The final chapters of 2 Nephi include powerful teachings from Nephi on the doctrine of Christ. His teaching in 2 Nephi 31 can be summarized by Faith, Repentance, Baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost. This is doctrine that is testified of repeatedly and consistently throughout the scriptures, both ancient and modern.
In 2 Nephi 32:6, while talking to his people in the Americas, he states:
Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do.
Self-proclaimed modern prophets and visionaries use this verse to justify why the new doctrine they are teaching (which isn’t found in the scriptures) is true doctrine. They claim that because they, while in the flesh, have seen Christ, he has taught them a higher doctrine and they now have “further light and knowledge” than the fullness of the gospel God says is contained in the scriptures.
Strangely, they also freely teach this new doctrine, even though they themselves supposedly only received it after qualifying to enter into God’s presence. If the doctrine can only be obtained individually through a personal encounter with Christ, why would they be free to splash it all over the internet and teach it to anyone and everyone who hasn’t obtained a personal encounter with Christ themselves? Alas, I digress.
The fundamental issue here is whether Nephi is actually teaching that every person on earth needs to have a personal encounter with Christ to learn higher doctrine than what is taught in the scriptures. Regular readers of this blog probably won’t be surprised when I say, “Let’s see what the scriptures say!”
2 Nephi 6:9
The Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, should manifest himself unto them in the flesh; and after he should manifest himself they should scourge him and crucify him, according to the words of the angel who spake it unto me.
This is Jacob teaching, and he is clearly referring to Christ’s earthly ministry when talking about God manifesting himself in the flesh. It isn’t the audience that is “in the flesh”, it’s God that is “in the flesh”.
2 Nephi 25:12-13
But, behold, they shall have wars, and rumors of wars; and when the day cometh that the Only Begotten of the Father, yea, even the Father of heaven and of earth, shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh, behold, they will reject him, because of their iniquities, and the hardness of their hearts, and the stiffness of their necks. Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings; and all those who shall believe on his name shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
This is Nephi, and when he talking about God “manifesting himself unto them in the flesh” it is during Jesus’ earthly ministry, while he himself is dwelling in a tabernacle of flesh.
And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.
Enos lived roughly 500 years before Christ’s earthly ministry. God does not promised Enos that Christ will manifest himself to Enos during his lifetime. Christ, the Messiah, will manifest himself in the flesh many years (about 500) in the future. If Nephi had promised that humans in the flesh could see God at any time, why would God tell Enos many years would pass away before this could happen? Shouldn’t it have already been happening ever since Nephi made the promise in 2 Nephi 32? Did God mispeak?
1 Nephi 13: 35
For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb.
Once again, Nephi, the same Nephi that wrote 2 Nephi 32:6, is using the “manifesting himself” terminology to refer to Christ’s ministry among the Nephites after his resurrection and his teachings found in 3 Nephi that will come forth with the publication of the Book of Mormon. The people that Christ manifest himself unto did write the doctrines they were taught, and those doctrines are found in 3 Nephi. Why are the modern visionaries teaching a different doctrine than what we find in 3 Nephi if we’re all supposed to have the same experience and learn the same doctrine?
And these are the words: Behold, I perceive that this very people, the Nephites, according to the spirit of revelation which is in me, in four hundred years from the time that Jesus Christ shall manifest himself unto them, shall dwindle in unbelief.
Alma is referring to Christ’s manifestation to the Nephite nation in 3 Nephi, not to numerous personal manifestations that occur over thousands of years. Agreeing with Nephi and Jacob, Alma believes that Christ will manifest himself unto the Nephites at one specific point in time, and that four hundred years later the people will dwindle in unbelief.
3 Nephi 10:18-19
And it came to pass that in the ending of the thirty and fourth year, behold, I will show unto you that the people of Nephi who were spared, and also those who had been called Lamanites, who had been spared, did have great favors shown unto them, and great blessings poured out upon their heads, insomuch that soon after the ascension of Christ into heaven he did truly manifest himself unto them—showing his body unto them, and ministering unto them; and an account of his ministry shall be given hereafter. Therefore for this time I make an end of my sayings.
This is Mormon as he is summarizing the events shortly after the death of Jesus. Mormon, like Nephi, Jacob, Enos, and Alma before him, thinks that Jesus manifesting himself unto the people is one specific incident rather than a process spread across thousands of years. He even goes so far as to promise that he will give an account of that manifestation in the flesh, which comprises the rest of 3 Nephi. .
The scriptural authors, including Nephi himself, consistently use “manifest himself unto them in the flesh” (or variations of that) to refer to Jesus’ ministry recorded in 3 Nephi. There are no scriptural examples of the interpretation that Christ manifesting himself in the flesh is a personal visitation to individual humans while those humans are in the flesh. That’s redundant. All humans are in the flesh, so any manifestation of God would qualify if “in the flesh” referred to the audience. But it doesn’t refer to the audience, it is God who is “in the flesh” during this important manifestation. That is when Jesus lived on the earth in Judea and when he appeared in the flesh to the Nephites after his resurrection.
The modern day “prophets” who claim that Nephi is teaching that God will reveal a different gospel to individuals who have a personal encounter with a spiritual being are either ignorantly and willfully twisting his words to say something Nephi nor any other prophet ever taught. If this were true, why didn’t any of these scriptural prophets, after having their own divine encounter, ever mention all the new doctrine they were taught? If ancient prophets were prohibited from sharing this secret doctrine, why are today’s “prophets” able to freely tell everyone about their secret doctrine? That is inconsistent, and God is not inconsistent. So everyone should question the source of this secret doctrine.
What was the new commandment that Nephi promised would be introduced after Christ manifest himself in the flesh? Notice that Nephi specifically said the Nephite would have to “observe to do” this new commandment after Jesus gave it.
3 Nephi 18:5-6
And when the multitude had eaten and were filled, he said unto the disciples: Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name. And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you.
This new commandment appears to be the sacrament. All the ordinances of the law of Moses that pointed people to Christ were replaced with the sacrament. The sacrament was the new, approved method to testify to the Father that we remember Jesus. Jesus commanded all believers to partake of the sacrament regularly. The scriptures have multiple witnesses that after Christ’s resurrection this was the defining new “doctrine” of Christians, to partake of the bread and wine in his memory.
The real test is whether we will believe the simplicity of the doctrine of Christ as contained in the scriptures, or allow our itching ears to drive us to look beyond the mark and seek out a different gospel that was never taught in scripture. Buyer beware!