Some years ago while teaching a Book of Mormon class at Brigham Young University, I discussed with the class titles and names for Jesus Christ used throughout the Book of Mormon. As is well known, the Book of Mormon is saturated with references to Jesus Christ.
We reviewed some of the names for Christ used early in Nephi’s record: Messiah, Holy One of Israel, Lord, God, Lord God Almighty, God of Israel, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, Savior, Redeemer and Son of God. It was clear that many of these titles originated in an Old Testament religious context.
We also discussed the frequency of use of the name Christ, which appears nearly 400 times throughout the Book of Mormon.
As we studied this topic further, I had the following exchange with the students, trying to invite them to read the Book of Mormon more carefully, looking for details, asking questions, and seeking answers:
TH: “Where is the first use of the name Christ in the Book of Mormon?”
After some searching, and especially with the help of electronic devices, the students responded: 2 Nephi 10:3.
TH: “Great find. Now, if Christ is the central figure of the Book of Mormon, why isn’t the name Christ used until 78 pages in to the Book of Mormon? We are nearly 15 percent through the Book of Mormon and this is the first time that the name Christ is used. Why is that?”
The students, practicing careful reading, responded: “Because Jacob explains in 2 Nephi 10:3 ‘for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name.’”
TH: “Excellent. But this raises other questions. Why didn’t Jacob know Christ’s name before that time? For example, why didn’t Lehi or Nephi teach Jacob Christ’s name or title? Why did it take an angel to reveal this to Jacob? Shouldn’t Lehi and Nephi have received that revelation as the prophet-leaders? Shouldn’t they have already known the name of Christ?”
The students were stumped by the questions.
TH: “I’ll provide some context that may help answer these questions. The word Christ is Greek. The same term in Hebrew is Messiah, which Nephi uses on a number of occasions.”
The students began to comprehend: “Oh, Nephi and Jacob didn’t know Greek. They would not have used a Greek word to talk about him when they came from a Hebrew speaking culture. They would have used other names for him from their own language and culture.”
I explained further: Exactly. That is why other phrases, familiar in the Old Testament world, were so often used by Nephi. Nephi didn’t know Christ’s name in Greek. So Nephi used a title from his Hebrew background that referred to Jesus Christ — “Messiah.” It wasn’t until Nephi’s younger brother Jacob received revelation about the name “Christ” that suddenly Old Testament world phrases like “Messiah” fall out of use in the Book of Mormon and “Christ” becomes one of the primary terms used to name him.
In fact, the Hebrew term Messiah is used 28 times by Nephi (not including his quotes of Isaiah) before Jacob’s revelation about the name Christ. But after that Nephi only uses the term Messiah 10 more times. And it is striking to note that Jacob never uses the term Messiah. After the death of Nephi, Messiah is used only three times in the remainder of the Book of Mormon.
Before Jacob’s revelation, Christ is never used in the Book of Mormon. After Jacob’s revelation Christ is used nearly 400 times with the highest percentage going to the writers Jacob, Mormon and Moroni.
We can learn something from Nephi as well. Even though he was the older brother and the prophet-leader, he was willing to learn from his younger brother. Nephi did for Jacob exactly what Nephi’s two oldest brothers never did for him. Nephi listened to Jacob. Nephi encouraged Jacob to receive revelation. He then encouraged Jacob to teach and preach what he shared. Nephi was not bent on total rulership as were Laman and Lemuel. Nephi had the humility to listen and learn from his younger brother Jacob. He did not use his position, his authority, his influence, his experience, or his own access to revelation to be beyond learning truths great or small from those around him.
Finally, the way that Book of Mormon writers use names and titles of God underscores that the Book of Mormon is ancient scripture.
Taylor Halverson (PhDs: Biblical Studies; Instructional Technology) is a BYU Teaching & Learning Consultant. His website is taylorhalverson.com. His views are his own.