In my previous post, Part 4 of my discussion of the disputed ending of the Gospel of Mark and its relationship to the Book of Mormon, we looked at the subtle Exodus theme that is an undercurrent throughout the Gospel of Mark, and which appears to be deliberately invoked in portions of Mark 16:8-20. Nicholas P. Lunn's The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014) examines a number of parallels to the Exodus, especially the commission of Moses at Sinai, in the longer ending where Christ commissions his Apostles to go into all the world and preach. Lunn offers this table as a summary (262-3, numbering added):

Mark 16 Exodus
1. Jesus "appeared" to the disciples (v.14)The LORD "appeared" to Moses (3:16, 4:5)
2. Commissioned to “go” into all of creation and proclaim the gospel (v. 15 )Commissioned to “go” to Egypt and bring out the Israelites from slavery (3:10)
3. “Whoever believes . . . whoever does not believe . . .” (v. 16 )“What if they will not believe me...?” (4:1); “that they may believe...” (4:5)
4. “signs” (v. 17 )“signs” (4:9, etc)
5. “with their hands” (v. 18)“in his hand” (4:4)
6. “they will pick up snakes” (v. 18)Moses took hold of a snake (4:4)
7. The disciples went and preached, accompanied by signs (vv. 19 –20)Moses went and spoke the message and performed the signs (4:20, 30–31)
8. “hardness of heart” (v. 14)“hardened . . . heart” (passim)
9. “cast out seven demons” (v. 9 )cast out seven nations (3:8; 34:24, etc)

The last item in his list may be a stretch and is easy to criticize. Nevertheless, it is at least possible that Mark saw significance in the number seven when choosing to mention that detail. If the frequent theme of casting out demons in Mark was viewed as an analog to the casting out of pagan nations in Israel as part of God's New Exodus through the ministry of Christ, perhaps Mark felt the number was significant, but it is simply speculation.

In looking at the parallels Lunn sees in the ending of Mark with the appearance of Christ and His commission to the Apostles, I wondered if anything similar might be happening in 3 Nephi with the appearance of Christ to Book of Mormon peoples.  Exodus themes are strongly present in the Book of Mormon, though most strongly in the writings of Nephi. Alma the Younger, clearly a devoted student of the brass plates, also uses Exodus themes in his writings. But do we find that in the 3 Nephi account of Christ's appearance and ministry in the New World?

Several of the items in Lunn's list have relationships to the Book of Mormon account. Obviously, Christ's ministry begins with an appearance to the Nephites. The heading before 3 Nephi 11, present in the earliest manuscripts of the Book of Mormon and thus representing text from the gold plates, not a later editorial insertion, states that "Jesus Christ sheweth himself unto the people of Nephi.... And on this wise did he shew himself unto them" (see Royal Skousen, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 593). The word "appeared" is also used directly in the body of the chapter. After a divine voice speaks three times to the people to call attention to the descent of Christ, they look up and see a Man descending from heaven, but did not know what it meant and "though it was an angel that had appeared unto them" (3 Nephi 11:8). The same word, "appeared," as found in the KJV of Mark and Exodus is also used to describe the visit of the Lord in the New World.

Incidentally, just as the Nephites initially thought it was an angel appearing unto them, so Exodus 3 initially reports that "an angel of the Lord appeared unto [Moses]" in the fire of the burning bush (vs. 2), but shortly thereafter we learn that it is actually God calling Moses from the midst of the bush (vv. 4-6).

Regarding issue 2, the charge to "go" given to Moses and the Apostles is also found in 3 Nephi 11:41 in the introductory words of Christ, where He commissions His disciples to "go forth unto this people, and declare the words which I have spoken, unto the ends of the earth." It is a commission to go unto "this people," but the words and the Gospel message are intended to be taken "unto the ends of the earth." This echoes the commission in the longer ending of Mark and reminds us of God's command to Moses to "go" and free Israel in Exodus 3:10.  ("Go" is found in many translations of Exodus 3:10 such as the NIV, though the KJV has "Come now" instead of the NIV's "So now, go," even though the corresponding Hebrew root, yalak, is much more frequently translated as "go" in the KJV -- see Strong's H3212, Blue Letter Bible.)

The next three issues in Lunn's table, items 3 to 5 dealing with belief, signs, and hands, are all present in 3 Nephi 11 and somewhat in later parts of 3 Nephi. Before the miraculous appearance of the Lord, 3 Nephi 11:2 refers to the "sign" that had been given and fulfilled concerning His death in the Old World. Another dramatic sign is given immediately after His appearance, when the Lord invites the Nephites to come and "thrust your hands into my side" and to "feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world" (3 Nephi 11:14). Here the Lord offers his hands as a both a visual and tactile sign, and asks those present to use their hands to touch Him and confirm that He had been slain, removing any grounds for disbelief, that they might know that their God had appeared and completed His Atonement to redeem them. The topic of "signs" is explicitly addressed later, when the Lord speaks of a "sign" He will give Israel in the Latter-days so that they might know that the Lord is fulfilling His promises and keeping His covenant with Israel (3 Nephi 21:1, 2, 7).

The Exodus-related significance of Christ's opening words and the wounds He showed has been noted by S. Kent Brown in "The Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon," BYU Studies 30/3 (Summer 1990):111; reprinted and revised in S. Kent Brown, From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1998), 75-98. Brown observes that in ancient times, agents sent to negotiate for the release of captives in foreign lands would be sent with credentials that could be shown to confirm that they had the requisite authority. Thus, Moses and Aaron were sent as representatives of the Lord to Pharaoh (Ex. 3:10; 4:14–15) and presented their “credentials” in the form of divine signs worked by the power of the rod of Aaron/Moses (Exodus 7:8–12). Relating this concept to the Book of Mormon, Brown writes:
When we turn to 3 Nephi, the need and the effort to recover those who were captives of sin becomes clear. The principal differences, of course, were that (a) the risen Jesus, the one who sought the recovery, came in person rather than sending a messenger, and (b) there was no captor to whom he needed to present his credentials. In this connection, important features of Jesus’ visit grew out of the scene in which he presented his “credentials” and the tokens of his mission to those whom he sought to rescue. Note the following overtones in the wonderful moments just after his arrival: “Behold, I AM Jesus Christ whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I AM the light and the life of the world” (3 Ne. 11:10–11, capitalization added). The similarities with Moses’ situation cannot be missed. In the first instance, Jesus identified himself as the one whom the gathered crowd had been expecting. Moses, too, had to identify himself as the envoy of Israel’s God (Ex. 4:29–31). Further, Jesus announced himself specifically by using the divine name I AM, the same name which Moses carried from his interview on the holy mount (3:14). Additionally, as Moses had carried at least one token of his commission which had the form of a physical malady, namely, his arm which could be made leprous (4:6–8), so Jesus bore the tokens of his crucifixion in his person. Moreover, to demonstrate the validity of his wounds, Jesus asked the entire crowd of twenty-five hundred people (3 Ne. 17:25) to come forward so that “ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet” (11:14). My last point in this context is that as the children of Israel had “believed” Moses and had then “bowed their heads and worshipped” (Ex. 4:31), so the people in Bountiful, after “going forth one by one . . . did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come” (3 Ne. 11:15). They too “did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him” (11:17). And like the scene in which worship was extended to Jesus who was present, the Israelite slaves worshiped the Lord who “had visited the children of Israel” (Ex. 4:31).

Both the acceptance of the tokens and the response seem significant in each context.
Brown points to additional parallels between 3 Nephi and the Exodus account, including the use of "I AM" and the response of the Nephites in bowing and worshiping Him. Who "had visited the children of Israel" (Exodus 4:31). Christ, of course, was visiting the Nephites, and in His address to them, said that the Father will "visit him [who believes in Christ] with fire and with the Holy Ghost" (3 Nephi 11:35).

Turning to the next item on Lunn's list, number 6, there is no mention of snakes or serpents in 3 Nephi, apart from a passage on the Sermon on the Mount as adapted for and quoted to the Nephites ("Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?" in 3 Nephi 14:10). However, Mormon in Mormon 9:22-25 later reports that Christ told the disciples essentially the same words found in the commission to the Apostles in the disputed longer ending of Mark (Mark 16:15-18, with the taking up of serpents mentioned in vs. 18 and in Mormon 9:24). Though it is so speculative that I hesitate to mention it, if the Nephites in Mesoamerica connected the brass serpent of Moses with Christ, perhaps in the context of an early form of what would become the Quetzalcoatl myth, then it is conceivable that there might be a link between touching Christ with their hands and the Exodus theme of Moses taking up the serpent that would become his rod again, or more directly a link to touching the living reality behind the symbol of the brass serpent. But if such a connection were intended in 3 Nephi, one might hope to find an allusion to the brass serpent or to Moses' rod associated with the scene in 3 Nephi 11.

As for item 7, speaking the message accompanied with signs, this was thoroughly accomplished by the twelve disciples in the New World. Beginning the very night after Jesus appeared, they undoubtedly led the effort to announce the coming of the Lord to thousands during the night that they might be present for His return the next day (3 Nephi 19:1-4). On the next day, they then began fulfilling their commission by teaching what Jesus had taught, dividing the crowd into twelve bodies, then leading them in prayer and teaching the very words that Christ had taught the day before (3 Nephi 19:5-8). That day their divinely appointed ministry would be confirmed through dramatic signs including the return of Christ in their midst. This commission to go and teach the words of Christ would be continued throughout their lives (3 Nephi 26:17). Numerous signs would accompany the ministry in particular of the three disciples who were given special power to tarry on earth until the return of Christ in the last days (3 Nephi 28:1-23). These three "did go forth upon the face of the land, and did minister unto all the people" (3 Nephi 28:18) and would miraculously surviving many attempts of the wicked to kill them or hold them captive (3 Nephi 28:19-22).

Item 8 dealing with the "hardness" of hearts is not clearly present in the context of Christ's ministry, though in 3 Nephi it is referenced as a key factor associated with the wickedness of the people before the great destruction in 3 Nephi 9. As reported in 3 Nephi 1:22, "there began to be lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe in those signs and wonders which they had seen; but notwithstanding these lyings and deceivings the more part of the people did believe, and were converted unto the Lord." Here the hardening of hearts under Satan's influence leads to disbelief of the signs and wonders they saw that were pointing to the coming of Christ. Then 3 Nephi 2:1-2 again reports that the people "began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen," ascribing signs and wonders from God to the works of Satan or the deception of men. Further, in 3 Nephi 21, in speaking of a sign to be given in the latter days regarding the gathering of Israel, Christ states that the Gentiles may be counted among His people "if they will not harden their hearts," and in the following verse He observes that the His prophecies about the gathering of Israel in the last days "shall be a sign unto them [the Gentiles]" (3 Nephi 21:7). These passages link hardness of hearts to disbelief of divine signs, which is what we find in several verses in Exodus. For example, in Exodus 4:21, "the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart [the JST has "Pharaoh will harden his heart"], that he shall not let the people go." The hardened heart does not believe and obey in spite of signs. Later in Exodus 7:3-4, the Lord tells Moses that "I will harden Pharaoh’s heart [also changed to Pharaoh will harden his heart" in the JST], and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you" (NIV).

Other heart-related passages in 3 Nephi include 3 Nephi 7:16 where the great prophet Nephi, "being grieved for the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds -- went forth among the people" to preach repentance. Then when the Lord speaks to the Nephites immediately after the great destruction of 3 Nephi 9, He commands them to "offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (v. 20), which is the opposite of a hardened heart. In Christ's initial words to the Nephites, he warns against Satan's power over the hearts of men, to stir them up to anger (3 Nephi 11:29-30). While not using the word "hardness," the concept is related.

Item 9, as mentioned (casting out seven nations/seven demons), may be a weak element in Lunn's analysis and is not found in 3 Nephi.  However, the Exodus theme of casting out pagan nations to prepare the way for Israel not only has parallels to Christ's casting out demons in Mark as part of a new Exodus, but also has links to 3 Nephi, where the theme of a New Exodus is also present. This New Exodus, unfortunately, appears to requiring casting out portions of a pagan Gentile nation in the New World, as described in 3 Nephi 20:15-22 and 21:12-24. The words Christ uses makes the ties to the Exodus particularly strong, for he introduces the concept after declaring that "this land" in the New World was given unto the Nephites/House of Israel for an inheritance (3 Nephi 20:14), and then begins the warning to the Gentiles on this land (3 Nephi 20:15-22), among whom the remnant of the House of Jacob shall be "as a lion among the beasts of the forest, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep" (vs.  16), which is quoting Micah 5:8, but also making reference to Numbers 23:22-24, where Balaam prophecies that Israel, as it had left Egypt and was entering its promised land, would "rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain" (vs. 24). This lion/young lion combination is repeated in a similar context in 3 Nephi 21:12. The future gathering of Israel, coupled with some degree of scattering of Gentile peoples that reject the Gospel, is part of the New Exodus of the last days and is rich in parallels to the original Exodus. 

Significantly, nearly all of the Exodus themes that Lunn lists for the disputed ending of Mark, where Christ appears and gives the great commission to His apostles, are also found in 3 Nephi where Christ does the same with His twelve disciples in the New World. It was already known that Exodus themes run deep in the Book of Mormon, though 3 Nephi has received less attention than the abundant Exodus themes in the writings of Nephi and other early writers. Elements identified by Lunn in defense of the integrity of Mark also help us see more of the Exodus roots in 3 Nephi.

While Lunn focuses on Sinai-related parallels to Exodus 3 and 4, the Sinai experience continues in Exodus 6, where we find several noteworthy relationships to the 3 Nephi account in vv. 1-8:
1 Then the Lord said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land.
2And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord:
And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them.
And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers.
And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant.
Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments:
And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord.
Parallels to 3 Nephi occur in the declaration, "I am the Lord" and "I appeared" as well as the language around the covenant and the land of inheritance given the House of Israel, all discussed above. Further,  Christ begins His words to the Nephites as he "stretched forth his hand and spake" (3 Nephi 11:10), similar to the "stretched out arm" in Exodus 6:6. He then made the declaration, "Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world" (3 Nephi 11:11-12). 

Other parallels to consider include the location of appearance of the Lord at the temple in Bountiful, the "mountain of the Lord's house" (Isaiah 2:2), which can be connected to Mount Sinai, site of Moses' theophany.

As with the burning bush on Sinai, one of the striking elements in the 3 Nephi account of the Lord's ministry to the Nephites is the word "fire." The theme of fire and burning begins with the first hint of the Lord's appearance, as the "small voice" from the heavens pierced the souls of the people gathered at the temple and "did cause their hearts to burn" (3 Nephi 11:3). After Christ appears and speaks, he says that those who believe in Him will be visited "with fire and the Holy Ghost" (3 Nephi 11:35).  Being baptized with "fire and the Holy Ghost" is mentioned again in 3 Nephi 12:1, 2. Dramatically, in 3 Nephi 17:34, the little children in the group are encircled with heavenly fire.

The transfiguration of Christ, an important Exodus theme in Mark 9, also plays a large role in 3 Nephi, with transfiguration occurring for Christ and his disciples (3 Nephi 19:14, 24-25), a scene in which "the light of [Christ's] countenance did smile upon them" (v. 25) and caused the disciples faces and clothing to glow white like Christ in this mystical transfiguration scene, apparently alluding to the way that Moses' face shone when he came down from Sinai in Exodus 34:35. The surrounding of the children in 3 Nephi 17 with divine fire may also count as a transfiguration scene.

Finally, the translation of the three Nephite disciples should also be considered. Here Lunn's analysis of the transfiguration of Christ in Mark 9, relevant to the many ways Mark alludes to the Exodus in his writings, also has relevance to 3 Nephi. One of the parallels between Mark 9 and the Exodus is that "Moses and Jesus both take with them three named persons (Exodus 24:1, 9; Mark 9:2)" (Lunn, 256). The three Nephites who are translated/transfigured and given power to live until Christ returns would seem to fit that pattern, but their names are withheld though among the listed twelve (3 Nephi 28:1-17). The word "transfiguration" is used twice to describe the change (3 Nephi 28:15, 17) which was accompanied by being caught up into heaven as the dramatic change took place (3 Nephi 28:13-15).

Among the other Exodus concepts that occur in 3 Nephi, another dramatic one is the feeding of the people with bread and wine in a sacramental meal offered by Christ, even though there was no bread nor wine that was brought for that event (3 Nephi 20:3-7), in parallel to the feeding of Israel with manna and miraculously produced water during their journey in the wilderness.

Another water-related concept from Exodus was the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14), for which Lunn sees parallels in Mark to teachings regarding baptism. This is consistent with 3 Nephi's emphasis on baptism, one of the first topics that Christ touches upon after he appears (3 Nephi 11:21-27). Baptism, of course, is a ceremony whose symbolism includes being rescued from the waters of death and chaos. Water is explicitly mentioned in 3 Nephi: "ye shall go down and stand in the water" (3 Nephi 11:23), "ye shall immerse them in the water" and "come forth again out of the water" (3 Nephi 11:26),  "I have given power that they may baptize you with water" and "after ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and the Holy Ghost" (3 Nephi 12:1), and four times in the context of baptism in 3 Nephi 19 (vv. 10-13), including going down to the water's edge (3 Nephi 19:10), which may be a parallel to the House of Israel approaching the Red Sea before the miracle began or to the crossing of the Jordan by Joshua and the priests carrying the tabernacle (Joshua 3:5-17, with the "brink of the water of the Jordan" mentioned in vs. 8, or "the edge of the Jordan's waters" in the NIV). Further, those who are not built upon his rock but on a sandy foundation will be received by the gates of hell "when the floods come" (3 Nephi 11:40, 18:13), followed by two references to the flood-like "waters of Noah" (3 Nephi 22:9, quoting Isaiah 54:9), waters whose destructive force reminds us of the Red Sea that destroyed the Egyptian army with its horses and chariots.

Speaking of horses and chariots,  Christ's partial quotation of Micah 5:10 in 3 Nephi 21:14, "I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots," is likely a reference to the destruction of Egypt's horses and chariots in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:6-9, 17-18, 23-28, 15:19; and especially Deuteronomy 11:4 where the Lord "destroyed" the Egyptian's horses and chariots).

The "cloud" that surrounds Jesus and hides Him from the Nephites as He ascends into heaven (3 Nephi 18:38) is also reminiscent of the cloud associated with God's presence and power in the Exodus story (Exodus 13:21-22, 14:19-20, 24, 16:10, 19:9, 16, 24:15-16, 18, 34:5, 40:34-38).

Christ's command to "Look unto me and endure to the end” (3 Nephi 15:9), followed by healing of the people (3 Nephi 17:9), could point to the account of the brass serpent that healed Israelites who would look to that symbol of Christ (Numbers 21:8-9), as George S. Tate has suggested in “The Typology of the Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon.”

In addition to multiple Exodus themes that unite the longer ending of Mark with the rest of his text, Lunn also notes the subtle presence of references to Elijah in Mark's text, including the longer ending (Lunn, 263-5). Following Lunn's lead, we also see Elijah references in 3 Nephi. The only explicit reference to Elijah in the Book of Mormon occurs in the words of Christ in 3 Nephi 25:5, quoting Malachi 4:5 about the future sending of Elijah. Further, there may be an allusion to Elijah's theophany on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:9-15), where Elijah witnessed destructive forces of wind, earthquake and fire (1 Kings 19:11-12), akin perhaps to the destruction reported in 3 Nephi 9, followed by the voice of the Lord as "a still small voice" (1 Kings 19:12), like the "small voice" that pierced the Nephites to the center and caused their hearts to burn (3 Nephi 11:3; cf. Helaman 5:30) as Christ began His majestic descent to them.

Lunn's work on the longer ending of Mark not only helps us understand the appropriateness of the word that Christ taught to His New World disciples, following the commission given in Mark 16, but also gives us tools and perspectives to better understand subtle themes woven into the description of Christ's ministry to the Nephites. As always, there is more to the Book of Mormon than meets the eye.

Related resources:

Continue reading at the original source →