Evidence #324 | March 29, 2022

See and Hear

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Consistent with prophetic writings near Lehi’s day, the verbs “see” and “hear” are often used together in the Book of Mormon in conjunction with a visionary experience.

Jeremiah’s Criteria for a True Prophet

In his warnings about false prophets who were leading the people of Jerusalem astray, the prophet Jeremiah asked, “For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord, and hath perceived and heard his word?” (Jeremiah 23:18). This passage is loaded with meaning that may not be immediately apparent to modern readers.

Jeremiah the Weeping Prophet, by Alex Levin. 

The phrase “stood in the counsel of the Lord” does not simply mean to take “counsel” from God. Rather, it evokes a concept known as the “divine council,” which involves the presence of angelic beings who attend to and counsel with God as he sits on his heavenly throne.1 The word translated as “perceived” comes from the Hebrew term raah, which means “see.”2 Jeremiah was therefore asking who among the so-called prophets in Jerusalem had stood among the heavenly beings of the Lord’s divine council to see and hear the word of the Lord for themselves. Other prophets surrounding this time period, such as Isaiah and Ezekiel, similarly connected seeing and hearing to divine knowledge and heavenly encounters, as do a number of relevant pseudepigraphic accounts.3

Drawing upon several sources, Kevin Tolley explains,

It was “the privilege of the truly inspired prophet to stand in its midst and hear the word of Yahweh.” From this point “the prophet was called to proclaim the will of the deity which issued from the assembly.” This experience with the divine council is considered the “dominant rubric for authority” for the prophet. This was a means of “vindication and legitimization of the prophet in his office.” It is clear that “the experience made a man a prophet.”4

Lehi Fits Jeremiah’s Criteria

Lehi and Nephi knew about Jeremiah and were his contemporaries (1 Nephi 5:13; 7:14). It is not insignificant, therefore, that when introducing his father’s record Nephi explained that “there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before [Lehi]; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly” (1 Nephi 1:6). Nephi then described how his father went home, cast himself upon his bed, and “was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God” (1 Nephi 1:8).

The Assumption of the Virgin by Botticini.

Nephi’s description of his father’s prophetic calling seems intentionally crafted to establish that Lehi had met the criteria of a true prophet, as established by Jeremiah and other prophets.5 Not only had Lehi both seen and heard the Lord for himself, but he had done so while in the presence of the divine council (while God was sitting on his throne and surrounded by angelic beings). Lest one assume that Nephi’s language was unintentional, notice that throughout his writings he continued to use forms of “see” and “hear” to characterize his father’s visions:

  • “behold [Lehi] went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard” (1 Nephi 1:18)
  • “and he testified that the things which he saw and heard … manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah” (1 Nephi 1:19)
  • “And all these things did my father see, and hear, and speak, as he dwelt in a tent” (1 Nephi 9:1)

Nephi Assumes the Prophetic Mantle

Nephi repeatedly used the same verbiage (“see” and “hear”) to characterize his own heavenly encounters:

  • “I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (1 Nephi 10:17)
  • “And behold, I, Nephi, am forbidden that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw and heard” (1 Nephi 14:28)
  • “Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling” (1 Nephi 17:45)6
  • “Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard” (2 Nephi 4:16)

This textual development helps support a major theme in Nephi’s writing: that through his faith and diligence, He became Lehi’s spiritual successor and inherited his prophetic mantle.7 Just as Lehi had seen and heard the word of the Lord for himself, so had Nephi.

“See” and “Hear” Continue as Key Words

It appears that Nephi’s prophetic successors noticed and perpetuated this theme throughout the generations. In his account of his confrontation with Sherem, Jacob related, “for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me. And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time; wherefore, I could not be shaken” (Jacob 7:5). A few verses later, Jacob again used these terms to establish his prophetic authority: “for I have heard and seen; and it also has been made manifest unto me by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Jacob 7:12).

At the beginning of the account of Enos, the Lord mentioned that Enos had “never before heard nor seen” the Lord (Enos 1:8). Yet, by the end of his record, Enos could report that he “went about among the people of Nephi, prophesying of things to come, and testifying of the things which I had heard and seen” (Enos 1:19). The implication is that at some point Enos had experienced spiritual manifestations comparable to those his fathers had encountered. 

Enos Praying. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

After an angelic being appeared to Alma and the sons of Mosiah, they traveled “round about through all the land, publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen” (Mosiah 27:32). In the book of Helaman, “about three hundred souls … saw and heard” a heavenly vision. Afterward, they went forth “declaring throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen” (Helaman 5:48–50).  

Forms of the words “see” and “hear” are repeatedly used in connection with the ministry of the resurrected Jesus among the Nephites:8

  • “But behold, ye have both heard my voice, and seen me” (3 Nephi 15:24)
  • “The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father” (3 Nephi 17:16)
  • “And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak” (3 Nephi 17:17).
  • “And the multitude did see and hear and bear record” (3 Nephi 17:25).
  • “and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus, whom they both saw and heard” (3 Nephi 20:9)
  • “they both saw and heard these children; yea, even babes did open their mouths and utter marvelous things” (3 Nephi 26:16)
  • “And many of them saw and heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written” (3 Nephi 26:18)
  • “the disciples of Jesus were journeying and were preaching the things which they had both heard and seen” (3 Nephi 27:1)
  • “Write the things which ye have seen and heard, save it be those which are forbidden” (3 Nephi 27:23)
  • “they were caught up into heaven, and saw and heard unspeakable things” (3 Nephi 28:13)
  • “was it given unto them power that they could utter the things which they saw and heard” (3 Nephi 28:14)
  • “nevertheless they did not minister of the things which they had heard and seen, because of the commandment which was given them in heaven” (3 Nephi 28:16)

In his introduction to his own record, Mormon stated, “I, Mormon, make a record of the things which I have both seen and heard, and call it the Book of Mormon” (Mormon 1:1). While Mormon never gives much detail about his personal visions, he did remark that he “was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus” (v. 15). And finally, after Ether’s heavenly vision, the Lord declared, “Behold, thou shalt not suffer these things which ye have seen and heard to go forth unto the world, … wherefore, ye shall treasure up the things which ye have seen and heard” (Ether 3:21).

Brother of Jared Sees the Finger of the Lord, by Robert T. Barrett.

Conclusion

The verbs “see” and “hear” are repeatedly used together throughout the Book of Mormon, typically in connection with a vision of heavenly beings. This usage can be traced back to the writings of Nephi and Lehi, who employed these key words to signal their induction to the divine council and access to heavenly mysteries. This textual phenomenon is entirely appropriate, considering that biblical and pseudepigraphic texts surrounding Lehi’s day use “see” and “hear” in a very similar manner. The introduction and development of this idiom in the Book of Mormon is both textually sophisticated and historically believable.

Kevin L. Tolley, “To ‘See and Hear’,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 18 (2016): 139–158.

Stephen O. Smoot, “The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 155–180.

John W. Welch, “The Calling of Lehi as a Prophet in the World of Jerusalem,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo: FARMS, 2004), 421–448.

Blake T. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1986): 67–95.

BibleNumbers 24:16 Deuteronomy 4:12 Deuteronomy 5:24 Deuteronomy 29:4 1 Kings 22:192 Kings 19:16 2 Chronicles 18:18Isaiah 6:9–10Isaiah 29:18Isaiah 48:6Isaiah 66:19Jeremiah 5:21Ezekiel 1:28Ezekiel 40:4Book of Mormon1 Nephi 1:61 Nephi 1:81 Nephi 1:181 Nephi 1:191 Nephi 5:131 Nephi 7:141 Nephi 9:11 Nephi 10:171 Nephi 14:281 Nephi 17:452 Nephi 4:16Jacob 7:5Jacob 7:12Enos 1:8Enos 1:19Mosiah 27:32Helaman 5:48–503 Nephi 15:243 Nephi 17:163 Nephi 17:173 Nephi 17:253 Nephi 20:93 Nephi 26:163 Nephi 26:183 Nephi 27:13 Nephi 27:233 Nephi 28:133 Nephi 28:143 Nephi 28:16Mormon 1:1Mormon 1:15Ether 3:21

Bible

Numbers 24:16

Deuteronomy 4:12

Deuteronomy 5:24

Deuteronomy 29:4

1 Kings 22:19

2 Kings 19:16

2 Chronicles 18:18

Isaiah 6:9–10

Isaiah 29:18

Isaiah 48:6

Isaiah 66:19

Jeremiah 5:21

Ezekiel 1:28

Ezekiel 40:4

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 1:6

1 Nephi 1:8

1 Nephi 1:18

1 Nephi 1:19

1 Nephi 5:13

1 Nephi 7:14

1 Nephi 9:1

1 Nephi 10:17

1 Nephi 14:28

1 Nephi 17:45

2 Nephi 4:16

Jacob 7:5

Jacob 7:12

Enos 1:8

Enos 1:19

Mosiah 27:32

Helaman 5:48–50

3 Nephi 15:24

3 Nephi 17:16

3 Nephi 17:17

3 Nephi 17:25

3 Nephi 20:9

3 Nephi 26:16

3 Nephi 26:18

3 Nephi 27:1

3 Nephi 27:23

3 Nephi 28:13

3 Nephi 28:14

3 Nephi 28:16

Mormon 1:1

Mormon 1:15

Ether 3:21

Footnotes
Literary Features
Book of Mormon

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