“A Wise Purpose”

Monte S. Nyman

The abridgment of the plates of Nephi down to the reign of King Benjamin would be the book of Lehi that was translated by Joseph Smith with Martin Harris as his scribe or the one hundred and sixteen pages that were lost by Martin Harris (see HC, 1:18–21). The plates that were found by Mormon were, of course, the smaller plates of Nephi and were translated into what is now the first one hundred and forty-three pages of today’s edition (1981) of the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi through Omni).

A brief review of the major prophecies of Christ in the first book of Nephi illustrates why Mormon would be pleased with them. Lehi prophesied of his coming (1 Nephi 10). Nephi was shown his divine birth and ministry (1 Nephi 11). He saw Christ’s visit to his seed and the seed of his brethren (1 Nephi 12). Nephi prophesied of his coming; foretold the signs of his coming; and quoted Isaiah to more fully persuade his brethren to believe in their Redeemer (1 Nephi 19–21). The second book of Nephi and the following books are just as impressive. Certainly they are another testament of Jesus Christ as stated in the subtitle (1982).

Mormon chose to finish his record upon “these things,” implying he would write upon the smaller plates of Nephi (Words of Mormon 1:5). However, Amaleki said, “these plates are full” (Omni 1:30). Therefore, Mormon may be saying he will finish his record by adding the smaller plates to the end of his abridged plates. This is the most probable place for the smaller plates, not inserted between Mormon’s abridgment of the book of Lehi (116 lost pages) and the “remainder of my record,” that which he abridged “from the plates of Nephi, and I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people” (v. 5). The plates being placed at the end of his record is supported by Mormon’s next statement: “I shall take these plates, … and put them with the remainder of my record” (v. 6). A further implication that the plates were added to the end of Mormon’s work is in the Prophet’s history: “In the course of the work of translation we ascertained that three special witnesses were to be provided by the Lord … as will be found recorded, Book of Mormon, page 581 [book of Ether, chapter 5, verses 2, 3, and 4], also page 86 [2 Nephi, chapter 11, verse 3]” (HC, 1:52). Why would Joseph make reference to the book of Ether before the reference to the second book of Nephi? Why did he not include 2 Nephi 27:12 which is a direct reference to the three witnesses while 2 Nephi 11:3 is only a reference to three other witnesses and supports the principle of the Lord establishing his word by three witnesses? The answers to these questions seem to be in the sequence of the translation. The revelation that follows there, having attention drawn to the promised witnesses, confirms who the three witnesses were to be (D&C 17). This revelation was given in June, 1829 (no specific day in June was recorded). The work of translation had been completed (D&C 17:6). Therefore, they were near the end of the translation when they “ascertained that three witnesses were to be provided by the Lord” (HC, 1:52). They had obviously translated the book of Ether and part of the second book of Nephi, but not the part now designated as 2 Nephi 27:12. This sequence further supports the theory of the smaller plates being placed at the end of Mormon’s work. However, later verses in the Words of Mormon does support the fact that Mormon actually engraved his words upon the smaller plates of Nephi. This fact will be considered after the “wise purpose” (Words of Mormon 1:7) for Mormon’s including the unabridged record of Nephi’s smaller plates is discussed.

Over fourteen hundred years before Joseph would translate the plates (A.D. 385–1829), the Spirit whispered to Mormon to include the smaller plates of Nephi with his abridgment of the larger plates. Acknowledging that “the Lord knoweth all things that are to come,” Mormon did “according to [God’s] will” (v. 7). The Lord knew that Mormon’s abridgment of the book of Lehi on the larger plates of Nephi (116 pages) would be lost. Therefore, about nine hundred years earlier (570 B.C.), he commanded Nephi to keep a second record, which was a more spiritual account to “persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved” (1 Nephi 6:4). Nephi knew it was “for a wise purpose in [the Lord]” and acknowledged that “the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works” (1 Nephi 9:5–6). Mormon also had the same desire as Nephi, for his brethren to “once again come to the knowledge of God, yea, the redemption of Christ, that they may once again be a delightsome people” (Words of Mormon 1:8). Someday the contents of Mormon’s abridged book of Lehi will be restored along with the unabridged record of Nephi’s larger plates, but for now, we have the essential record of Nephi to bring us to Christ and be saved.

Book of Mormon Commentary: These Records Are True