Mormon describes two characteristics of the nonbelievers. The first is that they “could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake.” Why did it matter that the small children failed to understand his words? Would their parents not have explained it to them, in terms they could understand, many times as they grew?
The answer might lie in the overwhelming power of Benjamin’s setting. The power of Benjamin’s speech today is still palpable; but in the context of the time and place, it must have been a unique experience that could not have been replicated. While the adults would have been unable to deny what they felt, the children had no such powerful memory on which to rest their belief. The second answer is more literary. Mormon is contrasting the teaching of past prophets with those of subsequent generations who believe (derivatively) on their words.
Significantly, Mormon’s second reason that there were unbelievers was that they “did not believe the tradition of their fathers.” Certainly their fathers had attempted to teach the things that they had heard and felt, but with equal certainty some of the rising generation listened to other influences and consequently dismissed some of the teachings of their parents.
Mormon confirms that these children were both too young to have had the personally transforming experience of their parents but had also chosen not to believe in their parents’ teachings. He is giving reasons why a particular rising generation is moving away from the traditional Nephite religion. This is essential groundwork for the story of Alma2 and the sons of Mosiah.
Literature: In the original Book of Mormon, this verse followed immediately after our current Mosiah 25:24. It introduces a subject diametrically opposed to the preceding information. The immediately preceding passage established the church with its unity of purpose. Although a division in belief existed before Alma’s introduction of a church, the essential tension lay between these non-church Zarahemlaites and the churched Zarahemlaites. By thus presenting the stories, Mormon structurally highlights the social tension by his placement of the literary tension.