Book of Mormon Lesson 01 (Introductory Pages of the Book of Mormon)
December 26-January 1
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “A . . . powerful testimony to the importance of the Book of Mormon is to note where the Lord placed its coming forth in the timetable of the unfolding Restoration. The only thing that preceded it was the First Vision . . . Think of that in terms of what it implies. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon preceded the restoration of the priesthood. It was published just a few days before the Church was organized. The Saints were given the Book of Mormon to read before they were given the revelations outlining such great doctrines as the three degrees of glory, celestial marriage, or work for the dead. It came before priesthood quorums and Church organization. Doesn’t this tell us something about how the Lord views this sacred work?”1
When we consider this chronology, we can readily see that the Book of Mormon played a central role in the Restoration. The First Vision is the only event in the Restoration that preceded it. The work of translation of the Book of Mormon in 1829 was a prerequisite to the restoration of the priesthood later that year; the organization of the Church in 1830; and the organization of priesthood quorums in 1832, stakes in 1834, high councils in 1834, Apostles in 1835, temple endowments in 1836, and work for the dead in 1840. Some of the more important purposes of the Book of Mormon can be found in the opening pages of the book itself.
“Another Testament of Jesus Christ”
Elder Boyd K. Packer announced in the October 1982 General conference, “You should know also that by recent decision of the Brethren the Book of Mormon will henceforth bear the title ‘The Book of Mormon,’ with the subtitle ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ.’”2 This was not a new idea. The title page of the book has declared from the very beginning that testifying of Christ is one of its primary purposes. But the importance of highlighting that purpose has become clear in a world that increasingly doubts the divinity of Jesus Christ.
A survey done by Redbook magazine3 revealed the following information about those who were about to graduate and go into a full-time pastorship of a church or ministry in the United States:
— 56% rejected the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
— 71% rejected the view of any life after death.
— 54% rejected the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
— 98% rejected the idea that Jesus Christ would ever return to the earth.
The Title Page
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “The title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates.”4 We conclude that the title page was written by Moroni since it was “the very last leaf,” or page, of the record, and the Book of Mormon was “sealed by the hand of Moroni.”
The title page declares that the book was written “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.” As noted earlier, the Book of Mormon stands forth as another witness in our time that Jesus of Nazareth was divine, that He was resurrected, and that He will come again. If the Book of Mormon record is correct in testifying that the resurrected Lord visited the American continent after His death and resurrection, then Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the living and resurrected Savior of the world. President Ezra Taft Benson said, “What is the major purpose of the Book of Mormon? To bring men to Christ and to be reconciled to Him, and then to join His Church—in that order.”5
● Keystone of Our Religion. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion.”6 Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “The Prophet’s expression . . . means precisely what it says. The keystone is the central stone in the top of the arch. If that stone is removed, then the arch crumbles, which, in effect, means that Mormonism . . . —which actually is the gospel of Christ, restored anew in this day—stands or falls with the truth or the falsity of the Book of Mormon.”7 President Ezra Taft Benson said, “There are three ways in which the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. It is the keystone in our witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. It is the keystone of testimony.”8
Without the keystone, the Church would collapse.
● An Invitation to Read the Book. “We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost.”9
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ. The Bible sits on the pulpit of hundreds of different religious sects. The Book of Mormon, the record of Joseph, verifies and clarifies the Bible. It removes stumbling blocks, it restores many plain and precious things. We testify that when used together, the Bible and the Book of Mormon confound false doctrines, lay down contentions, and establish peace (2 Nephi 3:12). We do not have to prove the Book of Mormon is true. The book is its own proof. All we need to do is read it and declare it! The Book of Mormon is not on trial—the people of the world, including the members of the Church, are on trial as to what they will do with this second witness for Christ.”10
The Testimonies of Witnesses
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Whenever the Lord has established a dispensation by revealing His gospel and by conferring priesthood and keys upon men, He has acted in accordance with the law of witnesses which He Himself ordained. This law is: ‘In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established’ (2 Cor. 13:1; Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:15-16; John 8:12-29). Never does one man stand alone in establishing a new dispensation of revealed truth, or in carrying the burden of such a message and warning to the world. In every dispensation, from Adam to the present, two or more witnesses have always joined their testimonies, thus leaving their hearers without excuse in the day of judgment should the testimony be rejected.”11
In keeping with this ancient principle, the Prophet Joseph Smith was not alone in testifying to the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. There were at least fourteen witnesses to the existence of the plates from which it was translated.
● Joseph Smith. On September 22, 1827, he retrieved the plates from the Hill Cumorah as his wife Emma waited for him in a wagon. As the translator, he bore consistent testimony of the source and nature of the plates.
● Emma Smith. In January 1828 she became Joseph’s first scribe. She later bore testimony: “The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb.”12
● The Three Witnesses. On June 11, 1829, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris were shown the plates in a grove near the Whitmer farm. Moroni appeared in glory holding the plates in his hands. Joseph recorded, “He turned over the leaves one by one, so that we could see them, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly. . . . We heard a voice from out of the bright light above us, saying, ‘These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.’”13
● The Eight Witnesses. A short time later eight additional witnesses—faithful men who supported the Prophet during the translation process—were also chosen to see the plates. These eight were Joseph Smith’s father, Joseph Smith Sr.; Joseph’s brothers Hyrum and Samuel; four of the Whitmer brothers—Christian, Jacob, Peter Jr., and John; and a brother-in-law to the Whitmers, Hiram Page. Joseph was permitted to show them the plates near the Smith residence in Manchester when he was making arrangements for the printing of the book.
Lucy Mack Smith said, “The following day [after the witnessing by the three], we returned, a cheerful, happy company. In a few days, we were followed by Joseph, Oliver, and the Whitmers, who came to make us a visit, and make some arrangements about getting the book printed. Soon after they came, all the male part of the company, with my husband, Samuel and Hyrum, retired to a place where the family were in the habit of offering . . . their secret devotions to God. . . . Here it was, that those eight witnesses, whose names are recorded in the Book of Mormon, looked upon them and handled them.”14
● Mary Whitmer. During June 1829, while Joseph and Oliver were busy finishing the translation at the Whitmer’s farm in Fayette, Mary Whitmer labored faithfully to take care of their every need, without complaint and despite much persecution from her neighbors and friends. As a reward for her faithfulness, the Angel Moroni appeared to her in broad daylight and showed her the plates.15
● A Few Others. We do not know for sure how many others had the opportunity to lift the plates while they were being moved from place to place to keep them hidden from Joseph Smith’s enemies. But we do know that Joseph’s parents, Lucy and Joseph Sr. , felt them through a pillow case during this time, as did a man by the name of Joshua McCune.16
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BOOK OF MORMON
At the time the Church was organized, the Lord declared that our exaltation depends upon our receiving the Book of Mormon with faith (D&C 20:14-15). He later declared that the Church was under condemnation for taking the book too lightly (D&C 84:54-58).
In our own time, President Ezra Taft Benson asked, “Has the fact that we have had the Book of Mormon with us for over a century and a half made it seem less significant to us today? Do we remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon?”17
He also questioned, “Do eternal consequences rest upon our response to this book? Yes, either to our blessing or our condemnation. Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not.”18
President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “It seems to me that any member of this Church would never be satisfied until he or she had read the Book of Mormon time and time again, and thoroughly considered it so that he or she could bear witness that it is in very deed a record with the inspiration of the Almighty upon it, and that its history is true. . . . No member of this Church can stand approved in the presence of God who has not seriously and carefully read the Book of Mormon.”19
WHAT THE BOOK OF MORMON PROVES
The Book of Mormon Is the Word of God
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations, and where is our religion? We have none.”20 In other words, without modern prophets and the divine direction they provide from our Father in Heaven, we are no different from any other church on the earth—doing our best to live by the words of the Master from two thousand years ago.
While reading and following His teachings in the Bible is not a bad thing, it is not sufficient. God has not lost His capacity to speak to His children, nor has He lost His will to do so. And His children have not lost their need for timely guidance from living prophets. Indeed, there has probably never been a time when His revealed word was needed more. And how can we know whether modern prophets are true or not? By their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). Put simply, the Book of Mormon is tangible proof that Joseph Smith and those who have succeeded him are prophets of God.
Jesus Christ Himself testifies to us that the Book of Mormon is true (D&C 17:6), that it contains the truth and His words (D&C 19:26), that it was translated by power from on high (D&C 20:8), that it contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (D&C 20:9; 42:12), that it was given by inspiration and confirmed by the ministering of angels (D&C 20:10), that it gives evidence that the holy scriptures are true (D&C 20:11), and that those who receive it in faith shall receive eternal life (D&C 20:14).21
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “This is God’s testimony of the Book of Mormon. In it Deity Himself has laid His godhood on the line. Either the book is true or God ceases to be God. There neither is nor can be any more formal or powerful language known to men or gods.”22
According to D&C 20:1-12, the Book of Mormon establishes many truths:
— The authenticity of the Bible.
— Jesus of Nazareth is the resurrected and divine Christ.
— Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.
— The restoration of Jesus Christ’s church.
— Doctrines and ordinances (such as baptism and the sacrament).
— The divine source of new teachings received by the Prophet Joseph Smith, such as temple ordinances.
The Church of Jesus Christ Has Been Restored
In 3 Nephi 21:1-11, the Savior says that the Book of Mormon will be one of the major signs of the restoration of His Church in the latter days. It will help the Gentiles know concerning the remnant of the house of Jacob. It will be taken from the Gentiles to a remnant of the seed of the Nephites, and it will help the Gentiles to repent and be baptized.
The vast majority of converts to the Church obtain their testimonies after reading the Book of Mormon. It is the most powerful missionary tool we possess. Recognizing the divine voice of God and His prophets within its pages, honest seekers of truth reach the same reasoned conclusion: since the Book of Mormon is of God, so is the work by which it was brought forward and the Church through which it was sent forth to the world. And not surprisingly, those who respond most quickly to its message are the “remnants” of the Book of Mormon peoples whose religious history it contains—the native peoples of North and South America.
Joseph Smith Is a Prophet of God
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “This book . . . is a witness of the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith and of the divinity of the Church set up under his instrumentality. It establishes and proves to the world that Joseph Smith is a prophet, for he received the book from a resurrected personage and translated it by the gift and power of God. And since the Book of Mormon came by revelation, which included the ministering of angels, then obviously Joseph Smith also received other revelations and was ministered to by other heavenly beings.”23
Some of Joseph Smith’s early critics dismissed the book without ever honestly investigating its contents. In 1831, Alexander Campbell, a well-known minister of his time and founder of the Campbellites, said, “It is without exaggeration the meanest book in the English language . . . It has not one good sentence in it.”24 In 1834, Isaac Hale, father of the prophet’s wife Emma said, “The whole Book of Mormon . . . is a silly fabrication of falsehood and wickedness, got up for speculation, and with a design to dupe the credulous and unwary.”25 And an anonymous editorial in 1833 boldly predicted, “As a curiosity, we have carefully examined the Golden Bible, and pronounce it not even a cunningly devised fable . . . Every page bears the impress of its human authorship. Though free from vulgar obscenities, it is an absurd collection of dull, stupid and foolishly improbable stories . . . With its authors, the Book of Mormon cannot survive this generation.”26
Prophets of God in every age have been dismissed by their contemporaries, sometimes out of ignorance and fear. Like modern-day Pharisees, the Christian ministers of Joseph Smith’s day insisted that he could not possibly be a prophet because he contradicted what they were teaching as truth. As men who had never seen God nor spoken face-to-face with Him, they concluded that God did not talk to men anymore. And if He did, surely He would not choose an ignorant boy to receive His message; surely He would speak to one of them first. It took a simple farm boy with child-like faith going into a secluded grove of trees to shatter such pessimism and arrogance.
1. In Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 3; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 4.
2. In Conference Report, Oct. 1982, 75; or Ensign, Nov. 1982, 53.
3. Redbook, quoted by Ron Bernier, “A Note from Pastor Ron and the Staff of Into the Light Ministries,” http://www. intothelight. org/info. asp (accessed Jul. 12, 2007).
4. History of the Church, 1:71.
5. In Conference Report, Oct. 1984, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1984, 6.
6. History of the Church, 4:461.
7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1961, 38-39.
8. Ensign, Nov. 1986, 5.
9. Book of Mormon, Introduction.
10. In Conference Report, Oct. 1984, 7; or Ensign, Nov. 1984, 8.
11. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 436.
12. Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate, Oct. 2, 1879, 51.
13. History of the Church, 1:54-55.
14. History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith, Preston Nibley, ed. , 154.
15. B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , 1:125-27.
16. Brenton G. Yorgason, Little Known Evidences of the Book of Mormon , 19.
17. In Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 4; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 4.
18. In Conference Report, Apr. 1975, 97; or Ensign, May 1975, 65.
19. In Conference Report, Oct. 1961, 18.
20. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, sel. , 71.
21. In Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 3-7; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 4.
22. In Conference Report, Apr. 1982, 50; or Ensign, May 1982, 33.
23. In Conference Report, Apr. 1961, 39-40.
24. Alexander Campbell, The Millennial Harbinger 2: Feb. 7, 1831, 95.
25. Affidavit sworn before Charles Dimon, Justice of the Peace, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, and two other witnesses, Mar. 20, 1834. Quoted in E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unveiled (Painesville, Ohio: 1834), 266.
26. Jamestown Journal 3, no. 246, Feb. 13, 1833.