Interpreting Jesus’ Chiastic Structure of 3 Nephi 20


In his prophetic discourse to the Nephites at Bountiful in 3 Nephi 20 that is based on the words of Isaiah, Jesus shows the interplay between the end-time Gentiles and house of Israel; that is, between God’s people who are of the covenant today—the Latter-day Saints—and the Jews, Ten Tribes, and Lehi’s descendants. By using the literary pattern of an extended chiasm, Jesus infuses meanings or emphases not otherwise apparent. Here is a breakdown of his discourse:

  • a—Jesus fulfills the Father’s commandment concerning the house of Israel (20:10b)
    • b—The prophecies of Isaiah will be fulfilled (20:11)
      • c—The Father’s covenant with the house of Israel is fulfilled by their gathering from throughout the earth, their knowing the Lord their God, and their receiving a land of inheritance (20:12–14)
        • d—The Gentiles do not repent after receiving the Lord’s blessing (20:15)
          • e—The house of Israel treads down the Gentiles (20:16–20)
            • f—The house of Israel is established in fulfillment of the Lord’s covenant with Jacob; the New Jerusalem; the powers of heaven and the Lord abide in their midst (20:21–22)
              • g—Moses testifies of Jesus Christ (20:23a–c)
                • h—All who will not hear the words of Christ will be cut off from among the Lord’s people (20:23d; cf. Deuteronomy 18:15–19)
              • g—The prophets from Samuel testify of Jesus Christ (20:24)
            • f—The Gentiles receive the Holy Ghost in fulfillment of the Father’s covenant with Abraham after the house of Israel defaults; they are mighty above all (20:25–27c)
          • e—The Gentiles scatter the house of Israel (20:27d–28a)
        • d—The Gentiles harden their hearts after receiving the fulness of the gospel (20:28b)
      • c—The Lord’s covenant with his people is fulfilled by their gathering together and receiving a land of inheritance at the time they believe in Jesus Christ (20:29–31)
    • b—The prophecies of Isaiah will be fulfilled (20:32–45; cf. Isaiah 52:1–15)
  • a—Jesus reiterates the Father’s commandment to him about his people (20:46)

From this chiastic structuring of seven parallel ideas and one centerpiece, we observe how Jesus predicts a great end-time reversal between the Ephraimite Gentiles and Israel’s natural lineages. While at the first, the Gentiles exercise power over them—not just in this land but wherever they are “scattered abroad upon the face of the earth” (3 Nephi 20:13)—at the last, the Gentiles fail to repent of evils and instead harden their hearts. After having been blessed with the restoration of the gospel and enjoyed the gift of the Holy Ghost, in the end they reject the words of Christ that come forth. At that point, they are cut off from his people and are trodden down by the house of Israel.

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