Two Groups of Church Leaders to Be on the Earth at the Same Time

Daniel H. Ludlow

Nephi saw in his vision that there were to be two sets of church leaders on the earth at the same time shortly after the death and resurrection of the Savior. (1 Nephi 11:29, 33; 12:1, 8-10.) However, the Lord had already provided that the apostles on the eastern continent (headed by Peter, James, and John) were to preside over the twelve Nephite disciples in the day of judgment. (1 Nephi 12:9.) Concerning this prophecy by Nephi outlining the relationship between these two groups of church leaders, President Joseph Fielding Smith has written:

In fulfillment of this prophecy [3 Nephi 12:8-10], when the Savior came to the Nephites, he chose twelve men and gave them authority to minister in his name among the Nephites on this American continent in all the ordinances essential to their salvation. These twelve went forth healing the sick, performing many miracles, and administering the ordinances as they had been commanded to do. The fulness of the gospel, with the power and the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, was given to the Nephites the same as it was to the Church on the Eastern Hemisphere. Moreover, the Lord informed the Nephites that the law that had been given to Moses, including the offering of sacrifices by the shedding of blood, had been done away in him.

While in every instance the Nephite Twelve are spoken of as disciples, the fact remains that they had been endowed with divine authority to be special witnesses for Christ among their own people. Therefore, they were virtually apostles to the Nephite race, although their jurisdiction was, as revealed to Nephi, eventually to be subject to the authority and jurisdiction of Peter and the Twelve chosen in Palestine.

According to the definition prevailing in the world, an apostle is a witness for Christ, or one who evangelizes a certain nation or people, "a zealous advocate of a doctrine or cause." Therefore, in this sense the Nephite Twelve became apostles, as special witnesses, just as did Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the dispensation of the fulness of times. (Doctrines of Salvation [Bookcraft, 1954], 3:158-59.)

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