“Ye Shall Baptize This People”

Brant Gardner

The others who are called were at least the twelve who are named in 3 Nephi 19:4. Of course the Lord could have called more, but because of time constraints it is probable that it was just this twelve, who also had the authority to confer the right upon others.

It appears that the mode of baptism had been the source of some disputation. The Lord mentions here that he will instruct them to avoid disputations, and he reiterates the disputations in verse 28. We have seen none of these issues in the Book of Mormon to this point, which simply indicates the incomplete nature of the picture we have of this people. There are certainly many more things about them of which we are similarly unaware because of what Mormon elected to tell us.

This text on the mode of baptism is placed between the appearance of the Lord to the masses and his discourse to the masses that repeats the Sermon on the Mount. It is therefore somewhat unusual that in between two events that are clearly meant for the people as a whole that there should be a session that separates out a selected group and presents essential operating instructions for an ecclesiastical rite. Obviously this information was communicated to the disciples, and obviously it was necessary. It may be, however, that the placement in the text is due to Nephi’s reconstruction more than the actual sequencing events. Nephi is obviously writing after the fact, and for Nephi the baptism of the people as a means of accepting this Messiah would be conceptually important. It would be important enough that he might move it earlier in the sequence to give it importance of place. We must remember that Nephi is writing a religious history, not a chronicle. The spiritual matters were much more important that the temporal matters, and certainly more important that the sequencing of events.

“I Give Unto You Power that Ye Shall Baptize This People”

It is virtually certain that the people did not arrive at a specific time. They came in as they could, and many came as early as they could, just in case the Messiah were already there. As they arrived, they were met by the twelve who had been set apart by the Savior. It is fitting that they should be met by the twelve, for these were men who had been specifically appointed to stand in the stead of the Savior. Of course it was not the same, but still these were men who had the message to give. They were not who the Savior was, but they understood the message that the Savior intended to teach the people.

Translation: Most of the names given here are easily classified as names that come from the particular Nephite New World milieu of from the brass plates. In this larger list of names we have the name of Timothy which is anomalous because it is a name of Greek origin rather than Hebrew or New World. The best explanation remains that of Hugh Nibley from 1957:

“The occurrence of the names Timothy and Lachoneus in the Book of Mormon is strictly in order, however odd it may seem at first glance. Since the fourteenth century B.C. at latest, Syria and Palestine had been in constant contact with the Aegean world; and since the middle of the seventh century, Greek mercenaries and merchants closely bound to Egyptian interest (the best Egyptian mercenaries were Greeks) swarmed throughout the Near East. Lehi’s people, even apart from their mercantile activities, could not have avoided considerable contact with these people in Egypt and especially in Sidon, which Greek poets even in that day were celebrating as the great world center of trade. It is interesting to note in passing that Timothy is an Ionian name, since the Greeks in Palestine were Ionians (hence the Hebrew name for Greeks: “Sons of Javanim”), and—since “Lachoneus” means “a Laconian”—that the oldest Greek traders were Laconians, who had colonies in Cyprus (Book of Mormon Akish) and of course traded with Palestine. (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon. Council of the Twelve Apostles, Salt Lake City, 1957, p. 250.)

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon