Chapter 1: Keystone of Our Religion

Book of Mormon Student Manual, (2009), 4–11


Introduction

The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) stated, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (History of the Church, 4:461; Book of Mormon introduction).

Prophet Joseph Smith in front of Nauvoo Temple

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote that the Book of Mormon “should be considered the most remarkable and important religious text to be revealed since the writings of the New Testament were compiled nearly two millennia ago. Indeed, in its role of restoring plain and precious biblical truths that had been lost, while adding scores of new truths about Jesus Christ and preparing the way for the complete restoration of his gospel and the triumphant day of his millennial return, the Book of Mormon may be considered the most remarkable and important religious text ever given to the world” (Christ and the New Covenant [1997], 9–10).

As you begin your study of the Book of Mormon, look for the great truths it contains. Specifically, the Book of Mormon testifies of Jesus Christ’s divinity and the reality of His Atonement. Furthermore, the Book of Mormon reaffirms God’s covenant with the house of Israel and demonstrates the need for us to make and keep sacred covenants. By prayerfully studying this volume of scripture, you will gain depth and power in your testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its Restoration to the earth in the latter days.

Commentary

    Title Page

  • The Book of Mormon title page begins: “The Book of Mormon, an account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi.” This is followed by two paragraphs, likely authored by the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni, son of Mormon. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that “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 collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated, the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general [that is, from right to left]; and that 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” (History of the Church, 1:71).

    “To Come Forth in Due Time”

  • The first paragraph of the Book of Mormon title page declares that the sacred record will “come forth in due time.” President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) testified that the timing of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon shows its significance in the Restoration of the gospel:

    “A … powerful testimony to the importance of the Book of Mormon is to note where the Lord placed its coming forth in the timetable of the unfolding Restoration. The only thing that preceded it was the First Vision. In that marvelous manifestation, the Prophet Joseph Smith learned the true nature of God and that God had a work for him to do. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon was the next thing to follow.

    “Think of that in terms of what it implies. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon preceded the restoration of the priesthood. It was published just a few days before the Church was organized. The Saints were given the Book of Mormon to read before they were given the revelations outlining such great doctrines as the three degrees of glory, celestial marriage, or work for the dead. It came before priesthood quorums and Church organization. Doesn’t this tell us something about how the Lord views this sacred work?” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 3; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 4).

  • Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that the Book of Mormon was written for our day: “The major writers of the Book of Mormon fully understood that their writings were primarily for the people of a future generation rather than for the people of their own generation. Moroni wrote to our generation, ‘I speak unto you as if ye were present’ (Mormon 8:35)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2005, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 2005, 6–7).

  • Speaking of our need to apply the Book of Mormon in our lives, President Ezra Taft Benson declared: “If they saw our day and chose those things which would be of greatest worth to us, is not that how we should study the Book of Mormon? We should constantly ask ourselves, ‘Why did the Lord inspire Mormon (or Moroni or Alma) to include that in his record? What lesson can I learn from that to help me live in this day and age?’” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 6).

    Elder Perry also suggested an important practice when reading the Book of Mormon: “Each time we read the book we should probably ask ourselves: ‘Why did these writers choose these particular stories or events to include in the record? What value are they for us today?’” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2005, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 2005, 8).

    Interpretation by the Gift of God

  • The gold plates themselves contained a promise that they would be interpreted “by the gift and power of God” (Book of Mormon title page). Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared some remarkable information about the Book of Mormon’s translation:

    “The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. …

    “Emma Smith, who acted as an earlier scribe for Joseph, gave this account in 1856:

    “‘When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made any mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. Even the word Sarah he could not pronounce at first, but had to spell it, and I would pronounce it for him.

    “‘When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, “Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?” When I answered, “Yes,” he replied, “Oh! [I didn’t know]. I was afraid I had been deceived.” He had such a limited knowledge of history at that time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls.’ (Edmund C. Briggs, ‘A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,’ Journal of History, Jan. 1916, p. 454). …

    “Although the Prophet would polish his skills over the years, Emma acknowledged that Joseph possessed only rudimentary literacy at the time he translated the gold plates:

    “‘Joseph Smith … could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to any one else.’ (Ibid)” (“A Treasured Testament,” Ensign, July 1993, 62–63).

    The Book of Mormon Affirms God’s Covenant with Israel

  • In addition to testifying of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon demonstrates that God remembers His covenant with the house of Israel. The Guide to the Scriptures describes the house of Israel, its scattering, and its gathering:

    “The Lord gave the name Israel to Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham in the Old Testament (Gen. 32:28; 35:10). The name Israel can refer to Jacob himself, his descendants, or to the kingdom those descendants once possessed in Old Testament times. …

    The twelve tribes of Israel: Abraham’s grandson Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, had twelve sons. Their descendants have become known as the twelve tribes of Israel or the children of Israel. …

    The scattering of Israel: The Lord scattered and afflicted the twelve tribes of Israel because of their unrighteousness and rebellion. However, the Lord also used this scattering of his chosen people among the nations of the world to bless those nations. …

    The gathering of Israel: The house of Israel shall be gathered together in the last days before the coming of Christ (A of F 1:10). The Lord gathers his people Israel when they accept him and keep his commandments” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Israel”).

  • Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the portion of the house of Israel that has been gathered to the knowledge of their fathers and to the covenants of the Lord. The Lord has declared, “For ye are the children of Israel, and of the seed of Abraham” (D&C 103:17).

  • Concerning the Book of Mormon’s role in the gathering of Israel in the last days, Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote: “As far as the gathering of Israel is concerned, the Book of Mormon is the most important book that ever has been or ever will be written. It is the book that gathers Israel and that reveals, in plainness and perfection, the doctrine of the gathering of the chosen seed. It is the book, given of God, to prove the truth and divinity of his great latter-day work. It contains the fulness of the everlasting gospel and carries with it the evidence of its own divinity. Every person who is truly converted knows by the revelations of the Holy Ghost to the spirit within him that the Book of Mormon is the mind and will and voice of the Lord to the world today. It is the Book of Mormon that causes people to believe the gospel and join the Church, and, as we have heretofore seen, it is the power that brings to pass the gathering of Israel. If there were no Book of Mormon, from a practical standpoint, the gathering of the Lord’s people in the last days would come to a standstill. The lost sheep of Israel hear the voice of their Shepherd as it is found in that book and, heeding that voice, come into the true sheepfold. There is no way of overstating the importance of this book of Nephite scripture in the salvation of men in the last days” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 554).

    Convincing Jew and Gentile “That Jesus Is the Christ”

  • According to the title page, the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to bring Jew and Gentile to the conviction that “Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” The Book of Mormon subtitle, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, emphasizes its paramount purpose. President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained the significance of the subtitle:

    “By recent decision of the Brethren the Book of Mormon will henceforth bear the title ‘The Book of Mormon,’ with the subtitle ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ.’

    “The stick or record of Judah—the Old Testament and the New Testament—and the stick or record of Ephraim—the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Jesus Christ—are now woven together in such a way that as you pore over one you are drawn to the other; as you learn from one you are enlightened by the other. They are indeed one in our hands. Ezekiel’s prophecy now stands fulfilled” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1982, 75; or Ensign, Nov. 1982, 53).

  • President Ezra Taft Benson explained the meaning of the word testament: “‘Do we remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon?’ [see D&C 84:57]. In the Bible we have the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word testament is the English rendering of a Greek word that can also be translated as covenant. Is this what the Lord meant when He called the Book of Mormon the ‘new covenant’? It is indeed another testament or witness of Jesus. This is one of the reasons why we have recently added the words ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ’ to the title of the Book of Mormon” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 4; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 4).

  • Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled: “When you read the Book of Mormon, concentrate on the principal figure in the book—from its first chapter to the last—the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1999, 87; or Ensign, Nov. 1999, 69).

    Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave further explanation:

    “[The Lord] has offered us one last covenant, given us one last testament, as part of his final outreach to fallen man. He has offered us one last written witness of his love and his mercy extended for the final time. … That testament and culminating witness, that ‘new covenant’ offered to the children of men but once more, is the message of the Book of Mormon.

    “No record teaches more of God’s promise to those in the last days. Those promises focus on his Only Begotten Son, on ‘the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah … [who] shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved’ [2 Nephi 2:8–9].

    “The task of the children of God in these concluding days of the world’s history is to proceed with ‘unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save,’ to ‘press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men[,] … feasting upon the word of Christ, and endur[ing] to the end. This is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God’ [2 Nephi 31:19–21].

    “No other book helps us do this so well. No other book was ever divinely produced and protected solely for that purpose. No other book has ever been written with such a full view of the future dispensation to which that record would eventually come. …

    “… In its message of faith in Christ, hope in Christ, and charity in Christ, the Book of Mormon is God’s ‘new covenant’ to his children—for the last time” (Christ and the New Covenant, 8–10).

    How the Book of Mormon Is the Keystone

  • The Prophet Joseph Smith identified the Book of Mormon as the “keystone of our religion” (History of the Church, 4:461; Book of Mormon introduction). President Ezra Taft Benson explained the role of a keystone as follows:

    “A keystone is the central stone in an arch. It holds all the other stones in place, and if removed, the arch crumbles.

    Keystone

    “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” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 4; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 5).

  • President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency expanded the idea of the Book of Mormon as our doctrinal keystone:

    “The Book of Mormon is a keystone because it establishes and ties together eternal principles and precepts, rounding out basic doctrines of salvation. It is the crowning gem in the diadem of our holy scriptures.

    Keystone in a wall

    “It is a keystone for other reasons also. In the promise of Moroni … —namely, that God will manifest the truth of the Book of Mormon to every sincere inquirer having faith in Christ—we have a key link in a self-locking chain.

    “A confirming testimony of the Book of Mormon convinces ‘that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God’ and also spiritually verifies the divine calling of Joseph Smith and that he did see the Father and the Son. With that firmly in place, it logically follows that one can also receive a verification that the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price are true companion scriptures to the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

    “All of this confirms the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, led by a living prophet enjoying continuous revelation. From these basic verities, an understanding can flow of other saving principles of the fulness of the gospel” (“The Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Jan. 2004, 3–4).

    “Nearer to God by Abiding by Its Precepts”

  • On Sunday, November 28, 1841, the Prophet Joseph Smith spent the day in council with the Twelve Apostles at the house of President Young. While talking with them on a variety of subjects, he declared that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its [the Book of Mormon] precepts, than by any other book” (History of the Church, 4:461; Book of Mormon introduction).

  • President Ezra Taft Benson taught that the Book of Mormon helps us discern truth from error:

    “We … should know the Book of Mormon better than any other book. Not only should we know what history and faith-promoting stories it contains, but we should understand its teachings. If we really do our homework and approach the Book of Mormon doctrinally, we can expose the errors and find the truths to combat many of the current false theories and philosophies of men.

    “I have noted within the Church a difference in discernment, insight, conviction, and spirit between those who know and love the Book of Mormon and those who do not. That book is a great sifter” (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” Ensign, Dec. 1988, 4).

  • President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988) of the First Presidency related how study from the Book of Mormon preserved his spiritual safety: “A few years ago as I began to practice law, members of my family were a little uneasy. They were afraid I would lose my faith. I wanted to practice law, but I had an even greater desire to keep my testimony, and so I decided upon a little procedure which I recommend to you. For thirty minutes each morning before I began the day’s work I read from the Book of Mormon—I read also from all the other standard works of the Church, but I am talking now about the Book of Mormon—and in just a few minutes a day I read the Book of Mormon through, every year, for nine years. I know that it kept me in harmony, so far as I did keep in harmony, with the Spirit of the Lord” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1949, 36).

    The Reader Determines What Is Learned

  • Reading the Book of Mormon has the potential to bring marvelous blessings. There is, however, a great responsibility that rests with the reader. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about one’s need to read with the properly positioned heart and attitude: “What we get from a book, especially a sacred text, is mostly dependent on what we take to its reading—in desire and readiness to learn, and in attunement to the light communicated by the Spirit of the Lord” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2006, 78; or Ensign, May 2006, 77).

    Receiving a Personal Testimony of the Book of Mormon

  • The last prophet to engrave on the record of the Nephites was Moroni, Mormon’s son. As a prophet of God, Moroni gave a formula whereby readers may receive a personal witness from the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is sacred scripture. This promise, given to all who sincerely read the Book of Mormon and desire to know of its truthfulness, is found in Moroni 10:3–5.

  • A sincere reader may not immediately gain a testimony when reading the Book of Mormon. Further, some people may not recognize the testimony that is growing as they study and pray over this tremendous text. But the promise of Moroni will come. President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, shared his personal experience and counsel for those seeking a testimony:

    “When I first read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover, I read the promise that if I ‘would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if [the things I had read were] true; and if [I would] ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he [would] manifest the truth of it unto [me], by the power of the Holy Ghost’ (Moroni 10:4). I tried to follow those instructions as I understood them.

    “If I expected a glorious manifestation to come at once as an overpowering experience, it did not happen. Nevertheless, it felt good, and I began to believe. …

    “My experience has been that a testimony does not burst upon us suddenly. Rather, it grows, as Alma said, from a seed of faith. ‘It will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow’ (Alma 32:30). If you nourish it, it will grow; and if you do not nourish it, it will wither (see Alma 32:37–41).

    “Do not be disappointed if you have read and reread and yet have not received a powerful witness. You may be somewhat like the disciples spoken of in the Book of Mormon who were filled with the power of God in great glory ‘and they knew it not’ (3 Nephi 9:20).

    “Do the best you can. Think of this verse: ‘See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order’ (Mosiah 4:27)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2005, 6–7; or Ensign, May 2005, 6, 8).

    External Evidences of the Book of Mormon

  • Some students of the Book of Mormon are interested in geographical, textual, or archaeological evidences of the book’s ancient origin. While these are often fascinating and helpful, it must be remembered that these kinds of discoveries do not constitute the substance and truth of the Book of Mormon. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) counseled against relying solely on these discoveries for our testimony of the Book of Mormon: “The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable people may sincerely question its origin; but those who have read it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true, that it contains the word of God, that it outlines saving truths of the everlasting gospel, that it ‘came forth by the gift and power of God … to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ’ (Book of Mormon title page)” (“Four Cornerstones of Faith,” Ensign, Feb. 2004, 6).

    Handwritten characters of reformed Egyptian

    Blessings of the Book of Mormon

  • President Gordon B. Hinckley explained how the Book of Mormon can keep members of the Church spiritually sound:

    “[The Book of Mormon] so clearly illustrates the fact that when men and nations walk in the fear of God and in obedience to His commandments, they prosper and grow, but when they disregard Him and His word, there comes a decay that, unless arrested by righteousness, leads to impotence and death. …

    “Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will [read the Book of Mormon], … there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God” (“A Testimony Vibrant and True,” Ensign, Aug. 2005, 4–6).

  • President James E. Faust related an experience shared by Elder F. Burton Howard of the Seventy that demonstrates the converting power of the Book of Mormon:

    “Sister Celia Cruz Ayala of the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission decided to give the Book of Mormon to a friend. She wrapped it in attractive paper and set out to deliver her present.

    “On the way she was attacked by a bandit who stole her purse and with it the wrapped copy of the Book of Mormon. A few days later she received this letter:

    “‘Mrs. Cruz:

    “‘Forgive me, forgive me. You will never know how sorry I am for attacking you. But because of it, my life has changed and will continue to change. That book [the Book of Mormon] has helped me in my life. The dream of that man of God has shaken me. … I am returning your five pesos for I can’t spend them. I want you to know that you seemed to have a radiance about you. That light seemed to stop me [from harming you, so] I ran away instead.

    “‘I want you to know that you will see me again, but when you do, you won’t recognize me, for I will be your brother. … Here, where I live, I have to find the Lord and go to the church you belong to.

    “‘The message you wrote in that book brought tears to my eyes. Since Wednesday night I have not been able to stop reading it. I have prayed and asked God to forgive me, [and] I ask you to forgive me. … I thought your wrapped gift was something I could sell. [Instead,] it has made me want to make my life over. Forgive me, forgive me, I beg you.

    “‘Your absent friend.’

    “Such is the conversion power of the Book of Mormon” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 58; or Ensign, May 1996, 42).

    Witnesses to the Truth of the Book of Mormon

  • Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that the Lord will always provide witnesses of the divinity of His work:

    “Whenever the Lord has established a dispensation by revealing his gospel and by conferring priesthood and keys upon men, he has acted in accordance with the law of witnesses which he himself ordained. This law is: ‘In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.’ (2 Cor. 13:1; Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:15–16. …)

    “Never does one man stand alone in establishing a new dispensation of revealed truth, or in carrying the burden of such a message and warning to the world. In every dispensation, from Adam to the present, two or more witnesses have always joined their testimonies, thus leaving their hearers without excuse in the day of judgment should the testimony be rejected” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 436).

  • President Heber J. Grant (1856–1945) emphasized the importance of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon: “I do not believe that in any court of justice in the world if a man was being tried for murder and twelve reputable citizens testified of their knowledge of the circumstances leading to the murder, and there was no one who could testify against what they said, there would be a failure to convict the man. We have the testimony of Joseph Smith and the testimony of three witnesses to the effect that God gave them a knowledge regarding the Book of Mormon, that an angel of God declared from heaven that the book had been translated by the gift and power of God. These men were Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris. They left the Church, but to the day of their death they maintained their testimony regarding the declaration of the angel, and that they were commanded to bear witness of the divinity of this book, and they did so. Eight men, some of whom were excommunicated from the Church, maintained their testimony that they had seen and handled the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and they remained true to that testimony to the day of their death. The disbelief of all the world does not prove that those men did not tell the truth, because there are no witnesses on the other side” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 128). (Refer to “The Witnesses of the Book of Mormon Plates” in the appendix, page 409.)

    The Golden Plates
  • Despite the experience of seeing and handling the gold plates in June 1829, some of the witnesses did not remain true to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President James E. Faust explained: “Knowledge comes through faith. In our day and time we must come to know the truthfulness of what was on the golden plates without seeing them. They are not available for us to see and handle as they were for the Three Witnesses and for the Eight Witnesses. Some of those who actually saw and handled the golden plates did not remain faithful to the Church. Seeing an angel would be a great experience, but it is far greater to come to a knowledge of the divinity of the Savior through faith and the witness of the Spirit [see John 20:29]” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2002, 57; or Ensign, May 2002, 48).

Points to Ponder

  • In what ways is the Book of Mormon another testament of Jesus Christ?

  • How does studying the Book of Mormon help us to “condemn not the things of God”? (Book of Mormon title page).

  • Why should every Church member be able to bear witness that the Book of Mormon is the word of God?

Suggested Assignments

  • Write a short summary of what you feel are the purposes of the Book of Mormon. Compare your list with the purposes listed by Moroni on the title page of the Book of Mormon.

  • Analyze the promise in Moroni 10:3–5 and determine what you need to do to gain or strengthen your testimony of the Book of Mormon.