This post is part of a series of reflections on I Nephi. If you’re interested, the introduction to the series is here. To peruse earlier entries, click the authors tab at the top of the page and then click on my name. I welcome your own thoughts on these specific verses (or on my reflections) in the comments below.
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The end of the narrative of Nephi’s grand vision is to point beyond the vision and beyond Nephi. God has revealed more elsewhere. It’s a kind of implicit demand: if there was value here, go elsewhere and seek for greater. This strikes me as a slogan for scriptural sacrament in the tent of revealed religion.
The clues and identity are pretty straightforward concerning where this “more” is: it’s written by an apostle of the Lamb, named John, and is kept in that book that originally proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew. Of course, I’ve always taken this to mean Revelation, and can’t recall anyone ever suggesting anything else. Revelation, the apocalyptic book par excellence. As the angel says, “he shall also write concerning the end of the world.” Could there be a better candidate? One other clue that seems to point more substantively to Revelation is the angel’s statement that “at the time they proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew . . . the things which were written were plain and pure, and most precious and easy to the understanding of all men.” Our folk imagination continues to prize notions of corrupt priests intentionally altering and misleading the masses (note: this phenomenon is much broader than Mormonism as any popular treatment of Revelation reveals; for further evidence, see The DaVinci Code). But of course scholarship, particularly with regard to Revelation, doesn’t back up that notion. Rather, reading Revelation today is a bit like reading poetry from the Romantic era. We no longer have the commonly understood symbols and allusions that were had by those writing and reading such stuff in the 19th century. Consequently, while the book remains unchanged, our cultural understanding has shifted dramatically. It is in this sense that Revelation is no longer a book easy to understand, though it was when first produced.
There’s a lot to say for that interpretation of which John is being referenced here. This time through, however, I wondered if maybe Nephi’s angel could be referring simply to the Gospel of John. This Gospel certainly contains writings “concerning the end of the world,” and it strikes me as a better candidate for a book containing “the remainder of these things,” which is the angel’s main clue. What things have we just been reading? We’ve been reading a visionary testament of Christ—a Messiah sent to fulfill Gods covenants and redeem the House of Israel, including all of its broken off branches. Chapters 11-14 contain much more than quasi-apocalyptic references to a future day wherein God vanquishes the wicked and exalts the righteous; the primary focus seems much more in line with the “revelation of Christ” given in the Gospel than that given in Revelation.
I don’t think one of these—the Gospel or Revelation—needs to be the exclusive text referred to by the angel. That is, I see no reason to limit the words of the angel to a specific book rather than the writings of John generally (of course, if John didn’t actually write Revelation, that would strengthen the case for the Gospel). What I like about thinking of the angel as referring to the Gospel of John, however, is that with which I started. The angel commends us to look not just to the value of what Nephi has written, but also to the added value on these things that we can find elsewhere.
Which is exactly how John ends: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” Go and seek the more that these books would contain.