3 Nephi Chapter 23
3 Nephi 23:1-3 (see also Mormon 8:23) Search these things diligently, for great are the words of Isaiah. Surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel.
1 And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.
verse 1 The importance the Savior places upon the writings of Isaiah is obvious. Can you imagine how honored the prophet Isaiah must feel over the Lord's quoting him and then commanding that the people search his writings? It is probably of little practical use to speculate as to why the Savior feels Isaiah's writings are so important. The important fact is, that he does, and so should we! Yet, how we struggle to really understand Isaiah's words and the implications of his poetic forms. Elder Bruce R. McConkie's writings on this subject do not let us "off the hook":
If our eternal salvation depends upon our ability to understand the writings of Isaiah as fully and truly as Nephi understood them-and who shall say that such is not the case!-how shall we fare in that great day when, with Nephi, we shall stand before the pleasing bar of him who said: "Great are the words of Isaiah"?
It just may be that my salvation (and yours also!) does in fact depend upon our ability to understand the writings of Isaiah as fully and truly as Nephi understood them. For that matter, why should either Nephi or Isaiah know anything that is withheld from us? Does not that God who is no respecter of persons treat all his children alike? Has he not given us his promise and recited to us the terms and conditions of his law pursuant to which he will reveal to us what he has revealed to them? ("The Keys to Understanding Isaiah," Ensign, October 1973, 78).
From the standpoint of understanding the origin and authorship of the book of Isaiah, this is an important verse. The Savior has just finished quoting Isaiah chapter 54, and he says, "a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. Why is that so important? Most biblical scholars reject the idea that the prophet Isaiah actually wrote chapter 54 of Isaiah. They assign the authorship of chapters 40 to 56 of Isaiah to an unknown author whom they call "deutero-Isaiah." Here Jesus affirms that Isaiah did write chapter 54.
2 For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles.
verse 2 There can be no disputing that the main theme of Isaiah's writings are the Messiah and the destiny of the house of Israel. He writes of how Israel has forsaken the religion of their fathers and thus has been forsaken by the Master and scattered. He also writes of how in a future day they will be gathered back into the Savior's fold.
"he must speak also to the Gentiles" The Gentiles are advised also to study his words, as there are important messages in Isaiah's writings of great worth to the Gentiles. We know that "Gentiles" come in a few varieties (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 10:11). Actually, it doesn't really matter which category the Gentile falls into. Any individual who accepts Christ and his gospel (regardless of his blood line) becomes a member of the covenant house of Israel, and likewise any person who rejects him (also regardless of his blood line), is not accepted into the house of Israel as one of his covenant people.
3 And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.
verse 3 All of Isaiah's prophecies have come to pass or will come to pass.
"have been and shall be" The Lord also may have wished to convey the idea that Isaiah's words have dual or multiple fulfillment. They may apply simultaneously to Isaiah's own time and to our time as well. Robert L. Millet and Joseph Fielding McConkie wrote:
Thus the past becomes the key that unlocks the future. As history has its cycles, so prophecies have multiple fulfillments and repeated applications. Isaiah's prophecies of events now past foretell events yet future. The past is the stage upon which the future is portrayed. The scriptures thus have a timeless value and an eternal relevance (Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, volume 1:282).
The past historical events described in scripture are intended by the Lord to be a type and shadow of what is to come. Therein lies their relevance to us.
4 Therefore give heed to my words; write the things which I have told you; and according to the time and the will of the Father they shall go forth unto the Gentiles.
verse 4 The Lord is speaking here, mainly to Nephite prophets. This is another prophecy of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
5 And whosoever will hearken unto my words and repenteth and is baptized, the same shall be saved. Search the prophets, for many there be that testify of these things.
verse 5 Jesus's command was in a way more applicable to the Nephites than it is for us, since they had access to the brass plates of Laban, a less edited and adulterated record than our Old Testament. The simplest points of Christ's saving doctrines are often obscured in our present-day Hebrew Bible.
6 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had said these words he said unto them again, after he had expounded all the scriptures unto them which they had received, he said unto them: Behold, other scriptures I would that ye should write, that ye have not.
verse 6 "Behold, other scriptures I would that ye should write, that ye have not" The Savior has perceived a deficiency in the Nephite scriptural record.
7 And it came to pass that he said unto Nephi: Bring forth the record which ye have kept.
verse 7 Exactly what record is the Lord suggesting that Nephi bring to him? Nephi would have brought the entire scriptural record kept by Nephites including the collection of plates called the large plates of Nephi and the single set of plates, the small plates of Nephi.
8 And when Nephi had brought forth the records, and laid them before him, he cast his eyes upon them and said:
verses 9-13 An important principle is illustrated in the following five verses. The Savior is careful to make certain we know that every single one of his promises and prophecies to us are fulfilled. In other words, he would have us learn that the words of the Lord do not "fall to the ground" (see 1 Samuel 3:19). In this manner he intends that we will acquire complete trust in him.
9 Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so?
10 And his disciples answered him and said: Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled.
11 And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them?
12 And it came to pass that Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written.
13 And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written; therefore it was written according as he commanded.
verses 6-13 Some confusion has resulted from these verses. Please read carefully the commentary for Helaman 14:25. I will not repeat the controversy explained in that commentary. Yet another explanation has been suggested to explain the deficit in the Nephite scriptures to which the Savior is referring. Perhaps the Savior is pointing out that the entire account of the preaching and prophesying of the prophet Samuel in 6 BC from the wall around Zarahemla was not, at the time of the Savior's visit to the Nephites, written into the Nephite record. These same individuals have suggested that it was not included because Samuel was, after all, a Lamanite. They further opine that following the Lord's command in 3 Nephi 23:13, Nephi did record Samuel's account onto the large plates of Nephi in its present temporal context (see Helaman 13-16). Mormon then included the account onto the plates of Mormon as he edited the large plates of Nephi. The main objection to this suggestion that the entire account of Samuel's prophesying was omitted is that here in verses 6-13, Jesus seems to be suggesting that the scriptural deficiency was only a limited part of Samuel's prophesying-that part having to do with the fact that "many saints" would arise "from the dead, and . . . appear to many."
14 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had expounded all the scriptures in one, which they had written, he commanded them that they should teach the things which he had expounded unto them.
verse 14 "Jesus had expounded all the scriptures in one" The Savior demonstrated how the scriptures and the prophetic word bear harmonious witness, especially of him. It would have been fascinating to have been in attendance at that discourse.
Three different topics have been suggested by McConkie, Millet, and Top as potential subjects he might have addressed that day:
1. Later on that second day of his Nephite ministry, the Lord "did expound all things, even from the beginning until the time that he should come in his glory-yea, even all things which should come upon the face of the earth, even until the elements should melt with fervent heat, and the earth should be wrapt together as a scroll, and the heavens and the earth should pass away; And even unto the great and last day, when all people, and all kindreds, and all nations and tongues shall stand before God, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil-And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people" (3 Nephi 26: 3-4, 6).
2. He might have taught the entire plan of salvation out of the scriptures, perhaps even opening the heavens and providing the visions necessary to understand what had been, what was, and what was to come. This is the type of panoramic vision experience that was had by Enoch (Moses 6-7), Moses (Moses 1), Nephi (1 Nephi 11-15), the brother of Jared (Ether 3), and Joseph Smith (D&C 76). On a later occasion, the Prophet Joseph explained, "I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them" (TPJS, 305).
3. He might have demonstrated clearly from the scriptures that all things bear witness of him (Moses 6:63). Such a discourse might have verified the testimony of the prophet that "none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ" (Jacob 7:11; Mosiah 13:33; 3 Nephi 20:24). As the resurrected Lord walked on the road to Emmaus with two disciples, they failed to discern who it was that had joined them. Before their conversation ended, the scripture says that "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:25-27) (Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, volume IV, Third Nephi through Moroni, 159-60).
It would seem most likely that his discourse laid stress on that toward which all scripture points-the mission of Jesus Christ. After doing this, this verse tells us that he commanded his disciples that they teach to others what he had taught them.