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2 Nephi 32: Nephi’s Explanation of 2 Nephi 31


Second Nephi 32 is Nephi's explanation of 2 Nephi 31.
It is a sophisticated explanation of the doctrine
of Christ and the office of Holy Ghost. It uses
rhetorical forms most miss. Reformatting this 
chapter shows the rhetorical forms and 
clarifies the meaning. 

2 Nephi 32

This chapter explains the doctrine of Christ and the Holy Ghost set forth in the formal chiastic presentation found in chapter thirty-one. This chapter has two parts. First, Nephi supposes his people are wondering what to do after they are baptized—he supposes his people do not understand his chiasmus, which turns on the relationship between the Holy Ghost and the doctrine of Christ—so he addresses this question. Second, there is a lamentation incited by Nephi’s perceptions about his people. Nephi uses a variety of literary devices typical of the day.

There is no amen at the conclusion of this chapter like there is at the conclusions of chapters thirty-one and thirty-three. The absence of this benediction means this explanation, as all explanations are, is secondary to the formal exposition.  The necessity of this explanation and the lamentation are at the same secondary level; in other words, both parts are a form of lamentation: Nephi’s disappointment that he must make such an explanation.1

This chapter begins with a distich (a couplet or pair of verses or lines to be read as a unit) about the Nephites pondering what they must do after being baptized. The rhythm is the qinah meter typical of lamentations, so the first part has emphasis, and the second part should be read with the voice trailing away.

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way.

But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?2

Nephi was nonplused because his people were confused about how to live their lives once committed to returning to the Father’s presence. They were pondering or wondering or thinking about what they were supposed to do following baptism, which Nephi finds lamentable.3

Nephi follows his lamentation over the condition of his people with two rhetorical questions expressing Nephi’s incredulity. These rhetorical questions are sarcastic. The message at the center of this sarcasm is the speaking with the tongue of angels because the Nephites on their way back to the Father were, themselves, angels.

A Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost

B ye could speak with the tongue of angels?

Bʹ And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels

Aʹ save it were by the Holy Ghost?

As angels enlightened by the Holy Ghost, the Nephites were supposed to know what to do after they were on the way back to the Father: follow the words of Christ, which angels speak. Nephi makes speaking the words of Christ equivalent to the power of the Holy Ghost:

Nephi blames the Nephites for not understanding what they must do because they have not figured it out. He places the onus on them to ask and knock, meaning study it out and figure it out for themselves. They will become enlightened if they do, “brought into the light,” and live; otherwise, they will die in darkness.

Immediately following the foregoing chastisement is a verse easily misunderstood as Nephi saying the Holy Ghost would tell the Nephites what to do. Context and grammar render this conclusion that the Holy Ghost tells one what to do a non sequitur. The context is plain. Nephi has just told his people they have to study out what they need to do to follow the Savior and that that studying will enlighten them. So it is not logical for Nephi to follow this declaration with a statement that the Holy Ghost will tell them what to do: The non-sequitur verse is this one:


Grammar—rules of construction—render the function of the Holy Ghost inconsistent with the non sequitur that the Holy Ghost “will show . . . what ye should do.” The antecedent of it is not the Holy Ghost for several reasons. First, the declarations reformat into two, single-sense units—distich parts—of qinah verse. So a different reading is required. The upward, leading portion of the these two verses repeat the same thing. It is the way that shows individuals all things they should do.5

Second, the doctrine taught in chapter thirty-one is an holistic doctrine defined by the analogues of the chiasmus on either side of the central point, following the Savior. Entering into the way that shows one “all things what ye should do” is the point.

Third, it cannot refer to the Holy Ghost because the office of the Holy Ghost is to illuminate what is known, not instruct or show someone something. That Nephi understood this office of the Holy Ghost is manifest by Nephi’s study-it-out verse immediately preceding this non-sequitur verse. Nephi says that studying will take a person into the light—the enlightenment of the Holy Ghost—so they do not perish in darkness. Free agency prevents the Holy Ghost from telling one what decision one ought to make about what type of life one wants. The Holy Ghost does not teach these things. Oliver Cowdery, for example, was told, “[Y]ou have not understood; you have supposed I would give unto you . . . . you must study it out in your mind . . . .”6It must, therefore, refer to what one can learn after entering into the way and walking along the path.

A fourth reason it cannot refer to the Holy Ghost is because the Holy Ghost has gender. The following must be accepted as modern-day scripture because it is a proclamation signed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.7

ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

Since it is gender neutral, the antecedent of it cannot be the Holy Ghost. The antecedent must be what Nephi says it is: the thing that “will show unto you all things that ye should do” or, in his other words, “the doctrine of Christ,” the second part of the anaphora identifying what it is when someone enters the way and receives the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost enables one to obtain the power to speak by the Holy Ghost by asking, knocking, and being thereby brought into the light so that one does not perish in the dark.8

Nephi recognized the inability of the Nephites of his day to figure out the fulness of the gospel He says the Savior will teach more things to be learned when the Savior comes. The only ordinance, for example, the people during Nephi’s day had to understand was baptism because the exalting ordinances of the temple could not performed until after the conclusion of the Savior’s ministry. Nephi did not let the need for the exalting ordinances to go unmentioned because he knew his writings would be read by people living in the post-Christ epoch who would have these exalting ordinances, not just baptism. The form of this allusion is distich:

and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh.

And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do.

Nephi’s lamentation begins with verse seven. This lamentation is the second half of chapter thirty-two. The qinah rhythm typical of lamentations found in the Old Testament is obvious and demands that this poetic wailing be read aloud. First, there is a qinah couplet:


This is followed by an exergasia explaining why it was or how it was that the spirit—spirit was not capitalized in the early editions of the Book of Mormon—kept Nephi from saying any more. He knew his people did not get it. They were not tracking. So he, Nephi, decided to stop wasting his breath. He says so in the exergasia explaining his stopped utterance:


Then Nephi explains the reason for his lament, a reason that should compel us today to do what Nephi laments his people did not and would not do: study the scriptures, the word of the Lord, and thereby obtain the power of the Holy Ghost, the it of verse five that teaches what one must do to have the Holy Ghost. This explanation, of course, is in classic Qinah rhythm.


This explanation is followed by an epode, 12Nephi, educated in Egypt as he was, was familiar with the poetic forms of the Greeks, so this lyrical poem uses the qinah rhythm and exergasia to underscore the importance of using prayer, an essential part of an earnest mind—an earnest heart in the metaphor of the day—to search out the words of Christ.



  1. See 2 Nephi 32:7 where Nephi says, “I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men . . . .”
  2. 2 Nephi 32:1
  3. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb to ponder as “To weigh (a matter, words, etc.) mentally; to give due weight to and consider carefully; to think over, meditate upon.” Pondering is a mental activity,; indeed, heart was the metaphor at the time for the mind.
  4. 2 Nephi 32:5
  5. Cf. Jeremiah 6:16b, “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.”
  6. D&C 9:7, 8.
  7. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” ¶ 2 (Sept. 23, 1995). According to this modern-day scripture, then, the Holy Ghost cannot be an it. The Holy Ghost has gender, and that gender according the multiple scriptures in the Old and New Testaments is female.
  8. Cp. D&C 11:12–23 (the Spirit could enlighten Hyrum Smith’s mind only after he learned or obtained the Lord’s word. Otherwise, he could not have the Spirit to enable him to preach the word).
  9. 2 Nephi 32:7a.
  10. 2 Nephi 32:7b.
  11. 2 Nephi 32:7c.
  12. An epode is an element of lyric poetry invented by Archilochus.Circa. 680–c. 645 BC, the inventor of poetic meters, who composed almost entirely on the theme of his own emotions and experiences.
  13. 2 Nephi 32:8-9

4 thoughts on “2 Nephi 32: Nephi’s Explanation of 2 Nephi 31

    • Author gravatar

      The Holy Ghost has a gender? And what might that gender be?

      • Author gravatar

        I think the Holy Ghost is either male or female, don’t you?

        I am reading a fascinating book right now, Patrick Navas, Divine Truth or Human Tradition? A Reconsideration of the Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2011). At page 90 of his book, Mr. Navas quotes James R. White

        There is nothing wrong with tradition, as long as we do not confuse tradition with truth. As soon as we become more attached to our traditions than we are to truth, we are in very deep trouble . . . . As soon as we make our tradition the test of someone else’s standing with God, we have elevated tradition to a status that is unbibliccal

        I quote Mr. White (as quote by Mr. Navas) because the Church has this quasi-canonical view of the Holy Ghost as male. One must be careful, therefore, if one ventures to say the Holy Ghost is not male. If you search my postings using the word gender you will discover the references I have made to this subject in various postings. These postings include reference to the scriptures that make the idea of a female Holy Ghost more likely than not. Perhaps, the most compelling of these posts is this one:


        I have eight pages of single-spaced notes on this topic, but I have not yet written an essay on the point, so my references to the gender of the Holy Ghost in this blog are somewhat restrained.

    • Author gravatar

      I agree that the Holy Ghost is either male or female. But I also agree that gender, as we know it on earth, is not binary. Sorry to President Oaks but the science is quite clear on this. So if we make the statement that the gender of the Holy Ghost has to be male or female, we are saying that the Holy Ghost certainly never resided on earth. Because earth’s residents are mostly male and female, but not entirely so. And that’s OK because as far as I know the Holy Ghost never resided on earth, at least physically.

      • Author gravatar

        I am not a scientist. I started undergraduate school as a physics major, but soon found out that I did not think quantitatively, so I switched to economics where the calculus in the real number system was within my grasp. But I learned enough in physics, like quantum mechanics, to know that what I had thought was right was not necessarily so. So I do not know that science is clear on anything, really. And I do not know that the Holy Ghost is female. All I am saying is that the tradition in the Church that the Holy Ghost is male is not well supported by the scriptures. The scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, militate in favor of concluding that the Holy Ghost is female. And I like the idea that the Holy Ghost is female because it sort rounds out the Godhead and raises the female of our species to a higher position that she has traditionally had, which, it seems to me, is a good thing from the perspective of more than half the Church: the females in the Church.

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