inviting


God Inviting Christ to Sit on the Throne at His Right Hand
Pieter de Grebber, 1645

There is an interesting detail obscured by the versification of 1 Nephi 1. Here are verses 8-10 without verse divisions:

And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. And it came to pass that he saw one descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.

When we don’t divide verse 9 artificially from verse 8, the vision appears as a single scene: God is the king on his throne in the heavenly temple surrounded by concourses of angel priests and priestesses. He hears the beautiful strains of their liturgy. One of those angels, brighter than the sun, followed by twelve other of those angels, as bright as stars, comes down out of the divine council to stand before Lehi on Earth to give him his commission.

I do think it is the clear intent of the text that the “one” is Christ, and the twelve following him are a quorum of twelve apostles.

Here are two reasons why this is noteworthy.

First, it is an accurate reflection of the Hebrew pantheon in the first temple period, as reflected in the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls reading of Deuteronomy 32:8. Elyon, the Most High God, divided the nations among his seventy sons (the angels), and made Israel the portion of that belonged to YHWH. So, in the likely original reading of Deuteronomy 32’s Song of Moses, YHWH was the “holy one” or angel of Israel, and a son of El Elyon the Most High God (source).

Second, this is Joseph Smith’s first depiction of an open vision of God with two distinct personages: an enthroned God and an angelic Christ. People often point to Joseph’s 1832 first vision account as evidence of his inability to conceive of a multiple-personage vision of God. In doing so, they ignore D&C 76:20-23 which was written months before the 1832 first vision account, where Joseph and Sydney claim to see Christ standing at the right hand of the Father (worded similarly to Stephen’s theophany from Acts 7). They also ignore this vision of Lehi, dictated in 1829, probably because the artificial division between verses 8 and 9 makes it possible to imagine these two verses as depicting two different scenes rather than a single scene. The Book of Mormon wasn’t dictated with verses; it didn’t even have punctuation. The text itself does not divide those who descend to Lehi from the angels mentioned before, and grammatically the words “one” and “others” seem clearly to refer to the angels.

I think this is another beautiful intersection between 1 Nephi and the religion(s) of the first temple, and a forceful suggestion that the story of Joseph Smith’s “evolving” conception of God’s nature has been poorly written by both friend and critic.