What Is the Book of Lehi?

The first 116 pages which Joseph Smith translated came from a record known as the Book of Lehi. As he wrote in the preface to the first edition of the Book of Mormon:

I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon (“Preface to Book of Mormon, circa August 1829,” The Joseph Smith Papers).

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Preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon

The prophet Mormon had access to an enormous collection of sacred records which chronicled the entire 1,000-year history of his people. His predecessor, Ammaron, had charged him with keeping the records safe and writing about events during his lifetime (Mormon 1:2-4). At some point, he decided not only to add his own record, but also to write a history of his people, using as his source material the texts which he had in his custody. The first portion of this abridgment covered the history of his people from the time the prophet Lehi led his family out of Jerusalem (about 600 B.C.) until the time that Benjamin became king of the combined Nephite and Mulekite civilization (about 130 B.C.). However, after completing this abridgment, Mormon discovered a different set of plates which he had not previously read. These were known as “The Small Plates of Nephi,” and they covered approximately the same period of history as the portion he had already abridged (Words of Mormon 1:3-6).

For some reason he couldn’t fully understand, Mormon felt compelled to include these plates in his record. He didn’t know why, so he wrote a short editorial note explaining the redundancy to the reader and admitting that he didn’t understand why he was doing it. “I do this for a wise purpose,” he wrote, “for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will” (Words of Mormon 1:7).

Mormon’s abridgment of those years was called “The Book of Lehi,” and Joseph Smith translated it first. However, due to some errors in judgement on his part and on the part of his scribe, Martin Harris, those 116 pages were lost. The Lord instructed him not to retranslate those pages but to simply continue where he had left off. He explained that those pages had fallen into the hands of malicious people who would try to use them against Joseph. Therefore, he should simply replace that part of the history with the version contained on the plates of Nephi, which Mormon had simply inserted, unedited, into his record. (Doctrine & Covenants 10:8-45).

I’m grateful that the prophet Mormon followed the instructions he received by the Spirit of the Lord to insert the small plates of Nephi into his record. Today, I will remember that the Lord can make provision for the challenges we will face in the future, even challenges caused by our own errors. As He told Joseph Smith just after the translation of the Book of Lehi was lost, “The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught” (Doctrine & Covenants 3:1).

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Who Wrote the Title Page of the Book of Mormon?

In the History of the Church, Joseph Smith made an important clarification about the Title Page of the Book of Mormon:

I wish also to mention here, that the Title Page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; the language of the whole running same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said Title Page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation (The Joseph Smith Papers, History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]).

Although Joseph Smith doesn’t specify the author, he makes it clear this page is part of the ancient record and that he was the translator, not the author. Because the text was found on the very last page of the plates, it seems likely that the final author, Moroni, wrote it. To emphasize this point, in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon, Moroni’s name was appended to the title page:

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I have written about some of the similarities between the final chapter of the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10) and the Title Page, which suggests to me that Moroni might have written both at approximately the same time.

It is worth noting that, although the words are of ancient authorship, the punctuation and paragraphing were added by the printer and have been adjusted over time. In the original 1830 edition, for example, the phrase about the Book of Ether was disconnected from the phrase which explains what it is:

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Although this has been corrected in subsequent editions, the two paragraph layout remains in place. However, as Daniel H. Ludlow (formerly a professor of religion at Brigham Young University) pointed out, this format does not match the content very well. For example, the current version of the second paragraph begins with a description of the Book of Ether, then pivots to a statement of the three purposes of the Book of Mormon, and ends with a warning to those who condemn the book. Dr. Ludlow suggested instead a six-paragraph structure (Daniel H. Ludlow, “The Title Page,” in First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 19–34).

The following is my attempt to represent the structure of the content. This outline shows how the title page answers a series of basic questions about the book:

The Book of Mormon

  1. [What is it?]  An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi—Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—
  2. [Who is the audience?] Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—
  3. [How was it written?] Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—
  4. [How was it preserved and made available to us?] Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.
  5. [What else is included?] An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also, which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven—
  6. [What are the purposes of the book?]
    1. Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers;
    2. and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—
    3. And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations—
  7. [What if I find errors in the book?] And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.

I am grateful that the Title Page of the Book of Mormon, like the rest of the book, was written by inspiration and translated by the gift and power of God. I am grateful for a concise description of the content, the audience, and the purposes of the book, as well as a testimony that the book was written, preserved, and transmitted to us by the power of God.

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Why Does the Book of Mormon Quote from the Bible?

Prophets quote other prophets. That’s part of how they teach. This serves two purposes:

  1. It emphasizes the unity of the word of God.
  2. It allows the Lord to build upon things we’ve already learned to reveal more truth to us.

During His mortal ministry, the Savior frequently quoted from the scriptures available in His time, particularly the five books of Moses, Psalms, and Isaiah (“What Old Testament books are most quoted by the Savior?” Richard Lloyd Anderson, Ensign, October 1973). When He appeared on the American continent, He introduced himself as “Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world” (3 Nephi 11:10).

The New Testament authors also build upon the teachings of prophets who preceded them. One of my favorite examples is Hebrews 3 and 4, in which the Apostle Paul discusses Psalm 95:7-11. The Bible Dictionary provides an extensive list of quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament.

One of the stated purposes of the Book of Mormon is to convince us that “Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations” (Title Page). One way the book does this is by emphasizing the unity of doctrine taught by prophets in different geographical regions and in different time periods.

Some biblical quotations in the Book of Mormon come from the brass plates which Lehi and his family carried from Jerusalem to the American continent. For example, Nephi and Jacob both quoted from the book of Isaiah and then commented on those words (2 Nephi 6:4, 2 Nephi 11:2, 8). Other quotations were given by Jesus Christ during His visit to the American continent, including the Sermon on the Mount (3 Nephi 12-14) and two chapters from the book of Malachi (3 Nephi 24-25). Still other quotations have unknown sources, such as Mormon’s quotation of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in his sermon on faith, hope, and charity (Moroni 7:45), or Moroni’s list of spiritual gifts which mirrors a similar list given by the Apostle Paul (Moroni 10:9-16, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10). Even though we don’t know how they received those specific words, we do know that they had been taught by Jesus Christ and by the three Nephite disciples and that they had seen our day (Mormon 8:10-11, 35).

As President Russell M. Nelson has reminded us, the Book of Mormon affirms truths, fulfills biblical prophecies, clarifies our understanding, and reveals truths which were previously unknown.  Quotations from biblical prophets help Book of Mormon authors to fulfill all of these purposes (“The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life Be Like without It?” General Conference, October 2017).

Today, I will remember that God’s truth is not limited to one region of the world or to one time period. I will be grateful that prophets build upon one another’s teachings, so that we can receive a composite gospel message which transcends the limitations of any single messenger. I will strive to follow their example, by building my own spiritual knowledge on a firm foundation of revealed truth.

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How Does the Book of Mormon Complement the Bible?

Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi tells his son Joseph about a seer who, in a future time, will have “power to bring forth [God’s] word.” This seer will also have power “to the convincing them of [His] word, which shall have already gone forth among them” (2 Nephi 3:11).

The seer was Joseph Smith. The new scripture was the Book of Mormon. And the word of God which had already gone forth was the Bible.

Lehi says that these two books will “grow together” and fulfill the following functions:

  1. “Confounding of false doctrines”
  2. “Laying down of contentions, and establishing peace”
  3. “Bringing [people] to the knowledge of their fathers, and also to the knowledge of [God’s] covenants”
  • (2 Nephi 3:12).
  • Near the end of the book, Mormon discusses the relationship between these two volumes of scripture. Speaking to the descendants of the people described in the Book of Mormon, he says: “This [the Book of Mormon] is written for the intent that ye may believe that [the Bible]; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them” (Mormon 7:9).

    As Elder M. Russell Ballard has taught:

    We believe, revere, and love the Holy Bible. We do have additional sacred scripture, including the Book of Mormon, but it supports the Bible, never substituting for it…. The Book of Mormon does not dilute nor diminish nor de-emphasize the Bible. On the contrary, it expands, extends, and exalts it. The Book of Mormon testifies of the Bible, and both testify of Christ (“The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” General Conference, April 2007).

    Today, I will be grateful for the combined message of the Bible and the Book of Mormon as dual witnesses of Jesus Christ. I will be grateful that the word of God is unified and that different books of scripture complement and reinforce one another.

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    Why Is the Book of Mormon Written in King James English?

    At the beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi tells us that he is writing in the language of his father, “which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2). From the outset, we see the gospel message being rendered in a form that is separate from everyday speech.

    Nearly 500 years later, King Benjamin requires his sons to learn “the language of his fathers.” He emphasizes to them that Lehi would not have been able to read the engravings on the brass plates and teach the gospel to his children if he had not “been taught in the language of the Egyptians” (Mosiah 1:2, 4).

    Many times in the Book of Mormon, we are urged to “search” the scriptures diligently, not just read them (1 Nephi 5:10, 21, 2 Nephi 32:7, Mosiah 1:7, Alma 17:2Alma 33:2, 3 Nephi 23:1, 5). The message seems to be that we interact with scripture in a different way than we interact with other kinds of text. We need to approach them with an active mind, an inquiring mind, prepared to be taught new principles, even principles that we didn’t see the last time we read the same passage.

    Why did Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon into English using words and phrases which are characteristic of the King James Version of the Bible instead of the common language of his time? I think it was to separate our experience with scripture from similar experiences like reading a newspaper or a novel. This choice of language connected the Book of Mormon with existing scripture (the Bible), and it helped his readers to set aside their ordinary habits of thought and open their minds and hearts to a sacred experience.

    President Dallin H. Oaks once explained why we use different words in our prayers than in our everyday conversations:

    When we go to worship in a temple or a church, we put aside our working clothes and dress ourselves in something better. This change of clothing is a mark of respect. Similarly, when we address our Heavenly Father, we should put aside our working words and clothe our prayers in special language of reverence and respect….
    In our day the words thee, thou, thy, and thine are suitable for the language of prayer, not because of how they were used anciently, but because they are currently obsolete in common English discourse. Being unused in everyday communications, they are now available as a distinctive form of address in English, appropriate to symbolize respect, closeness, and reverence for the one being addressed (“The Language of Prayer,” General Conference, April 1993).

    I think this logic also applies to the words of the scriptures. It is useful to have sacred texts, composed of words and phrases which we can understand, but which are separate from our daily conversations. It can be useful to paraphrase scriptural passages in modern English as part of our effort to understand them. But the original text remains in a space apart from our daily lives and therefore invites us to “search,” as we strive to understand the word of God.

    Today, I will be grateful for the language of the scriptures. I will be grateful that it is written in a way which allows me to transcend my everyday communication and adopt holier patterns of thought. I will be grateful for language which requires me to search and find messages rather than passively accept messages which are delivered to me.

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    What Is the Urim and Thummim?

    Shortly after the Lord confounded the language of people at the tower of Babel and scattered them “upon the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9), a group of people led by a man named Jared and his brother traveled to the American continent. As they prepared to board barges to cross the sea, the brother of Jared formulated an innovative plan to provide light in these fully enclosed vessels. Forging sixteen smooth clear stones out of molten rock, he carried the stones up a mountain and petitioned God to touch the stones with His finger “that they may shine forth in darkness…that we may have light while we shall cross the sea” (Ether 3:4). In answer to his prayer, the Lord not only touched the stones but also showed Himself to the brother of Jared and ministered to him. Then He told the brother of Jared to write what he had learned and to store it with two stones which would have a special function:

    For behold, the language which ye shall write I have confounded; wherefore I will cause in my own due time that these stones shall magnify to the eyes of men these things which ye shall write (Ether 3:24).

    Thousands of years later, when the people of King Limhi found a set of plates containing engravings, he was thrilled to learn that another king, Mosiah, had the power to translate them. As one of Mosiah’s servants explained:

    He has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer (Mosiah 8:13).

    Throughout the Book of Mormon, these “interpreters” were guarded and kept with the spiritual record of the people. Alma commanded his son Helaman to preserve the brass plates, the plates of Nephi, and the twenty-four Jaredite plates, “and that ye preserve these interpreters” (Alma 37:21). Moroni said that he had followed God’s commandment to seal up the plates and the interpreters, to come forth among the Gentiles when they choose to repent and “become clean before the Lord” (Ether 4:5-6).

    On September 21, 1823, Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and revealed to him where he could find the records he had hidden in the earth. He said that the record was written on gold plates, and that with the record, he would find:

    two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book (Joseph Smith—History 1:35).

    Joseph used these stones to help him translate the Book of Mormon. He also received at least six revelations by inquiring of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim. (See section headers for sections 3, 6, 7, 11, 14, and 17 of the Doctrine and Covenants.)

    In the Old Testament, a Urim and Thummim are mentioned multiple times. They were to be stored in the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus 28:30, Leviticus 8:8). The high priest was to use them to obtain the word of the Lord on behalf of the people (Numbers 27:12, 1 Samuel 28:6). After the return from the Babylonian captivity, the people concluded that a difficult issue could not be resolved “till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim” (Ezra 2:63, Nehemiah 7:65).

    And what about us? Do we have tangible objects which facilitate the reception of personal revelation from God? President Dallin H. Oaks has taught:

    A scripture is not limited to what it meant when it was written but may also include what that scripture means to a reader today. Even more, scripture reading may also lead to current revelation on whatever else the Lord wishes to communicate to the reader at that time. We do not overstate the point when we say that the scriptures can be a Urim and Thummim to assist each of us to receive personal revelation (“Scripture Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, January 1995).

    Today, I will be grateful that Heavenly Father has prepared tools to assist us in receiving answers from Him. Because He provided the Urim and Thummim to prophets at various times in history, I have access to sacred revelations which have been recorded and translated so that I can understand them. Additionally, the scriptures can unlock revelation for me, enabling me to find answers to my questions and receive guidance for my life.

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    What Is the Gift of Tongues?

    In the final chapter of the Book of Mormon, Moroni lists a number of gifts which are given “by the manifestations of the Spirit of God.” Among these are “all kinds of tongues” and “the interpretation of languages and of divers kinds of tongues” (Moroni 10:15-16). These gifts are also included in lists of spiritual gifts given by the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 12:10), in a revelation received by Joseph Smith in 1831 (Doctrine & Covenants 46:24-25), and in the seventh Article of Faith.

    What is the gift of tongues? We can understand it better by considering some examples of its practical use:

    • Shortly after the ascension of Christ, a group of His disciples experienced an outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentacost. Under the influence of the Holy Ghost, they began to speak in many different languages. People nearby, who were foreigners in Jerusalem, were amazed when they heard their own native languages. “Are not all these which speak Galilæans?” they asked. “And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:1-8).
    • When the people of King Limhi found a record which was “engraven on plates of ore,” they were disappointed that they could not read it. Limhi was delighted when he later learned that King Mosiah, the king over the land of Zarahemla, “had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings” (Mosiah 21:27-28).
    • When Joseph F. Smith arrived on the island of Maui in Hawaii in 1854, he was only fifteen years old. “I was in a foreign land,” he wrote, “sent to preach the gospel to a people whose language I could not understand. Then I sought earnestly for the gift of tongues, and by this gift and by study, in a hundred days after landing upon those islands I could talk to the people in their language as I now talk to you in my native tongue” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, “The Ministry of Joseph F. Smith“).
    • Elder Larry R. Lawrence served as the president of the Russia Novosibirsk Mission from 2001 through 2004. He noticed that the young missionaries whom he led were blessed with many different spiritual gifts. Some were peacemakers. Some were fearless. Some had many creative ideas. And “some had the gift of tongues and quickly mastered the complex Russian language” (“Why Not Ask?” BYU Idaho Devotional Address, 13 June 2017).

    Joseph Smith taught, “Tongues were given for the purpose of preaching among those whose language is not understood; as on the day of Pentecost” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 33: “The Spiritual Gifts of Healing, Tongues, Prophecy, and Discerning of Spirits”). Elder Robert D. Hales taught, “The gift of tongues is used by missionaries to teach the gospel to the nations of the world” (“Gifts of the Spirit,” BYU Devotional Address, 1 April 1993).

    The prophet Amaleki urged us all to “come unto God…and believe in prophesying, and in revelations, and in the ministering of angels, and in the gift of speaking with tongues, and in the gift of interpreting languages, and in all things which are good” (Omni 1:20, 25).

    Today, I will be grateful for the gifts God gives His children through the Holy Ghost, including the gift of tongues. I will be remember that God wants all of His children to hear the gospel and that He will send miraculous help to enable His disciples to communicate with those who have not yet received it.

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