It is easy to underestimate the magnitude of the plain and precious truths restored through the Book of Mormon. Remember, what we find in the book came before the Nauvoo period, before the Kirtland period, even before the Church was organized in New York. The doctrines and information we discover in this book came through Joseph Smith in early 1829.
In November of 1843 the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote the following to a new member of the Church: “The fact is, that by the power of God I translated the Book of Mormon from hieroglyphics, the knowledge of which was lost to the world, in which wonderful event I stood alone, an unlearned youth, to combat the worldly wisdom and multiplied ignorance of eighteen centuries, with a new revelation, which (if they would receive the everlasting Gospel,) would open the eyes of [the world], and make ‘plain the old paths,’ wherein if a man walk in all the ordinances of God blameless, he shall inherit eternal life.”1
In the spring of 1820 Joseph had learned from his First Vision that the churches of his day were teaching false creeds and doctrines (see Joseph Smith History 1:18–19). Several years later, while Joseph was translating the Book of Mormon, he came to understand clearly why the doctrines of the churches were corrupt. From a vision given to the prophet Nephi, Joseph learned that when the ancient biblical prophets and apostles had written their books, they came forth “in purity” (1 Nephi 13:25). Sadly, as their writings went forth, parts of the gospel that were “plain and most precious” and “covenants of the Lord” were “taken away” (1 Nephi 13:26). Nephi saw that these changes and omissions would cause “an exceedingly great many [to] stumble” (1 Nephi 13:29). Satan would gain “great power” through all of this (see 1 Nephi 13:34).
But the Lord prepared the Book of Mormon to “make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away” (1 Nephi 13:40). Moreover, the prophet Mormon, in his final words, reaffirmed that the Book of Mormon was “written for the intent that ye may believe” the Bible (Mormon 7:9).
A careful examination of the Book of Mormon reveals many significant insights not found in the Bible. These precious truths include new insights about biblical people and events, prophecies, visions, and doctrinal principles.
Premortal Existence. Humanity struggles to understand the purpose of life and questions the role of a God in this world. The Book of Mormon records, however, that the “plan of redemption” was laid out in premortal life (see Alma 12:25), that all of the spirit children of God were on the “same standing” there (meaning they had equal opportunity to progress through righteous choices), but some were foreordained to priesthood callings in this premortal state “on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God” (see Alma 13:2–5).
Adam’s Fall and Human Suffering. Many in the Christian world consider the Fall of Adam to be an accident or tragedy. Drawing from his reading of the brass plates, however, Lehi taught that the Fall was purposeful and necessary (see 2 Nephi 2:22–25). Why is there so much suffering in the world and why are humans so flawed? The Book of Mormon teaches us why we have natural weaknesses and how they are designed to turn us to Christ (see Ether 12:27). Agency and opposition are essential to the eternal growth and development of humankind (see 2 Nephi 2:11–16). Thus, this life is a “state of probation” (2 Nephi 2:21) in which our days are prolonged so that we can be “free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27).
Agency. The principle of man’s right to act according to his own will or desires is a major theme throughout the Book of Mormon.2 Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles affirmed that the Book of Mormon “provides some of our most important doctrinal insights on the significance of free agency in the gospel plan.”3 Alma taught that the necessity of agency and its effects ultimately require that there be an Atonement (see Alma 42:9–15). To assist mankind in the use of moral agency, Mormon explained, the “Spirit of Christ [or light of Christ] is given to every man, that he may know good from evil” (Moroni 7:16–19). The purpose and function of the light of Christ are made clear in the Nephite record beyond anything in the biblical text.
The Atonement. Concerning the new light the Book of Mormon shed on the atoning mission of Jesus Christ, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared: “Surely the most plain and precious of all truths lost from the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, are the clear and unequivocal declarations of the mission of Jesus Christ, his foreordained role as Messiah and Savior of the world, and the covenantal elements of his gospel, which have been taught from Adam down through each succeeding dispensation. Thus the Book of Mormon’s highest purpose is to restore to the universal family of God that crucial knowledge of Christ’s role in the salvation of every man, woman, and child who now lives, has ever lived, or will yet live upon the earth.”4
In addition to ancient prophecies of Christ’s mortal ministry, the Book of Mormon gives clear examples of the “doctrine of Christ” being taught before the meridian of time (see 2 Nephi 31:1–21). Nephi declared, “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 look forward unto that life which is in Christ” (2 Nephi 25:26–27). Jacob taught that “none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ” (Jacob 7:11). Nowhere in scripture are the breadth and depth and scope of the Atonement so clearly explained as in the Book of Mormon. Various forms of the word atonement appear no less than 35 times in the Book of Mormon, while it is found only once in the King James New Testament (see Romans 5:11) and not at all in the Revised Standard Version.
In Alma 7:11–13 we learn that the Savior took upon Him not only our sins but also our pains, sicknesses, and infirmities that He might “according to the flesh know how to succor [or come to the aid of] his people.” The doctrine of Christ’s redemptive power over little children, while absent from the Bible, was taught with unmatched clarity in Mormon’s epistle to his son Moroni (see Moroni 8:4–20).
Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy (1857–1933) explained how the unconditional nature of the Atonement in regard to Adam’s transgression and its conditional nature regarding men’s personal sins is a doctrine “peculiar to ‘Mormonism’ … and is derived almost wholly from the teachings of the Book of Mormon. In that distinction the beauty and glory of the Atonement, the balanced claims of justice and mercy shine forth as no where else, even in holy writ,—much less in the uninspired writings of men. It may be regarded as the ‘Mormon’ contribution to views of the Atonement of Christ, for it is to be found no where else except in Mormon literature.”5 The perfect relationship between the atoning grace of Christ and the obedient efforts of mankind is powerfully stated by Nephi: “We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). Furthermore, we are invited to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” When we deny ourselves “of all ungodliness,” then and only “then is his grace sufficient” for us (Moroni 10:32).
First Principles and Ordinances. The Old Testament does not clearly teach the principles of faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and their interrelationship, but Book of Mormon prophets Nephi, Jacob, Alma, and his son Alma all taught the importance of these principles prior to the coming of Christ.6
Church Organization. The Book of Mormon became to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery a handbook of instructions for organizing the Church. Much of the procedural information in Doctrine and Covenants section 20 came directly from the Book of Mormon. Moroni recorded the specific manner of bestowing the Holy Ghost and the necessity of authority to do so (see Moroni 2:2). He also taught the proper way to ordain someone to a priesthood office (see Moroni 3:1–3) and recorded the specific prayers to be used in administering the sacrament (see Moroni 4, 5). Moroni also explained in detail the requirements for one receiving baptism, the purpose for keeping membership records, and the need for the Saints to meet regularly (see Moroni 6:1–6).
Revelation. The Book of Mormon demonstrates and teaches the importance of personal revelation for all.7 From beginning to end it is the classic example that the heavens are still open and that God does indeed speak to men on earth. The Book of Mormon also reveals the role and ministry of angels in detail not found in the Bible (see Moroni 7:29–32).
Satan’s Identity and Methods. The knowledge of Satan and his influence is virtually absent from the Old Testament. One scholar wrote, “Nowhere in the [Old Testament] does Satan appear as a distinctive demonic figure, opposed to God and responsible for all evil.”8 Another acknowledged, “Admittedly we have not yet the fully developed doctrine” concerning Satan.9 Lehi learned from the brass plates, however, that Satan was originally an angel of God who fell from heaven by seeking “that which was evil before God” (2 Nephi 2:17). From the Book of Mormon we learn various ways he seeks to gain power over individuals, such as teaching men not to pray, stirring “them up to anger against that which is good,” lulling “them away into carnal security,” and revealing his secret plans to lead them down to destruction (see 2 Nephi 32:8; 28:20–21; Helaman 6:26).10 Fortunately, the Book of Mormon also reveals that when people are righteous, Satan has no power (see 1 Nephi 22:26).11
We have just scratched the surface. The number of plain and precious truths restored is voluminous. After an intense study of all the doctrines the Book of Mormon reveals which are not found in the Bible, Elder B. H. Roberts concluded: “Beyond controversy neither the native intelligence nor learning of Joseph Smith can possibly be regarded as equal to such a performance as bringing forth the knowledge which the Book of Mormon imparts upon these profound subjects; nor can the intelligence or learning of those who assisted him in translating the book be regarded as sufficient for such a task. Nor was the intelligence and learning of any one to whom the origin of the book has ever been ascribed equal to such an achievement. Indeed the book sounds depths on these subjects not only beyond the intelligence and learning of this small group of men referred to, but beyond the intelligence and learning of the age itself in which it came forth.”12
The more carefully one studies the doctrines and teachings of the Book of Mormon, the more powerful the evidence becomes that Joseph Smith was not reflecting the learning of his time or his own personal study. He was the instrument God used to reveal many lost truths and once again “make plain the old paths” that, if followed, will lead one to exaltation and eternal life.
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions, personal reflection, or teaching the gospel in a variety of settings.
Make a copy for each family member of a simple recipe for a treat that everyone enjoys. Then make a second copy of the recipe with key ingredients and cooking processes missing. Discuss the differences in the recipes and the problems that arise when essential information is missing. Compare this to what the author shows happened to the scriptures when plain and precious truths were removed.
Compare Matthew 18:11 in the New Testament with Matthew 18:11 in footnote 11c. Discuss or contemplate the additional truth and understanding that can come to the scriptures through revelation to a prophet.