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:
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:
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
- [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—
- [Who is the audience?] Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—
- [How was it written?] Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—
- [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.
- [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—
- [What are the purposes of the book?]
- Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers;
- and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—
- And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations—
- [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.