I have found that I have placed a much greater value on the record of Nephi, which is contained in the Book of Mormon, because I finally understand the mechanics of how the Book of Mormon was organized. Let me try and explain what I mean by that statement. It may take a couple of posts to fully get my point across… so have patience with me!
I have always understood that Mormon was the prophet that abridged the many records that he received from his ancestors concerning the “land of Promise”, or the Americas. From my last post, it can be gathered that Nephi understood, through his visit with the Lord, that his job was that of a record keeper. His posterity was diligent in that call by making sure that record keeping was a priority also. This record keeping resulted in several sets of plates, or individual records, that were handed down from generation to generation.
Mormon, who lived about 900 years after Nephi, was given the job of taking all the records that were kept, and instructed to make an abridgment of them. An abridgment is like a “Readers Digest Condensed Version” of what the big picture really was. Mormon had the task of reading ALL the records and extracting the parts that he deemed important for us today. This was his calling, given to him by the Lord. In a sense, I like to think of him as the inspired editor.
When Mormon was finished he turned his final draft of the project, the abridgment of all the records, over to Moroni, his son, to be the guardian of the record, or as the Lord explains, “committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim” to him. This abridgment was taken from a time span of records starting with Lehi, and continuing on down to Mormon himself. It included an abridgment of records that Nephi had written. Mormon had intended it to be the finished copy of the Book of Mormon, but that is not exactly what happened.
After Mormon had finished his abridgment of the many records, he found something among the records he felt inspired to simply include untouched.
The Words of Mormon 1:3 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.
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—
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.
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.
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.
To be clear on this, Moroni received, from his father Mormon, the completed abridgment that Mormon had worked on, or edited, from records spanning from the time of Lehi, to his present time, and another set of smaller records that were started by Nephi and continued through the prophetic line until the time of King Benjamin. These were two completely different works. One was Mormons abridged completed historical work, and the other was Nephi’s unabridged record made by his own hand and by the hand of each of the direct line of prophets themselves, until the reign of kings started with King Benjamin. The first set of plates was larger than the second smaller set of plates. This smaller set of plates is the account given in the Book of Mormon record we have today, untouched and unabridged by Mormon. (Obviously Nephi had made two different sets of records, which we will discuss further in my next post, the first record was the one Mormon abridged, the second was unabridged.) This smaller record is actually what we know today as First Nephi to Omni.
It is interesting to note, that a parenthetical statement is added right after Omni, in the Book of Mormon, called the Words of Mormon, to describe the transition that is being made from direct records, to abridged records. From Mosiah onward, until the end of the Book of Mormon, you will find Mormon interjecting his commentary into the work, whereas before Mosiah there is none of that to be found.
So what happened to the abridged record, which probably contained commentary from Mormon, for the period of history from Lehi down to King Benjamin? Where is the beginning of the great work that Mormon did?
That abridged record containing history from Lehi to King Benjamin was the part of the record that was written on the 116 pages of manuscript that Martin Harris took to show his wife. It is the part of manuscript that was lost and never recovered. It was the part of the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith was told not to re translate.
Look for the reason the Lord commanded him not to re translate the same records:
Doctrine and Covenants 10: 10 And, behold, Satan hath put it into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands.
11 And behold, I say unto you, that because they have altered the words, they read contrary from that which you translated and caused to be written;
12 And, on this wise, the devil has sought to lay a cunning plan, that he may destroy this work;
13 For he hath put into their hearts to do this, that by lying they may say they have caught you in the words which you have pretended to translate.
14 Verily, I say unto you, that I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing.
15 For behold, he has put it into their hearts to get thee to tempt the Lord thy God, in asking to translate it over again.
The Lord told Joseph Smith that he was not to translate that part of the record over again, because those who had the original copy would alter the words and make a second translation appear incorrect. The Lord had made a provision for this very problem from the beginning.
Doctrine and Covenants 10:38 And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, is engraven upon the plates of Nephi; (Sidebar: these are the small plates)
39 Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.
40 And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account—
41 Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, (small plates) down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained;
42 And behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words.
43 I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.
44 Behold, they have only got a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi.
45 Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work.
The Lord knew that there would be a choice that Joseph would have to make; this choice was his and his alone. He could follow the commands of the Lord, or succumb to the pressures of his peers. He was given his agency and allowed to choose. Either way Joseph chose, a way was provided for him to complete the work of the Lord. The small plates, or record of Nephi, is the “backup plan” which contains a greater testimony of Jesus Christ and the way back to the Father.
Not only does our Father provide a plan, but he also has a “back up plan” in place. Here is the wisdom of God. The Atonement itself was the “backup plan” given by the Father to provide a way back into His presence if Adam chose to succumb to peer pressure. Both Adam and Joseph Smith were, in a sense, given the same instruction in the Garden, and regarding the request to give the record to Martin Harris, with the admonition to "choose for themselves" being reminded by the Father, "nevertheless I forbid it." Both of their choices ended in a period of being "cast out" and required a repentance process to "return" to the presence of the Father.
Jesus Christ is the “Record of Heaven”, “the way, the truth, and the light”. Nephi’s part in this plan of the Father is simply another testimony for Jesus Christ himself. As we will see, Nephi, who holds the sealing power, is one who acts as the Father would act if He were here. He is also a type and a shadow of Jesus Christ. His part is not only to provide the record, but provide a backup plan for the record too, by way of the small plates that he was commanded to keep. That backup plan is the instruction on how to apply the atonement in your life. It is a plain and precious part that is missing from the Stick of Judah, that provides the way, the truth, and the light. It is a record of Heaven.
Doctrine and Covenants 3: 1 The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught.
2 For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round.
3 Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men;