“Nephi Sees a Virgin in Nazareth Who is the Mother of the Son of God”

Monte S. Nyman

Nephi’s vision of Jerusalem and the other cities may have been to set the scene for what was to come. He names only Jerusalem and Nazareth. He may have done that because he wasn’t aware of the other names. Although he lived outside of Jerusalem (v. 13), he had been there to obtain the plates of brass. As discussed earlier, Dr. Hugh B. Nibley’s analysis of Lehi being a trader and wide traveler suggests the possibility of Nephi having gone to Nazareth with his father. Another possibility is Nephi’s seeing some identification of the city in the vision.

After seeing the cities, there is a change of messengers. In the place of the Spirit he sees an angel descend from the heavens (v. 14). Once more the messenger is not identified. The angel follows a question and answer process similar to the Spirit.

Nephi twice describes the beauty and fairness of the virgin (vv. 13, 15). This is a unique contribution of the Book of Mormon, the New Testament gives no physical description of her. The next question asked by the angel, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?,” is centered on the beautiful virgin, but judging from his answer, Nephi does not quite seem to make the connection (v. 15). The angel’s identification of her as “the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh” (v. 18) is followed by Nephi seeing her carried away in the Spirit for a space of time and then he sees her “bearing a child in her arms” (v. 20). The angel now identifies the father of the child: “the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father” (v. 21). Thus the question of the condescension of God is answered.

To condescend is to leave a higher plane for a lower or lesser plane. Our Father in Heaven, commonly known as Elohim, was to be the literal father of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. He had left his exalted plane of glory to father a child with a mortal woman, Mary, the beautiful virgin “after the manner of the flesh.” Thus the explanation given in the New Testament is clarified. The account in Matthew quotes an angel telling Joseph, espoused to Mary, “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20). The Luke account has an angel appearing to Mary and telling her, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The New Testament accounts are the equivalent of Nephi seeing the virgin (Mary) carried away in the Spirit, enabling her to conceive the Son of the Eternal Father, or as Alma later prophesies, “she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Alma 7:10). The manner or method in which she conceived is not told us nor is it necessary to know. Elder Melvin J. Ballard made the following statement:

Mary told the story most beautifully when she said that an angel of the Lord came to her and told her that she had found favor in the sight of God, and had come to be worthy of the fulfillment of the promises heretofore made, to become the virgin mother of the Redeemer of the world. She afterwards, referring to the event, said: God hath done wonderful things unto me.” “And the Holy Ghost came upon her,” is the story, “and she came into the presence of the highest.” No man or woman can live in mortality and survive the presence of the Highest except by the sustaining power of the Holy Ghost. So it came upon her to prepare her for admittance into the divine presence, and the power of the Highest, who is the Father, was present, and overshadowed her, and the holy Child that was born of her was called the Son of God.
Men who deny this, or who think that it degrades our Father, have no true conception of the sacredness of the most marvelous power with which God has empowered mortal men—the power of creation. Even though that power be abused and may become a mere harp of pleasure to the wicked, nevertheless it is the most sacred and holy and divine function with which God has endowed man. Made holy, it is retained by the Father of us all, and in his exercise of that great and marvelous creative power and function, he did not debase himself, degrade himself, nor debauch his daughter. Thus Christ became the literal Son of a divine Father, and no one else was worthy to be his father.

A parenthetical comment on the above is appropriate. “The mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh” implies that there is a mother after the manner of the spirit as well. Christ was “in the beginning with the Father, and [was] the Firstborn” of the spirits of our Father in Heaven (D&C 93:21). The Bible teaches the same doctrine. A favorite Latter-day Saint hymn, written by Eliza R. Snow, approaches the subject of Heavenly Mother: “In the heavens are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason; truth eternal tells me I’ve a mother there.” While she is sometimes credited with (or accused of) teaching this truth as a personal belief, the Book of Mormon, is the original latter-day source of this doctrine.

The angel now comes back to Nephi’s original desire, to know the interpretation of the tree. He asks if Nephi now knows the meaning of the tree? (v. 21). Nephi’s answer, “Yea, it is the love of God” (v. 22), may seem like the same answer that he gave to the question about the condescension of God, but it is not. His first answer acknowledged the love of God for his children, but he was unsure of his answer (v. 17). The second answer was positive, recognizing the universal love of God for all men. It was being spread abroad, extending his love to all the inhabitants of this earth. The angel confirmed his answer, and its being ‘joyous to the soul”(vv. 21–22). Nephi’s vision of the coming birth of the Son of God seems to have brought him to the same conclusion as John the Beloved apostle: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Lehi saw that the tree produced fruit that was “desirable to make one happy” (1 Nephi 8:10). Nephi later described the fruit as the “most desirable above all other fruits; yea, and it is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (1 Nephi 15:36).

In a revelation to David Whitmer, June 1829, the Lord defined eternal life as “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7). Thus the tree symbolized eternal life. Nephi’s vision of Jerusalem and the other cities had helped him understand the condescension of God. Being the son of the mortal Mary and the immortal Eternal Father would give the Son mortality, the “power to lay it down (his life), and have power (immortality) to take it (up) again” (John 10:18). From his eternal nature, he was able to suffer “even more than man can suffer” (Mosiah 3:7), and thus “make his soul an offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:10; Mosiah 14:10) in the Garden of Gethsemane. Wherefore, by his mercy he “redeemed them (mankind), and satisfied the demands of justice” (Mosiah 15:9). Through the power of the Holy Ghost Nephi had been shown the effect of the coming Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Book of Mormon Commentary: I Nephi Wrote This Record