3 Ne 6:11 there were many merchants...many lawyers, and many officers
Although it is not the main focus of Mormon, the complexity of Nephite society can easily be seen in his history. Those studying ancient Meso-America have also been able to determine that the ancient American peoples had a well developed social and economical system. Hugh Nibley compares the comments of these secular experts with the Book of Mormon narrative.
"...E. W. Andrews, p.263: 'As civilization becomes more complex, it becomes more vulnerable-as we are discovering to our increasing horror in recent years. . . . The problems of maintenance and unity increase geometrically.'
"3 Nephi 6:11-14: 'Many merchants . . . and also many lawyers, and many officers . . . and . . . people began to be distinguished by ranks. . . . And thus there became a great inequality, . . . insomuch that the church began to be broken up.'
"...General summary (G. R. Willey and D. B. Shimkin), p. 459: 'Late Classic society was more sharply differentiated into elite and commoner strata than . . . Early Classic times. As this process of an elite consolidation went on, [there was] . . . a related development of a class of bureaucrats and craft specialists.'
"3 Nephi 6:12: 'And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.'
"...General summary, p. 485: 'The role of the elite must have become increasingly exploitative as resource margins declined; . . . widening social distance [was] an inevitable accompaniment of the evolution of ranked, and probably kin-based, society to a class structured one. . . . In some areas . . . the numbers of commoners were being maintained only by recruitment and capture from other centers. Yet the upper class continued to grow, to expand its demands for luxury . . . and to strive to compete with rival centers and aristocracies.' 'The priestly leaders of these great centers, in their efforts to outdo each other, to draw more wealth and prestige to themselves, . . . must have diverted all possible labor and capital to their aggrandizement.'
"3 Nephi 6:27-28: 'Those judges had many friends and kindreds; and . . . almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather . . together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges. . . . And they did enter into a covenant one with another.'" (The Prophetic Book of Mormon, p. 372-6)
3 Ne 6:12 the people began to be distinguished by ranks
We live in a day in which the opportunity to attain riches and the chances for learning are unparalleled. Such a condition places us at risk to do what the Nephites did in seeking to be distinguished by ranks. Yet there is a simple custom in the Church which is designed to thwart this tendency. When we refer to each other as "brothers and sisters" in the Church, we are avoiding the tendency to distinguish based on position or education. Thus the doctor, lawyer, professor, c. e. o., and executive vice-president are all "brothers and sisters." This is the way it should be. If not, the resulting inequality might be enough to break up the Church as it did among the Nephites (v. 14).
Joseph Smith had been careful to avoid emphasis on rank among the members of the Church. Although he was the greatest prophet of this dispensation and arguably the greatest prophet ever, excepting Jesus Christ, he was known simply as "Brother Joseph."
"Some of us may mock our brother because he has a 'lesser' occupational, civic, or ecclesiastical standing. King Benjamin got to the core of the matter when he observed: 'And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust.' (Mosiah 2:26.)
"If King Benjamin were clear with respect to the occupational and civic areas, Joseph Smith was crystal clear about ecclesiastical condescension: 'If a high priest comes along, and goes to snub either of them in their presidency, because they are Seventies, let them knock the man's teeth down his throat-I mean spiritually.' (History of the Church 5:368.)
"He even applied the same standard to himself:
'Many persons think a prophet must be a great deal better than anybody else. Suppose I would condescend-yes, I will call it condescend, to be a great deal better than any of you, I would be raised up to the highest heaven; and who should I have to accompany me? ...
'I do not want you to think that I am very righteous, for I am not. God judges men according to the use they make of the light which He gives them.' (History of the Church 5:401.)
"...Men are not chosen for privilege but for their capacity to bless others. The Spirit moved President John Taylor to write:
"Our Heavenly Father is desirous to promote the happiness and welfare of the whole of the human family; and if we, any of us, hold any Priesthood, it is simply for that same purpose, and not for our personal aggrandizement, or for our own honor, or pomp, or position; but we hold it in the interest of God and for the salvation of the people, that through it we may promote their happiness, blessing and prosperity, temporal and spiritual, both here and in the world to come." (Journal of Discourses 22:230.)" (Gary L. Bunker, "Mocking Our Brother," Ensign, Apr. 1975, 36)
Boyd K. Packer
"The Lord does not, and the Church cannot, admit to favoritism toward those who are able to obtain professional degrees as compared to those who seek training in a practical field or those who have little or no schooling at all." (Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 72 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 400-1)
3 Ne 6:13 Some were lifted up in pride
"Pride gets no pleasure out of possessing something but, possessing more of it than the next man...It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone." (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 109-110 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 400)
Ezra Taft Benson
"The two groups who seem to have the greatest difficulty with pride are the learned and the rich." (Conference Report, Apr. 1986, p. 6 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 401)
3 Ne 6:13 others would receive railing and persecution...and would not turn and revile again
The Law of Moses is famous for retribution according to the rule, and eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth (Ex 21:24). However, there are other elements of the Law of Moses which taught a higher code of conduct. One example taught the people not to seek revenge, Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart...Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Lev. 19:17-18). This higher law within the lower law was what some Nephites chose to follow. Their ability to "turn the other cheek" showed that they understood the spirit of the higher law even before it was given in its fullness by the Savior (3 Ne 12:39).
"Although most of us don't have to deal with persecution, we are often 'provoked' by small things. Rudeness, nagging, disobedience, waiting, disagreements, disappointment, and unfulfilled expectations can irritate us, particularly when we are tired, sick, or in a hurry.
"At such times, our first impulse may be to react with irritation, anger, or contention. But we can choose to react instead with charity and not be 'easily provoked.' (Moro. 7:45.) We can turn the other cheek (see Matt. 5:38-39) and respond with patience and kindness.
"How do we develop a spirit of charity that keeps us from being provoked? One approach is to concentrate on ways to control our anger or impatience. Taking a deep breath and stopping to think for a moment before speaking sometimes helps. Getting in the habit of...returning good for evil drains the heart of anger.
"By learning to avoid contention and to control our anger, we stop evil from being passed along and become more like the Savior, whose sacrifice of self made eternal life possible for all who come unto him and emulate his example." (Ensign, July 1988, p. 47)
3 Ne 6:15 Satan had great power
Ezra Taft Benson
"I have been deeply impressed with the beauty and power of this scriptural account in 3 Nephi, and with its great value for our time and our generation.
"The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior's visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior's second coming. The Nephite civilization had reached great heights. They were prosperous and industrious. They had built many cities with great highways connecting them. They engaged in shipping and trade. They built temples and palaces.
"But, as so often happens, the people rejected the Lord. Pride became commonplace. Dishonesty and immorality were widespread. Secret combinations flourished because, as Helaman tells us, the Gadianton robbers 'had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils' (Hel. 6:38). 'The people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning' (3 Ne. 6:12). And 'Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world,' even as today (3 Ne. 6:15)." (Ensign, May 1987, p. 4)
3 Ne 6:17 the people having been...carried about by the temptations of the devil
Neal A. Maxwell
"This people actually lost both personal and social control, as these words vividly portray: 'And thus, in the commencement of the thirtieth year-the people having been delivered up for the space of a long time to be carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them, and to do whatsoever iniquity he desired they should-and thus they were in a state of awful wickedness.' (3 Nephi 6:17. Italics added.)
"Surely it should give us more pause than it does to think of how casually we sometimes give to him who could not control his own ego in the premortal world such awful control over our egos here. We often let the adversary do indirectly now what we refused to let him do directly then.
"Thus we can expect no immunity from either trial or temptation, because these are the common lot of mankind. Mortality without the dimension of temptation or trial would not be full proving, it would be a school with soft credits and no hard courses. These features of mortality were among the very conditions we agreed to before we undertook this mortal experience. We cannot renege on that commitment now." (We Will Prove Them Herewith, p. 45)
3 Ne 6:18 they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God
The Lord is merciful to the innocent whether by age or through ignorance. However, those who exhibit willful rebellion are in the shallow end of the mercy pool. They feel the weight of the ruthless demands of divine justice more fully than any other group. Abinadi taught that they would not be eligible for the first resurrection (Mosiah 15:26). This is because they would not receive of the power of Christ's atonement. In other words, they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received (DC 88:32). Furthermore, "willful rebellion" more aptly describes the attitude of Satan than any other phrase. It is the defining characteristic of those who become the Sons of Perdition. The Lord says they are those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and yet deny the truth and defy my power (DC 76:31).
Elder ElRay L. Christiansen
"'Now, they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them therefore they did wilfully rebel against God.' (3 Nephi 6:15-16, 18.) So it is with us today. We, too, are well-taught, but many, too many of us, in the Church and out of the Church, are led away by crafty men whom the Adversary uses as tools, from the standards and the ideals the Lord has set for our happiness and our security.
"Will history repeat itself? Shall we in this beloved land again lose our freedom because of disobedience? No nation rises above its religion." (Conference Report, Apr. 1961, p. 74)
3 Ne 6:23 those who testified...were taken and put to death secretly by the judges
Nephite law proscribed executions without the approval of the governor. Yet, where there is a wicked will, there is a way. The wicked judges had to figure out a way to kill these prophets because they did not have the power themselves to order the executions.
Similarly, the chief priests and elders, when faced with Jesus of Nazareth, did not have the power themselves to legally consign him to death. Therefore, they needed the help of Pilate who knew that for envy they had delivered him (Matt 27:18). They also needed the help of the people, so they persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus (Matt 27:20). As the Nephites, who did not sin ignorantly, so the chief priests and elders did not sin ignorantly, for they were the keepers of the law. Yet they chose to kill the lawgiver.
3 Ne 6:30 they did set at defiance the law and the rights of their country
B. H. Roberts
"The people of the western world, in brief, had entered upon that final stage of their wickedness which was to terminate in those awful convulsions of nature that should make their lands desolate, and well-nigh destroy the inhabitants thereof. The government itself had become corrupt; so, too, had the priesthood, save a few faithful ones--men of God, who testified that the Messiah had come, and that the time of his passion and resurrection approached. These were secretly haled before the judges, and both priests and lawyers leagued against them for their destruction. When it was feared that the Chief Judge would not sign their death warrants--a thing needful under the Nephite law to make executions legal--they privily put them to death, and thus were guilty of judicial murders. An attempt to overthrow the commonwealth, now perpetuated through more than a hundred and twenty years, ended in anarchy." (New Witnesses For God, vol. 2, p. 237)