Introduction to the First Book of Nephi

Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual, 2012

Why study this book?

As students study 1 Nephi, they will discover that the “tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty” (1 Nephi 1:20). They will also learn that God desires to bless His children. Lehi and his people experienced God’s mercy and blessings as they followed His commandments. Lehi and Nephi sought guidance from God and received it through dreams, visions, the Liahona, and the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Nephi received and recorded a panoramic vision of earth’s history that showed him the omniscience of God; the baptism, ministry, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ; the destruction of the Nephites; and the latter days. God helped Nephi and his brothers obtain the brass plates so they could have the scriptures. He also saved Lehi and his people from famine in the wilderness and destruction on the ocean, safely delivering them to the promised land. As students study the experiences of Nephi and Lehi in this book, they can learn how to seek and receive the blessings of heaven.

Who wrote this book?

Lehi’s son Nephi wrote this book in response to the Lord’s command that he keep a record of his people. Nephi was likely born in or near Jerusalem. He lived there during the ministry of the prophet Jeremiah and the reign of King Zedekiah. Nephi sought his own witness about his father’s words concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the need for their family to leave. As he continued to seek and follow the counsel of the Lord, Nephi became an instrument in God’s hands. He obediently returned to Jerusalem with his brothers twice—first to obtain the brass plates and later to persuade Ishmael’s family to join Lehi’s family in the wilderness. With the Lord’s help, Nephi built the ship that took his family and others across the ocean to the promised land. When Lehi died, the Lord chose Nephi to be the leader of his people.

To whom was this book written and why?

Nephi wrote with three audiences in mind: his father’s descendants, the Lord’s covenant people in the last days, and all the people in the world (see 2 Nephi 33:3, 13). He wrote to persuade all to come unto Jesus Christ and be saved (see 1 Nephi 6:4).

When and where was it written?

Nephi wrote the account that became 1 Nephi in approximately 570 B.C.—30 years after he and his family left Jerusalem (see 2 Nephi 5:30). He wrote it when he was in the land of Nephi.

What are some distinctive features of this book?

1 Nephi contains several accounts of heavenly manifestations in dreams, visions, and direct revelations. These manifestations show that God instructs, guides, and protects those who seek after Him:

  • As Lehi prays, a pillar of fire appears, and he sees and hears many things that make him tremble (see 1 Nephi 1:6–7).

  • Lehi receives a vision in which he sees God and reads from a book that prophesies of the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of its inhabitants (see 1 Nephi 1:8–14).

  • The Lord commands Lehi to depart with his family into the wilderness (see 1 Nephi 2:1–2).

  • The Lord directs Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem for the plates of brass (see 1 Nephi 3:2–4).

  • An angel intervenes when Laman and Lemuel are beating Nephi and Sam (see 1 Nephi 3:29).

  • The Lord commands that Nephi and his brothers return to Jerusalem for Ishmael and his family (see 1 Nephi 7:1–2).

  • Lehi and Nephi receive visions that include the tree of life; the birth, ministry, and Atonement of Jesus Christ; the history of the land of promise; the Restoration of the gospel; and the conflict between the forces of the devil and the church of the Lamb of God (see 1 Nephi 8; 11–14).

  • Nephi is shown how to build a ship that will carry his people to the promised land (see 1 Nephi 18:1).

1 Nephi contains the firsthand account of a people who made the journey to the land of promise. The Book of Mormon later names two other groups who voyaged to the promised land: the Mulekites (see Omni 1:14–17) and the Jaredites (see Ether 6:4–12).

The book of 1 Nephi also introduces two significant items: the sword of Laban and a compass, or director, called the Liahona (see 1 Nephi 18:12; Alma 37:38). Through the Liahona, the Lord guided Lehi’s family through the wilderness and across the ocean. The sword of Laban was handed down through the generations until the end of the Nephite civilization. The Liahona and sword of Laban were both buried with the gold plates, and they were shown to Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses (see D&C 17:1–2).


1 Nephi 1–7 Lehi leads his family into the wilderness. His sons heed the Lord’s commands to return to Jerusalem and obtain the brass plates and return again to persuade Ishmael and his family to join them in the wilderness.

1 Nephi 8–15 Lehi and Nephi each receive a vision of the tree of life. Nephi recounts his vision of the Savior’s ministry and historical events leading up to the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days.

1 Nephi 16–18 The Lord guides Lehi and his family on their journey through the wilderness and across the ocean to the promised land.

1 Nephi 19–22 Nephi prophesies of Jesus Christ and the scattering and gathering of Israel.