Book of Mormon: Unities
The purpose of this page is to explore how various parts of the Book of Mormon relate to each other as parts of a larger whole, and to identify concepts that are developed in stages over the course of the entire book. Each main heading on this page should remain short enough to read in about five minutes.
This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.
It may be useful, while reading the material on this page, to refer to an outline of the Book of Mormon such as the one here:
The Book of Mormon was written almost entirely (98.8% by word count in English translation) by four people: Nephi (20.4%), Jacob (3.4%), Mormon (65.1%), and Moroni (9.9%). One useful way to think about the Book of Mormon is as a series of four books written by each of these four people. While much of this wiki page discusses ways in which the writings of these four people work together as a single harmonious whole, it is also useful to recognize their individual voices.
- Analogy to the Books of Moses. Much of what the five books of Moses are to the Old Testament, the two books of Nephi are to the Book of Mormon. Genesis explains the historical process by which the younger sons Isaac and Jacob inherited the birthright of Abraham, and how Joseph established a unitary House of Israel by gathering his brothers to him. (See the discussion at Genesis 36-50). Nephi likewise tells how he came to inherit the birthright in place of his older brothers Laman and Lemuel (See the discussion at First Nephi) received additional covenant promises from the Lord (2 Ne 2:19-24), and how the Nephites and Lamanitess came to be established as peoples. Exodus and Numbers tell the story of Israel's travels through the wilderness and of how it learned through that experience to obey and to qualify to possess the land promised to Abraham. Nephi tells a similar story about the family of Lehi's travels through the wilderness. Soon after entering the wilderness, Israel is established as the Lord's people through the Sinai Covenant. (Ex 20-24). Soon after Lehi's family enters the wilderness, Nephi receives a covenant. (2 Ne 2:19-24). In Deuteronomy, Moses spells out the conditions under which Israel will have possession of its land of promise. In the Covenant with Nephi the conditions are spelled out under which the Nephites will be either prospered or scourged in their land of promise. (Nephi does not include a lengthy recitation of religious rites and regulations as are spelled out in Leviticus). Understanding the small plates in this way could make them pleasing and worth including even to someone like Mormon who had already written his own edited summary of this history from Nephi's large plates.
Most of the Book of Mormon was put in its final form by just four people: Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni. Each of these four authors employed a preferred device for prophesying or teaching:
- Nephi tends to present prophecy in his book by quoting and explaining the words of the prophet Isaiah.
- Jacob presents prophecy in his book by quoting and explaining the words of the prophet Zenos.
- Mormon employs Nephite history as his primary vehicle for teaching in Mosiah through Mormon.
- Moroni employs Jaredite history as his primary vehicle for teaching in Ether.
Much of what Nephi and Jacob quote from Isaiah and Zenos relates to the scattering and gathering of Israel. Much of what Mormon and Moroni write about Nephite and Jaredite society relates to the destruction of society when it becomes ripe in iniquity. Nephi's writing is much longer than Jacob's, just as Mormon's is much longer than Moroni's.
Mormon's writings in Mosiah-Mormon primarily track religious leaders and are often concerned with the conversion and salvation of individuals. Moroni's writing in Ether, in contrast, primarily tracks political leaders and is concerned only with the salvation or destruction of society as a whole.
There are also significant parallels between the writing of Nephi and Mormon. Nephi's quotations from Isaiah feature four main entities that all find their parallel in Moroni's account of Nephite history:
3 Ne 23:1-3. Use of historical patterns like the Exodus.
Nephi explained that one reason his children had so much trouble understanding Isaiah is that, unlike him, they had not lived at Jerusalem and did not know the regions around Jerusalem (2 Ne 25:6). Nephi, in addition to having personal experience with the world of Isaiah's day, had also seen a vision of Nephite future history (1 Ne 12) and of the gentiles from Columbus to the last days (1 Ne 13-14). With that background, Nephi is able to draw connections between the world of Isaiah's day, Nephite history, and the last days.
Significantly, Nephi prophesies that in the last days Isaiah's prophecies will be understood (2 Ne 25:7-8). While we do not have personal experience with the world of Isaiah's day, we are sufficiently familiar with that world through the study of history. We also have some familiarity with the world of the Nephites through the Book of Mormon. And, in the last days, people will have personal experience with that world as well. With that understanding, people in the last days will be able, like Nephi, to draw connections between the historical parallels in those three ages of the earth and thus understand Isaiah's prophecies.
Isaiah used four nations of his day in particular as symbols that stand for historical types:
- Israel or Zion, the Lord's people;
- Babylon, which represents the worldly world and its attractions (see the discussion at Daniel #Historical setting);
- Assyria, which was a focused and cruel expansionist power that posed a constant threat of destruction to the Lord's people; and
- Egypt, a wealthier and kinder power to which the nations looked for protection from Assyria.
Nephi, when prophesying about his people the Nephites and about the last days, did so by quoting Isaiah. Until then what he does is give us enough historical background to be able to draw those connections.
Mormon, when recounting Nephite history, emphasizes groups that parallel Isaiah's groups.
- the Church, which like Israel, is the Lord's people;
- the proud who wear costly apparel and, like Babylon, represent the worldly world and its attractions;
- the Lamanites who, like Assyria, are a feared expansionist power that poses a constant threat of destruction to the Lord's people; and
- the Nephite nation which, like Egypt, represents a balancing power to which the Lord's people looks for protection.
So there is a great deal of similarity between Nephi and Mormon. Nephi quotes and explains Isaiah, who describes a two-polar world. Mormon illustrates what the two-polar world described by Isaiah looks like when applied to another time and place.
The book of Revelation recounts the history of the world in a series of seven thousand-year long seals (D&C 77:__). Nephi's record of his vision (1 Nephi 11-14) covers the time period from the late 4th seal to the end of the 6th seal. As his vision reached the beginning of the 7th seal, he was told not to write the remainder of his vision, and that this portion of the vision would instead be written by the apostle John in his book of Revelation (1 Ne 14:__). Sure enough, Revelation spends two verses each on the 1st-4th seals, 3 verses on the 5th seal, two chapters on the 6th seal, and the rest of the book on the 7th seal. Thus Nephi and John's visions can be read together as a pair.
2 Ne 25:6-8.
The point with regard to the unity of the Book of Mormon is that it is precisely at this point when Nephi is told not to write about the 7th seal that he stops quoting his own prophecies and instead starts to quote the prophecies of Isaiah. The Lord told the Nephites to study Isaiah because he prophesied about all things, both past and present, and some parts are widely recognized as applying to the 7th seal and Millennium (perhaps with dual application). Nephi also says that, in order to understand Isaiah, one must be familiar with the world in which Isaiah lived (2 Ne 25:__) and the world to which his prophecy applies. And what Nephi does in 1 Nephi 11-14 is describe the world to which Isaiah's prophecy applies.
Mormon's account of Nephite history is similar. Of the thousand years of Nephite history (600 BC - 400 AD), most of the Book of Mormon dwells on the 200 years (200 BC - 33 AD) during which Nephite society most resembled the world today where the gospel is preached: democracy, separation of church and state, opportunities for advancement tied to education rather than family title, the dropping of international walls, and the rise of secret combinations. This looks like our world. It is followed by a massive destruction of the wicked at the Lord's appearance followed by centuries of Millennial-type peace, followed in turn by renewed wickedness for just a little season (D&C 29:45) and then the end of history. Mormon's account of Nephite history can thus be seen both as closely ties to Nephi's quotations from Isaiah and as a prophetic device in itself.
And Moroni tells us in his first farewell (Mormon 8-9) that he would write the words of Isaiah if he could.
Three stages of conversion
Faith appears to be generally (though not always) addressed in three broad ways.
- In First Nephi - Jacob, faith is typically a matter of just doing what you know to be right. The first speech in the Book of Mormon delivered at a temple occurs in Jacob 2-3 at the temple in the land of Nephi.
- In Mosiah - Helaman, faith is typically addressed in connection with conversion and a change of heart, which leads one to feel a desire to do right. Enos is more like this than like First Nephi. The second temple speech is given by king Benjamin at the temple in Zarahemla (Mosiah 2-5).
- In Ether - Moroni, faith is typically addressed in connection with hope and charity, and in the context of those who have already gone through a change of heart and are doing right, but can reach to a higher level of righteousness. The Sermon on the Mount in Third Nephi ties in with this when viewed not just as a temple speech, but as a temple ceremony. The third and last temple speech in the Book of Mormon is given by the Lord at the temple in Bountiful (3 Nephi 11-26).
Reliance on Christ for deliverance
- First Nephi begins with Nephi's statement that he will write because he has known the goodness of the Lord in times of affliction, the opening chapter introduces the rest of the book with the statement that he will show us that the Lord delivers those who come unto him, and in the middle of Lehi's vision expresses that the Lord will not allow those who come unto him to perish. The theme of First Nephi can betaken as: "The Lord does deliver those who come unto him."
- In Mosiah it is repeatedly stated that there is no other name given under heaven by which anyone can be saved except the name of Christ. The theme of Mosiah can be taken as: "Deliverance comes only through Christ."
- In Alma 1-44 several alternative theologies are addressed, each denying the need for an atonement. The theme of Alma 1-44 (the part before the "war chapters") can be taken as: "You do need to be delivered."
Government accountability and secret combinations
- Mosiah teaches that government sometimes abuses those to whom it is not accountable. In the opening division King Benjamin is presented as an ideal king. In the middle division Noah is presented as the exact opposite. In the closing division, king Mosiah II explains that an unaccountable monarchy would be great if all kings were as good as his father Benjamin, but since some kings are as bad as Noah, it is better for government to be accountable through voting or democracy.
- Alma 45-63 teaches that democratic or accountable governments have their own form of weakness. A democracy can become paralyzed when you and your neighbor disagree and the government is accountable to both of you. Mormon makes a point of explaining how dangerous it was for dissensions to arise in the context of a foreign war. And it is only after the king men are dealt with that the Nephites again begin to be victorious.
- Helaman and 3 Nephi 1-9 explains another threat to democracy, namely secret combinations. The Lord clearly explains that it is the secret combinations that have caused the downfall of the people.
- Ether cautions that transitioning from democracy to monarchy, or in other words giving up government accountability, will not automatically solve the problem of secret combinations. Ether recounts how secret combinations cause the destruction of monarchical Jaredite society not just once, but four times.
- The other threat addressed in Mormon's account of Nephite democracy is religious, as explained in Alma 1-44. In the first half of Alma 1-44 (ch. 8-15) the Nehor threat is religious liberalism taken to an extreme - God will save everyone anyway, so it does not matter if I kill you. In the second half of Alma 1-45 (ch. 31-35) the Zoramite threat is from religious conservatism taken to an extreme - God will save me and damn you anyway, so it does not matter if I kill you. In between (ch. 16-25) the Lamanites do not know what they believe, except that it is okay to do anything, as epitomized in Lamoni's prayer - God, if there is a God, and if you are God, will you make yourself known to me?. Korihor is also agnostic (ch. 30), but is militantly agnostic - I don't know, and neither do you. The reason there are so many great atonement speeches in Alma 1-44 is that Alma is specifically addressing theologies that deny the need for an atonement.
The message in this context is that wickedness brought upon by a lack of belief in a need for repentance and the atonement (Alma 1-44) poses just as big a threat to society as an unaccountable government (King Noah in Mosiah), as disunity in the face of external attack (king-men in Alma 45-63), or internal attack by secret combinations (Helaman).
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