By Clyde J. Williams
In September of 1842 the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that there were many "things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, [that] shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times" (D&C 128:18). The doctrine of translation is one of those mysteries that has eluded humankind. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "the doctrine of translation is a power which belongs to this [the Melchizedek] Priesthood. There are many things which belong to the powers of the Priesthood and the keys thereof, that have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world; they are hid from the wise and prudent to be revealed in the last times" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 170; hereafter TPJS).
Most protestant theologians make no specific reference to the doctrine of translation or translated beings in their Bible dictionaries. For example, neither the New Bible Dictionary, Harper's Bible Dictionary, nor The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible makes any specific heading for translated beings or the doctrine of translation. The extent to which the idea of translation is referred to is typified by one simple sentence found under the heading of Enoch in the New Bible Dictionary: "Like Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), he [Enoch] was received into the presence of God without dying (Gen 5:24)" (333). It appears to be a commonly held belief by many theologians that to be translated is to be taken into God's kingdom without experiencing death. Concerning this belief the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, "Many have supposed that the doctrine of translation was a doctrine whereby men were taken immediately into the presence of God, and into an eternal fullness, but this is a mistaken idea. Their place of habitation is that of the terrestrial order, and a place prepared for such characters He [God] held in reserve to be ministering angels" (TPJS 170).
One significant reason for the misunderstanding by most scholars is the lack of scriptural information which they have. With the exception of the account of Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) and Enoch (Gen 5:24; also Heb 11:5), there are no other biblical passages which are generally interpreted as describing those who have been translated or that explain their circumstances after being translated. Some scholars acknowledge the possibility that the phrase in John 21:22—"If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?"—has reference to John being translated (see A Commentary on the Holy Bible 812).
Early historical and apocryphal writings provide few additional insights on the doctrine of translation or translated beings. There are possible allusions to the translation of Moses and others who may have been translated (see Josephus 2:285 and Wintermute 1:512). Ultimately, the message which has come through to me is that the understanding and role of translated beings is one of the plain and precious truths which has been kept from the world until this the dispensation of the fulness of times.
Unfolding the Doctrine
One of the first indications we have in Latter-day Saint Church history that the Prophet Joseph Smith was aware and interested in the concept of translated beings was in April 1829. We learn from the History of the Church that the Prophet and Oliver Cowdery had a difference of opinion as to whether John the Beloved remained in the flesh upon the earth or had died (1:35-36). While it is uncertain what led Joseph and Oliver to depart from translating the Book of Mormon and seek understanding about the status of John, the two determined to resolve the question by inquiring of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim. The result was the Lord revealed to them a record made on parchment and hidden up by John (see D&C 7). From this revelation the Prophet learned that John the Beloved had been permitted to remain on the earth to do "a greater work yet among men than what he [had] before done" (v 5).
Sometime during the late spring of 1829, the Prophet Joseph Smith would have come across accounts in the Book of Mormon that relate to the doctrine of translation. His curiosity must have been aroused as he translated the narrative of the mysterious disappearance of the prophet Alma the Younger and the suggestion that "he was taken up by the Spirit . . . even as Moses" (Alma 45:18-19). Once again, Joseph and his scribe must have pondered the similar disappearance of Nephi, son of Helaman as they continued the work of translating the book (see 3 Nephi 1:2-3; 2:9). It is unlikely that they could have anticipated the flood of knowledge they would shortly receive on the doctrine of translated beings.
One of the most intriguing and compelling accounts in the Book of Mormon is recorded in 3 Nephi 28. The setting is the final day of the Savior's formal three-day ministry among the more righteous part of the people, who had been spared. Mormon informs us that he could not even record a "hundredth part of the things" which Jesus taught unto those people (3 Nephi 26:6). We are told that what we have is the "lesser part" and that "greater things" would be made known to those who believe the things the Lord has given us (see vv 8-10). In light of these restrictions, it is even more remarkable that the Lord permitted Mormon to record such a wonderful event as is found in chapter 28 (see 26:12).
What Is It That Ye Desire?
Among the Nephites, only the twelve disciples were granted the same privilege as that afforded the twelve Apostles in Jerusalem. It stimulates one's mind to consider the prospect of having the Son of God grant unto us whatever we might desire. The possibilities seem overwhelming. The condition of our heart would be manifest by the gift or blessing we desire. Ultimately, the choices are more limited than we might at first assume. The Savior offered this great blessing to those whom he knew would not ask amiss. We know he knew the thoughts of three of the Nephite twelve even before they expressed their desire, and thus he likely knew the desires of the other nine as well (see 3 Nephi 28:6).
Even at this righteous level of decision-making there are choices which are better than others. The request of the nine, to come immediately into the kingdom of God upon death, is a worthy and proper one. But the desire of the three to remain on the earth that they "might bring the souls of men unto [Christ], while the world shall stand" is a "greater work" (see 3 Nephi 28:9; D&C 7:5). The Lord can and will grant unto us righteous requests if they are right and timely in his eyes (see 2 Nephi 4:35).
At one point Mormon was about to write the names of the Three Disciples, but the Lord forbade it (3 Nephi 28:24-25). We have the names of the twelve Nephite Disciples recorded in 3 Nephi 19:4, but as to the identity of the specific three, the Lord has yet to make them known.
Characteristics of the Three Nephites
The events which follow and the instruction given in 3 Nephi 28 are unparalleled. The Lord unfolds for us in a clear and precise manner the circumstances and the capabilities of the Three Nephite Apostles who have been given such a grand and glorious promise. I have identified ten major characteristics which Mormon records concerning these translated Nephites.
1. They, like John the Revelator, will "never taste of death" (3 Nephi 28:7). This is not to say that they can escape the process of death, but they will not experience the "pains of death" (v 8). In the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, "Translated bodies cannot enter into rest until they have undergone a change equivalent to death" (TPJS 191). They will be spared the agony, the lingering suffering, the exquisite pain so often associated with death. It should be noted that the scriptures record that the Three Disciples "obtained not [this] promise until after their faith" had been shown (Ether 12:17; emphasis added).
2. They will "be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality" (3 Nephi 28:8). All must die, for "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor 15:22). However, for translated beings death is particularly sweet: "This change from mortality to immortality, though almost instantaneous, is both a death and a resurrection" (McConkie, Mortal Messiah 4:390). There is no funeral, no mourning, no grave. For translated beings, their death is more like an ordinance than a time of parting and separation. The Lord's words describing millennial conditions seem appropriate here:
There shall be no sorrow because there is no death. In that day an infant shall not die until he is old; and his life shall be as the age of a tree; and when he dies he shall not sleep, that is to say in the earth, but shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and shall be caught up, and his rest shall be glorious. (D&C 101:29-31)
Millennial man will live in a state akin to translation. . . . He will, however, have children, and mortal life of a millennial kind will continue. . . . There will be those who are on probation, for whom earth life is a probationary estate, and who are thus working out their own salvation. . . . Isaiah's description of life and death during the Millennium seems to preserve the concept that even then—even in that blessed day when Satan is bound and righteousness overflows—even then men are free to come out in open rebellion and, as sinners, suffer the fate reserved for the sons of perdition. Manifestly they, being accursed, would die the death with which we are familiar. (Millennial Messiah 644, 646; emphasis added; see also Isa 65:20)
4. For the twelve Nephite disciples, the glorious final day the Savior spent among the Nephites was in effect a Judgment Day. They were given the promise of entering with the Savior into his kingdom. For the Three however, the recorded promise was more specific. Theirs was to receive a fulness of joy as the Father had given to the Savior. They were promised that they would be even as the Savior is. The Lord reminded them that he and his Father are one. This means that to be like the Savior is also to be like the Father (3 Nephi 28:10). It was a sure promise to mortal men that they could become gods. In short, these Nephite Apostles had their callings and election made sure. Such is the case with all who have been found worthy to be translated.
5. Translated beings have knowledge and wisdom given unto them that exceed human perspective. The Three Nephites were "caught up into heaven, and saw and heard unspeakable things" (3 Nephi 28:13; see also 13:36). We do not know what wisdom and glory they received, what future visions they beheld, as they were forbidden to speak of what they saw and heard, even being denied the "power that they could utter the things which they saw and heard" (28:14; emphasis added). It may well be that the things they saw and heard were so far beyond our mortal comprehension that "no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as [they] both saw and heard" (17:17).
Contrasting the level of our understanding with that of chosen prophets, Elder McConkie declared:
Mortal man—shackled as it were in a tabernacle of clay; imprisoned on a single planet that is itself but a speck of dust in an endless universe; bound by time and space, and living for only a few brief moments—mortal man, a spirit son of God, dwells in the depths of ignorance, away from his Father, without a knowledge of eternal things. We are born, we live, we die, and in the process we are privileged—some of us—to receive a few little glimmerings of eternal truth by revelation. And there are few among us, even in sober moments, who ponder the wonders of eternity and seek to know what lies beyond the ken of humankind. What of creation itself, of worlds without number, all inhabited, all crowned with an infinite variety of life? How did gods begin to be, and whence came the order and system in a universe whose outer limits we shall never see? How little we know of premortal existence, both ours and that of all forms of life; or of death and the world of waiting spirits; or of the resurrection which raises sleeping dust to glorious life. What are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob doing today? How can Moroni hie to Kolob in the twinkling of an eye? Where are Annas and Caiaphas and Pilate, and what kind of a life are they living? How little we know about creation, about redemption, about immortal glory.
And yet there are those—a favored few—who break the time-bound bands, who see beyond the veil, who come to know the things of eternity. Portions of what they learn they are permitted to reveal to the rest of us. . . . [They] have seen and heard and felt and known far more than has come to us in any of our scriptures. Among these are the Three Nephite Disciples. (Mortal Messiah 4:392-93)
This principle is important to all who would desire to know about the mysteries of God. President Brigham Young elaborated:
If a person understands God and godliness, the principles of heaven, the principle of integrity, and the Lord reveals anything to that individual no matter what, unless He gives permission to disclose it, it is locked up in eternal silence. And when persons have proven to their messengers that their bosoms are like the lock-ups of eternity, then the Lord says, I can reveal anything to them, because they never will disclose it until I tell them to. Take persons of any other character, and they sap the foundation of the confidence they ought to have in themselves and in their God. (Journal of Discourses 4:288)
Mormon uses the word transfiguration to describe the condition the Three were in while beholding the glorious things of God (3 Nephi 28:15, 17). The scriptures are not clear on the exact differences between transfigured beings and translated beings. However, the scriptural use of these terms seems to indicate "that transfiguration is more temporary, as in Matthew 17:1-9 and Moses 1:11, occurring primarily to permit one to behold spiritual things not possible in the mortal condition" (Mark McConkie 4:1486). Conversely, "translated beings experience a long-term change" that culminates at the time of their resurrection (Mouritsen 4:1485). It appears that these Nephite disciples were first transfigured and then translated.
7. Another blessing enjoyed by translated beings is that wicked or evil men and women have no power over them. During the third century AD, while the Three Nephites still ministered openly among their people, increased wickedness led to the establishment of many false Christian churches and then "another church which denied the Christ" and persecuted the true church (4 Nephi 1:26-29). It was apparently this false church which imprisoned the Three Disciples and cast them into deep pits. Furthermore, these apostate children of Lehi continued to harden their hearts and eventually sought to kill the disciples just as "the Jews at Jerusalem sought to kill Jesus" (4 Nephi 1:31). Three times they cast these chosen servants into fiery furnaces and twice into dens of wild beasts. However, as with the young Hebrews, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel, the Lord delivered them each time without harm (see 3 Nephi 28:21-22; 4 Nephi 1:32-33; Dan 3:25-27; 6:16-27).
The scriptures indicate that these three disciples were able to use "the power of the word of God" to destroy the prison walls and to deliver themselves out of the depths of the earth (4 Nephi 1:30). Like Enoch of old and Nephi, the son of Helaman, these translated Nephites had such power that all things were done according to their word (see Hel 10:5-10; Moses 7:13).
It can be troubling to contemplate how a people so blessed could have become so hardened as to reject such mighty miracles and witnesses as were provided through the lives of these Three Nephites. One thing that helps is the teaching in the book of Alma: "After a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things" (Alma 24:30; see also 47:36).
8. They have the power to show themselves to whomsoever they desire. And the converse is true. They can keep themselves from being seen by anyone they do not want to see them. The only stipulation required for them to show themselves is that they must pray to the Father in the name of Jesus for that power.
Mormon declares, "They are as the angels of God" (3 Nephi 28:30). This would seem to mean that travel and distances are of no consequence to them. We would suppose that walls and other mortal barriers are also insignificant. Because of their extraordinary powers and the prophetic words of the Savior himself, which we do not yet possess, Mormon prophesied that "great and marvelous works shall be wrought by them, before the great and coming day" of the Lord (v 31).
Edited by Hemidakota, 11 October 2008 - 04:21 PM.