“The Lord Hath Forbidden This Thing”

Brant Gardner

Nephi states strongly that Yahweh has “forbidden this thing,” by which he means the exclusion generated by priestcraft. The reference reaches past the word’s limited meaning (priestcraft as a profession) to its effects (excluding people from the gospel). In contrast, Nephi explains what Yahweh does want—charity, or love. Obeying this commandment eradicates any attitude or behavior that would lead to exclusion. Love is perforce inclusive.

Nephi’s language obviously resembles that of 1 Corinthians 13:2: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, certainly a context appropriate for Nephi’s discussion of the Gentiles. Furthermore, Paul was also dealing with the tensions of creating the early Gentile Christian community, just like Nephi. The church in Corinth had especially serious conflicts, including competing “theologians” and multiple factions.

Indeed, Paul’s beautiful discourse on love follows his discussion of the Corinthian Saints’ divisive use of gifts of the Spirit, beginning in 1 Corinthians 12:1 and culminating in the declaration in 1 Corinthians 13:1 that charity (love) surpasses all of those gifts. Thus, Nephi and Paul are in theological harmony on this issue.

However, in textual terms, the question is how Pauline responses to a Gentile church appear in Nephi’s discourse approximately six hundred years before Paul was dealing with this situation in the Old World. I suggest that Nephi, a prophet, was confronting the same community-building problems as Paul. Hence, the reason for the Pauline meaning is not Nephi’s adoption of Paul’s theology but rather Nephi’s independent arrival at the same solution to the same problem. The language in which this solution is couched is Joseph Smith’s contribution, because he recognized Nephi’s thematic similarity to Paul and adapted Paul’s language to express it. I read this passage as additional evidence that Nephi was in the throes of integrating a Gentile population—one that was ethnically, culturally, and religiously foreign (at least before Jacob’s sermon) to the Nephites. Therefore, an appeal to the healing and inclusive power of the principle of love would be very meaningful to Nephi.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2