The Gold Plates were a combination of records
My intent in writing a blog is to introduce sincere investigators to the Book of Mormon. I want to help others learn about the Book of Mormon. I hope my readers will begin to read the Book of Mormon on their own and use this blog to help them in understanding it. In my last blog I talked about the Gold Plates, their appearance and construction. This blog will continue on with the content of the Gold Plates. The Gold Plates were a unique compilation of other records put together by Mormon. The following is a short list of the records which are included in the Gold Plates. I’ll give a description of each in this blog.
- Large plates of Nephi
- Small plates of Nephi
- The Plates of Brass
- The Plates of Ether
- The personal writings of Mormon and Moroni
There were “many records of many kinds”
The Title Page of the Book of Mormon starts thus: “An account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi.” As I stated in my one of my previous blogs, Mormon, a great prophet/military general, lived around 315 to 385 AD. He had access to the many records written by various other prophets from the time that Lehi and his family left Jerusalem around 600 B.C. These records were engraved on metal plates. That’s almost 1000 years of history! He had a divine commission to select from among those numerous records that which was to comprise the Book of Mormon. This was his life’s work. It is because of this divine commission to assemble the plates that the Book of Mormon is named after him. His work was a work of love. It was a work directed by God. Mormon gives us some idea of the extensiveness of records which he had access to when he writes the following:
Helaman 3:13 And now there are many records kept of the proceedings of this people, by many of this people, which are particular and very large, concerning them.
14 But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work.
15 But behold, there are many books and many records of every kind, and they have been kept chiefly by the Nephites.
Let’s start at the beginning!
The Book of Mormon starts with the family of Lehi being directed by God to leave Jerusalem around the year 600 BC because of its prophesied imminent destruction. In 587 BC Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, pillaged Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and carried many Jews captive to Babylon. That is the beginning setting of the Book of Mormon. Lehi’s son, Nephi, begins the narrative of his family’s journey into the wilderness close to the Red Sea and their eventual journey to the “promised land” of America.
1 I, NEPHI, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.
4 For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.
Thus begins the Book of Mormon. Nephi commences his record on what is simply called the plates of Nephi.
Nephi is commanded to make two records
Nephi commenced his record on what is simply called the plates of Nephi. A few years later he was commanded to make an additional record. He describes this commandment in 1st Nephi chapter 9. This additional record was “for the special purpose that there should be an account engraven of the ministry of my people.” The first record was to contain more of a history of the “reign of the kings and their wars and contentions.” For clarity, it is referred to as the large plates of Nephi. The additional record is known as the small plates of Nephi. Although Nephi happy to comply with the Lord’s request, he records that he didn’t know the Lord’s purpose in this request. He writes, “Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.” The next verse of scripture typifies Nephi’s faithful attitude. He writes:
1 Nephi 9:6 The Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words.
The Lord indeed had a “wise purpose” in asking Nephi to make two records. Almost two thousand years when Joseph is translating the plates, part of the manuscript, containing his translated material to that point was stolen. That story deserves its own blog post! It will be forthcoming.
The Small Plates of Nephi
The small plates of Nephi, include 1st and 2nd Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom and Omni. In contrast to the “large plates of Nephi” they are not an abridgment. They are included in our current Book of Mormon exactly as they were written by the original authors. Historically the small plates of Nephi cover the same time period as the large plates up to the reign of King Benjamin around 130 BC. They are 143 pages and cover 470 years, although most of the material is concentrated on the writings of Nephi, his brother Jacob and Jacob’s son, Enos. Those three books occupy 138 pages and only cover about 200 years. As you can see 270 years are covered quickly in only five pages. The small plates of Nephi are a priceless treasure. Along with the historical narrative of Lehi’s leaving Jerusalem and traveling to the promised land of America, Nephi includes some remarkable prophecies, dreams and visions of both himself and his father. Prophecies of the coming of Christ, his ministry, death and resurrection are interwoven skillfully throughout the small plates. Jacob adds some important doctrinal chapters. In inspired language he assures us that the Jews worshiped the Father in the name of Christ.
Jacob 4:4-5 For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.
5 Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name.
The Large Plates of Nephi
The large plates of Nephi contain the books of Mosiah, Alma, 3rd and 4th Nephi. This section of the Book of Mormon begins in 130 BC and covers the very critical years preceding the coming of the Savior into the world. Mosiah, Alma and 3rd Nephi combined are 320 pages, but only cover about 165 years. This is a very concentrated focus on the teachings of the prophets, their missionary labors, the intrigues of war, the political machinations and the faithfulness and apostasy of both the Lamanites and the Nephites, and the preparation of a people to receive the Savior. Fourth Nephi covers the time after the coming of Jesus until the Nephites fall into complete apostasy, about 320 years. It is a very short, but powerful synopsis of these years. After Jesus three day personal ministry they created a ideal society in which they had their goods in common. There were “no poor among them,” and the love of God prevailed.
4 Nephi 1:2 – 3
2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
This society lasted for almost 200 years! It shows us that through following the teachings of Jesus Christ perfect society can exist.
4 Nephi 1:15 – 18
15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in aone, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
18 And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings;
Unfortunately after 200 years the society started to break down through pride love of wealth. They stopped having the goods in common. Individual wealth was stressed and class distinctions developed. These are powerful teachings for our day as we are to prepare for the Second Coming of the Savior.
The Plates of Brass
Although the Plates of Brass do not have their own “book,” they are quoted extensively throughout the Book of Mormon, particularly by Nephi. What are the Plates of Brass? Why were they in Lehi’s possession? Lehi was told in a dream that his life was in imminent danger and that he and his family should leave Jerusalem immediately. Lehi was one of many prophets living in Jerusalem in this dangerous time. He has testified of the wickedness of Jerusalem and prophesied of its destruction. Because his teachings were so unpopular, the Jews threatened to take his life. Lehi’s family left hastily leaving all their possessions. They took only their food, tents and bare necessities. After they had traveled far enough that their safety was secured the Lord spoke to Lehi again in a dream and told him that his sons needed to go back to Jerusalem for the Brass Plates. The Brass Plates were a record of the Jews and the words of the prophets. Nephi describes them thus:
1 Nephi 5:11 – 14
11 And he beheld that they did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents;
12 And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah;
13 And also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.
14 And it came to pass that my father, Lehi, also found upon the plates of brass a genealogy of his fathers;
The Brass Plates were their scriptures. They were essential for their spiritual survival. They were a record of God’s dealings with his children. They contained the gospel of Jesus Christ. They contained God’s laws and his words through the words of his prophets. From these Lehi taught his children. From these Nephi, his brother Jacob, and later in the Book of Mormon, Jesus himself, taught the people from the words of Isaiah. Later in the Book of Mormon Alma teaches the importance of the Brass Plates and their other scriptures.
Alma 37:8 – 9
8 And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.
9 Yea, I say unto you, were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are on these plates, Ammon and his brethren could not have convinced so many thousands of the Lamanites of the incorrect tradition of their fathers; yea, these records and their words brought them unto repentance; that is, they brought them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and to rejoice in Jesus Christ their Redeemer.
Nephi also includes several chapters from the book of Isaiah, almost verbatim to our current King James Version of the Bible. Isaiah lived about 100 years before Nephi and was probably the most influential prophet in Nephi’s life. He read and understood Isaiah’s prophecies of the coming Messiah and wanted his people to know and understand them. Nephi wrote:
1 Nephi 19:23 And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.
The Plates of Ether
The book of Ether in the Book of Mormon is a unique contribution to the Book of Mormon in that it is a history of an entirely different group of people than the rest of the book. It is a record that was found on this continent during the explorations of a group of Nephites during the reign of King Mosiah. During their explorations they found “a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed.” Searching among the ruins they found a record of this people engraved on plates of ore. After the explorations they returned to their king and presented the record to him. It is a fascinating account of a group of people who were directed by God to migrate to this continent around the year 2200 BC. This record was included with the Nephite records which were handed down through the prophets. Moroni, Mormon’s son, later abridged this record and it is know as the book of Ether.
The personal writings of Mormon and Moroni
The Book of Mormon concludes with the personal writings of Mormon and Moroni, each with a separate book. Mormon witnesses and records the final destruction of his people, the Nephites. His record is a sad account of a once righteous people who were prepared for the personal ministry of Jesus Christ to a violent, degraded, uncivilized people who delighted in bloodshed. It has much to teach us about the effects of seeking revenge and refusing to call upon God.
Mormon is killed by the Lamanites and his son, Moroni finishes his father’s record with some firm admonitions for our day. He writes “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.” He bears witness of him who is to bring this record forth in our day, Joseph Smith, “And blessed be he that shall bring this thing to light; for it shall be brought out of darkness unto light, according to the word of God; yea, it shall be brought out of the earth, and it shall shine forth out of darkness, and come unto the knowledge of the people; and it shall be done by the power of God.” He bears witness of Jesus Christ, miracles and faith, encourages his readers to “Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.”
Moroni adds his abridgment of the Plates of Ether to the record, then adds some precious additional writings of his father in the form of letters and sermons.
Moroni buries the plates
Moroni wanders for some years before he buries the plates. The heading to the book of Moroni suggests that he was alive for 20 more years. It was a time of bitter war among the remaining Lamanites. It must have been a lonesome time for Moroni. He records:
Moroni 1:2 – 3
2 For behold, their wars are exceedingly fierce among themselves; and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ.
3 And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ; wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life.
Before he buries the plates he closes the record with an invitation to his readers to pray and find out for themselves the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
Moroni 10:4 – 5
4 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.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
Come unto Christ
If the Book of Mormon is another witness of Jesus Christ, which it is, then you would expect its opening and closing words to bear witness of Christ. The very first chapter of the 1st Nephi begins with a vision which Lehi has of Christ.
1 Nephi 1:8 – 10
And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.
9 And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his aluster was above that of the sun at noon-day.
10 And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.
The Book of Mormon closes with Moroni’s eloquent and urgent plea for his readers to come unto Christ.
Moroni 10:32 – 33
32 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.
33 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.
I bear testimony that I have put Moroni’s promise to the test. I have read the Book of Mormon many times. I have asked God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if it is true. I have received confirmations to my heart, mind and soul that it is true. I invite my readers to do the same.