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Source:Echoes:Ch8:7:Foreknowledge of Christ
Foreknowledge of Christ's Advent
Foreknowledge of Christ's Advent
Book of Mormon prophets often spoke of Jesus Christ long before his birth and referred to him as "that which is to come."32 Lehi and his sons Nephi and Jacob knew of Christ's name and title, his baptism by John, his teachings, his selection of twelve apostles, his miraculous healings and casting out of devils, and his death on the cross (see 1 Nephi 10:7–10; 11:27–33; 2 Nephi 10:3; 25:19). Alma knew the name of Christ's mother, Mary, and of Christ's sufferings and death (see Alma 7:10–12). King Benjamin also knew the name of Christ's mother, along with other details of the Savior's life, such as the kinds of miracles he would perform, his temptation and suffering, his crucifixion, and his resurrection after three days (see Mosiah 3:5–10). Samuel the Lamanite spoke of the heavenly signs that would accompany the birth and death of the Savior (see Helaman 14:3–6, 20–27).
Equally significant is that the Book of Mormon suggests that various Old World prophets also knew details of Christ's life long before he was born. Nephi noted that Zenock and Neum had written of the Messiah's crucifixion, while Zenos wrote of his burial and the three days of darkness that would be a sign of his death (see 1 Nephi 19:10). A later Nephi, son of Helaman, declared that "many prophets" of old had testified of Christ, including Moses, Abraham, Zenock, Ezias, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and "all the holy prophets" between the time of Abraham and the time of Moses (see Helaman 8:13–20).
Critics of the Book of Mormon claim that such details of Christ's life could not have been known before he was born. But early Christians readily accepted the idea. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (died AD 107), wrote to the Magnesians: "The divinest prophets lived according to Christ Jesus. On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by His grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son."33 The Epistle of Barnabas, which was widely read in Christian congregations of the second century AD, indicates in its twelfth chapter that Moses knew that the Messiah would be called Jesus.
Chapter 32 of the Book of the Bee, a thirteenth-century text first published fifty-six years after the Book of Mormon, preserves a number of early Christian traditions about prophecies of Christ uttered by various Old Testament prophets. According to the account, the prophet Hosea "prophesied mystically about our Lord Jesus Christ who was to come; saying that when He should be born, the oak in Shiloh should be divided into twelve parts; and that He should take twelve disciples of Israel."34 The prophet Nahum "prophesied that when the Messiah should be slain, the vail of the temple should be rent in twain, and that the Holy Spirit should depart from it."35 The prophet Habakkuk "prophesied concerning the Messiah, that He should come, and abrogate the laws of the Jews."36 The prophet Zephaniah "prophesied concerning the Messiah, that He should suffer, and that the sun should become dark, and the moon be hidden."37 The prophecy in this document attributed to Nahum was attributed by the fourth-century Christian Father Epiphanius to Habakkuk. The fact that Epiphanius predated the writing of the Book of the Bee by nine centuries demonstrates the antiquity of the stories recounted in it.38
Nephi, the son of Helaman, specifically noted that the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had foretold the coming of Christ (see Helaman 8:20).39 Two second-century church fathers, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, writing of Christ's preaching to the dead while his body lay in the tomb, attributed to Jeremiah a prophecy (one not found in the biblical account) in which the prophet wrote that the Lord would descend to preach salvation to the dead. In Dialogue with Trypho 72, Justin Martyr wrote, "And again, from the sayings of the same Jeremiah these have been cut out [by the Jews]: 'The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.'"40 Irenaeus cited the same passage in Against Heresies 4.22.41
The Book of the Bee also preserves an earlier tradition of another nonbiblical prophecy of Jeremiah, declaring that "this (prophet) during his life said to the Egyptians, 'a child shall be born—that is the Messiah—of a virgin, and He shall be laid in a crib, and He will shake and cast down the idols.' From that time and until Christ was born, the Egyptians used to set a virgin and a baby in a crib, and to worship him, because of what Jeremiah said to them, that He should be born in a crib."42 The story is drawn from The Lives of the Prophets 2:8–10, a text that a number of scholars have suggested was originally written in Hebrew by Egyptian Jews during the lifetime of Jesus himself.43 The text was not published in any Western languages until nearly eighty years after the Book of Mormon first appeared.
Another Christian document known from medieval manuscripts in various languages is 4 Baruch, which is subtitled "The Things Omitted from Jeremiah the Prophet." The Ethiopic version attributes the book to Jeremiah's scribe Baruch, but the Greek says it was written by Jeremiah. Chapter 9 has Jeremiah prophesying of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; of his selection of twelve apostles; of his death and resurrection after three days; and of his return in glory to the Mount of Olives. According to the account, Jeremiah was stoned for this declaration.44
The New Testament suggests in passing that Abraham knew of Christ's coming (see John 8:56; Galatians 3:8), though the Old Testament story of Abraham itself does not demonstrate this. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob noted that Abraham's offering of Isaac was "a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son" (Jacob 4:5)—something that is confirmed in several early Christian sources, such as Epistle of Barnabas 7:3; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.4, 5; and Augustine, City of God 16.32.
But foreshadowing is not the same as outright prophecy or revelation. From the Book of Abraham that Joseph Smith restored, we learn that the ancient patriarch actually saw Christ in the premortal council (see Abraham 3:22–28). This kind of intimate knowledge of the Savior on the part of Abraham is suggested in a centuries-old Ethiopic text that derives from a Coptic text dated by the translator to the sixth century but not published until 1922. In Kebra Nagast 14, we read: "And God held converse with Abram, and He said unto him, 'Fear thou not. From this day thou art My servant, and I will establish My Covenant with thee and with thy seed after thee . . . and afterwards I will send My Word for the salvation of Adam and his sons for ever.'"45 Chapter 104 of the same work says, "And thou dost not understand that they were justified by faith—Abraham, and David and all the Prophets, one after the other, who prophesied concerning the coming of the Son of God. And Abraham said, 'Wilt Thou in my days, O Lord, cast Thy word upon the ground?' And God said unto him, 'By no means. His time hath not yet come, but I will shew thee a similitude of His coming.'" God then has Abraham meet with Melchizedek, who "gave him the mystery of the bread and wine, that same which is celebrated in our Passover for our salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."46From these early accounts, we see that the idea that details of the life of Christ were known by a number of prophets prior to his birth was common in early Christianity, as it is in the Book of Mormon.