The Book of Mormon (properly titled The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ) is a sacred book of scripture that testifies of Jesus Christ and explains the Lord’s dealings with His people in the ancient Americas. Latter-day Saints believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God and a companion testament to the Holy Bible. Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon into English in the 1820s, and others have since translated the English version into dozens of languages. The book contains a promise that whoever reads it sincerely, ponders its contents and asks God if it is true will receive that knowledge by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon is a collection of sacred writings by ancient prophets, except these prophets lived upon the American continent. God commanded these prophets to keep a record of their teachings, prophecies, missionary labors, and wars so that we could “know concerning the doings of the Lord in other lands, among people of old” (1 Nephi 19:22). The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith that the Book of Mormon contained the “record of a fallen people” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:9), who would serve as a warning to people of our day. The Book of Mormon is accepted by the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the word of God, along with the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.
The ancient American prophet Mormon, for whom the book was named, wrote that its purpose is to remind people what God has done for His people anciently and, most importantly, to convince all people “that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God” (Book of Mormon title page). The prophet Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion” and that a person “would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 194).
In the fourth century A.D., God commanded a prophet named Mormon to compile the sacred records of his people, who had lived in the Americas for nearly a thousand years. Mormon was also a military and political leader, like Moses or Joshua in the Old Testament. His people had rejected the Lord and were fighting a devastating war. He compiled all the records and wove them into one narrative, engraving it on metal plates. In his old age, Mormon gave the records to his son, Moroni, who finished compiling the history and added some of his own teachings about Christ. Moroni ended with this appeal:
- Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen. (Moroni 10:32-34).
Moroni then closed the records and buried them in a hill, along with a few other sacred items. Approximately 1,400 years later, Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823, as an angel of God and told him about the record. He told Joseph that “there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent,” and that it contained the “fullness of the everlasting Gospel […] as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants” (Joseph Smith—History 1:34). The angel reappeared two more times that night, repeating the message and adding to it, so that Joseph could not forget what was said. The next day, the angel appeared to him once again, commanding Joseph to tell his father about the vision. Joseph did so, and his father confirmed through the power of the Holy Spirit, that the message was from God.
Through the next four years the Angel appeared and taught Joseph Smith in order to prepare the young man to translate the record. Finally in 1827, on the twenty-second of September, Joseph was able to obtain the record. Heavy persecution made it difficult for him to work on the translation, and he frequently had to hide the book. Initially, Joseph’s wife, Emma, helped as scribe. Joseph would translate, using sacred instruments called Urim and Thummin, which ancient Old Testament prophets had also used. Emma would write what he dictated. Emma later said: “Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates […] it is marvelous to me, ‘marvelous and a wonder,’ as much so as to any one else.” (McConkie, Remembering Joseph, p 303).
Eventually, fame and rumors spread and this led to persecution, but also to inquiries. Many humble, curious people sought out Joseph and he always answered their questions. One of these was Oliver Cowdery, who served as the major scribe for the translation of the book and as one of the witnesses to the book’s truth.
The burden of persecution and gossip, which had forced Joseph to move around while translating, was such that Joseph prayed to God for help in bearing this burden. God revealed to him that others could see the golden plates. These three men, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer, saw an angel who showed them the plates and commanded them to testify about the truth of the book. Their testimony, called The Testimony of Three Witnesses, is affixed to the front of every edition of the Book of Mormon. It says, in part:
- [W]e, through the grace of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this records […] And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us. (Testimony of Three Witnesses, Introduction to the Book of Mormon)
Later, eight others also saw and felt the records and testified that the record was real and true. Their testimony, The Testimony of Eight Witnesses, is also affixed to every Book of Mormon. Not one of these men ever denied their testimony even though they went through many trials and persecutions because of it. None of them got wealth, popularity, or power by sharing this testimony. In fact, some of them lost nearly everything, but nevertheless, they all testified again and again that the Book of Mormon was true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet.
After the translation was finished, Joseph Smith, Martin Harris, a well-respected farmer from the area, and Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother, prepared the manuscript for publication. Martin Harris was so convinced of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon that he mortgaged his farm for $3,000 to pay for the publication. The Book was published by E.B. Grandin in Palmyra, New York in early spring, 1830 when Joseph Smith was only 25 years old.
The Book of Mormon went forth to flood the earth and “convince[. . .] the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.” Since 1830, the Book of Mormon has been translated into nearly 110 languages, either completely or in part, including Spanish, German, Turkish, Japanese, Russian, Hindi, Arabic, Hmong, Zulu, Tagalog, Mongolian, Braille, and many others. More than 100 million copies have been bought or distributed throughout the entire earth. If you would like to get your own copy of this marvelous record please check the Church’s official website for a Free Book of Mormon
The format of The Book of Mormon includes separate books written or dealing with different authors who were all prophets of God just as Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Paul. There are fifteen books:
- First Nephi
- Second Nephi
- Words of Mormon
- Third Nephi
- Fourth Nephi
The order is generally chronological, starting with Nephi, who lived around 600 B.C., continuing to Moroni who lived around 400 A.D. The Book of Ether, inserted by Moroni near the end, is an abridgement of an ancient record of a people called Jaredites who predated the Nephites, that is descendants of the first Nephi, by many hundreds of years. The history and story told in the Book of Mormon is a complex account of emigrations, wars, preaching, rebellion, revolutions, kings, queens, and wicked bandits. Woven into this narrative are the righteous preaching, sermons, and deeds of holy men and women who testified that Jesus Christ lived and died to save all mankind.
The Book of Mormon can be broken down into three basic sections:
The Small Plates of Nephi:
This covers First Nephi through the Book of Omni and covers the period from about 600 B.C. to about 130 B.C. It starts with the story of a prophet, Lehi, and it tells how this prophet, along with his family and many others, was led by God to the Americas. Traveling from Jerusalem, after crossing the Arabian Peninsula, this small group of faithful finally reached the Americas by ship. Near the beginning of this period the community split into two main groups called the Nephites and the Lamanites (from the names of two of Lehi’s sons). The Nephites and Lamanites grew into two separate civilizations at war with each other for most of the period covered in the Book of Mormon. One of the Nephite prophets explains that there were in fact many different groups, but he only distinguished between two, Nephites, those friendly to the people of God, and Lamanites, those who opposed the people of God (Jacob 1:13-14). Writers after him follow this tradition.
The Large Plates of Nephi:
This section includes the abridgement and records of Mormon, for whom the book was named. He took the records of the people and summarized their history. This covers the books from Words of Mormon, which are an introduction to his abridgement, through Mormon chapter 7. The books deal with the period from about 130 B.C. to sometime after 400 A.D. They include many accounts of preaching and wars. The prophet Alma and his son called Alma the Younger, are central figures for the first part of this history. Alma was converted by another prophet named Abinadi. He and his son became great missionaries and in their days many Lamanites were converted to the Lord. After this period of righteousness, there followed a succession of wars, civil wars, and rebellions that nearly destroyed the Nephites. The Book of Helaman tells how a wicked group, whom the Nephites called Gadiaton robbers, destroyed the government and plunged the whole area into confusion.
After great destruction and many deaths, the most important moment in the Book of Mormon comes. Sometime after His resurrection, the Savior appeared to the Nephites and spent many days teaching the Gospel and healing the sick and wounded. This is narrated in chapters 11 to 30 of Third Nephi. Jesus appeared to the surviving Nephites and declared:
- Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.
~3 Nephi 11:10-11
Christ then allowed each person to personally come forward and see him, one by one, until everyone at that first meeting saw him, felt the prints of the nails in his hands and feet, and knew that He was their Savior. Jesus then instructed the Nephites in the Gospel and many other things pertaining to His Kingdom. He set up a church similar to the one He established in Jerusalem before His death. He then ascended to heaven. His righteous disciples then preached to all the people surrounding them until they converted many. For four generations they enjoyed universal peace and righteousness.
Hundreds of years later, the people became wicked again, and Mormon was commanded to compile his record before the last righteous Nephites were killed. He led the army in a series of wars until at last nearly all the Nephites were either killed, scattered, or had joined their foes. Finally, Mormon gave the record to Moroni who completed the history and added many other teachings about the Savior and His Gospel. He ends with the invitation to come to Christ quoted above.
The Book of Ether
Before he completed the record, Moroni abridged and inserted a record written by a Prophet named Ether who predated the Nephites. The Jaredites originated at the time of the Tower of Babel and traveled to America many thousands of years before Lehi’s family arrived. God had sent them many righteous prophets, but by the time the Nephites arrived the Jaredite civilization had been destroyed in a civil war. Ether, the last prophet of the Jaredites, wrote a brief history of his people which was found and translated by later societies. The book contains many prophecies and teachings.
Major Teachings of the Book of Mormon
While no summary could possibly tell everything that a book as rich and complex as the Book of Mormon teaches, this section will show a few quotations to show some of the major principles and teachings that are restored or confirmed to us through the Book of Mormon.
There is a God:
- “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motions, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (Alma 30:44)
Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the World:
- “And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth;” (Alma 22:14)
- “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26)
- “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.” (3 Nephi 11:10-11)
The Importance and Necessity of Repentance:
- “And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (3 Nephi 11:32-33)
The True Nature of Grace:
- “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23)
Faith, Repentance, Baptism, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost are the Path to God:
- “Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do: for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 31:17)
Men Have the Freedom to Choose:
- “And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whoseoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.” (Helaman 14:30)
- “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to chose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27)
God Always Sends Prophets:
- “For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing. And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth that Christ should come.” (Moroni 7:22-23).
Israel, God’s people, Will Be Gathered Again
- “And now behold, I say unto you that when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled.” (3 Nephi 29:1)
- “Yea, then will he remember the isles of the sea; yea, and all the people who are of the house of Israel, will I gather in, saith the Lord, according to the words of the prophet Zenos, from the four quarters of the earth.” (1 Nephi 19:16)
This brief list of quotations shows the power and clarity of the teachings of the Book of Mormon about Jesus Christ and his Gospel. There are many other powerful teachings which can, as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “bring a man closer to God” if he will follow them. President Gordon B. Hinckley, former President and prophet to the Church said:
- Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will observe this simple program [to read the Book of Mormon], regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.” (Ensign, Aug. 2005)
Is the Book of Mormon true?
The Book of Mormon challenges its readers to discover if it’s really what it claims to be, a true book written by ancient prophets in the American continent which contains the fullness of the everlasting Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
At the end of the Book of Mormon, in the 10th chapter of Moroni, verses 3-5 we read:
- Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
- 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, 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.
This passage explains how a sincere researcher of the truth can discover by himself if the book is what it claims to be. By reading its content, meditating its words, and finally praying with a sincere and open heart, every person can come to know the truth of the Book of Mormon. In one of the last parts of the Book of Mormon it is explained that readers will “receive no witness until after the trial of their faith” (Ether 12:6).
If the book is true, then Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that the church that was restored through him, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indeed the kingdom of God in the earth that was established again to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.