On the first day of the Savior’s visit to the American continent, He selected twelve men and gave them authority to baptize (3 Nephi 11:18-22). He told the assembled people that, if they would listen to the words of these men and would choose to be baptized with water, then He would baptize them with fire and with the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 12:1). There were about 2,500 people present on that occasion (3 Nephi 17:25).
The following morning, a much larger group of people assembled at the same place. The disciples divided the people into twelve groups and taught them what they had learned from Jesus the day before. Then, they led the people to a nearby body of water, where twelve baptisms took place:
And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.
And he came up out of the water and began to baptize. And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen.
And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire (3 Nephi 19:11-13).
This passage of scripture raises a number of questions:
- Why was Nephi baptized at this time? Hadn’t he already been baptized? For that matter, why did the Savior invite everyone in the multitude to be baptized? Given the number of baptisms which Nephi had performed previously, many of the people had likely already been baptized. (See Helaman 16:1, 3 Nephi 1:23, 3 Nephi 7:16.)
- Who baptized Nephi? The record only says that he was baptized, with no mention of who performed the baptism.
- Why were only the twelve disciples baptized at this time?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I have had a number of insights as I’ve pondered this passage today:
- Jesus had commanded the people to be baptized. Some of them had likely been baptized previously, but there is no mention of them questioning the commandment at this time or trying to understand the Savior’s reasons. They had been in His presence the day prior, and they trusted Him. Joseph Smith said, “I made this my rule: When the Lord commands, do it” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 13: Obedience). These disciples appear to have had the same mindset.
- Jesus had specified clearly how they should perform baptisms. “On this wise shall ye baptize; and there shall be no disputations among you” (3 Nephi 11:22). “And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been” (3 Nephi 11:28). There must have been some variation in the way baptisms were performed before that time. They may have felt a need to be baptized precisely according to His instructions.
- The record doesn’t explain how Nephi was baptized, but there were eleven other men present who had been given the authority to baptize. It seems likely to me that one of them performed the baptism. This would be consistent with the experience of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who first received authority to baptize, then baptized one another (Joseph Smith—History 1:70-71).
- It was likely logistically impossible for everyone present to be baptized at that time. Nevertheless, by observing the baptisms of these twelve men, the entire multitude was blessed with a miraculous spiritual experience, culminating in the return of the Savior. Even though we are only baptized once, we can also have a spiritual experience as we participate in baptismal services and support other people who are being baptized.
Today, I will be grateful for the examples of these twelve humble disciples of Jesus Christ. I will strive to be obedient to the commandments of the Savior. I will appreciate the spiritual experiences that have come to me as I have made sacred covenants with God. I will also be grateful that I can have spiritual experiences as I support other people in making covenants with God.