“And Blessed Are the Gentiles”

Brant Gardner

Literary: The typical clarity of the Book of Mormon appears to fail us in verses 6-11. The English text is difficult to follow, and the sentence structure is almost hopelessly convoluted. There is powerful meaning here concerning the future role of the scriptures in the understanding of the gospel, but the language in which that meaning is couched requires effort to comprehend. Of the keys to this section is an underlying parallelism that has been hidden in the current flurry of words explaining the meaning of the parallelism.

One of the hallmarks of the Sermon on the Mount has been the sets of antithetical parallels used to teach particular points. Such a parallel lies under this text, but deeper than in the more obvious, shorter statements of the Sermon on the Mount.

The first parallel set is the blessing/cursing of the Gentiles. We have:

6  And blessed are the Gentiles, because of their belief in me (3 Nephi 16:6)

8  But wo, saith the Father, unto the unbelieving of the Gentiles (3 Nephi 16:8)

The first conceptual outline is related to the Gentiles. The Gentiles appear in the future history of the scriptures as both being blessed and cursed. They will have a role in the spread of the scriptures and the truth, but that role will be both good and bad, with the good first, and the bad second.

The second antithetical parallel is set up in verse 7, but not completed until verses 10 and 11:

…in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles (3 Nephi 16:7)

…; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them. And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them. (3 Nephi 16:10-11)

The two themes are therefore the blessing and cursing of the Gentiles related to their position to the scriptures. The second antithetical parallel deals with the direction of the movement of the scriptures. They will go among the Gentiles, and then from the Gentiles. The Gentiles are therefore blessed because of their favorable retention of the Old World scriptures. However, when the time comes that the Gentiles will begin to reject the teachings of those scriptures, the scriptures will moved from the Gentiles to the Jews.

The movement of the scriptures is also antithetical. They come from the Jews and go to the Gentiles. Then they go from the Gentiles and are returned to the Jews.

Our final piece in understanding this textual puzzle is the location of this section in the greater discourse of the Savior to the twelve. This unit began with the concern of the divided Israel. The “other sheep” section confirms that Israel is scattered, and that the gathering or unification of Israel still lies in the future. As part of the explanation of the process by which this would happen, Jesus explains the role that the Nephites will play in this larger scene of the gathering. Their writings will be a factor in this process, and interestingly, will first be to the Gentiles.

Schematically, verse 4 tells us that what the Nephites write down will be taken to the Gentiles, and through the Gentiles will be a tool for teaching the gospel to remnants of the House of Israel.

Verse 5 indicates that the hoped for gathering will take place after this future event.

Verse 6 sets up the Gentiles as the purveyors of the benefits of the Gospel. This is important precisely because it would be unexpected. The very definition of a Gentile is an unbeliever, so the presence of the gospel, and more specifically the scriptures, in the hands of the Gentiles is an indication of a reversal of expected order in and of itself. The House of Israel should be the keepers of both gospel and scripture. Thus the theme of antithesis is strengthened by this very future fact.

Verse 7 is the beginning of the directional antithesis of the scriptures. They go from the Jews to the Gentiles.

Verse 8 is the wo statement to the unbelieving gentiles, and is the antithetical parallel to the blessing of the Gentiles. In both of these clauses, the blessing and the cursing are both related to the way in which the Gentiles relate to the scriptures and the gospel. They are blessed for preserving scripture and gospel, but cursed for straying from the teachings thereof.  Verse 8 now introduces a new theme, which is the treatment of the Jews at the hands of the Gentiles. The Gentiles will treat the Jews poorly, and this poor treatment comes after they do not understand the scriptures and gospel, and after they are under the “wo” clause. The poor treatment of the Jews continues in verse 9.

The theme of the poor treatment of the Jews by the Gentiles serves as another type of antithesis. In this case, it is an antithesis of expectation. Since the Jews are the covenant people, one would expect that their treatment would be better, somehow commensurate with their position as a covenant people. However, this position is temporarily abrogated by their rejection of the scriptures and the gospel. When the scriptures and gospel are in the hands of the Gentiles, the Gentiles are blessed. When they are absent from the Jews, the Jews are persecuted. However, this very persecution of the Jews will be an indication that the Gentiles are not following the scriptures and the gospel, and therefore becomes the herald of another reversal.

The final reversal begins in the end of verse 10 when the gospel is taken from the Gentiles and given back to the House of Israel.

Translation: The themes and the structural reversals are indications of the plate text. Unfortunately, the English text appears to obscure some of this, and is probably due to Joseph’s understanding of this complex structural arrangement of themes. At one point in this set, Joseph as translator appears to lose control of the direction of his sentence, and creates some of our comprehension difficulties with an aside that follows the structure, but is couched in terms that create a branch that is never completely restored. In verse 8 we have the antithetical wo to the unbelieving Gentiles. Right after that we have an aside that begins with “for notwithstanding…” That conjunction would indicate a type of relationship of the following material to the previous material that simply never materializes. In the process of translation, Joseph has come upon a complex section in the plate text, and his English rendition of that complexity becomes even more complex as he attempts to make sense of the meaning from the plates. The “wandering sentence” structure here would appear to be related to Joseph’s Smith’s translation attempt rather than the underlying text. The discernible structure of that text suggests that there was a more concise text on the plates that lost some clarity in the translation. 

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon