In 1830, the first copy of the Book of Mormon was published. Recently the 150 millionth copy was printed. Today, it is translated into 82 languages and is selections have been translated into 25 more languages.
The Book of Mormon does not replace the Bible for Mormons. It is used with the Bible and its purpose is outlined in the subtitle: “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” In the Book of Mormon, we learn that a few small group of Jews were sent to the American continent by God. In just a brief time, the primary group, known as the Nephites, were forced to move away from another group, the Lamanites. The leaders of these two groups were brothers, but one was evil and one was a prophet of God. The Lamanites had as their goal to destroy the Nephites and all memory of them.
Throughout the generations, the Nephites had prophets, as did the people of the Old Testament. They learned that God loves all His children, not just those who lived in the Holy Lands at that time. They were even promised Jesus would visit them sometime after his crucifixion and resurrection, which He did. The wicked were killed and the righteous remained to greet their Savior. During this visit, the people learned of the Savior’s great love for them. Unfortunately, after a few generations, the children who had not been alive at this time stopped believing Jesus had ever really come or stopped caring what He had taught. They became progressively more wicked and again divided into two groups.
Eventually too many of the Nephites had forgotten the promises they had made to God. God had promised they could not be destroyed as long as they were righteous but the time came when there were few who were righteous. A great war ensued between the two groups and large numbers of people were killed, with the greatest number on the side of the Nephites. The Lamanites continued to hunt down and kill the surviving Nephites until there was only one man left, a teenage boy named Moroni. He was the son of the prophet Mormon, who had been commanded by God to begin abridging the records each prophet had left behind and handed down from prophet to prophet. When he died, Moroni, now the only righteous person in his personal world, went into hiding and finished the project. He was in constant danger of being murdered as the Lamanites continued to search for him. So bloodthirsty they could not stop fighting when their enemies were dead, they were now killing each other, but they were anxious to finish off the remaining Nephite.
Once Moroni finished the editing, he hid the book and left the area. He returned after a time, briefly, and added more to it. We don’t know what happened to him after that. He did report that the Lamanites were still fighting, so it is likely they became a fairly small population by the time their internal wars ended.
The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to testify of Jesus Christ. It refers to Him and to His ministry more often than does the Bible. It contains many of the great Biblical themes: grace, atonement, charity, service, faith, and repentance, for example.
Following are a few verses from the Book of Mormon that relate critical doctrine:
8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary (Mosiah 3:8).
For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do (2 Nephi 25:23).
26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. (2 Nephi 25:26)
26 And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you (Moroni 7:26)
The Book of Mormon came into our modern lives through Joseph Smith, the first prophet of modern times. God often said in the Bible He would do nothing but through the mouth of His prophets. There had been brief (from an eternal standpoint) periods of time in which prophets were withdrawn from the earth due to the refusal of God’s children to listen to them and to obey them. But always God returned the prophets to the earth. In these final days, as we prepare for the Second Coming, we can look around and see there has never been a greater need for a prophet. It is clear people are confused about what is true and what is not. Without a prophet like Noah or Moses to guide them, it can be very difficult to stay the course. God loves us too much to let us flounder when the stakes are high.
With this in mind, God called Joseph Smith to be the first prophet in modern times. He was shown the location of the Book of Mormon by Moroni himself, now an angel. The Bible often refers to angels and they are an essential part of God’s work. Moroni tutored Joseph until he was ready to receive the plates on which the book was recorded. Although at the time no one had ever heard of records being kept on metal plates in ancient times, today archaeologists have indeed found such records.
When the Book of Mormon was published, the church was officially restored. Mormons would read both the Bible and the Book of Mormon to gain a greater understanding of God’s work and the Savior’s mission. Over the years, the Book of Mormon has been loved and read by many, named among the nation’s most influential books even by organizations not associated with the Church.
How did this book, whose power to change lives, come to be accepted as scripture by so many people? The Bible has had the gift of time. We are more inclined to accept the old, even when there is insufficient proof. For instance, many “experts” believe Abraham never existed because the story doesn’t fit the facts as they have determined them. And yet, Christians accept the reality of Abraham even without physical proof. We don’t need proof. God said Abraham existed and we trust God.
The Book of Mormon, although newer, also requires a measure of faith. The Bible tells us how to find out if it is true. In James 1:5, James told us if we lack wisdom, we can ask God with faith and pure intent and He will answer our question. With this promise, we can know the Bible is true. The Book of Mormon offers a similar promise. In Moroni 10:4, near the end of the book, Moroni promises that if we study the book with pure intent and a sincere desire to know if it’s true, we can pray and receive an answer to our request to know.
Mormons are taught to put this to the test. Most Christian churches don’t require their members to pray about the Bible prior to joining their church. Mormons teach even their young children that they are to pray to know if the scriptures are true and if the church is true. Before baptism, they are asked about the results of this inquiry by their leaders. Each member of the Mormon church is expected to gain a personal testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Bible, rather than trusting the words of others.
The Book of Mormon has reached such a high level of readership because so many people have put the book to the test and received confirmation that it is true. It has withstood all its critics, all those who mock it, and all those who discount it and has continued on to give people what is often their first testimony of Jesus Christ.