Question: "Who are the Three Nephites in Mormonism?"
Answer: In Mormonism, the Three Nephites are three wise and kindly men who, from ancient times to today, have helped spread Mormon theology. Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, believe that, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, He came to the New World to spread the gospel message to the indigenous peoples. Mormons believe Jesus came to the New World to gather the “other sheep” into His fold (John 10:16). While in the New World, Jesus selected three men from the Nephite people to become His disciples. Mormons also teach that Jesus was married, had children, and after His resurrection received the fullness of Godhood—none of which agree with the Bible’s record of Him.
According to the Book of Mormon, the Nephites were an ancient people in the Americas descended from the Jewish prophet Nephi, son of Lehi. The Nephites separated from the Lamanites (2 Nephi 5:5–17) and were saved because of the prayers of the righteous (Alma 62:40). According to 3 Nephi 11:1—28:12, Jesus taught and ministered among the Nephites. After they were converted, they enjoyed many blessings, but then they became proud and vain (4 Nephi 1:43). Violence and bloodshed ensued (Mormon 2:8), and they became so wicked that Mormon, a prophet, refused to lead them (Mormon 3:9–11). Most of the Nephites were put to death (Mormon 6:7–15). The moral of the story is that the Nephites were destroyed because of their wickedness and pride (D&C 3:18, 39). It is important to note that the Bible never mentions Nephites, Lamanites, or the prophet Mormon, and it never suggests that ancient Hebrews settled in the New World.
As for the Three Nephite disciples of Jesus, they desired immortality so that they could “bring the souls of men unto Jesus, while the world shall stand,” i.e., till the second coming of Jesus Christ. According to the Book of Mormon, they were caught up into heaven, although Mormon was told that there would be another change made at the second coming of Christ to give them immortality. The Three Nephites are understood to be “translated beings,” persons who do not experience pain or death until their resurrection to immortality. Mormons consider Enoch, Moses, Elijah, and the apostle John to also be “translated beings.” They refer to John 21:20–22 as “evidence” that John did not die and that he is still roaming the earth, waiting for Jesus to return (a notion John himself dismissed in John 21:23).
According to Mormonism, the Three Nephites “did minister unto all the people, uniting as many to the church as would believe in their preaching; baptizing them, and as many as were baptized did receive the Holy Ghost.” The Nephites’ purpose was to minister to all the nations on the American continents (3 Nephi 28:27–29). They also suffered severe persecution from those who did not believe. The Three Nephites are still operating in the world today: they can appear and disappear at will, perform miracles, and increase the ranks of the Mormon faithful.
Mormon, who supposedly lived about four hundred years after the Three Nephites were blessed by Jesus, wrote, “I have seen them, and they have ministered unto me.” Mormon intended to write the names of the Three Nephites (possibly Enoch, Elijah, and John), but God forbade him to do so.
None of the history recorded in the Book of Mormon can be substantiated from the Bible or from archaeology. There is absolutely no evidence, outside the Book of Mormon itself, that Nephites ever existed, that they were Hebrews, or that they came from Jerusalem to South America circa 600 BC (1 Nephi 18:23–25). Even worse than the history is the theology of Mormonism, which directly contradicts the Bible in several areas. Contrary to what Mormonism teaches, we will never be gods; there is only one gospel message, once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3); we are not saved by baptism or any other good work; and there is no such thing as Nephites.
(Editor’s note: many of the references in our articles on Mormonism are Mormon publications, such as Mormon Doctrine, Articles of Faith, Doctrines of Salvation, History of the Church, Doctrine and Covenants, and so forth. Others are from the Book of Mormon itself, e.g., books such as 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, and Alma.)