Since the late 1980s, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (originally FARMS) has had a tradition of hosting academic conferences on important aspects of the Book of Mormon and publishing their proceedings: Warfare in the Book of Mormon (1990); The Allegory of the Olive Tree: The Olive, The Bible, and Jacob 5 (1994); King Benjamin’s Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom" (1999); Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem (2004); and most recently The Tree of Life (2011). This volume on 3 Nephi continues that tradition.
We entitled the conference and this volume Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture. Third Nephi has been variously described as the pinnacle or the crown jewel of the Book of Mormon.1 It is certainly the culmination of everything that precedes it in the Book of Mormon. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has so eloquently taught, "[Christ’s appearance in 3 Nephi] constituted the focal point, the supreme moment, in the entire history of the Book of Mormon. It was the manifestation and the decree that had informed and inspired every Nephite prophet for the previous six hundred years, to say nothing of their Israelite and Jaredite forefathers for thousands of years before that. Everyone had talked of him, sung of him, dreamed of him, and prayed for his appearance—but here he actually was. The day of days! The God who turns every dark night into morning light had arrived." 2 The importance of the events of 3 Nephi is further emphasized by the fact that four hundred years after they occurred, as the Nephite civilization crumbled, Mormon looked back and lamented, "O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!" (Mormon 6:17).
Third Nephi is sometimes called the "fifth gospel." 3 This title appropriately emphasizes the importance of 3 Nephi in relationship with the canonical gospels in the New Testament. All five Gospels testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. They are Gospels because they all declare the "good news" that the atonement of Jesus Christ makes salvation available to all who come unto him with faith, repentance, baptism, the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, and by enduring to the end (3 Nephi 27:13–21). Although 3 Nephi contains many miraculous teachings similar to those found in the New Testament Gospels, it nevertheless stands apart from them. It is not the account of the mortal Christ but the account of the resurrected, glorified Christ. In 3 Nephi we see the Messiah in his perfected state and station, one who has attained a fulness of all aspects of godliness. Whereas the Matthean Sermon on the Mount records Jesus’s teachings to "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), in 3 Nephi he declares, "Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect" (3 Nephi 12:48). Again, although in Matthew’s sermon Jesus reinterprets the law to make it applicable to the Jews living in the first century, in 3 Nephi Jesus has replaced the law as the focus of salvation, and he repeatedly extends the invitation to "come unto me" (see 3 Nephi 12:3, 17–19, 21–24).4
This volume includes chapters that address issues in 3 Nephi from textual, literary, and theological perspectives. The opening chapter is the keynote address given by John W. Welch. Thereafter they are arranged, as best as possible, in the order that their subjects come up in 3 Nephi. The final chapter is a transcript of the panel discussion from the concluding session of the conference. Our hope is that students will be able to read this volume in conjunction with their study of 3 Nephi.
As editors of this volume, we express our appreciation to each of those who contributed papers to this collection. We are most grateful to our colleagues at Brigham Young University who reviewed the chapters and offered helpful suggestions. We also wish to thank the editorial staff at the Maxwell Institute, Paula Hicken, Alison Coutts, Shirley Ricks, Jacob Rawlins, Stetson Robinson, Julie Davis, and Elin Roberts, who worked tirelessly to prepare the manuscript for publication.
Gaye Strathearn Andrew C. Skinner
1. John W. Welch, "Seeing 3 Nephi as the Holy of Holies of the Book of Mormon," in this volume, 1; and Gaye Strathearn, "Nephi, third book of," in The Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 597.
2. Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 250–51.
3. B. H. Roberts, Conference Report, April 1904, 97; and "The Fifth Gospel," in Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1907–12), 1:373–99. See Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 4:307; Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, "One by One: The Fifth Gospel’s Model of Service," in 3 Nephi 9–30: This Is My Gospel, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1993), 185.
4. Krister Stendahl, "The Sermon on the Mount and Third Nephi," in Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Salt Lake City: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978), 139–54.