Click here to listen to Jared Anderson’ podcast on this lesson

Third Nephi:  The Book of Nephi, the Son of Nephi, Who was the Son of Helaman

It should be noted that Book of Third Nephi specifically is in reference to Nephi3

Nephi3 Transmits the Records of Nephi2:  3 Nephi 1:1-3

1:1 “…ninety and first year had passed away…it was six-hundred years” 

Grant Hardy notes:

There is, however, a discrepancy when we try to correlate the standard Western calendar with that of the Nephites.  They counted six hundred years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem to the birth of Jesus (1 Nephi 10:4;  19:8;  2 Nephi 25:19;  3 Nephi 1:1), yet Lehi fled in the first year of the reign of  Zedekiah (1 Nephi 1:4), or 597 BC, while Jesus was born no later than 4 BC.  Latter-Day Saints have dealt with this problem in several ways, including speculations that the Nephites used a shorter, lunar calendar.  See John L. Sorenson, “Comments on Nephite Chronology, ” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2, 2 (1993): 207-11;  and Randall P. Spackman, “The Jewish/Nephite Lunar Calendar,”  Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7, 1 (1998):  48-59.” (Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon:  A Reader’s Guide, pg. 297, note 15)

1:3 Is the assumption that Nephi was translated?   Any insight on this guys?

Samuel2‘s Prophecies Seem to Fail:  3 Nephi 1:4-9

1:5 “…the time was past for the words to be fulfilled…”  See Helaman 14:2 & 16:9  As pointed in the last Book of Mormon post, the signs of Jesus’ birth, according to Samuel, should have occurred the year before.   This is also an example of an editorial interruption called  “notices of fulfilled prophecies.”

The Signs of Jesus’ Birth Are Fulfilled:  3 Nephi 1:10-21

1:10  See Samuel2‘s prophecy in Helaman 14:1-8

Reactions to the Sign:  3 Nephi 1:22-25

1:22 This verse is important, for it shows that despite the fulfillment of prophecy, people still had agency to make their own choice.  Compare this verse with Helaman 14:28 “…that there should be no cause for unbelief…”  In the Book of Helaman, it almost sounds as if the signs would compel people to believe; almost as if their agency was negated.

1:23 “…baptizing unto repentance…” It appears Nephi had been very actively engaged in baptizing in the years that preceded Jesus’ coming and, as we will see, is the first to initiate the new baptisms (3 Nephi 19:11-12).   We might reasonably  ask what authority Nephi possessed after 3 Nephi 19 that he was formerly lacking, or how the ordinance had been transformed? (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 312, note 23).

1:24-25 “…no more expedient to keep the law of Moses…”

Long before, Nephi had written that “notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled” (2Nephi 21:24)  – a principle reiterated by Abinadi, Amulek, and Mormon himself (Mosiah 13:27-28;  Alma 25:15-16;  30:3;  34:13-14).  This doctrine was well enough known that there was some confusion at the time when the Nephites saw the signs of Jesus’ birth.  Some thought that “it was no more expedient to observe the law of Moses,” though they soon came to understand that their interpretations of scripture were in error, that “the law was not yet fulfilled,” and that it would not be until Christ’s death (3 Nephi 1:24-25; cf. Alma 34:13-14) (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 193).


Increasing Wickedness:  3 Nephi 1:27-30

1:29 “…that they became for themselves…”  What the heck is Mormon saying hear?

1:29   Zoramites.  We haven’t heard of them since Alma 52:33

2:1 “…the doctrine of Christ…”  Has a definition of  “the doctrine of Christ” been introduced at this point in the Book of Mormon?   It seems that Mormon might be inferring a definition retroactively that does not come up until 3 Nephi 11:30, 32, 35, 39.

2:8 Why did Mormon wait until  nine years had passed to tell us that the way time was reckoned had changed?

War with the Gadianton Robbers:  3 Nephi 2:10-19

2:14-16 “…those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites…their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites….became exceedingly fair….”  I am still waiting for my skin color to change.    There is a problem here.  Weren’t the Nephites actually more wicked at this point than the Lamanites?  Mormon is leaving something out;  just look at how short his description of the war is compared to other wars he has described.

At the October 1960 LDS Church Conference, Spencer Kimball utilized 2 Nephi 30:6 when he stated how the Indians “are fast becoming a white and delightsome people.” He said, “The [Indian] children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation” (Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922-3).

During the same message Kimball referred to a 16-year-old Indian girl who was both LDS and “several shades lighter than her parents…” He went on to say, “These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.”


Giddianhi, the Leader of the Robbers, Sends a Letter to Lachoneus1:  3 Nephi 3:1-10


“Mormon Regularly inserts primary sources into his narrative.  This includes a letter from Giddianhi.  The transition to embedded documents is usually marked by a  clear introduction and a shift from third-person to  first-person voice.  …Turning the narrative over to another voice is a dramatic editorial move, and such cases deserve careful scrutiny.  Why doesn’t Mormon simply paraphrase a speech or letter and then describe the reactions of the original recipients?  And why these particular documents rather than others in his possession (e.g., we know that Alma2 preached at four cities during the Nephite Reformation, but we have sermons from only three [see Alma 8:3-5]);  a paraphrased letter can be seen at Alma 59:3-4).  Here all three of Mormon’s roles come into play.  The inclusion of primary sources certainly adds historical value and authenticity to an account of the narrative – even villains such as Korihor and Ammaron get to present their ides in their own words…As a moralist, Mormon may have wanted readers to experience crucial moments of testimony and exhortation for themselves as they read the actual words of Benjamin, Alma2, Alma’s sermon at Zarahemla.” (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg 105,106)

3:4 “…because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them…”  When did the Gadianton Robbers adopt the same foundational story of the Lamanites?

3:7  “…become our brethren that ye may be like us….our brethren and partners of all our substance…”   Sounds a little like a movie I once saw as a kid:

“Luke, you have not yet realized your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. And with our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy. Luke, you can destroy The Emperor! He has foreseen this! It is your destiny! Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.”

— Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back

3:9 “…and they are of ancient date…”  Does the antiquity of something really confirm its legitimacy?  Within Mormonism, this is an argument that is often made.

Lachoneus1 Prepares His People for War:  3 Nephi 3:11-21

3:12 “…therefore he did not hearken to the epistle of Giddianhi…”  I love it!!  Much better than how Captain Moroni handled the epistle from Ammoron (see Helaman 54).    Lachoneus is kind of like, “Ya.. Whatever dude.”


Prophecies provide connections between larger episodes, and even between books….In addition, prophecies are often integral to the stories themselves:  the destruction of major cities is always preceded by recent prophetic warnings, prophets occasionally foretell the movements of enemy troops. …There is a double climax to Mormon’s history, both elements of which were prophesied about extensively.  The first is the coming of Jesus to Palestine, with the unmistakable signs in the New World of his birth and death, quickly followed by a dramatic postresurrection appearance of Christ to the Nephites.  The second culmination of prophecy occurs with the destruction of the Nephites as a people some four hundred years later” ( Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg 1113).

The Nephites Gather Together:  3 Nephi  3:22-26

Mayan a warrior with shield and macuahuitl

3:26“…make weapons of war..with armor, and shields…”

…As armor, many wore cotton vests stuffed with rock salt. Eleven hundred years later, the Spanish conquistadors shed their own metal armor in the sweltering rain forest in favor of these Maya “flakjackets” .(http://www.authenticmaya.com/maya_warfare.htm)

The Wars Between the Nephites and the Robbers Continue:  3 Nephi 4:1-14

 4:4 “…and horses…”  The text does not indicate what the horses did.  Furthermore, the horses are grouped with animals that are (presumably) eaten.  Unless, they are riding the cattle and flocks of animals.  Weee!!!!

4:6 “…gave commandment…”  compare this with the language used to describe Lachoneus’ efforts in war preparation “…Lachoneus did cause…” (3 Nephi 3:24).

Petén. Clay. height 14.8 cm Seated figure with removable helmet (Kohaw).

4:7 “…and they had head plates upon them…”

The “Kohaw”, was a war helmet made of stone as pyrite, wore only by Ajaws and Kaloonte’s. An example was found in a Queen’s tomb in Waka’ (http://www.authenticmaya.com/maya_warfare.htm).


“Perhaps the gathering together of all the faithful Nephites and Lamanites in one land (e Nephi 3:13-16, 22-26) was an indication that they saw this as a last stand.  Certainly this same strategy was adopted by Mormon himself several centuries later when he attempted unsuccessfully as it turned out, to prevent the extermination of his own people (see Mormon 5:1-7; 6:1-5).  He may downplay the military aspects of the events in 3 Nephi 3-4 (which apparently include one of the most destructive battles in all of Nephite history;  see 3 Nephi 4:11) in order to keep the focus on the prophesied signs”  (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg 311, note 16).

Nephites Win a War of Attrition:  3 Nephi 4:15-29

4:15 Giddianhi is a much different general than was Moroni1.  No pre-imtive strike, etc.

The Nephites Rejoice and Believe:  3 Nephi 4:30-5:3

4:32 Hosanna is Hebrew for “Please help!” or “Save now!”;  it eventually became an exclamation of praise.


“It is not clear whether Mormon ever realized the spiritual limitations of his historical project, but as we follow his abridgment through Third Nephi,  the wisdom of an alternative approach becomes obvious.  Mormon’s method of persuasion seem vindicated in 3 Nephi 4:31-5:3 when signs of Christ’s birth and a miraculous military victory combine to bring the people to certain knowledge.  They cry, “Hosanna to the Most High God…blessed be the name of the Lord,” and Mormon reports that “there was not a living soul among all the people of the Nephites who did doubt  in the least the words of all the holy prophets.”   It appears that his prescription for rational, evidence-based faith has succeeded stunningly, but within just a few years the people revert to their wicked ways. Mormon’s emphasis was on knowing;  nevertheless, as the sequence of events in his own narrative demonstrates, even if he was successful in his ambitions – if his readers were entirely convinced by the instances of prophecy and fulfillment that he lays out – it would still be possible for them to abandon their convictions”  (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 212, 213).


The level of belief here seems even greater than that which resulted from the miraculous signs of Jesus’ birth, but it appears that there is something of a gap in the narrative – some further explanation is needed for the overwhelming spiritual response of the Nephites at this time, as opposed to other, earlier occasions when they also enjoyed dramatic military victories under dire circumstances.  Nevertheless, this passage demonstrates the persuasive power of fulfilled prophecies:  because some of Samuel’s predictions had come to pass, one could reasonably expect that his other prophecies would be fulfilled as well (and not just Samuel’s proclamations, but “all things…which had been spoke” by “all the holy prophets”)  (Hardy,  A Reader’s Guide, pg. 187).

End of the Robbers:  3 Nephi 5:4-6

4:4, 5  OK. So if I convert, I don’t get punished?  If I don’t convert, I get punished?  I guess I’ll convert.

[End of the Gadianton Wars:  3 Nephi 1:27-5:6]

Mormon2‘s Editorial Comments:  3 Nephi 5:7-19

This section and the next were written by Mormon2 in about +385 years.

5:7-26 There are four substantial editorial interruptions in Third Nephi.  They are found in: 3 Nephi 5:7-26; 10:11-19; 26:6-12;  28:24-30:2.   These are discrete, readily identifiable sections, each of which contains the phrase “I make an end of my sayings/speaking”  (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 311, note 12). 

5:8 “…they cannot all be written in this book;”  That is, Mormon2‘s abridgment of the Large Plates of Nephi.    Grant Hardy notes: “What he [Mormon] leaves out is often as important as what he chooses to include even if there is an element of hyperbole in his repeated assertion).  Determining what is not there can be a delicate business, but it is clear that Mormon gives more attention to some periods and themes than others.” (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg 107)

5:9 “…and a shorter but true account was given by Nephi.”  Specifically this is referring to Nephi3.

5:12 “…land of Mormon…”  See Mosiah 18:4-7.  It is in this verse that Mormon first identifies himself by name.

5:12 “…the first church which was established among them after their transgression.”  See Mosiah 7:24-26.

There is one piece of evidence that Abinadi’s murder was regarded as a national tragedy for centuries afterward:   when Mormon introduces himself, he says, “Behold, I am Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression” (3 Nephi 5:12).  The historical context here suggests that the unspecified “transgression” was the execution of Abindadi (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 306, note 10).  

5:14 “…should be fulfilled according to their faith…”  See, for example Enos 1:13-18.

This reflects a strikingly personal connection to history:  Mormon’s editorial labors will directly fulfill the prayers of the earlier prophets he writes about, and thus vindicate their faith.  Yet at the same time he also reaches toward the future.  Like Nephi, Mormon failed in his efforts to bring his contemporaries to repentance, and he consequently redirects his preaching into writings intended for an audience many centuries earlier (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 94).

5:14-15, 18 

“Perhaps because, as we will learn later, Mormon was not particularly successful at converting his contemporaries, he redefines his call to preach as a divine injunction to write history” (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 187-188).

5:18 “…there are many things which, according to our language, we are not able to write.”  Why?  Does anyone have any insight on this particular passage?

5:18 “I know the record which I make to be a just and a true record.”  

His [Mormon] message is that God will respond in predictable ways both to those who serve him competently and also to whose who seek blessings beyond their capacities.  Mormon suggests that the facts of history demonstrate this, even if the point is a little clearer when he is the one telling the stories (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 179).

Mormon2‘s Prophecies:  3 Nephi 5:20-26

5:20 “…I am…a pure descendant of Lehi.”  Wow.   A bit of a racial superiority complex?

5:21-26 The two places where Mormon addresses God’s plan for Israel are 3 Nephi 5:21-26 (in which he uses the relatively rare term “House of Jacob” exclusively) and perhaps Mormon 5:10-14 (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 295, note 3).

5:21-26  Here, Mormon quotes Isaiah three times.  Mormon’s use of the intensifier “surely” and “as the Lord liveth” seems to indicate that these comments represent his own judgment and belief rather than the self-evident authoritative voice of prophecy.  He is here deferring to the prophets, and not acting as one himself” (Hard, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 312, note 18).

The Nephites Rebuild and Prosper:  3 Nephi 6:1-10

6:1, 2 The fact that the list of animals comes directly prior to the verse speaking of food provisions, lead me to believe whatever animal was translated as “horse” must have been an animal that was eaten.

Inequality Breaks Up the Church:  3 Nephi 6:10-16

6:10 compare with 6:3, 7 Comparing the different ways to get gain,  Mormon seems to imply that those who subsisted from manual labor, were more moral than those who subsisted by only the use of their minds.  This difference in employment seems to have led to class distinctions.

6:12 “…and others did receive great learning because of their riches.” 

“…On the other hand,  this principle of agency also means that you have to do all you can to insure people are making choices on as even a playing-field as you can make it , or  freedom is morally compromised.    Which would mean you don’t penalize undocumented youth for the sins of their fathers.   You work to give all people the educational, health, and economic opportunities so that they are intellectually and physically and emotionally equipped to go through more than just the motions of making personal choices.   So, what is also absolutely true – that without attention to issues of social justice and equality of opportunity – Mormons aren’t fully honoring the principle of agency either…”  (Dr. Teryl Givens interview Faith and Politics,  Founding Principles in Today’s Politics podcast, 10:13, 24.07).


There is a dramatic increase in church membership in Helaman 3:24-26 which rapidly dissipates in the next chapter (4:1, 23 ), but it is only in Helaman 11:21 that the church encompasses a majority of the people – both the Nephites and the Lamanites – a situation that lasts for less than fifty years (3 Nephi 6:14).  Of course, the two hundred years following Jesus’ postresurrection visit are a different story, but we know almost nothing about the period (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 308, note 26).


[Mormon]  informs us that about AD 30 the Nephites “were in a state of awful wickedness.  Now they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them,” which relies for its chilling effect upon readers recalling the words of the angel that King Benjamin reported in his speech: “[Christ’s] blood atoneth for the sins of those..who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned” (Mosiah 3:11).  The clear implication of the familiar language is that the Nephites have set themselves up to receive the full justice of God;  that is, there deliberate, knowing disobedience has mad them fully responsible for their actions, and if they do not repent, they will surely suffer the consequences (which is exactly what happens just two chapters later).  We may wonder whether Mormon (or Joseph Smith) could have reasonably expected readers to notice this verbal parallel, but these are the only two instances of the phrase “ignorantly sin(ned)” in the entire book, so it seems like a conscious allusion.  The impression it leaves is of Mormon as a careful editor, in full control of his sources, who is able to make sweeping connections over hundreds of pages of text (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 146).

Preachers of the Gospel Are Assassinated;  a Secret Combination Forms to Protect Their Murderers:  3 Nephi 6:17-29

6:20  “.. men inspired from heaven…”  Why is there no mention of authority given by one who is in authority?

The Chief Judge is Murdered;  the Central Government Collapses:  3 Nephi 6:30-7:8

7:1  “Now behold, I will show unto you…”  This is an editorial interruption.

7:8  That is, it had been less than six years since the Nephites decisively defeated the robbers.

Jacob4 Becomes King of the Secret Combination of Judges, Lawyers, and High Priests:  3 Nephi 7:9-14

7:9 “…whom they did call Jacob…” This almost sounds like a secret pseudonym given to protect his identity.

7:12  “…take their flight into the northernmost part of the land…” Is this the Land of Desolation?

Nephi3 Preaches Repentance and Performs Miracles:   3 Nephi 7:15-26

7:17 “…and all of them cannot be written…”   This is an editorial interruption called an “omission”.   This is the strangest of Mormon’s omissions.  Many readers would have been grateful for even an imperfect summary (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 297, note 18) 

7:18 “…for it was not possible that they could disbelieve…”  So, their agency was taken away?

7:19 Do we know his brother’s name?  Oh yes we do!  See 3 Nephi 19:4.

 7:21 Despite that none could disbelieve, only a few were converted.   Why would that be?


Nephihimself had been very actively engaged in baptizing in the years that preceded Jesus’ coming (3 Nephi 1:23;  7:23-26) and he is the first to initiate the new baptisms ( 3 Nephi 19:11-12 ).  We might reasonably ask what authority Nephi now has that he was formerly lacking, or how the ordinance has been transformed.  Clearly something has changed, but Mormon does not provide an explanation.  Believers and critics alike have rushed to fill the gap, suggesting that the rebaptisms were “Christocentric” rather than “penitent” – a distinction that does not exactly holdup in the text – or that they were necessary in light of a newly reorganized church, or that they represented a renewal of covenants in a new age.  Brent Metcalfe, in an article seeking to demonstrate Joseph Smith’s authorship, argued that Christocentric baptisms occurred only in portions of the Book of Mormon that were dictated later (including 2 Nephi ), however Matthew Roper has identified a number of counter examples  ˆ(Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 313, note 23).

7:25 Here ordination is mentioned, unlike 3 Nephi 6:20.

7:25 “…and this as a witness and a testimony before God, and unto the people, that they had repented and received a remission of their sins.”   The way this is worded is interesting.  It makes it sound as if the baptism in and of itself does not cause a remission of sins, but only is a witness that a remission had been obtained.

Miguel is a Guatemalan-American Mormon living in the Northwest with his family. He is one of the proprietors of the Rational Faiths blog.

All posts by