Lesson 4: Title Page, Introduction, and Testimony of Witnesses

Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual, 2012


Introduction

As you teach the Book of Mormon, you will help students discover truths that will bring them closer to God. From the beginning of the book, it is clear that the writers of the Book of Mormon intended it to testify that Jesus is the Christ. The book also reaffirms God’s covenant with the house of Israel and demonstrates the need for all of God’s children to make and keep sacred covenants. As students prayerfully study the Book of Mormon, they will gain a greater testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and of the Restoration of His Church in the latter days. They will also learn to exercise greater faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

Suggestions for Teaching

The suggestions for teaching this lesson may take longer to teach than the time allotted for your class. Prayerfully consider which portions your class needs the most.

Title Page

Invite students to turn to the title page of the Book of Mormon. This page begins with the words “The Book of Mormon, an account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi.” The Prophet Joseph Smith explained the origin of the title page:

“The title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the … book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated, … and … said title page is not by any means a modern composition, either of mine or of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation” (in History of the Church, 1:71).

Invite students to read the title page of the Book of Mormon silently. Ask them to look for phrases that state the purposes of the Book of Mormon. (You may want to give students a hint that these purposes are expressed as things the Book of Mormon will “show unto” those who read it.) Invite several students to write their findings on the board. When they have finished, ask students to reread the second paragraph to themselves, inserting their own names in place of “the remnant of the House of Israel.”

  • As you have read the Book of Mormon, which of its purposes have been fulfilled in your life? How have they been fulfilled?

  • How does it help you to know that those who make covenants with the Lord will not be “cast off forever”?

Tell students that there may be times when they feel alone or that they have been “cast off.”

  • Why is it important to know during these times that you are not “cast off forever”?

  • How is this promise an expression of God’s love for you?

To help students appreciate the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon, ask a student to read the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson:

President Ezra Taft Benson

“The major mission of the Book of Mormon, as recorded on its title page, is ‘to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.’

“The honest seeker after truth can gain the testimony that Jesus is the Christ as he prayerfully ponders the inspired words of the Book of Mormon.

“Over one-half of all the verses in the Book of Mormon refer to our Lord. Some form of Christ’s name is mentioned more frequently per verse in the Book of Mormon than even in the New Testament.

“He is given over one hundred different names in the Book of Mormon. Those names have a particular significance in describing His divine nature” (“Come unto Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 83).

Share your testimony that the Book of Mormon is a witness that Jesus is the Christ.

Introduction to the Book of Mormon

Draw on the board a picture of an arch (see the accompanying illustration), or make a model of an arch from wood or other materials.

keystone diagram

Ask a student to read aloud the statement by Joseph Smith in the introduction to the Book of Mormon (see paragraph six). You may want to suggest that students mark the statement in their scriptures.

  • What purpose does a keystone serve?

Explain that the keystone is the central stone at the top of an arch. When an arch is constructed, the two sides are built up with supports to hold them. The space at the top of the arch is carefully measured, and the keystone is cut to fit it exactly. When the keystone is put in place, the arch can stand without supports.

  • What happens to the arch if the keystone is removed? (If you are using a model, demonstrate by removing the keystone.)

  • How does the Book of Mormon function like a keystone in relation to the restored gospel?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson. (You may want to prepare the statement on a handout for students to insert into their scriptures. Alternatively, you may want to invite students to write President Benson’s statement in their scriptures, at the top or bottom of the first page of the introduction.)

“There are three ways in which the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. It is the keystone in our witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. It is the keystone of testimony” (“The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 5).

To help students understand how the Book of Mormon is the keystone of testimony, invite a student to read the following statement by President Benson:

“The Book of Mormon is the keystone of testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. … If the Book of Mormon be true … then one must accept the claims of the Restoration and all that accompanies it” (“The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” 6).

  • How has your testimony of the Book of Mormon influenced your testimony of gospel doctrines and principles?

  • How has the Book of Mormon brought you nearer to God?

You may want to tell about how your study of the Book of Mormon has strengthened your testimony and brought you closer to God.

Invite students to participate in a role play. Ask them to imagine they are giving a copy of the Book of Mormon to someone who is not a member of the Church. Help them prepare for the role play by dividing them into two groups. Ask the first group to read paragraphs 2–4 of the introduction to the Book of Mormon. Ask the second group to read paragraphs 5–8. Have both groups look for information they feel would be important to share when teaching about the Book of Mormon.

After giving students time to study and prepare, invite a student to come to the front of the class to play the role of a person who is not a member of the Church. Also ask a student from each of the two groups to come to the front of the class. Explain that these two students will act as missionary companions. They will use the material their groups discovered in the introduction to teach the first student about the Book of Mormon.

When students have finished the role play, you may want to ask the rest of the class if there are additional items from the introduction that they might have shared if they had been selected to teach.

You may want to point out that the Book of Mormon does not claim to give a history of all the peoples who lived anciently in the Western Hemisphere. It is a record only of the descendants of Lehi (the Nephites and Lamanites) and the people of Jared. There may have been other people who inhabited the continents in the Western Hemisphere before, during, and after the events recorded in the Book of Mormon.

Invite students to read Moroni 10:3–5 silently.

  • According to Moroni, how can we know that the Book of Mormon is true?

Invite students to read paragraphs 8–9 in the introduction to the Book of Mormon. Ask them to identify three additional truths of which they will gain a witness if they accept Moroni’s challenge.

Testify to students that as we read, ponder, and pray about the Book of Mormon, the Holy Ghost will witness that it is true, that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom on the earth.

Testimonies of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses

Ask students to imagine that they have witnessed someone taking a valuable item from their neighbor’s house.

  • When solving a crime, why is it valuable to have a witness?

  • Why would it be helpful to have more than one witness?

Ask students to read “The Testimony of Three Witnesses” silently. Invite them to look for phrases that are especially meaningful to them. You may want to suggest that they mark these phrases.

  • Which phrases did you mark? Why are they meaningful to you? (You may want to point out that the voice of God declared to the Three Witnesses that the plates were translated by the gift and power of God.)

Ask a student to read “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses” aloud. Invite the rest of the class to listen for differences between the testimonies of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses.

  • What differences did you notice?

Invite students to write their own witnesses of or feelings about the Book of Mormon. They may want to write in their scripture study journals or on a blank page in their scriptures. Some students may feel they do not yet know that the Book of Mormon is true. Encourage them to seek to obtain a testimony this year.

Commentary and Background Information

Title Page

The following definitions may be helpful when studying the title page of the Book of Mormon.

House of Israel refers to descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham’s grandson Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, had twelve sons. Their posterity became known as the twelve tribes of Israel. As the posterity of Abraham, the house of Israel was also the Lord’s covenant people. Today, the house of Israel includes those who make covenants with the Lord and keep His commandments. “The name Israel is therefore variously used to denote (1) the man Jacob, (2) the literal descendants of Jacob, and (3) the true believers in Christ, regardless of their lineage or geographical location” (Bible Dictionary, “Israel”).

Jews originally referred to anyone from the tribe of Judah (one of the twelve tribes of Israel). It has come to mean anyone from the kingdom of Judah (in Old Testament times, the southern part of the divided kingdom of Israel), even if they are not from the tribe of Judah. It also refers to “people who practice the religion, life-styles, and traditions of Judaism but may or may not be Jewish by birth” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Jews,” scriptures.lds.org).

Gentiles means “the nations.” It refers to (1) those who are not of the house of Israel, (2) those who do not believe in the God of Israel or who do not have the gospel, regardless of their lineage, and (3) people who are not from or do not live in the land of Judah. For example, pilgrims and colonists are called Gentiles in 1 Nephi 13:3–13. Those who brought forth the Book of Mormon are called Gentiles in 1 Nephi 13:34. The Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price were also brought forth by Gentiles (see 1 Nephi 13:39). The United States of America is called a gentile nation in 1 Nephi 13:34, 39.

An abridgment is a shortened version of something.

A remnant is a remaining part. On the title page of the Book of Mormon, the phrase “the remnant of the House of Israel” refers to the people of scattered Israel and their posterity. As Moroni brought his record to a close and sealed up the gold plates to come forth in the latter days, he was particularly concerned about the surviving Lamanites and their descendants, who his father had said were a “remnant of the house of Israel” (Mormon 7:1). Moroni looked forward to a day when the Lamanites would once again know and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Moroni 1:4).

Introduction. Modern-day descendants of Lamanites

The Lamanites are among the ancestors of the American Indians. However, the Book of Mormon does not claim that all American Indians are descendants of Lamanites. President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency stated:

“We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon teaches the history of three distinct peoples … who came from the old world to this continent. It does not tell us that there was no one here before them. It does not tell us that people did not come after. And so if discoveries are made which suggest differences in race origins, it can very easily be accounted for, and reasonably, for we do believe that other people came to this continent” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 15).

Testimony of Three Witnesses. “Translated by the gift and power of God”

Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles acknowledged that while the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, we do not know the details of the translation process:

“Many who read the Book of Mormon understandably desire to know more about its coming forth, including the actual process of translation. This was certainly so with faithful and loyal Hyrum Smith. Upon inquiring, Hyrum was told by the Prophet Joseph that ‘it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon’ and that ‘it was not expedient for him to relate these things’ (History of the Church, 1:220). Thus what we do know about the actual coming forth of the Book of Mormon is adequate, but it is not comprehensive. …

“The Prophet Joseph alone knew the full process, and he was deliberately reluctant to describe details. We take passing notice of the words of David Whitmer, Joseph Knight, and Martin Harris, who were observers, not translators. David Whitmer indicated that as the Prophet used the divine instrumentalities provided to help him, ‘the hieroglyphics would appear, and also the translation in the English language … in bright luminous letters.’ Then Joseph would read the words to Oliver (quoted in James H. Hart, “About the Book of Mormon,” Deseret Evening News, 25 Mar. 1884, 2). Martin Harris related of the seer stone: ‘Sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin’ (quoted in Edward Stevenson, “One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 6 Feb. 1882, 86–87). Joseph Knight made similar observations (see Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17 [Autumn 1976]: 35).

“Oliver Cowdery is reported to have testified in court that the Urim and Thummim enabled Joseph ‘to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates’ (“Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, 9 Apr. 1831). If these reports are accurate, they suggest a process indicative of God’s having given Joseph ‘sight and power to translate’ (D&C 3:12). …

“The revelatory process apparently did not require the Prophet to become expert in the ancient language. The constancy of revelation was more crucial than the constant presence of opened plates, which, by instruction, were to be kept from the view of unauthorized eyes anyway.

“While the use of divine instrumentalities might also account for the rapid rate of translation, the Prophet sometimes may have used a less mechanical procedure. We simply do not know the details.

“We do know that this faith-filled process was not easy, however. This fact was clearly demonstrated in Oliver Cowdery’s own attempt at translation. Oliver failed because he ‘did not continue as [he] commenced,’ and because, lacking faith and works, he ‘took no thought save it was to ask’ (D&C 9:5, 7). He was not properly prepared to do it. …

“Whatever the details of the process, it required Joseph’s intense, personal efforts along with the aid of the revelatory instruments. The process may have varied as Joseph’s capabilities grew, involving the Urim and Thummim but perhaps with less reliance upon such instrumentalities in the Prophet’s later work of translation. Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Joseph Smith told him that he used the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced at translation but that later he did not need it, which was the case in Joseph’s translation of many verses of the Bible (see Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 11 Aug. 1874, 498–99)” (“By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1997, 39).

Supplemental Teaching Ideas

Title Page

Refer students to the latter half of the second paragraph on the title page of the Book of Mormon.

  • What did the writers of the Book of Mormon want both Jew and Gentile to know about Jesus?

You may want to explain that “Christ (a Greek word) and Messiah (a Hebrew word) mean ‘the anointed.’ Jesus Christ is the Firstborn of the Father in the spirit (Heb. 1:6; D&C 93:21). He is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh (John 1:14; 3:16). He is Jehovah (D&C 110:3–4) and was foreordained to his great calling before the creation of the world” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Jesus Christ,” scriptures.lds.org; see also “Messiah”).

Use the following chart to help illustrate the Book of Mormon’s focus on Jesus Christ.

Book of Mormon References to Jesus Christ

Book

References to Names and Titles of Christ

Number of Verses in Book

Number of Verses per Reference

1 Nephi

474

618

1.3

2 Nephi

591

779

1.32

Jacob

156

203

1.3

Enos

22

27

1.23

Jarom

8

15

1.88

Omni

20

30

1.5

Words of Mormon

15

18

1.2

Mosiah

492

785

1.6

Alma

1,013

1,975

1.95

Helaman

225

497

2.21

3 Nephi

293

788

2.69

4 Nephi

42

49

1.17

Mormon

188

227

1.21

Ether

220

433

1.97

Moroni

166

163

0.98

Total

3,925

6,607

1.68

(Adapted from Susan Easton Black, Finding Christ through the Book of Mormon [1987], 16.)

Explain that the writers of the Book of Mormon make reference to Jesus Christ by one of His names or titles approximately once every 1.7 verses. By comparison, the New Testament writers use “a form of his name on an average of once every 2.1 verses” (see Susan Easton Black, Finding Christ through the Book of Mormon, 15).

Point out the phrase “Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” Testify that Jesus Christ will manifest Himself (or make Himself known) to all those who come unto Him. Invite the class to search the following scriptures, looking for some of the ways the Lord manifests Himself to those who seek Him:

Invite several students to share what they have found. To encourage students to further testify about how the Book of Mormon has taught them about Jesus Christ, consider asking the following question:

  • How has the Book of Mormon strengthened your testimony of Jesus Christ?

Invite a student to read the following statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

“The principal and commanding figure in the Book of Mormon, from first chapter to last, is the Lord Jesus Christ. … The book centers upon that which scriptural testaments have always centered since the days of Adam and Eve—the declaration to all that through the atonement of the Son of God, ‘as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will’ [Moses 5:9]. …

“… The Book of Mormon is the preeminent statement of God’s covenant with and his love for his children here on earth. It is his definitive latter-day declaration regarding the atoning sacrifice of his Son” (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [1997], 3–4).

Invite a student to read 3 Nephi 5:25–26.

  • According to these verses, what will be the result of God restoring His covenant with His people?

  • According to 3 Nephi 5:26, what is the result when we make and keep our covenants?

Introduction

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson. (You may want to write this statement on the board before class.)

President Ezra Taft Benson

“The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. This was the Prophet Joseph Smith’s statement. He testified that ‘the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion’ (Introduction to the Book of Mormon). A keystone is the central stone in an arch. It holds all the other stones in place, and if removed, the arch crumbles.

“There are three ways in which the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. It is the keystone in our witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. It is the keystone of testimony” (“The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 5).

List on the board the three ways President Benson stated that the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion.”

  • Witness of Christ

  • Doctrine

  • Testimony

  • What are some truths the Book of Mormon teaches about Jesus Christ? (To help students answer this question, you may want to invite them to turn to the index of their scriptures and scan the entries about Jesus Christ.)

After students have given a few responses, invite a student to read the following statement by President Benson:

“The Book of Mormon is the keystone in our witness of Jesus Christ, who is Himself the cornerstone of everything we do. It bears witness of His reality with power and clarity. Unlike the Bible, which passed through generations of copyists, translators, and corrupt religionists who tampered with the text, the Book of Mormon came from writer to reader in just one inspired step of translation. Therefore, its testimony of the Master is clear, undiluted, and full of power. But it does even more. Much of the Christian world today rejects the divinity of the Savior. They question His miraculous birth, His perfect life, and the reality of His glorious resurrection. The Book of Mormon teaches in plain and unmistakable terms about the truth of all of those. It also provides the most complete explanation of the doctrine of the Atonement. Truly, this divinely inspired book is a keystone in bearing witness to the world that Jesus is the Christ” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, 5).

Remind students that President Benson also indicated that the Book of Mormon is the “keystone of our doctrine.” Invite a student to read the following statement by President Benson:

“The Lord Himself has stated that the Book of Mormon contains the ‘fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ’ (D&C 20:9). That does not mean it contains every teaching, every doctrine ever revealed. Rather, it means that in the Book of Mormon we will find the fulness of those doctrines required for our salvation. And they are taught plainly and simply so that even children can learn the ways of salvation and exaltation. The Book of Mormon offers so much that broadens our understandings of the doctrines of salvation. Without it, much of what is taught in other scriptures would not be nearly so plain and precious” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, 6).

Remind students that President Benson said that the Book of Mormon is also “the keystone of testimony.”

Invite a student to read the following statement by President Benson:

“The Book of Mormon is the keystone of testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. … If the Book of Mormon be true … then one must accept the claims of the Restoration and all that accompanies it” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, 6).

  • How has your testimony of the Book of Mormon influenced your testimony of gospel doctrines and principles?

  • How has the Book of Mormon brought you nearer to God?

Have students read the last two paragraphs of the introduction to the Book of Mormon.

  • If the Book of Mormon is true, what other things must also be true?

You may want to share the following counsel from President Ezra Taft Benson, who taught us how the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our testimony and the answer to any objection:

“All objections, whether they be on abortion, plural marriage, seventh-day worship, etc., basically hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation. Here, then, is a procedure to handle most objections through the use of the Book of Mormon.

“First, understand the objection.

“Second, give the answer from revelation.

“Third, show how the correctness of the answer really depends on whether or not we have modern revelation through modern prophets.

“Fourth, explain that whether or not we have modern prophets and revelation really depends on whether the Book of Mormon is true.

“Therefore, the only problem the objector has to resolve for himself is whether the Book of Mormon is true. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation” (“The Book of Mormon Is the Word of God,” Ensign, May 1975, 64–65).

The Testimony of Three Witnesses

Invite a student to read the following account, which tells of the relief Joseph Smith felt when others were allowed to see the gold plates and stand with him as witnesses to the world of their authenticity:

After the Three Witnesses saw the gold plates, Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, observed: “When they returned to the house it was between three and four o’clock p.m. Mrs. Whitmer, Mr. Smith and myself, were sitting in a bedroom at the time. On coming in, Joseph threw himself down beside me, and exclaimed, ‘Father, mother, you do not know how happy I am: the Lord has now caused the plates to be shown to three more besides myself. They have seen an angel, who has testified to them, and they will have to bear witness to the truth of what I have said, for now they know for themselves, that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear, and it rejoices my soul, that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world’” (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith, ed. Preston Nibley [1958], 152).

  • Why do you think Joseph Smith felt such great relief at having additional witnesses of the gold plates?

  • What is the value of including the testimonies of the Three and Eight Witnesses in the beginning of the Book of Mormon?

  • How can you be a witness to the world that the Book of Mormon is true?

Read Moroni 10:3–5 aloud. Explain to students that they can be a witness of the Book of Mormon as well. They may not ever see or touch the plates, but they can receive a powerful witness from the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true. To help students strengthen their testimonies of the Book of Mormon, encourage them to read it daily. Invite a student to read the following statement by President Henry B. Eyring:

“Each time I read even a few lines in the Book of Mormon, I feel my testimony strengthened that the book is true, that Jesus is the Christ, that we can follow Him home. … It has been for me the book of books. It is the word of God.

“I pray that we and all those we love will drink deeply and daily from it” (“The Book of Mormon as a Personal Guide,” Ensign, Sept. 2010, 5).

Invite students to make a personal commitment to read the entire Book of Mormon this year. You may want to remind students that setting and keeping a goal of reading the entire Book of Mormon may help them fulfill Personal Progress and Duty to God requirements.