“How Be It That Ye Have Not Written This Thing”

Alan C. Miner

After having Nephi bring forth the records, Jesus examined them and found a prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite missing. Concerning this missing prophecy he declared, "How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them?" (3 Nephi 23:11) The meaning of this verse has sparked a debate among scholars relative to the time of Christ's visit to the Nephites in America.

John Tvedtnes thinks one must allow enough time between the destructions at the time of the crucifixion and the appearance of Jesus at Bountiful for some record keeping to have occurred during the interval, since Jesus reviewed the Nephite records and asked Nephi why they had not recorded "that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them" (3 Nephi 23:11). Tvedtnes finds no way to satisfactorily explain why "[Nephi} would have to 'remember' the thing had not been written if the event were only a day or so old" [John A. Tvedtnes, "The Timing of Christ's Appearance to the Nephites," S.E.H.A., p. 13]

Indeed, when Jesus audited the records of the Nephites on his second day among them, he inspected everything down to that point in time, including the Nephite records regarding events at the time of the destruction. This would require that some record keeping must have taken place between the crucifixion and Christ's appearance.

Since the Nephites had "gathered together . . . round about the temple" (3 Nephi 11:1) with "men, women, and children" (3 Nephi 17:25), one is reminded of a covenant assembly. Traditionally, Israelites (and Nephites) gathered at the temple at appointed times each year for the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles: "three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God" (Exodus 23:17). [John Tvedtnes and Kent Brown ("Jesus Among the Nephites: When Did It Happen?", F.A.R.M.S.]

Note* Both Tvedtnes and Brown accept the likelihood that the festival of Passover was involved; however, John Welch prefers another festival.

According to John Welch the Nephites had observed the law of Moses until Jesus proclaimed its fulfillment (3 Nephi 1:24-25; 15:2-8). While Jesus' voice had announced to the Nephites the end of the Mosaic law at the time of his death (3 Nephi 9:17), no new instructions had yet been given. Moreover, Jesus reiterated the fact that the old law had been fulfilled when he spoke to them in person (3 Nephi 12:18; 15;4), but they were still confused about what Jesus meant by this (3 Nephi 15:2-3). Sooner or later, as they gathered at their temple, they would have wondered if their old ritual order was still appropriate. Since it seems unlikely that they would have gone 12 months without addressing the implications of Christ's death for the continuation of their public rites, this would argue that his appearance was probably not so long after his crucifixion.

If one can assume that the two ritual calendars (Old World and New World) had not grown too far apart, the feast of Shavuoth (Pentecost in Greek) would have been celebrated in Bountiful about two months after Jesus' crucifixion and shortly after the best known ascension of Jesus from Jerusalem, reported in Acts 1. Such a date would make good sense of the reference in 3 Nephi 10:18 to Christ's appearing in Bountiful "soon after" his ascension; plus, that date is not so long after the events of the destruction that the people could still "marvel" and "wonder" about the whole situation as they conversed about Christ and the signs of his death (3 Nephi 11:1-2). Such a date accommodates all of Brown's points about the settled condition of the people, and it also solves Tvedtnes' major problem by allowing time for records to have been kept between the time of the crucifixion and the appearance in Bountiful.

The hypothesis that Christ appeared at the feast of Shavuoth in Bountiful raises some interesting implications. No more relevant occasion than Shavuoth can be imagined for the day on which to explain the fulfillment of the old law and the issuance of the new. It was on the Feast of Shavuoth, according to recent scholarship, that ancient Israelites celebrated the giving of the law, especially the revelation of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Given the obvious connections between materials in Matthew 5, 3 Nephi 12, and three of the Ten Commandments, it seems ideal that the day on which the Nephites would have traditionally celebrated the giving of the Ten Commandments should be the time when Jesus could teach the new understanding of those very commandments. In addition, Shavuoth was a day for remembering great spiritual experiences (cf. the Holy Ghost was manifest as tongues of fire to the saints gathered for Pentecost that same year in Jerusalem, Acts 2:1-4). Shavuoth celebrated the day on which the Lord came down on Mount Sinai and appeared to Moses on behalf of the host of Israel. Now Jesus came down and appeared to all gathered in Bountiful. Indeed, the ancient model for Shavuoth was the three day ritual observed by the Israelites before the giving of the law at Sinai (see Exodus 19:15) and Jesus similarly appeared three days to the Nephites (3 Nephi 11:1: 19:1; 26:13). Thus, while the suggestion that Jesus appeared at Bountiful on Shavuoth remains tentative, the choice of Shavuoth could well be considered more deeply. [John W. Welch, "When Did Jesus Appear To The Nephites In Bountiful?," F.A.R.M.S., pp. 5-10]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary