Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:9

And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster1)The 1830 Book of Mormon spells this word, “lustre” was above that of the sun at noon-day.

As mentioned in the previous verse, my understanding is that this One is Jesus Christ. This is also the understanding of modern prophets, and is therefore the first specific mention of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon. That’s significant, because, as Marion G. Romney said,

The book [of Mormon] is from beginning to end a witness for Christ. Its first chapter contains an account of a vision in which Lehi beheld Jesus “descending out of the midst of heaven” in luster above the noonday sun. (1 Ne. 1:9) Its last chapter concludes with Moroni’s great exhortation to come unto Christ and be perfected in him, with this assurance: “. . . and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be . . . sanctified.” (Moro. 10:32-33) Numerous and great are the stirring testimonies that illuminate the five hundred pages between these two chapters. 2)Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1970, pp. 27-30

There’s a reason the Church added to the title of the book, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” That addition was not just a way to help people recognize that we, as latter-day saints, are Christian. It was in accordance with the revelations of the Lord on the Subject of the Book of Mormon.3)Dallin H. Oaks (shortly after the subtitle was added to the book): In the opening session of the October 1986 general conference, President Benson read the verses from the Doctrine and Covenants about the whole Church being under condemnation and remaining so “until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon” (D&C 84:57, as quoted by President Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 4). In speaking of this, he likened the word covenant to testament, as in the “New Testament.” He reminded us that the Book of Mormon “is indeed another testament or witness of Jesus,” adding that this was “one of the reasons why we have recently added the words ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ’ to the title of the Book of Mormon” (ibid). Later in that same message, President Benson repeated these words he had given in an earlier talk. Note the point of emphasis: “Do eternal consequences rest upon our response to this book? Yes, either to our blessing or our condemnation. Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not” (ibid., p. 7). That is the key: to use the Book of Mormon to become “built on the rock of Christ”! This book is a testament of Jesus Christ. It explains the significance of his atonement and the content of our covenant relationship with him. (Ensign, May 1986, p. 78; almost all of President Benson’s words quoted herein are also found in his book Witness and Warning: Modern-day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988)

It’s purpose, as stated in the title page, is to the convince of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. Clearly, the book didn’t wait long to dive into that testimony.

His luster was above that of the sun

There is only one other use of the word luster in the scriptures, and it is when Abinidi begins to glow while calling King Noah to repentance. With that being the only other use in the scriptures, it’s difficult to identify a concrete scripture definition. So instead, lets see how the word was defined at the time the Book of Mormon was translated into English. The 1820 Webster’s Dictionary defines luster as:

LUS’TER, n. [L. lustrum, lustro to purify.]

1. Brightness; splendor; gloss; as the luster of the sun or stars; the luster of silk.
The sun’s mild luster warms the vital air.
2. The splendor of birth, of deeds or of fame; renown; distinction.
His ancestors continued about four hundred years, rather without obscurity than with any great share of luster.
3. A sconce with lights; a branched candlestick of glass.
4. The space of five years. [L. lustrum.]

That wouldn’t be a significant bit of information, except that in today’s definition, there is a slight difference that may feed into how we picture the events taking place in the verse. From today’s Merriam-Webster dictionary:

LUSTER

1
: a glow of reflected light : sheen; specifically : the appearance of the surface of a mineral dependent upon its reflecting qualities
2
a : a glow of light from within : luminosity
b : an inner beauty : radiance
3
: a superficial attractiveness or appearance of excellence
4
a : a glass pendant used especially to ornament a candlestick or chandelier
b : a decorative object (as a chandelier) hung with glass pendants
5
chiefly British : a fabric with cotton warp and a filling of wool, mohair, or alpaca

See the difference? Comparing just the definitions relating to light, today’s definition suggests a glimmer of light, so subtle that it may just be reflected, not even be coming from its own source. But the 1820 dictionary speaks of brightness and splendor. If we use today’s definition to picture Christ’s luster in this verse, we may think of Him as glowing gently against the ambient light of the sun, but just a little brighter than that.  But recognizing the older use of the word, we now picture him bright enough to overpower, even eclipse the sun itself.

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Chas Hathaway is the author of the books Scripture Study Made Awesome, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with Dating? and Giraffe Tracks. Learn more at chashathaway.com. Please participate in the conversation by adding comments and sharing with friends on the web!

Gospel Living Made Awesome is not an official work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If Chas says something stupid, it's his own fault.

References   [ + ]

1. The 1830 Book of Mormon spells this word, “lustre”
2. Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1970, pp. 27-30
3. Dallin H. Oaks (shortly after the subtitle was added to the book): In the opening session of the October 1986 general conference, President Benson read the verses from the Doctrine and Covenants about the whole Church being under condemnation and remaining so “until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon” (D&C 84:57, as quoted by President Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 4). In speaking of this, he likened the word covenant to testament, as in the “New Testament.” He reminded us that the Book of Mormon “is indeed another testament or witness of Jesus,” adding that this was “one of the reasons why we have recently added the words ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ’ to the title of the Book of Mormon” (ibid). Later in that same message, President Benson repeated these words he had given in an earlier talk. Note the point of emphasis: “Do eternal consequences rest upon our response to this book? Yes, either to our blessing or our condemnation. Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not” (ibid., p. 7). That is the key: to use the Book of Mormon to become “built on the rock of Christ”! This book is a testament of Jesus Christ. It explains the significance of his atonement and the content of our covenant relationship with him. (Ensign, May 1986, p. 78; almost all of President Benson’s words quoted herein are also found in his book Witness and Warning: Modern-day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988)

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