The Words of Mormon
The Words of Mormon is an editorial comment written by the prophet Mormon onto the end of the small plates of Nephi about AD 385. This entire "book" serves as a colophon (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 1:1-3) or explanatory passage. It is a bridge between the record on the small plates of Nephi and that on the plates of Mormon. Incidentally, in that year the prophet Mormon was 74 years old (Mormon 2:2). He was in the process of abridging the vast library of plates that had been handed down to him, the so called large plates of Nephi. He was entering his abridgment onto yet another set of plates, the plates of Mormon. He had started his abridgment with the records from time of Lehi and had completed his record down to the time of King Benjamin, the son of Mosiah I. In searching for additional records of this period, he came upon the small plates of Nephi which, he found, covered the entire period which he had just abridged. He was inspired to include these small plates with his own record. Mormon was not really told why the small plates should be included with his own plates. The small plates were eventually passed on to his son Moroni along with his own abridged record, the plates of Mormon.
It is interesting that Mormon was able to fit the Words of Mormon onto the small plates of Nephi since Amaleki had said that the plates were full (Omni 1:30). Apparently Amaleki left enough space for Mormon to record a few words. Perhaps he had been inspired to do so.
Let us summarize the sequential construction of the Book of Mormon as we have it today:
· The title page written by Moroni onto the last leaf of the plates of Mormon
· The small plates of Nephi, an unabridged record of Nephi, Jacob, and others-1 Nephi through Omni
· The Words of Mormon, Mormon's editorial comment which smooths the transition between the unabridged small plates of Nephi and Mormon's abridgment of the large plates of Nephi. It was written on the last leaf of the small plates of Nephi.
· Mormon's abridgment of the large plates of Nephi including an abridgment of his own history which he had written onto the large plates of Nephi-Mosiah through Mormon 5
· Mormon's additional history written directly onto the plates of Mormon-Mormon 6-7
· Moroni's writings-Mormon 8-9
· Moroni's translation and abridgment of the twenty-four plates containing the record of the Jaredites-Ether
· Moroni's writings-the book of Moroni (In Moroni 7, Moroni reports a sermon delivered by Mormon, and in Moroni 8 and 9 Moroni records letters written him by his father Mormon.)
Words of Mormon Chapter 1
1 And now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni, behold I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people, the Nephites.
verse 1 "And now I, Mormon" Joseph Smith once suggested that the name "Mormon" means "more good" (Times and Seasons 4:194; TPJS, 299-300).
The "record which I have been making" is, of course, Mormon's abridgment of the large plates of Nephi which Mormon engraved onto a separate set of plates, the so called plates of Mormon. It was this latter set of plates, along with the small plates of Nephi, that were eventually delivered to the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., on September 22, 1827.
2 And it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son; and it supposeth me that he will witness the entire destruction of my people. But may God grant that he may survive them, that he may write somewhat concerning them, and somewhat concerning Christ, that perhaps some day it may profit them.
verse 2 It is estimated that Mormon's "many hundred years after the coming of Christ" is about AD 385.
"he will witness the entire destruction of my people" Moroni did indeed witness this destruction. He will report in Mormon 8:7 a frightening inquisition and slaughter of his people by the Lamanites: "And behold, the Lamanites have hunted my people, the Nephites, down from city to city and from place to place, even until they are no more."
"may God grant that he may survive them, that he may write somewhat concerning them" From the time Moroni received the plates from his father Mormon in about AD 385, we know that he had possession of the plates for at least thirty-five years until AD 421. This gave Moroni an opportunity to enter onto the plates of Mormon his own writings (Mormon 8-9 and book of Moroni) and his translation of the record of the Jaredites (book of Ether).
"perhaps some day it may profit them" The pronoun "them" clearly refers to "my people" found earlier in the verse. These are Mormon's people, the Nephites. Presumably Mormon is recording his hope that the descendants of his people will one day be blessed by the Book of Mormon. The large part of the people who were then called Nephites were destroyed though doubtless some few survived. Perhaps Mormon had in mind also that the descendants of those labeled in his lifetime as Lamanites might also benefit from this book. Let us remind ourselves that the labels "Nephites" and "Lamanites," following Christ's ministry among the Nephites, did not necessarily reflect blood lines. Rather, those labels referred only to an individual's inclination to accept the teachings of the prophets. And even that distinction had been blurred for some years prior to Mormon's final writings.
3 And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.
verse 3 "And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written" Mormon now tells of his experience of finding the small plates of Nephi.
The "plates of Nephi," of course, are the large plates of Nephi.
"this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake" Mormon had apparently just finished reading the final sentences of the small plates of Nephi (Omni 1:23-25) when he recorded his editorial comment, the Words of Mormon, onto those same small plates.
"These plates," of course are the small plates of Nephi.
"I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates" It is notable that Mormon had to "search "among the voluminous collection of records he had in his possession in order to find the small plates of Nephi. This raises the question of how well known and how well read were the small plates of Nephi among the Nephite prophets such as Alma.
4 And the things which are upon these plates pleasing me, because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ; and my fathers knowing that many of them have been fulfilled; yea, and I also know that as many things as have been prophesied concerning us down to this day have been fulfilled, and as many as go beyond this day must surely come to pass-
verse 4 Here Mormon outlines those subjects or themes contained upon the small plates of Nephi that were pleasing to him and caused him to decide to include the small plates with his own abridged record. These included the prophecies of the coming of Christ particularly in light of the subsequent fulfillment of many of the plates' prophecies and revelations. He referred particularly, of course, to those prophecies concerning the birth and ministry of Jesus Christ. He also was given to know the authenticity of the plates' prophecies yet to be fulfilled in his future.
5 Wherefore, I chose these things, to finish my record upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi; and I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people.
verse 5 "these things" As mentioned in the footnotes, this phrase refers to those themes found in the small plates, mentioned in verse 4, which were pleasing to Mormon.
"I chose these things, to finish my record upon them" Mormon here reveals that the themes mentioned in verse 4, will also form the basis or themes of the remainder of his record-his abridgment of the remainder of the large plates of Nephi.
"I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people" The limited space available on the plates (see also Jarom 1:2; Jarom 1:14; Omni 1:30; Mormon 8:5); the time required to do the tedious work of engraving the plates (see also 2 Nephi 25:23; Jacob 4:1; Ether 12:24); and the complexities of writing the Egyptian glyphic form of Hebrew language in which the plates were engraved (3 Nephi 5:18; Mormon 9:34) would not permit a more complete record.
6 But behold, I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren.
verse 6 "I know they will be choice unto my brethren" Who are his "brethren"? Mormon has reference to all the descendants of the people of the Book of Mormon, perhaps especially to the descendants of the Lamanites of his day (see verse 8). You will recall that Mormon and the Nephites of AD 385 were virtually exterminated (see the commentary for verse 2), and thus would have had few descendants.
7 And I do this for a wise purpose; 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.
verse 7 It is interesting that Mormon was not given to know specifically why the Lord wanted him to include the small plates of Nephi with his own plates of Mormon. We now know that the small plates of Nephi became especially vital when Martin Harris, in 1828, lost the 116 pages of manuscript which contained Joseph Smith's translation of the book of Lehi taken from the plates of Mormon. These lost materials covered the same time period as is covered by the small plates of Nephi (see D&C 3, 10).
8 And my prayer to God is concerning my brethren, that they may once again come to the knowledge of God, yea, the redemption of Christ; that they may once again be a delightsome people.
verse 8 "my brethren" See the commentary for verse 6.
"Delightsome" may be defined as pleasing unto God. It certainly has nothing to do with skin color. We know that the Jews are also to become "a delightsome people" (2 Nephi 30:7), and they obviously are not black.
9 And now I, Mormon, proceed to finish out my record, which I take from the plates of Nephi; and I make it according to the knowledge and the understanding which God has given me.
verse 9 "my record" This is Mormon's abridgment of the "plates of Nephi" which are, of course, the set of plates which we call the large plates of Nephi.
10 Wherefore, it came to pass that after Amaleki had delivered up these plates into the hands of king Benjamin, he took them and put them with the other plates, which contained records which had been handed down by the kings, from generation to generation until the days of king Benjamin.
verse 10 It is likely unnecessary at this point to remind the reader that "these plates" are the small plates of Nephi, and "the other plates" are the large plates of Nephi.
11 And they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands. And I, Mormon, pray to God that they may be preserved from this time henceforth. And I know that they will be preserved; for there are great things written upon them, out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged at the great and last day, according to the word of God which is written.
verse 11 "they were handed down" The small plates of Nephi were passed along by the keepers of the plates.
The phrase "my people and their brethren" refers to all the Book of Mormon people and their descendants.
12 And now, concerning this king Benjamin-he had somewhat of contentions among his own people.
verse 12 The only description of the "contentions" among the people of Benjamin is found in verses 15 through 18 which follow.
13 And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban.
verse 13 "king Benjamin . . . did fight with . . . the sword of Laban" The sword that Nephi took from Laban served as a symbol of the legitimate authority of the Nephite rulers, beginning with Nephi himself. This fits a long tradition, often portrayed in royal and religious art. In the kingly pattern, the sword helped to establish the possessor as the ruler, the one on whom divine kingship was conferred. It symbolized his responsibility to protect the society and to mete out justice. The sword was passed on to the heir as a transfer of authority, and the giving of the sword to the new king was a widespread feature of coronation ceremonies. One example is Goliath's sword which David used to cut off the head of the Philistine. That sword was preserved and revered. David later obtained the sword again, heroically led the Israelites against the Philistines, and later became king.
There is no direct evidence as to whether Joseph Smith ever possessed the sword of Laban, but it was part of the sacred relics, along with the plates, revealed by Moroni.
14 And in the strength of the Lord they did contend against their enemies, until they had slain many thousands of the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they did contend against the Lamanites until they had driven them out of all the lands of their inheritance.
verses 13-14 For additional information on this battle with the Lamanites, see the commentary for Omni 1:24.
verses 15-18 Mormon describes the contentions that occurred among the Nephites of King Benjamin's day.
15 And it came to pass that after there had been false Christs, and their mouths had been shut, and they punished according to their crimes;
verse 15 "False Christs" may be individuals who are insidiously persuasive and charismatic, and who are capable of leading people away from the gospel of Christ. Or, "false Christs" may be false churches, specious philosophies, or erroneous doctrines that turn people from the truth.
16 And after there had been false prophets, and false preachers and teachers among the people, and all these having been punished according to their crimes; and after there having been much contention and many dissensions away unto the Lamanites, behold, it came to pass that king Benjamin, with the assistance of the holy prophets who were among his people-
verses 15-16 There are some verses in the Book of Mormon suggesting that the Nephite legal code did not specify that a man be punished for simply having erroneous beliefs (see Alma 1:17; Alma 30:7). On the other hand, there were apparently some types of heresy, of which these "false Christs," "false prophets," and "false preachers and teachers" were guilty, that broke the law.
"many dissensions away unto the Lamanites" Apparently in King Benjamin's time, many Nephite dissenters broke with their fellow Nephites and joined with the Lamanites.
17 For behold, king Benjamin was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness; and there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people-
verses 16-17 We have commented previously (see the commentary for Enos 1:22) that it is the Lord's pattern to send simultaneously many prophets among the people, especially at times when the people are threatened with destruction for their disobedience.
18 Wherefore, with the help of these, king Benjamin, by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.
verse 18 "peace in the land" Undoubtedly this peace was born of spiritual unity as well as secular unity.