Today we enter into a very interesting section of the Book of Mormon. Like the Isaiah chapters, it closely parallels a section of the Bible. Like the Isaiah chapters, there are some subtle differences. 3Ne 12-15 parallels the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 5-7. It’s been lined up so that if you want to compare verses (and you should!), subtract 7 from the Book of Mormon chapter number to get the right verse in Matthew, e.g. 3 Nephi 12:48 ≈ Matthew 5:48. Let’s compare these.
|KJV Mat 5:48||Book of Mormon 3Ne 12:48|
|Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.||Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.|
Close reading and comparison of the KJV and Book of Mormon sermon can generate some interesting and productive questions. For example, in the KJV, only the Father is perfect. In the Book of Mormon, the Father and Jesus are perfect. What happens to Jesus between these two texts to change his status, and what does that suggest about how the Book of Mormon is using “perfect”? Does that have implications for how we should understand the (apparent) command for us to be perfect in the KJV?
Secondarily, note that the Book of Mormon seems to soften the KJV. Instead of a straightforward command, it’s phrased as an expression of will, “I would that ye should…” or “I want you to be…” As I said, this could be a softening of the command. Or, the KJV may not be representing the Greek very well. (NB:I’m not suggesting the Book of Mormon better captures the Greek.) The Greek verbal form can either be a command or a future tense. Coming at the end of the beatitudes, and taking note of the “therefore,” we could understand it to mean something like “Therefore (if you do all these previous things) you will be perfect” future tense.
Regardless, reading the Book of Mormon without comparing it precludes all these productive questions.
Fortunately, John Welch has a book looking at many of them in depth. First published in 1990, it got an update several years later, and is now known as Illuminating The Sermon at the Temple, and the Sermon on the Mount, available online from the Maxwell Institute, or Amazon. There’s even a 3-column comparison of the KJV, JST, and Book of Mormon text.
3Ne 15:21-22. – “ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. And they understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles;….and ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me.”
This refers back to John 10:34, but the metaphor is not invented there. As he often did, Jesus is likely drawing on the Old Testament. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who are contemporary with Lehi, talk about Exile to Babylon in terms of scattering of sheep.
Jer 23:1 NRSV Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.
Eze 34 NRSV -The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them — to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.
7 ¶ Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 Thus says the Lord GOD, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.
11 ¶ For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
Now, I don’t think either Jeremiah or Ezekiel knew about Lehi per se, but they are certainly part of the sheep scattered in the 6th century by the Babylonians. Is it plausible, then, for Jesus in John 10:34 to be speaking inclusively of the Nephites and others? Absolutely.
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