How Were the Small Plates of Nephi Preserved for So Long?

Nephi created two sets of plates. One set contained a record of the history of his people (the large plates) and the other set contained a record of his ministry (the small plates) (1 Nephi 6:3-6, 1 Nephi 9:2-4).

Before Nephi’s death, he delivered the small plates to his younger brother Jacob, with instructions to keep them safe and write additional content (Jacob 1:2-4). The plates were passed down to family members for several hundred years until Amaleki, the last author, decided to turn them over to King Benjamin. After that, they were passed down together with the other records of the Nephites until Mormon found them as he was writing a history of his people. He was so impressed with these plates, and particularly with the prophecies of Christ contained on them, that he decided to insert them, unedited, with his history (Words of Mormon 1:3-6).

The preservation of this record for about 1,000 years—from Nephi to Mormon—is a miracle. Here is a list of the people who had responsibility for these plates and the approximate years that they had the plates in their possession. I’ve also included the relationship of each keeper of the plates to the prior keeper:

Keeper of the Plates Approximate years Relationship to prior keeper References
Nephi 600-554 B.C. N/A 1 Nephi 6, 9
Jacob 544-? B.C. Brother Jacob 1:1-4
Enos ?-420 B.C. Son Enos 1:1, 25
Jarom 420-361 B.C. Son Jarom 1:1, 5, 13
Omni 361-318 B.C. Son Omni 1:1-3
Amaron 318-280 B.C. Son Omni 1:4-5
Chemish 280-? B.C. Brother Omni 1:9
Abinadom ?? Son Omni 1:10-11
Amaleki ?? Son Omni 1:12
Benjamin ??-124 B.C. King Omni 1:25
Mosiah 124-92 B.C. Son Mosiah 1:16
Alma 92-74 B.C. Successor (1st chief judge) Mosiah 28:20
Helaman 74-56 B.C. Son Alma 37:1-3, Alma 45:2, Alma 50:38
Shiblon 56-53 B.C. Brother Alma 63:1
Helaman 53-39 B.C. Nephew Alma 63:11-13
Nephi 39 B.C.-1 A.D. Son Helaman 3:37
Nephi 1-110 A.D. Son 3 Nephi 1:2-3
Amos 110-194 A.D. Son 4 Nephi 1:19-20
Amos 194-305 A.D. Son 4 Nephi 1:21
Ammaron 305-321 A.D. Brother 4 Nephi 1:47
Mormon 321-385 A.D. N/A – Not related Mormon 1:2-4
Moroni 385-421 A.D. Son Mormon 8:1-6

What is remarkable to me is that, even though some of these keepers of the plates did not consider themselves to be particularly righteous people, they all took seriously the responsibility they had been given to preserve the plates. Here are a few examples:

  • Jarom – “I deliver these plates into the hands of my son Omni, that they may be kept according to the commandments of my fathers” (Jarom 1:15).
  • Omni – “I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done…. I had kept these plates according to the commandments of my fathers” (Omni 1:2-3).
  • Chemish: “After this manner we keep the records, it is according to the commandments of our fathers” (Omni 1:9).

Here’s my takeaway: imperfect people can collectively make an enormous difference if they are willing to take their responsibilities seriously. Omni may have considered himself to be wicked. He may have been disobedient to God in many ways. But he was obedient in one thing which mattered a lot. All of Nephi’s work, all of Jacob’s, Enos’s, and Jarom’s efforts to maintain the plates would have been wasted if Omni had failed to do his part. The earlier writers relied on him, and he fulfilled his duty to them in spite of his other failings.

Today, I will be grateful that imperfect people can contribute meaningfully to the work of the Lord. I will take seriously the responsibilities I have been given, knowing that God can perform miracles through my efforts in spite of my weaknesses.

2 thoughts on “How Were the Small Plates of Nephi Preserved for So Long?

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  1. I hadn’t thought of this before and love the comforting reminder that God can accomplish his ends despite our imperfections and weaknesses! As I look at the relationships you’ve listed, I am also grateful to see that transmission of the plates was both vertical and horizontal in families and in the case of Benjamin and Mormon, independent of family ties – it’s a great example that the Lord isn’t confined to any one bloodline or set of people. Thanks Paul!

    On Sun, Mar 29, 2020 at 3:01 AM Book of Mormon Study Notes wrote:

    > Paul Anderson posted: “Nephi created two sets of plates. One set contained > a record of the history of his people (the large plates) and the other set > contained a record of his ministry (the small plates) (1 Nephi 6:3-6, 1 > Nephi 9:2-4). Before Nephi’s death, he delivered the sm” >

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree with your point about the relationships. Each keeper had to make a decision about who they would entrust this sacred responsibility to. Amaleki tells us that he had no children and Benjamin was a great spiritual leader, so that decision might have been pretty easy. But Ammaron’s perceptiveness in choosing Mormon when he was only 10 is very impressive!

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