I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.
—the Prophet Joseph Smith, speaking to the Nauvoo City Council and members of the quorum of the twelve apostles on November 28, 1841.
The Book of Mormon is the preeminent volume of scripture for this day. It was intended to be studied and followed as the means to reassert a covenant between God and man. By following its precepts, men and women can return to God’s presence where they are endowed with light and truth and can receive intelligence and understanding. All are invited to make that return. The Book of Mormon is an authentic and ancient text written by prophetic messengers whose words ought to be studied; they can and should change one’s life.
The Book of Mormon teaches man that he can come into the presence of God in this life. God wants to reveal himself; knowledge of God is the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is nothing greater than Christ, the originator and finisher of man’s faith. All have equal access to the Lord. The conditions are the same for everyone: forsake sins; come to Christ; call on his name; obey his voice; and keep his commandments. The Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel — a collection of testimonies about Jesus Christ as man’s personal Redeemer and Guide to salvation and, in turn, Christ’s role as universal Savior and Redeemer of mankind. In other words, the ascent to God is the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see T&C 69:3). The Book of Mormon came forth as a record of a fallen people in order to testify of this great work of Christ. It provides an understanding of the personal ministry of Jesus Christ to all his sheep, wherever they are.
The Book of Mormon points to a recovery of the covenants made to Abraham. It was intended to restore knowledge that would make it again possible for mankind to enter into a covenantal relationship with God, vindicating the promises that were made to the Fathers. The Book of Mormon reveals that God made a covenant with Abraham in the beginning and that, at the end, God intends to uphold that covenant by changing gentiles into the house of Israel, by covenant; and that through the gentiles, he will gather in the scattered branches of Israel (see 1 Nephi 7:3; 2 Nephi 7:2–3; 3 Nephi 7:5). Therefore, the Book of Mormon must be received by covenant to accept the gospel given to Abraham and to participate in what the Lord has set out to do in this day.
The Book of Mormon helps contextualize Isaiah, Psalms, and Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, as well as the prophecies about the destruction of Babylon, represented by the head of gold that Nebuchadnezzar saw that will be ground to dust. It foretells the coming of the Kingdom of God on the earth and the return of the Lord in his glory, along with the prophetic requirements that will come forth to precede that event. It includes prophecies about a kingdom — an incipient planting, a return of a religious body, small though it may be—that will build a New Jerusalem, an antecedent to the establishment of Zion; and bears witness that the Old Testament prophecies about Zion and Jerusalem at the time of the Lord’s return are not speaking of a single location where the Lord’s people will gather. When the Lord returns, the sun will never set on his kingdom. One kingdom will be established on one side of the world in Jerusalem, and the other will be established in the Americas — a New Jerusalem; that is, Zion. And it shall come to pass in the last days — when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it—many people shall go and say, Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:6).
The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon was compiled from several sources, all of which are ancient records kept on metal plates. Though several of the sets of plates overlapped as to time period or the group keeping the record, each is unique in purpose and content. The text references the following plates, all of which contributed material to the Book of Mormon:
- The Plates of Brass are a record containing the five books of Moses…and also a record of the Jews from the beginning…and also the prophecies of the holy prophets up to and including some of the prophecies of Jeremiah (see 1 Nephi 1:10, 22). These plates were taken from Jerusalem by Nephi, son of Lehi, and carried to the American continent with Lehi’s family.
- The Small Plates of Nephi are a record started by Nephi, concerning the events leading up to and including his family’s travels from Jerusalem to the American continent, as well as the ministry of Nephi and his brother Jacob. Subsequent prophets and writers continued this record until the plates were full. Their purpose was to record the ministry and the things of God, rather than a secular history (see 1 Nephi 2:1, 14; 2 Nephi 3:6; Words of Mormon 1:2–3). Their content was included, unabridged, to replace the material contained in the 116 pages of manuscript that were lost in the early days of the Book of Mormon translation work. They encompass the books of 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, and Omni.
- The Large Plates of Nephi are a historical record kept by Nephi, son of Lehi, and subsequently added to by other writers. This record contains more secular information than the Small Plates of Nephi, including the reigns of the kings, and the wars and contentions of the Nephite people (see 1 Nephi 2:14). These records were abridged by Mormon to create his record (see Plates of Mormon and Book of Mormon Title Page).
- The Plates of Ether are a record of an earlier civilization called the Jaredite people who left the Tower of Babel at the time of the confusion of tongues and traveled to the American continent. Their record was recorded by the prophet Ether on twenty-four gold plates (see Mosiah 5:12; Ether 1:1). Their civilization ended with the destruction of their people, during the lifetime of Nephi, son of Lehi.
- The Plates of Mormon is the abridgment, made by Mormon, of the Large Plates of Nephi and were subsequently added to by Mormon’s son, Moroni, who also included the above Small Plates of Nephi and an abridgment of the Plates of Ether. Mormon’s commentary and abridgment of the Large Plates of Nephi begins at Words of Mormon and ends at Mormon 3:5. Moroni’s completion of the record includes Mormon 4, Ether, and Moroni. The Plates of Mormon were then buried by Moroni ca. 421 a.d., after the destruction of the Nephite civilization. These plates were given to Joseph Smith in 1827 by the resurrected Nephi, son of Lehi. While in the possession of Joseph Smith, the Plates of Mormon were commonly called the “Gold Plates” or “Gold Bible.” The unsealed portion of the plates was translated by the gift and power of God, and the sealed portion of the plates was left untranslated. When the work of translation was completed, Joseph reburied the plates (see 2 Nephi 11:20).
The Book of Mormon is primarily the work of three authors: Nephi (son of Lehi), Mormon, and Moroni. Nephi’s small plates are included without abridgment, while the rest of the record consists of Mormon and Moroni’s abridgments of prior records written by other authors, as well as their own writings. Because the majority of the abridging work was done by Mormon, the Book of Mormon bears his name. The translation of the plates was given to Joseph Smith by the gift and power of God. Though Joseph Smith was initially listed as author for copyright purposes, he claimed only to have received the translation and did not claim original authorship of any part of the book. Joseph stated that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, because it was received directly from God. All other volumes of scripture are vastly inferior due to the changes and emendations that have been made to them by men. The Book of Mormon is the covenant that mankind has been condemned for neglecting, and it is a great loss when it is defined as just another volume of scripture or just another book. It contains the means whereby mankind can return into the presence of the Lord.
The Book of Mormon stands as an independent witness of Jesus Christ. Its original publication came before the establishment of a church, and therefore, accepting the Book of Mormon does not require one to be institutionally loyal to any organization or man. It was written unto all nations (see Book of Mormon Title Page). The reader is invited to study the contents of the Book of Mormon and to experiment upon Moroni’s petition, found in the final chapter: And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true. And if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, and he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the holy ghost. And by the power of the holy ghost, ye may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:2). God, who cannot lie, will keep His word.