As students study 4 Nephi, they will learn about the blessings that come to people who are united in living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Following the Savior’s ministry among the descendants of Lehi, all the people throughout the land were converted. As they obeyed the commandments, they enjoyed peace, prosperity, and marvelous spiritual blessings. Mormon declared, “Surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God” (4 Nephi 1:16). Students will also learn important lessons from the people’s gradual decline into a state of wickedness.
Mormon compiled and abridged the records of four writers to create the book of 4 Nephi. The first of these was Nephi, for whom the book was named. Nephi was the son of Nephi, who was one of the twelve disciples chosen by the Lord during His ministry among the descendants of Lehi (see 3 Nephi 11:18–22; 12:1). The other three authors were Nephi’s son Amos and Amos’s sons Amos and Ammaron (see 4 Nephi 1:19, 21, 47).
Mormon did not address the book of 4 Nephi to a particular audience, and he did not state why he wrote it. However, this book contributes to the overarching purposes of the Book of Mormon—to witness that Jesus is the Christ and to make known the covenants of the Lord (see the title page of the Book of Mormon). It does so by illustrating the blessings that result when people repent, come unto Jesus Christ, and make covenants with Him. It also shows the destructive consequences that occur when people deny the Savior and His gospel and forsake their covenants.
The original records used as sources for the book of 4 Nephi were likely written between AD 34 and AD 321. Mormon abridged those records sometime between AD 345 and AD 385. Mormon did not say where he was when he compiled this book.
In only 49 verses, the book of 4 Nephi narrates a period of nearly 300 years—almost one-third of the entire Nephite history covered by the Book of Mormon. The brevity of 4 Nephi contributes to its power. It succinctly highlights the contrast between the people’s righteousness immediately following the Savior’s ministry among them and their wickedness four generations later. The book’s first 18 verses illustrate the blessings enjoyed by a society that is built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ. Later verses provide a witness of the destructiveness of pride, showing how this society gradually weakened until it was almost entirely consumed in sin.
4 Nephi 1:1–18 Following the ministry of Jesus Christ, all the people throughout the land are converted and baptized. They no longer divide themselves as Nephites and Lamanites. They “have all things common” (4 Nephi 1:3), they experience many miracles, and they prosper and live in unity and happiness for 110 years.
4 Nephi 1:19–34 Nephi dies, and his son Amos keeps the records. Amos later passes the records to his son Amos. Many people allow Satan to “get hold on their hearts” (4 Nephi 1:28). Divisions, pride, and false churches arise among the people. The wicked begin to persecute the members of the true Church and the “disciples of Jesus who did tarry with them” (4 Nephi 1:30).
4 Nephi 1:35–49 The people again divide themselves as Nephites and Lamanites. The Lamanites willfully rebel against the gospel and build up the secret combinations of Gadianton. Eventually, the Nephites also become wicked. Amos dies, and his brother Ammaron keeps the records for a time before being constrained by the Holy Ghost to hide them.