Few there be that find it

In The Doctrine of Nehor – Part 3, Watcher wrote:

I believe this doctrine of Nehor that teaches we don’t need to fear and tremble blatantly and clearly contradicts section one and the words of the apostle Paul. More importantly, they contradict the words of Christ who proclaimed that FEW would be saved in the kingdom of his Father.

Since I have been unable to find a more credible and insightful doctrinal scholar than the Savior himself, I have decided to accept Jesus Christ as the last word on this topic. I believe Christ when he says that few will receive eternal life in the Kingdom the Father

Few will inherit eternal life. That is what a simple-minded person like me gets from the above words of Christ. I suspect there will be those that derive something entirely different from those passages. Thankfully we all have our agency to interpret scripture as we see fit.

Except Christ never said that. Let’s look at the scriptures containing that quotation:

3 Nephi 14:13-14
Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat; because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Matthew 7:13-14
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

3 Nephi 27:33
And it came to pass that when Jesus had ended these sayings he said unto his disciples: Enter ye in at the strait gate; for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it; but wide is the gate, and broad the way which leads to death, and many there be that travel therein, until the night cometh, wherein no man can work.

He doesn’t say eternal life. He doesn’t say in the kingdom of the Father. It just says life. Nowhere in scripture does Christ say that few will receive eternal life in the kingdom of the Father. To claim he said so is to teach more than what is in the scriptures, or to put words into his mouth.

This is a common problem when we paraphrase scriptures – we inadvertently shape the message to match our beliefs. We change the wording to conform to what we think it means, rather than faithfully repeat the exact message. I catch myself doing it, which is one reason why I choose to quote scriptures in my posts and then comment on that quotation rather than paraphrase and combine scripture and commentary.

Jesus himself said:

John 14:2
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

Why would God need to “build” many mansions if few will ever live there? How big is the New Jerusalem?

Revelation 21:16
And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.

A furlong is 1/8 of a mile, so this city measures 1,500 miles x 1,500 miles. That’s  2.2 million square miles, or roughly the size of Australia. Notice that John also says it’s 1,500 miles high. Just for reference, the International Space Station is only 250 miles above earth. If we divided the New Jerusalem into 100 foot “floors”, that’s enough space for over 100 billion people to each get their own square mile of heaven! Now I don’t think that is a literal measurement, but the symbolism is that there is lots of space–space for many, not for a few.

Let’s look at some other places that describe the quantity of the righteous.

When God is speaking to Abraham, he promises him that everyone who accepts the gospel will be called his seed.

Abraham 2:10
And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;

And then God makes Abraham a promise about the quantity of his seed.

Abraham 3:14
And it was in the night time when the Lord spake these words unto me: I will multiply thee, and thy seed after thee, like unto these; and if thou canst count the number of sands, so shall be the number of thy seeds.

At another time, the Lord used a different metaphor to express the quantity of the seed of Abraham.

Genesis 15:5
And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

The God of the Old Testament didn’t think he was restricted to just a few.

KJV Matthew 28:52-53
And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

It doesn’t say a few. It says many. Now, let’s see what Joseph did in the Inspired Version.

JST Matthew 28:56-57
And the graves were opened; and the bodies of the saints which slept, arose, who were many. And came out of the graves after his resurrection, went unto the holy city, and appeared unto many.

Joseph’s changes increase the emphasis on there being many saints who arose. It doesn’t read few. And those were only the people that had become saints before Jesus performed his great sacrifice, when only the house of Israel had access to the truth. Imagine how much bigger that number will be after the gospel has been taught to every nation, kindred, and tongue. That big number is consistent with what the Book of Mormon teaches.

2 Nephi 33:12
And I pray the Father in the name of Christ that many of us, if not all, may be saved in his kingdom at that great and last day.

Alma 13:12-13
Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God. And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.

Exceedingly great many? That doesn’t sound like a few. Many, if not all? Either Matthew, Joseph, Nephi, and Alma were teaching false doctrine, or Jesus saying “few there be that find it” must be talking about a specific subset. I personally don’t think Matthew, Joseph, Nephi, and Alma were teaching false doctrine, so let’s look at the context for Jesus’ statement.

In Matthew 7, Jesus is teaching his disciples what to teach the people. In the Joseph Smith Translation, extra content is added to give us the context.

JST Matthew 7:6-9
And Jesus said unto his disciples: Beholdest thou the Scribes, and the Pharisees, and the Priests, and the Levites? They teach in their synagogues, but do not observe the law, nor the commandments; and all have gone out of the way, and are under sin. Go thou and say unto them, “Why teach ye men the law and the commandments, when ye yourselves are the children of corruption?” Say unto them, “Ye hypocrites, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” Go ye into the world, saying unto all, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come nigh unto you.”

Jesus is telling the disciples to call the Jewish leadership to repentance. The disciples raise a concern about these leaders objecting to their teachings by saying:

JST Matthew 7:14-16
And then said his disciples unto him, they will say unto us, “We ourselves are righteous, and need not that any man should teach us. God, we know, heard Moses and some of the prophets; but us he will not hear.”

And they will say, “We have the law for our salvation, and that is sufficient for us.”

Then Jesus answered, and said unto his disciples, “Thus shall ye say unto them,”

This is critical. The rest of what Jesus says here is what the disciples are supposed to say to these Scribes, Pharisees, Priests, and Levites that teach in the synagogues but do not observe the law, who think they have the law of salvation and they don’t need anything else. This isn’t addressed to all humanity, nor is the subject all humanity nor after the final judgment.

JST Matthew 7:17-23
What man among you, having a son, and he shall be standing out, and shall say, ‘Father, open thy house that I may come in and sup with thee,’ will not say, ‘Come in, my son; for mine is thine, and thine is mine?’ Or what man is there among you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

Repent, therefore, and enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Jesus wasn’t talking about all of humanity, but specifically the Jewish leadership of that time who would reject the preaching of the apostles. Those who thought they were obeying the law and the prophets, while in reality wandering in the broad way that leads to destruction. We know that the vast majority of Jews did not accept the teachings of the apostles. The apostles eventually turned to the Gentiles to preach the gospel. Jesus wasn’t talking about a final judgment when he made the “few find it” comment, he was talking about the people of that time that his disciples would preach to gospel to.

Keep in mind that the disciples, at the time Jesus made the comment, had specifically been restricted to preaching to the kingdom of Judah. They weren’t even allowed to go into the former northern kingdom to teach the Samaritans. This was years before they ever considered that a Gentile could be saved in the kingdom.

JST Matthew 10:3-6
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and enter ye not into any city of the Samaritans. But rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'”

This is the second time the kingdom of heaven is referenced. But in both cases, it is not talking about going somewhere else in the afterlife. In both cases, Jesus is saying the kingdom of heaven is coming to earth, at that time, among the Jews. It is that kingdom, at that time, that few will find. To rip this out of its context and try to assert that Jesus is talking about a final judgment is putting words in Jesus’ mouth that he never said. It is wresting the scriptures.

What does modern revelation teach us?

D&C 18:44
And by your hands I will work a marvelous work among the children of men, unto the convincing of many of their sins, that they may come unto repentance, and that they may come unto the kingdom of my Father.

God doesn’t say few will be saved in the kingdom of the Father. Many will be convinced and will come unto the kingdom of the Father. That’s consistent with what Jesus taught in the Bible:

Matthew 8:11
And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

 

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