Samuel the Lamanite and Prophecies Fulfilled

Frank F. Judd Jr.

Frank F. Judd Jr. is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

Five years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Samuel the Lamanite came among the Nephites and prophesied concerning signs that would mark the advent of the Savior into the world. These signs, according to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “would be a matter of life and death for the faithful Nephites who would, at the peril of their life, watch for the fulfillment of these promises.”[1] Samuel also prophesied of signs that would indicate the Savior’s death. The resurrected Lord considered these signs so vital that during his visit to the Nephites, he personally ensured that Nephi included all of them in the record (see 3 Nephi 23:9–13).

Unlike the published overviews of the life and preaching of Samuel the Lamanite,[2] this study provides an in-depth examination of his prophecies of the birth and death of Christ, their fulfillment, and the process by which they were written in the Nephite record. In particular, my purpose is to help readers to better understand Samuel’s prophecies in light of their fulfillment and impact on the ancient Nephites and to appreciate a possible connection to the Joseph Smith Translation (JST). Following a look at what is known about Samuel in the Book of Mormon, I analyze the prophesied signs of Christ’s birth and death as well as how Mormon recorded their fulfillment. Importantly, although some of the signs and instances of fulfillment are similar to what is recorded in the New Testament, I note key differences and provide ways to understand them. Next I consider the episode in 3 Nephi 23 where the resurrected Savior questions Nephi about his record’s omission of the fulfillment of one of Samuel’s prophecies. Even though one may assume that Nephi somehow inserted this reference into the original record after the fact, I discuss other ways to make sense of what is described. I conclude that this fuller understanding of Samuel’s prophecies, their fulfillment, and the story in 3 Nephi 23 may illustrate what some Latter-day Saint scholars have proposed as a possible category of JST changes—true events that were not included in the original record but were written down later.

Samuel the Lamanite

We know very little about Samuel the Lamanite. He is the only prophet in the Book of Mormon who is specifically identified as a Lamanite,[3] and the only information about his ministry is the record contained in Helaman 13–16.[4] In the eighty-sixth year of the reign of the judges,[5] “there was one Samuel, a Lamanite, [who] came into the land of Zarahemla, and began to preach unto the people” (Helaman 13:2). Mormon described this period as one in which “the Nephites did still remain in wickedness, yea, in great wickedness, while the Lamanites did observe strictly to keep the commandments of God” (v. 1).

While it is not known how Samuel came to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, the book of Helaman records significant missionary activity among the Lamanites before his appearance among the Nephites. Approximately twenty-four years earlier, in the sixty-second year of the reign of the judges,[6] Lehi and Nephi, the missionary sons of Helaman, converted and baptized eight thousand Lamanites in and around the land of Zarahemla (Helaman 5:19).[7] Later, a group of three hundred Lamanites were converted after witnessing the miraculous events associated with the escape of Lehi and Nephi from a Lamanite prison (v. 49). These Lamanites “declar[ed] throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen,” with the result that “the more part of the Lamanites were convinced” (v. 50). Perhaps Samuel or his parents were among these Lamanites who accepted and preached the gospel.

Samuel arrived in Zarahemla and preached to the Nephites for many days. Initially he was unsuccessful, and “they did cast him out” (Helaman 13:2).[8] As Samuel was about to go back home, “the voice of the Lord came unto him, that he should return again, and prophesy unto the people” (v. 3), similar to what happened to Alma many years earlier after being rejected while preaching in Ammonihah.[9] Samuel courageously and obediently returned to Zarahemla, “got upon the wall thereof” and prophesied “whatsoever things should come into his heart” (vv. 3–4). He told the Nephites that “an angel of the Lord” had spoken unto him “glad tidings” and subsequently sent him to “declare it unto [them] also” (v. 7).[10]

Samuel’s Prophecies of Christ’s Birth

Samuel knew the time was short to deliver his message and prepare the wicked Nephites for the arrival of Christ into the world.[11] His message of glad tidings having been rejected, Samuel now presented a three-part wake-up call to the Nephites. First, he spoke of “the judgments of God which do await you because of your iniquities” (Helaman 14:11) and called the Nephites to repentance.[12] Next, he prophesied of “the coming of Jesus Christ” and “the signs of his coming” (v. 12). Third, Samuel declared “a sign of his death” (v. 14).

To herald the birth of the “Light of the World” (John 8:12; 9:5), Samuel declared, “There shall be great lights in heaven . . . in the night before he cometh,” which would cause there to be “no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day” (Helaman 14:3). The result would be “one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and . . . no night” (v. 4). Samuel, apparently anticipating that some witnesses would be skeptical of this sign, emphasized, “Ye shall know of a surety that there shall be two days and a night; nevertheless the night shall not be darkened; and it shall be the night before he is born” (v. 4).[13] Samuel also declared that “a new star [would] arise, such an one as ye never have beheld” (v. 5).

The Gospel of Matthew records that “wise men from the east” seeking the Messiah reported to Herod the Great that they had seen “his star in the east” (2:1). Some commentators conclude that this star and the star prophesied by Samuel were the same.[14] The phenomenon described by Samuel in which “great lights” would make it “appear unto man as if it was day” (Helaman 14:3–4) is consistent with some sort of celestial event. But the star seen by the Wise Men is more difficult to explain.[15]

Of course, it is not certain that the star Samuel referred to is the same phenomenon described in Matthew. One possible explanation, suggested by Joseph McConkie and Robert Millet, is that “biblical prophecies contain a number of symbolic references to people as stars or planets.”[16] So just as Abraham’s promised posterity and Joseph’s brothers are figuratively referred to as stars,[17] perhaps the star in Matthew 2:1 was a symbolic reference to a heavenly messenger. This would help explain how a star could lead the Wise Men to the village of Bethlehem “till it came and stood over where the young child was” (Matthew 2:9). In accordance with this line of thinking, Kelly Ogden and Andrew Skinner suggest the possibility that the “great lights in heaven” (Helaman 14:3) that Samuel prophesied might refer to “the angelic hosts who were present at their Master’s entrance into mortality,” as narrated in Luke 2:9, 13–14.[18]

Why did Samuel deem it so important to utter these prophecies concerning Christ’s birth, an event so geographically distant from the Nephites? Samuel explained to them, “For this intent have I come up upon the walls of this city, . . . that ye might know of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . . ; and that ye might know of the signs of his coming, to the intent that ye might believe on his name” (Helaman 14:11–12). The ultimate purpose, however, was as Samuel stated: “If ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits” (v. 13). Thus the underlying reason for prophesying these signs of the birth of Christ was to help the Nephites understand and accept the saving role of their Redeemer through repentance.

Brant Gardner proposes that many Nephites in Samuel’s audience had “embraced Nehorism.”[19] Nearly a century earlier, Nehor had taught false doctrine against the necessity of Christ and his atonement, “that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life” (Alma 1:4). He also taught that “every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people” (v. 3).

According to Gardner, Samuel’s rebuke of the Nephites contains echoes of the false doctrines of Nehor negating the need for a Savior and promoting the idea that people should give their money and substance to religious leaders. Apparently these Nephites had been receiving false prophets who would say: “Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer. . . . Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth.” Samuel further accused, “Ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel” (Helaman 13:27–28).[20] These philosophies led the Nephites to justify other transgressions, such as “pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders” (v. 22), including persecuting and murdering the prophets.[21]

To counter these false teachings, Samuel clearly taught that the atonement of Jesus Christ brought about both unconditional and conditional elements. For example, it unconditionally “bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death” caused by the Fall of Adam and “bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord” to be judged (Helaman 14:16–17). It also “bringeth to pass the condition of repentance,” and “whosoever repenteth not” will experience “a spiritual death, yea, a second death, for they are cut off again” (vv. 16–18). Understanding the Nephites’ abandonment of the Savior and his redemptive work helps make better sense of Samuel’s passionate plea for the Nephites to repent and avoid this “condemnation” (v. 19).

Samuel’s Prophecies of Christ’s Death

Samuel followed his prophecies of the signs of Christ’s birth with signs of Christ’s death. It is of interest here to consider these latter prophecies in relation to earlier prophecies of these events in the Book of Mormon and in the New Testament and to note key differences. To begin, Samuel’s prophesied “sign of his death” (Helaman 14:14) actually included several events. Whereas the signs of the Savior’s birth focused on light, the signs accompanying his death emphasized darkness and destruction.[22] On the day of Christ’s death, the sun, moon, and stars no longer provided light. As Samuel described it, “there shall be no light upon the face of this land, even from the time that he shall suffer death, for the space of three days, to the time that he shall rise again from the dead” (v. 20).

In addition to the absence of light, Samuel prophesied there would be devastating storms, including “thunderings and lightnings for the space of many hours” as well as “great tempests.” Further, there would be widespread earthquakes, resulting in rocks being “broken up.” Samuel described other geological phenomena, including mountains “laid low, like unto a valley,” and many valleys that would “become mountains.” According to Samuel, these violent natural phenomena were to occur “for the space of many hours,” all while darkness would “cover the face of the whole earth for the space of three days” (see Helaman 14:21, 23, 26–27).

This is not the first time the Book of Mormon associates natural phenomena of this sort with the death of Christ. Years earlier, Nephi, the son of Lehi, had invoked “the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of [Christ’s] death” (1 Nephi 19:10). In addition, Zenos prophesied that at the death of Christ, the Lord God would visit many “with the thunderings and lightnings of his power, by tempest,” and “by the opening of the earth, and by mountains which shall be carried up” (v. 11).[23] Samuel was familiar with the prophecies of Zenos,[24] which were presumably written on the plates of brass.[25] This portion of Samuel’s prophecies, therefore, should have been a reminder, not a completely new revelation, if the Nephites had been conversant with their religious records.[26]

In addition to all these signs, Samuel went on to declare that “at the time that [Christ] shall yield up the ghost . . . many graves shall be opened, and shall yield up many of their dead; and many saints shall appear unto many” (Helaman 14:21, 25). It is noteworthy that this prophecy as recorded seems to place these resurrections and appearances right after the death of Christ rather than specifically following his resurrection. Samuel had just taught that Christ’s death “bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead” (v. 15). It should be noted that the Nephite record already contained multiple prophecies that Christ would be the first person to be resurrected.[27] For example, Father Lehi taught that the Holy Messiah would “bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise” (2 Nephi 2:8).[28] Abinadi reaffirmed that the resurrection of Christ enabled the resurrection of the rest of humanity: “If Christ had not risen from the dead, . . . there could have been no resurrection” (Mosiah 16:7). More specifically, Abinadi taught that the “first resurrection” would include “all those that have been, and who are, and who shall be, even until the resurrection of Christ” (15:21; emphasis added).[29]

Similarly, the Gospel of Matthew describes resurrections and appearances after the death of Christ. As soon as Christ “yielded up the ghost,” according to Matthew’s account, “the veil of the temple was rent,” there was an earthquake, and “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.” But the next verse clarifies that these individuals “came out of their graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (27:50–53; emphasis added).[30]

For Samuel such resurrection appearances constituted a sign of Christ’s death. However, as in Matthew’s account, they would have presumably occurred on the third day after his death, and not until after he came forth as a resurrected being. It is uncertain why Samuel’s prophecies placed these resurrections before the actual resurrection of Christ. Perhaps this Lamanite prophet was simply not familiar with earlier Nephite teachings about the Resurrection. It seems that, for Samuel, making sure his audience understood the precise timing of these appearances was not as critical as declaring to them the fact that they would occur sometime after Christ’s death—and that the Nephites should take those appearances as evidence of the truth of these prophecies. In any event, after Samuel concluded his words, he miraculously escaped the Nephites’ attempts to shoot him with arrows and capture him, and fled “into his own country, and began to preach and to prophesy among his own people” (Helaman 16:7).

Fulfillment of Samuel’s Prophecies of Christ’s Birth

Before Mormon began narrating the events leading up to the appearance of Christ among the Nephites, he explained that he possessed a number of records from which to draw information: “I do make my record from the accounts which have been given by those who were before me” (3 Nephi 5:16). At the same time, he cautioned readers about the monumental task of choosing material for his record: “Many things transpired which, in the eyes of some, would be great and marvelous; nevertheless, they cannot all be written in this book; yea, this book cannot contain even a hundredth part of what was done” (v. 8). Thus, when examining Mormon’s selection of material with respect to the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecies, one should not expect it to be exhaustive, but rather selective.[31] The following discussion examines the timing of the signs among the Nephites, outlines Mormon’s description of their fulfillment, and considers several questions that arise from a comparison with the New Testament Gospels.

The ninety-first year of the reign of the judges was, according to Nephite reckoning, “six hundred years from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem” (3 Nephi 1:1). On that earlier date Father Lehi had originally prophesied that the Messiah would be raised up “among the Jews” (1 Nephi 10:4).[32] One might expect the signs of Christ’s birth to be fulfilled during that ninety-first year. Mormon, however, did not record any instances of fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecies during that year. Thus, the meaning of Lehi’s prophecy seems to be that the Messiah would come into the world after the completion of six hundred years, rather than during the six hundredth year.[33] Mormon did record that, starting in the ninety-second year of the reign of the judges, “the prophecies of the prophets began to be fulfilled more fully; for there began to be greater signs and greater miracles wrought among the people” (3 Nephi 1:4).[34]

This same complexity of calculating applies to the interval between Samuel’s prophecies and the birth of Christ. In the eighty-sixth year of the reign of the judges, Samuel had originally declared that “five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God” (Helaman 14:2). As Brant Gardner has pointed out, Samuel’s prophecy was both specific (“five years”) as well as ambiguous: “Does ‘five years’ mean that the event would occur before the end of the five years?” or that “the five years would pass and then the event would occur?”[35] The presence of ambiguity necessitated that people use their agency to believe without having certainty about the precise timing of the fulfillment of these prophecies.[36] As one might expect, “there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled” (3 Nephi 1:5). Indeed, in the ninety-second year the situation became so dire that the unbelievers set a deadline on which they vowed that the believers “should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet” (v. 9). In response to mighty prayer, the voice of the Lord promised Nephi, son of Nephi, “The time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world” (v. 13).[37]

Mormon’s account then narrates in detail how Samuel’s prophecies were fulfilled. Samuel had declared that “many signs and wonders” would cause the Nephites to “be amazed, and wonder” and “fall to the earth” (Helaman 14:6–7). After the Savior reassured Nephi of his imminent advent, that night “at the going down of the sun there was no darkness” and many unbelievers “fell to the earth” (3 Nephi 1:15–16). Further, not only those who specifically plotted to kill the believers but also “all the people . . . were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth” (v. 17).

Samuel had explained that this sign of Christ would be given precisely on “the night before he is born” (Helaman 14:4). After the night with no darkness, “the sun did rise in the morning again” and the people “knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born” (3 Nephi 1:19). Such detailed fulfillment led Mormon to conclude that the sign of Christ’s birth “had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets” (v. 20), strengthening Mormon’s witness to readers that he had compiled “a just and a true record” (5:18) of these events.

Mormon also said that “a new star did appear, according to the word” (3 Nephi 1:21). But he did not specify whether that star appeared on the night before the birth of Christ or at a later time. According to the chronological sequence narrated in 3 Nephi 1, the star appeared among the Nephites in the same year as the sign of the night without darkness, for the appearance is mentioned before the “the ninety and second year did pass away” (v. 26) and contributed to the conversion of “the more part of the people” (v. 22). How does this compare with the timing of the appearance of the star mentioned in the New Testament?

Whether the New Testament reference to a star was intended as a symbolic allusion to a heavenly messenger—a possibility suggested earlier—or, as it has been traditionally understood, describes an actual celestial phenomenon, the record of its appearance in the Old World presents a somewhat different picture. The Gospel of Luke indicates that the shepherds visited Bethlehem on the night of the birth of Christ when Joseph and Mary stayed in an “inn” and laid “the babe” Jesus in a “manger” (Luke 2:7, 16), for the angels declared to them, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (v. 11; emphasis added). Luke’s account, however, does not mention the appearance of a star.

In the Bible the appearance of a star is connection with Christ’s birth is mentioned only in the Gospel of Matthew’s story of the Wise Men. In that account it seems to have taken the Wise Men a long period of time to travel “from the east” (2:1)—possibly from Babylon or Persia—to Bethlehem.[38] By the time the Wise Men arrived, Joseph and Mary were living in Bethlehem in a “house” and Jesus was a “young child” when the star guided the Wise Men to the young Christ (vv. 9, 11).[39] In addition, after the visit of the Wise Men, Herod the Great determined to slaughter the children in Bethlehem who were “two years old and under” (v. 16), rather than the newborn only—a possible indication that the Wise Men arrived in Jerusalem and consulted with Herod a few years after the birth of Jesus.[40]

How does one reconcile the accounts in 3 Nephi and the Gospel of Matthew? One wonders if these accounts may be referring to different phenomena—3 Nephi referring to an actual celestial event that occurred during the year of Christ’s birth and the Gospel of Matthew referring to a heavenly messenger who guided the Wise Men during a long journey to the house where Jesus’s family was living in Bethlehem. Or perhaps both accounts refer to an actual star that was visible in their respective hemispheres for a long period of time after the actual birth of Christ.

For the Wise Men, the appearance of the star was a sign that the “Messiah of the Jews” (JST Matthew 3:2, in Matthew 2:2, footnote a) had been born and that they needed to begin their long journey to seek him, first in Jerusalem and then in Bethlehem. It is possible that the star was visible to the Nephites for several years as well. Mormon reported that heavenly signs continued to appear even after the noteworthy ninety-second year of the reign of the judges. Three years later, in the ninety-fifth year, Mormon indicated there were those among the Nephites who were “less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven” and eventually “did not believe that there should be any more signs or wonders given” (3 Nephi 2:1, 3). The implication seems to be that there were continuing signs for years after the birth of Christ and the faithful believed there would be additional signs and wonders. Perhaps the appearance of the star indicating to the Nephites Christ’s birth lingered for several years and simply became less astonishing to many.

Fulfillment of Samuel’s Prophecies of Christ’s Death

Mormon also took great care to record how Samuel’s prophecies of the death of Christ were fulfilled before his visitation among the Nephites. This is outlined below with attention given to the timing of these events and how they compare with similar phenomena recorded in the New Testament. The issue of Mormon’s silence with respect to the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy of resurrection appearances is also explored.

Following the night of no darkness at Christ’s birth, the Nephites “began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ” (3 Nephi 2:8). Consequently, when “the thirty and third year had passed away . . . the people began to look with great earnestness for the sign which had been given by the prophet Samuel, the Lamanite, yea, for the time that there should be darkness for the space of three days” (8:3). The text does not specify why there was increased interest among the Nephites at this time. Perhaps Samuel or other prophets had prophesied that the signs of Christ’s death would occur thirty-three years after the sign of his birth, although Mormon’s account does not include any references to this.

Samuel had prophesied that the sign of Christ’s death would include “thunderings and lightnings” and “great tempests” (Helaman 14:21, 23). During the thirty-fourth year, as Mormon records, “there arose a great storm”—a “terrible tempest” that included “terrible thunder” and “exceedingly sharp lightnings” (3 Nephi 8:5–7). In addition, Mormon included the terrifying detail that some people were “carried away in the whirlwind; and whither they went no man knoweth” (v. 16).

Samuel had also warned that at the death of Christ “the earth shall shake and tremble” and the face of the land “shall be broken up” (Helaman 14:21). Further, mountains would be “laid low, like unto a valley,” valleys would “become mountains,” and “many highways [would] be broken up” (vv. 23–24). Mormon’s recounting of these events recalled that “the whole face of the land was changed, because of . . . the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth” (3 Nephi 8:12). Mormon described how “the city of Moroni did sink into the depths of the sea” and how “the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah, that in the place of the city there became a great mountain” (vv. 9–10).[41] In addition, “the highways were broken up, and the level roads were spoiled, and many smooth places became rough” (v. 13).[42]

Samuel’s prophecies indicated that the storms, earthquakes, and destructions would take place “for the space of many hours” (Helaman 14:26). Mormon included similar details in his report of the fulfillment, noting that “the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth” occurred “for about the space of three hours” (3 Nephi 8:18).[43] The reference to three hours highlights the severity of the destruction, by comparison, because the duration of a massive earthquake today is typically anywhere from thirty seconds to a few minutes.[44]

The region around Jerusalem experienced darkness and earthquakes on a much smaller scale. Like the Book of Mormon account, the Gospels of Mark and Luke mention darkness, but the duration was three hours while Christ hung on the cross (see Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44). The Gospel of Matthew attests an earthquake in that area when Jesus died.[45] Although no upheavals of land mass or destruction of cities occurred, the record does state that “the veil of the temple was rent in twain” and many “graves were opened” (27:51–52).[46] The detailed descriptions of widespread devastation, especially cities, in Mormon’s account suggest that the darkness and destruction were much more extensive and severe in the New World than in the region around Jerusalem.

Samuel declared that “the sun shall be darkened . . . for the space of three days,” specifically from “the time that [Christ] shall suffer death . . . to the time that he shall rise again from the dead” (Helaman 14:20). Technically, the time period from the death of Christ to his resurrection was not three full days as we are accustomed to measuring time. According to the Synoptic Gospels, he died at “the ninth hour” (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44), or at 3:00 p.m. on Friday; and all the Gospels attest that he was resurrected sometime early Sunday morning (see Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Thus, although scripture speaks generally of Christ’s body lying in the tomb for “three days,”[47] it is more accurate to say, as did King Benjamin and others, that he arose on “the third day” (Mosiah 3:10).[48]

Samuel had originally prophesied that the darkness would continue “for the space of three days” (Helaman 14:20, 27). Mormon confirmed that “there was darkness upon the face of the land” and that “for the space of three days . . . there was no light seen” (3 Nephi 8:19, 23). He also noted a peculiar characteristic of the darkness following Christ’s death: “thick” and tangible, for the survivors “could feel the vapor of darkness” (v. 20). Mormon also referred to it as “mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land” (v. 22). Many years earlier, Nephi, the son of Lehi, declared the words of Zenos about “three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of [Christ’s] death” and also called it a “vapor of darkness” (1 Nephi 19:11–11). This same Nephi also saw in vision “a mist of darkness upon the face of the land” and further described it as “the vapor of darkness” (12:4, 5). A number of scholars have concluded that the deadly and extensive combination of earthquakes and storms attested in the Book of Mormon, as well as the sinking, burying, and burning of cities it describes, was probably due to violent volcanic eruptions.[49] The tangibly thick vapor of darkness may refer to the large amount of ash spewed forth into the air and atmosphere, which would both obscure the sun and also make breathing difficult or impossible.[50]

Finally, and vitally important, Samuel prophesied that after the death of Christ “many graves shall be opened, and shall yield up many of their dead; and many saints shall appear unto many” (Helaman 14:25). Although Mormon extensively documented the fulfillment of all the other signs associated with the birth and death of Christ, the record in 3 Nephi 8–10 is silent with respect to this one.[51] Perhaps Mormon provided the general setting for but not the specifics of the fulfillment of this prophecy. For example, he observed that “in the morning” after “three days” had passed and “the darkness had dispersed from off the face of the land,” “the mourning [of the people] was turned into joy, and their lamentations into the praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord Jesus Christ, their Redeemer” (3 Nephi 10:9–10). This is the point at which Mormon concluded: “And thus far were the scriptures fulfilled which had been spoken by the prophets” (v. 11).

Whether or not 3 Nephi 10:9–11 is referring to the general setting of Samuel’s fulfilled prophecy of resurrected beings, we know this prophecy was indeed fulfilled and that Mormon knew it was because he included a reference to it in 3 Nephi 23. When the resurrected Savior appeared to the Nephites, examined the records, and asked Nephi if this prophecy was fulfilled, the disciples responded, “Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled” (v. 10).

Exploring Mormon’s Omission

It is unknown why Mormon did not include a reference to the fulfillment of this prophecy when he abridged the earlier narrative. What we know for certain is that right before he described the destruction associated with Christ’s death, he explained, “Many things transpired which, in the eyes of some, would be great and marvelous; nevertheless, they cannot all be written in this book; yea, this book cannot contain even a hundredth part of what was done among so many people” (3 Nephi 5:8). Maybe Mormon made an editorial choice not to include the incident for space considerations. Or perhaps he felt that its omission here would highlight Nephi’s later admission that it was accidentally omitted in the original Nephite record. Another possibility is that Mormon did not include a reference to these resurrection appearances in his abridgment simply because Nephi did not record the event in the large plates from which Mormon was making his abridgment. A closer examination of Christ’s instruction to Nephi concerning this missing material opens this possibility.

Following the great destructions, the resurrected Lord appeared to the Nephites and spent three days ministering among them.[52] On the second day of his visit, after quoting and explaining some of the writings of Isaiah, Christ explained to them, “Behold, other scripture I would that ye should write, that ye have not” (3 Nephi 23:6). He would eventually quote from the writings of Malachi, who lived in the fifth century BC, well after the time when the original Nephi obtained the plates of brass around 600 BC.[53] But first the Savior drew the people’s attention to gaps in their own records.[54]

Christ instructed Nephi, “Bring forth the record which ye have kept” (v. 7)—presumably the large plates of Nephi, which had been the primary record of the history of the Nephites since the beginning.[55] When Nephi brought forth the record, the Savior inquired concerning Samuel’s prophecy of Saints arising from the dead and appearing to others.[56] “Was it not so?” he asked Nephi, who acknowledged that the prophecies of Samuel indeed “were all fulfilled.” The Savior then bluntly asked Nephi, “How be it that ye have not written this thing?” Then he “commanded that it should be written” (see vv. 9–13).

Some scholars have assumed that Nephi somehow physically inserted this reference into the large plates.[57] But this is debatable because the text simply says, “Therefore it was written according as he commanded” (v. 13). If Nephi actually amended the record at the point in the narrative when the fulfillment occurred (i.e., somewhere in 3 Nephi 8–10), presumably the change would need to have been engraved on an additional sheet of metal and then physically inserted next to the appropriate plate.

As suggested above, perhaps another explanation why Mormon did not include this particular fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecies in his abridged narrative in 3 Nephi 8–10 was that the incident was never included on the large plates from which Mormon abridged his record, even after Nephi wrote it down at the Savior’s command.[58] That is to say, when this fulfillment of prophecy was “written,” it was not then spliced into the large plates at the appropriate point in the narrative (or anywhere else therein). Regardless of where Nephi wrote this reference, the appearance of resurrected persons to others after the death of Christ actually occurred as prophesied but for some reason was not included in the original version of the large plates of Nephi that Jesus examined. Nephi, at the command of the resurrected Savior, recorded the event—either on an additional plate that he inserted into the large plates or possibly as a separate document that he then included with the many other records possessed by the Nephites.[59]

3 Nephi 23 and the Joseph Smith Translation

While Nephi’s failure to initially include certain items in the large plates may help explain the lacuna in Mormon’s abridgment, Nephi’s subsequent recording of those events may provide a paradigm for understanding something about the nature of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST). The JST adds many events and teachings to the current text of the Bible. But, as Robert Millet once lamented, “Unfortunately, Joseph Smith never seems to have taken the time to explain the nature of his inspired translation of the King James Bible.”[60] Some may assume that all the additional material in the JST was once in the Bible but was subsequently “taken away from the book” (1 Nephi 13:28). It is certainly possible that some of the material included in the JST was indeed original to the Bible but was, either purposefully or accidentally, later omitted. Joseph Smith clearly taught this principle himself: “From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points, touching the [s]alvation of man, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.”[61] Thus, sometimes the JST may make changes that restore the biblical text to its original or earlier form.[62]

In separate studies published in 1985, however, Robert Matthews and Robert Millet each suggested that the JST contained several kinds of material and that one type of change may be information from the past that actually occurred or was said but was not included in the original record.[63] Sixteen years later, Kent Jackson suggested a similar type of JST category and cross-referenced it with 3 Nephi 23:6–13, which is the story of Nephi’s omission of a fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecies in the Nephite record.[64] Although Jackson’s publication was the first to suggest that the incident in 3 Nephi 23 illustrated a possible category of changes in the JST, this concept has never been explored in print.

The preceding study of Samuel’s prophecies and fulfillments provides the necessary background to assess this possible connection between 3 Nephi 23 and the JST. Samuel clearly prophesied that the signs of Christ’s death would include the resurrection of Saints who would appear to many people. Although Mormon did not record the fulfillment of this prophecy, Nephi affirmed to the resurrected Savior that all the prophecies of Samuel had been fulfilled. Obedient to the Lord, Nephi made certain the event was written. The foregoing scenario may illustrate the category of JST changes suggested by Matthews: “a record of actual historical events that were not recorded, or were recorded but never included in the biblical collection.”[65] The account in 3 Nephi 23 demonstrates a precedent for just such a category of material in the Book of Mormon itself.

Thus, as Matthews, Millet, and Jackson suggested, perhaps some of the material that Joseph Smith was inspired to include in his “New Translation” was never recorded in the Bible in the first place. If so, some of the JST changes may not restore the Bible to its earlier pristine condition, but rather divinely supplement the Bible with additional inspired stories and teachings from past dispensations. In this way the Book of Mormon account of Samuel’s prophecies, their fulfillment, and Nephi’s initial omission but later recording of the event provides an interesting illustration of such a hypothetical scenario, with the Prophet Joseph Smith assuming a role similar to that of Nephi. It is as if, in the revelatory process of recording the JST, Joseph Smith came to places in the biblical narrative where the Savior asked, “How be it that [the biblical writers] have not written this thing?” Consequently, “Jesus commanded that it should be written [by the Prophet Joseph Smith]; therefore it was written according as he commanded.”


As the title page of the Book of Mormon testifies, “If there are faults, they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.” In correcting the Nephite records, Jesus Christ did not concentrate his efforts on, say, clarifying minor ambiguities or misunderstandings left in the record by Nephi or Mormon concerning issues of chronology and timing. As mortals living in a temporal world, we are understandably interested in details about the sequence and duration of the appearance of the new star, the length of the earthquakes, or the number of days in which Christ’s body lay in the tomb. To the risen Lord, however, such temporal things were not the most critical issues to consider. Instead, he focused on things of eternal consequence, such as faithfully recording Samuel’s teachings on the doctrines of the Atonement and the Resurrection, magnificently sublime events that pave the way for all humankind to repent of sin and return to live in the presence of God.

As the account of Nephi and the sacred records indicates, the Savior of the world was most concerned that the words of the holy prophets were recorded accurately as a testimony of his living reality, as indicated by the fulfillment of prophecies concerning his birth, death, and resurrection. It was also essential to include in the Nephite record the reference to many Saints and loved ones being resurrected because it manifested to them, as well as to us, the truth of Samuel’s words. These miraculous events must have bolstered the faith of the beleaguered survivors of the great destructions attesting Christ’s death, filling them with hope and preparing them for the Savior’s glorious visit and marvelous teachings that have made such an enduring impact on generations of disciples both ancient and modern.


[1] Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 131.

[2] See, for example, the brief studies of Mae Blanch, “Samuel the Lamanite,” in Studies in Scripture, Volume 8: Alma 30 to Moroni, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 116–24; Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 182–89; Dennis L. Largey, “Samuel2 the Lamanite,” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 697–700; and S. Michael Wilcox, “Samuel the Lamanite,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 3:1259.

[3] Samuel is called “a Lamanite” (Helaman 13:2, 5), “the Lamanite” (Helaman 13 headnote; 14:1; 16:1; 3 Nephi 1:5; 8:3; 23:9; Mormon 1:19), and “the prophet” (3 Nephi 1:9; Mormon 2:10).

[4] Samuel and his prophecies are also mentioned in a conversation between the Lord and Nephi in 3 Nephi 23:9–11 as well as by Mormon in Mormon 1:17–19; 2:10.

[5] See Helaman 13:1. Samuel declared that “five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God” (14:2). The chapter headnote for Helaman 13 in the official Church version, assuming the birth of Christ was around 1 BC, estimates the date of Samuel’s prophecies to be “about 6 BC.” Brant Gardner, on the other hand, believing the birth of Christ to be sometime around 4 or 5 BC, concludes that Samuel prophesied “approximately 10 BC.” For a discussion of the complex issues related to chronology, see Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 5:231.

[6] See Helaman 6:1.

[7] See S. Kent Brown, “Missionaries in War and Peace (Helaman 4–5),” in An Eye of Faith: Essays in Honor of Richard O. Cowan, ed. Kenneth L. Alford and Richard E. Bennet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2015), 305–19.

[8] See also Helaman 13:7: “I was sent unto you to declare it unto you also, that ye might have glad tidings; but behold ye would not receive me.”

[9] When Alma preached to the inhabitants of Ammonihah, he was “cast out of their city” (Alma 8:13). While he was on his way to the city of Aaron, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and commanded him to “return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach again unto the people of that city” (v. 16). See S. Kent Brown, “Ammonihah: Measuring Mormon’s Purpose,” in A Witness for the Restoration: Essays in Honor of Robert J. Matthews, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Andrew C. Skinner (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2007), 165–75.

[10] See also Helaman 14:9: “Thus hath the Lord commanded me, by his angel, that I should come and tell this thing unto you.”

[11] Concerning the Nephites at that time, Mormon stated that they “did still remain in their wickedness, yea, in great wickedness” (Helaman 13:1).

[12] See, for example, Helaman 13:6, 8, 10, 11, 13.

[13] Samuel’s anticipation seems to have been merited, for a few years later the Nephites did “harden their hearts” (Helaman 16:15) and rationalized that “it is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come” (16:18).

[14] See, for example, Gardner, Second Witness, 5:192; Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991), 3:409; and Monte S. Nyman, The Record of Helaman: A Teaching Commentary on the Book of Helaman (Orem, UT: Granite Publishing, 2004), 420–21.

[15] On this see Richard D. Draper, “From the Annunciation through the Young Adulthood of the Lord,” in The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ: From Bethlehem through the Sermon on the Mount, ed. ed. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 1:145–47.

[16] McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary, 3:410.

[17] See Genesis 15:5; 37:9. For other examples, see Judges 5:20; Job 38:4, 7; Isaiah 14:12–13; Daniel 8:10; and Revelation 1:16, 20; 6:13; 12:4.

[18] D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner, Verse by Verse: The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 2:105.

[19] Gardner, Second Witness, 5:194.

[20] Gardner, Second Witness, 5:183–84.

[21] See Helaman 13:24.

[22] The symbolism of manifestations of light accompanying the birth of “the light of the world” (John 8:12; compare 1:4–5, 9) and the absence of light accompanying his death is clear.

[23] Nephi previously had a vision concerning these phenomena: “I saw lightnings, and I heard thunderings, and earthquakes . . . ; and I saw the earth and the rocks, that they rent; and I saw mountains tumbling into pieces; and I saw the plains of the earth, that they were broken up; and I saw many cities that they were sunk; and I saw many that they were burned with fire; and I saw many that did tumble to the earth, because of the quaking thereof” (1 Nephi 12:4).

[24] Samuel declared: “The time shall come which hath been spoken of by our fathers, and also by the prophet Zenos” (Helaman 15:11).

[25] See Helaman 8:19–20; 1 Nephi 13:23.

[26] Samuel, at least, was aware of the prophecies of Zenos. Perhaps he had been taught them by Nephite missionaries many years earlier, read them on a copy of the brass plates, or learned of them from the angel who directed him to testify to the Nephites.

[27] Concerning what the Book of Mormon teaches about the Resurrection see, Robert J. Matthews, “The Doctrine of the Resurrection as Taught in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 30/3 (1990): 41–56; and A. Keith Thompson, “The Doctrine of the Resurrection in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 16 (2015): 101–29.

[28] Compare Paul’s testimony, in Acts 26:23, “that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead.” The Apostle Paul also taught that Christ was the “firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20), meaning he was the first person to be resurrected from the dead. See also Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5.

[29] Alma the Younger later shared this teaching of Abinadi with his son Corianton (see Alma 40:16). Note that Alma said this teaching “hath been spoken” (v. 16)—possibly specifically referring to the speeches of Abinadi that his father, Alma the Elder, as one of the priests of Noah, had heard Abinadi deliver—and that he later wrote it down (see Mosiah 17:1–4).

[30] Although the clarifying phrase “after his resurrection” is contained in all the earliest manuscripts and versions, some scholars doubt its authenticity because it is absent in the Syriac Diatessaron and a few other witnesses. The current critical edition of the Greek New Testament, however, includes this phrase. On this issue see Ulrich Luz, Matthew 21–28: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 568–69.

[31] Recall that Mormon had earlier written, “Samuel, the Lamanite, did prophesy a great many more things which cannot be written” (Helaman 14:1).

[32] Nephi repeated this “six hundred years” prophecy in 2 Nephi 25:19.

[33] As Brant Gardner concluded, “apparently the prophecy was for 600 whole years.” Gardner, Second Witness, 5:231. It should be noted that a one-year discrepancy could be explained by a difference in counting strategies among those who calculated the six hundred years and the ninety and second year. We are accustomed to “exclusive” counting, in which the first item is excluded when reckoning an interval. For instance, we would say that the third day from Monday is Thursday. In other cultures or time periods, “inclusive” counting was common, in which the starting point or first item was included. So with inclusive counting, the third day from Monday would be Wednesday. Depending on whether a series was being constructed or counted, the difference between exclusive and inclusive counting is either one more or one less.

[34] Mormon did not specify whether these early signs and miracles fulfilled Samuel’s general promise of “many signs and wonders in heaven” (Helaman 14:6–7). Recall Mormon’s admission that “Samuel, the Lamanite, did prophesy a great many more things which cannot be written” (v. 1).

[35] Gardner, Second Witness, 5:234.

[36] Recall Alma the Younger’s declaration that “we only wait to hear the joyful news declared unto us by the mouth of angels, of his coming, for the time cometh, we know not how soon. Would to God that it might be in my day; but let it be sooner or later, in it I will rejoice” (Alma 13:25).

[37] Meaning “On this night there will be no night. There shall be a day (today) and a night (tonight) and a day (tomorrow) wherein there is no darkness.” See Joseph Fielding McConkie, Robert L. Millet, and Brent L. Top, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1992), 4:6.

[38] Benjamin Foreman estimates that if the Wise Men were from Babylon it may have taken them “about four months” to travel to Jerusalem, the same length of time it took Ezra to make this journey (see Ezra 7:9). See Benjamin A. Foreman, “Matthew’s Birth Narrative,” in Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels, ed. Barry J. Beitzel (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2017), 24. If the Wise Men began their journey in Persia, and if they made extended stops along the way in order to rest and resupply, it would have taken longer.

[39] On the timing of the visit of the Wise Men, see Draper, “Annunciation,” 144–47; and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment, Making Sense of the New Testament: Timely Insights and Timeless Messages (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 20–21.

[40] Elder Bruce R. McConkie pointed out that “a child is two years of age until the time of his third birthday.” See Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965), 1:107.

[41] Similar destruction happened to other cities. See 3 Nephi 9:4–8.

[42] Recall that Nephi had seen in vision that “the plains of the earth” would be “broken up” (1 Nephi 12:4).

[43] Mormon also added the detail that “it was said by some that the time was greater” (3 Nephi 8:18).

[44] Bart Kowallis has concluded that three hours of earthquakes described in 3 Nephi is “too long a time period for the shock from a single large earthquake and too short for the period during which aftershocks following a major earthquake usually take place. However, it is a very reasonable amount of time for the initial states of a volcanic eruption.” See Bart J. Kowallis, “In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist’s View of the Great Destruction in 3 Nephi,” BYU Studies Quarterly 37, no. 3 (1997–98): 159.

[45] The Gospel of Matthew also records an earthquake taking place on the morning of the Resurrection. See Matthew 28:2.

[46] See the discussion in Luz, Matthew 21–28, 566–67.

[47] See Matthew 12:40; 26:61; 27:40, 63; Mark 14:58; 15:29; John 2:19–20; 2 Nephi 25:13. It noteworthy that the Gospel of Mark clarified this idea with the phrasing “within three days” (Mark 14:58).

[48] See also Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:64; Mark 9:31; 10:34; Luke 13:32; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Acts 10:40; 1 Corinthians 15:4; Doctrine and Covenants 20:23. As discussed in an earlier footnote, this is an example of inclusive reckoning, which includes the starting point and the ending point in the total count.

[49] Many scholars have written on this subject. See, in particular, Gardner, Second Witness, 5:300–312; and Kowallis, “In the Thirty and Fourth Year,” 136–90.

[50] On this, see Kowallis, “In the Thirty and Fourth Year,” 176–80; and John A. Tvedtnes, “Historical Parallels to the Destruction at the Time of the Crucifixion,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3/1 (1994): 185–86.

[51] For the proposal that the prophecy, rather than its fulfillment, was not recorded, see D. Lynn Johnson, “The Missing Scripture,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3, no. 2 (1994): 84–93.

[52] Day 1 = 3 Nephi 11:8 to 18:39. Day 2 = 3 Nephi 19:15 to 26:15. Day 3 = 3 Nephi 27:2 to 28:12. In general, see Andrew C. Skinner and Gaye Strathearn, eds., Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2012).

[53] See Robert L. Millet, “Plates of brass,” in Largey, Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 643–44.

[54] Nephi, son of Nephi, was the record keeper at this time. Mormon recorded that “a just man” did keep the Nephite records, who “truly did many miracles in the name of Jesus” (3 Nephi 8:1). Later in Mormon’s abridgment we learn that Nephi had raised his brother Timothy from the dead (see 19:4).

[55] The original Nephi had said that on the large plates should be kept “a full account of the history of my people” (1 Nephi 9:2). Compare Jacob 1:1–3. See David R. Seely, “Plates of Nephi,” in Largey, Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 645–47.

[56] See Helaman 14:25.

[57] See, for example, Gardner, Second Witness, 5:553; Kent P. Jackson, “Teaching from the Words of the Prophets,” in Jackson, Studies in Scripture, Volume 8, 197; and McConkie, Millet, and Top, Doctrinal Commentary, 4:159.

[58] Gardner proposes that the reference in 3 Nephi 5:9 to a “shorter” account “given by Nephi” refers to an abbreviated account made by Nephi3 and that the event had not been recorded on the large plates of Nephi, nor in the abbreviated record of Nephi3. See Gardner, Second Witness, 5:553.

[59] Mormon later indicated that the Nephites possessed many records besides the large plates of Nephi: “I made this record out of the [large] plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni” (Mormon 6:6).

[60] See Robert L. Millet, “Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A Historical Overview,” in The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Truths, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1985), 42.

[61] Joseph Smith, History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834], p. 183,

[62] A noteworthy example of the Joseph Smith Translation restoring the biblical text to its original form involves omitting a phrase that had been added later, rather than adding a phrase that had been taken out. In the King James Version, Matthew 5:22 says, “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” The phrase “without a cause” is not in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament and was added later by a scribe. See Daniel K Judd and Allen W. Stoddard, “Adding and Taking Away ‘without a cause’ in Matthew 5:22,” in How the New Testament Came to Be, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Frank F. Judd Jr. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 157–74.

[63] Robert Matthews described this category as “actual historical events that were not recorded, or were recorded but never included in the biblical collection.” See Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, A History and Commentary (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1985), 253. Robert Millet described it as “that which occurred or was said anciently but never recorded by the ancient writers.” See Millet, “Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible,” 44.

[64] Kent Jackson summarized this classification as “what was once said or done but which was never in the Bible.” See Kent P. Jackson, The Restored Gospel and the Book of Genesis (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001), 32. This connection was repeated in Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds., Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004), 8.

[65] Matthews, “Plainer Translation,” 253.