“Thank you for the Book of Mormon. I do not believe it was inspired by God or that it leads us to the gospel of Christ. But I appreciate having it as a reference in my study of non-Christian religions.”
This was part of a letter my wife and I received from a woman in the midwestern United States. Someone had given her a copy of the Book of Mormon with our family picture and testimony on the inside front cover. When I responded to her letter by telephone, we had a pleasant conversation and I asked if I might write and explain to her what the Book of Mormon is all about. She agreed, and I wrote her about the book, including many of the concepts about Jesus Christ listed in this article.
Actually, I’ve been working on this list most of my life. As a missionary, I knew half a dozen ways the Book of Mormon adds to our knowledge of Christ. Since then, each time I have taught or read the Book of Mormon during the last thirty years, the list has grown longer. I expect the list to continue growing each time I reread that book of scripture from ancient America.
Nephi had a vision of the last days in which he learned that there were “many plain and precious things” taken away from the Bible. (1 Ne. 13:28.) I am convinced that the Book of Mormon not only testifies of Jesus Christ but also restores some of those plain, lost truths about him. Not only does it confirm the doctrines we learn about Christ in the Bible, but it also adds to them.
1. Our Redeemer’s atonement reaches those who die without law, including little children who die without baptism. Many Christians not only exclude non-Christians from the effects of the Atonement, but they also believe unbaptized children are lost. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught that where no law is given there is no condemnation because of the mercies of Christ. (See 2 Ne. 9:25.) King Benjamin recalled an angel’s explanation that Christ’s “blood atoneth for the sins of those who have … died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned” (Mosiah 3:11–12).
Thanks to a letter from Mormon to Moroni, we learn that “little children need no repentance, neither baptism. … But little children are alive in Christ.” (Moro. 8:11–12.)
2. Christ’s death on the cross brought about a universal resurrection for all mankind, regardless of a person’s belief or performance. Much of Christianity believes that the effects of Christ’s atonement are limited. Many people teach that belief in Christ is necessary for resurrection. Others believe that baptism and other sacraments are needed for resurrection. However, Jacob clearly taught that Christ “suffereth this [the Atonement] that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before [Christ] at the great and judgment day” (2 Ne. 9:22; italics added). Moroni wrote, “Because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ, … all men are redeemed, … which bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep.” (Morm. 9:13.) This is a significant contribution to understanding the Christian theology of justice and mercy.
3. The Lord’s atonement brought about a physical resurrection, not just a spiritual one. Many believe that the resurrection of mankind through Christ’s atonement does not include the physical body. Biblical translations on the subject differ, leading to confusion. For instance, Job 19:26 in the King James Version reads, “After my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” In the Anchor Bible, it reads, “Even after my skin is flayed, without my flesh I shall see God.”
There is no confusion in the Book of Mormon. Shortly after the death of his father, Lehi, Jacob taught that “in our bodies we shall see God” (2 Ne. 9:4). Much later, Amulek taught that “the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death. … The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame” (Alma 11:42–43).
4. So great was Christ’s suffering that blood came from every pore. The Book of Mormon clarifies a much-disputed New Testament passage concerning the extent and nature of Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane: “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44.)
Many Christians conclude that this verse compares the sweat to drops of blood, treating the incident figuratively. Such people feel that Jesus did not actually sweat blood as he suffered.
However, King Benjamin clearly described the angel’s account of the suffering that Christ would undergo: “He shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, … for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.” (Mosiah 3:7; italics added.)
5. Christ’s atonement was to satisfy the demands of justice. This concept is well-known, yet only the Book of Mormon clearly teaches that the Savior’s atonement “satisfied the demands of justice” (Mosiah 15:9; see also Alma 42:15). Alma asked, “What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit.” (Alma 42:25.) In other words, in order that we be granted mercy if we follow his teachings, Jesus offered himself as payment for our sins so that the requirements of justice could be met.
6. Christ’s atonement was part of an eternal plan that included the fall of man. Many Christians think of the Fall as a great tragedy and believe that Adam and Eve were wicked sinners and that the Atonement was necessary only to compensate for their mistake. This interpretation is understandable because of the incomplete biblical account.
Fortunately, the Book of Mormon clarifies the relationship between the Fall and the Atonement. Lehi explained, “If Adam had not transgressed … he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things … must have remained in the same state” forever. Consequently, Adam and Eve “would have had no children.” (See 2 Ne. 2:22–23.) He also explained that there would be no joy because there would be no sorrow, no righteousness because there would be no evil. Ultimately, there would be no chance for eternal life. (See 2 Ne. 2:11–27.)
“From the foundation of the world,” long before the Fall, the Savior was prepared for his mission of redemption (Ether 3:14). The Fall brought opposition and the opportunity to make choices; the Savior’s atonement enabled us to make choices that lead to eternal life. (See 2 Ne. 2:27.)
The Bible never refers to the fall of Adam and Eve and the atonement of Christ as part of a plan. By contrast, the Book of Mormon often uses such expressions as “the plan of our God” (2 Ne. 9:13), “the eternal plan of deliverance” (2 Ne. 11:5), “the plan of redemption” (Alma 12:25), and “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8). The expression “plan of salvation” was first used in the scriptures by Jarom (Jarom 1:2).
7. Without the Savior’s atonement, all the earth’s inhabitants would come under Satan’s control. The power that Satan can exercise over men and women is not clearly explained in the Bible, so one of the purposes for the Atonement is never fully explained in it. However, Jacob taught, “O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to … the devil.” (2 Ne. 9:8.)
Mormon recorded Abinadi’s explanation that the devil would have power over mankind because the Fall “was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil” (Mosiah 16:3). The next several verses go on to say that the Atonement allows people to escape the devil’s dominion. (See Mosiah 16:4–12.)
(To be continued)