Ironic Rhetoric Advances the Book of Mormon’s Thesis

3 Nephi 27:14 is one of the more rhetorically clever verses in the Book of Mormon.  It features an ironic parallelism that explains the point of the Atonement while emphasizing its apparent absurdity.

And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—

The part in bold is what’s so impressive.  There are several other passages in scripture that speak of Christ being “lifted up” in crucifixion, and a few of those link that with the salvation of mankind, but this verse uses the phrase “lifted up” twice, first to describe the sacrifice of the life of Jesus Christ, and then to summarize the Father’s ultimate goal of saving mankind. 

This is ironic in a couple of ways.  For one, the same phrase is used here to mean diametrically opposite things: for Jesus Christ, torture and death; for humanity, exaltation and eternal life. 

Second, the juxtaposition of these two essential elements of the Father’s plan highlights the reversal of the natural order: who deserves what here?  The perfectly pure and innocent lamb of God is physically “lifted up” to the worst suffering ever endured, “which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain” (D&C 19:18).  The lost, fallen, and rebellious children of God, who “cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth” (Mosiah 2:25), however, get to be spiritually “lifted up” with infinite mercy and grace leading to salvation.

Of course, there’s the added irony that the phrase “lifted up” clearly indicates raising something—and, indeed, the verse in question uses it to describe Christ being hung on the cross—but that physical lifting is also part of spiritually “descending below” all things (D&C 88:6, 122:8). 

3 Nephi 27:14 therefore successfully shows that the first lifting up was necessary for the second lifting up, despite and because of our unworthiness, but to our unending benefit.  There’s a lot of power in that verse.

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5 comments on “Ironic Rhetoric Advances the Book of Mormon’s Thesis

  1. Wow, that is powerful. In fact, the verse makes no clear distinction between Christ’s bad lifting up and our good lifting up. Which invites us to consider the meaning that in crucifying Christ we exalted or apotheosized him. And the meaning that as we condemned Christ so the Father may condemn us. This ambiguity of meaning is reflected in the last phrase “to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.” The ambiguity in being lifted up has yet to be resolved, but will.

    That is an extremely rewarding scripture to study. Thanks for highlighting it.

  2. Pingback: Powerful Language in the Book of Mormon | Junior Ganymede

  3. I tend to be more of a scriptural literalist, so I’m thinking the comparison might be more parallel than ironic/opposite. “… as I have been …. even so should men be…”

    Substitute “crucified” for “lifted up”: “as I have been crucified, even so should men be crucified.” Compare to the commandment, repeated throughout the scriptures, to take up our cross and follow him. How far do we follow him with that cross? Perhaps we are to be nailed and killed by that cross we carry, even if only in a figurative sense.

    Christ surrendered his life on the cross. His death was voluntary.

    Perhaps as another parallel: the nature of death by crucifixion entails surrender on the part of the victim. It is not a direct or active execution, it’s sort of a passive execution. It is a torture that drains the victim’s ability to pull themselves up in order to take a breath. When the victim finally gives up (surrenders) or loses that struggle to breathe, they die. Breaking the legs removes that fulcrum and forces asphyxiation. Without the breaking of the legs, the victim doesn’t die until they give up or are totally drained of all energy to breath.

    Perhaps there is a parallel between that and the surrendering of ourselves to God, ceasing to struggle against God, that is a part of, or prerequisite to, the universal resurrection.

    So perhaps that is another parallel: to surrender everthing, including that which is somehow essential or inherent to ourselves, “our” life in order to be resurrected by Heavenly Father.

    And apparently the sufferings in hell/spirit prison can be like unto crucifixion, as per Section 19. It won’t be over until we completely surrender, _everything_, to God.

  4. Thanks for the compliments, Mrmandias and Jeff.

    Bookslinger, that is an excellent reading of the passage–I like it very much. Thanks for pointing it out.

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