"Never Have I Showed Myself Unto Man":
Dealing With the Apparent Incongruity of Ether 3:15
and Earlier Appearances of the Lord
Bruce K. Satterfield
Department of Religious Education
Brigham Young University - Idaho
The story of the Lord's appearance to the brother of Jared has troubled many who have read the account.. The basis of the distress is found in the statement made by the Lord to the brother of Jared, upon His appearance: "And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast." (Ether 3:15). Yet, the scriptures make it clear that the Lord appeared to many prior to this experience.
Perhaps the most notable example is the appearance of the Lord to Adam and his righteous descendant at a meeting held at Adam-ondi-Ahman. The Doctrine and Covenants records: "Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were all high priests, with the residue of his posterity who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing." After this blessing was given, "the Lord appeared unto them." Further, we are told that "the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever" (D&C 107:53-55). This appearance certainly fulfilled the prophecy made by Adam upon being taught the gospel plan of salvation. "Blessed be the name of God," he excalimed, "for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God" (Moses 5:10; emphasis added). (1)
The scriptures also record the appearance of the Lord to Enoch. Of this, Enoch said, "And I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face; and he said unto me: Look, and I will show unto thee the world for the space of many generations" (Moses 7:4).
These two recorded incidents of the Lord's appearance to mortals occurred
centuries before the appearance of the Lord to the brother of Jared! What
did the Lord mean, then, when He said, "never have I showed myself unto
man whom I have created."
Joseph Fielding Smith's Suggestion
In Answers to Gospel Questions, Joseph Fielding Smith offers
his views to this apparent contradiction. The question asked was stated
Question: "There are several references testifying to the fact that
the Lord appeared to ancient prophets before the flood, yet we read in
the Book of Mormon, Ether 3:6-16, that the Lord had never shown himself
to man prior to the days of the Brother of Jared. What explanation can
be offered to clarify this apparent contradiction?"
Elder Smith gave the following response:
Answer: There is no contradiction....It is true that the Savior appeared
to the prophets before the flood, but it is evident that he did not reveal
himself in the fulness as he did to the Brother of Jared. Talking "face
to face," as stated in this revelation, does not mean that the Lord did
not appear in a cloud; or, that his body was partially hidden from the
view of the prophet. All of this could occur and yet the Lord still be
partially, if not completely, hidden from the prophet's view. The great
difference rests in this, which the conversation of the Lord with the Brother
of Jared clearly indicates: The Savior was conversing with the Brother
of Jared in person, yes, evidently face to face, yet the Lord was hidden
by a veil. The Brother of Jared knew that the Lord was there, but evidently
he did not understand that the Lord had a body apparently of flesh and
bones. Through his great faith he was able to see the finger of the Lord
when the Lord touched the stones. So astonished did the prophet become
that he fell to the earth in fright, fearing that the Lord might strike
him. Receiving the assurance that all was well the following conversation
And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?
And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?
And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for
thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.[Ether 3:9-12]
Then the Lord revealed to him his entire body, and then he said:
And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and
man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto
thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.[Ether
So the Savior showed to the Brother of Jared his entire body just as
it would appear when he dwelt among men in the flesh.
Bruce R. McConkie's Answer
Elder Bruce R. McConkie offered a similar answer in his book, The
Promised Messiah. Elder McConkie relates the story of the Lord's appearance
to the brother of Jared and then states:
Then the Lord said: "I am he who was prepared from the foundation of
the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. . . . And never
have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed
in me as thou hast." That is to say: 'Never have I showed myself in the
manner and form now involved; never has there been such a complete revelation
of the nature and kind of being I am; never before has the veil been lifted
completely so that a mortal man has been able to see my spirit body in
the full and complete sense of the word.' (3)
An Alternative Answer
The context of Ether 3 may suggest an alternative explanation of the apparent contradiction of Ether 3:15. Note the words I have emphasized in the Lord's statement to the brother of Jared: "Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters. And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for neverhas man believed in me as thou hast." (Ether 3:14-15; emphasis added).
Notice the distinction made between those who believe on God who are
called "my sons and my daughters" and those who do not believe who are
called "man." To me, this distinction seems to indicate that God appears
to his sons and daughters but not to man. To understand the
difference between man and the sons and daughters of God
and why God would only appear to his sons and daughters, we must
examine the scriptures with particular emphasis on restoration scripures.
Power to Become the Sons of God
Several places in the scriptures reveal that men and women need power to become "the sons of God." For example, the Savior taught, "And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh" (3 Nephi 9:17; emphasis added). Likewise, John said, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12; emphasis added). In the D&C we read: "But verily, verily, I say unto you, that as many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name" (D&C 11:30). And "Who so loved the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might become the sons of God." (D&C 34:3). Other examples could be cited as well (see D&C 35:2 45:8; Moses 7:1; Moroni 7:26-48).
In the Church, we sing the beautiful hymn, "I Am a Child of God, reflecting
the belief that all mankind are the spiritual offspring of God, that He
is our Father. The scriptures just however tell us that mankind needs power
to become sons and daughters of God! How is it that we, who are
the children of God, need power to become the children of God? The
answer to this question is important in understanding the Lord's statement
to the brother of Jared.
Children of God Lose their Heirship
The children of God are heirs to all the Father has. And though it is true that all mankind are the literal spiritual offspring of God, when they are born into this fallen world through their natural parents, they become subject to the fallen condition that comes upon all through the fall of Adam. Further, when a person arrives at the age of accountability, he or she suffers a personal spiritual fall and without some divine intervention is doomed to inherit that fallen condition forever (see 2 Nephi 9:6-9). We are told in Moses 6, "Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe. Behold Satan hath come among the children of men, and tempteth them to worship him; and men have become carnal, sensual, and devilish, and are shut out from the presence of God" (verses 48-49). In this condition men lose their heirship as the children of God and are instead disinherited!
How can the fallen children of God become a sons of God again and therefore
an heir to the kingdom? Brigham Young gave the answer: " Inasmuch as all
had apostatized, they had to become the sons of God by adoption,
still, originally, all were the sons of God." (4)
The process of adoption to the family of God, which is "the power to becomes
the sons of God," is best illustrated in the story of Adam's receiving
the ordinances of salvation.
Adam Becomes A Son of God
In Moses 6, the day Adam received the priesthood ordinances of salvation is recorded. Verse 64 records that Adam first received the ordinance of baptism in these words: " And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam, our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water." Then Adam received the gift of the Holy Ghost: "And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man" (Moses 6:65).
Then in words that require prophetic interpretation, we are told that Adam received the temple ordinances: "And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying: Thou art baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. This is the record of the Father, and the Son, from henceforth and forever; and thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity" (Moses 6:66-67). Commenting on these verses, President Ezra Taft Benson said: "When our Heavenly Father placed Adam and Eve on this earth, He did so with the purpose in mind of teaching them how to regain His presence. Our Father promised a Savior to redeem them from their fallen condition. He gave to them the plan of salvation and told them to teach their children faith in Jesus Christ and repentance. Further, Adam and his posterity were commanded by God to be baptized, to receive the Holy Ghost, and to enter into the order of the Son of God. To enter into the order of the Son of God is the equivalent today of entering into the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is only received in the house of the Lord." (5)
After having received the priesthood ordinances of salvation, the Lord
said to Adam: "Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and
may all become my sons (Moses 6:68). Now that is interesting! Earlier
in the chapter Adam is called "the son of God" because he was in fact the
"direct and lineal offspring of deity." (6)
But after receiving the saving ordinances of the priesthood, he was called
"a son of God" again with the added statement that "thus may all becomes
my sons." That is, the process of Adam's adoption to the family of
God is the process by which all may become adopted.
Adam gave the same ordinances of salvation to those of his posterity
who qualified. President Benson spoke of this in these words:
Three years before Adam's death, a great event occurred. He took his son Seth, his grandson Enos, and other high priests who were his direct-line descendants, with others of his righteous posterity, into a valley called Adam-ondi-Ahman. There Adam gave to these righteous descendants his last blessing.
The Lord then appeared to them.
President Benson explained the blessing given by Adam to his posterity.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said that Adam blessed his posterity because
"he wanted to bring them into the presence of God." (Teachings of the
Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book Co., 1938, p. 159.)
President Benson explained the necessity of the ordinances of salvation
in bringing his righteous posterity into the presence of God:
Here is an illuminating passage from Section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants which tells us how Adam was able to bring himself and his righteous posterity into God's presence:
"The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and tightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.
"This order was instituted in the days of Adam, and came down by lineage in [order] … that his posterity should be the chosen of the Lord, and that they should be preserved unto the end of the earth." (D&C 107:40-42; italics added.)
How did Adam bring his descendants into the presence of the Lord?
The answer: Adam and his descendants entered into the priesthood order
of God. Today we would say they went to the House of the Lord and received
their blessings. (7)
Those Who Believe Become the Sons of God
Adam believed what he had been taught by the angel and the Lord regarding the plan of salvation (see Moses 5:4-12 and 6:50-63). He therefore submitted to the ordinances of salvation. Because he had, he was re-inherited. Hence the Lord said, "Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons (Moses 6:68).
We see then that through the atonement of Jesus Christ, men may become re-inherited into the family of God and therefore are heirs to His kingdom. The atonement is made effective in the life of an individual by exercising faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ, repenting of their sins, entering into a covenant with God in the waters of baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost. Those who do this are "called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters" for they have been adopted to his family and "have become his sons and his daughters" (Mosiah 5:7). Paul taught, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Romans 8:14-17).
Thus we see that those who believe on Christ are given power
to become the sons of God! They, then, are properly referred to as
the children of God, his sons and daughters. Those who have not believed
on Jesus Christ and accepted his atonement are called the "sons of men."
Note how these terms are used in the story of Noah.
Noah and the Sons of Men
Moses 8 records some of the events of Noah's life before the flood. We are told that Noah "begat sons and daughters" (Moses 8:10) throughout his life. Three children are specifically mention: Japheth, Shem, and Ham. Of Noah and these three children, the record states: "Noah and his sons hearkened unto the Lord, and gave heed, and they were called the sons of God" (Moses 8:13; emphasis added). From what we have learned, we then know that Noah, and this three sons, Japheth, Shem, and Ham accepted the fulness of the gospel by receiving the ordinances of salvation and therefore were adopted to the family of God.
The account then states: "And when these men [i.e., Japheth, Shem, and Ham] began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, the sons of men saw that those daughters were fair, and they took them wives, even as they chose" (Moses 8:14; emphasis added). In this context, the phrase "sons of men" has an obvious meaning: the sons of men are those who did not believe in God and the gospel taught by Noah. Therefore, we see that Noah's granddaughters married out of the covenant.
The Lord expressed His anger and displeasure in Noah's granddaughters
in these words: "And the Lord said unto Noah: The daughters of thy sons
have sold themselves; for behold mine anger is kindled against the sons
of men, for they will not hearken to my voice" (Moses 8:15;
This account of Noah makes clear the difference between the "sons of God" and the "sons of men." The sons of God believe on God and therefore "hearken" to the Lord by accepting the gospel ordinances of salvation. The sons of men on the other hand do not believe on God and therefore do "not hearken" to God. It then follows that the Lord may appear to the sons of men who have qualified themselves through the ordinances while He would not appear to the sons of men who disbelieve in Him.
With this is mind, Ether 3:14-15 may be interpreted this way. The Lord
is stating to the brother of Jared that because of his belief on God that
he, as an adopted "son of God," qualifies for an appearance of the Lord.
On the other hand, "man," who do not believe on God, do not qualify for
an appearance. Therefore, He stated: "never have I showed myself unto man
whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast." But
He has shown himself to many before the brother of Jared because they did
believe and were called "the sons of God." Therefore, the faith of the
brother of Jared is the same as Adam, Enoch, and all others whom qualified
for an appearance of the Lord.
1. This prophecy probably was intended to have multiple fulfillment. Because of the fall, man is cut off from the presence of God. Through the atonement of Jesus Christ, man can overcome the effects of his fallen condition and be brought back in the presence of God. This will occur for all men as a result of the resurrection and final judgment (see Helaman 14:14-18). Thus Adam's prophecy would be fulfilled when he was resurrected and brought into the presence of God. But while in mortality man is also "in the flesh." At the meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahman, Adam, still in his fleshy, fallen, mortal body, did see God, having come into His presence. This was possible because of the power of the atonement that was enacted in Adam's life through the gospel ordinances he had received (see Ezra Taft Benson, "What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple," Ensign, Aug. 1985, 6-10).
2. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions (vols. 1-4., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957-1963), Vol.2, p.123.
3. Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), pp.599-600.
4. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young (Salt Lake City:Bookcraft, 1998), p.7; emphasis added.
5. Ezra Taft Benson, "What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple," Ensign, Aug. 1985, 8; reprinted in Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1988), p.42; emphasis added).
6. First Presidency Statement, "Origin of Man," Messages of the First Presidency (James R. Clark, ed., 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), Vol.4, p.206.
7. Benson, "What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple," p. 8.