Richard: Welcome to yet another, in fact a special session of our round table discussions on LDS scriptures. This one focusing on the book of Isaiah, or rather than the writings of Isaiah that is found in the Book of Mormon. I’m Richard Draper, Professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. Today, joining me in this discussion, is Jeffery Chadwick. Glad to have you here today, Jeff. Jeff is a Professor of Church history and Doctrine. Victor Ludlow is also joining us. Vic Ludlow from the department of Ancient Scripture and we’re happy to have you here Vic.
Victor: Glad to be here, Richard.
Richard: And Andrew Skinner, professor of Ancient Scripture and also a director of the Maxwell Institute. Andy, we’re very glad that you can be with us here today.
Andrew: It’s a pleasure.
Richard: Well, one thing that people know and that is there’s an awful lot of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. What they may not know is that by the time they’ve finished the Book of Mormon, they have read nearly a third of the writings of Isaiah. This is a book that is laced with the imagery, the word, the Doctrine, and particularly the testimony of Isaiah. Indeed, we find in 2 Nephi 11, one of the reasons why the prophet, Isaiah was quoted. Here Nephi says beginning in verse 2,
“And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him. And my brother, Jacob has seen him and as I have seen him wherefore I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word.”
So, we see here, a major reason then why Nephi quotes, but Nephi’s not the only one, Abinadi quotes him, Jacob quotes him, the Lord himself is going to quote Isaiah. So, there are other reasons why the Book of Mormon quotes so extensively from Isaiah.
Victor: While there are various reasons why, and there’s various reasons how. First of all, you mentioned earlier a third of Isaiah’s in the Book of Mormon. I like to tell my students when they come across Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, to think a third, a third, a third, and a third.
They quickly say, now wait a minute, how’s that possible, when you mentioned a third of Isaiah is in the Book of Mormon, but as you read that third of Isaiah that’s in the Book of Mormon, there are three ways that we find Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. Three thirds that we divide that third. About a third of the Isaiah passages are word for word punctuation, for punctuation, exactly the same. Now the wording came from the prophet Joseph Smith. The punctuation was primarily the printer’s responsibility, but they both coincided and they are exactly the same in the King James rendition in the English.
About a third of the Isaiah passages, there are some minor changes, maybe different pronouns or punctuation, it doesn’t really change the meaning, but technically speaking, they’re not exactly the same. But what you’ll want to watch for and listen for, and this is where sometimes it’s helpful that one of you read in the Bible, and one of you read in the Book of Mormon, when you come to some of these Isaiah passages.
About a third of the verses, there are major changes, just in the text itself because apparently between the time of Isaiah and the time of Lehi, and the brass plates, some 120 years there were already some changes that maybe were beginning to develop, but especially from the time of the brass plates to the dead sea scrolls, and to the medieval times and the King James translation. There were changes and corruptions and so this text from the brass plates takes us back at least within a century and a half of the time of Isaiah. And so, we have a more pristine text.
Now, back to your question, the major purposes. It’s interesting, right before and after the first sets of chapters reported in the Book of Mormon, that is the end of 1st Nephi by Nephi, the beginning of 2nd Nephi by Jacob, they state their primary purpose is to teach this remnant of Israel about covenants. So, that’s one primary purpose of Isaiah is to learn about covenants. But Nephi and others also indicate in all of the commentary that follows the Isaiah chapters, they are striving to help the readers, particularly as Latter-Day readers to identify with, to liken ourselves unto, to connect with, because they put it into a latter-day context. So, that’s the 2nd primary thing that we can look for. It’s not just what Isaiah said then, but what is he saying about us now? So, covenants first of all, Latter-Day setting, and the most powerful kind of message that he gives, is his witness of the Lord in his dealings with the children of man and events associated with his first and second coming and the capstone of all the 66 chapters of Isaiah is that marvelous suffering servant song, chapter 53 that the prophet Abinadi quotes. I’ve challenged my students and numerous people through the ages. If they will look through the Isaiah passages and just look for one of three things to see if they can find any passages that don’t at least highlight one of these three themes, covenants, last days, the Savior. And if you just look for those, you’ll find them in every passage, in fact, often more than one of them in the passages of Isaiah.
Andrew: Could I interject something here? When you were talking about covenants, it seems to me in Isaiah, we see a profound connection between the covenants that the Lord made with our fathers and his grace or his atonement. That is to say we as Latter-Day Israel, or all humankind are lost. But the Lord, through covenants binds us to him through the covenant-making process and because of that binding together with the Lord, we go where he goes if we keep his covenants. So, really the covenants are an aspect of his grace as it’s presented in the book of Isaiah.
Richard: True. Well Jeff, give us an overview of the use of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.
Jeff: We all struggle when we teach the Book of Mormon to know exactly what to do with the Isaiah passages and one of the things that I have found helpful over the years is to actually identify where they occur in the Book of Mormon and what at least seems to have been the major and of course, there were two or three major reasons for quoting Isaiah, as Victor said, but what seems to be the major interpretational purpose. Just as an example, the first block is Isaiah 48 and 49, which are found in 1st Nephi 20 and 21. These are chapters that deal heavily with the gathering of Israel, lost Israel in the last days. And the easiest way to try and understand why Nephi would quote those two chapters to Laman and Lemuel, is to look at what the situation is. Nephi, Laman and Lemuel and the family were now in America. They were scattered and what is our purpose in being here? So, those two chapters are quoted to Lehi’s family to help them understand their position in the Lord’s plan for scattering Israel. And just to take a little excerpt out of Nephi’s commentary, I’m reading now from 1st Nephi, 22 verses 3, 4 and 5 where explaining Isaiah 48 and 49, he tells Laman and Lemuel the things of which I have read are things pertaining to both temporal and spiritual, meaning there are spiritual truths here, but there’s actually a physical reality, there is a physical scattering, and a physical gathering. And then he says, it appears the house of Israel, sooner or later will be scattered upon all the face of the earth and also among all nations. And this is key, not most of the earth and most nations, Israel would go everywhere. And behold, he says in verse 4, “There are many who are already lost from the knowledge of those in Jerusalem.” This was by 600BC or 100 years after the time of Isaiah and the lost tribes of Israel have become fairly well assimilated into the Gentile nations even by that time. The more part of all the tribes have been led away and where they’d been taken, we don’t know, save we know they’ve been led away. But the rest of 1st Nephi, 22 goes on to explain that that will be followed up in the last days by a gathering. Verse 7 mentions a great nation upon this land. And verse 11, mentions the Lord God proceeding to make his arm bare and his covenants and his Gospel would go to those of the house of Israel.
Victor: Right, and the covenants are mentioned in verses 9 and 11 as part of this.
Jeff: That’s it. The gathering is the dispersal of the covenant and the gathering of the descendants of lost Israel in the last days. So, that when I teach these clumps, I like to suggest to students, read the commentary and then go back and read the chapters of Isaiah and see what Nephi saw in it.
Victor: We just talked about the first 2 chapters, what about…
Richard: Let me just interject, the point has been made, it was made so softly. I would like to make sure we really hit it. And that is, these people are cut off by an ocean.
Jeff: The Book of Mormon people?
Richard: Yes, the Book of Mormon are cut off from Jerusalem by an ocean. So, the question is, are all bets off? Is the covenant over? Is there going to be a gathering? How could we possibly fit into this thing?
Jeff: And those of the lost tribes, so to speak, who had any memory of being Israelite must have wondered why has the Lord done this to us and of course, in Isaiah that’s often personalized when Israel asks itself, what has the Lord done to us? The second big clump is 2nd Nephi, 12 through 24.
Victor: Don’t skip 7.
Jeff: I’m sorry. The next small clump is what Jacob teachers in 2nd Nephi, 7 and 8. And there, it’s interesting that while emphasizing what Isaiah 50 and 51 say about the scattering and gathering, Jacob finds a different meaning to this, doesn’t he? The emphasis of the atonement of Christ and as you move on from 2nd Nephi, 7 and 8, into 2nd Nephi, 9 and 10 – Jacob puts his greatest emphasis on what Christ has done for Israel and for all the world with his infinite atonement which overcomes both sin and death.
Victor: This man of holiness, that he emphasizes there.
Jeff: So, Nephi tended to emphasize the Lord’s purposes in scattering and eventually gathering Israel, whereas his priestly brother, Jacob emphasized the redemption of Israel. And two prophetic brothers are looking at these passages of Isaiah from these two important and connected positions. Well, the big block, there’s a lot in there. In Isaiah, 2 to 14, there’s a lot in there. So, the question is why does Nephi write all of these chapters in there, and I think there are a lot of reasons he could have.
Richard: Yeah, there’s not just one. Then again, it supports the themes that you and Vic have mentioned already and that is, there really is purpose behind this and the purpose is scattering and gathering that this is important.
Jeff: Well, the key there is to go then after 2nd Nephi, 24 which is the quotation of Isaiah 14, and then start in 2nd Nephi 25, and go to the end of 2nd Nephi and see what he talks about, what he extrapolates from all those chapters of Isaiah and it’s two things: the gathering of scattered Israel, the Latter-Day wrap up. One of the three things you pointed out Vic, the latter days and finally, when you get into 2nd Nephi, 30 to 33, what Christ does for Israel. And so there you have that threefold purpose of using Isaiah again.
Richard: And then the next block?
Jeff: The next block of courses, is in Mosiah, in the middle of Mosiah.
Victor: Let’s not forget again, that Isaiah gets woven in here somewhere. Before all of these great commentary chapters of Nephi at the very end of 2nd Nephi, he talks about his records and Isaiah’s words concerning his records. Isaiah 29, records coming from the fast, and he gives some commentary where he really takes it and likens Isaiah’s words to his own. And quotes a little bit of 28 there. But, there’s so much of him interspersed between the words of Isaiah we might not realize, oh we just read another whole chapter of Isaiah.
Jeff: In other words, even though Nephi, in his commentary on that big block, doesn’t come right out and inscribe Isaiah 28 and 29, his illusions in his commentary, draw heavily from Isaiah 28 and 29.
Andrew: Especially 29. Always, it seems to me as though Nephi has our day in mind. The reason that all of these things are quoted is for our day that he really does want us to get the message that this is a book for us, it wasn’t written for anybody else. It’s for us.
Victor: Well, look at some of these things in this big block there. The significance of temples and priesthood, particularly chapter 2; 2nd Nephi, 12 – his judgements on his children, armies and warfare, key servants and prophets. In fact, Moroni quotes some of them in Joseph Smith about these key servants to come forth. The downfall of spiritual Babylon. These are issues and challenges being faced by a Latter-Day Israel and Isaiah had something to say about it, and Nephi quotes him and as you mentioned Jeff, provides some wonderful inspired commentary to help us understand what Isaiah was saying.
Jeff: And particularly two things, you have Isaiah 11 quoted in 2nd Nephi, 21. In Isaiah 11, you have this combination of the ministry of the Savior and the gathering in the last days. Isaiah 11 was a key chapter in Joseph Smith’s understanding of himself and his mission and the whole mission of the church. And not to forget the emphasis on the virgin birth of Christ that we find in 2nd Nephi, 17, Isaiah 7.
Andrew: So, to me the point is obvious. Nephi is writing for our day. He is dealing with problems in his own day, but he’s really writing for our day. Who else are you going to quote but the prophet that is also the most interested in the last days, the gathering of Israel and the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ. He could have chosen lots of other prophets to quote, but he quotes from the very one that’s also interested in the very things that he’s interested in.
Jeff: You know, it’s interesting too, that of the personalities that actually directly quote Isaiah and comment on him, and we have four of them: Nephi Jacob, Abinadi and the risen Jesus himself in 3rd Nephi, 23. Those individuals, three of them are natives of the near east. Three of them had the linguistic capacity to dig into Isaiah and to deeply understand it and to interpret it for those of us who don’t have that background and that makes the Book of Mormon a peculiarly great primer for those who wish to study Isaiah and know what the Lord wants us to understand from it. The world studies Isaiah and, many times they don’t see any of the messages we see, but these three messages Victor has pointed out, the Savior, the latter days or the gathering, and the covenants which are the Gospel. That’s what the prophets in the Book of Mormon point us to in Isaiah.
Richard: And it’s interesting too, that the primary role of the Book of Mormon, is to do the first gathering of Israel, which is not a temporal gathering. That is to say a gathering of actual bodies, but rather a gathering of lost Israel to Jesus Christ that then opens the door so that we can gather Israel physically or literally to those places.
Victor: So spiritual and then physical.
Jeff: Well, actually now speaking of these clumps, you have the two-chapter clump in 1st Nephi with Nephi’s commentary. You have a two-chapter clump by Jacob in 2nd Nephi with his commentary pointing to Christ, then you have the large Isaiah 2 through 14 clump in mid-2nd Nephi with Nephi’s lengthy commentary at the end of 2nd Nephi. And then you move all the way to Mosiah, where you have a little bit of Isaiah 52 and all of Isaiah 53. And of course, Abinadi’s whole point there seems to be, well, you could talk about they whose feet are beautiful upon the mountains, as being the servants of the Lord who gather Israel. His real purpose seems to be, focusing the people of Noah’s kingdom on Christ.
Victor: Exactly what Christ is about. And what about the last chapters of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon?
Jeff: Well, that’s what’s so interesting because the last two complete chapters of Isaiah to be quoted in the Book of Mormon are quoted by the Savior himself in third Nephi, 20 and 3rd Nephi, 22. And you have to ask yourself, of all the things Jesus could have used his time to do during his short-resurrected visit to the Nephites, what does it tell us about the importance of Isaiah that he would take the time to quote Isaiah verbatim, over anything else he could have taught them?
Richard: Again, one of the reasons has got to be that though for us, Isaiah is obscure. For those who understood Isaiah, for Nephi, for Lehi, for Jacob, the words could not be overmatched by any other prophet. The testimony could not be overmatched by any other seer. This was pure, sweet, powerful, prophecy. It was pure, sweet, powerful testimony in a way that could not be found any place else. This was where it was at.
Jeff: We just pointed out that three of the four individuals who heavily use Isaiah in the Book of Mormon were natives of the near east. Their heritage was from the land of Jerusalem and it’s interesting in that regard to look in 2nd Nephi 25, where Nephi teaches us what helped him to utilize Isaiah most fully, and he pointed out in verse 5 of 2nd Nephi 25, that to understand the things of the Jews, and by this I understand, to learn contextually what the history of the region of Israel was in Isaiah’s time. To understand some of the linguistic nuances, the geographical nuances in verse 6 of 2nd Nephi 25 – Nephi said, “I, myself have dwelt at Jerusalem.” I know concerning the regions round about and he felt that helped him to understand and to explain Isaiah. And so, it’s no surprise to me that the most powerful commentaries in the Book of Mormon come from individuals who had actually been there and knew these things. In verse 5, Nephi says, “My soul delighted in the words of Isaiah.” How many of us would say our soul is terrified of them? And yet, if Latter Day Saints will take the opportunity to learn just a few basic things about the context of Isaiah and then take these inspired commentaries in the Book of Mormon and put them together with that, the Latter-Day Saints would get a personal love for Isaiah that they had never experienced before.
Victor: And there’s actually a word of promise in verse 7 there of 2nd Nephi, 25 that might give Latter Day Saints some hope here. Where Nephi says, “Behold, I precede with my own prophecy or my own explanation and insights into these according to my plainness in the which I know that no man can err. Nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled, men shall know of a surety at the times when they come to pass.” And we were talking earlier, before we came here for this session about the challenge of Isaiah and his people really understanding Isaiah because it was so much into the future, how could they really understand what he was talking about? But it seems to me that Nephi is saying here, if there’s anybody that’s finally going to understand, I mean back here earlier, Nephi chastised his own brothers who came from Jerusalem. I mean they’ve lived in Jerusalem like Nephi had, but they didn’t really understand the manner of prophesying like a person led by the spirit could do or have the spirit of prophecy they talked about here in verse 4. They didn’t even understand but those who will be at the time when these are fulfilled, the last days, then they will find they understand. So, even though we may not know ancient Hebrew as well as you do Jeff, and even though we may not really study the history and the context of it fully, we can still, as we see what is happening and we keep ourselves familiar with the scriptures, we’ll finally begin to see how Isaiah makes sense for us.
Jeff: So, in other words, rather than talk ourselves out of it from the beginning and even skip Isaiah chapters, if we would make just a modest effort to become familiar with them, our position in the latter days peculiarly enables us to understand the fulfilment of the prophecies.
Richard: Andy, I was just going to say, wrap this up for us, pull it together. Why is the testimony of Isaiah important? What’s it about?
Andrew: Well, I guess I would simply refer to two passages of scripture which say it, I think better than I can. The first one that we have alluded to, I don’t think we have read or quoted from it, it’s 1st Nephi chapter 19 verses 22 and 23, and this is Nephi, “Now it came to pass that I, Nephi did teach my brother in these things. And it came to pass that I did read many things unto them which were engraved upon the plates of brass, that they might know concerning the doings of the Lord in other lands among people of old. And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses, but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord, their redeemer. I did read unto them that which was written by the Prophet Isaiah for I did liken all scripture unto us that it might be for our profit and learning.” He quotes from the other passages. He has commentary on the other passages, but his purpose is to persuade people to believe more fully in the redeemer and for that he relies on Isaiah. That’s the foundation from which all else for him flows. That’s Nephi. Transition now, several 100 years ahead to the coming of the risen Lord among the Nephites, in chapter 23 of 3rd Nephi and listen to his testimony about the words of Isaiah. This is 3rd Nephi chapter 23, verse 1, “And now behold, I say unto you that ye ought to search these things, yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently for great are the words of Isaiah.” He’s just quoted Isaiah chapter 54 and he is saying, I give you a commandment to search the words of Isaiah, for great are the words of Isaiah. “For surely, he,” meaning Isaiah, “spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel.” I just pause there and say, I don’t take this to be hyperbole. I take literally the word all, to mean all, everything, and this is the Savior of the world, the great Creator of the universe, the redeemer of all mankind, saying Isaiah spoke, touching all things concerning my people, which are of the house of Israel. But lest you’re still not persuaded, “therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles and everything is covered in the words of Isaiah.”
Richard: Very good. Well, thank you so much for being with us here. We appreciate your insights and so on. And to you who have joined us, we appreciate your participation. We would like to join our testimony with that of Isaiah, to say this, “The Lord liveth, he is our redeemer. The Lord will come and we, who are his children will be blessed in all things.” And we do that in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.