in the land Bountiful. The second part (3 Nephi 13:25-34) was directed to the twelve disciples or apostles whom he had chosen. The final part (3 Nephi 14) was again delivered to the multitude.
2. Some have suggested that the main purpose of the sermon was Jesus's announcement of the fulfillment of the law of Moses and the coming of a new and higher law. It is certainly true that with the Savior's visit to them, the Book of Mormon people are about to make the transition between the old testament and the new testament-between the "old" covenant and the "new" covenant. The old covenant, simply stated, was that if Israel would obey the law of Moses including the ten commandments, they would receive the blessings promised to Abraham and his seed. Jesus had explained during his ministry in the old world that he had not come to destroy the old covenant but rather to "fulfill" or complete it (Matthew 5:17). Under the terms of the new covenant, more would be expected of those who live it. It would be more rigorous and demanding. But the spiritual rewards or blessings for obedient adherence to the new covenant would be correspondingly greater, even exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God. And where do we find the specific terms of this exciting new covenant? Perhaps there is nowhere in scripture that they are more clearly spelled out than in Christ's discourse recorded in 3 Nephi 12-14.
3. Brother John W. Welch has suggested that the sermon is really a "temple text" or the text of an ordinance or series of ordinances during which those righteous Nephites there assembled actually had a sacred temple experience wherein they entered into covenants with the Lord and received an endowment of heavenly power and blessings analogous to that which we may receive in the temples today. He sees the sermon as more than an ethical or didactic discourse. It is, he believes, a sacred ordinance designed to bind its hearers in sacred covenants. He points out that other such texts are found in the scriptures such as Jacob's speech at the temple in the city of Nephi (Jacob 2-3) and King Benjamin's speech at the temple of Zarahemla (Mosiah 1-6) (John W. Welch, Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple & Sermon on the Mount, [Copublished by FARMS: Provo, Utah and Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, Utah]). Brother Welch acknowledges the differences between our present-day temple experience and that had by the Nephites in 3 Nephi. He writes:
I do not think that the Nephite temple experience was exactly the same as today's-which itself changes somewhat from time to time. For example, the sequence in which the laws of obedience, sacrifice, chastity, consecration, and so forth are presented is not exactly the same in both, although it is quite close. And the Sermon at the Temple mainly reports the ordinances, laws, commandments, ritual elements, and covenants; little background drama or creation narrative is given. Moreover, the Sermon may have functioned in several respects more to prepare people for specific features of the temple or other ordinances than to conduct them through the experience itself.
It seems clear that in both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple, Jesus introduced to his disciples the new order of the gospel, which they eventually accepted by way of oaths and covenants, with promises and penalties.
4. Robert A. Cloward sees the sermon as a missionary training sermon ("The Savior's Missionary Training Sermon in 3 Nephi" in The Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 9-30, This Is My Gospel, 119-36). Brother Cloward postulates that the Sermon on the Mount in the Old World and much of the Sermon at Bountiful in the New world were both intended primarily for his apostles and not for the multitudes (see Matthew 5:1-2; 3 Nephi 13:25), and the sermons were intended primarily to teach his special witnesses what they needed to know before they went out to preach the gospel to the world. The Joseph Smith Translation version of Matthew 7:1 provides some insight: "Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people." After the Savior ascended for the last time from his personal ministry among the Nephites, the Nephite disciples launched an intensive missionary effort (3 Nephi 26:17-21) that culminated in the conversion of all the people in the land and the establishment of a church which enjoyed nearly two hundred years of peace (4 Nephi 1:1-3). Brother Cloward sees the beatitudes as the Savior's teachings to his disciples as to what characteristics they would encounter in their investigators.
John W. Welch has observed:
Ever since the publication of the Book of Mormon, one of the standard criticisms raised by those seeking to discredit the book has been the assertion that it plagiarizes the King James Version of the Bible, and the chief instance of alleged plagiarism is the Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi 12-14. Mark Twain quipped that the book of Mormon contains passages "smouched from the New Testament and no credit given." Reverend M.T. Lamb, who characterized the Book of Mormon as "verbose, blundering, stupid," viewed 3 Nephi 12-14 as a mere duplication of the Sermon on the Mount "word for word" and saw "no excuse for this lack of originality and constant repetition of the Bible," for "we have all such passages already in the [Bible], and God never does unnecessary things." "Careful examination proves it to be an unprincipled plagiarist" (John W. Welch, Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple & Sermon on the Mount, [Copublished by FARMS: Provo, Utah and Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, Utah], 125-26).
In our commentary for 3 Nephi 12-14, we will discuss several important differences between these verses and Matthew 5-7. If Joseph Smith had wished to simply copy the Sermon on the Mount into the Book of Mormon record, he could have done so. We will discover, however, rational and sensible differences which render it unwarranted to speak of the Sermon at the Temple as a mere plagiarism of the Sermon on the Mount. The differences are themselves a testimony as to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an independent and distinct record. Some of these differences may be explained by the setting of the Sermon at the Temple. Here the resurrected Jesus appears to the righteous survivors of a fierce storm and major earthquake in the Western Hemisphere which had destroyed the wicked from among them. They had gathered at the temple in the land Bountiful. These were a people more prepared to receive Christ's specific instructions than those who listened to his Sermon on the Mount. The Book of Mormon account thus contains the calling of the twelve and the performing of ordinances for those people prepared for baptism. The level of preparedness of these Book of Mormon people will be attested to by the two hundred years of peace and righteousness that will follow Christ's visit.
How can we explain the use of the King James language of the biblical sermon in 3 Nephi, and what does this teach us about the translation process used by the Prophet Joseph? Do we not believe that our King James biblical version is a seventeenth century translation of a corrupted Greek text of the Savior's sermon? Then why do the two versions share so many similarities? There is no evidence that Joseph utilized the King James Bible in the process of translating the Book of Mormon (see The Process of Translating the Book of Mormon, in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, Appendix A). The words Joseph dictated into the Book of Mormon text were provided him by the Lord through the truly miraculous and remarkable process of translation. Just why the Lord chose to use much of the wording of the King James scholars is unclear at this time. We may simply speculate that the Lord wished to use language familiar to Joseph and his contemporaries.
3 Nephi 12:1-12 contain the section of the Sermon at the Temple (compare Matthew 5:3-12) we refer to as the Beatitudes. The word "beatitude" means a perfect state of happiness or blessedness. The word "blessed," which is translated from the Greek makarios, is rich word which signified a sublime state of well-being. It has been alternatively translated, "Oh, the happiness of" or "Oh, how happy are they." Perhaps this state of blessedness refers to a state of sanctification wherein an individual is ready and qualified to enter the celestial heaven. Or, perhaps we don't have to wait until the judgment to receive the tangible rewards of obedience to the gospel. It is possible that we may achieve a "blessed" state here in this mortal existence. This will likely come as we are blessed to feel the presence of the Lord through the influence of the Holy Ghost. We will be endowed with spiritual confidence, as our faith grows and turns to spiritual hope-see "The Fruits of Faith" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith.
The Beatitudes are certain specific instructions in which Jesus teaches how a man may attain a state of perfection and eternal happiness or blessedness. Christ's audience is given a glimpse of the heights to which they may rise. If they are obedient to the laws which he is about to teach them (3 Nephi 12:19-20), their inheritance will be the kingdom of heaven and the earth. They will have peace, comfort, and mercy. They will see God and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And, they will be called the children of God. They may in fact become gods.
The repeated use of the second person you or ye (recall that "you" is singular and "ye" is plural) in verses 1-2 suggests that the blessings and promises in this chapter were bestowed upon each Nephite gathered there, much as a ritual or ordinance blessing would be bestowed.
It is hoped that the student will discover that Jesus's sermon was not simply spliced naively into the text of the Book of Mormon. Rather, its presence here is not only appropriate but also essential.
1 And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
verse 1 The Sermon at Bountiful contains two new beatitudes not found in the Matthew account. The first is contained in this verse. It says essentially, "Blessed are those who give heed to the teachings of their ordained leaders and who are baptized and have faith in Christ." The second new beatitude is found in the following verse. It is of note that both of these new beatitudes are included in Joseph Smith's inspired revision of Matthew 5-JST Matthew 5.
"I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost" As has just been mentioned in the commentary for 3 Nephi 11:35 above, the concept of baptism of fire is explained in the commentary for 3 Nephi 19:13-14 and in Baptism, the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 18. Note the related expression in the following verse, ". . . for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins."
One important difference between the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew and the Sermon at the temple is that Matthew's account gives no clue as to how Christ's followers were organized ecclesiastically or about any institutional procedures or relationships. This has led many secular scholars to regard it as a code of private conduct that is quite independent of any religious society or organization. The Sermon at the temple, on the other hand, has much to say. In this verse for example, Christ refers to his twelve disciples and the need to come unto him by baptism and receive the Holy Ghost. It is clear that the Beatitudes are given primarily for the saints, for members of the Church of Jesus Christ who have come out of the world, put behind them the world, received the gospel ordinances, accepted and received the Lord's anointed servants, and committed themselves to Christ and his kingdom.
Although the twelve that Jesus called and ordained will be referred to as "disciples" throughout 3 Nephi, it is clear that they were apostles, special witnesses with apostolic authority.
verses 2-12 Before considering that part of the Savior's sermon we call the beatitudes, let us briefly consider the proper interrelationship between man's self, God, and other men. We will avoid here a consideration of this interrelationship from the perspective of the evil or wicked natural man (the "telestial man") who would be inclined to ignore God and take advantage of others. Rather we will include a consideration of this interrelationship only from the perspective of the honorable or "terrestrial" natural man and the "celestial" man who is characteristically lacking in natural man characteristics.
The terrestrial man's view of this relationship is basically one of equity and fairness. He realizes that he is not entitled to more than his fair share, but he will certainly have that share which is rightly his. He realizes that he must look out for himself and do it vigorously because no one else is apt to stick up for him. He must insist on fairness and justice for himself in all situations. Other men are likely to take more than is fair, and hence constant watchfulness is appropriate and necessary. In all of this he takes his cue from God who is also fair and just. In his insisting on justice in the affairs of this world, he feels vindicated and justified, as he knows that God is also just and fair. He feels that God applauds his efforts in enforcing justice in all situations.
The celestial man lives, in some measure, not for the sake of this mortal life, but in consideration of his eternal future. He is constantly aware of God's great love for him and his utter dependence on God for his eternal welfare. He is so profoundly aware of and grateful for God's goodness, mercy, and blessings that his only thought is to do everything he can to make others aware of these great blessings. He yearns to "share the wealth." He is keenly aware of his own selfishness and other frailties and shortcomings which awareness adds to his gratitude to God since he knows that God accepts him as he is. He also sees these same shortcomings in others but is inclined to be sympathetic and tolerant of these failings in others. Out of gratitude to the Lord, his wont is to overlook the ubiquitous selfishness of others. He yearns for these others to succeed eternally in spite of their human failings. If he could, he would hide the sins of others from the Lord; he would become their advocate before the Lord. He tends to look beyond the weaknesses of others.
In the Sermon at the temple, and particularly in the beatitudes, the Lord spells out the celestial standard of these key interrelationships-those between self and God and self and others. Generally, in the beatitudes the Lord emphasizes different specific aspects of the ideal or celestial interrelationships among self, God, and others.
2 And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.
verse 2 "more blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized" Here is the second "new" beatitude not contained in the Matthew account.
"shall receive a remission of their sins" Here is a reminder that a man's sins are not remitted or "washed away" by baptism. Rather they are remitted or burned out of his soul by the Spirit of God in response to that man's striving to repent. "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" (2 Nephi 31:17).
3 Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
verse 3 The "poor in spirit" are those who sense their estrangement and emptiness and realize their utter dependence upon the Lord. The poverty referred to here is that of the man who is fully conscious of the inadequacy of all human resources. A modern translation, the Godspeed Bible, renders this phrase, "Happy are those that feel their spiritual need."
Those who are truly "poor in spirit" are willing to submit completely to the teachings of the Savior. They are as little children, eager to surrender their will to his. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
As the Lord communicates with the meek and submissive, fewer decibels are required, and more nuances are received. Even the most meek, like Moses, learn overwhelming things they "never had supposed" (Moses 1:10). But it is only the meek mind which can be so shown and so stretched-not those, as Isaiah wrote, who "are wise in their own eyes" (Isaiah 5:21) (Wherefore Ye Must Press Forward, 47).
"who come unto me" This is a phrase of clarification not contained in the Matthew account. It appears five times in the Sermon at the Temple (see also 3 Nephi 12:19; 3 Nephi 12:20; 3 Nephi 12:23). Those "who come unto [him]" are the individuals who inherit the kingdom of heaven-those who will be exalted. Coming unto him requires repentance and baptism, and therefore coming unto him is essentially a covenantal concept. Only those who "come unto [Christ] with full purpose of heart" (verse 24) through his prescribed ordinances will be received or allowed to enter into his presence.
4 And again, blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
verse 4 The Lord is not suggesting here that mourning for mourning's sake is a virtue. Rather, there are certain kinds of mourning that he commands us to experience. One is mourning for our fallen nature, natural self, and our resultant tendency to commit sin (see Nephi's "Psalm" in 2 Nephi 4:16-35). One sign of a true saint is that he or she is "willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:9). To mourn in this setting means to have compassion, empathy, or to "suffer with" those who are suffering. Also, those who mourn as they suffer well the vicissitudes of mortality are said to "suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world" (Jacob 1:8). These shall eventually find rest with him who mourned as no other individual on earth has ever mourned.
This verse promises that the sorrow of the mourning will be "comforted," that is, their sorrow will be turned to joy.
5 And blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
verse 5 "blessed are the meek" To be meek is to be mild of temper, soft, gentle, not easily provoked or irritated; yielding; given to forbearance when injured; not peevish or apt to complain. The "meek" are the poor in spirit, the humble. The "meek" are not the timid, the spiritless, the fearful. Is it possible to be meek, and yet be a vociferous advocate of others? Indeed, it is. In fact the most forceful dynamic personality who ever lived described himself as being "meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29). Meekness has been defined as power under control. Meekness and humility are the opposite of pride. True humility is a gift of the Spirit which, like all gifts of the Spirit, must be earned. The individual blessed with the gift of humility sees himself and his relationship to God in a proper eternal perspective. While he may acknowledge his own efforts-his accomplishments and knowledge-he feels keenly his frailties and weaknesses. He is loath to elevate himself above others.
"they shall inherit the earth" This phrase means they shall inherit the celestial kingdom of God which will, of course, be established upon this earth after it is celestialized.
6 And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.
verse 6 "Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness" While there is a veil drawn over the mind of man when he leaves his former premortal state and is born on earth, this veil is not complete. There remains within us a dim memory and subtle yearning for eternal things. A sliver of the light of Christ penetrates the veil for all men. Though withdrawn from our memories, the spiritual progress which we made in the life before this one is not lost and wasted as we leave that pre-existent phase. Those talents and abilities and the testimony of righteousness which were earned there by diligence and obedience remain within us in a latent state. These proclivities may be referred to as our "gifts" or "talents." We have only to discover them and work to develop them to awaken them to our memory. Man is intended to perceive his fallen mortal state with a sense of deprivation, unfulfillment, and incompleteness. These disquieting feelings are intended to engender a deep feeling of distress and a need to be rescued or redeemed. He should hunger and thirst for the influence of the Spirit as a starving man craves food and drink. Man's distress in his fallen condition should create the desire to escape the fall and reach out for the Savior. This verse uses the terms "hunger" and "thirst" to describe man's longings for his premortal identity and his yearnings to be rescued from his lonely mortal condition.
Still another shade of meaning here is the idea that each man must be proactive in his spiritual growth. It is so easy to become passive in the process. A man should be anxiously seeking areas in his own life where he should repent. The Spirit of God is most willing to help in this process by revealing to the willing mind and heart those areas in which a man lacks the attributes of Christ. "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" (2 Nephi 32:5).
"filled with the Holy Ghost" This verse significantly amplifies the meaning of Matthew 5:6 which simply states "Blessed are they . . . for they shall be filled."
7 And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
verse 7 Here is an example of the law of restoration which we have previously discussed. For a more complete discussion of the law of restoration see the introductory commentary Alma 41. What is the law of restoration? Briefly, when latter-day saints hear the term restoration, they typically think of the latter-day return of the church and gospel to the earth. Book of Mormon prophets, however, use this term in a different sense. They teach that each individual will receive both a temporal restoration and a spiritual restoration which they deserve and have earned. Simply stated, this law holds that in the resurrection all men will be raised to that level of glory commensurate with the lives they lived in mortality. Each man will be judged by his works and the intent of his heart-called in scripture his "desires." If a man's works and the desires of his heart in this life are good, then in the judgment the man will be restored to that which is good. If his works and desires are evil, then in that last day, evil will be restored to him. And, it is not merely a "black and white" or "all or nothing" proposition. Among all of the Father's children, there exists every shade of grey between good and evil. That which a man sends out shall be returned to him in kind. This law is also referred to as the "law of the harvest" (see also 3 Nephi 13:14-15).
This verse provides a specific example of the law of restoration. We shall be judged according to the judgments we render. To the degree that we are merciful with others, God will be merciful with us.
8 And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
verse 8 "blessed are all the pure in heart" There are few absolutes in our spiritual progress, hence what does it mean to be pure in heart? It must mean to be actively striving to overcome the natural self, striving to obeying the commandments, and largely succeeding. Then one regularly receives the blessing of justification (forgiveness of sin) from the Holy Ghost, and one's heart is "clean."
"for they shall see God" We are promised in scripture that the obedient will all see God. D&C 93:1, for example, teaches, "It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am." Two questions always arise when these verses of scripture are discussed: (1) Will we see him literally? and (2) When will we see him? Certainly this promise applies literally for the diligently obedient following this life. They will not only see God as soon as they die (Alma 40:11-14), but they will remain to live with him forever.
But does this promise only apply to our postmortal life? The scriptures tantalize us with the possibility of an audience with him during this mortal life. This audience might be literal (see the discussion of having one's calling and election made sure in the commentary for Helaman 10:4-7 and also in Calling and Election Made Sure in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine volume 2, chapter 16), or it may be figurative. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord explains one way that God can be seen in this life: "And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it; Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God" (D&C 97:15-16). To see God in this sense, according to Elder Royden G. Derrick, means to come to know God, discover him, visualize him, recognize him, and understand him (Temples in the Last Days, 80).
9 And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
verse 9 "blessed are all the peacemakers" A peacemaker is someone who strives actively and sincerely to dispel any contention in his human interrelationships. People find myriad reasons, in this world, for contention in their relationships and it takes many forms including resentment, jealousy, anger, grudges, feelings of being wronged, competitiveness, and many others. A peacemaker doesn't allow these negative feelings to continue, and he diligently strives to remove any such from his relationships with others. The essence of accomplishing this peace is sincerely feeling and expressing your love for the other person. Generally speaking, it is much easier to feel and express love for another person when you are assured that the other person reciprocates or will come to reciprocate that love, though we are required also to love our enemies. A person can only maintain a celestial relationship with another person when he loves the other-when he or she has genuine charity for that other person.
"they shall be called the children of God" They shall become a permanent part of the Lord's eternal family in the celestial heaven.
10 And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name's sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
verse 10 "who are persecuted for my name's sake" Being persecuted while bearing the name of Jesus Christ and while trying to be Christlike is nothing new. Paul wrote, "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). And we will be blessed for it. How great is our reward? "All that my Father hath shall be given unto [you]" (D&C 84:38). And how do we endure the painful persecution? "He also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ" (Alma 31:38).
11 And blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake;
12 For ye shall have great joy and be exceedingly glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.
verses 10-12 It is not sufficient to be good. One must also be strong. It is one thing to live up to a high standard in the face of ease, but quite another thing to do so in the face of adversity. Don't fear those who can kill only the body-but only those who can kill the soul.
13 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the salt of the earth; but if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall the earth be salted? The salt shall be thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.
verse 13 "I give unto you to be the salt of the earth" In an age before refrigerators, salt was the great preservative. In this well known metaphor, Jesus compares his disciples to salt. A righteous disciple in the Lord's kingdom will serve to maintain, in fact, to "preserve" the Lord's teachings and way of life, not only in the kingdom, but also, by example, in the world at large.
"if the salt shall lose its savor" Salt does not lose its savor with age. Rather, its savor is lost through admixture and impurities. The Lord's metaphor in this verse may be a warning to avoid any contamination of God-given teachings with the philosophies of men or the corrupting influences of those who are inclined to evil. The Lord encourages his disciples to maintain a pure and undefiled gospel and to season the world with their tasteful living. Contaminated salt has lost its "savor" or tastefulness and can only be discarded.
"but if the salt shall lose its savor . . . the salt shall be thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men" If one views this verse in context, it seems likely that it is an invitation to enter into a covenant with the Lord, but this covenant carries with it a solemn warning that those who violate the covenant will be cast out and trampled under foot. Have each of us today entered into a covenant to be the "salt of the earth"; to succor and "preserve" others? We have indeed. It was at the time of our baptism. John W. Welch has pointed out a connection between this verse and D&C 101:39 which explains that those who enter into the everlasting covenant "are accounted as the salt of the earth" (Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple & Sermon on the Mount, [Copublished by FARMS: Provo, Utah and Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, Utah], 61-62). Matthew's account says simply, "Ye are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13) with no explanation as to exactly who is the salt of the earth and how one becomes the salt of the earth. Hence, we learn that only those who enter into the covenant of baptism are counted among the "salt of the earth."
14 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of this people. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
verse 14 Again, we read in the Matthew account, "Ye are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). But to whom exactly was that verse in Matthew referring? Here, in the Sermon at the Temple, we learn in context that the Savior is referring to the important exemplary role of the believing covenant people who will later be referred to as "the people of my church" (3 Nephi 18:5).
15 Behold, do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house;
16 Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
verses 14-16 In what way does a servant of the Lord serve as a "light" to the people. The saints are commanded to serve as examples, to maintain a "godly walk and conversation" (D&C 20:69). Others ought to be able to identify the saints by their behavior and conversation. There may also be a richer and more profound sense that one man might serve as a light to others-see the commentary for 3 Nephi 13:16-18.
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfil;
verse 17 The "law" and the "prophets" are two of the three major parts of the holy scriptures that the people then possessed. The Jews called them the Torah (the Law) and the Nevi'im (the Prophets). The third part was the Ketuvim, the Writings, or poetical works, such as Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The Torah is the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).
Jesus was not destroying or canceling out all those sacred writings any more than a university professor is destroying basic arithmetic by teaching calculus. He came not to abolish but to complete. As the Latter-day Saints would say to other Christians-or to Jews, Muslims, or anyone else-we do not come to erase any truth you already have but to fulfill, to complete, to add to what you have with the fulness of the everlasting gospel. We would say, as the Lord said, "I do not bring it to destroy that which [you] have received, but to build it up" (D&C 10:52). And Joseph Smith added, "We don't ask any people to throw away any good they have got; we only ask them to come and get more" (TPJS, 275).
The words of this verse would have been provocative to the Old-World Jews of Jesus's day. For the Jews, the law had ceased to be a means to an end and had become the end itself. They viewed the law as the source of salvation. Jesus's message here was that he, not the law, is the source of salvation. With the old law fulfilled in Christ's coming, a new covenant with Israel became necessary. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of that new covenant.
18 For verily I say unto you, one jot nor one tittle hath not passed away from the law, but in me it hath all been fulfilled.
verse 18 It is interesting to compare this verse with the corresponding verse in the New Testament, Matthew 5:18. At the time of the Sermon on the Mount in Palestine, the fulfillment of the law still lay in the future, but by the time of the Sermon at the Temple, the law of Moses had already been fulfilled by Jesus's atonement, death, and resurrection as Jesus had proclaimed out of the darkness at the time of his death (see 3 Nephi 9:17). Hence, when Jesus spoke in Palestine he said, "one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled," but in Bountiful in this verse he affirms that one jot or tittle "hath not passed away from the law, but in me it hath all been fulfilled" (see also 3 Nephi 12:46-47, italics added).
The Lord did not do away with any of the commandments associated with the law-murder or adultery, for example. Instead he invited his disciples to ascend to a loftier more challenging law that they might achieve a higher spiritual level of gospel living. In this way the law was said to be fulfilled in him.
19 And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.
verse 19 "I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father" Here the Savior makes it clear that the teachings of his Sermon at the Temple are being given expressly by way of commandment. Scholars have long debated the basic nature of the injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount. Are they the foundation of a new public order, a set of ideals, a set of commands, a law of the future kingdom but not of the present church-rules applicable only for a brief period before a shortly awaited coming of the kingdom, or general conditions of discipleship? In this verse and in 3 Nephi 15:10 and in 3 Nephi 18:10, we learn that they are commandments and are necessary if an individual is to "come unto Jesus." Just as the commandments given on Sinai formed the basis of the Old Testament, the commandments of the Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount form the basis of this new covenant or new testament. Our regarding of the Book of Mormon as "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" is all the more meaningful, since the word testament in Greek literature usually means "covenant." John W. Welch wrote:
As "Another Testament" or "covenant," the Book of Mormon indeed reestablishes a modern-day understanding of God's commandments, which his people agree to obey by covenant (see D&C 21:1). Accordingly, the Doctrine and Covenants admonishes the Saints to "remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon" (D&C 84:57) (Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple & Sermon on the Mount, [Copublished by FARMS: Provo, Utah and Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, Utah], 31).
"come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit" The offering of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, indeed submitting our will completely to his, is simply the new law of sacrifice. This new law of sacrifice supersedes the practice of sacrifice under the law of Moses. Do we really live the law of sacrifice today? We do indeed. We are commanded to lay on the altar of sacrifice a broken heart and contrite spirit. But, practically speaking, what does this mean? What do we really sacrifice? We must sometimes even sacrifice those things that are good, fair, and just for those things that are celestial.
It is interesting to note that in the corresponding verse in the Sermon on the Mount, a severe penalty is mentioned for breaking even one of the least of the commandments: "he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." Another severe penalty missing from the Nephite sermon that is found in the Matthew account is contained in Matthew 5:29-30: "And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." The absence of these penalties in the Sermon at the Temple provides support to the idea that these penalties were not originally a part of the Sermon on the Mount but were interpolated from Mark 9:43-48, as some Bible commentators have suspected.
Penalties are not entirely absent from the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon at the Temple. The strict injunction to "give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" is present in both the Nephite and Matthew accounts. Holy and sacred things are not to be shared or broadcast indiscriminately. Doing so was punished in the ancient world by severe penalties, often mentioned in connection with oath swearing and covenant making.
20 Therefore come unto me and be ye saved; for verily I say unto you, that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
verse 20 "except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time" The law of Moses was now fulfilled, and Jesus was providing his disciples a new law. The focus of the new law was the perfection and strengthening of the heart. As stated above, it is clear that he gave the injunctions and instructions in the Sermon at the Temple as "commandments." No such designations appear in the Sermon on the Mount. Hence, biblical scholars have long debated whether Jesus's teachings in the Sermon on the Mount were intended as celestial ideals, ethical or religious principles, or as social commentary. It is also clear that the Nephite people received these commandments by entering into a covenant with God that they would always remember and keep those commandments that Jesus gave to them that day (see 3 Nephi 18:7-10 and the commentary for those verses).
Another interesting difference between the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew and the Sermon at the Temple is the absence of unflattering references to specific groups such as scribes, Pharisees, and publicans. The verse in Matthew which corresponds to this verse in 3 Nephi is Matthew 5:20 which says, "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Anti-Pharisaism has been observed to be a tendency of Matthew, and hence its addition to the Sermon on the Mount may be the result of Matthew's influence on the biblical sermon. We might expect these influences to be missing from the Sermon at the Temple, and indeed they are. Also missing from the Nephite sermon are unflattering references to the publicans such as are found in Matthew 5:46-47.
verses 21-45 In these verses the Lord contrasts the requirements of the law of Moses with those of the new covenant. He is teaching the spirit of the new law and in these verses he provides illustrative examples. In the old law there are outward acts which are forbidden or commanded. In the new law we are commanded to change the inward state of the heart and mind. For example, in the old law murder was forbidden. But in the new law, the Lord commands that we overcome anger, contempt, condemnation, retaliation, and vengeance, even toward our enemies. We must do good to those who seem to least deserve it. Those beholden to the old law were forbidden to commit adultery, but Jesus updated that commandment to preclude even lustful thoughts. Previously Israel had been commanded to bind themselves with oaths that they might not bear false witness. The Savior's new law demands the ungarnished truth in all circumstances.
Inward attitudes and feelings are more difficult to change than outward actions. Our actions are on public display and others may pressure us to change them if they are not appropriate. We are able, on the other hand, to hide our attitudes. We can retreat into them. If the quality of our thoughts is unwholesome, we can wallow in our own mire without anyone's knowing. The private retreat of our own thoughts can contain all our struggles, our insecurities, our fears, our weaknesses, our anxieties, and in spite of it all, we may possess these thoughts and yet maintain an outward dignity without others' being aware.
21 Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, and it is also written before you, that thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment of God;
verse 21 "and it is also written before you" This phrase is an interesting addition to the corresponding verse in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:21. John W. Welch has pointed out:
The Nephites relied heavily on the written law. Their ancestors treasured the plates of brass, also relying heavily upon those written records for specifications regarding the law of Moses and how they should keep it. Being cut off from most sources of oral or customary Israelite law, the Nephites saw the law primarily as a written body (see 1 Nephi 4:15-16) and viewed any change in the written law with deep suspicion (see Mosiah 29:22-23). The Jews in Jerusalem in Jesus's day, on the other hand, had an extensive body of oral law to accompany the written Torah, and the oral law was very important in the pre-Talmudic period of Jewish legal history (Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple & Sermon on the Mount, [Copublished by FARMS: Provo, Utah and Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, Utah], 131-32).
Accordingly, the Sermon on the Mount is apt to say simply, "Ye have heard that it was said . . ." (Matthew 5:27; Matthew 5:33; Matthew 5:38; Matthew 5:43). Whereas the Sermon at the Temple is more likely to say, as does this particular verse, "It is written" (3 Nephi 12:27; 3 Nephi 12:33; 3 Nephi 12:38; 3 Nephi 12:43).
"whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment of God" This phrase is more specific than the corresponding phrase in Matthew 5:21: "whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment."
22 But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
verses 21-22 In Matthew 5:22 we read, "whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause" (italics mine). The phrase "without a cause" is deleted from both the JST Matthew version and the Book of Mormon account. Unrighteous anger is evil whether or not it is preceded by provocation. The wording in this verse is more like the demanding sayings of Jesus regarding committing adultery in one's heart (Matthew 5:28) and loving one's enemies (Matthew 5:44), neither of which offers the disciple a convenient loophole of self-justification or rationalization.
It is interesting that the phrase "without a cause" is also absent in most of the best and earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Joseph Smith could hardly have guessed that this phrase did not originally belong in this passage, because textual criticism of the Bible was scarcely in its infancy in America in 1829. And yet, significantly, the parallel text here in the Sermon at the Temple agrees with those early manuscripts, precisely lacking the phrase "without a cause." The most important New Testament manuscripts in which the phrase is absent were not discovered until after Joseph Smith's death.
It is felt by some Bible scholars that the Greek word eikei (without a cause) may be a late addition to Matthew 5:22. If so then the Book of Mormon accurately reflects the original meaning of the Savior and the original sense of Matthew 5:22.
The term "raca" is an Aramaic term of contempt and derision. Other translations render the term "empty head," "simpleton," or "good for nothing." It is a value judgment, and as such the man who uses it is guilty of judging others and is thus attempting to assume the prerogatives of God.
"whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment" If this experience of hearing the Savior's sermon was, for the Nephites, something akin to a temple endowment experience and entering into sacred covenants, then we may want to place this verse in the setting of a priesthood brotherhood. The implication is that the offended person is a "brother" who has power to render judgment. Anyone who calls his brother "Raca" is in danger of being brought before "the council," that is, the elders in charge of administering the kingdom. It is a prohibition against speaking evil against any other priesthood brother, let alone against God. It prohibits all manner of evil or unholy speaking against any brother, and thus all the more so against the Lord's anointed leaders. Such disciplinary procedures are especially pertinent within a community of covenant people.
23 Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee-
verse 23 One might expect that Jesus is teaching here: "Before you come unto me, if you should discover that you have unkind feelings toward someone, first go to that person and resolve them." But that is not what the Master says here. He says instead: "Before you come unto me, if you should discover that another has unkind feelings toward you, then first go to that person and resolve them." We might be prone to respond, "But that's his problem! No, the Lord answers, it is our problem as well. I am my brother's keeper, and if one has aught against me (and I know about it) then I have a Christian responsibility to do what I can to humbly set things straight, to apologize if I am somehow at fault, and in general to rectify the situation. Should the offended one refuse my hand of fellowship, I have done what is expected of me.
24 Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.
verses 23-24 This is difficult doctrine. We cannot come unto the Lord "with full purpose of heart" while there exists conflict and discord between us and any other individual. This may be referred to as the principle of reconciliation. No disciple can come unto Christ or enter his presence until first being reconciled to his brothers and sisters.
In the Sermon on the Mount, the wording is somewhat different: "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift (Matthew 5:23-24).
The Sermon on the Mount speaks of leaving one's sacrifice on the altar because it is addressing an audience prior to the fulfillment of the old law of sacrifice. At this time in the New World, however, the law of Moses has been fulfilled, and the Savior has already explained the new law of sacrifice (verse 19).
25 Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him, lest at any time he shall get thee, and thou shalt be cast into prison.
verse 25 The phrase "in the way" is a translation of a Greek phrase which refers to the commencement of a lawsuit.
26 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence until thou hast paid the uttermost senine. And while ye are in prison can ye pay even one senine? Verily, verily, I say unto you, Nay.
verses 25-26 Elder Bruce R. McConkie has interpreted these verses as "Counsel to avoid lawsuits and entangling legal difficulties, lest fine and imprisonment result, is directed particularly to the apostles and missionaries as they go forth to carry the gospel message to a wicked world. It is more important that they suffer legal wrongs than that their ministries be hindered or halted by legal processes" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, volume 1, 223).
"until thou hast paid the uttermost senine" Instead of "farthing" as appears in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:26, Jesus here mentions "senine" which is a Nephite unit of exchange. It was the smallest Nephite measure of gold (see Alma 11:8-10). The senine was important because it was the amount paid to each Nephite judge for a day's service at law (see Alma 11:3). Apparently, the losing party in a lawsuit was liable to pay the judges one senine each, a burden that would give potential litigants all the more reason to "agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him."
27 Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery;
28 But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.
verses 27-28 What is lust? One young male college student asked a question with tongue-in-cheek, "What is the difference between lust and 'aesthetic appreciation?'" Perhaps lust may best be defined as having impure intentions before even gazing upon the woman, and then gazing upon her for the purpose of exciting an evil desire. A man guilty of lust has little intrinsic or built-in controls. He is restrained from committing fornication or adultery only by a lack of opportunity or fear of the immediate practical consequences.
The new law or covenant requires purity of heart. The sanctity of God-ordained marriage is so important that even the "lustful look" is destructive. This verse is a commandment that the righteous must strictly exercise the virtue of self-control. It also implies a warning that if a person violates the law of chastity, the penalty will involve serious consequences (Alma 39:5).
29 Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart;
verse 29 "suffer none of these things to enter into your heart" "These things" include anger (verse 22) and lust. It is interesting to note that the Sermon on the Mount allows justifiable anger (Matthew 5:22), but the Sermon at the Temple prohibits any anger in the heart at all, even justifiable anger.
30 For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.
verse 30 "wherein ye will take up your cross" It is man's "natural" tendency to be drawn toward worldly pleasures and travel down worldly paths. To do the unnatural things is to "cross" oneself. We "cross" ourselves when we turn away from worldly lusts and seek instead for righteousness. In scripture to "cross" oneself is the same as to "take up one's cross." To his disciples in Jerusalem, Christ said: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
31 It hath been written, that whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.
32 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whoso shall marry her who is divorced committeth adultery.
verses 31-32 Jesus's teachings here are clear. Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate to that effect. But anyone who divorces his wife, except in the case of adultery, makes her an adulteress, and whosoever marries such a divorced woman commits adultery.
During Christ's mortal ministry in the Old World, Jewish law allowed divorce but there was some controversy over what comprised valid reasons for divorce. Rabbi Shammai taught that divorce was permitted only on grounds of adultery, but Rabbi Hillel, famous for his liberal views, taught that there were several valid causes for divorce, "even if she burns his soup" (Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, 13-14.) Moses, in his day, had allowed the Israelites to divorce for reasons other than adultery. Given this background, see the interesting dialogue on this subject between Jesus and some Pharisees in Matthew 19:3-9. Jesus's stand on this matter is unequivocal.
Isn't this a rather strict stand? Does the policy of the Church today square with this unbending policy? For civil divorce? For temple divorce? The answer is no, the Church today certainly recognizes civil divorce and may even grant a temple divorce for causes other than infidelity. How can this be? Have we not read and understood the New Testament and these verses in 3 Nephi 12? Are we as a Church above the law Jesus taught concerning divorce? The answer is "no," we are not above the law. We are below it! Jesus is here teaching the Celestial law. We as a Church are not yet ready to live up to that law and are still living, in a sense, a "lesser" form of the law.
33 And again it is written, thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths;
verse 33 "thou shalt not forswear thyself" To forswear one's self, is to swear falsely; to perjure one's self.
34 But verily, verily, I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne;
35 Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
verse 35 Matthew 5:35 has this verse as "Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King." Here obviously there is no mention of Jerusalem. No Nephite would be inclined to swear "by Jerusalem."
36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair black or white;
37 But let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever cometh of more than these is evil.
verses 33-37 The practice of oath taking was given to the ancient Jews as a tenet of the law of Moses. "If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth" (Numbers 30:2). Now, the law of oath-taking is done away. Christ commands the saints to be simply and totally honest in all their dealings. We should not have to swear by external things. We should speak with our mouths only what we truly mean in our hearts. When we say "yea" then let the truth of the matter be yea; when we say "nay" let nay be the true word.
Jesus was not opposed to covenantal promises, only to oaths sworn in the wrong way.
38 And behold, it is written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;
verse 38 The law of Moses, the old law, dictated an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but the new law is different.
39 But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also;
verse 39 "ye shall not resist evil" You should not be so insistent on perfect justice. You should be more merciful and forgiving.
40 And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also;
41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away.
verses 38-42 In Jesus's day and even now, the most insulting of all physical blows is that of striking the right cheek with the back of the hand. This was a particularly difficult principle to live in the Old World since the members of this new community of Jesus's were everywhere subject to insult and persecution because of their relationship to Jesus.
Regarding the phrase "whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile," Josephus, in his writings, referred to the compulsory carrying of military supplies by civilians in those days. Apparently Roman law authorized troops passing a district to commandeer the people and compel them to carry their luggage. To comply with this law often resulted in great inconvenience.
A broader principle here is that the saints should pay their taxes, abide by the laws of the land, and submit to those public burdens attendant upon citizenship.
The spirit of forbearance, love, and forgiveness is evident in these verses.
43 And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy;
verse 43 It is not known where this is written. It is not found in our present-day Old Testament, and it would be surprising if it were written on the brass plates. It is thought that perhaps Jesus was responding to the Essenes, an ultra-orthodox group of Jews who were taught to love the "sons of light" (the believers) and hate the "sons of darkness" (the outsiders). Whether or not such apostate beliefs were held among the Nephites is not known.
44 But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you;
verses 43-44 All men are neighbors to the man who has assumed the responsibilities of discipleship. How is it possible for one to become so large and magnanimous that he might actually come to love his enemies? At the risk of sounding almost blasphemous, let me ask of you the reader a hypothetical question. Suppose for a moment that you were the son of God, the savior of mankind. You are on the earth with the sacred message of the eternal gospel that must be promulgated to mankind. You are their only hope. You are keenly aware of all the frailties of God's children, but you also know well the eternal plan of salvation. Only you know of that plan and how vital it is that men accept it. In this hypothetical circumstance, with the unique perspective which it would afford you, what would be your attitude and feeling toward men? They are absolutely dependent upon you and your message. Even if they reject you, you can place that rejection in perspective. They "know not what they do." We can therefore understand how the Savior might love mankind in spite of their reviling against him. But is it not true that each of us who possesses the gospel and a testimony of it is, in our own right, a savior of mankind. The Lord "has no hands but our hands." We must serve mankind and carry the saving message of the gospel to them. As we live the gospel and gain a testimony of our own eternal identity, we will acquire the "blessed," celestial state of "spiritual confidence." This state, provided to us by the influence of the Holy Ghost, seems to be the key for our acquiring the charity, the pure love of Christ, which we must acquire.
It is so vital that we acquire the gift of charity that Jesus, when asked which was the greatest commandment, taught that there were two to which he accorded the status of being the greatest commandments. We are commanded to love God and to love our fellow beings (Matthew 22:36-40). Paul taught that though a saint possesses all virtues yet lacks charity, he is "nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). How might we define a good Latter-day Saint? Perhaps he is one who attends his meetings, pays his tithing, keeps the Word of Wisdom, and attends the temple. Is a loving nature included in our definition? Should it be? Do we as a Church give proper emphasis to this principle? Do we, in the Church help each other to learn to love?
But doesn't this verse set an almost impossibly high standard? How is it actually possible to love one's enemies? Perhaps the answer is that we must force ourselves to act in a friendly and loving way toward our enemies even if our feelings would dictate otherwise. Then, as written by Brent L. Top (Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet, 105-07), in time, if our efforts are genuine, our feelings will come along.
45 That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.
verse 45 "for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good" God, who is a loving parent, loves all his children, even those who choose to disobey him.
Matthew 5:45 renders this phrase, "for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." It is not known why the Sermon at the Temple here does not mention rain. Perhaps there was less anxiety in Nephite lands over regular rainfall or perhaps less inclination among the Nephites to believe in the heavenly origins of rain.
46 Therefore those things which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled.
47 Old things are done away, and all things have become new.
verses 46-47 As pointed out in verse 18 of this chapter and as emphasized in the commentary for that verse, at the time of the Sermon at the Temple, the law of Moses had been fulfilled.
48 Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.
verse 48 Are you ever beset with a sense of hopelessness and frustration as you study the lofty standard set forth in the scripture?: "Be perfect," "Love your enemies" (verse 44), "For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (D&C 1:31; see also Alma 45:16).
It seems obvious that no one of us mortals will emerge from this earthly sphere in a state of perfection-even as God is. What then is expected of us? What is perfection? Is his command for us to be perfect simply an example of divine hyperbole? Before we dismiss this command as unattainable, let us take careful a look at it.
The Greek word translated into English as "perfect" in Matthew 5:48 is teleios. This word is used in Greek religious literature to describe several things, including the person who has become fully initiated in the rituals of the religion. In Hellenistic Judaism, the word teleioo means "to put someone in the position in which he can come, or stand, before God" (Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 8:82; citing Hebrews 7:19 and 10:1).
A few men in the scriptures had been described as being "perfect." These include Seth (D&C 107:43), Noah (Moses 8:27), Job (Job 1:1), and Nephihah (Alma 50:37). They may have been referred to as being perfect, yet the scriptures record instance of mistakes which they made. How are they then "perfect"? The Greek and Hebrew words behind the English "perfect" may also be translated as "whole," "complete," "the end product of a process." The Savior has the ability to make people whole or complete by forgiving them of their sins. The guiltless state that follows repentance and striving to live the commandments may well be the state of "perfection" spoken of in this particular verse. In this context, the Savior taught, "Whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled [with the Spirit of God]; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father" (3 Nephi 27:16). He doesn't say "perfect" but rather "guiltless." Aren't they one and the same?
It would seem presumptuous to suggest an "expected minimum" of righteous thought and behavior here on earth that would be expected of us in order to obtain perfection, but perhaps we can risk a bit of presumptuousness. Certainly, in order to achieve this lofty state, a man must come to realize his dependence upon God and regularly pray for the presence of the Holy Ghost. He must certainly study the teachings of Jesus, "feast upon the words of Christ" (2 Nephi 32:3), and sincerely strive in specific areas to improve himself. He must practice some actual self-denial in disciplining the purity of his intentions and becoming submissive to the commandments as he understands them. If our efforts and our progress are judged satisfactory, then we will be forgiven and found "guiltless" or "perfect" before God. The type of perfection thus achieved has been referred to as "finite" perfection (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 567-78). There is another type of perfection, according to Elder McConkie, the "infinite" perfection achieved after this mortal sphere when we actually become as God is.
When the Lord commands us to be perfect, as he does in this verse, he may well be expressing the ultimate hope that we may at some future date achieve this "infinite" perfection or inherit "all that the Father hath" and become like him.
It is instructive to compare this verse with the corresponding verse in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:48): "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Jesus has now been resurrected with a glorified celestial body. He is therefore able to say accurately in this verse, "I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect."