Book of Mormon - Lesson 3
Resource Notes

Note 1

The Tree of Life, a Personification of Christ
Jeanette W. Miller

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Abstract: Throughout history in many cultures, man has looked to the tree of life as a symbol of eternal life. It has been typified in varying forms according to the culture's perception of the universe. Many early Christians saw the tree of life as a personification of Jesus Christ. It may be that the tree of life vision in the Book of Mormon was presented to introduce the Savior and his ministry. We may learn much about the Lord's calling and personality by combining a study of various cultural ideas of the tree of life with the testimonies of the prophets contained in the scriptures.

Although Lehi's dream of the tree of life is among the best-known passages of the Book of Mormon, it may also be one of the least understood. Why is this dream so important that it was given such a prominent place at the beginning of the book, almost as if it were an introduction? Why are there so many chapters of explanation that follow? I would like to explore the possibility that the dream was given to teach about Christ. Nephi explains that the words that he wrote were for the express purpose of persuading his people to believe in Jesus Christ (2 Nephi 33:4), for, he says: "My soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ, . . . and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him" (2 Nephi 11:4). As the angel gave Nephi the explanation of the tree of life, he stated that the fulness of the gospel would come to the Gentiles and from the Gentiles to the remnant of Nephi's seed that they might receive nourishment from the "true vine," to be grafted into the "true olive-tree" (1 Nephi 15:13, 1516).

I propose that the tree of life is a personification of Jesus Christ. This paper will compare some of the basic elements of Lehi's dream and its subsequent interpretation with other passages of scripture and with the symbolism of the tree of life in other cultures, weaving the threads into a design depicting the nature of the Savior's calling and personality. I will equate the tree of life with the temple, for in many regards it functions like a temple, particularly where no temple is present. Further, I compare the features of the tree of life with several elements of John M. Lundquist's temple typology. Those points of the temple typology that I wish to consider are (1) the temple is associated with the tree of life; (2) the earthly temple and the tree may also be seen as a copy or counterpart of the heavenly model; (3) the temple and the tree of life are associated with the primordial hillock and the waters of life; (4) they are the link between the worlds and are the places where one meets with and receives the instructions of God; (5) they are central to the economic structure of the society and assure abundance and prosperity; (6) the temple and tree of life are associated with the sacral meal; (7) the temple plays a legit imizing political role; and, finally, (8) both are places of sacrifice.

The full article is posted at the website for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute.  Click here for article.

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